If you create Brogrammer stickers as satire, you’re part of the problem

This past week, I attended a Dribbble DC meetup event. At this event, I saw a small pile of “BROGRAMMER” stickers on a table, placed alongside other stickers and freebies from various design studios and companies.

I was completely taken aback by these stickers and they caught me off guard. I thought that we, as a tech community, had passed that phase of validating brogrammer culture. I thought that identifying yourself or someone else as a brogrammer was passé or lame. Furthermore, I thought that with all the media coverage on the plights of women in tech, that people had become more sensitive to perpetuating such stale and harmful stereotypes. Brogrammers were at their height in maybe 2012 or earlier, but really? In 2015? I’m at a meetup event that’s meant to be inclusive and I nearly have a heart attack because someone thought it was cute to create and distribute Brogrammer stickers?

Amid my disappointment, and let’s be honest— ANGER — I decided to wear a sticker in defiance and put the rest in my bag so that no one else could see or use them.

After the event, the stickers were still on my mind. It was distressing to know that someone out there thought it was okay to make and bring those stickers. They were probably completely oblivious to the harm these stickers were causing. I wanted to let them know how I felt. After some light sleuthing on the internet, I found that a small design studio had created the Brogrammer stickers. I decided to reach out to them to explain why the stickers were harmful. Here is the email I wrote:

Hi there,
I was at a Dribbble DC meetup event the other night and noticed a pile of “Brogrammer” stickers on a table. I’m writing to let you know that I was disappointed and quite frankly a bit taken aback to see the stickers there. The term “brogrammer” is not inclusive and perpetuates a very specific and harmful stereotype, especially for women and those who don’t identify as a “bro,” nevertheless a “brogrammer.” I think we are all trying our best to make the DC tech scene an inclusive, fun environment for everyone. Having such material at events discourages inclusivity and diversity, and I hope that next time you will reconsider distributing them.
Here is a good article further exploring the term: http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2014/12/12/the-brogrammer-culture-is-exactly-opposite-of-what-the-tech-world-needs/
Thanks for reading — I do love the [NAME REDACTED] coaster I picked up.

A day later, I received an email back and it left me flabbergasted. So much that I’ve decided to post it online here, with my thoughts and commentary, rather than sending a private response. I’m now realizing that many people out there would have a similar response to theirs. By posting this and my thoughts online, I hope to help others understand why the term brogrammer is harmful and why attempts to satirize it are just as harmful.

Hey Alisha,
Thanks for getting in touch. I’m sorry to hear that the Brogrammer badges/stickers are being viewed as a validation of “brogrammer culture”. Maybe some context of why we made them/pass them around is needed.

So the fact that you created stickers that literally say “BROGRAMMER” on them and nothing else wasn’t meant to be seen as validation of brogrammer culture? Looks like I was lacking context. Enlighten me, please!

I personally don’t believe that “brogrammer culture” is a real thing. In some sections of the tech industry there is definitely some animosity against diversity and inclusion, but the fact that someone has come up with a cutesy term for it kind of pisses me, because it detracts from the problem and then journalists and social media get caught up in the caricature and not the real problem.

Hold on, give me one second as I gather my breath after HYPERVENTILATING A LITTLE at this first sentence. This man does not believe that brogrammer culture is “a real thing.” I am telling him, as a member of the community that is being harmed by brogrammer culture, that it is indeed a real thing. But hey, my feelings and experience are completely invalid because I’m lacking some major context, right?

The next part is a little confusing, to be honest. First, this man believes the term is cutesy. Brogrammer is the least cutesy name I can think of right now. On a scale of 1 to Cute, it’s blobfish. Second, he believes that the creation of this term detracts from the problem, and that creation of the “caricature” of a term does not address “the real problem.”

Hold on, but you just told me that brogrammer culture is not “a real thing?” So what is the real problem and the real thing, then?

A blobfish!
Which brings me to the stickers — it’s satire and a joke on current design trends and tech culture.

Cool. To quote my friend Kelsey, satire about a real problem that people face is SO FUNNY. Especially when you clearly understand the problem SO WELL as men in the industry.

1. Treating the word in the style of American nostalgia: This is a technique that has been super trendy and to treat a new, ridiculous word in this style was humorous to us. Here’s a good article on the treatment of nostalgia: http://www.aiga.org/steer-clear-of-the-uncanny-valley/

Oh yay! I sent you an article, so you sent me one back to mansplain what satire is. Thank you so much for linking me to an article about American nostalgia and how it applies to TYPEFACES AND LETTERING as a direct analogy to the current discussion of an incredibly harmful term and how it applies to REAL HUMAN BEINGS.

2. We’ve had a lot of people who would never a day in their life identify as a brogrammer either like these stickers and even put them on their computers, notebooks, etc. The point of this is that hopefully it helps destroy the perception that the caricature of the brogrammer is a real thing. If we get caught up on the hollywood style caricature of problems, then we don’t see the real problems. The problem is not a protein shake drinking, push up doing bro — it’s prejudice amongst other things.

If people who would never-ever-no-siree identify themselves as brogrammers love these stickers, then they must be totally okay right?! Also I’m very confused as to why you refer to brogrammer culture as “not a real thing” if you are willing to satirize it?

To be fair, I will give you some credit here. I clearly took a sticker and wore it. But I did it as an act of protest, not out of love for the sticker. When marginalized members of the community wear your sticker, it doesn’t mean they love it. It may mean they are acting in defiance, as I did.

The point you are missing is that while you may have meant these stickers as satire, there is literally no way for anyone (outside of those who have read that awful article about American nostalgia) to know that. Moreover, you lack control over who sees and takes these stickers. Chances are that some people out there are taking them and wearing them in earnest, thinking that being a brogrammer and validating that culture is totally cool and okay.

Lastly, even if it were clear that these stickers are satire, you are still creating and printing materials with harmful language on them. You are literally reproducing brogrammer culture by reproducing and distributing these stickers. You are not destroying anything. You are literally doing the opposite.

If you truly wanted to create a freebie that satirizes and attempts to destroy brogrammer culture, please consider distributing Diva Cups, tampons, or pads with “Brogrammer” imprinted on them rather than stickers next time. It might get the point across a bit better. But I’d rather not see this term anywhere, on anything. Consider donating your time or money to groups like Girl Develop It or Girls Who Code instead to empower members of the community who are being marginalized, harmed, and discouraged by the perpetuation of brogrammer stereotypes.

At the end of the day [NAME REDACTED] is not a web design studio, we are not a web development shop. We are graphic designers who know the importance of culture and are looking to push the design scene and visual culture forward in DC. The way we go about this in our personal projects is usually irreverence towards the institutions that DC holds true — mainly government, politics, and even political correctness — so I’m sure at some point or another we might piss some people off.

TL;DR: “Sorry we’re not sorry.”

I hope that somewhat clears things up. I am sorry that they are being viewed as something other than what they were designed for but I hope our body work at [NAME REDACTED] would give some context to our philosophy and beliefs. So, please do not judge our work based on one sticker!

But I told you that I like your work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thanks for writing!

It sucks that I have to write this in 2015 when I thought this term was long dead. It sucks that I needed encouragement from several people to write the email and publish this piece because it’s 2015 but I feel scared about the consequences of sharing my feelings. As women and minorities, we often feel pressure to sit down, shut up, and code or design better than anyone else. Then when we have the courage to speak up about our experiences, we are told that they are invalid. That it’s not “a real thing.”

And this is the real problem I want to address — that my personal experience as a woman who has felt the damaging effects of a male-dominated tech culture is being completely invalidated, even after sending a respectful email asking someone to stop their harmful behavior.

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