Things I Never, Ever Want to Hear Again
I’ve met the most amazing people I know through the feminist community — a community growing and growing inside the tech industry.
I’ve met the most amazing people I know through the feminist community — a community growing and growing inside the tech industry. As I’ve started to write and speak more about topics like workplace inequality, culture, power, management and gender, I’ve met friends, built a support network, found my true colleagues. They’ve given me a great deal: empathy, grace, understanding, camaraderie, courage.
At the same time, literally thousands of white men have engaged me solely to derail, discredit and co-opt conversation about systemic inequalities and the lived experiences of marginalized and oppressed people in our industry. They are lurking on Twitter and on Hacker News, on Reddit, on their blogs, in our tech media, on our stages and in our workplaces. They bring nothing to the table except a predictable litany of false martyrdom, victim-blaming, self-involved demands for “education”, endless derailing techniques paraded as “logic”, disingenuous bewilderment, unjustifiable confidence, and totally unexamined privilege.
I am less and less interested in engaging with the white male establishment, even though it’s been hard to resist with the deluge of stupid racist, misogynist bullshit they’ve been spewing lately. Despite this, I am long overdue to talk about the shit white men say to me all the time, what they say to anyone advocating for critical consciousness, and why I never want to hear those things again. Let’s talk about derailing.
Why Are You So Angry?
I cannot even tell you how sick I am of men telling me how I feel.
When I talk about oppression, patriarchy and my experiences in tech, I can feel many things. I may feel sad, amused, jovial, excited, creative, expressive, calm, eager, curious, playful, afraid. How do you know the contents of my inner emotional life through 140 characters, a 4-minute blog post, or a 20-minute speech? You don’t, but that doesn’t really matter, after all. No, to you, I’m just angry.
See, if a woman speaks with conviction, with clarity, with honesty, with anything except deference, hedging and subordination to white men, they are a problem. If they seem to be an expert in anything, even their own fucking lived experiences, then they must be discredited. If they inspire anyone to speak out and fight back, they are a threat. And so we ascribe them emotions they may or may not, in reality, have — either way, emotions that women are not supposed to have, emotions that paint her as irrational, unpredictable, pathological.
Of course, none of these men bother to ask women how they are actually feeling, even as they fall all over themselves calling her angry. Because what she actually feels is irrelevant. Calling a woman angry isn’t about identifying or empathizing with her emotions. It’s about shaming, humiliating, debasing, policing and discrediting her.
But sometimes I am angry. And I stand by my anger, all of it, every day. Here’s your daily reminder that women are violently, disproportionally, systematically and systemically raped, stalked, harassed, assaulted, molested, beaten, underpaid, underpromoted, silenced, erased, gaslighted, maltreated and objectified. And that is a very partial list among a host of other institutionalized abuses. If you think it’s inappropriate to be angry, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.
But I’m a Father and a Husband!
Men have been fathers, partners, friends, companions to women for thousands and thousands of years. This has not stopped them from murdering, raping, assaulting, and abusing women, nor from building complex, intersecting social systems for oppressing them in every way.
So believe me that being a father and husband sure as fuck doesn’t mean that you’re not a misogynist pig merrily derailing, slandering and damaging while you roll about in the slop of your white male privilege. And frankly, I don’t give a damn about how many women you know if you’re just going to use them as silent props to protect you from the Big Bad Feminists, and from taking any responsibility whatsoever for your words and actions.
Why Are You Writing About Me?
I guess it’s the curse of anyone who writes that everyone in your life thinks you’re writing about them. But it amazes me how many white dudes and white-dude companies crawl out of the woodwork to take my writing personally. Startups I’ve never worked at or even visited for more than a few minutes think I’m writing about their culture. Employees of companies I’ve never even heard of insist I’ve fundamentally misunderstood how they operate. Co-workers I haven’t thought about in years think they somehow influenced what I wrote yesterday. People I’ve worked with briefly honestly believe I’d waste my precious spare time writing about their own, personal failings. And on top of it, people I barely know regularly claim to have special insight into my motivations and inspirations.
But guess what?
It isn’t fucking about you.
If you think my post about messed up startup culture is about your startup, my post about incompetent business teams is about your business team, my post about bad managers is about managers in your company, my post about white men are about you, specifically, as a white man…
Well, that says a fuck of a lot more about you and your company than it does about my writing. And maybe YOU should think about how self-involved and egotistical you’d have to be to assume that I’m spending hours of my life, unpaid, to passively-aggressively dig at you, personally, of all other fucked up companies, incompetent people, horrible managers, and broken systems.
But what about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer?
It should tell you something that when fishing for contrarian anecdotes to minimize and derail discussion of gender in tech, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are at the very tip of every white man’s tongue. Proof that women can make it, if we just try hard enough.
Both of these women were early employees at now tech-giants. They are each worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They each had access to a certain set of privileges that moderated their rise to fame and fortune. They are both incredibly talented, experienced, admirable. But neither of them has much of anything to do with the experience of most women in tech. Most women in tech can’t relate to them or their experiences and success in the slightest. The fact that some women “make it” despite the system does not mean that the system doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t negate the systemic oppression of women within it. So if I’m talking about women in technology and you start talking about Marissa Mayer, we probably aren’t talking about the same things at all, and you’re probably using her to derail me. Pretty fucked up that even the success of women in tech can be used against them, eh? Stop it.
I don’t know anything about this, but…
So many men open up a conversation about women in tech by admitting they have no education on the matter whatsoever, haven’t really worked with many women, and aren’t even particularly aware of feminist politics.
That’s fine. I’m all about admitting when you’re over your head and need to learn. I’m right there with you. Great. Except that right after saying they know nothing about it they go on to make confident, ridiculous, half-assed, sexist arguments full of logical fallacies and fundamental misunderstandings of systemic oppression.
So how about this. When you find yourself saying “Well, I don’t know much about this, but…” just stop. Just fucking stop. Go pick up a book and educate yourself, instead of just assuming that the white male-ness of white male you is sufficient to present an intelligent argument on a subject you know nothing about.
Recently, I’ve been talking more about things I’m writing or thinking about writing before I publish. But then I noticed that all the derailing bullshit like this was distracting me and discouraging me from finishing my posts. And fuck everything about that.
Here’s the thing. Feminism is very important to me. A big part of my interior life. And I’m dedicated to trying to improve the experiences of women in tech — by being one, by hiring and mentoring them, by funding them, by speaking up, by being an advocate and an ally, by teaching. And yet, I am a deeply flawed human being. A deeply flawed feminist. I have said and done many, many things that are not in line with the ideals I now hold. I have, do and will say words I shouldn’t, say things I shouldn’t, think things I shouldn’t, judge people for reasons I shouldn’t, treat people in ways that are unfair and wrong, and provide aid and comfort to the patriarchy. I have actively participated in bro culture within this industry, with all of its casual misogyny, racism and homophobia. I’m guilty of uncritically benefiting from white supremacy and helping to construct it. And I am guilty of being myopically concerned about my own oppression. I’m very early in my own personal path, but I’m getting better every day.
And I keep trying.
You assholes aren’t trying at all. THIS is not trying.
I’m not asking men in the tech community to be perfect allies. You won’t be. But I am asking that you take a little bit of time when you’re talking to and about women in tech to do just a little bit of work too. Before jumping to tone-policing, derailing, making it all about you, and presenting your own opinions with absolutely no education or experience to back it up, try shutting the fuck up and listening. We all have a role to play in making this better — and maybe, for now, learning will be yours.
Oh, and allies? It would be nice if you did a little more engaging with your white bros over this shit once in awhile, too.