Amy Chen
Amy Chen
Jan 21, 2015 · 7 min read

“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
- Dylan Thomas (1914–1953)

I thought a lot before typing this follow-up as to how I wanted to address the varied reactions my original post received about online harassment of female leaders. I want to break it down into four parts:

1.) The positives: why women should stay in the hackathon community.
2.) The rebuttals: covering questions/concerns my post received.
3.) The blame game: who should be blamed for these incidences?
4.) The response: what can be done.

The Positives

It is incredibly incredibly easy, to allow the actions of a few to affect the outlook of many. I also do not blame those who are fed up with the hackathon community and leave it entirely due to repeated incidences.

However, I want to say to my #LadyHackers. Stay. Please stay. Please do not leave. Your supporters and awesome hackers far outweigh those who will try to put you down.

Do not leave, because, you should not have to.

If anything, it is those who try to oppress you, silence you, make you feel like you don’t belong who do not deserve a piece of this awesome community.

After my original post, my Facebook inbox and Twitter notifications were filled with an obscene amount of support. Other women sharing their stories, men voicing their support, company evangelists asking if can help take action, people asking how they could prevent future harassers.

Below, I have posted a few screenshots of people’s support. (Thanks to everyone who messaged me. It meant a lot.)

After being a part of the community for this long, it is hackathons that lit my curiosity towards programming.

The Rebuttals

This part is a bit trickier. I think a lot of people had very valid concerns and questions about my article. I’ll try to cover them as best as possible as well as my response.

- “Leaders who leave the community because of a few stupid comments should grow thicker skin.”

Personally, I don’t think that a requirement of being a leader is “must have tough skin against sexism”. When you think about it… that’s a pretty damn high bar to jump over to be a leader. Isn’t it? Imagine, having to face blatant sexist comments in public forums, work place micro-aggressions, and just sheer isolation from being the only girl on an all male team.

Granted, I am extremely comfortable around men and would even call myself a “bro” sometimes, but the lack of female presence can be pretty exhausting. Whether you like it or not, there are ways I relate to a woman that a male, even a good male friend, cannot replicate.

People should simply be able to be leader if they are able to lead.

- “Why feed the trolls? You’re giving them the exact reaction they wanted.”

So I did think about this. On a facebook post, at some point, I lost my cool and wrote in all caps expressing my sheer unadulterated rage. Was I feeding the trolls? Should I not have expressed my anger?

Looking back, I stick by everything I did. Here is how I see it. The orginal post sharing women’s stories about harassment as well as my reaction sharing the rage is meant to be just that:

Rage.

So let’s break it down. I was angry that both they and I had to deal with people releasing our private information. That people were making incredibly inappropriate sexist remarks that made them very uncomfortable. That we had to fear for our personal safety.

… If that’s not messed up, I don’t know what is.

- “Your post about women’s experiences with harassment will discourage other women to code and sully the industry’s reputation.”

Fair enough. So first let me start by saying that, in administrating a women’s online community, I’m careful to use extreme discretion in posts I make in an attempt to stay positive and encourage other women to start programming. It is very easy to dissolve into totally valid “rants” about the shit we go through.

That being said, this time, I could not stay silent. In any sort of unpleasant/traumatic/harassment incident, there is power in shared experiences. There is just something, about knowing that yes, someone else has gone through this too and that yes, you are not alone.

As such, the theme of relatability and sharing personal stories has become a really important part of my life.

-“The women-in-tech topic is a cliche”

Haha, you don’t have to tell me twice. Trust me, I am probably more annoyed and bored talking about the topic than you are. I have heard the same reaction 10 different ways. Had people start the conversation with “so what do you think about *incident relating to women-in-tech*” on Facebook when all I wanted to do was binge watch romcoms followed by cat videos.

Sometimes, I want to scream “I TALK ABOUT THINGS OTHER THAN WOMEN IN TECH TOO.

But, my burning question is… if its such a cliche, if people are so tired of hearing about it. Why. Oh why is this still a problem? Why do women still feel the need to tell me about incidences of sexism or harassment? Why do these stories still surface? How many stories are left untold?

So yeah. I’m fucking tired of the goddamn topic too. *cheers mate*

The Blame Game

This is also a weird thing. People always want a point person to blame for the harassment incident. Perhaps a community leader, perhaps some sorta organization, or maybe the victim, or the vague blob that is “the tech industry”.

All I can say is, try your best not to find fault, but instead to make change.

Go ahead and stick that on some sorta vague inspirational poster and hang it over your desk. Lol. As cheesy as it sounds, I think that pointing fingers at one another or shaking your fists into the air and yelling “Damn you tech industry” does nothing.

If anything, it makes you jaded and disillusioned towards and otherwise awesome and innovative field. The thing I’d say is the most detrimental and hardest to catch, are discreet incidences of sexism which make you question “Was that sexist? Am I just being oversensitive?

It is so easy, to look at the harassment that my peers and I experienced and recognize that what the anons did was wrong.

What is harder to overcome is your own doubt.

Make change. Believe in your own intuition. Your feelings are completely valid and there are steps you can take to prevent you from feeling that sort of discomfort ever again.

The Response

So what can we as a community and as individuals actually do? First, let me differentiate from what is the community’s responsibility and what is not. Same applies to the individual.

What is not the community’s responsibility is to go on a Reddit style witch hunt for the perpetrator. (I really regret releasing the phone number. I’m thankful that they were traced to an anonymous phone number.)

At that point, it is the individual’s responsibility to take action and call the police if further harassment in the form of anonymous text messages or facebook messages ensues. (In my situation, I chose not to because the harasser had stopped messaging me and pressing criminal charges would have been more of a time investment that I was willing to expend.)

The police will have the jurisdiction and resources to track down the person better than you can or should be able to.

What is not the individual’s responsibility is be ashamed for not standing up for themselves. There are many reasons why a victim of harassment or sexism will not defend themselves. Like… personal safety, feeling like (s)he is being “too sensitive”, drawing attention to themselves, etc.

This is where the community should pick up the responsibility. If you witness an incident of harassment, calmly support the victim. Show them that you are there. Remove them from the situation. Be a kind ear to listen.

Wonders can be done by just talking a situation and feelings out.

I would also encourage the individual to step up and share their story. If you want to remain anonymous and for me to write your story, you can leave a private note on this post.

Dear reader, I hope that after this follow-up, that you have a better understanding of where I am coming from. That you stay intolerant of any form of harassment, yet excited about the awesome community surrounding hackathons.

We owe it to ourselves and our peers to build an inclusive community.

(If you liked this post, please recommend/share! Thanks.)

Ladies Storm Hackathons

A community of technical women growing and storming hackathons together

    Amy Chen

    Written by

    Amy Chen

    Youtuber & Distributed Systems-er

    Ladies Storm Hackathons

    A community of technical women growing and storming hackathons together

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