‘Adria Richards, PyCon and how we all lost’

Let me get this out of the way: I don’t like Adria Richards. I think I have good reason to not like Adria Richards. So I should be feeling some major Schadenfreude right now. Instead, though, I think what’s unfolded in the developer community in recent days has been a tragedy. Here’s why.

Adria Richards is at the center of an Internet firestorm this week after she attended during a conference called PyCon. She overheard developers making sexual innuendos during one of the sessions and used Twitter to complain and shame them. One of the developers lost his job over it, and so did Richards.

The incident underscores the pervasive sexism in the tech industry – not to mention the ugly, sociopathic behavior some Internet crazies engage in – and raises questions about how best to handle problems like this in the future.

Blum (who’s a friend of mine) pulled no punches in her observations and looks at both sides of the issue.

Bottom line: This was a lost opportunity – what could have been a “teachable moment” instead went horribly, horribly wrong.



  • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

    Wow, I didn’t realize she had a pattern of ousting issues publicly. That’s interesting.

    Ultimately, I believe she was right in invoking a change in culture. It went the wrong way and publicly handling it (ie – twitter, her blog is fine) wasn’t best.

    The good? We’re all aware now and maybe, just maybe, the next time someone will think twice before pulling such antics.

    • JDSoCal

      Why should a culture change to accommodate her humorless, PC extremism?

      • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

        Because the culture is messed up.

        Do you go to tech conferences? They are overrun by men and if the culture makes women feel uncomfortable the likelihood of women entering and being successful in the field reduces.

        PyCon reached 20% women. #industryfail

        • JDSoCal

          So women get the vapors because there are too many scary men around = women are equal to men?

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            Nah, because of sexism, etc. It hurts our industry.

        • James Doyle

          Overrun by men? What man-hating language. That’s like saying China is overrun by Chinese. There’s a reason those conferences and the industry in general are dominated by men – it owes its existence ot those very same crude-joking men.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            I’m assuming sarcasm in your first sentence. If so, lol. :-D

            Whether the industry was built by men or not is not the point.

  • http://twitter.com/studuncan Stu Duncan

    Yes, sexism is rampant and the human race is worse off for it. Read Matt Gemmell’s excellent essay on Misogyny if you don’t think it’s rampant. http://mattgemmell.com/2012/04/20/misogyny/

    However, I think Blum let Richards off too easily. She documents that Richards has a history of this sort of crap, large and small. But then somehow thinks that Richards could be a better person with a little training. That just smacked of too much optimism to me.

    Anyone who overhears, at a developers conference, someone saying “I’d like to fork that repo” and assumes it’s sexual either has an axe to grind or is a bully. I guess it could be both.

    • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

      In a vacuum I’d agree that comment isn’t sexual to someone who knows what forking means but after hearing other sexual jokes from them her mind was pretty much set.

      Everyone has a chance at changing though. Optimism is a good thing to possess.

      • http://twitter.com/studuncan Stu Duncan

        ‘Other sexual joke.’ Singular.

        One that she has made herself. http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=35cers5&s=6

        Plus, she’s a developer(ish), at a developer’s conference. ‘forking a repo’ is a perfectly reasonable comment in that setting.

        Optimism is good. Myopia, not so much.

        • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

          Correct, one other from them but a different issue earlier that day (see her blog).

          That pic is fake (see my other comment showing the actual tweets).

          Yes, it is. “I’ll fork his repo” when the speaker isn’t talking about his repo can be a stretch though.

          I don’t want to argue the semantics of it (never ending battle). I can just see her side and how she may have felt. It went well beyond what it should have been though.

          Are you saying Blum was myopic?

          • http://twitter.com/studuncan Stu Duncan

            Myopic that she can/could change? Yes.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            Gotcha.

            Edit: And I’ll add, I agree. It is unlikely she will back down from the activist role.

      • JDSoCal

        Who cares if it was sexual!?!?! If she is too frail to hear a joke not even aimed at her, perhaps she should blog from home where her little ears won’t be hurt. My gawd, what country is this?

        • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

          Exactly the issue. Inappropriate comments in the wrong place.

          Women shouldn’t have to stay home because some people can’t be appropriate at a tech conference nor should they have to shut up and take it.

          • JDSoCal

            Women stay home, right, that’s was my point. #readingcompfail Spare me the typical liberal concern trolling. Women like Richards should grow up. Either she is an equal, or she needs mommy to defend her from big scary men who give her the vapors with words that hurt her wittle ears. Can’t have it both ways.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            Nothing liberal here at all…just equality. Equality doesn’t mean you treat women like men.

            You treat a woman like a lady no matter what, IMHO.

          • James Doyle

            Equality means you treat everyone equally. None of this “lady” crap.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            Equal rights but it doesn’t mean you socially treat them like they are one of the guys. (that’s my point, for clarity)

        • kibbles

          yeah, im not convinced that being an american means youre free from being offended by anything, ever.

          ive heard plumbers say far, far worse, and nobody’s gone ape shit over their industry.

      • lucascott

        From the sounds of it her mind has been set to take everything to that place for a while.

        And perhaps led her to this error in judgement while perhaps repping her employer. Sounds like its not the first time so no shock if they were not amused

        • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

          Some people can only take so much and she obviously hit her tipping point. This isn’t just one joke the first time ever…she’s endured this for years.

          • James Doyle

            You mean she has dished this out for years. http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=35cers5&s=6

            When you go in to someone else’s space, you abide by their norms. You don’t try to colonize thier space by imposing her norms. oh, and if you do try to impose your norms, it would help if you yourself abided by those norms you expect everyone else to observe.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            That pic is fake. Please see other comments.

            Edit: Also, this was public…not someone else’s space.

  • samdchuck

    More proof that’s she’s just a horrible person. Instead of helping ‘the cause’ (ugh) she’s harming it and reinforcing negative female stereotypes.

    Here’s an image (The Verge decided to delete from their comments) to add to see what kind of person she is: http://i45.tinypic.com/35cers5.jpg

    • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

      I see why they deleted it: they are edited tweets.

      “As an advocate for digital equality, my actions today at #pycon made me feel like Joan of Arc, minus the visions” https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/313442430848487424 (not “minus the dongle”)

      “The distance between someone’s perception and reality…thinking of how to measure this http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_measurement …” https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/312609238994284544 (not penis measurement)

      …etc, etc, etc.

      That graphic almost got me though. My position almost changed.

      • samdchuck

        Mmmm, didn’t know that, I went of the tweets that she did post, like “Black people CANNOT be racist against White people. Racism is a position of the oppressor who has the power” and others were she thinks of herself as some kind of hero, someone the rest of the world needs to stand up for them.

        • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

          I didn’t go through all of them but some are real. You can visually see the difference in some the official one’s.

          The racist views I didn’t even touch. I somewhat see her point but that’s a whole other topic/issue/discussion.

  • Colin Jensen

    That was the smartest thing I’ve read all week. Thanks.

  • Jon

    Actually, both sides are winners out of this. She gets the free publicity and assumes the Joan of Arc/martyr womyn role crusading against those evil misogynistic pigs and they get to play the part of the poor guys whose lives were ruined by a crusading femi-nazi. Both will recover quite quickly I’m sure.

  • JDSoCal

    OMG, what complete BS. The incident underscores the ridiculous over-sensitivity of feminism. If women want to enter male-dominated fields, they should adapt to the culture, instead of expecting the culture to adapt to them. Want to be treated as an equal? Then don’t run and hide behind mommy’s skirt when you hear something you don’t like. Show men you can banter with them as an equal, and don’t make them think you are an informant that is going to get them fired.

    The comments on Adria’s site are about 10-1 against her ludicrous, malevolent, whiny crap, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb here.

    The feminization of American culture is sad, as is the propensity of weaselly executives to appease the PC Police, as this coward Yang did.

    God forbid we have some freedom of expression and individualism in America. Amazing that a writer on the site where the Beard writes can’t see that.

    • Peter Cohen

      The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists”

      • JDSoCal

        Leftism in a nutshell. Instead of embracing human nature, fight it!

        Shaw was a good writer, but a socialist, which has proven time after time to be an epic failure. Socialism is the opposite of freedom, just as is political correctness.

        There’s your “teachable moment.”

    • http://twitter.com/jackbanh Jack

      The tech world is losing when we scare away talented people because we turn a blind eye to our exclusionary culture. There are smart people out there that could be working with us and helping us build better software if only we make room for them to stand next to us.

      • JDSoCal

        I don’t want to work with people I do not respect, and anyone who is “offended” (hint: she wasn’t, she’s a concern troll) by a dumb dongle joke I have ZERO respect for. Actually, I have contempt for her kind.

        Real women can roll with the punches and hold their own with men. Little girls run behind mommy’s skirt.

  • the_other_stevejobs

    you can’t have it both ways – and she obviously wants more rights for her than she is willing to give you, whoever you are.

    You can’t have this: https://twitter.com/adriarichards/statuses/31226509179184742

    and also claim that jokes regarding male sexual parts are unacceptable.

    1. Its not fair – it sets a double standard that its fine for her to make dick jokes, but it is inappropriate for you to make dick jokes.

    2. Its not feasible – short of saying nothing to her, you cannot be sure that anything won’t offend her, given her proclivity for dick jokes, and even when you’re NOT making a joke, she is offended – it took me a solid 3 minutes to figure out what her complaint about forking was at a developer conference.

    Its impossible – while they are attempting to make Europe a offense-free zone, they’re also making it impossible to operate when anything can upset anyone since anyone can be upset by something, and you never know who you are around. For example, some people can openly call for the murder of gays (while others can’t) and simultaneously, this statement would be considered offensive because i’m calling out their beliefs and I would be considered hateful.

    The only logical, possible way ahead is for people to understand – you may be offended, and you have no right to NOT be offended.

  • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

    Here is an excellent post on the matter: http://www.standardista.com/death-by-1000-cuts

  • al hunt

    she been in a cave the past ten years? dongle joke is something new to her? and as far as limiting culture B.S. I am a diesel tech, we are known for crude jokes, and our ranks have more and more women joining everyday thank god they are not a bunch of whiny lil prissey missy’s. P.S. thier jokes are far worse then ours!

  • http://www.ctcampbell.com/ Chris Campbell

    I’m sure it’s been said already, but a sexual joke isn’t necessarily a sexist joke.

    • http://www.acid-product.co.uk Ian Davies

      Your rational and well-reasoned thoughts have no place in this discussion.