Is coddling really what is needed?

I’m just getting caught up on the latest sexist insensitivity happening in the tech world, but as I was reading @nrrrdcore’s postt There is No Emoji for Martyrdom (update: context) I came across this year old story about Adria Richards being fired for publishing pictures of men who made rude and inappropriate comments, I’m struck by this quote that is attributed to her:

There is something about crushing a little kid’s dream that gets me really angry. Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.

Am I reading that wrong, or is she saying that she thinks women need to be told they’re competent when they are clearly not competent?

Does anyone go “from birth through retirement” being told they are welcome — regardless of their gender? Especially when they aren’t helping the people they’re working with to accomplish the goal they’re striving for? How do you say “We welcome you, even though it seems like you’re just getting in the way?”

I was mostly with Adria up until this quote in the story. I’m not going to say she should be able to publish people’s pictures on Twitter without any consequences, but she felt threatened, or at least angry, and she reacted. What she did is understandable in that context. From reading this tiny slice of the story, I can only assume that she felt making a statement was more valuable to her than continued employment. And I can respect that. It takes some real self-assurance to decide to tke that sort of stand.

But this quote of hers seems wrong to me. Maybe as I look at the story, I’ll see get some context that is missing right now — something that would frame the statement better. But the statement by itself seems insidious — that we should tell women they are valued in the field simply for being women?

Now, I’m very aware that there is a real gender imbalance in the tech community — especially in the free software world where I make my home. And I’m keen to make sure my three daughters will be able to succeed in whatever they decide to do — I’ll be especially interested in they really take an interest in my chosen profession.

But the reality is that the world crushes people’s dreams all the time. Anyone who goes from birth to retirement and gets the consistent message that they are welcome and competent is being fooled. I don’t want that for any of my children. If they need to be told to improve or that they just aren’t doing what is needed, then that’s fine. I’ve been told that more than once and I’ve managed to survive and I certainly want my children to be tough enough to survive and thrive as well.

3 thoughts on “Is coddling really what is needed?”

  1. I think perhaps there is a lacking nuance of language that perhaps is what is causing your lack of concern. The point isn’t that because she exists and happens to lack a Y chromosome that she (or anyone) should be constantly told they are great the way they are and should be treated akin to that greatness.

    What I think she is expressing is that in a culture where the “boys club” is so prevalent that it can unconsciously be exclusive to women that making everyone feel praised, ignored, or criticized for their merits rather than their gender from birth to grave is what is important.

    In the same way that you don’t your kids coddled if they are seriously lacking, I imagine you also wouldn’t want their contributions trivialized or flatly ignored because they don’t “fit in” to the work environment because they don’t like sports, or the right music, or happen to be female.

    The context that I take her quote from wasn’t that she needed validation because she was a woman but that she felt that she was being excluded and/or ignored not because her contributions were bad but because she was no longer accepted into the allegedly testosterone heavy environment.

    I have to say that I see this routinely within gaming communities. If you are a clever, insightful, creative, and talented “Let’s Play” Youtuber and happen to be male you get all sorts of “great job” comments. If you have those same qualities and happen to be female you get “show me ur bewbs” or “you’re so hot” or any number of uncomfortable comments that have nothing to do with the content you are creating. Which is understandably uninviting.

    When my sister got her first job out of college she was given “helpful” advice by a male superior that her dress (which was perfectly professional) was “distracting” when fellow female coworkers wore more revealing clothes to work. She immediately felt unwelcome and uncomfortable. Something I’m sure no male coworker felt.

    I think her plead for an environment that is welcoming and makes employees feel competent and valued is working with the assumption that the employees are competent and valued. If they were the above you imagine they either wouldn’t have gotten hired or would have been hired.

    That’s just what I got out of it but I could be wrong as they are her thoughts/words. Just a different perspective having talked to women who worked at big companies with a “boys club” mentality. A privilege as a male that I will never have to deal with.

  2. When the whole Adria Richards being harassed at PyCon thing first exploded, I had a “Really? We can’t snark to our coworkers?”, but then I went back and read her original report of the situation more closely, and saw this:

    The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so. He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.

    That would have been fine until the guy next to him…

    began making sexual forking jokes

    So, no, I don’t think Ms. Richards is saying that women should be assured that they’re competent if they aren’t competent. I think she’s saying that women should be able to have technical conversations with career peers without hearing “boy, I’d like to fork your repo, if you know what I mean, hur hur hur”.

  3. Yeah, Like I said, the statement really lacks context. I’m completely prepared to believe that the person writing the story intentionally didn’t provide any. Which leads me to wonder *why* they didn’t provide any.

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