I May Be Ugly; But I Sure Miss Kathy Sierra.
In spite of my love of writing, a plethora of ideas and opinions, and my near genetic inclination towards early adoption, I was slow to embrace blogging, and particularly blogging under my own name and with my real, sometimes controversial or “not nice” opinions. This is because I am old enough to remember the Kathy Sierra incident. Go ahead. Click on a few of these links if you don’t know what I’m talking about. This post will wait….. …welcome back. Scary, eh? I loved her blog so much and I wanted to try and find my voice too. But what sane woman would risk having a stranger threaten rape or other sexual violence? Was it “worth it,” “just” to share my opinion? I wasn’t sure. I was just new enough in the world of technology and Silicon Valley, to be utterly frightened by what I heard from her. It had a chilling effect on me, and I will guess others as well.
For a long time I was simply too afraid to write.
Afraid of what people might think.
Afraid of not being hired.
Afraid of not getting promoted.
Afraid of being physically attacked.
All of those fears appear unfounded as of this writing, thankfully. (and part of me thinks I am tempting fate even so--which is quite telling in describing its impact on me)
Most likely, I'm having a better experience online because:
My readership to date is so small (thank you to all 20 or so of you plus my Twitter followers in the hundreds…) that it hasn’t been bad so far for me. Who knows what will happen if I am ever really popular? But I have decided to not let the fear of the future stop me.
Tools have improved. I am quite active on Twitter publicly, and because of the block feature there hasn’t so far been much abuse. I have Facebook entirely closed off for privacy reasons, because even I need a safe space among friends. I moderate comments on this blog because of what I have seen Kathy and others endure.
It's not cool...for now. Many of the leaders of Silicon Valley are at least not openly misogynistic now, thanks to people like Tara Hunt, Cindy Gallop, Nilofer Merchant, Rachel Sklar, Cathy Brooks, Women 2.0, Vivek Wadhwa, and others I haven’t named who have been insisting the culture of tech change to accommodate voices which have not yet been heard. Much progress has been made.
Social media brings transparency: I see many top VCs and tech bloggers (much props to Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, Michael Dearing, Robert Scoble, Dave McClure, Adam Nash, Henry Blodget, and yes, Mike Arrington to name a few, but there are many more) responding to little ole me on Twitter with real answers and polite dialogue.
There are more of us. Still not enough, but far more than there were even 5 years ago.
To their eternal credit, men ARE evolving: I’ve worked with some of the most amazing men I’ve ever met who have been supportive, generous, funny, wise, and helpful in so many ways.
As a result of all of these, I live in a fortunate time where I can feel part of a community, with a (small) voice about what happens, at least to me, and my own. Thank you for everyone who is working on that for all of us. For trying to make Silicon Valley a better place for everyone, always. Each time you give voice to someone like me, you humanize women, and you show other women they can have a voice too.
There have been more than a few incidents with lesser mortals, small ones really, compared to the horror Kathy Sierra saw; that got me thinking about interactions between men and women. In the interests of continuous improvement, here are a few ways the discourse can be refined further, should you care to do so:
Things to stop saying to women if you care about us:
Why is it that…whenever called on their behavior or argued with by a woman, many men’s first instinct is to call her ugly? Or its lovely twin sister, “Fat.” Hilary's "cankles" in the 2008 election. What is up with all that? What does it have to do with anything? When I’m pissed off, I don’t think, "man that dude is ugly!" I think, “What an asshole!” Men are always pushing us to be "less emotional" (see "gaslighting" below). Yet this is an emotional reaction itself! Pro tip: once you’ve called me Fat and/or Ugly you’ve ceded your entire argument; because I can only assume you had no other argument to make. Therefore, I shall claim victory immediately, just like Godwin's Law.
Sexual Preference as insult:
Next up….after the ugly comment, I am often called the odd non sequitur of lesbian. Now, I know some pretty hot lesbians who I’d LOVE to be mistaken for (hello Portia DeRossi!) If I’m so fat/ugly, why do they care so much who I sleep with? Why do they assume it’s an insult? Also see above: if you’re using this, you are probably out of arguments and hoping to hit a nerve on your way out the door. Realize that I consider it a compliment, considering how awesome the lesbians and bisexuals I know are.
First, here's the definition of another classic male tactic. Second, here's the definitive blog post on the subject, written by a man. Summary: if someone tries to invalidate your concern or make you feel crazy for calling them on bad behavior or a poor argument, it is THEY who are in the wrong. Once you realize what this is, you see it everywhere and wonder how you missed it before. Men, many of you who are very enlightened, you still do this every time you label a woman as "hysterical" or "over emotional." If you're reading this far, you're a pretty nice guy, but you should know I've seen even really awesome men fall into this pattern.
Bitch: Stop using it.
Let me make it clear, if it wasn’t already. Men are not allowed to use this word to describe women in a serious way, in the same way that the N word is not used by whites to describe African Americans. I had a business school classmate level this word at me in the hallway when he didn’t like my argument in class and couldn’t win me to his side. I asked him, a fellow with a Hispanic name, how he’d feel if he were called a [Hispanic racial epithet] when someone disagreed with him. He had no answer. I said, this is exactly the same way with Bitch. You may not use that word in anger or derision to any woman in my presence. Imagine being called the worst slur you can imagine and ask yourself, why would you do that to someone's daughter, wife, sister, or mother?( Interestingly, men's attitudes towards women change once they have daughters.)
My new manifesto
Now that we’ve got THAT settled, anyone who wants to argue with me is going to have to find other arguments to bolster their position and self esteem. I have realized that I have the right to my voice, and regardless of someone's opinion of my appearance, sexual preference, or mental state; I will not be silenced by anyone's hate, stupidity, fear, or self loathing.
In the meantime, Kathy Sierra, I miss you tremendously. I hope you will come back and share your wisdom again some day. We need you--and we've got your back this time.