My kid is home from college for spring break. It’s been an awesome week - when she’s not sleeping she’s actually hanging out with me. Inevitably the conversation turns to work stuff – recruiting for me, school work for her, and what the future holds now that’s she’s a grown up (sort of). I asked her what she thought of Donglegate. Ok, maybe not the best intro, she looked both confused and disturbed until I explained. For those that missed it, two guys at a tech conference made a bad joke and a woman sitting in front of them didn’t like it. Techcrunch has a pretty good overview here. Another great recap can be found here at blogging4jobs.
My daughter’s reaction was swift and a bit surprising. She thought the whole thing was stupid and avoidable. She also said not all sex jokes are anti-feminist. I asked her how she felt as a young woman facing a career in a potentially male-dominated field. She just rolled her eyes. “Women in the workplace claiming victimhood make all women look weak. It reflects on me because she’s so offended.”
I had to really think about what she just said. My first thought (ok, fear) was that I had somehow really screwed up in raising her. Did she not know the trouble our foremothers went to in order to secure us the right to vote? To go to college? To work full time for equal pay? Or had she, in spite of her less than perfect childhood, turned out exactly right? Has my daughter actually moved beyond her gender, at least in the professional sense, and become the competent and professional person I always knew she would be? She went on to say this – “Traditionally men didn’t want women in the workplace because they are too sensitive – Adria has proven to be that. By publicly shaming them, she’s cost two people including herself a job. The joke wasn’t public enough to be shared in that way. Furthermore, someone with her influence should use her powers for good. This doesn’t help women.”
My daughter simply doesn’t want to be treated any differently because she’s a woman. That also means she doesn’t want to be tiptoed around or looked at as some sort of “protected class” that can’t take a joke. Does that mean goofballs get a pass to say whatever they want? Of course not! We should ALL be held to professional standards, especially at a conference like this. If a man had been offended by the joke and responded the same way, would we be seeing the same viral reaction? Adria Richards has every right to be offended. People offend me ALL THE TIME. It’s how we respond to that kind of negative stimulus that matters. I don’t even mind the public shaming – I shame people all the time. I call out poor customer service, unprofessional recruiters, and crappy career advice. When appropriate I do so confidentially. I blog about these things because they matter; it’s an important cautionary tale for some, and yet I do so carefully because I don’t want anyone to be fired over it.
So what is the right response? While I think Adria’s reaction was over the top, I don’t know that there’s a one size fits all response to these situations. I asked Kim how she would have reacted if she were in Adria’s seat that day. She admitted that she most likely would have laughed – she’s a lot like me in she just doesn’t take this stuff too seriously. If she felt truly offended or harassed? Simple. She would have done exactly what I would have done. Turned around, impaled them with my stink eye, and asked the joke teller if he kissed his mother with that mouth. If I may paraphrase a line from Adria’s own post on the subject – my daughter is too tough to let the ass clowns at a conference make it impossible for her to learn and love programming – or anything else.