“You Don’t Speak For Me” – A College Student’s Thoughts on Donglegate

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.”

Whoa.

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.

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Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 29, 2013 at 2:19pm
Being offended has gone too far in my opinion. We could all waste an incredible amount of time being offended, throwing fits about being offended, apologizing for being offensive or talking about who offended whom and for how long.

People pop off, say dumb stuff, if it goes on too long, becomes a pattern or becomes disruptive address it. Otherwise a one off goofy remark is best ignored. If all of us have not offended someone at some time by a goofy remark we have been asleep.

If anybody of either gender wants to put on their helmet with horns, pick up their spear and become Wagnarian it seems to me they turn life into a dramatic opera. Drama in the workplace bores me to death no matter who does it.

From what I am seeing many HR departments are turning into players in the dramatic opera instead of defusing the intensity of performers.

How about we get over this drama crap, do our jobs and leave the drama to the people who are paid to perform. My response to things like this has always been, " in the whole big scheme of things, how big a deal is this, there are levels of crisis just as there are levels of everything. They don't have to all be up around the ceiling."

It seems to me the offended turned into the offender in this one and shot herself in the foot in the process. If you want to fling poo there is a reasonable expectation that somebody will fling it back.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 29, 2013 at 2:23pm
And trust me ladies, you will all reach the age where sexual harassment will be a compliment.
Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 29, 2013 at 3:33pm

Well said Sandra! IMO Adria went too far when she started claiming in her blog post that the future of women in coding was at stake if she didn't call out these guys. Ridiculous.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 29, 2013 at 4:40pm

I agree that the "high blown purpose" defense is just hogwash.  Nobody is that important or has that much influence on the future of the masses.

I have had several good mentors over the years or maybe i should say "trusted advisors".  There are several comments they made to me that penetrated my concrete head.

1.  "McCartt you have the ability to lead the charge of the Light Brigade, before you lead that charge keep in mind that the fate of the Light Brigade was that they died to a man."

2.  "Damnit McCartt, don't use a Howitzer to do what a BB gun can do unless you just want to make a lot of noise."

3.  "You can do anything you want to do if you are willing to give up something to do it, so decide what you want to do and what you are willing to give up to accomplish it then don't look back and whine about what you gave up."

It's pretty clear to me that this gal decided that she was going to going to punish these asshats for something that irritated her, used a howitzer, has caused a devisive uproar that is causing a lot of people to publically express opinions that may have ramifications in their work groups later on because they got irritated and now she is trying to take on the mantle of Joan of Arc.  If that is what she wants to do that is a choice also but let's not forget where Joan ended up.

Wonder what would have happened if she had not used the Howistzer, left the conference and written a well thought out blog about what happened, what she thought about doing, why she decided not to do it but called for comments from the coding community about thoughtless comments or jokes at conferences.  It seems to me she could have rallied a lot of support from all genders, generated some thoughtful awareness instead of creating a firestorm.  To some she may become a folk hero.  To others she has become an over reactive bitch.

Was that really what she wanted to do and was she willing to give up what she has given up to do it.  Somehow the unintended consequences of this charge of the Light Brigade may be remembered for a long time but i don't think the end result was what she thought it would be when she raised the sabre and charged.

 Lack of ability to think through an action before we take it has caused unintended consequences since Adam ate the apple.  That's the bitch i'm after if not for her and her apple we would all be living in a garden somewhere or so i'm told by some of my less secular friends.  Which begs the question whose fault was it? The gal who had the apple or the guy who took a bite.  Still takes two to tango in any bad situation.  Maybe sometimes it's better to just walk away and fight another day in a different way.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 29, 2013 at 5:07pm

Sandra I couldn't agree more. I would have totally respected her for writing a post that protected the anonymity of the joke teller (it was a JOKE, not an assault) yet still shined a light on bad conference behavior. Good call on the Joan of Arc thing. Sadly some women think their calling in life is to be a martyr for the rest of us who quite frankly are doing just fine thanks very much.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 29, 2013 at 5:53pm
I wonder sometimes if some of the behavior and attitudes we are seeing may be reflecting some of the stupid titles we are hanging on people. If you give a person the title of evangelist, guru, ambassador perhaps they start believing their own BS title. Just a thought.
Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on March 29, 2013 at 7:14pm

Amy – this is definitely a blog I wanted to respond to. However, when I first read it I was suffering from a major case of ADD and couldn’t conjure up a coherent thought or comment. By the time I returned to RBC, there really wasn’t much to  add to Gerry’s and Sandra’s completely on-target remarks. But here goes anyway…

Without having deeper insight about exactly what went down at the conference (besides all of the blog recounts), I don’t feel comfortable adding a specific opinion about the level of offensiveness of the males involved nor the female’s reaction. But, the outcome overall seems extreme based on the info available.

More importantly though, your daughter sounds mature, well-adjusted and logical, which I’m sure is a credit to you as a parent.

As I tried to envision how I would have reacted at your daughter’s age, I thought about the work environment I was in from my mid- to late teens through 20s. I worked in the grocery industry back in those days which consisted of many night shifts and graveyard schedules where I was one of the only, if not THE only female on duty. Not once did I ever feel offended, intimidated, unwelcomed or subjected to inappropriate jokes or gender bias.

Was it because I was fortunate to be surrounded by perfectly behaved, well-mannered, respectful gentlemen? Doubtful! These were burly, brawny, brash, blue-collar (burping, farting, spitting chew in a used coffee cup) types that didn’t seem to be overly concerned about being sensitive around me. Was it because I have thick skin, common sense and rarely get offended? Probably!

I don’t mean to suggest that a “boys will boys” type of attitude is the answer. But my (non-HR lady) take is, unless the behavior, comments or actions are directed at a specific person with a malicious intent, it seems that a mature reaction when others are being immature is to evaluate where that fits in the larger scheme of things.

All of the harassment related laws prioritize how the recipient interprets the incident and that’s probably how it should be. That said, it also makes it far too easy for someone to be punished or penalized severely for a nonsense situation just because someone else has different sensibilities. 

Either way, I don't think any of us need someone else "speaking for us" on this type of issue. 

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 29, 2013 at 9:11pm

Thanks Kelly - and she's remarkably well-adjusted considering her parents! :)

Love your story - I remember my first "business" trip. I was a baby recruiter for a light industrial staffing agency feeling all grown up because I was going to CA for a big "all-hands" company meeting. We were hanging out in the hotel lobby that evening before kickoff mtgs the next day and the drinks were flowing. I was curious. Our COO (and CEOs nephew) walked in chomping on a cigar with a scantily clad receptionist on each arm. I'm fairly certain I was the only employee who slept ALONE in the room assigned to me. It was a shock as I thought "professionals" didn't behave that way on business trips.

Fast forward about 3 years, same company. I'm now a branch manager, only female out of 20-something branches. Back in CA for a meeting at corporate, and I was presenting my P & L - first time in company history that particular office (the 2nd I had led) made a profit. Long story short, I put up with a lot of bad "boys club" behavior during my time there, but I learned not to take them seriously and never let anyone push me too far. My (male) boss knew how hard I worked and treated me like every other manager in the company. That's all I asked for.

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