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Noah Kagan and the Faceless Bitch slide (sherprog.com)
168 points by pw on July 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 209 comments

(I was the guy in front scraping hot sauce off my computer/bag/clothes after you threw the bottle up front)

Totally understand why you would be offended by the slide. Noah is a bit edgier than most, and he was likely going for entertainment value. It was not in the best taste to do it.

From what I know of Noah Kagan, he seems to be a good guy that goes out of his way to help people in the scene. If all you got out of his talk was to type faster, I think you missed out on a lot. There are lots of great points that were made that may have been lost in presentation for you. Also not sure if he fully understood why you wanted to explain why you threw the bottle, but I'll let him defend himself on that.

I'm all for being upfront and honest about things (sort of what my last post was about [0]) so its good to have these things out there. Its much more effective than throwing hotsauce at innocent bystanders :-)

0: http://frankdenbow.tumblr.com/post/7269203638/on-honesty-in-...

Noah is a bit edgier than most

At this point, if anyone ever described me as "edgy", I'd be aghast.

I didn't get hot sauce on me and I wasn't at MicroConf — but I will defend Noah. I've met him on several occasions and he's been friendly and helpful. He also gives time and energy to many people and projects without wanting anything in return.

I'm not defending his presentation; that slide offends me too. But I know that he deserves better than to wake up seeing this on the front page of Hacker News.

The author could have used the slide as a jumping off point for greater issues like gender equality in tech, or the pros and cons of being offensive in a presentation, or even a discussion about the word "bitch". Any of those topics would have forwarded the point more than writing a long ad hominem attack on someone who surely didn't intend to hurt or offend anyone personally.

"But I know that he deserves better than to wake up seeing this on the front page of Hacker News."

He is in almost complete control over this. Or he was when he woke up the morning of the conference.

Pro tip: one should not defend clearly sexist behavior if for no other reason than it associates you with sexist behavior in your own mind. And the speaker's behavior, as described, is clearly sexist.

I wasn't defending Noah's behavior. I was defending Noah.

as near as i could read, no one was attacking Noah -- just Noah's behavior, which seems out of line.

See the "i'm not calling you a racist, i'm calling your behavior racist" crucial line of distinction. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc)

Noah can be a sweet, helpful, lovable teddy bear, and still have behavior that needs to be called out.

Your defense is wrapped up in the context of the entire conversation, which is specifically about a particular behavior. Claims that you're offended by the behavior and are only defending ther person, even if they are genuine, are superseded by the enclosing context. For better or worse.

I've never met Noah. He may well be an awesome guy. But otherwise great people can do stupid and inappropriate things. That presentation was unacceptable.

And I get that it was probably meant in a jokey way, but this was simply not the venue for sexist jokes. Consider that there is very little separating "ironic sexism" and "actual sexism."

For more info on what Microconf was about (and some good take-aways) check out this podcast here: http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/episodes/episode-46-mi...

This is a sad story. I'm really genuinely bothered when I hear about guys that persist in thinking that this sort of presentation is cool or appropriate. I am sorry that you're upset about it, and I feel badly for the event organizer. This is the part that people will remember, not all of the amazing stuff. Conference organizing is surprisingly thankless.

That said, you have to admit that the hot sauce aspect of this story is really funny. What the heck did you hope to accomplish? If you'd actually hit him, he'd be legally entitled to press charges.

Did you end up apologizing to the attendees that got splashed, or offer to cover the cleaning bill for the conference organizer?

Sexism on stage or not, if you'd hit my shirt and my computer, I'd be pissed off.

Much like with Matt Aimonetti's "CouchDB: Perform like a pr0n star" presentation[0], the male-dominated nature of the tech industry sadly often makes men think that it's acceptable to say and do sexist things at industry conferences. It's already hard enough to get women into technology, and things like this only make it even harder.

0: http://omploader.org/vNWNrNg/gogaruco-couchdb-090418194027-p...

My standard for sexism is: would it be OK to do it if the situations were reversed?

So imagine a woman on stage, picture of some dude with a blot over his face and 'BASTARD' written on it.

- Sexist? Not sure it would indicate the speaker hates all men per se, just this one.

- But lame, like the speaker couldn't control themselves over their anger at someone and had to bring it on stage for some kind of pathetic vindication? Sure.

I'd advise not doing this not because it's sexist, but because it makes the speaker look like an angry, sad individual.

PS. If the hot sauce was glass, that's obviously even worse. Lesson: stupid drama (like throwing some ex girlfriend on an unrelated talk) invites more stupid drama (like throwing bottles at someone rather than using words as a first resort).

That doesn't work in situations where there is a power imbalance. For example, let's use our time machine and travel back to 1978. Consider the words "Nigger" and "Honky" in a presentation. Nigger was way more offensive, to the point that there really wasn't an equivalent slur you could apply to so-called white people.

It's the same thing with "bitch." There is a power imbalance such that there isn't an equivalent slur you can apply to men. "Bastard" doesn't even come close to capturing the degrading implications of "bitch" today. Maybe it did in the Middle Ages, but not today.

If you use general-audience television/movies and the speech of the young as an indicator, 'bitch' oddly seems to be becoming more acceptable over time. I'm not sure if this is a rise of sexism, or simply a weakening of the word's 'degrading implications'. (It might even be a indication of falling sexism; the word becoming less seen as a uniquely-gendered slur, and no worse than calling someone a 'dick' or 'pig'.)

A poll of usage and attitudes by age might be interesting.

On my ride to the office I had the thought that the launch of MTV may have something to do with it. Just as my parents' generation made "fuck" an everyday word, the MTV generation seem to have a different view of the words "nigger" and "bitch," possibly in part because of the glamorization of hip hop culture.

Perhaps, but also: quasi-feminist efforts to reclaim the word and imbue it with some positive qualities, of which a few examples would be:

• 'Bitch', Oakland- and then Portland-based feminist magazine, launched 1996

• Meredith Brooks' 2000 hit pop single, 'Bitch'

• a boomlet of books with 'Bitch' in the title, ranging from Elizabeth Wurtzel's 'Bitch: in Praise of Difficult Women' (1999) to Helena Andrews' 'Bitch is the New Black' this year

That is, I don't think it's just hip-hop or glamorization of misogyny that's the popularizing/de-taboo-ifying factor here.

Well, that's interesting. I certainly have seen tee shirts proclaiming the wearer to be a "Babe In Total Control of Herself."

The terms 'nigger' and 'honky' are inherently discriminatory because they are frequently used to describe membership of an entire group of people. They're not looking at individuals based on their own character, but judging them based on their group. These terms are occasionally used for individuals, but less commonly so.

'bitch' and 'bastard' are more commonly used for individuals, though they are occasionally applied to entire genders.

I agree with you about the power imbalance problem.

But to the extent that there is an equivalent slur toward men, I think it would be something like "dick" or "prick" rather than "bastard". Those are words that are derogatory in a gender-specific way, specifically directed at males.

"My standard for sexism is: would it be OK to do it if the situations were reversed?"

This might not actually be a good test because, as a society, we have different social standards for men and women. While Kagan's actions could be considered "masculine", most likely if a woman did something similar it would be considered "bitchy".

Because we use different words and standards, it's really hard to truly reverse the situation.

By the way, your example indicates that you're confusing sexism and misogyny -- you could debate whether his position is misogynistic (expresses a hatred for women) but it seems fairly likely that it's sexist (makes some women feel uncomfortable in a situation because of their gender).

This is such bullshit. Why would it be "masculine" to insult women? Discussions of this kind (gender issues) quickly seem to deteriorate into complete fantasy land.

To be sure there are probably circles of men who think it is cool to insult women. Likewise there are circles of women who think it is cool to insult men. That doesn't generalize to the whole population, though. For example, I am male and I don't think it is cool to insult women. Why don't you generalize from me to the whole male population of planet earth, rather than generalizing from some bonehead?

There are all sorts of fucked up people, in fact. To generalize from them is just useless.

If I had been to that particular talk, I would just have made a mental note to avoid that speaker in the future. I probably would have left early, too - what is the point in sitting through a crappy presentation? Maybe even send a note to the organizers so that they can adjust their speaker line up for the next conference.

Having one man insult women doesn't necessarily generalize to the entire male population, but what is damning is when a man insults women in a public setting under the assumption that nobody will criticize him for it (implicit acceptance).

I don't think it is implicit acceptance. People probably leave during the speech, they nod off, or they avoid the speaker in the future. Maybe they should immediately jump onto their chairs and shout "foul", but I am not really sure that would be desirable.

Frankly, I want to have a choice if I go to such a conference to concern myself with topics that interest me. Maybe some other time I'll go to a conference about women's rights. At any milliseconds there are a zillion unfair things going on in the world, we can not deal with them all.

In this particular situation, for example, I wouldn't see anybody who was hurt directly. Like if I saw somebody beating up somebody else on stage, I might be moved to step in and stop the beating. But here - even if some women's feelings were hurt, I figure they could just leave the room without my assistance. So it doesn't seem worth the trouble to make a fuss about it.

Realistically, I probably would have the same reaction, but just as a thought experiment, what if it was something similar with an off-color (not necessarily outright offensive) slide regarding someone's ethnicity or sexual orientation? I feel like it would be comparable.

Thinking you are never sexist is like thinking you never have boogers hanging out of your nose.

Sure, you never see it... that's makes it easy to pretend it's not happening. But anyone with eyes below your nose level (most likely women) definitely sees it.

And your only defense is developing good rapport with those people, and giving them reason to believe that you'll respond graciously when they point it out.

Give an example. I must admit I am at a loss for words. What should I feel guilty for, and to whose benefit?

Everybody faces prejudice. For example I face prejudice because I work with computers. I don't think that warrants inflicting a huge guilt trip on the rest of the world.

> it's sexist (makes some women feel uncomfortable in a situation because of their gender).

We have a different definition of sexism. If a person feels uncomfortable, it does not necessarily mean they are being discriminated against.

Let's turn it around to the best of our ability (by looking for something that has a similar social effect and not merely the same behavior) and test that definition: A lot of men feel extremely uncomfortable because of their gender when women mention menstruation or menopause. Are women who talk about those topics sexist?

(I'm not saying it's a good thing to talk the way Noah did. But I don't feel that "momentarily inconsiderate of others' feelings" is the same thing as "sexist." One is a bad behavior that could come from any number of reasons and the other is a deep-seated mindset.)

I assumed it was the same brand of hot sauce shown in the picture -- a plastic bottle with a rooster on it that around here is colloquially known as "cock sauce."

"Cock sauce" with friends, "rooster sauce" at work. Giving a talk at an industry conference is definitely a "rooster sauce" situation.

Good post. I found the author of the post was overly sensitive. He wasn't calling her a bitch or all women bitches, just some random stranger. A pretty pointless and immature thing to put in a slide show to be sure, but sexist? The guy was right to answer "no" when she asked if he wanted to understand what happened.

Replace "bitch" with an ethnic slur. Do you still feel the same way?

"Bitch" can be a loaded word. Sometimes it's used as the female version of "asshole" or "dickhead." Sometimes it feels more hateful of women in general, like an ethnic slur. Because it's so sensitive to context like that, I think reasonable people should not use it with so little context in a professional presentation.

>Replace "bitch" with an ethnic slur. Do you still feel the same way?

No, because it's not the same thing. Saying a woman is a bitch is a far cry from saying all women are (though granted, his choice of having a generic woman with a blanked out face was bad).

>I think reasonable people should not use it with so little context in a professional presentation.

I never said the presenter was reasonable, in fact I said the opposite. But that's a problem with him and the proper response is to assume he's not very mature. A random woman in the audience getting offended is silly and useless. He wasn't talking to or about her specifically.

> A random woman in the audience getting offended is silly and useless.

I don't think this is how "getting offended" works.

She felt angry and offended, not because it served a purpose, but because that's how she felt. Are you only offended when it's useful? I think I'd have been pretty irritated by the presentation as well (and I'm a guy), which suggests to me that her reaction wasn't some personal idiosyncrasy. Kagan should, in fact, pay some attention to what happened here & why, if he wants to be invited to give more important talks.

And if he does or has been thinking about that, that would be useful, after all.

Kagan's mistake here wasn't that it was offensive. I don't think there was a rational reason for anyone besides his ex-girlfriends to get offended about this and there's no point in bothering with people who look for reasons to be offended.

His mistake was that this made him look petty and childish ("Oh look at me, I'm in front of people so now I can call people I'm mad at names!") while serving no positive purpose.

That's exactly what I'm trying to say: in some contexts, "bitch" does have that connotation towards the group. It's not a simple word to use.

Surely the world would at least need to be "bitches" to have group connotations?

Strangely, he didn't lob the sauce bottle towards her like he did for other attendants. May it be because she was a girl, and girl are notoriously bad at ball games?

Actually, I suspect he realized why she was taking the picture, wanted to make a gesture indicating he respected her viewpoint, was distracted by - you know - giving a talk, thought "hey, a bottle of hot sauce! oh wait, throwing it might be misconstrued", and passed it over. Hilarity then ensued.

If we're going to jump out there with wild speculations do we also have to pick the most cynical ones [1]? I mean, from what I've read, this guy does indeed sound like a douche bag but that doesn't mean his every thought and action is sexist in nature.

If nothing else, didn't she still have the phone in her hand? Or maybe she was in a difficult spot to place a good throw. I mean she couldn't get the bottle to him, maybe he didn't think he could get it to her? Did the author say that he never did it again? Rather then this horrible kind of arm-chair sleuthing it's probably just easier to ask him why.

[1] funny enough, you suggesting this makes it more apparent that you think this way. I mean, this never occurred to me.

Just because you can understand someone's line of thinking doesn't mean you think like that.

The poster was making a joke based on a period when women were not considered capable of playing sports (among other things). The fact that that is no longer true and thinking like that is anachronistic is why the joke is funny (or is a joke at all). I can laugh at a joke that puts someone or a group down and still not be a bigot.

I think people who don't adjust their definitions of words/idioms to reflect modern connotations should stop holding grudges (or whatever the appropriate term is) and move on. That's obviously too simple a solution to work since it causes words to be less offensive over time and thus some parts of what they represent may become acceptable. For example, the word rape might be a bad one to get desensitized to because it might also lead to desensitization to the act of rape.

>Just because you can understand someone's line of thinking doesn't mean you think like that.

But when you make assumptions about what someone is thinking based on one action then you are not "understanding someone's link of thinking", you are projecting.

>The poster was making a joke based on a period when women were not considered capable of playing sports

If it was a joke then obviously I overreacted. The usual clues and context ("how does the parent usually talk/joke?") are missing in text, so it's easier to miss.

> I can laugh at a joke that puts someone or a group down and still not be a bigot.

Totally agree. Somethings are funny precisely because they're ridiculous.

>I think people who don't adjust their definitions of words/idioms to reflect modern connotations should stop holding grudges (or whatever the appropriate term is) and move on.

Not sure what you're addressing here.

> If we're going to jump out there with wild speculations do we also have to pick the most cynical ones [1]?

Of course we have to. Cynical sarcasm is way funnier than, say, throwing around hot sauce.

Totally missed that you were joking here. Touché.

Actually, words like 'bitch' and 'ho' ('whore') are very common gender slurs among some groups, unlike 'bastard' or 'asshole', so it's hard to find a 'reverse' situation.


I think context matters. If you had some relevant story where it mattered, I may not consider it sexist, but would always think of it as juvenile.

IMO, it's analogous to a comic whose schtick involves screaming the f-bomb or something similar. You get a few cheap laughs, but it gets old quickly.

Things like women throwing food items? Yes, that does cast a negative impression on women trying to get into the tech industry and makes things harder for them. Even if she had a legitimate case, she lost credibility by committing such a juvenile act in a community full of professionals. Also, her writing about the day's occurrences is not exactly portraying her as mature or level-headed but instead temperamental and vengeful.

Sometimes, a good cause's worst enemies are from within.

At least she concedes that was the wrong thing to do. Where is the presenter's apology for his immature and mildly offensive display?


-She threw the bottle and it landed halfway. Was it an inaccurate assessment of Noah to assume she might not catch it? Looks like she proved him right in that regard, at least.

-The picture wasn't 'scantily clad' or derogatory, and was unidentifiable. There is a fair chance it wasn't even a picture of an ex.

-There was some context, albeit I believe the main point was to keep people awake. 6 hours of speakers is a lot.

-Maybe I'm thinking too much into it, but I'm fairly sure 'type faster' was analogous to 'little shit can add up'.

-I've always considered 'bitch' to be a female specific version of 'dick'. Both being fairly synonymous with 'asshole'.

-She very much objectively f'ed up some of Frank's things. I was sitting between them and the bottle flew directly over my head. It is kind of a joke to get mad at someone's immaturity and respond in-kind, damaging a bystanders property.

Long story short- Noah is blunt. Maybe douchey. But throwing a tantrum and making a mess hardly gives you the higher ground.

For those who attended MicroConf, this post is by Anne Gunn, the woman who threw back the bottle of hot sauce during Kagan's presentation. Unfortunately, it didn't quite make it and landed on some audience members.

EDIT: For clarity. (Anne wasn't trying to hit Kagan. She was just trying to return the bottle the same way Kagan had been distributing them.)

So now posting a (to some people) offensive picture on a slide means that it is okay to physically attack (or attempt to) other people?

If I even get to make a presentation in such a place, and fill it with Nazi symbols I may be asked to go (or the attendents might leave) but I am not going to be physically attacked for it.

Yet bitch never killed anyone.

If that was a physical attack, then all the bottles kagen threw into the audience were also physical attacks.

Frankly, it would have been a better outcome if kagen had gotten beamed in the head with the bottle. In that case, at least, innocent bystanders wouldn't have had to deal with hot sauce.

Yeah, OP, I agree with all your points, the fact that you responded violently kinda undermines the whole thing. Throwing glass around could have gone really badly as well.

You acknowledge that it would have been better to calmly walk out, but this seems in your mind to be rather a matter of style and grace, rather than the fatal loss of the moral high ground that it is. Physical violence is worse than sexist language, full stop.

But yeah, as I say, I agree with you. This kinda shit is what makes me puts me off the whole tech scene and makes me glad that I'm kind of an outsider at the moment. That and the fact that if I'd been there I'd probably have been tempted to shout "FOOD FIGHT!"

EDIT: I see that it was plastic, not glass. Still, play nice children.

It's clear from the OP that the intention was not violent, but rather, to toss the bottle back in the way that Kagan was tossing them to the audience.

In other words, the primary error in judgment was one of distance and trajectory, not malicious intent.

Yeah, but in the case where Kagan was tossing them to the audience, I'm assuming he gave them some indication that he was about to hurl something at them so they'd be ready to catch it. Did the OP give Kagan the same heads up?

The point of the hotsauce was that Noah was rewarding people who asked good questions. She didnt warn anyone that she was throwing it back, i just heard a big thud and saw hotsauce everywhere. As was said earlier, it was more an error in trajectory and force than malice.

And it seems pretty clear as well that Noah didn't mean to offend her with the slide. People are mad at him for the effect his presentation had. There's hardly enough evidence to establish malice on his part — much less than on Anne's, since at least she was admittedly angry when she threw the sauce. Both actions were ill-considered.

They didn't attack anyone. If you view it as an attack, then you must conceed that they were attacked first, since the speaker was throwing bottles to the audience.

I've dealt with Kagan in the past and without going into too much detail, had a very negative impression. A shameless self promoter, who gave off the impression that he had no integrity.

I hate to create a throw away account for this, but I've had the same experience as you. I got the impression Noah was mostly a kid who is good at hustling, but with no ethical framework to support him. The recent email in which the readers were lead into thinking Tim Ferriss was involved, is just one example of his professional standards. To his credit, his customer support can be very good and prompt.

I'd never work with him again for these very reasons, and I've spoken with several people from his different companies who agree. While throwing hot sauce is never a constructive way to express your opinions, I think the author seriously over-estimated Noah's prestige in the valley.

I'm sorry to say, but I agree that Kagan's a total douche, both for this and previous remarks online. The amount of posts about sexism is starting to annoy the hell out of me, but it does deserve attention.

I find the actual sexism far more annoying than the posts about it.

Certainly, that's what I meant to say.

It's ok to call him a "douche" though.

(Not defending him, just pointing out the irony)

Well, for one thing, the context is entirely different.

I told my coworker he was being a moron last week at happy hour. However, it would be entirely inappropriate if I added a slide about how he's a moron to my next conference slide deck.

I came here to say this. Why do we use this word? I prefer the word "database" to "douchebag."

I find it ironic where in a community that's so aggressive about how anecdotes don't equal data there are members who draw conclusions about a person and holler them from the rooftops based on a few random stories on the internet.

Noah's a great guy (and a personal friend) who made a joke that didn't go over well.

Was it in poor taste? Possibly.

But let's get some perspective here before judging others and remember that everybody makes mistakes. You probably were lucky enough not to make them in such a public forum, where random people would holler words like "sexist" and "douche" at you from across the internet.

I read the entire thing thinking OP was male. It perplexed me why Kagan responded with a curt "No" when asked whether he wanted to understand the episode.

Then I saw from the first comment that OP's name is Anne - and suddenly saw why Kagan had been a jerk with her.

If someone threw a bottle of hot sauce at me during a high pressure situation, I wouldn't care at all about what they have to say to me. If she had approached him respectfully, without an unprovoked physical attack, he would have responded much differently.

See the comment above from someone who was sitting near her; she was trying to toss it back up to the stage to return it to him (and tried to get his attention so he could catch it) but it didn't work out. She also gave every indication of being mortified when the bottle burst and splattered people.

She certainly wasn't trying to bean Noah in the head with it, and I don't get the impression he would have thought that either.

Maybe. I see nothing to support that hypothesis here, but if it makes you feel better, then by all means.

Also, reading through comments here, the issue of sexism really turns this crowd ugly.

Indeed. That tends to happen on HN. It seems to me, though, that there are now more posts from people who actually do get it. It's too bad we can't see the voting to know the relative popularity of the various posts...

Their relationship clearly isn't a good one. With that context, and depending on the tone with which it was said (remember there were enough emotions involved to write a blog post about the slide afterwards), the question "Do you want to understand what happened during your speech?" might also be interpreted as "Do you want to sit through a personal attack?". I'm not defending his slide, but I'm also not surprised he said "No". It's possible he already understood, regretted his slide, and wanted to avoid what he perceived as a forthcoming attack. It's really hard to judge since we weren't present. I think it's clear neither of us would put that slide in our own presentations, but it nonetheless might be better not to personally attack someone in a public forum based on an incident we weren't present for. Even if he was in the wrong to say "No", attacking someone automatically puts them in the defensive and makes it harder for them to constructively evaluate criticism.

His slide was offensive and doesn't belong at a conference, but neither does petulant behavior such as throwing a bottle of hot sauce at the speaker in the middle of his or her presentation.

But the OP made it very clear that her act was not "throwing a bottle of hot sauce at the speaker in the middle of his or her presentation."

OP mansplained that her act was not "throwing a bottle of hot sauce at the speaker in the middle of his or her presentation."

Regardless of her mansplanation, in fact her act was "throwing a bottle of hot sauce at the speaker in the middle of his or her presentation."

Imagine you're the principal of a middle school and you heard what happened in the auditorium. Are you going to give both kids detention, neither kids, detention, or one kid (which one?) detention?

She was clearly throwing it at the other attendees.

Some rather passive aggressive writing in there attempting to belittle Kagan (who I suspect couldn't care less). But this stood out to me as an indicator of the poster's disdain:

"Apparently, in the small but influential industry of high tech companies and service providers who cater to high tech startup companies (yes, I’m serious, there is such an industry), Noah Kagan is a bit of a rock star."

Yeah, there is such an industry, but the faux incredulity only serves to weaken the other points made.

The ironic thing is that the passive/aggressive style reflects more poorly on the author. It sounds like a public justification about throwing the hot sauce and soaking people.

I know nothing about Kagan, except that he sounds like a self-promoter who values name recognition above all else. So whomever wrote this screed was successful at: A - Demonstrating to the world that she is an immature, passive-aggressive type and B - Letting me know who Noah Kagan, a man I have never heard of, is.

Who "won" here?

tl;dr the author attended MicroConf2011, enjoyed the overall experience, but disagreed with (aspects of) Noah Kagan's presentation and ended up throwing a bottle of hot sauce at the presenter.

The rambling, ranting writing style removed all of the author's credibility in my eyes. The writing focused on the author's actions and feelings, rather than the facts of the day. The fact that the author threw a bottle of hot sauce does not help portray a level-headed narrator either. The author may be providing a legitimate case and outcry against sexism, but when the author reduces it to matter of their own ego and hurt feelings, I do not give it any credence.

This reminds of the food fights in high school.

New Rule: If you're going to show a sexy, naked, or scantily clad woman in a slide, you damn well better be making a self deprecating joke.

If you show a derogatory slide about an innocent bystander (such as an ex-girlfriend) whatever you say about them is a reflection on you, not them. (Of course, making fun of your legitimate competition is always a risk, as well.)

New rule: if a presenter shows a sexy, naked or scantily clad woman in a slide, and tries to justify themselves by making a self-deprecating joke, the audience is supposed to say "oh yes you are", spray them with hot sauce, and leave.

What if it is a conference of the porn industry? Or even just the fashion industry?

I'm not sure what your point is. If all you mean is that there might exist some conferences where nobody would notice then yes (also: sky is blue.) But what does it have to do with this discussion?

The point was that the rule might not be useful everywhere. Sorry for adding a pointless point to a pointless discussion. I figured at this comment depth it might be OK to insert some humor.

I guess my bigger point was really that this discussion is pointless on such a general level.

The point is that the rule should not actually be a rule. At least, I took it to be a simple reversal of the original 'rule' post.

I have special place in my black dead heart for porn and fashion industry. But you could point out eg. an anti-violence or feminist conference. I doubt there would be any self-derogatory comments in those cases, though.

Could it be justified by a similar picture of opposite gender on the next slide?


Certainly not without two bottles of hot sauce, anyway.

In almost every professional context (except those few outlying context which directly relate to sexy, naked, or scantily clad people) this is inappropriate. I just hang my head when I see posts like this. The tech industry has a reputation for being nerdy and socially awkward, nothing proves that for outsiders faster than a stupid, immature stunt like the topic of the original article.

This behaviour is never appropriate and is completely unjustifiable. It not only embarrasses you and demeans your target(s), but it sends public opinions of our entire industry backwards.

I was sitting right in front of Anne at the conference, so I didn't see her throw the hot sauce, but I did see the bottle explode all over the stage and the people in front of me. My first response was to shut my MacBook Air. ;-)

An awkward tension hung in the air like a big stink bomb once everyone realized what had just happened. Noah managed to brush off the incident and continue his talk as if nothing happened. I'm sure I couldn't have continued so coolly if I were in his place.

I doubt any of us at the conference understand what was going through Anne's head at the time. I was confused by the whole incident, and figured she didn't want the hot sauce and was trying to playfully toss it back.

As for Noah's presentation, I thought parts of it were very low-class and out of place. My opinion of him as a person was lower at the end of his talk. That said, I did gain some valuable insights that have helped me focus better and improve my business.

Oh for crying out loud. Someone got angry at a picture of an ex-girlfriend with "bitch" on her face -- WHY?

It might be a bit distasteful, but what the fucking hell is offensive about it unless you were the ex?

If I put a photo up of my ex-boss and it had the word "cock" on his face would males in the crowd start getting really offended and start throwing bottles at stage? If so, I think the problem is in the audience. This has nothing to do with sexism.

It's about reality rather than logic or an ideal world.

In certain company, any reference to the female gender that doesn't fall in close proximity to the words "empowering", "role model" or "inspirational" can be taken to be a slight on the gender and a demonstration of the speaker's disrespect for them.

Note that I haven't shared whether I agree with this or not but.. it's how it is. And depending on how safe you want to play it, you choose your words accordingly :-)

I used to be an idealist, acting as I thought the world should be (everyone equal, etc.) but business has been a lot better since I've acted how it is, which includes avoiding potentially negative references to any physical traits whatsoever. Think.. would the President use this on a slide? Why not?

Oh my god. You are joking, right? You're actually getting it, but trying to portray a kind of disgusting sexist male that would say that?

The slide is offensive, because it relates to objectification of women. It's just that. It would be hard to explain it to you, and, actually, the only reason you don't get it is because you don't want to get it, so I won't even bother for your sake. But, like, I don't think things like what you said should be left without an answer, because some innocent might stumble upon them and think no one objects.

It's because of the way women are treated. It's because of the prevalence of violence and rape. It's because a dude probably won't be battered and raped due to him being an ex, but it's something that happens to women all the time. It's something that's hard to grasp for most dudes, including you. It does relate to a form of violence/abuse, and only way you can reject that is by being intentionally obtuse.

Oh, and if he put up his previous boss face with the word "cock" on it, he would stand a serious chance of being fired. He put up his ex's (or just random woman's, still relevant) photo with a word "bitch" on it and he still has a job. And the job lets him speak publicly. What. The. Hell.

Nothing I said in my comment was sexist, and calling me disgusting is utterly uncalled for. What's your problem exactly? How do you link the word "bitch" to rape and battery? How do you differentiate the fact that this was an ex girlfriend to the situation with an ex boss? What does any of this have to do with work standards?

You just come across as bitter and incredibly rude. Sort it out.

If I really hate my ex girlfriend and think she is a horrible evil woman, what would be a good biting derogatory word to use that would connotate "awful female" without other women seeing it as an attack on the entire gender?

If she is an awful person, just say so. The fact that you connect her awfulness with her gender is the problem. Consider the fact that I am an asshole. I can describe this in many ways without needing to describe my so-called color. But the moment someone calls me a Nigger... That's wrong.

Same thing.

When I imagine myself calling some woman a bitch, my mind doesn't seem to contain the idea that all women are bitches. I can sort of sympathize with your having an overactive detector of bigoted speech, but I'm uncomfortable with your trying to shut me up based on the detector's output instead of what I actually meant.

If you are uncomfortable with push back against your choice of words, your best bet is to avoid using controversial expressions in public.

Regardless of what you think you mean, it's a statistical certainty that someone, somewhere is going to regard words like "bitch" as inappropriate, or will feel uncomfortable, or will think poorly of you for making that choice.

It's not like I'm this lone, eccentric weirdo suggesting that it is not necessary to use the word "bitch" to describe a person whose behavior displeases you.

Update: And yes, of course, it's not like you are a sexist oppressive pig either, nor are you in an isolated minority. We're two people arguing opposing points that are both well within the range of normal human behavior. What makes the subject "controversial" is that there are large numbers of people on either side of the question and many on each side take it seriously. All I'm trying to say here is that since it is controversial, it's safest to use the word in a more private setting, not an Internet forum and especially not a conference presentation. I think we can agree on the question of avoiding controversy even if we disagree on whether the word describes a specific woman.

Can't say I'm a fan of this sterile world where realms of human experience and observation are ignored for the sake of an ideology.

Can you be a bit more specific? What is sterile about describing a person in opprobrious terms without using the word "bitch?"

What realms of human experience and observation are we ignoring? I suggest the opposite: Slurs like "bitch" are lazy, they ignore the myriad of subtle colours and shades of human behavior and replace them with a catch-all that means roughly "we disapprove of you."

I am certain that a man can damn his ex with far more wounding intent by expanding his vocabulary and unleashing his inner poet. Such insults would hardly be sterile, they would be fecund.

First of all I want to make it clear that I'm not defending Noah's use of that slide - I think it was dumb. I don't think that you think I approve of it, but I just wanted to get that out of the way up front. For the sake of argument though I'll be operating under the assumption that denigrating an ex- in a slide is a good idea, and the issue is to choose the correct word.

Back on topic, the ideology I was thinking of is the idea that men and women aren't statistically different (or if they are, that mentioning such things is impolite). I would argue that "bitch" captures a characteristically female way of hurting a man with whom she's had a relationship. (See Carmen for the high-culture version, or Louis CK for the pop-culture version - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpW3orlfp7E) It's true that the word also carries other connotations, but I don't think that was the intent.

I agree that it may be "lazy", but from a purely practical perspective, it would be tough to find a similarly short word (short enough to fit on the bobble-head) that conveys the meaning. "Evil" might work and is gender-neutral, but the class of actions that make one "evil" are broader than the class that make one a "bitch".

There should always be a divide between public life and private life. It's called professionalism. Unless your profession revolves around peoples private lives you should avoid the 'realms of human experience' and focus on 'experiences related to you getting money/work done'. There is a time and a place, and knowing this is an important part of being an adult and fitting into society.

I agree. See my other reply here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2751754

Somehow we got sidetracked onto the issue of whether it's ever ok to use a gendered description of someone's bad behavior.

If you really hate your ex-girlfriend and think she is a horrible evil woman, what would be the point of gratuitously parading your hatred in a technical presentation?

The easiest way for you to avoid having other women see your comment as an attack on the entire gender is to make sure that the comment is appropriate to the context.

Why does the word need to indicate that she is a she? Do you think her awfulnes and femaleness are connected?

It could be that her awfulness has a female quality to it rather than a gender-neutral or male one, in which case a female-specific insult could be appropriate (to the extent any insult would be appropriate to the listener, that is - the tone of this discussion is quickly heading toward the case where it is not appropriate to insult people at all, ever).

Female quality of the awfulness? You know, why it's mostly okay for you to decide against continuing a relationship if some physical quality of your partner disturbs you beyond the point when you can deal with it. It's sad but it happens. But I can't really imagine when such a situation would qualify someone as a horrible person.

And, I think that it's okay to insult people, for example it's okay to call someone who assigns "femininity" to character flaws a male chauvinistic pig.

And, I think that it's okay to insult people, for example it's okay to call someone who assigns "femininity" to character flaws a male chauvinistic pig.

Do you really believe that there are no linkages between sex and certain character flaws? Or is it just that this is one of those things that people should know better than to talk about when being polite? [I'd probably agree with the latter, FWIW]

Because in my life, the character flaws that I've seen in people absolutely tend to cluster based on sex. The stereotypes of the violent alcoholic boyfriend and capricious hypersensitive girlfriend come to mind as patterns that I've seen played out way too many times for the correlation to be a statistical anomaly, given that the inverse situations are very rare. I'd never say that women can't be abusive drunks that cheat on their SOs with 20 year olds and pay more attention to their jobs than their kids, but if you heard that a person of unknown sex was described that way, where would you put your money? Is it really so unfair to make that assumption?

In the end it doesn't really matter w.r.t. the current debacle - it's flat out wrong to refer to people as "bitch", and even more wrong to do so at a professional conference, and I just won't stand up for that. I do, however, think that it's fine and proper to consider certain personality traits to be more prevalent in women than men and vice versa, as long as the correlations are real (whether or not they're to blame on genetics or culture); to do otherwise is to pretend to live in a world that only exists in our imaginations.


And what is it about my chauvinism that is peculiarly masculine?

"I don't really like my ex."

When it's justified, "I think my ex was abusive," for example. That's quite biting, as far as I am concerned.

Edit: oh, I didn't relate to the "female" part. That's because you can't do that without being a horrible person yourself.

Saying "my ex was abusive" makes you sound a bit like a victim, though. Why did you put up with being abused? Just saying, it is probably not the effect you wanted to achieve.

It is also more detailed, which might be even worse to spill in public than just generic insults.

These aren't insults.

What. "Abusive" is not an insult to you?

Or is your problem based on the fact that "abusive" relates to an actual character trait, and not the gender of your ex?

Calling someone abusive is descriptive.

Calling someone a bitch is an insult.

Insults can be descriptive. In fact, the most biting insults are accurate descriptions.

OK, right, sorry. English as second language and all that.

Thus, my new Guide to Insulting People as a Decent Human Being: Don't.

I suppose it is an insult if untrue. Sort of. But you specifically ruled out that case. No, I do not think it is an insult.


I think it is inappropriate to call people names in public. But to be honest your rant is a bit over the top in my mind. It's not objectification, rape, slavery or whatever. It was just somebody calling somebody else names in public. ("Cock" on the boss picture would be just as inappropriate).

It is inappropriate to call people names in public. It is distasteful. What this isn't is sexism, and it's certainly not offensive to the entire female gender.

That's what I said, I think?

Indeed. I wasn't offering a dissenting view, just reiterating that this isn't sexist. Apologies for confusion :)

"Bitch" is a derogatory term toward women.

Is that still under debate? Would you be able to say "bitch" in front of your mother and not feel uncomfortable?

I think the idea of swearwords in general is to be derogatory. Would you be comfortable saying "shitface" in front of your mother?

I am not a native speaker, but I think "bitch" is actually just the word for a female dog. What makes it a swear word is in the imagination and value system of the receiver.

It would probably be wise to never use derogatory words for other people in general. But that doesn't seem the way the human psyche is set up.

Yes, ESR is annoying, nothing new. Also, wow, did he do a strawman, haha. The actual claim is "your refusal to acknowledge "racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression" (BTW, ESR fails@interpunction, haha) when presented with those makes you a racist/sexist/homophobe". With opression it's a little different, because you can be an opressor even if you don't want to. Yeah, that's not fair, tough luck, that's how privilege works.

http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/patriarchy-blaming-the-t... <- here, I have my authority, and my authority is better than yours because she has a cool nickname, duh. The site also has a reading list, BTW.

You called the guy disgusting, and proceeded to obliquely tar him with the same brush as rapists and wifebeaters.

Your rhetoric is over-the-top, and discredits you.

(Note: I'll readily concede that the presenter is ... not the sort of person with whom I'd like to associate. Perhaps all the way to not doing business with him.)

With opression it's a little different, because you can be an opressor even if you don't want to. Yeah, that's not fair, tough luck, that's how privilege works.

A perfect illustration of ESR's point.

ESR denies every privilege under the sun?

I'm shocked. /s

I really don't get the connections you're making. Not at all.

Sure, it was pointless to put the slide up there, but nobody was physically, mentally, or emotionally harmed aside from unrelated third parties that are overly-sensitive to insults that aren't being thrown at them.

And don't pretend that men aren't ever the victims of an abusive relationship or rape. "Bitch" doesn't in any way involve rape or violence. At all. It's just a term that's mostly applied to certain females that did something to really piss a person off. Males get terms like "bastard" and "faggot" thrown at them whenever they piss someone off, yet nobody ties that to prison rape.

The slide is offensive


because it relates to objectification of women.

Assumes facts not in evidence. He doesn't like one particular woman; this doesn't generalize to demeaning all women.

This is worth a read for anyone presenting: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Incidents

I won't go so far as to condone the OPs actions, but I can understand why women in tech might be at a breaking point.

This is going to be a very biased comment because Noah is a close personal friend of mine.

Noah will generally be the same guy while talking to your parents as he is having a beer with close friends: direct, open, and sometimes irreverent. This is shocking to many people in our (to use the author's term) "post-polite" society, but this is precisely why Noah is one of my favorite people in the world. When you're talking to Noah, you know that he will tell you exactly what he thinks, and he'll have fun doing it.

I owe a tremendous portion of any success I've had to Noah. In addition to being a brilliant marketer, Noah has taught me to ask for forgiveness and not for permission - something every entrepreneur needs to be reminded of every once in awhile. He's always been a huge help to me. A mere 2-minute conversation with him can be pure gold, so it's a shame that the author was too upset to absorb what was (just positing - I wasn't there) probably a great presentation.

On one hand, I personally would not have used "the bitch slide" in a presentation. There are not enough women in tech, and while I wouldn't compare the word "bitch" to a racial slur, it is just sexist enough to ensure that at least some of the few women who are in the audience will feel alienated when used within the context of a male-dominated conference.

I'm sure that Noah doesn't really think that his ex-girlfriend is a bitch. His current girlfriend is the only serious relationship I've known him to have in the past 5 years, so he may have just made up this ex for the sake of joking. In actuality, Noah is one of the more emotionally mature and communicative people I've ever met, so he's perfectly capable of understanding that relationships are two-way streets.

On the other hand, the hypersensitivity the author demonstrates is exactly the kind of buttoned-up bourgeois bullshit that made me want to work for myself. I want the freedom to be myself. Sexuality, relationships, and the ambivalence that comes from all of it are a part of being a human, and success in entrepreneurship is about as close as one can come to self-actualization (at least in America).

The line:

> the small but influential industry of high tech companies and service providers who cater to high tech startup companies (yes, I’m serious, there is such an industry)

gives away that the author was clearly out of her element. This isn't the world of stodgy HR policies and training manuals. We make it up as we go along, we test the boundaries, and sometimes we make mistakes just to find out where those boundaries are. I'll be damned if a flame post and an errant Sriracha bottle is going to take that away from us.

[blah blah blah] that made me want to work for myself. I want the freedom to be myself.

Don't confuse working by yourself with working for yourself. When you work by yourself, you can do as you please.

When you work for yourself, you have employees, customers, investors, landlords, and many other people with whom you have complex relationships full of consideration for each other's objectives and feelings.

Do not start a business with the goal that since you're the boss, you will be above the consequences of words or actions that hurt people. You are a person. When you deal with other people, it's more than a few bits here, a few dollars there.

We can disagree with whether the word "bitch" is appropriate or not in a presentation at a conference, but I implore you not to think that somehow running a business means that you need never worry about hurting other people with your words or deeds.

This isn't the world of stodgy HR policies and training manuals.

Leona Helmsley once said "We don't train people to be nice, we hire nice people." I bring this up to say that no, I abhor HR policies at least as much as you do, but I suspect for different reasons.

Your words suggest that the problem with HR policies is that there will be a rule that you may not use the word "bitch" in a presentation. My problem with HR policies is that there is a focus on following the rules rather than taking responsibility for making choices. Kinda like the difference between law and morality.

Like you, I prefer to work in an environment where people speak their mind. However, I also prefer to work in an environment where people apply their own filters, where people take responsibility for their words and don't shrug it off as automatically acceptable since there are no rules, no HR people vetting their decks.

To summarize, like you I love the freedom of small startups. But the whole point is to use that freedom in positive ways. Perhaps you and I disagree about whether the word "bitch" is negative or not. But I hope you can appreciate that with freedom comes responsibility, and by ditching the HR department we voluntarily take on the responsibility to make good choices, and we accept accountability for our actions.

"Noah has taught me to ask for forgiveness and not for permission"

This. I speak as an entrepreneur: if you're crossing a moral line and using this as justification, you're using the philosophy in the "wrong" way.

I think you're implying that putting up a slide with a faceless person on it and calling them a "bitch" is inherently morally objectionable? If so, I wouldn't agree with that.

Louis CK called his 4 year old daughter a "bitch" [0] on stage, and I know I'm not alone in thinking it was hilarious.

Noah called an anonymous person a bitch. If it were a comedy club, probably nothing would have been said. But, it was a tech conference, and there probably weren't many females there, so it came off as sexist, and it alienated and offended at least one person. As the author alludes to when mentioning the style of presentation, the line between conference presentation and comedy routine is blurred.

Noah made an attempt at comedy, and it apparently didn't work out. (I wasn't there, so maybe it was hilarious)

[0] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vRhr502wIc#t=1m24s


I appreciate your defense of your friend Noah; you have some insights no one else brought to this forum.

But I do think you have one thing backwards. I certainly wasn’t out of my element at MicroConf; Noah may have been. This wasn’t a YCombinator dinner or a Business of Software conference -- not I think his slides would have been appropriate at either of those but I do believe Noah would fit in at those VC-funding-focused venues better than I would. This was MicroConf 2011, a conference for small, bootstrapped startups.

Bootstrapping a startup is something I’ve done and succeeded at in the past. And VC-funding, with a run at an IPO, is something I’ve lived through and don’t expect to try again. However, I did both as a co-founder, not solo, and did it a number of years ago, when the software industry was very a different place. So as I ramp up my new venture, I’m doing a lot of things to educate myself. One of these was attending MicroConf where I found a conference put on by people like me for people like me.

Not “like me” as in gender, “like me” as in what matters when you are starting a business on your own dime and looking for tips on how to make a go of it. Most of us have day jobs or on-going consulting companies and are trying to create product companies on the side. Ages ranged considerably but I’d guess many of the attendees had a lot more business experience than Noah’s normal audience. I now know he puts a lot of energy into helping very young entrepreneurs and college-dorm-room startups. Good for him but that wasn’t who he was talking to at MicroConf.

Other presenters paid attention to the audience and what we were looking for; I'm told one second-day presenter even went back to his room and revised his presentation after he heard the questions that were asked the first day. IMO, a 'brilliant marketer' should always be paying attention both to his target audience and to his effect on them; it sure didn't seem as if, that day, Noah was doing either.

As for the 'small but influential line' -- I write software for nurses, truck drivers, first responders, county extension agents, and the like. People I respect enormously but for whom the industry represented by HN is pretty incomprehensible. That line is for them, not the folks here on HN.

"we test the boundaries, and sometimes we make mistakes just to find out where those boundaries are." But somehow I do not think you are acknowledging a mistake in this case.

Curious, if the speaker were female, and had a slide where she had 'asshole' written over some guy's face (Let's use Noah's as an example), would there be a similar level of outrage?

As much as it was obviously distasteful no matter the context, I'd find having to listen to him for a half hour more offensive than the image -- worse, knowing I had paid to attend a conference to listen to said drivel.

This question presumes equality in other ways of our treatment of female presenters. You have changed more than one variable.

i first asked for a while back, but i think we need it more and more: i would pay good money for a system that tracked people not as friends, but as arseholes. an application that correlates identities across sites and greys out their comments and the like. in "real life" i can pick my friends and drop the arseholes. online i have no idea who "Thom" (see comments on that article) might be, and no way of flagging that same user on, say stackoveflow, when they are asking for help. we need some way to make karma work better online.



well, more ithinkyouarenotveryniceandsoiwontplaywithyousothere or, perhaps better, ifyouwantmyrespectgrowthefuckupandearnit

Kagan's current girlfriend should be the one offended. If he's willing to call an ex a bitch she is in danger of him defaming her in a similar way if they split. And they seem to share a professional environment which could be detrimental to her career. Guys who publicly call exes bitches generally consider all exes "bitches" because of their self centered view of why the relationship failed.

"No Cindy, you're special. My ex Jane was total bitch."

"No Jane, you're special. My ex Stephanie was a total bitch."

"No Stephanie you're special. My ex Anne was a total bitch."

If he's capable of calling the ex a bitch in public he's capable of the same with his current girlfriend.

Request: next time anyone writes about a sexist talk by a clueless startup rockstar, keep it to 5 paragraphs. I don't need to spend 20 minutes reading filler just to hear about Sriracha throwing and a slide of a guy's ex-girlfriend.

The faceless bitch slide? Maybe a little offensive and a touch douchey. But breaking a bottle of hot sauce on people and then writing this rant? Bitchy.

Get over yourself.

Whether or not we (the mostly male HN community) think it's "offensive" is beside the point.

Are we going to encourage more women to get into tech if we call them "faceless bitches?" Does that create a welcoming atmosphere?

I certainly don't think so. We sit back and wonder "gawrsh, why aren't there more women hackers/programmers/tech entrepreneurs?"

This. This is why.

Would it have been appropriate for the speaker to display an image of a man with his face covered with a circled labeled "asshole" before saying "this is my old boss"?

I'd be willing to wager that OP is simply an unhappy, angry person who enjoys playing the victim whenever possible. Nobody called her a bitch. Nobody called all women in tech bitches.

If someone is so sensitive that one slide in a presentation would keep them out of our industry, it's safe to say we're better off without them. I've worked with plenty of women in tech and they're no different to me than my male colleagues.

I think above all this is why be a dick to anyone. Gender should not matter, a community where being a dick to someone else (nameless or not) is acceptable makes for a bad community.

It occurs to me that OP might be more upset about receiving the bottle of hot sauce than she was about the images. Sure, the writhing woman and the bitch slide were offensive, but it wasn't until Kagan ostensibly attempted to marginalize her by rewarding her with the hot sauce that she really got angry.

Money quote: "What I should have done was stand up, walk the bottle of hot sauce back up to the stage, point out to Noah Kagan that he had not earned the right to give ME a token of recognition..."

That's really what this is all about: "boys being boys" and not acknowledging that there's anything wrong with it, despite obvious indications (like an audience member taking a photo of your offensive slide) that there is indeed something wrong with it.

I attended Microconf, and I sat on the third row aisle. Anne was sitting directly behind me. Thus, I had a ringside seat for the hot sauce incident. I am somewhat surprised to learn that Anne was enraged at the picture, as I was not detecting that at all. I need to work on that. I do specifically remember that Anne received the hot sauce and clearly did not want it, so she started pumping her arm preparing to return it. Alas, after three or four pumps, Noah had not noticed, and I figured she would return it otherwise. But suddenly it was released, without enough force to make it to the side of the stage where she was aiming. My impression at the time was that Anne was being playful in the same way as Noah, trying to give it back, but that was not what was going through Anne's head. If I had known she was so upset, I would have discussed it with her. As it was, I just thought it was a playful way to get into the flow of the talk that had backfired, and best not bring it up with her.

As for Noah, I was looking forward to his Microconf talk, as I listen to most Mixergy interviews, and Noah is a huge resource for Andrew's recruiting new interviewees. It is interesting how Noah has briliant ideas but seems to have some impulse control. For example, sending underwear to people he wants to meet, to get their attention - brilliant! Showing his underwear during a Mixergy interview - a mistake. (Glad I was audio only there...)

The faceless bitch was hardly the only sexual innuendo from Noah. He had had some blowback from his ASmartBear guest post recently, where he started a blog post in which he mentions, in passing, waking up next to his naked girlfriend. In his very first comments at Microconf, he brings up how everyone thought that blog post was about his sexual adventures, when of course it was about burnout. Except the out of place denial practically proves the rule - Noah is a very sexual guy, and it oozes from him. It almost defines him. Out of the 120 Microconf attendees, who brought their (very attractive) girlfriend? Only Noah Kagan. Who referred to his previous girlfriend as a bitch, live, in front of his current girlfriend? Noah Kagan.

Some of these sexual references go over the line, and make tech conferences a hostile place for women. But I think sometimes we doth protest too much at one of the fundamental forces driving entrepreneurship, and that is sex. Napoleon Hill, writing in the 1930s, devoted an entire chapter to "The Mystery of Sex Transmutation", and how the most successful entrepreneurs can take the enormous energy available as the sex drive and convert it into useful work. Yes, the vague idea that we can win the hot chick will drive many, many long dark nights of building a company. I keep suggesting to Andrew Warner, our modern version of Napoleon Hill, to explore this powerful drive, and how successful entrepreneurs harness it to their advantage.

While sex drive may be a motivation to entrepreneurship, I would say that 'oozing sex' during a talk on entrepreneurship is probably a failure to 'take the enormous energy available as the sex drive and convert it into useful work.'

> Yes, the vague idea that we can win the hot chick will drive many, many long dark nights of building a company.

If this qualifies as your motivation criteria for building a company, you're most likely in it for the wrong reasons. There's a difference between taking "the enormous energy available as the sex drive and convert[ing] it into useful work" and letting your sex drive be a motivator to your success.

Maybe there should be more emphasis on the word "vague", there.

There's definitely a link between my own motivation for success and my sex drive, even though I'm very happily married and am way, way off the market. I want to be wanted even though I'm unavailable, I suppose, and I'm quite happy to be wanted by people who are unavailable to me, by extension.

This is not driving a motivation for "success" in monetary terms, btw; it's a drive to become more of a person I would admire, and (by extension) a person that others would admire and desire. Part of that involves NOT being the sort of person weak enough to cheat on his wife, interestingly enough. :)

I'm late to this party. I hit Publish on my Noah Kagan post, headed off for some vacation, and came back to a week of getting product out the door. By the time I realized how much interest the piece had stirred up, I was thoroughly behind the curve. I didn't want to jump in till I'd had a chance to go through the whole thread, which I finally got to do yesterday.

Don't worry; I'm not going to try to dredge this one up with responses to a lot of different comments, just one, I think.

For anyone who might still have an ounce of interest, I did try to respond to some of the comments and questions that were, more or less, directed to me, over on my blog[0].

All I can say, from this my first real encounter with Hacker News, is, "Wow. This is a remarkable place. Such passion and energy, so much erudition, and so many flames."


0: http://sherprog.com/2011/07/24/kudos-regrets-apologies-lesso...

Opportunists tend to objectify many things.

I'll tell you, it's not so much the slide itself that that was upsetting -- although he was essentially begging for someone to say "orgasm" and that was a sad sight to see; the audience was way ahead of him and didn't want to partake -- but that he carried himself like a jerk, wanted people like him because he was a jerk, and ultimately had no message in his presentation. It was hard to watch, and not because I'm a woman, but because an hour is a long time to listen to someone talk excitedly about nothing.

To me this sounds like a delirious rambling about someone who is embarassed to have thrown hot sauce on some people.

I don't know who Noah Kagan is.

As a tangent, what would be the gender neutral equivalent of "Bitch"? The male equivalent would be "bastard".

There isn't one. By the literal meaning, it would be "dog", which used to be a common insult, if literature is any guide, but which has fallen out of use. "Bitch" implies malice and viciousness, shallow in thought but deeply ingrained. And, of course, it implies unwomanliness, and it doesn't make sense to accuse a man of unwomanliness.

The disturbing thing with insults is that even today, they're mostly used in gender-specific ways. Even the ones that don't seem gender-specific, such as "jerk", are rarely applied to women. That's sexism in itself -- when we want to insult a woman, instead of reaching for a word that communicates exactly what we feel, we fall back on the generic "bitch" because her gender seems to have something to do with her transgression. There are so many words to choose from that communicate exactly what's wrong with someone: jerk, liar, pig, dumbass, worm, bastard, loudmouth, traitor. It should feel just as right and satisfying to apply them to a woman as to a man. But in the heat of the moment, your aggression amplifies every negative feeling, including your sexism, and you watch to lash out at that bitch. Better control yourself, though. When you call someone a "bitch", it sounds like you think what they've done was inappropriate for a woman. I.e., maybe it would have been fine if she was a man. Now you've got everyone wondering how you feel about women instead of thinking about what she's done to earn your enmity.

So next time you want to lash out verbally at a woman, choose your words carefully. Is she an idiot? A jerk? A dick? (Hmmm, maybe there's a better word for that.) Let's let "bitch" go the way of "harpy" and "harridan". When you hear those words, you don't really trust them, because they give away the fact that the speaker is holding their target to a sexist standard of femininity. Somehow "bitch" survived as our only remaining insult for women (except "whore", "slut", and all the other words that mean "woman who makes me feel bad by having sex with men who aren't me".) Well, there's "cunt", but that's mostly a Briticism, and it's just as lazy and meaningless as "bitch".

There are so many ways to give your listener a vivid image of your target instead of have them wondering about your misogyny. You could call someone mealy-mouthed, two-faced, greedy, ruthless, petty, malicious, mercenary, or disloyal. (When a woman's sexual behavior disturbs you, try "dishonest": if that doesn't apply, then she probably isn't doing anything wrong.)

Not only will you seem much more composed, serious, and credible than if you resorted to "bitch", not only will you leave your listeners with a more vivid and convincing image of your target, it's also much more efficient, since you'll be using the same store of insults for both men and women. And as hackers we should always be using the most abstract solution.

(Of course, if you really want it to hurt, then sexism never hurts. Or rather, it always hurts. But when you're playing to an audience, malice undermines your credibility.)

Bitch means female dog while males are called Sires which is far more noble sounding.

"Jackass", most likely.

At the first Ignite San Diego, one presenter gave a talk comparing working in the tech industry with being a pick-up artist. I think it was pretty comparable to this presentation, but I remember the general opinion being more that it was more in extreme poor taste than straight-up offensive.

I also remember thinking it was a little ironic how many people threw the word "douchebag" around afterward.

Admittedly, I don't have quite the same perspective since I'm a man, but as a minority I try to imagine if someone used some word like "chink" or talked about "peeing in your Coke" in a presentation in an effort to be edgy. Unless it was said in a patently hateful way, I probably would think of the speaker as stupid rather than malicious.

It's also possible that growing up in Hawaii (where ethnic jokes are socially acceptable, and generally made without malice) has made me take a "it's probably a joke unless proven otherwise" default reaction.

This reminds me of the kerfuffle over the Drunken Batman slide "Black People Don't Use Macs" http://www.flickr.com/photos/rtmfd/1097058025/

The OP does not seem to realise that the "girlfriend" comment from Kagan could have been a joke.

I think the OP realizes that it was a joke, but argues that it was an unfunny, inappropriate joke.

I don't have anything invested in this one way or the other, but it all strikes me as a bit PC and oversensitive. I don't think I really want to work in an environment where considerations like this reign. I wonder if the author would prefer speech codes in the workplace. If so, I'm glad I don't work with her. I think startups should carefully screen for people with attitudes like the author (note: I'm not saying screening out women, for those who can't read carefully); not doing so could be costly in court, as well as having a frigid effect on company culture.

I'm a bit puzzled by this. We're not talking about "workplace speech codes" here, or lawsuits, at all, so you appear to by attempting to insert a slippery slope where there's no need for one.

The case here is about a public presentation where a presenter offered up a rather bizarre, inappropriate image (a faceless woman labelled "bitch") which bore no relation to the talk he was giving, and then followed it up with a non-sequitur about it being "an ex-girlfriend."

Now, it's hard to read that as anything but misogynist, and while it might be considered an ill-fated attempt at humor, it misses the mark by such a wide margin as to make one wonder exactly what Noah thought he was doing.

Trying to dismiss it as "a bit PC and oversensitive" it another way of saying "Since I wasn't offended, I don't need to take seriously the possibility that somebody else might have been." But in this case, even that doesn't seem to fit, because putting "a faceless bitch" on the projector seems designed to shock.

You're absolutely right that this isn't the workplace. It was a tech conference talk. Which only puts a finer point on what I mean by policing speech. I do NOT want to go to a conference knowing all the talks have been run through some bullshit politically-correct filter to please a given group of people in the room, and if I find out they are, I will cease attending those conferences.

Nobody is proposing having anyone "policing speech".

What we are discussing is one individual's massive failure in self-policing, and another individual's response, calling him on it.

Nobody's trying to change the system. Rather, this is how the system works: when you're a presenter, you say what you want. If you act like a jerk, people will most likely publicly point out that you acted like a jerk, which should theoretically lead to some self-insight for the presenter in question.

I'm still puzzled by your presumed outrage.

Self-policing? Are you serious?

I'm with the other guy on this one. I want to live in a free society, where no one attempts to enforce some artificial moral code on what I can or can not say. Don't like it, leave.

Enough people like Noah to get him a sizable fan base and enjoy his humor.

It DOES tend to be women who create artificial PC rules, and I would argue that is one of the reasons they are underrepresented within startup ups, given the traditional lack of sophisticated social skills of the (usually male) engineers. It would ruin the dynamic of a good team to have a PC woman "watching their every word" for perceived slights.

  > I'm with the other guy on this one. I want to live
  > in a free society, where no one attempts to enforce
  > some artificial moral code on what I can or can not
  > say. Don't like it, leave.
I'm sorry, but it doesn't seem like you understand how human society currently works. In a 'free society,' if a majority of people think you are an asshole, they are going to treat you like one. If you don't want to be treated like an asshole, you'll have to adjust your behavior. Technically, this is forcing you to self-censor yourself, but it's a hell of a lot better than state-censorship or even organizational-censorship. I'd be curious how you would approach eliminating this sort of 'censorship.' So far as I can tell, it would impose the idea on other people that they can't think or act the way they want to just so that 'you' can feel comfortable walking around acting like an ass (and living in a fantasy where you believe that no one thinks you're an ass).

    > In a 'free society,' if a majority of people think you are an asshole, they are going to treat you like one.
True, but the majority isn't guaranteed to be right according to your personal moral compass. Your statement would stay just as true if you replaced "asshole" with "gay" or "nigger", but you'd probably draw different conclusions from it, no?

Most definitions of 'asshole' reference something that can be changed rather than something that you are. Restricting people based on being 'gay' or a 'nigger' is based around identity, which is not something easily changed. A black person can't become a white person, but an asshole can change their point of view and/or hold their tongue.

The majority of people did not think he was an asshole. What we have here is one citizen attempting to censor another by influencing public opinion based upon her own beliefs and biases. And of course, white knights of the world will agree. That does not make a "majority", far from it, although it appears so since they are most vocal in support.

Your comment was more general than this specific instance, and I treated it as such. You can't make a general comment, and then try to seamlessly reduce the scope when you realize that you made too general of a comment.

I shouldn't but I can. And that, is what freedom of speech is all about.

If she didn't like it, she should have left. She didn't leave, she had a temper tantrum. To save face, she then made that blog post. She wanted to share her side of the story, irrespective of its merits. And she knew, just as well as we all do, that the internet White Knights will assemble to her cause, also irrespective of its merits. And they have. Now let us not waste anymore time discussing this triviality.

"the internet White Knights"

What does this even mean? Does it simply mean "a man who disagrees with me when a woman is being discussed"? That's an interesting way to dismiss an argument without requiring yourself to think about it thoroughly.

'white knights' is a 4chan term. It originated on /b/ when women/girls would show post nude/revealing pictures of themselves, and then Anonymous (presumably male) posters would attempt to 'dox' them (hack their accounts; email their friends/family/school with the nude photos; etc). The 'white knights' were the guys that would defend them (e.g. warn them if they didn't know their images were on 4chan; login to a hacked account, change the password, and notify the owner so that other anonymous posters couldn't continue to 'have fun' with the account; etc). The stereotypical portrayal of internet 'white knights' are lonely geeks that can't get women who think that by defending them on the internet they might get laid (or at least a date/a kiss/etc). Obviously the stereotype is most likely far from the truth, and there's probably some overlap between what /b/ users call 'moral fags' and 'white knights.' Note, that the 'white knight' label is usually only used when someone of unknown gender (which is assumed to be male) is helping out someone that is known to be a female. I don't think the 'white knight' label would ever be applied to someone helping out a target that was known to be male.

edit: There's probably something on Know You Meme and/or Encyclopedia Dramatica about this that may (or may not) be more authoritative.

Thanks for the write up! The less time I spend looking at anything on ED, the better... I have heard this term before, but it always leaves me scratching my head. It makes no sense in the context of this disagreement.

  > It makes no sense in the context of this disagreement.
It does (to me at least). teadrinker is obviously claiming that all of the guys defending (or just agreeing with) the blogger (Anne) are 'white knights.' You might not agree with that claim (as I don't), but it does make sense in context.

But how could they be angling for sexual favors when they are essentially anonymous, and she is a married woman with grown children? It seems like it's been taken wildly out of context, and the term is being used to attempt to mock and shame people (many of whom are straight women). I find it to be a silly stretch, at the very least.

  > I shouldn't but I can. And that, is what freedom
  > of speech is all about.
Maybe I should have qualified that "can't." But you are right. You're welcome to do it, but don't hold your breath waiting for people to view it as a great logical rebuttal.

Yes, I'm serious. Are you? It's hard to tell from your reply.

First of all, all moral codes are artificial. Second, no one is enforcing anything. There's no force involved here, at all. Third, "Don't like it, leave" is precisely what happened.

Noah was a dick. The OP called him on it. What's your problem with that?

Do I understand correctly that you believe it is okay to refer to a woman as a "bitch" in the workplace (and startups should actively screen for people who feel otherwise)?

This is not a rhetorical question, I'm just taking your suggestion to "read carefully" very seriously indeed, because right now it seems to me you are making a statement about yourself you may regret later.

No, you don't understand correctly. Did you not read the distinction I've made several times here about a joke uttered at a conference and calling a woman a bitch on the job? No, I don't think the latter is acceptable at all. And the screening I referred to is not for potential sexual harrassment claims, which I BTW take very seriously (my wife is a professional)-- it's for people, male and female, who are professionally and continually aggrieved. Regrets? Not on HN. Karma is like that.

Did Noah know the word Bitch would set her off? How about other words which are commonplace, which would she feel insulted by? We don't know. And I think it is for this added uncertainty to a team that he was referring to rather than the specific term "bitch" which is, of course, commonly considered offensive in a workplace, particularly in direct reference to a known individual.

What's the problem with calling someone who is being a bitch a bitch? I call people who are being sniveling weasels sniveling weasels. Some people are just bitches, and it's not even restricted to people with a certain chromosome makeup.

In most [westernized] countries, including the US, workplace considerations like this not only reign but are the law.

Good thing for Noah it wasn't spoken at a workplace.

So? The point is, not all jokes are appropriate. Some are offensive. Some jokes are just a lead-in to violence. Some just work to belittle people, little by little. So, yeah, the "ex-girlfriend is a bitch" joke should be ostracized.

This was a conference talk, not workplace speech. Methinks you protest too much. I don't want my conference content modded by the speech police, thanks very much.

"This was a conference talk, not workplace speech."

So? Both are public, a conference talk even more so. Make your speech offensive, expect people to react.

"I don't want my conference content modded by the speech police, thanks very much."

Someone's calling out rude behavior -> cry speech police. A little bit on the strawman side if you ask me. This guy wasn't censored, wasn't forcibly removed from the conference. The only consequence of his "joke" was someone expressing their disgust.

The only consequence of his "joke" was someone expressing their disgust.

Right. Which is just shorthand for saying, "tomorrow morning nobody is going to remember this." People will just move on to the next outrage. If you don't think the speech is politically correct enough, stop attending the conference.

"I don't want my conference content modded by the speech police, thanks very much."

I think Stewart Lee says this much better than I would: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGAOCVwLrXo

Does it though? There's an assertion here in this write-up that 'bitch' is in the same class of insult as various racial epithets which are far more taboo. I don't think that's the case.

At any rate, this wasn't even a joke. How is it funny? How could anybody think it would be funny? I don't even mean it isn't funny because it's offensive or not, it simply isn't funny full stop. Noah Kagan has a poor sense of humor, and should not attempt to make jokes.

"Does it though? There's an assertion here in this write-up that 'bitch' is in the same class of insult as various racial epithets which are far more taboo. I don't think that's the case."

Oh please. The "there are worse things" fallacy is so old there are books on it. Even specifically on the case of "discrimination of women is not as important as whatever-is-deemed-important-by-dudes today".

I was addressing a particular assertion in the article, namely:

>Frankly, if the word on that picture had been a racial slur, many of us there that day would have [walked out].

It attempts to draw an equivalence between the two. You have reinforced that with your post above. I dispute that, for much the same reason I dispute that 'moron' or even 'retard' is in the same category. Simply, 'bitch' can not be used in the same way as a racial epithet. This is not a fallacy, and while there certainly are worse things that's not at all what I was getting at, and finally none of this has anything to do with 'whatever-is-deemed-important-by-dudes' or such nonsense.

Oh, it definitely has. You just decided that the case of discrimination based on religion or ethnicity is more important than discrimination based on gender.

No, I haven't.

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