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Sexism in Tech. Or: CloudMine pulls its sponsorship of API Jam. (cloudmine.me)
106 points by mweil 1862 days ago | hide | past | web | 131 comments | favorite

Othering. Get that word into your head, and keep it there. Othering.

Othering is when you make someone feel as if they don't belong in a community, that they're different from other people there. Making stupid (racist) Asian jokes about the only Chinese-American member of your team. Writing flyers that assume that your entire audience consists of a certain type of heterosexual man. Even something small, like constantly poking at the fact that one of your fellow hackers also has an MBA. The list is endless.

Usually it's best to not call attention to such things at all, even in a positive way. Telling someone how awesome they are for being different is still making a big deal about how different they are, as opposed to helping them fit into your group.

All of these things make those people feel as if they don't belong on your team or in your community. It doesn't matter if you think it's "in good fun" or "just a joke". It doesn't matter if you think "oh, it's not really sexist". It makes people feel unwelcome. It's dumb, pointless, and it's the responsibility of any hacker to just not do it.

Othering can happen in any community that is dominated by a relative homogenous group. It turns off many hackers who might want to work with you. There is nothing inherently "straight upper-middle-class Caucasian male" about wanting to build a working product; stop acting like there is.

I think you need to moderate this view slightly.

Whilst yes, ostracising people doesn't help. Humour and sarcasm are effective team building/social tools, and "sledging" or "poking fun" are effective ways to build long term teams. Just spend time in any sports team (male/female/mixed) and you'll see this kind of joking around is abundant, and actually helps the team (not hinder it).

I think it is more nuanced than you say, humour has to be combined with empathy to make sure you aren't offending, but at the same time, making light of differences with people helps people see past those difference (obviously within reason).

OTOH, if it's the same humor and sarcasm towards the same "target" groups, it gets old fast...and can be seen as systemic.

Well said. I think there can be an element of subconscious, monkey-brain motivation behind that kind of behavior. Less status for them means more for you. At least sometimes — this flyer looks more just plain dumb.

I mostly agree: I just think you are taking this attitude too far with the example of the MBA, unless you very consciously included that word 'constantly' there.

If I'm the only one in my company that does martial arts, I can expect jokes about having to be careful when having an argument with me. If you have a nest of pet snakes or always cook the same lunch or have an MBA, you can expect specific jokes, when contextually relevant. These things differ from being Asian or a woman in the fact that they are choices people made and that these choices can be considered reflections of this person.

Of course you can take the pointing out of such differences too far, to the point where it seems you feel this person is defined by a specific difference, as you constantly point it out. In acceptable quantities, making jokes and laughing together is quite healthy and it would be a shame to do without, even if you are yourself the subject of the joke.

No. I have no need of your specialized political vocabulary. The literature of our culture are way ahead of you: "Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 23:9

Thanks for sharing this word. Like the similar term "microaggression", HN is the first I've heard it, and it really helps to illustrate the fallacy of the "oh, it's not a big deal if we have women bring us beer" crowd.

Take what I say with a few grains of salt - I'm one of those weirdos whose always tried to be at least a little bit different - to avoid ever becoming wholly "in". But, in my experience, othering isn't going to drive people away, not in any significant numbers. Sure, it can make people feel uncomfortable in the wrong context, and cause social tension, but so can criticizing ideas, or mocking political parties. What you call "othering" can just as often help people feel that they /do/ fit in, by demonstrating that what makes them "different" does not in fact make a difference to anyone else.

Look at it this way: differences do exist, and they're going to be acknowledged, even if they're totally inconsequential. Artificially suppressing occasional acknowledgment of differences - race, height, gender, religion, and sexual orientation being, I think, the "big five" - isn't going to do anyone any good. I would make the case that jokes about these are in fact important in any "accepting" (or whatever buzzword we're using today) culture, and that failing to ever acknowledge them in "polite conversation" only teaches that these differences are a bad thing. Which isn't the right message.

I think you're probably (P =~ 70%) talking about the qualitatively different phenomenon in which a single member is repeatedly singled out for othering on a daily basis - but it's easy to confuse the two, especially when focusing on something as subjective as language and social interactions. However, the latter (let's call it "bigotry", shall we) tends to come with other symptoms that do more direct harm - let's address them directly.

But, in my experience, othering isn't going to drive people away, not in any significant numbers.

Are you a straight white male? If so, you probably shouldn't be generalizing your own experience to everyone who isn't.

Try talking with some people who aren't. Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of many examples of people who have spoken out on this topic, and there are many open source advocates who can give you their own experiences. Lydia Pintscher of the KDE project (and author of "Open Advice") has much experience with communities and such problems.

Artificially suppressing occasional acknowledgment of differences

Nobody ever asked you to do that.

only teaches that these differences are a bad thing.

If someone wants to make a point of a difference they're proud of, they'll do it themselves. Don't force it upon them!

> Are you a straight white male?

Close. Bisexual. Good guess though. /sarcasm

> If someone wants to make a point of a difference they're proud of, they'll do it themselves. Don't force it upon them!

I fundamentally disagree with this. That's not to say that people should be dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledgment of trivial differences, but occasionally being reminded, in a friendly environment, that those differences do exist - and more importantly, that nobody cares - is incredibly important.

(Of course, some people do care, and that's a problem. But you don't get it fixed by attacking the surface symptoms!)

This is the sort of argument liable to rapidly descend into flaming, and I'm happy to leave it here if you are. ;-) (Although I will bring it up again the next time another one of these links is posted.)

Ok, I am going to share my story here regarding the comment below that got downvoted.

FWIW, I still feel constrained by the hetero-normal taboos of our society, and the fact is that this happened after I was already married and was reading while caring for my second child. However..... I was spending two hours a day reading while taking care of my second child (feeding him, holding him while he was asleep, etc. Wonderful times.

Anyway, I was reading Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgas" where he talks at length about sexuality in ancient Sparta. Plutarch is a witty and very interesting ancient author. I have enjoyed reading most of the works I have read by him. Anyway, he talks at length about the social functions of pederasty (from other sources, presumably non-penetrative) and wife-swapping in ancient Sparta, and the upshot is that both of these have to be seen, if we take him seriously, as back-bone institutions on which Sparta's political structure was built (reading van Gennep's "The Rites of Passage" has only further solidified this view in my head btw).

Anyway, this brought up an interesting question for me. In our culture we say that sexual orientation is something people are born with but is that really true? How fluid is this really? Logically, the only answer I could provide given the material I had read was that it had to be fairly fluid, and that if I was born in such a society, I would probably be happy living out these norms. That puzzled me for a bit.

But then the realization hit, and that was that these things are deeply fluid. You can't cure someone from being "gay" and make them "straight" because these are both artificial restraints. And all the sudden, the male body became erotic for me. The female body never lost the eroticism attached, but I began to see how sexualized the male body could be also.

So I don't know what these categories even mean anymore.

"Are you a straight white male?"

I can't speak for the other guy but I was until I discovered through reading history how artificial a concept that was.....

A couple points.... Keep in mind that I may be different because I start to worry about the people I am with if I fit in too much. I actually prefer to be a liminal figure (look it up).

First, humor is a way of managing tensions. It can create, dissolve, and transform tension from one form into another.

One of the real problem trends in America today, IMO, is rewarding hypersensitivity to taking offense. The problem is that it is possible to deconstruct a sufficiently large corpus by anyone to find something arguably worth taking offense to by today's standards. Thin skin should not be rewarded, but that's what happens when we focus on the negative side and place all the onus for change there.

A better approach is focusing on the positive side. Welcome people to your team and empower them. Trust them. Where they have relevant differences (that MBA on your hacker team) take that into account perhaps making him a go-to-person for business questions relating to the software? Focus on being what you want to be, not avoiding bat things. That means that jokes, etc. are far more likely to be offered in good faith and taken in good faith than they are if tensions are already of a bad kind.

LedgerSMB under my leadership has done quite well with a very diverse group of contributors. Nearly a third of our committers and contributors over the history of the project are women (noteworthy because that approaches commercial software development gender gaps rather than the larger gaps of open source), and we have people contributing from at least 5 continents (none from Africa yet to my knowledge). In the process we've had contributors whose countries were talking about going to war with eachother a few years ago (Colombia and Venezuela).

Moreover one could take your approach to othering to the other extreme, welcoming a talented woman as "one of the guys." Even assuming this has a welcoming effect, would this really reduce the level of sexism in place if the environment is male-normal?

More good points, from a more practical, small-scale perspective than I can give. Thank you.

I find it interesting that you describe yourself as preferring to be a liminal figure, as do I (know that I know the word - which my spell-checker still does not), and we're both getting DV'd to oblivion on this one.

Being liminal can be lonely, but it is also powerful.

Have you read Victor Turner's works on the subject btw?

No - thanks for the pointer. (Typo in my last comment - s/know that I know/now that I know/.)

Obligatory link to Harrison Bergeron: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

On some level, I agree with you, but on some, I don't... I'm actually really confused about what to think/what is right, I hope to clarify my mind by writing this down.

1) Why do words matter so much? I often use derogatory terms to refer to people, even my friends. I do it for fun (like black people calling each other "niggas" (at least in the movies, I assume also in real life))! I often do it to apparently offend someone, just to reverse it immediately after that by saying/doing something positive. Actually, I would be really offended if someone would put so much emphasis on my words as to completely disregard my actions! Sure, as you say, it can make some people feel unwelcome, but in reality, I sometimes want them to feel unwelcome, not because they are different, but simply because they prefer words over actions. I don't want to be around such people.

2) Sometimes, people just are different, and it's really strange to deny that. I live in Slovenia, and black people are really rare here (as are Hispanic; Asians are less rare, they come as tourists a lot). That means that when I see a black person, he will be different. I will almost certainly stare at him, maybe even comment that he's black. That doesn't mean, however, that I will treat him any differently when it comes to business. When I studied in England for a year, I didn't feel that black people were different. I actually had a black man as a roommate, and it was really great to see that his skin color didn't matter to him in any essential way, just as it didn't to me. (Attractive women are different too, I like watching them and doing things with them! But it has nothing to do with being her a woman, it has everything to do with her being attractive.)

3) If I understood you post correctly, pointing out that one of your fellow hackers also has an MBA would be something he would be ashamed of... The thing is, I think you cannot really make other people feel bad, you can only make them feel worse, when they already feel bad. An MBA person could also be proud of his MBA, and then nothing anyone would say could insult him; he wouldn't even interpret this as insults! I sometimes feel this about fat people... I have nothing against people being fat - be my guest, it's your body! However, only when they are perfectly OK with it! But I'm really annoyed when someone is fat and is whining about how they can't lose weight no matter how hard they try... Well, guess what, you didn't try hard enough (there are other priorities that are more important in your life). So, either try harder (get your priorities straight), or accept yourself (accept that losing weight is not your priority). Again, it doesn't matter if someone's fat or not, what matters is their lack of resolve.

you cannot really make other people feel bad

You can however make them feel unwelcome. By continually hassling someone about their MBA (or race or gender or sexual preference or how they dress or whatever) you are effectively saying that you'd rather have someone without that particular feature, but for now we're stuck with you so we'll have to make do until we can fix that problem.

Feeling like no one in you group really wants you around, but are forced to put with you, will quickly break down most people.

So. Much. Brogramming.

Anyways, in addition to the annoying beer plug, let us observe their other typos:

"Massages: take a brake [sic] from hacking to unwind."

"NO Idea Guys: security is on strick [sic] instructions to bounce anyone who can't code."

"NO Slow Internet: Let's make buffering a thing of the paste [sic]."

Fucking clowns.

How about the nonsensical coupling of "no empty calories" with "free beer"?

Clowns indeed. This is the sort of thing that makes me ashamed of my profession, my culture, my gender, everything.

Here's more coverage: http://bostinno.com/2012/03/20/boston-api-jam-publishes-even...

The organizers' apology is:

"While we thought this was a fun, harmless comment poking fun at the fact that hack-a-thons are typically male-dominated, others were offended. That was not our intention and thus we changed it."

Which completely misses the fact that the other items on the announcement seem to be written by a 11 year old or someone after downing quite a few beers.

Here's the point though: Getting super worked up about this idiocy and saying "THIS is why there are few women in tech", as some tweeters did, is not constructive either and trivializes the problem of women (and minorities) in tech.

This kind of crap is at least part of the reason why there are relatively few women in tech. Yeah, some of them are natural pitbulls who will power through every obstacle. They aren't fazed by this kind of stuff.

But then there's the quiet majority who could go either way - this kind of thing says "Working in technology isn't for you. You're not welcome here".

Not really the message we want to send to people we'd like to attract into coding as a profession / hobby.

Writing correct code is so close to impossible that only the obsessed will be even slightly competent. I want us to eject the army of male dilettantes from our industry, not go out of our way to attract female ones who will merely double the volume of broken crap we have to deal with.

Which is not to say that "BEER WENCHES HURR" isn't better avoided. Have some class, people.

Who better to replace the ejected army of male dilettantes? Right now, we're effectively excluding half of the talent pool. That can't possibly be a good thing.

The talent pool consists of the people who are already being irresistibly drawn to the work. No matter how severe the shortage, nobody who needs to be lured into the industry (by pay or a more polite environment or whatever) can adequately substitute for obsession. When we try, we get the kind of embarrassing trainwrecks software is infamous for.

I understand exactly what you're saying, you and I have had this exact argument before.

The notion of being "irresistibly drawn to the work" seems very shallow and amorphous. Would you (or I, for that matter) still be irresistibly drawn to it if the pay were dramatically worse? If the status were worse? If the working conditions were worse? If people systematically objectified you and your gender?

Following through with that example, do you think we should make day-to-day life worse for software developers to drive the-less-than-committed out? Maybe have hazing rituals or public shaming? Force interview candidates to walk through hot coals? Endure a persistently hostile and alienating workplace? It's all the same bullshit.

Regardless of the whole "learned skill vs. natural talent" question, the ability to make software well is an aptitude, it's not a calling. It's not (and shouldn't be) the priesthood.

Sorry for repeating myself, this is I think a perspective that tends to be overlooked in recruiting discussions.

People like teachers and writers and musicians and i-bank analysts are treated like dirt because there's a surplus of them, and the work is being rationed to the ones with the greatest need to participate in their industries. I suppose there's some level of hellishness (say, minimum wage, a continually-ringing phone, and no testing) that would so overwhelm the privilege of writing code that I would eventually only do it on the side, wasting most of my life in a day job doing something mediocre. And there's a lesser level that would shake out only the duds and frauds, like turning the squelch dial on a radio. But it isn't going to happen anytime soon. In the current shortage of developers, even though the industry as a whole would be better off ramping down the astonishing pay and perks which have started attracting people we can't use, each employer defects and tries to outbid the others.

Which is why I get concerned at proposals to bring in a lot more disinterested people. Harassment is not an ethical tactic to keep them out, though; I think I draw the line at outreach.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

I love a chance to find common ground. I think that we can agree that harassment can drive good people out and that outreach can bring bad people in.

It shouldn't be a goal to pull in disinterested people, but to create a culture in which the interest isn't unnecessarily smothered in half of the general population. People are complex, and can be pulled in by one facet of something (vintage corvettes are kind of cool) at the same time they are repelled by other facets of the same thing (I don't want to look like I am having a mid life crisis).

As a man in technology, I am pulled in by lots of things, but repelled by others. Lack of meaningful diversity in the culture is one of the more repellant things for me.

Their apology is even worse than the original flyer text.

Getting super worked up about this idiocy and saying "THIS is why there are few women in tech", as some tweeters did, is not constructive either and trivializes the problem of women (and minorities) in tech.

I would argue that pointing out the sexism of the ad doesn't trivialize the problem of women in software. It's a multi-part problem. Society primes girls not to go into technology as it is ("Math class is tough!" says Barbie). When college-admitted students begin the process of choosing a career and choosing a major, society will weigh heavily on their choice.

Some women remain interested in technology despite this. And when they make this choice, the industry has to be ready with open arms to embrace women. If society does not make female programmers feel welcome, and neither do their peers and mentors, we see low numbers of women in our field. We have to do our part to eliminate the feeling of otherness in what is currently a male-dominated field, or female participation will continue to remain low. Sexist ads set back the entire industry by saying to talented potential engineers that they are not taken seriously.

You're right, it's a multi-part problem. I don't quite agree with "society primes girls not to go into technology" part; although it does have some truth to it, I don't think all the gender gap in the filed can be attributed to societal factors. I can give two arguments:

(i) Not all technical fields have the gender gap, e.g. in biological and agricultural studies 51% of PhDs were awarded to women in 2009, whereas it was 22% in engineering and 27% in math and computer science (so engineering is worse but people usually don't tackle, say, the gender gap in civil or electrical engineering) (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/14/doctorates);

(ii) It's a widely popularized finding that, when adjusted for gender equality in the country, the gender gap in sciences, e.g. math, disappears (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/32949/title/Math_...). This fits in with your society influence theory. Yet, AFAIK (the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo aside) the hacker cultures for those top (generally Scandinavian) countries are still dominated by males (can't point to a study, anecdotal evidence, will be happy to retract if given convincing evidence to teh contrary).

> Their apology is even worse than the original flyer text.

Agreed. To me, the apology boils down to "We thought this was funny and harmless, but not everyone agreed. In order to keep people interested in our event, we changed the text."

You hit the nail on the head. It's placing the blame on the people who were offended, rather than taking responsibility. And not only that, there's no mention of them actually changing the event. Presumably, the hired event staff will still be female. Everything just points to Sqoot being clueless about how to handle themselves in the public sphere.

I think we have to be careful about defining "in tech." If it means founding employees of technology startups, that's very different from working in technical fields. The latter is approaching gender parity albeit slowly.

In many cases, this distinction is unnecessary. Even big companies like Microsoft have a long ways to go; their workforce is 76% male.

Source: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/inside_ms.mspx

So you are talking about "in tech" as "working for tech companies" rather than doing "technology-related work" right?

According to the Department of Labor, Microsoft is doing worse than the field as a whole.....

Source: http://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/hitech02.htm

Yes, I'm talking about companies "in tech." You defined "in tech" as employees of technical startups, and I'm saying that even larger technical companies have these same issues, so restraining "in tech" to mean startups is not a necessary distinction. Sorry I was not clear on that.

So to be clear, your concern is not that women aren't writing software but that they aren't working for software houses, correct?

No, I merely think software houses reflect the gender makeup of the industry fairly accurately. Hell, I would be surprised if it turned out that that anywhere near half of software workers in general are women; this would imply that the majority of female software engineers work independently. I find that extremely unlikely, given how few women enroll in computer engineering degrees at universities. My point is that Microsoft, a mature and established software company, has a hard time finding female engineers, and this reflects the state of the industry as a whole.

> Here's the point though: Getting super worked up about this idiocy and saying "THIS is why there are few women in tech", as some tweeters did, is not constructive either and trivializes the problem of women (and minorities) in tech.

Interesting perspective. Could you please elaborate?

Sure: Let's focus on the women in tech problem, leaving aside minorities, which has also been previously discussed on HN (e.g. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3169475). This was discussed many times on HN in the context of sexist language, booth babes in conferences, etc.

My thoughts on the subject are:

1) There is a gender imbalance in the tech community, regardless of how you slice it (e.g. founders, developers, etc.).

2) Many people when faced with what they perceive to be sexist language, take it to be a political statement rather than the idiotic flyer (as in this case) or the casual blog comment(e.g. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3602762, which caused a firestorm on HN) that it is.

3) Don't get me wrong: I'm against crude use of sexisms such as this one, GoDaddy commercials, photos of women in bikinis on Rails conference slides, booth babes. The point is that these offend not only my anti-sexist sensibilities but also my intelligence, so even if I were sexist I would still be offended by these and ask for their removal, on the grounds that they show that the mental model of me that the people responsible have is a brainless, easy to manipulate moron.

4) However, thinking that eradicating the above will lead to considerably more women in tech, I think, is mistaken. I believe addressing the issues that are less obvious but more influential in consciously or subconsciously turning off women is more important, e.g. rather than getting worked up when somebody uses the word girl in a post, thinking about the "cool" but male-oriented terms like code ninja that are prevalent in job postings (e.g. all of the 10 types of programmers mentioned here are all male oriented: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10things/10-types-of-progra...).

The worst part of that last article you linked is that the only time they acknowledge a possible female role is in the "Mediocre Man" stereotype: "Don’t let the name fool you; there are female varieties of Mediocre Man too. And he or she always takes longer to produce worse code than anyone else on the team."

Well, there were female ninjas too. And I frankly don't see how Martyr or Evangelist are male oriented.

Your comment led to a TIL: women ninjas exist and were called kunoichi. Thanks.

Although that line has a bit stupid to put on there, the entire flyer stinks of meatheadedness in general.

Recommendation & personalization technologies are acquired as fast as they are launched. You could be next!

^that made me laugh harder than the women statement.

This is insulting to everyone... Why would I take a break from a two day Hackathon to drink beer, work out, and chase women? It is only two days. Presumably, if I wanted to do that, I would go to a bar or the gym. Who the hell do they think their target audience is?

There's something discomforting about seeing an apology "for any offense" from a party who is not the offender. A common derailing technique is the non-apology-apology: rather than apologizing for what I did, I apologize for your taking offense, which makes it look like you're the one who has a problem. Here, Cloudmine does this on behalf of the creeps at Boston API Jam!

Why? It seems clear to me, based on their actions, that Cloudmine's intentions are good and that they don't mean to blame the victims. Comparing this post to other blogs and Twitter messages, I think I see why, and it's the same reason the post doesn't quote or directly link to API Jam: it's written in a different register -- "professional" communication.

It's absolutely necessary to do that if your company takes a public action, like pulling sponsorship, and needs to publicly address it. What interests me here is that the non-apology-apology is creeping into the English language by sounding "more formal", because our ruling classes use it so much (and no one seems to care when they're called out on it). So, I hypothesize that whoever wrote this up was trying to stay calm, detached, and respectful, and unconsciously hit on this rhetorical device because of it.

Note, I do not think that CloudMine is under any obligation to apologize for other people's actions, or that the writer is stupid. I'm just rubbernecking a collective lingustic maladaptation.

With all the hubbub over sexism in tech over the past year or two, what kind of idiot uses language like that in the description? It shows a tremendous lack of a clue more than it shows sexism (though it shows that too).

What a crappy thing to write.


It says under 'Great Perks': Women: Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you.

What was the sexist language in question?

[Benefits to the event include] Women: Need another beer? Let our friendly (female) staff get that for you.

I feel embarrassed to type this, but could someone explain what's wrong with that?

They are offering to give women a beer? Why is that bad? Is it because they are assuming only women drink beer? That seems the reverse of the stereotype if anything.

Edit: I think I got it - they are assuming the women will drink beer and not participate intellectually? Is that it?

Personally I would assume you would drink and participate at the same time, so maybe that's not it.

No, you're misreading it.

What it actually says, under the benefits for attending is "Massages, Live DJ, Gym Access, Food Trucks, Top Shelf Booze, Women, 5 Hour Energy, Perfect Fuel."

Hence the colon after "Women:" isn't addressed too women, it's clarifying how the women will be delivered to you as a perk, just like chocolate, massages, and gym access.

It's incredibly objectifying.

It was about context: The item in question appeared under the heading "Great Perks" – as if to say that women were one of the 'perks' in question.

Out of context, it appears as though they're addressing women directly. In context, they're offering women as a 'perk' to a male dominated event crowd.

I think I got it - they are assuming the women will drink beer and not participate intellectually? Is that it?

So, where does it say 'Men'?

Super-dumb thing to write. Plus the other misspellings indicate the writer had little other writing talent, as well. Maybe he was drunk.

But, enthusiastic young event promoters aren't the most enlightened crew. (Indeed, too much enlightenment could kill your chances of launching a hot new bar, 'energy drink', or various other kinds of youth-oriented events/venues/local-deals.)

So there's a message here about culture and the reckless generalizations of youth, but not especially one about tech events. (Other than: at a tech event, this sort of thing is noted and corrected very quickly.)

As with a dog and a carpet, sometimes shit happens. The dog only learns slowly, and by the time it learns: there's another puppy making the same mistakes. Give quick and firm feedback – one wap with the newspaper! – and get a correction/apology, but don't dwell on it. It's not something that stains everyone vaguely associated to the Nth-degree.

I think sqoot should also reconsider autospamming their "apology" message to anyone who mentions them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/sqoot

(Not because they shouldn't apologise, but because there are better ways to do it than spam.)

Funny thing, I saw this ad just yesterday. The eventbrite page has been pulled I think now. But I remember seeing the no women point and then also saw other points like 'No Ideas People' or something to that effect. The flyer struck me as somewhat offensive, not that I'm usually that sensitive. But it came across as disparaging quite a few groups of people, don't know what they were trying to do. But it seems like it would end up alienating people. Not being a full time dev, I've been mustering the energy and guts to go to a hackathon with the aim of meeting folks I could possibly learn from. My first impression was, I'd be made fun of if I turned up with nothing to offer...

Sexist comments like the one on the flyer are dumb, and these people deserve to be called out on it, but to imply they are keeping women out of tech careers is ridiculous (and in itself, sounds kind of sexist to me - like we are tender plants who change our career paths because some jerks like to see boobies).

If the flyer reflected the spirit of the event and the attitude of the organizers, I'm glad for the heads up so I know not to attend, free beer notwithstanding.

I wouldn't change my career path because there are idiots around, but there _are_ quite a few women who don't even want to embark on that path because it feels like you're entering frathouse central some days.

Especially since there are a few other (related) fields that seem to have a slightly lower jerk quotient.

While I don't condone the choice of words used in the ad I am underwhelmed at the "offensive" content.

If you are offended by this you need to get some thicker skin.

I'm female, and I'm not really offended by this.*

However... That doesn't mean I'm unaffected. If I saw this sort of "perk" for a local event, I would pass on going. If this was the prevalent mentality for all hackathons (or any sort of event) I would probably just not consider going to them an option. When you already have to deal with the assumption you're not really into tech or a competent coder in your daily life, having to deal with being confused for waitstaff/eye-candy on top of that is just plain frustrating. A company that sorts this sort of mentality is most likely I place I wouldn't want to work at, just as individuals drawn by this sort of perk are not the type I want to meet.

In some alternate universe, where tech was a female-dominated industry, how would you feel if it was condoned and accepted that local tech events featured muscular shirtless men in tight pants serving cosmos to attendees? It might not be reason for offense, but it's definitely not desirable/pleasant (assuming you're a heterosexual male).

*I think the people who should be (and probably are) offended are the would-be attendees and sponsors whom the organizers assumed would agree with that statement and all the implications it carries.

It’s blatant sexism and misogyny. That is always offensive. I’m not sure why you don’t seem to have a problem with sexism and misogyny. That’s all being offended means: I have a problem with you saying stuff like that. That seems reasonable enough to me.

No, whoever is offended by this is exactly right. They do not need a thicker skin.

"misogyny" has become such a buzzword it is meaningless. I imagine that it is true that some men really do _hate_ women, but the 'offensive' sentence could have come from a broad spectrum of perspectives about women.

Now, I know feminists have tried to redefine the term into [anything they don't like], but that is a pretty good illustration of what intellectually dishonest offense seekers they are.

Yeah, and you are a Niete, niete.

Do you think the kid who calls everyone she dislikes gay – and thus uses homophobic language – really fears gay people? No, because that's not really what that word means, even if the dictionary says it means that. That’s how language works. Misogyny describes a very specific kind of sexism, and that’s just the case here.

Peace out from a dishonest offense seeker.

Do you really not think that listing "women" as a "perk" isn't genuinely offensive to reasonable people? I'm a straight white Caucasian male and the whole thought of that in a software context embarrasses the hell out of me.

Yes, because the only ones who ever seem to get offended are part of the in group that has been extensively trained to spot "offense", an ability of which they are most proud and seek every opportunity to show it off.

Do you really think that, or are you trolling? Serious question.

God. This stuff is beyond tacky. It's not just insulting for females but it reminds other LGBT geeks that they're outliers. Who cares whether a man or woman is delivering my drink? Like seriously, I'm gay and I don't think I've ever thought "Damn, a woman delivered my drink instead of a dude".

I am a man and feel insulted, the implication that I would go to a hackday to ogle at women is insulting to me.

Not all heterosexual males that are interested by such events are undersexed hormone bombs that care more about women than about actually building cool stuff.

I find this sort of behavior insulting to our trade.

What's more, for many of us it's insulting to people we love – friends, colleagues or family. (My mum's seriously twice the programmer I'll ever be, for the record.)

> Who cares whether a man or woman is delivering my drink?

If you don't get this, then you are missing a lot. Generally speaking men on average will enjoy themselves a lot more if there are pretty girls around. There is a restaurant in town that serves Swiss Chalet grade food in town but all the chicks wear miniskirts and look like models. Even on a week night it is packed with businessmen tipping extravagantly. Sex sells, and sex appeal is a real perk.

The problem is that what is a perk targetting 90% of the target demographic and appeals to probably 85% of those, happens to be off-putting to minorities some want to attract into the industry.

> Generally speaking men on average will enjoy themselves a lot more if there are pretty girls around.

And I wouldn't argue with that. In the short time I was in Japan I blew I don't even want to think about it levels of money on hostess bars and just about all the other sort of fun you can imagine.

But really, there's a time and a place for that sort of thing and a hackday/tech-conference just isn't it.

> The problem is that what is a perk targetting 90% of the target demographic and appeals to probably 85% of those, happens to be off-putting to minorities some want to attract into the industry.

I'm in an ethnic minority for the industry and I simply do not care about attracting minorities. What I do care about is the mountains of gold in them there hills that are ready for the plundering when we learn how to start selling software to women. Having female engineers will probably help with that.

...when we learn how to start selling software to women. Having female engineers will probably help with that.

No, no, a thousand times no. The gaming industry used to think like that. Ernest Adams explained the fallacy of that thinking most eloquently in his article "Games for Girls? Eeeeewww!" [1]

You don't want to "sell software to women". You want to sell software to your target userbase. You want to sell software to people whose problem that software solves. Unless your software is solving a specific problem that only women have, then you're not "selling software to women".

[1] http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/004_Games_for_Girls...

"What I do care about is the mountains of gold in them there hills that are ready for the plundering when we learn how to start selling software to women."

I am saddened by the implication here that selling good software that solves problems for everyone should somehow be less lucrative then exploiting cultural norms and stereotypes.

This mindset is something that we, being in a new field, have a unique opportunity to overcome.

> I am saddened by the implication here that selling good software that solves problems for everyone should somehow be less lucrative then exploiting cultural norms and stereotypes.

I'm not sure I did imply that. I don't think we're particularly good at selling software that solves problems for everyone to women.

Sorry, I'll try to rephrase my question slightly.

If the software truly solves problems for everyone, why should we have to pick a marketing strategy that segments the population of potential users (previously stated to be everyone) by sex or gender?

I read their comment as saying that we sell software that solves problems for everyone, but we only sell it well to men. We need to find a way to sell to women as well.

It's off-putting to me too, and I fall into a category of overrepresented people in the industry (straight, white, male).

The pointlessness of this "perk" is what bugs me the most. It's an API hackathon - how is it relevant to include a statement that basically says: "nothing better than hawt women bringing you beer, amirite?"

That sort of copy has the target demographic of potential Hooters customers, not programmers.

> Generally speaking men on average will enjoy themselves a lot more if there are pretty girls around.

Sexism aside, if I'm some place where I intend to get some coding done, pretty girls in short skirts are only going to distract me.

Statistics seem to indicate that, for now, you're safe.

(this is not a good thing.)

Are these really for coding? I am thousands of miles away from any tech centre, but to me they always seemed like parties and social gatherings. Kinda like a LAN, except the people there enjoy coding more than gaming. That's why it seemed "appropriate" to me, it's a party they are attractive models bringing booze.

It looked like some of both, actually. Which is good! A 12-hour coding marathon can be fun and productive, but at the end I want to etch-a-sketch my brain with vodka to start fresh in the morning.

Do you have sources to back that up? (That it appeals to 85% of the target demographics).

Either way, you are treating women as objects, as perks, as things that men want to look at. And you are treating men as cavemen who want to see women all the time. These ideas have affected (and are affecting) society in a bad way. By using women in that sense, they are promoting the idea that women can be used in that way if you like.

"Do you have sources to back that up?"

Interesting article here covering sex (not gender) gap: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/programming-and-development...

...and then there's the actual BLS stats here (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat11.txt) which suggest something like 20% females in the workforce.

In the game industry, at least as of the IGDA survey in '05, we see something like 92% identify as straight (http://archives.igda.org/diversity/IGDA_DeveloperDemographic...).

So, we could back-of-the-envelope that perhaps a figure of 75% is reasonable, and 85% is not absurd as a guesstimate if you don't fact check.

That makes the assumption that pretty much every straight male loves looking at women all the time, even when coding.

I'm so glad my co-workers occasionally manage to focus on the work at hand instead ;)

Women are used throughout advertising, since it men do prefer to look at an image with a woman in it, or more correctly (but simply) put: man want to be with that woman and women want to be that woman.

However, you can go about this in a refined way, e.g. Dell's "fashion campaign", http://www.writingfordesigners.com/?p=1885) a few years ago) or in a crude way (well, GoDaddy comes to mind).

> Do you have sources to back that up? (That it appeals to 85% of the target demographics).

Not at all, all I meant to convey was that it appeals to a large section of the largest demographic and that overall it probably still appeals to over 50% of the target group. Percentages were used for rhetorical flourish not to imply actual statistical data beyond personal experience.

If "sex sells" for a coding meet-up, I think you'd rather not try to get horny men to "buy" instead of people interested in coding, hacking, or building something.

Exactly. Not only did it implicitly say that women can be seen as a perk, but that there are only heterosexual men who want to attend to this event, and that they all want to have a drink served by a woman. It just wrong in so many levels.

Would it be tacky of me to mention that LGBT geeks might be interested in my side-project, GayGeeks.org?

Guy in a polo shirt talking about "chicks": Garden-variety moron.

Guy in a C++ shirt talking about "chicks": Representative of the RAMPANT MISOGYNY in our industry.

Guy in a polo shirt talking about "chicks": Garden-variety moron being a moron on his own time.

Guy in a C++ shirt talking about chicks at a programming conference: Representative of the RAMPANT MISOGYNY in our industry and wasting the time of everyone he's talking to who came to the damn conference to learn some shit, not awkwardly listen to a jerkoff make a fool of himself and alienate people.

Guy in a polo shirt talking about "chicks": Garden-variety moron.

Guy in a C++† shirt erecting a billboard pointing geeks to "chicks": Representative of the RAMPANT MISOGYNY in our industry.


Replace C++ with whatever programming language you like, the statement still stands.

Well, yeah. Duh.

Does it make sense if you replace "C++ shirt" with "military uniform"?

So, they've posted an apology: http://t.co/h5jZOfb7

It doesn't really make sense to me though. The original does not read as sharp satire or parody at all, just regular old tone-deaf "haha chicks bro!!!!" idiocy.

Well, it looks like @sqoot was unable to weather the storm and has now pulled the event from Eventbrite.

The company that was hosting it pulled out too, so I don't imagine they had any choice.

I wouldn't have written this either and it is off-putting, but I always feel funny about criticizing the objectification of a group of women when they themselves accepted it. It feels paternalistic.

I don't understand. Which women were accepting it? Most of today's backlash came from women who code, which is the group being objectified.

The ones hired to provide the beers?

I wonder if the brackets were not around the word female if it would be considered as offensive. Regardless it was a stupid thing to put on there. I don't even get why they added "female" to that sentence.

um, read it more carefully. It's saying women are a perk, then clarifies by saying that the women in question will be the ones serving drinks. Paraphrased: Perks: * women: they're there to serve drinks.

The problem is not the "(female)" bit, it was the fact that the existence of women is reported as a "perk". Because after all, women are just objects that exist to serve drinks to men.

Yeah, defining women as a "perk" is pretty textbook objectification.

So, one, whoever wrote this is an idiot.

Given the free and easy style of the startup eco-verse, it's pretty hard to say exactly what this does or doesn't say about whoever / whatever was behind the event. Maybe the President approved this. Maybe an intern slapped it up. Maybe the VP of Marketing submitted the wrong copy by accident. Want to know why Big Corporate has so much bureaucracy? This is why.

But they didn't fix it immediately! Yeah, or perhaps the responsible parties were meeting with investors or home sick or some such.

Things move fast on the intertubes but maybe giving management an evening to 1) realize something's wrong and 2) fix it would provide a better signal of who is and isn't completely out of their minds.

> Given the free and easy style of the startup eco-verse, it's pretty hard to say exactly what this does or doesn't say about whoever / whatever was behind the event.

So startup culture is an excuse for hosting an offensive event? Think with your head instead of your dick and you'll come up with infinitely better plans than to have beer wenches around to serve geeks at a tech event.

> Maybe the President approved this. Maybe an intern slapped it up. Maybe the VP of Marketing submitted the wrong copy by accident.

Shame on any of them.

> Want to know why Big Corporate has so much bureaucracy? This is why.

Startup kids could learn a thing or two from mature organizations.

> But they didn't fix it immediately! Yeah, or perhaps the responsible parties were meeting with investors or home sick or some such.

"Fixing it" goes beyond editing the text that was written. "Fixing it" would be not writing it in the first place. "Fixing it" is getting people actively thinking about diversity and equality. Just because you wrote something stupid and edited the page doesn't mean you fixed the problem.

"Shame on any of them."

You're saying shame on all of them, without any moment to hear how this might have been a mistake and not reflective of their organization.

I know zero about these people, they might be every bit as bad as all that. But my suggestion was that perhaps people withhold judgment until the organization has a moment to respond. It's remarkable to see active objection to that. This positive refusal to think or inquire, the justification of reflex, is dangerous.

They did take the time to respond, and up until that response I think most people were just looking for an explanation to know what the real deal was. The response surely gave you that.

They spammed hundreds of people who mentioned them on Twitter with "we're sorry" and linked an apology letter that blamed the people who were offended. The apology letter solidifies the point that they think it's fun and harmless to objectify women, but since some people thought it was in bad taste, they'd edit the page to save their event.

Their response is neither thoughtful nor convincing.

But my bit was about the haste to draw conclusions. That some of those conclusions turned out to be more right than wrong says more about luck than the process by which they were drawn.

Sometimes there are no second chances. Sometimes you should get it right the first time. Especially when it comes to something as obvious as this.

Sorry, but this is not some subtle mistake.

Here's some reading for you, Mr / Ms Perfect.


I’m not perfect. I’m all for second chances. And they will get them, no doubt. I’m not for banning them from society or anything like that.

Are you quite sure you know what you wrote?

"Sometimes there are no second chances. Sometimes you should get it right the first time. Especially when it comes to something as obvious as this. "Sorry, but this is not some subtle mistake."

Yes, sometimes there are situation where you screw up an interview and don’t get the job. Sometimes there are situation where you write sexist crap and lose your sponsors. That happens.

Whoever made this will get a second chance, only not in this instance. Simple as that. It’s a mild punishment for being sexist. So what. Deserved.

Ugh... the reactions to these idiotic, misogynistic statements always feel overblown. Yes, sexism is a pretty big problem in the industry (and adjacent ones). But you're not going to fix it by griping about a horny 20-something saying something stupid about women (surprise!). You're not even going to help. You're just going to walk away with a "there I helped" endorphin rush and go back to not really caring for the vast majority of your life.

The response to funkah's "garden-variety moron" objection has brought out the excuse of, "well, this was an official flier, so it's a big deal". IMO, the fact that this happened on something "official" is less an indication of rampant misogyny (not that I'm denying it exists!), and more an indication of our ridiculously informal, fast-and-loose culture. (The poor quality of the rest of the flier bears this interpretation out.) So what it comes down to is, someone decided to turn a massive brain-fart into an "official" flier, and part of that brain fart was a stupid, misogynistic comment. Surprise, surprise.

I'm sure everybody's real proud that they've managed to detect and criticize blatant, overbearing misogyny, but I don't see many submissions focusing on the persistent discouragement of young girls from participating in science - a very real, and ultimately more fundamental problem. Lets have some. And lets give them more attention than this "moronic person is moronic" stuff.

Disagree. I think today made it very clear that anyone organizing this kind of event is going to lose all of their sponsors and their event space within six hours if they try to pull this crap, which feels new and powerful to me. I've never seen a backlash quite this fast and successful before. They've canceled the event altogether now, it seems.

Honestly, I wouldn't even be surprised if it kills Sqoot as a company -- that's an incredibly powerful warning sign in the only language many people understand how to interpret: your funders telling you they no longer want to have anything to do with you.

Fixing stupid mistakes like this is a lot more straight-forward than figuring out how to encourage young girls to participate in science - it's a completely different order of complexity and the former can be acted upon immediately and effectively whilst the latter cannot. It's the difference between having a recycling bin in your house and changing the idealization of suburbia and car-culture in North America.

It does help. From the perspective of a female, this sort of "overblown" reaction makes it clear that this sort of mentality is not considered acceptable by the community as a whole. If it was a case of people shrugging it off, if this sort of thing could occur without anyone batting an eyelash... I'd have a lot more second-thoughts about my career path for one, and I'd have turned away from the start-up community on top of that.

> If it was a case of people shrugging it off, if this sort of thing could occur without anyone batting an eyelash... I'd have a lot more second-thoughts about my career path for one, and I'd have turned away from the start-up community on top of that.

I'm not suggesting we shrug it off, not batting an eyelash. It's completely idiotic and should be mocked appropriately. But I'm guessing (with high confidence) that if the frequent posts about this brand of stupidity were replaced by articles discussing the actual roots of the "science/technology is for men" prejudice, and blog posts from, say, the khan academy, on how they're working to fight those conceptions, you'd feel a heck of a lot more welcome, and the many, many women who are just on the "no" side of getting involved in the tech industry would be much more likely to get involved.

I'm not trying to replace criticizing language with fixing deep problems. I'm trying to replace criticizing language with discussing, directly, deep social problems. They're the same order of complexity, and one helps much, much more.

You're guessing wrong. I wouldn't feel more welcome (nor do I understand why I should feel more welcome as a result of that sort of discussion) but I don't speak for all women. I want it to be a given that a woman can be in an engineering/tech environment, and that it's No Big Deal. Making a big deal out of prejudice and fighting societal conceptions just puts me off -- if I was into that sort of thing, I'd be browsing some sort of sociology site or attending conferences on the matter.

While I'd love a deep, interesting discussion on the matter... I love deep, interesting discussions. Just because it's about my gender doesn't mean it's more welcoming to me. That aside, I fail to see how women would be much more likely to get involved as a result of discussion on HN -- the issues run a lot deeper than a lack of conversation on the matter.

In response to your later comments, I absolutely agree that the subtle prejudice is a huge problem -- but I don't know if this is the right venue to attack it, or if there even exists a correct venue or method. (Perhaps it's just a matter of time.) I do know that a sudden influx of articles on "making women feel welcome" and "breaking prejudice against women in STEM" would alienate me for one, and most certainly cause me to leave if they became of regular prominence on the front page.

EDIT: A good explanation of my negative feelings towards bringing more attention to the matter is the current top comment: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3732078

I imagine "Don't make women feel unwelcome." would go a long way towards reducing the need for "Make women feel welcome."

You won't get to that discussion without calling out the problems at hand. I believe we are much closer to being able to taking that step than we were even a few years ago - I recall quite a few conferences were open misogyny was 'cool' - but we need to keep calling out this nonsense.

There are strangely still quite a few people who believe that sexism is not an issue.

> You won't get to that discussion without calling out the problems at hand.

Exactly! And my claim is that the larger, more subtle "women just aren't good at science/technology" problem, is now more pressing than the blatant misogyny, and furthermore that the larger problem cannot be solved simply by calling out misogyny. It is a distinct problem - the two may influence each other, but the one will not go away just because we all know about and hate the other.

I guess that's actually really my main gripe with most of the talk here - people are conflating what to me are two very separate problems, and, as far as I can see, not doing anything to solve the bigger one. And it makes me mad.

I know a great many people who would be instantly disgusted at the sort of thing this moron put on the flier, as you all were, and yet have subtly and not-so-subtly showed the bias that women can simply never be as good as programming as men can. (In one particular case, fairly openly, to the person's face - and that person, one of the best programmers I know, is no longer planning to go into computer science, despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise.) So I'm convinced that open misogyny and "women belong in the kitchen" are, at least in the tech community, separate problems, and the latter needs to be attacked directly.

Why do you think this is taking away from other efforts? I think calling out asshats is important and it doesn’t take all that much effort. It doesn't take away from anything else.

I'd like to point out that if we replaced the "Womens" perk with the "Perfect Fuel" perk, nobody would be complaining about how this insulted people who don't eat dark chocolate. Obviously not every guy cares whose serving their drinks, the same way not every guy attending the event cares to eat dark chocolate. They're trying to get people to go to their event. I'd imagine most people going to Hackathon's are heterosexual males. It makes sense for Sqoot, and it's saddening for me to see how we blindly kowtow to the PC police.

You are aware that women are sentient beings, right? I hope it was unintentional but your post reeks of objectification.


"Perhaps I'm not in the best position to be commenting on this"

Yeah, perhaps not.

Try replacing "Women" with "children" or "Indian people" and reread that. Does that feel right?

Now put yourself in the shoes of an Indian person reading that. How does that feel?


And why would putting women in an ad be any different?

I mentioned Indian because I am of that descent, but that your mind jumped to "illegal" is something you need to examine about yourself. I think this is probably somehow connected to why you can't understand using women for this purpose in this advert is not appropriate.


Okay, maybe I jumped the gun a bit.

I'm not sure why you're repeating the "that's all women can do" part. I don't think that's the specific complaint.

Perhaps you can tell me why having women on the list of things, bolded no less, is a selling point? Why is it relevant? And to whom?


I downvoted you for reducing the relatively nuanced, respectful and civil conversations taking place here and elsewhere to "zOMGSEXISM!!!1". Assuming you aren't just being hyperbolically disingenuous, and that is actually what you think is happening here, I'm not surprised you don't get why so many reasonable people have a problem with this.

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