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It's not about offending people. It's never about offending people.

Plenty of people could have delightfully off-color senses of humor, love playing Cards Against Humanity, and still find this name highly problematic. It's actually about the signals that we send by using language closely associated with groups or attitudes that have long histories of excluding women or others from our culture and community.

And just to throw an anecdote or two into the mix, I have at least two female friends in tech fitting that exact description who very explicitly avoid Hacker News for these reasons. Every time they see a woman speak up about being uncomfortable with some aspect of tech culture, their impression is that the community here closes ranks to shout her down rather than accepting the legitimacy of her experience. These are brilliant, fun, unflappable women, and they don't feel any need to subject themselves to that sort of crap. But that means that Hacker News (and to some degree, tech in general) doesn't get the benefit of their participation.




"Signals". Ok. So what's the signal being sent to women by a bunch of men that think that women are so weak that a mild mild MILD joke about fratboys is going to chase them away? (A lame joke that doesn't even involve women directly). Do you really think they're that emotionally fragile?

Don't you see how incredibly patronizing this discussion is towards the people it's supposedly benefiting?

Which do you think is more offensive: a comment that slightly gets under your skin, or someone questioning your ability to handle a comment that gets slightly under your skin?

Isn't the whole point of feminism that we treat women like normal fully functional adults that can stick up for themselves? I'm not a feminist, but how does shit like this help their cause?


It's difficult for me to see how you read my post as suggesting that the awesome women I know (or women in general) are emotionally fragile. I really tried to go out of my way to avoid giving that impression; that's why I called them "unflappable", among many other things.

I do understand the point you're aiming for here. But when the premise of your objection is so explicitly at odds with my actual words, it might be a good idea to ask yourself whether you really understand the point that I'm trying to make. (And not entirely succeeding in making, clearly!)

The biggest problem with your objection, to my eye, is that you're only talking about this as one isolated joke, while I'm trying to consider it as part of a broader pattern. The really frustrating part of this discussion, for me, is that I already made exactly that clarification to you (in more detail) nine hours ago in this same thread (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7122412). You didn't address that point then, and in writing what you have here you make it clear that it's still not something you're thinking about.

The pattern is the point. The cumulative impact of culture is the point. It's not calling women fragile to say that a lot of them get awfully sick of being peppered with these little signals of not-belonging hour after hour, day after day. Some may be fine with it, but many others clearly aren't. So why is it controversial to say "Ok, let's not do that"?


I'll attempt to explain the point I think overgard is making in a little more detail:

There are many ways to signal not-belonging. For example, conversations like this one send a signal of not belonging to people who are culturally lower-middle class (hypersensitive political correctness is a social signal of upper-middle class liberal types). I imagine a similar signal is sent to brogrammers.

It also sends a signal of not belonging to those who have been bullied by politically correct sorts. See Scott Alexander for further thoughts on this: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/01/12/a-response-to-apophemi-...

It is clearly impossible to shield everyone from signals they do not belong, particularly from signals as subtle and tangential as the ones you are advocating against. So why do you single out women for protection on this ground?

Note: much like women, lower-middle class people are underrepresented in computing. So underrepresentation can't be the reason.


Just because a person may not have had the luxury of time (due to socioeconomic concerns) to think about how their behavior can demean and exclude others doesn't give them a pass forever.

We shouldn't tolerate ignorance, just because it's the lowest common denominator, exhibited by some people from the lower-middle class, as you put it. It's the world views behind ignorance that are most damaging, and I think the wealthier classes are probably just as guilty as the lower classes there, even if they can hide it behind gentility.

I think it's a lot different to ask people to adapt to a culture of mutual respect than to ask a woman to adapt to a locker room bro culture.


I can very much relate to the feeling of being "bullied" by "politically correct sorts" as you put it -- it's taken me a while to become confident enough in my own positions on the matter to not let the people who (in my opinion) go too far get to me (like some of the things mentioned in your link, which was a great read; thanks for that).

But that said, I think this argument (paraphrased: "This conversation excludes me, how is that better?") ultimately boils down to the same kind of protest that an anti-gay person often makes as a last resort: "you preach tolerance, why can't you be tolerant to my anti-gay point of view?" (Just to be clear, I am not calling anyone here anti-gay or anti-woman, it's just an analogy, which I will explain).

The overriding concern is that we take seriously people's experiences about what makes them feel excluded or unwelcome (and not just women). In other words, it's important that we are not dismissive of people's feelings or experiences. But the one thing we must be dismissive of is people's efforts to justify dismissiveness.

For anyone who thinks that being exclusive is no big deal, it is important that we stand up and be clear that it is important, because that's the only way for the group as a whole to truly be welcoming to the out-groups. Just as we must stand up to overt anti-gay intolerance, we must stand up to more subtle signaling when it is common and pervasive.

I don't believe that the people who made this program had any bad intentions, and I'm not meaning in any way to criticize or judge them. If they are made aware of the issue and don't think it matters at first, I can still find compassion because it can take a while to really become aware of why this is important. But even in feeling compassionate, it is still important that those of us who have come to appreciate this issue stand up and say why we think actions like this are harmful.

One final thought: communication "in the large" has different standards than communication with close friends or family. There would be nothing wrong with a joke like this between good friends or family, for several reasons:

1. within a close friend/family group, everyone is already part of the in-group

2. within a close friend/family group, mutual concern for each other is already established, and a person who has concerns has ways of voicing them and a reasonable expectation that those concerns will be taken seriously.

3. people within a close friend/family group know each other well enough to know how certain comments are intended; the potential for misinterpreting things is much lower.

Some of the things my close friends joke around about could sound horrifying and totally inappropriate to people outside our group, but all of us know what we mean by it and are cool with it. As long as we keep that to ourselves it doesn't matter. But with messaging that will reach a large group of people, it's a totally different story.

This is much longer than I intended or anticipated, sorry about that.


This whole phenomenon is actually much simpler than this whole thread makes it out to be. "bro" is used here as an ironic joke and with zero intent to be harmful. The counterargument is that intent doesn't matter, only effect. Well, who is being negatively effected by ironic jokes? Certainly not the people who see much beyond the surface imagery of words; IOW, the superficial. It's basically making something about you that isn't about you at all: trite people drama exemplar.

Then the question becomes whether the opinions of the superficial (masses) matters. Yes and no. For a mass market product intended for their consumption it's a bad idea to induce even righteously indignant offense, no matter how contrite. No in the more rational existential sense because it's pointless to pander to the bottomless pit of human stupidity. Que example of watering down science just because the anti-science crowd will never get it.


A short confession. After participating in this forum for a few years, I never thought this was an actual problem. Watching this whole thread of conversation has been very enlightening, and not in the way I had hoped.

So, on behalf of those of us who had not seen these attitudes before so blatantly on parade, my sincerest apologies.


For me that moment of realization came about three years ago, on an entirely different forum.

I came into a discussion (on a topic similar to this) between a female friend of mine and another guy a few hours after it started. Every post of his had me nodding: I probably would have said just the same thing if he hadn't beaten me to it. So it was frustrating and confusing to see my friend getting increasingly hurt and angry as they went: why couldn't she see how much this guy was making sense?

I was pretty intensely annoyed with her by that point. I decided that if I was going to be able to get through to her about why she was being unreasonable and this other guy was right, I'd have to dig through some of the links that she'd shared so I could make a convincing case that her position was unfair.

I read the articles she'd linked to, and I still couldn't figure out why she'd been so upset. Confused, I read them again. Then I read some of their links, and theirs, and began hunting for more. What had begun as a determined mission to convince my friend that she was blowing things way out of proportion gradually turned into a dawning horrified realization that I had been solidly and unthinkingly on the wrong side of this whole range of issues for years (despite thinking that I was very committed to gender equality).

Only those few hours of delay before I'd seen the original conversation had saved me from being the one saying totally insensitive and hurtful things to my friend, and I can still think of times in years past when I did say things that make me cringe today. Ever since, I've taken it as a sort of penance to try and share what little of this stuff I've started to understand whenever I see people talking about these issues the way I used to. I hope that it occasionally plants a seed of understanding for someone, even if it doesn't take hold right away.


Thank you. That's all; just thank you -- for putting in the work, for being willing to be wrong, for fighting the good fight. This stranger, at least, appreciates it.


This attitude is a clear echo of what a Pentacostal girl said to me when I was 15, hoping/expecting I would take up her religion later on when I originally thought it was stupid.


Conversion experiences never do translate well to other people, do they? :)

But seriously, I hope that a 35-year-old coming to an unexpected new understanding of a concrete issue with measurable consequences for many other people whom he knows personally as a result of reading extensive rational arguments might be judged a little differently than a 15-year-old's enthusiasm about a personal faith experience.

One likely difference: I don't expect my account of coming to this realization to be what changes anyone's mind. (I'd be uncomfortable if it were.) I shared it here just to illustrate that a more or less rational person can make the shift that I did. Whether you make that same transition tomorrow or ten years from now or never isn't something I can control. It depends on how well you listen, and to whom, and how well you relate to what you've heard at any given time.


I had a similar moment of realization about gender equality once. I used to believe that IRC was a very nice medium because the gender of the participants was not revealed (unless they wanted to), so (I thought) it was entirely free from gender prejudices.

Then, I discussed with someone on the channel of a hackspace I used to go to (but had just started attending so I didn'n know the people well); I had never seen the guy IRL but he said he would attend the next session so I could figure out who he was in real life.

But when I come, none of the participants were him. And then a female participant shows up and a while later it turns out that "he" is her, and I was shocked to see how unexpected this felt.

I'm not implying that the IRC user being female was in any way shocking, nor did I believe that the women who had joined us (and, this time, the only female participant around) could not be a "real" participant to a hackspace. It's just that, while I had wondered of every participant whether it was that IRC guy or not, I just hadn't made the connection for her.

And, thus, I realized that, without even noticing it, no matter my opinions about gender prejudices, I must have had a pretty strong mental image of that IRC user being male, for me to be so surprised when she turned out to be female. IRC wasn't gender-neutral. It was male by default.

I'm not sure how related to the discussion this is, but for me this was the moment when I realized that prejudices weren't just something that stupid people did, and that I was also influenced by them even if (especially if) I didn't notice.


It's a problem I have with hacker news comments as well...

Are there any statistics how many participants here are male, female, etc.?

I just assume something about 95% male commenters so I automatically assume a boy or a man on the other side of the conversation. Which probably is a rather bad assumption :/


IRC is gender neutral.

You made a foolish assumption. Not everyone does that, or even cares in the slightest what a users gender/age/cultural background/disability/whatever is.

All you have done is reveal your own past personal prejudice. Congratulations on getting over that.


> IRC is gender neutral.

So you read about someone's experience proving otherwise (I have had similar experiences on IRC, getting treated shitty for being a woman) and you stated something else in an authoritarian fashion, without feeling the slightest need to prove your point. How... interesting.


Saying his personal experience proves anything about IRC as a medium is a stretch.

No requirement exists to give your gender or a name that may reveal a gender. That, by any definition, is 'gender neutral'.

If someone makes assumptions about other people it's their own issue, it has nothing to do with what is essentially an anonymous medium. I really didn't think it needed 'proving'.


Of course you didn't think that. I think your confusion stems from the fact that, when speaking about IRC, one speaks also about the community that uses IRC -- without the people using IRC, it would be useless, since its aim is to make communication possible. I'm a bit surprised this wasn't taken into account.

> That, by any definition, is 'gender neutral'.

No, because women receive shit and most users are considered male by default.

> Saying his personal experience proves anything about IRC as a medium is a stretch.

His experiences are not the only ones that exist. At least a couple female IRC users I know carefully chose handles that do not reveal their gender, because they wanted to spare themselves all the negative comments they received before the handle change.


Why do you need to tell people your gender on a communications medium that doesn't require you to? I don't consider anyone to be male or female on IRC, they're just users.

The thing I always loved about IRC was that even when I was 12 years old, people took me seriously, not because I was male, or white, or an adult, but because I was thoughtful and intelligent - age in this case being the key differentiating factor.

Disgusting sexist people exist. If you tell them your gender they may well attack you for it, because they are terrible people. What are we debating here? The only assertion I've made is that IRC is inherently gender neutral by definition.


So the thing you might be missing is that even when you think you're being appreciated for your intelligence, people have still been assuming that you are both white and male (and on IRC back in the day, probably a teen or young adult).

It's folly to think that you are free of prejudice with the only basis that you don't consciously hold these prejudices, because we (humanity, science) know for a fact that biases are much more deeply ingrained in most of us.

This is particularly hard for our demographic (programmers et al) to hear, because we consider ourselves rational. We like to think that we do things because we have thought them through. But all evidence points to the fact that we are just as susceptible to biases and prejudice as everyone else. Indeed, nobody seems to be free of it, but there is a silver lining: with an analytical approach, it is possible to examine biases and become aware of them, and eventually work through them.


How can you possibly make this generalisation? On IRC, people can assume whatever they like. Everyone might as well be naked running around doing the tango, if that is how that person chooses to see those users.

Why would a person even give a microseconds thought on whether or not I was white, black, male, female, whatever, and even if they do -- why is it _my_ responsibility as person putting the content out there to be one or the other?

It's not.

You're right one one point - programmers do consider themselves to be rational. IRC is one place where biases simply don't exist by definition, because why would they? Nothing defining anything exists unless you explicitly want it to.

I find it extremely irking that you keep trying to insinuate that literally every person on IRC thinks of each other as a 'white male' like you describe. This reveals a problem, not systemic, but in yourself.


I don't think he's saying that there's anything fundamentally not neutral about IRC as a technical product. I think he's pointing out that the fact that it is gender neutral from a technical point of view does not mean that the experience is gender neutral in practice, because, as you've pointed out, people bring their own biases to the medium.

I believe his point is he realized that technology alone does not obviate sociological issues, after being confronted with his own bias in an unanticipated way.


Yes, this seems like a very clean way to phrase what I intended to say.


(Yes, of course, I'm not claiming that this is a flaw of IRC, or anybody's fault but mine.)


In my experience, it's always about offending people. But only theoretically, of course. It's hard to find significant quantities of people who are actually offended, which is in itself deeply ~problematic.~

>their impression is that the community here closes ranks to shout her down rather than accepting the legitimacy of her experience

It does say a lot about you and your friends that they assume that anyone who disagrees with them isn't coming from a legitimate experience of their own. Why is it only you and your friends that are Designated Spokepersons for All Women? Not everyone on here is biologically male, you know. Some of the people who think Adria Richards is an idiot happen to be women. Quite a few, actually, since oversensitive feminists make life much harder for women in tech to be taken seriously.

> brilliant, fun, unflappable women

Sure.

>But that means that Hacker News (and to some degree, tech in general) doesn't get the benefit of their participation.

Anyone this upset about the word "bro" isn't someone I want to spend time around anyway.


The risk isn't that someone gets all huffy and makes a big deal about being offended. It's that people who you would want to participate silently think to themselves "I don't want to deal with this" and then go away. It's explicitly not the oversensitive feminists I care about here; it's the reasonable, intelligent women and men who have a number of options on where to spend their time and choose not to spend it in communities where they feel unwelcome.

"Anyone who's offended by this isn't someone I want to spend time around anyway" can be a very effective way to filter your friends, but you have to be very careful that you apply it in a way that actually offends the right people. As an early-30s male in tech with a number of female friends and coworkers that I respect highly, I'll tell you that there are many people who my life has been quite enriched by who won't go near "brogrammer" culture or anything that sounds like it.


>The risk isn't that someone gets all huffy and makes a big deal about being offended. It's that people who you would want to participate silently think to themselves "I don't want to deal with this" and then go away. It's explicitly not the oversensitive feminists I care about here; it's the reasonable, intelligent women and men who have a number of options on where to spend their time and choose not to spend it in communities where they feel unwelcome.

This is exactly how I feel each time this gender crap gets posted to HN. I used to come to this site several times a day, especially for the brilliant comments but those comments and tech discussions have been pushed away by people like you who want to talk about gender and social justice.

Can't we have a site just about tech? With brilliant people who share their knowledge? The one place where we only care what is inside peoples heads and not their feelings?

I guess not. Was nice while it lasted though.


FWIW if you go back about 3 pages in my comment history there are some highly technical posts that might be exactly what you're looking for. Things about Futamura projections, real-time web scalability, Python 3.4, Google open-source projects (of which I've authored a major one), etc.

"The one place where we only care what is inside peoples heads and not their feelings?"

Here's the thing: no, you can't. At least not if you want your work to have a big impact on the world. The real world outside of technology circles runs on emotions, and if you ignore them you'll isolate yourself into a small bubble of little relevance to the outside world.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn, because I've always been really facile with logic and really dumb about emotions. What made me eventually put in the effort to understand emotions better was that I hit a brick wall in what I could accomplish with code alone. I was writing a lot of code that was technically challenging but nobody was using or caring about, and getting outpaced by people who didn't really know how to code but were adept at getting others to work for them.

There are sites on the Internet - like the technical mailing lists and bugtrackers of specific open-source projects - which do focus exclusively on technical discussions. Hacker News has always had a focus on the impact of technology, though, and that includes social hacks through and about technology.


> The one place where we only care what is inside peoples heads and not their feelings?

Are you saying feelings aren't inside people's heads?


That you choose to dismiss others' humanity (as a hand-wave about "feelings") in favor of inert things is to me troubling and I'm pretty glad HN has not done as you'd like. People are important. They're much, much more important than One Weird Trick That Makes You Love Haskell.

"Tech" isn't a thing except in how people--people--use it and are affected by it and how they, in turn affect the world around them. It's natural that, yes, HN turns to discussions of how the tech community marginalizes some who'd like to be a part of it (and some who never had a chance to).


'''Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. "Immortality" may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.'''

- A Mathematician's Apology, Hardy

''' "Tech" isn't a thing except in how people--people--use it and are affected by it and how they, in turn affect the world around them.'''

Pure mathematics, for most of history has had zero relevance and zero effect on society. So I suppose to you, "pure mathematics" isn't a thing because it is completely removed from the world.

I personally find math and "tech" more interesting than people. Just saying..


In my experience, it's always about offending people. But only theoretically, of course.

See, this is pretty much exactly what I'm talking about. I share my perception of this issue and that of multiple people I know personally to explain that "offended" isn't the way any of us view the issue, and to clarify how we actually do view it as best I can. And then you, in your first sentence, reject what I've said and instead claim it really is about being offended after all. Are you suggesting that I'm deliberately lying, or that I'm deluded, or what? You don't say. And then even though I've made note of specific personal connections that have led me to my understanding of the issue, you suggest that my supposed fear of offending people is purely theoretical.

You aren't listening. Or if you are, it sure doesn't feel like it. And that's at the root of this entire issue.

It does say a lot about you and your friends that they assume that anyone who disagrees with them isn't coming from a legitimate experience of their own.

I would love to see any quote by me that supports this claim. I have never intended to suggest that "not observing gender bias" is not an authentic description of many peoples' experience in the tech community, even for some women. My assertion is just that it is not everybody's experience, and that the people who do feel strongly affected by gender bias deserve to be heard and respected.

Why is it only you and your friends that are Designated Spokepersons for All Women?

Again, I can't think of any time that I have claimed such a role, but I'd welcome evidence to the contrary. Now, "Volunteer Advocate for a Community that Feels Welcoming to More Women", that I'll own up to.


> since oversensitive feminists make life much harder for women in tech to be taken seriously.

Yep. In all political parties too, the oversensitive types discredit the other ones. Please fight for moderation from the extremists as much as you want us to care about your presence.


> And just to throw an anecdote or two into the mix, I have at least two female friends in tech fitting that exact description who very explicitly avoid Hacker News for these reasons.

I'm a guy and I'm getting bloody tired of it. There was a blog post submitted here that had an imaginary conversation between a boss and developer. The explanatory text referred to the developer as "she". Cue people complaining about forced use of "she" being ridiculous and how they couldn't figure out if the author was trying to be "edgy".

Personally "bropages" just sounds childish, like if it was called 31337_h4x><or_pages.


I bookmark a very small number of comment pages for HN members, and yours is one of them. I just wanted to let you know that.


Wow. Thank you!


You are correct, it's about signaling. However, we have to think about whether one type of signaling should be privileged over another just by virtue of being particularly loud and obnoxious. (Note that this goes both ways).

The "right" of one type of signaling to suppress others is a privilege, after all.


>These are brilliant, fun, unflappable women

Unflappable except supposedly they literally can't read this website out of the inescapable fear that someone will make a pun about man pages, and then someone else will be unimpressed with their outrage at a pun about man pages.

Lolks




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