Hilariously, not 6 hours ago I published a post mentioning how I try not to swear on my blog these days. I’ll try to stick to that, but I’m currently so angry that I’m holding onto my rage by my fingernails. Some (much) profanity may slip through.
For those just joining us at home. Shanley is a woman who works in tech and who writes about her experience as such, often from a feminist perspective. Recently she wrote Things I Never, Ever Want to Hear Again which is basically “Here are some of the ways in which men behave awfully in response to the things I regularly talk about. Please stop”.
Twitter is currently exploding with men doing all those things in response to it. Here are some examples.
You see, apparently the problem with Shanley’s post is how angry she was. Honestly, it’s so unproductive. We men are just telling her to be less angry because we want to help her achieve more constructive results. Don’t you know that you catch more flies with honey? Anger is harmful and we don’t like it.
This is, of course, complete and utter fucking rubbish.
The tech community loves anger. We rant all the time. It’s a wonderful spectator sport! People find things they don’t like and they complain about them. And the rest of us chuckle along at home and nod sagely at the the person who is clearly venting and is expressing the rage we also feel in an entertaining manner.
Think of our angry tech celebrities. What happens when you say “Linus Torvalds is a very smart man, but I wish he’d be less angry about it”?
Of course what happens is that everyone nods and agrees with you and says how they’re very impressed by all the things he’s done but boy his attitude is destructive isn’t it?
Wait. No. That’s not what happens at all.
Instead they tell you that he’s just blunt and direct and he gets things done. What are you, some sort of politically correct corporate weenie who is shilling for Microsoft in order to sabotage our beloved open source utopia? How very dare you!
There are plenty of other examples of lesser fame. There’s Zed Shaw, who we all love to hate and sure we think he’s obnoxious but hey why don’t you read this post by him it sure hits the nail on the head.
Hell, way down at the bottom of the scale there’s even me. I’m not without my share of angry tech rants, and people sure seem to enjoy them (for comparison, the angry version of my error reporting manifesto is the one that keeps getting linked to and has at least twice as much traffic as the rewritten one).
We are an angry community. Some of it is real, some of it is for our own entertainment, but many of us are full of anger and it is an entirely normal part of the way we communicate.
But let a woman tell us how our community treats her and people like her and that she’s maybe a little bit peeved about how many people respond to her points in exactly the same fucking way, over and over and over?
Honestly. Why is she so angry? It must be because she’s one of those feminist women! She must have issues! I’m glad us mean are more rational so we can respond calmly and point out that she has some good points but could she maybe say them a little more quietly so we don’t have to listen and can thus go about fixing the issues! Thanks, there’s a dear.
Little bit of a difference there, isn’t there?
The problem isn’t anger. The problem is empathy and responsibility. The problem is sheer god damn hypocrisy.
When people rant about tech it’s something that has bearing on our life experiences. We all see the problems and experience them and can relate to them. Their anger is legitimate because it corresponds to our life experiences.
But when it’s something that only a minority of us experience? Most of us are men, and as such we don’t have the same experiences as Shanley and have trouble relating. Which means that unlike the anger about error reporting, which is totally legit, her anger is wrong, it’s unconstructive. We don’t understand it, so she must be angry over nothing, right? It can’t be a real problem or we’d have seen it.
But it’s more than just an inability to relate of course.
Suppose someone was ranting angrily about people who get some aspect of literary criticism wrong. It might be entertaining (I sure enjoy such things), but we wouldn’t be able to relate. Would we react in the same way?
No of course we wouldn’t. We’d just shrug our shoulders and not care that much.
The problem with complaints about sexism isn’t just that we don’t relate to them, it’s that they make us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we try to soften the blow by making them not matter. By telling her that maybe she should stop being so angry about the constant abuse and derailing she gets. Because we’re so helpful. See how we’re helping?
Well you’re not fucking helping. You are being part of the problem. Now own up to your hypocrisy, take some responsibility for your actions and the actions of the community you are a part of and realise that maybe you should be angry about this too.
Now. With all this in mind, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go back and read Shanley’s post again. Don’t ignore the anger. It’s there. It’s legitimate. Instead acknowledge it and listen to the message. She is telling you her experiences. Listen to this, take it on board, and consider the fact that she might be right and by focusing on her tone instead of the message you might be part of the very problem she’s talking about.