I am angry too

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.

This entry was posted in Feminism on by .

24 thoughts on “I am angry too

  1. Alaric Snell-Pym

    I think a crucial difference, as well, is how the anger is directed.

    A blog post being angry about people handling errors badly? I can chuckle and sympathise, as I have suffered at their hands, too.

    A blog post being angry about people I know nothing about? I can shrug and move on.

    A blog post that claims to be angry about me, but for things I don’t actually do? That annoys me.

    Whether it’s a blog post complaining about “men” rather than just “sexist men” for things that sexist men do, or a blog post about people who like the theoretical side of computer science and functional languages having no understanding of “real-world programming”, they both get my goat :-)

  2. david Post author

    And yet when I say things like “People do X” or “Programmers handle exceptions like Y” somehow no one goes “Wait! I don’t do that! Why are you making these generalisations?!”

    Yes, it’s kindof irritating to be part of a group which is having generalisations about it. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable too, and I wish people wouldn’t do it, but when we complain about it in the response to people complaining about the real actual abuse they regularly suffer at the hands of a group that happens to include you it sure would be nice if people did less of “But I don’t do that!” and more of “Oh, shit! That sounds terrible! What can I do to make sure the rest of us don’t do that either?”

  3. Keith

    A community is made of individuals, ranging from complete assholes to really great people. Generalizing is an unfair mistake. That the assholes that have been unfair to her happen to be white males does not give her the right to extrapolate to all white men in tech. I don’t care if she is angry or not. I do think it would be better if her efforts and rage were directed to the individuals who have been unfair to her, rather than to the people who happen to be of the same gender and race. Not that I personally care (maybe because I do not belong in the “white male” category) but for her own benefit. Her arguments lose strength with those sexist and racist generalizations that she has made.

  4. Ollie

    Its worse than generalization though, she actually talks to “you”. Because of that it is not a Programmers handle exceptions like X, its YOU handle exceptions like X, which is a lot more direct.

    “You assholes aren’t trying at all. THIS is not trying.”

    That’s more than a generalization.

    1. david Post author

      Yeah. And a completely unfounded claim, too. I mean it’s not like when these issues are brought up everyone is all “Hey this isn’t our fault!”, is it?

      1. Ollie

        She does it in other places as well – and then tries to suggest you are arrogant for taking it personally, which makes it even worse.

        “You don’t, but that doesn’t really matter, after all. No, to you, I’m just angry”

        She also preemptively argues against anything anyone can say against this –

        “They bring nothing to the table except a predictable litany of false martyrdom, victim-blaming, self-involved demands for “education”, endless derailing techniques paraded as “logic”, disingenuous bewilderment, unjustifiable confidence, and totally unexamined privilege.”

        Which basically comes out as saying, you cant understand the problem, either solve it how i want it to, or you are the problem, which definitely doesnt help.

        Now, if like me you have relatively recently graduated from a tech university you will have seen all the women only oppurtunities there are. All those female only interships, workgroups, open days spam your email and you see certain people who know exactly how to play a majority male environment getting massive advantages. Then someone tries to tell you “this is necessary to balance the amount of women in tech workplaces, you wouldnt understand, youre a privelaged white male”. How are you supposed to take this?

        1. Geoffrey

          How to take this?

          I recommend looking at the numbers of women in tech workplaces and reassuring yourself with the (voluminous) evidence that those “massive advantages” afforded to women are more than balanced out by the supermassive advantages afforded to men. They may not be as clearly-defined, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful.

          I don’t enjoy being included in a hostile generalisation about “men”, especially since I try to do my bit as a feminist ally. Yeah, it stings a little bit… but nothing compared to the sting for people whose careers are likely to be harmed by generalisations about their race/sex/orientation/etc.

        2. William Pietri

          Thanks for pointing this out. I had somehow totally missed this double standard on anger.

          I personally have spent years moving toward calm, measured, polite ways of engaging, because a lot of the time that works for me. But I think part of why it works is the social standing I have, and the sort of things I’m talking about. Plus, at this point I have enough financial and career independence that if people don’t listen to me, it’s not really my problem.

          For people that don’t naturally get listened to, or for issues where everybody finds it convenient to pay no attention, I think anger is a great way of starting the dialog. (E.g., the Stonewall riots.) So I have a lot of sympathy for women in tech expressing anger, and am ever more suspicious of tone arguments.

          1. david Post author

            Yes. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my ability to express myself calmly even when angry. As this post evidences, I don’t always succeed at that, but I do try and I think it’s a useful skill to be able to have, regardless of who you are.

            But as you say, it’s easy for us. We’re in a group which means that we don’t have to shout to be listened to. Part of why I try to write about feminism isn’t because I think I’m some wise expert on the subject (I know more than the average bear but less than the average experienced feminist), but because by doing so I can signal boost it to people who wouldn’t normally have listened. It’s not an advantage I especially want to have, but given that I have it I’d damn well better use it for good.

            In general I think a mix of anger and calm discussion is needed in order to effect change. I just have very little patience for people who point to anger they don’t understand and say it’s unconstructive and couldn’t you just speak calmly?

        3. Brad

          It’s odd, because when I read those passages, I actually didn’t think they were about me. Even the ones before the “it’s not about you” section. I didn’t feel she was generalizing “men” at all, but “sexist assholes.” So when she addresses sexist assholes in her prose, and uses the second person, I know it’s directed at the sexist assholes who feel and act the way she’s describing — not all men, not even exclusively men — when someone lists a bunch of descriptors and says “you, the person who acts and thinks this way, are an asshole,” I can’t simultaneously dismiss the descriptors to assume she’s talking about me, and then get offended that she’s mischaracterizing me. That’s a fallacy.

  5. Vinay Gupta

    David, if you’re not going to discuss the content of our discussion, which I feel is rather important, I’d appreciate it if you’d simply take my name out of this post. It’s adding nothing to your argument, and you’re casting aspertions on me without noting little details like “120 tweets from a dozen people discussing the issues for a day and a half” or other such niceties of the actual conversations that were going on in response to at least three separate issues.

    Thanks. V>

  6. Jack

    Since the flame war of the last few days, I’ve been considering why I’ve been so curious about the progress of the various discussions taking place.

    I don’t think it’s entirely about male versus female anger (with the former permitted/encouraged, and the latter disallowed), though there may be some of that.

    In a parallel universe, if Lena Torvalds, the female Linux kernel BDFL, were to ream out some poor kernel maintainer volunteer on email, the tech community wouldn’t care much more than it does now. Because the discussion is an engineering discussion, all parties have faith that:

    – there’s a right answer

    – if there’s not an exact right answer, at least there’s a scientific process for determining what the answer is (via tradeoffs, design compromises, etc)

    – politics and race/gender issues are irrelevant – only the quality of the code is under scrutiny

    And all parties would not sagely and note, “well, Lena can be harsh about this, but she manages the project well and there’s a reason why the Linux kernel is used everywhere”. There’s an abstract intellectual purity that is absent from more subjective social and political issues.

    Conversely, as others have posted in this comment thread (Alaric, Ollie), the argument made by Shanley is social/political, it is far broader than esoterica of the Linux kernel, it is accusatory and personal (Ollie points out the use of the second person, i.e. “YOU – personally – are the problem”). And of course it also calls out people by race and sex (white males). Such a social/political argument made by a white guy would probably create just as much heat, though the reaction would probably be subtly different.

    1. david Post author

      I will note that I didn’t say men behave this way because Shanley is a women. I said that men behave this way because her anger is coming from a position that we do not understand because we as men do not experience the same problems and being forced to face them makes us uncomfortable

      I think there is a prejudice against female anger, and I think it’s optimistic to think that Lena Torvalds would be treated the same way as Linus, but I do think the difference there is likely to be substantially less extreme than the backlash we’re seeing here.

      > Such a social/political argument made by a white guy would probably create just as much heat, though the reaction would probably be subtly different.

      *waves* Hi. White guy here. We’re currently commenting on a post in which I call men in the tech community utter fucking hypocrites who need to grow some empathy and a sense of responsibility. Isn’t it interesting how all the comments are tone policing Shanley rather than me?

      1. Jack

        Thanks for your response.

        True that women’s anger tends to be minimized or denied, both in the tech community and elsewhere.

        Makes sense what you say about your own ‘white guy’ identity, and the absence of tone policing. While part of it is due to your article being commentary on Shanley’s polemic, I certainly can’t think of a case where a guy wrote a similar article to hers and triggered a similar deluge.

        A similar point was explained to me also by @jcoglan on twitter the other day.

        @jcoglan: Folk calling out Shanley’s tone: funny how I’ve been snarky/angry on here for years and almost never called on it. Quite the opposite.

        @drjackbennett: @jcoglan is your snark about social/interpersonal issues, or tech issues tho? The former hits closer to the heart for most.

        @jcoglan: @drjackbennett I’ve been quite abrasive concerning tech, politics, and the intersection of the two.

        @jcoglan: @drjackbennett I have frequently voiced support and linked to feminist writers. They get all the abuse, I get none of it.

        @drjackbennett: @jcoglan Fair point, thanks for clarifying. Perhaps it’s harder for opponents to view a man as a ‘real’ feminist?

  7. Byron miller

    Why is everyone that uses Microsoft products a shill?

    Back on topic though, everyone needs to chill. I can’t stand geek celebrities for the same reason I can’t stand real celebrities so I have clutter concern for angry stall man or pissed off Linus or raging blogger who is a google or apple shill,

    What we need to do us realize we’re all humans and you don’t win at being a human by being an asshole.

    1. david Post author

      Yes. This was not a hypothetical scenario. Did you notice how the community responded to that call out? I mean I’m exaggerating with the whole “Microsoft shill” bit, but it’s not like the community lined up and said “Oh yes you’re totally right. Why is he so angry?” – quite the opposite happened.

  8. Wallace Black

    Plenty of people think Linus Torvalds’ attitude is destructive. And they don’t call him angry, they just call him an asshole. And people can disagree with that assessment, and many do, but no one is vilified just because they observed some guy is being a dick.

    Now try saying that about a feminist.

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  10. arcatan

    I’ve been wondering about all the angriness in the tech community. Why are we so angry? Are we angrier than the people in other fields, and do we display our anger differently from other communities? Does everyone really think that everything is shit?

    Actually, I don’t think we’re so angry. The calmer of us just ignore the excessive ranting and shouting. There’s room for a variety of voices and styles on the Internet, after all, and the same points get argued by different people, so you’re not missing out even if you choose to skip the rants. We’ve been getting better at pointless angriness, too. Ten years ago I was afraid to ask questions about open source, because I didn’t want to be shouted at. Nowadays beginners are much more welcome.

    That said, the tone-policing is just one of the points on Shanley’s list. Maybe the feminist writers with calmer style avoid that one, but they sure seem to be getting the rest of the crap. :/

    1. david Post author

      If I had to form a hypothesis it would be this: We might be a bit angrier than other communities, but probably not by much. The difference is that as a community we have decided that one of our core values is low-nonsense direct communication (we don’t actually do a good job at this, but we believe we do which is what matters). At some point along the line we conflated “attempting to be polite with people” with “useless touchy-feely mumbo jumbo that people use to obscure their communication”, and from there it was a downwards slide into normalising full blown expression of our anger.

      I do think some of this freedom to express anger is healthy. I quite like being able to go “ARGH. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO SHIT?” occasionally/often and not be policed for it. I just think that the point at which one goes “ARGH. WHY ARE YOU SO SHIT?” is usually a point at which one has completely crossed a line and needs to back off (obviously I think “You’re being sexist pigs. Why are you so shit?” is an exception).

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