In case you are unaware, Reddit recently announced that their “interim” CEO Ellen Pao would be stepping down from the position, and cries of celebration were heard across the front page of the Internet after the post was made. If you were to be charitable, you could describe Pao as unpopular with the Reddit community. The decisions made under her leadership were, at best, questionable, and at worst, signaled the death to everything the website has hailed as its mission. The final straw was the termination of the employee who handled communication over “AmAs” on the site, and the lack of information shared with moderators over the action. The outcry went so far as to black out large portions of Reddit for a day, and spurred some to recommend boycotting the site for a day. The same day Ellen Pao left the position.
There are a lot of complexities here, obviously. Yet, as if on cue, some individuals and sites were quick to declare that this is all due to the dreaded misogyny. If you are new to the Internet, misogyny, once a term to describe actions and persons who hate or believe women inferior, has now become a catch-all term to immediately shut down criticisms of women or anyone who has been in the vicinity of a woman that doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It has become so frequently used that it has lost nearly all of its bite, at least on the web.
But those who use it in situations such as these completely miss the irony that, by referring to any and all action taken against someone who happens to be a woman as “misogyny,” you actively harm women. Not only by removing all meaning from the word do you minimize actual misogyny, something which does still exist particularly in certain parts of the world, but you encourage this idea that women in positions of leadership need to be coddled. This has become a significant problem in STEM fields, and of course, attempts to point this out are quickly shot down as “sexist.”
To be brief: no, Ellen Pao was not forced out of the position by misogynistic bullies. She left in shame after it became clear the many diverse users of even the most popular subreddits were fed up with her nonsense. It is one thing to point to obscure subreddits dedicated to hating one group or another to try and prove Reddit is a hovel of depravity, but even enormous subreddits like /r/videos were having none of it. Clearly this has nothing to do with Pao’s gender in the larger scale—it has everything to do with her actions. And what you find, when speaking to other women in tech who are happy in their positions, is that actions are the key factor here.
Personally, I don’t consider myself a “woman in tech.” I do technical writing and, of course, write for TechRaptor. But writing is my primary focus in these areas, not the tech aspect. No need to lend myself more credit than is due. Because of the type of writing I do though, I frequently find myself surrounded by people who do work in tech. I am a gamer who plays primarily online. I frequent the Internet, even so-called depraved places such as Reddit. And yet, I can’t recall anyone in any of these scenarios ever bullying me for my gender. Well I take that back. I have, but it has pretty much always come from the same people who use that misogyny argument.
But I’m just an onlooker, of course. Perhaps women actually knee deep in the field face some discrimination on the job? Some would certainly claim that. Some even make entire careers based off that assumption. I am not one to make assumptions though, so I took to Twitter to find out what other women in the tech industry face.
One, a former student who had the opportunity to work on a project for Microsoft, pointed me in the direction of an editorial she had written on her experiences. There she described that the only peer who ever made her feel unwelcome was one of the other women on the project, whereas the men involved were respectful and courteous. Another reached out to me privately, saying she had only ever experienced an act of sexism in the field once, while a student, when a professor excluded her and another female student saying they wouldn’t “stick” with the class. As a professional though, she said her coworkers respect and honor her expertise in the topics she covers.
Even big names in the industry are fed up with the whining. Notably Jade Raymond, a developer for Ubisoft Toronto, said she has no time for “bitching and complaining.” She acknowledged that there are issues, but at the end of the day, she enjoys what she does. Rather than dedicating her focus to a “why me” attitude, she hones in on exactly why she got into her industry in the first place. Another game dev, Roberta Williams, says she’s never had a problem being a woman in the video game industry, and that if women want to get into the field, they just need to “put themselves there.”
Look, I’m not going to try and argue there are not still some out there who believe women don’t belong in technology and gaming fields. That’s preposterous. As long as there are people alive on this Earth, there will be some who hold on to archaic ideas. But this does not mean it is a pandemic issue and certainly does not mean every criticism is rooted in sexism. To suggest that does nothing but infantilize women and reinforce stereotypes that actual feminism, that values equality and pursues real issues rather than petty First World Problems, has fought against for years.
To illustrate, here is a historical anecdote. In 1872, the well-known suffragette Susan B. Anthony voted in the Presidential election. At the time, it was illegal for women to vote, so marshalls were brought in to stop her. Rather than arresting her on the spot, Anthony reported that he treated her kindly, mulling about the weather, seeming to avoid the actual issue, until finally Anthony asked him “is this how you usually arrest men.” When the officer said no, she demanded to be arrested properly. The same as any man who would be arrested for breaking the law. Even though she knew the law to be unjust.
So why now do we demand women be treated with kid gloves, where we dismiss any and all criticism as hatred, while women in the past who did face actual, legal discrimination demanded equality in ALL situations—including ones that might just hurt your feelings a little bit.
Women in tech who claim to face misogyny, more often than not, exhibit attitudes that are unbecoming and sometimes downright toxic. Is it possible that the “misogyny” you are facing in those situations is in fact just a natural human response to someone who is acting rudely? Is it possible that women who don’t face that aren’t just exceptions but are just nicer people generally? Of course I don’t expect this absolutely brilliant deduction to be taken seriously by anyone who desperately needs to hear it, because I sincerely doubt their arguments are in good faith. Rather, they are attempts to cover up valid critique and claim a degree of self-importance that rivals the most laughable dictators.
So for those who are curious, what people like Ellen Pao do is not fight sexism. They encourage sexism. They require sexism to sustain themselves, which is why they find it everywhere they look whether it exists or not. Pao is not a pioneer for women in tech. Anita Sarkeesian is not a pioneer for women in gaming. There have been women in both of these industries, as well as science, mathematics, engineering, and every similar field, for much longer than either of these ladies have even lived on this earth. They are also not pioneers for feminism, because they defy the very basic principles that Western feminism was founded on.
Women in tech do not need Ellen Pao, and to be honest, would be far better off without her. Because all people like Pao have done is hurt women in tech, by actively promoting the idea that women are unreliable, unable to take criticism, and ready to throw out accusations at the blink of the eye, all while acting irresponsibly and unpleasantly to anyone who doesn’t bow at their feet. Fortunately, more and more people are seeing through that ruse, and most who value true equality know that the vast majority of women in the field are there because they are passionate and interested in what they do.
Those women are the pioneers. Tech is such a rapidly growing industry that more and more women are taking part in, largely thanks to natural progression and programs by actually proactive people who encourage women to enter those fields through programs for young girls and children in general to gain an interest in science and computers. If your aim is to get more women into tech, then you do that by making them interested in it.
But otherwise, good riddance, Ellen Pao. Women in tech will go on to exist without you, and those who actually care about the field will likely be happier for it. Until then, the only sexism in the industry I see is coming from the men and women insultingly suggesting that women in the field can’t handle themselves without getting their hand held the entire way.