Trickle-Down Hazing: The Sad, Sad Story of Misogyny in Tech

sexism in tech sticker

by  Jen Giacalone

Women enduring sexism in male-dominated fields is nothing particularly new.  There are horror stories from all kinds of fields – from banking to coal-mining to the art world and everything in between.  But the most egregious and juvenile misogyny these days seems to be coming from the tech world.

Witness the bro-tastic tweets of Business Insider’s CTO, Pax Dickinson, who I hear has recently been relieved of his job:

feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.”

Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron.”

Elissa Shevinsky tells a nauseating little story about attending Techcrunch and watching a contest in which a couple of tech guys pitch a fake app called “Titstare.”  You can go read about it if you want; I won’t waste time describing it.

Women are making inroads in this field, a few are even making it to the top, and it really seems like a lot of these guys just can’t stand it.  I wondered; has the sexism always been there? Is it just backlash? Women are relatively late breaking in there as opposed to other fields, after all. Or is it maybe something else? 

I decided I needed a second opinion, so I called my friend Steve.  Steve and I went to high school together. He’s probably a lot like the stereotype that you think of when you think of the working-class Italian guy from Long Island who likes to fix cars.  Except Steve is a bright guy, who, while he would probably never, ever describe himself as a feminist, is really good at explaining, without hostility, how male-dominated society and traditional gender roles are miserable for men too.  It’s useful when I start to forget about that or can’t see that perspective. 

So I called him.  “There’s a lot of stuff in the news right now about women having a hard time in the tech industry, with sexism and harassment and stuff.”  I lobbed it out there and waited.

He paused for a moment, then immediately launched into an anecdote.  “There’s this type of girl that you find a lot of times, working the desk at the auto repair shops,” he began.

“OK…”  I said.  I wasn’t clear where he was going with this.

“Her name is Darla.”

He described Darla.  She sounded a lot like Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny.”  Darla knows you, knows your car, knows just from what you told her on the phone that it’s probably the tranny and since it’s a Pacer, you’re gonna need to just replace the whole thing because nobody is going to want to deal with finding parts for it.  Guys will come in and ask for Darla, and if she’s not there, they’ll leave, because they trust her.  Younger mechanics come from the back to get her opinion because she’s grown up around cars and knows as much or more than they do.  Steve, over many years in and around the auto repair business, has run into many Darlas.

“Now, Darla’s cousin Frank works in the back of the shop.  Like your typical blue-collar guy, in any kind of a team or work environment, he and the other guys who’ve been there a while are going to pick on the younger, smaller, or physically weaker guys.  You have to prove yourself, prove that you can take it.  It’s about the team knowing they can count on you.  And then once you prove yourself, if anyone picks on you… they close ranks and defend you.”

“OK…”  Where was this going?

“And most of the time, if a woman wants to work in an environment like that, she’s gotta put up with the same kind of thing, in the beginning.  Even Darla.”

I was horrified.  “Are you saying that sexual harassment is just guys’ way of testing women in the workplace to make sure they’re on the team???”

“Hell no!  Sexual harassment is terrible, but that’s not what this is.  It’s more like a… hazing period, and sometimes women can mistake that for sexism because they don’t see that it’s equal opportunity. If you can’t match these guys physically, they need to know that you can do it emotionally.  That you can take a few punches without whining about it.”

So then I explained about Titstare.  And Pax Dickinson.  And the myriad women in tech who get overrun with online rape threats simply for the crime of pointing out that tech is a hostile field for women.  So many rape-threat stories, so little time…

“Oh.  Well, that’s different. There’s only one thing you need to know, then:  Frank and his friends in the shop spent most of their high school years punching those computer geeks in the nuts and stuffing them into lockers.”

It was a long walk to get there, but I understood.  Sure, there are plenty of dude-bros in tech, but there are also a healthy number of physically nonthreatening, nebbishy guys who had their manhood questioned by bigger, stronger guys who were going to grow up to be mechanics and ditch diggers and guys who blow things up for a living.  Some men just weren’t built for that ritual and, unfortunately, they came away with an idea that the way to prove their manhood is to put someone else down.  Lucky you, ladies of tech: You might be Darlas, but you’re not dealing with Franks.  You’re dealing with the guys Frank used to beat up.

I’m neither bashing nor stereotyping; I have spent time in both of these kinds of environments.  I’ve spent Saturday nights hanging out with Steve and his gearhead friends, and I’ve worked in mobile gaming.  I’m not saying that everyone in either arena is like this, just that there are enough to make the environment hostile.  I’m saying that like always – and yes, I’m about to use the “P-word” – the patriarchy is screwing everyone.  Its rigid expectations for what constitute manhood may produce close camaraderie among men that fit its mold… which ironically may mean that “macho” men ultimately feel unthreatened by a tough chick in their midst. But it also may make less stereotypically manly chaps feel that the only way to prove their mettle is to be objectively hostile to women.

For those ready to object, I’m not suggesting sympathy for the Titstare guys or anyone else.  They may be victims of the patriarchy, but they still have to learn to eat without drooling and disagree with people without punching them in the face.  It’s just useful to have some idea of where the behavior could be coming from in order to figure out what direction we might be able to go.

This isn’t something that can be fixed tomorrow.  Getting more women into tech will probably help a lot.  So will a general shift in cultural attitudes about sexism.  But to use Admin Pattie’s phrase, we are dealing with entrenched gender roles that are without a doubt built on a patriarchal structure.  And while we can and should be spending time talking about how to be a woman in tech, it would be equally useful to start talking about some different, better ways to be a man.


Feminism Isn’t Working and I Give Up

I GIVE UPby Admin Jen

I’m hanging it up.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m done with feminism. It’s not working. We’re getting nowhere. In fact it actually seems like we’re going backwards. Someone come confiscate my “Feminist as F*ck” t-shirt, buy me a beekeeper suit and leave me to my new, non-feminist existence which will entail popping out more children and possibly listening to a lot of Katy Perry, who is an avowed non-feminist. (The woman who dresses her tits up like cupcakes says she is not a feminist, are you surprised?).

Fighting double standards has become worse than passé. In that entire media whore-nado over Miley Cyrus and her VMA spectacle, the only person I saw pointing out that Robin Thicke is actually kind of questionable for grinding his bits on a girl who could be his daughter… was another dude. Even we in our own circular firing squad of feminism didn’t manage to catch that one, as we were too busy deciding whether to be mad at Miley because she was demeaning herself (maybe) or because she was treating the black women onstage with her like sex dolls (probably) or because “We Can’t Stop” is a mediocre song that has gotten far more play than it deserves (definitely).

The juggernaut of terrible anti-abortion laws just keeps coming despite our best efforts to stop it. State legislatures are in a race to the bottom and still they manage to exceed my expectations. I’ve stopped saying “It can’t get any worse,” because it’s become a dare. Statutory rape cases like the one in Montana just frustrate and depress me; a 49-year-old male teacher walked away with a 30 day sentence after a supposedly consensual relationship with a 14 year old student ended in her suicide.

I just can’t anymore.

I have arguments with otherwise entirely reasonable people who wonder aloud whether women really take enough responsibility for avoiding rape, that maybe they’re just not careful about what they wear and where they go, because women’s sexuality just isn’t the same as men’s, and we don’t understand how hard it is for them to control their penises. As if every woman in America doesn’t have a list of things in her head that she does to avoid getting raped. As if the staggering 35% of college aged guys who have admitted they would rape someone if they thought they could get away with it are beyond educating. As if we are completely wasting our time hoping for any better.

I love sex, I consider myself pro-sex, and I want to say that women should do whatever the hell they feel like with their vaginas, yet I feel like that’s a pipe dream and that it’s neither safe nor OK to do that. Because it’s not. You might get photographed and slut-shamed on Twitter. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to avoid the rape threats or the actual rapes or any of the other fun stuff that could go along with that. Though you might just as well expect that kind of treatment for, say, campaigning for Jane Austen to be printed on some money.

And god forbid you are, or have ever been, a woman in or near the sex industry. Men can pay for prostitutes and be back in the saddle after a tearful apology and a few years out of the spotlight. But not the women they patronize. They lose their jobs and careers and lives when that kind of information gets out, even if it was 15 years ago and the woman in question now is a professional with a master’s degree.

So I’m hanging it up. Let Ann Coulter come and take away my 19th Amendment. I don’t need it. I’ll clean house and maybe watch re-runs of “The Real Housewives of Who Gives a Damn.” It feels like the entire world is telling me to shut up and I’m tired of fighting it. Y’all can go on without me. I’m quitting feminism. I mean it.

Except, I can’t.

Every one of the issues that I bring up here is worth an editorial (or several) of its own. Most of them have already been discussed at length in many different venues including this one. Some of them are subjects I myself still have to do some heavy lifting on to sort out a position that makes sense. But deciding that I’m tired and want to lay down my sword is not an option. The world is going to keep kicking me, and us, whether I feel like kicking back or not.

Sometimes, when reading the news feels like living in London during the Blitz, it’s hard to remember that just because the opposition is fighting harder, it doesn’t mean they’re winning. The worst abortion laws are consistently losing in court challenges. Ohio recently passed a law wiping the prostitution records of victims of sex trafficking, a move that in America, disproportionately helps women. Republican Governor and Tony Soprano body double Chris Christie just signed an equal pay law in New Jersey (yes, really). The percentage of women in Congress, while still pathetically low, is higher than it’s ever been. And female leaders from journalism to politics to business are becoming household names and are standing as examples for ways to be a strong woman in the world. The Democrats’ current best hope for the presidency in the next election cycle is Hillary Clinton. People are flocking to the banners of Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis. PBS has turned The News Hour over to Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill. And I defy you to find one person over the Labor Day Weekend who wasn’t talking about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida. When it’s incremental, progress can feel like it’s not happening. When there are a lot of bombs going off, it’s hard to notice that a lot of the flying rocks are not actually hitting you.

So, yeah. I know you’re tired of hearing about rape culture. But I’m tired of my friends getting raped.

I know you’re tired of hearing about abortion. I am too. So stop trying to tell me what to do with my uterus, and I promise you won’t hear another word from me about it.

I know men and women are different from each other. I’m just tired of that fact being used to excuse the inexcusable.

I know you’re tired of hearing about income inequality. But fuck you, pay us.

This is how it works. We get mad, we fight, we get tired, we get mad, we start again. Rinse, repeat. Feminism isn’t without its flaws, and it doesn’t seem able to speak with one voice or crystallize answers on the darker, stickier aspects of human nature and sexuality. But if I may get Rumsfeldian for a minute, this is the army we have. The fight comes to us whether we seek it or not, whether we want it or not, and whether we are ready or not.

So might as well be ready. Ready, and maybe even happy, to die on the hill.


If you liked this post, please check out these other ones that we especially loved from our archives:

W:RUN’s Women of 2012 – Women Who Shaped the Year

Tired of Talking About Abortion?  Me Too.

Where the Action Is:  A Primer on State Legislatures

Messing With Texas, By Way of Galway

In Stunning Last-Minute Move, Congress Does the Right Thing for Once