Woman Fired for Tweeting 'Dongle' Joke Finds 'Good' in Tech-Sexism Dialogue

The Atlantic

Adria Richards — the developer "evangelist" fired by startup SendGrid last week because of a tweet about sex jokes that turned into a backwards conversation about free speech and sexism in the tech world — has publicly commented on the situation for the first time. And, well, she sounds pretty upbeat about where that conversation is headed next, considering she just lost her job after an onslaught of Internet harassment.

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While insisting that she, unlike her former employer, won't comment on the specifics of her termination, Richards writes in a statement today: "All I wish to do is find the good in what has been one of the most challenging weeks of my life." It might be difficult to find a lot of "good" in the aftermath of an isolated incident at the PyCon developers conference that devolved into a lot of nasty name-calling and displaced blame from hackers and Redditors and others (mostly men), but Richards at least can appreciate the "dialog," it seems. "Debate and recrimination can and must give way to dialog that explores the root causes of these issues in the tech industry," she writes. "What happened at PyCon has cast a spotlight on a range of deep issues and problems in the developer world." Which is pretty much the "right" kind of response in these situations: Richards is taking the high road, hoping that all this talk will ultimately lead to some modicum of a solution for an industry with its fair share of diversity problems and the slander therein. 

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But there certainly has been a lot of talking — both good and bad — considering the Richards firing centers on the role of women, minorities, and open discourse in the tech world. While many people didn't agree with Richards decision to tweet a photo of a couple guys making a "dongle" joke that she viewed as sexist, those critics saw the reaction to that tweet as offensive and disappointing — and demonstrative of larger issues that women and minorities face in the tech world. Some found her employers 'decision to fire her, after trolls and hackers jumped on the bandwagon, as a problem for "call-out" culture, which can protect women in the geek world. Others still, including female developers, find Richards insulting. At the very least, the people harassing Richards with gendered remarks online show that sexism is alive and not well.

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And, to her credit, Richards has already shifted the discussion in the tech space — at least a little bit. PyCon has opened its Code of Conduct up to edits from the greater community. But, even so, it's hard not to see her statement as a bit too optimistic, especially considering the specifics of the darker side of the "dialogue." Richards suggests that all the talking over her incident and beyond could lead to "answers to the many questions that have arisen in the last week." But judging by the comments on the posts I've written about Richards on The Atlantic Wire, not that many people think things need changing. And despite a statement from Reddit's own co-founder Alexis Ohanian, a direct followup to the Richards debacle in which he said that the growing history of sexist remarks on Reddit need to stop, it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon either.

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Richards, however, maintain she will become more proactive, that "conversation" can't magically lead to change: "I want to be an integral part of a diverse, core group of individuals that comes together in a spirit of healing and openness." Meaning: Some sort of committee or something? Maybe that would work. Now that she's unemployed, guess she has to do something with her free time, anyway. 

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