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On Adria

A few thoughts on the Adria Richards and the shaming incident:Summary of incident

First, a summary of the incident (as I understand it). Adria Richards is a (now former) developer evangelist from a company called SendGrid. She was at a technical conference waiting in line for something, and two developers behind her were joking with each other on software repositories. She found their jokes inappropriate, took a picture of them with her cellphone, and posted it to the internet: 「Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles. Right behind me. (PIC)」.

The problem here is primarily about being named/identified. Doing so; launching a specific complaint in an identifying way, is a strong measure because some people (employers, friends) will respond inappropriately, and because not everyone has chosen to become a public figure. Unless people have engaged in activism, or taken some kind of public role, or similar, it's generally best to make complaints that are generic (sans identifying marks), or not public-facing.

But was there any wrongness in the jokes to begin with? I claim "no", neither in the specific situation of the conference nor in the general case. Unless a joke pushes on norms; that is, it literally suggests that people treat each other badly (don't hire someone, or harass them, or deny them legal rights, or a few other fairly concrete wrongs), it is fine. People can be crude in public if they wish, and while it may indicate character, it isn't shameworthy. We reject notions of activism that stray far from this intentionally-narrow analysis, even if we might encourage people do other things more.

About the hiring and firings.. Adria and one of the developers were fired over the incident. I believe it was inappropriate to fire the developer; he was not engaged in public discourse, and his position didn't suggest he was more responsible for that than normal. I believe firing Adria was within the reasonable discretion of SendGrid as Adria's act was both inappropriate and she had a higher obligation there as a kind of PR person.

One of the articles linked below makes the point that calling out is sometimes appropriate. I agree, although I think there's a high bar to meet for that; the people making the joke didn't even meet the low bar of "this is a problem", the kind of bar that merits something so mild as a dirty look, much less the higher bar of putting the spotlight on them. A low-bar-meeting complaint could justify an abstract mentioning; "someone said X that's problematic".

What's the difference between the bars? A private-statement overheard that was clearly from bad norms, or a public statement that was of questionable norms meets the low bar. A public statement that's clearly normative and harmful (justifying racism or sexism) probably merits a naming/shaming.

In close, I think Adria was clearly in the wrong; that she tried to shame someone for private behaviour that wasn't even a problem, that she did so in a particularly aggressive way, and that she did this as a PR person of sorts. She did her company and feminism a disservice with her intolerance; the excessively broad criticism that some flavours of feminism push that amount to policing society make society worse and the clarity of this represents a PR problem for narrow-analysis factions that I claim have feminism right. There's too much of a bite to that classic joke,

  • Q: How many Feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
You can tell which flavours of feminism they're writing about.

For comparison:

(I am not entirely without the kind of fault I ascribe to Adria Richards; there have been times in the past where I crossed clear lines with my blogging, naming names and such with people I've dated and others I've had problematic discussions with that were clearly not public facing and the people involved had not decided, as I have, to be a relatively public person. I was wrong then in the same way I think Adria was)