I know there's another feminism thread, but that seems to have stalled out after derailing to talk about the crusades, so I think a fresh start is in order. (Mods, feel free to merge the threads if that's an issue.)
Anyway, recently this month was a programming convention called PyCon where there was a bit of a commotion. While I do have some strong feelings about this, I want to first try and summarize the event in as unbiased of a tone as possible, to make sure everyone has enough factual information before I describe my own reaction.
During one of the talks at PyCon, a woman named Adria Richards overheard some other attendees talking behind her. Nothing unusual, until one of them started to make a joke about a "big dongle". Adria turned around, took a picture of the men talking, posted it on her Twitter account, and talked to PyCon staff about the incident. They intervened and talked to the men; it's unclear what exactly they did after that, and I don't know if it was just a "warning" or if they were escorted from the conference.
It's important to note that both Adria and the men she was talking about were employed by companies that sponsor PyCon. Adria works as a "developer evangelist" for SendGrid, and the two men were employed by PlayHaven, though I'm not sure what their position was.
Shortly after the convention, PlayHaven published a blog post stating that one of the men involved had been "let go". Soon after that, SendGrid started receiving threats (including both DDOS attacks and comments from clients that stated they would be taking business elsewhere). SendGrid responded by publicly stating they had fired Adria.
Adria's blog post of the event: http://butyoureagirl.com/14015/forking-and-dongle-jokes-dont-belong-at-tech-conferences/
PlayHaven's blog post: http://blog.playhaven.com/addressing-pycon/
SendGrid's blog post: http://blog.sendgrid.com/a-difficult-situation/
Now, on to my thoughts. There are a few questions I want to think about, such as whether Adria was correct in posting the picture on Twitter, whether SendGrid and PlayHaven were right in firing their respective employees, and whether jokes about "big dongles" should be allowed in professional areas. I also want to talk about the role of feminism in all of this, and whether or not it's an issue of gender as well.
First however, I want to ask whether Adria was actually offended by the comments made, and if her outcry was to stop someone from making comments, or to further her own agendas. One detail I didn't point out (again, because I wanted to make the first part of the post as unbiased as possible) was that Adria never attempted to address them directly. Instead, she went straight to public shaming and talking to staff. Now, this doesn't mean she had malicious intent; it could simply be that she didn't know any better, or that she was afraid of repercussions. I can certainly say that if she tried to ask them to stop and they continued (or worse, started making jokes directed at her), I would be far more sympathetic towards her. However, not having the basic sense to ask the person offending you to stop does little to help her case. (Further, as a "dev evangelist", her job involves a lot of public relations, which makes me even less likely to believe she "didn't know better".)
The other issue is that it seems Adria's not the type to be easily offended after all, at least when it comes to her own comments: https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/312265091791847425
. I know "being a hypocrite" isn't reason to write off someone's argument, but when their argument relies on a piece of information that's very subjective ("I find X offensive"), pointing out the hypocrisy of that statement does undermine their evidence. (If anyone wants to point out that her comments aren't "in the convention", I'm going to also say that she put up a few Facebook pictures of herself playing "Cards Against Humanity", a tongue-in-chick but highly-"offensive" card game, in one of the public areas of the convention; sadly I can't find the pictures of that right now.)
I have also heard of other issues where Adria seemed to care more about making a scene than discreetly taking care of an issue, though it'll take a bit for me to find links to things. Overall though, I don't think she was anywhere near as offended as she claims, and she doesn't seem sorry at all that the PlayHaven employee got fired (she made a statement about it some time later, though any mention of the PlayHaven employee or any regret that she did the wrong thing was noticeably absent: http://venturebeat.com/2013/03/27/adria-richards-speaks-on-women-men-and-tech-but-not-a-certain-fired-developer/
Next, about the unnamed employee of PlayHaven that was fired. I can think of two scenarios where this is acceptable, and one where it clearly isn't. The first is if the employee has a past history of problems with the company. It could very easily be that he was on his "last warning", and this pushed it over the edge and got him fired. The second acceptable scenario is if the company let him go, but with either a very generous severance package or support for finding a new job (possibly helping to set up interviews with other companies in the field). Essentially the "firing" is a PR move with no real desire to actually get rid of him. What I can't find acceptable though, is if he was in good standing with the company and left out in the cold because of this. I don't think this is a very realistic scenario however, as he could very easily turn around and sue the company; I find it much more likely that he's given a generous settlement, instead. Regardless, there's not really enough information to go off of here, as we don't know what actually happened to him.
Now, on to Adria and SendGrid. This is a lot more public, and a termination I'm much happier about. For one, Adria's job is public relations. Having a firestorm like this with her at the center of it is definitely not good for business (in contrast, the unnamed employee of PlayHaven is, as far as I can tell, only a developer and not someone that worked with the public at all, so it's much easier for him to brush things off once they settle down). By keeping her employed, SendGrid sends a message that they tolerate the public shaming of other employees for a generally minor offense, which can make other companies less willing to work with Adria (undermining her entire position with them), and possibly less willing to work with other employees of the company.
Fiinally, does this have to do with feminism? Well, the bare-bones story itself likely doesn't have much to do with it, but a look at Adria's blog on the issue shows that she definitely thinks it is (despite, oddly, not wanting to call herself a feminist). Admittedly I don't have much to add here, but I have a feeling that the topic will go down this road pretty quickly anyway, so I'll wait to weigh in on this one until I hear others' replies.