Adria Richards did the right thing!
Last week, email delivery company SendGrid chose to fire Adria Richards, a young African American female developer. The reason? Two male developers made crude sexual comments in her presence. So Richards tweeted a photograph of the offenders, citing their comments and saying it “wasn't cool.”
One of the men was fired by his employer. SendGrid fired Richards, saying the only appropriate response to sexist behavior was filing a report, and that Richards' response “harmed her ability to effectively do her job.”
Adria Richards has received significant support from the public since her termination. Anonymous threatened to retaliate against SendGrid by hacking them. At the same time, shocking numbers of men have come out of the online woodwork to attack Richards' actions. They have promised violent action, including rape threats and death threats, and made crude racist and sexist comments directed at her.
The response from both SendGrid and from some men is not surprising. Technology, like so many other fields of study, work and interest, is both male-dominated and ridden with endless assaults on women's rights and dignity. Adria Richards did the right thing. She should not have been fired; she should have been lauded for standing up for equal treatment. But, like in the case of the Steubenville trial or endless other examples, women who are victims of sexism and violence are blamed and demonized.
Technology industries—replicating the treatment of women in other spheres of society—have reduced women to sexual objects incapable of intellectual contribution. They are offered positions in which they can serve as little more than eye candy—booth babes, company party entertainment and models in sexualized advertisement. Surviving as equals in that world is a constant struggle for women.
The objectification and sexualization of and violence against women is pervasive, and not a new phenomenon. Like in the case of Adria Richards, it is often accompanied by racist and bigoted attacks as well. In 1982, for example, Mystique released a pornographic video game called Custer's Revenge, in which the objective is to rape a Native American woman tied to a cactus. It entered the list of the “10 manliest games ever,” and Arthur's Hall called it “pretty damn harmless, not to mention hilarious.” Outrage from feminist and Native American groups eventually resulted in the game being taken off the market. The GeekFeminism Wikia provides a timeline of just some of the better-known incidents of sexism in technology.
Sexism, racism and violence against women are not isolated to the technology world but is a constant feature of a patriarchal society that reinforces, in a myriad of different ways, the oppression and inequality of women.
Adria Richards, and countless other women, offer clues as to how to fight back against sexism and violence. We must take action; we must organize ourselves. WORD calls on everyone to organize, stand up and fight back together against the vile discrimination, degradation and attacks faced by women in the world of technology—and everywhere.
We stand in solidarity with Adria Richards and her courageous action against sexism! There is no justice until women have dignity and equality in all fields of work!