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A few weeks ago popular design magazine A List Apart published “We Have Work to Do: #yesallwomen and the Web”. It wasn’t just a report of the #yesallwomen movement, like some other tech blogs. The ALA was the only tech publication that I saw not only mentioned #yesallwomen (few did even that) but agreed and pledged a new editorial agenda because of it. They are now committed to amplifying the words of people who respect all members of our tech community and to seeking out diverse contributors. And it struck a chord! The comments are full of nice people applauding ALA for publicly supporting diversity. Tech culture win, right?
Big voices in a big pond
Recently several women who have been at the front line fighting for a less toxic tech culture have burnt out. Within the span of two weeks Shanley Kane took down her writings on Medium, Ashe Dryden’s twitter is basically private, and Julie Pagano turned her twitter totally private. These three activists are only the latest in a string of women responding to the endless harassment and fear that they have to deal with.
This pattern seems doomed to repeat itself. Women stand up, demand better of their peers, and get caught in false controversy based around their anger or backwards sexism (not a thing, btw). It’s not long until these women are noticed and harassed on Hacker News and the shit parts of Reddit, nor long being they are sought out on Twitter or in person and forced to listen to why they are killing tech with their First Amendment hate and fake-geek-girl-ness (also not a real thing). This year seems to be reaching a feminists-in-tech boiling point and now these kick-ass activists are backing off, quieting down, and finding ways to not get harassed all the time. Which is, to be totally honest, great news! I wish Ashe and Shanley and Julie and all the other women like them all the peace and quiet in the world. They deserve it after dealing with sexist dude-bros for as long as they have.
But what happens when activists with big voices stop talking in public spaces? The only way to really detoxify tech culture is to make it unacceptable to be sexist, racist, or otherwise noninclusive. The problem is that small voices like mine only reach so many people, and often people who already get it. I can commiserate with feminist pals all I want without moving the needle on public opinion. Preaching to the choir feels damned good, but without big voices that reach mainstream conversations we won’t get anywhere.
And that is what made A List Apart’s article so refreshing. People who read ALA maybe don’t think about feminism or tech culture every day, but on May 29th they did. And maybe now they are thinking about it more. Any ire toward speaking out against tech’s various -ism problems can be directed toward the ALA and an author with the backing of her publication, not a single person. Granted, “We Have Work to Do” wasn’t the most shared article online when it was published. But imagine what would happen if every well-read tech publication put a stake in the ground for diversity. Before long articles about building real, positive culture would spread as much as those about the app-of-the-week (looking at you Yo).
But this is like, sad though
And hey, I get it, constantly thinking about how shit this community can be to people is a bummer. Sometimes you just want to read about the latest CSS tricks and catch up on valley gossip. Whatever. Just remember that people, like me and I guarantee many people you know and work with, think about and deal with toxic culture every day. There’s no choice when my friends and people I look up to leave public spaces and no longer contribute to tech, culture or otherwise. It’s impossible for me to sympathize with women leaving tech and encourage the next generation of women programmers without remembering the struggles those women will face.
Reading about the issues facing tech in publications like A List Apart helps though. There is a lot of strength in shared experiences, which is why there are clubs and conferences and forums especially for minorities in tech.
It’s time for those safe spaces to ascend into mainstream consciousness and inspire all of us to fight, together, for inclusive, respectful, harassment-free tech.