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The Sexist Men In Tech Need to Grow Up, Now

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Neil Schwartzman

These days, I've seen many breathless posts about how 'we' "need" to encourage girls to study math so eventually they become computer or other sorts of geeks.

Personally, I don't think technology is the only valuable thing in the world; writing, music, and the rest of the arts, medicine, human relations, politics, and so on are pretty important things too, and let's face it content was, is, and will always be king.

That said if men continue to act like jerks, it is no wonder women will go into anything but technology.

Over the past few days, there were numerous reports out of Blackhat / DEFCON about blatant sexism.

The first, that CISCO had a 'pose with a babe' opportunity

@CiscoSecurity: Tweet us a picture with our Raven girls at Booth 101! #BlackHat

The tweet, and the picture have since been deleted, after the denizens of Twitter tore them a new one.

However, it didn't stop there. Apparently there were presentation slides filled with comely women, and the best yet! Some idiot hired STRIPPERS to play a public game of 'Hacker Jeopardy'.

Of course after checking morning twitter I learn defcon had strippers at jeopardy or something. Of only one gender, of course.

That a girl was being stripped as a reward at hacker jeopardy at #defcon was pretty incredible.

This has to stop NOW.

Beyond the women in attendance being rightfully horrified (personally, I'd never attend again, until Blackhat makes an unmitigated, solid commitment to change and apologizes for past indiscretions), there are probably other men, such as myself, who find this offensive, prurient, and degrading to women, and, in fact, all attendees, indeed to our entire industry. The people behind this have the emotional age of 14. If you feel the need to see a half-naked girl who will never willingly sleep with you, GO TO A STRIP CLUB.

(BTW: I can count the number of times I've been to a strip-club on my fingers, I've never had a good time at places like that, I feel degraded going there. Don't get me wrong, I think attractive women are the best thing on the planet, but there is a time and place to enjoy such interests, and at work isn't the place nor the time for masturbatory fantasies, and yes, when I attend conferences, it is to WORK. Someone pays my way, they get to expect something in return, and that something isn't me thinking of half-naked women. Just for a real quick second allow me to establish my street-cred by noting that I worked in the music industry for many years, so any claims of me being puritanical will be met with gales of laughter.)

MAAWG.org and other conferences have recently come up with various Codes of Conduct which, while good, are depressing in the necessity to even have them. Do we really need to remind people to keep their petty prurient prejudices to themselves? Apparently so.

I can't help but wonder what the reaction would be was these bigots to express themselves on Blacks or Jews at conferences. I'm pretty sure we'd have put an immediate and total stop to such things, and ostracized the perpetrators, instead of turning a blind eye, and passively tolerating this.

When I posted this rant on Facebook, in a more, shall we say 'plainly spoken' manner (read: passionate and profanity-laced) version, a friend of mine reacted to thusly:

The problem with making the decision, as a woman, to stay home and not go to places where this [stuff] happens, is that if you stay home, you then lose some/most/any of your status in the group. Yeah, there's [crap] (like the time someone in the delivery industry said on a mailing list "we'll take you to the strip club, then you get to be a part of delivery.") but if women just avoid the people perpetrating the [crap], then women lose opportunity and access.

On the other hand, if women call it out, then we also risk losing status as "one of the guys" or "not one of *those* women" (usually "feminist") or whatever. "Swallow [crap], or ruin the entire afternoon?" with a side of "and struggle in the field because I've now asserted that I am human too and expect respect."

I'm not sure there is one answer, but men speaking up about how the sexism [that clearly] exists in the tech sector is inappropriate is certainly part of the solution.

I think she is dead right. One need only look back at the Adria Richards debacle to see what happened to a woman who spoke up. Some say she reacted or over-reacted inappropriately; I'm not one of those. Tolerate sexism and it is degrading. Speak up, and you are labeled a bitch. (The developer nomenclature of 'forking' one-another isn't accidental either. It is juvenile.)

I think it is noteworthy that Ms. Richards has not posted to Twitter since the incident in March, and her employer, Sendgrid.com, took the coward's way out and fired her because of a small DDoS. They even made themselves out to be victimized by the situation. Boo hoo.

Well, enough is enough. We all, as leaders in this industry need to speak out loudly, and clearly that we, as men, will not tolerate this bigotry towards our colleagues and friends any longer. Conferences need to put an end to objectification of any sort, immediately, and we all need to grow up, today.

By Neil Schwartzman, Executive Director, The Coalition Against unsolicited Commercial Email - CAUCE. More blog posts from Neil Schwartzman can also be read here.

Related topics: Policy & Regulation



Thank you, sir, for this well-spoken statement Lynda L. True  –  Aug 04, 2013 1:25 PM PDT

I gave up going to things like Defcon a few years ago (after having attended almost from the beginning) because I just got sick and tired of it. It is a real problem in the tech industry, more than most, and I've seen many promising young women decide to do something else in life, rather than fight the ugly uphill battle that you describe.

I'd say a lot more, but you've really said it best.

If you're in Portland in September (at the NANOG/ARIN on the road meeting), I'd be happy to buy you a beer (or at least shake your hand).

Thank you so much for this article. Fitzalan Crowe  –  Aug 06, 2013 11:08 AM PDT

Thank you so much for this article. I recently read a chilling article in Marie Claire (June), “When Geeks Attack.” This is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

It's been a while since I went Kevin Murphy  –  Aug 06, 2013 1:31 PM PDT

It's been a while since I went to Black Hat, but when I did it was always a sausage fest. Except the after-hours parties. For some reason there were always lots of good looking women at the parties. I quickly discovered (I was told, for avoidance of doubt) that most of them were Las Vegas locals, for want of a better term, and had been paid to attend and mingle by the host company.

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