“People like her should kill themselves”: What happens when we talk about sexism in tech

In a blog post last week, I described some ways in which a small minority of men have had a negative impact on my experiences at tech events. The post blew up a bit, and I had a weird couple of days.

I’ve been called a lot of things since my post started making the rounds—some kind, some decidedly not. And while I’ll admit that I spent a minute dwelling on claims that I am apparently neither intelligent nor hot, those comments aren’t the ones that, days later, I struggle to shake. The comments that still nag at me are the ones about bravery.

The thing is, I didn’t feel brave when I hit “publish.” As I say in the post, pointing out to my coworkers the times that men have said inappropriate things to me at tech events has had a purely positive and relatively uneventful result that tends to look something like this:

  1. They express some initial shock that this is something I experience
  2. They accept my experiences as valid (i.e. they believe me)
  3. They pay closer attention in the future, and notice when these things are happening
  4. They acknowledge and respond to future incidents

And that’s it! No one freaks out, there isn’t any fanfare, and we get back to work, all feeling a little better about the fact that by working together, we can make these negative encounters slightly less obnoxious moving forward. That’s about all there is to it.

So you can imagine my surprise when across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, comments sections and in real life, folks started commending me for my bravery in calling out these inappropriate comments. Bravery? What’s brave about initiating the process I described above? What’s brave in simply pointing out inappropriate behavior? What’s brave about wanting to be treated with decency? That shouldn’t be a big deal, let alone brave or “explosive.”

That said, here are some comments I received as a direct result of choosing to publish that post:

This article comes off as whiny, immature and frankly unprofessional. I wouldn’t hire this woman to work for me if she had this sort of attitude
Jesus Christ Leah — you are a real insensitive bitch.
Delusional woman. Just wants attention, after a life of being a plane jane. Sad.
I don’t know about hot but certainly hired only because she is a woman so as not to come across as sexist, thinking otherwise makes you deluded.
All I can say is that this woman should be thankful that people are giving her the time of day. Her background really isn’t all that great and looks-wise she is about a 3 or maybe a 3.5 out of 10.
I know that I wouldn’t hire her and frankly, I don’t know many companies that really would — she seems like a whiny entitled bitch.
People like her should kill themselves.

So maybe I didn’t fully anticipate what I was getting into. But at first, these comments really excited me. They completely and utterly proved my point. In fact, the comments actually helped the post gain some traction—if not for the negativity and personal attacks, I’m not convinced the post would have even garnered half as much attention.

But the negative comments kept coming. And coming. And coming.

And then I started getting doxed.

And then people started asking me if I was worried about the impact this blog post would have on my career.

So perhaps I’ve just been working in a bubble—a bubble where my coworkers are disproportionately inclined to be understanding and supportive about these issues in an industry that clearly has work to do. That’s not to say that I didn’t receive dozens (hundreds?) of supportive messages in response to my post. But the fact that I did—that I received so many messages saying “yes! this is such a reality and you are so brave for speaking about it“—that validates the problem too, doesn’t it? Because standing up for yourself and asking to be treated fairly should not require bravery.

I’ve learned a lot of things this week (including “delete your high school Tumblr account before you go viral”), but if I could wrap it all up in one big takeaway, my impression is this: My stories of discrimination and harassment as a woman in tech are representative of a pervasive issue across this industry. In spite of that pervasiveness, we still hesitate to talk about it—because doing so can be really hard to do.

But if the overwhelmingly positive response I received is proof of anything (and make no mistake—though I’ve emphasized the trolls for the purposes of this post, the support far outshone the hate), it’s that people are ready to talk about this—and they need to. So many folks are eager to share their experiences, and so many more are ready to listen (and I received numerous stories—thank you so much to all the strong, brilliant women who shared them with me and who have overcome far greater obstacles than mine). I come away from this experience confident in this community’s goodness, and optimistic that we can and will do better.

It’s been an (admittedly unexpected) honor to be briefly amplified in this conversation—I won’t stop now if you won’t. Let’s be brave together.

12 thoughts on ““People like her should kill themselves”: What happens when we talk about sexism in tech

  1. Mark

    So now you are literally known best for being offended and upset, then stoking the flames and reaching new heights of indignity. Interesting to see how this plays out.

    1. Aaron Weiss

      And you’re now figuratively known for being an anonymous asshole. I think Leah’s coming out ahead here.

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  3. Coyne

    As one or your former high school teachers….I’m super proud of you Leah. (And I kinda wanna beat up everyone that was mean to you.)

  4. Blake

    Sorry your post was removed from HN. I really don’t understand that place. Some there are very flag happy. Oh well.

    Here’s the reply that I posted over there. I think it is relevant here too.

    You are mostly right. Some of the things people are saying to you are awful and you are rightly calling it out. Please keep doing that.

    However, please consider that when something you post starts out by making a gender distinction (ie. “Things men have actually said…”), you are inviting everyone that has an investment in binary gender identity politics to either attack you (bitch) or support you (so brave).

    I’d be interested in a post on what is “men” and why it is important to start out dividing everyone into only two groups (where, according to the premise of your argument, one will be wrong [and therefore, the other: right]).

    What would be wrong with the title, “Things some people have actually said…”?

    1. Techno

      Most likely Blake, because women don’t say things that are quite so tone deaf and ignorant as us guys. Women don’t do this kind of crap, men do and frankly we’ve done it for a very long time. Heck it used to be accepted as part of the workplace. We’ve grown up and it’s not anymore. This kind of stuff is not appropriate in any situation, regardless of gender, but it’s mostly men who do it to women.

      1. Blake

        Hi Techno,

        I don’t buy that. I don’t doubt that many people experience that, but I don’t believe that it is a universal experience.

        For example, I have personally witnessed multiple women, label, objectify, and obsess over a person solely because he was “hot physics boy”. Those people did recognize that what they were doing was wrong and hypocritical (if a similar statement was made, but with “girl” instead of “boy”, they would have been all over the person who made that statement). These same women will also give a pass to a woman acquaintance that cheated on an exclusive partner, while they would not give the same pass to a close male friend who might cheat on an exclusive partner.

        I just reject the notion that it is valid for someone to place me into a huge group (“We’ve done it for a long time…We’ve grown up”) and begin projecting characteristics of other people onto me solely because that person believe I have some similarity to the larger, perceived “group”.

        1. Leah Post author

          Hi Blake, Leah (OP) here. You’ll notice in the original post that I said that 99% of people do not behave the way I describe in the post, and that I just wanted to raise awareness around the crappy 1%. Of that 1%, all were men. I’m not saying that ALL men behave that way, just that some do. I did not intend to make any sweeping generalizations about “all men.” I know that most are wonderful.

          1. Blake

            Hi Leah,

            I know that. Hopefully others do to (it seems like many do). I would guess though, that most of the people that made a comment about your first article did not realize that your original post said that. I would also guess that many just read the title, had a thought in their head about it, and then wrote it down and sent it out to the rest of the Internet.

            It doesn’t excuse the comments, but it might explain why you saw such a distinct set of comments coming at you in response.

  5. Demi Raven

    Thanks, Leah, for the excellent posts. I really appreciate the statements made.

    It is a shameful indignity for people to be offended and angry when someone simply asks for respect and fair consideration. Pitiful they are, those who can not afford the equivalent respect to others that they demand towards themselves.

    It is heartening to see women (and men) speaking up about the sexism (and other isms) that all too often is exhibited in predominantly male occupations. I feel it is necessary and valuable. Brave or not, you have my respect.

    I hope for a day when trolls afford themselves as much energy towards their dignity and character improvement as they expend wastefully and indecently trying to derail meaningful conversation. Here’s to them becoming superior to their former selves.

  6. foo

    As a woman in tech, I get it. My contributions at work are not valued and not heard. It’s like I’m not even there. The pay is good, but the price is high. I have no support from my male colleagues. I keep striving to maintain my highest work ethic, but its hard in the face of continued dehumanization. I’m so tired of being regarded as a sub-human. I would quit, but I know it’s the same everywhere. I am going to quit, but I don’t hold much hope for finding a better situation. I wish there was an answer.

  7. Mark Entingh

    I’d like to say that you’re on the right path with your state-of-mind, thinking that it is not brave, but instead something that we should all do in these circumstances. Even though men have made these comments to you, haven’t women also made comments? Why are men the target here? Is it simply because they are the majority of offenders? Perhaps they are the only offenders? If not, shouldn’t you consider that perhaps it is not because you are a woman, but instead because of how you interact with the external world, that people treat you a specific way? The world should not bend to your will, and you should not bend to its will, but instead, you should look inward and ask yourself how to let go of fear and accept yourself for who you are. You will find that the world will accept you for who you are as a result.

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