The Feminist who Cried Wolf
Early yesterday evening I saw co-editors Alexia Tsotsis and Eric Eldon post an apology for an alleged inappropriate presentation made at TechCrunch Disrupt. Dismissing the short article as a response to yet another activist blowing an innocuous joke way out of proportion though, I paid it little attention until coming across Gawker’s coverage of the event later that evening. Like an article taken directly from The Onion’s homepage, I read about and subsequently watched two incredibly inappropriate presentations with varying degrees of disbelief throughout. More than the actual presentations though, because God only knows enough will be written about them in the coming days, I would like to focus on my original sentiment when I came across TechCrunch’s apology for failing to screen the exhibitions.
As I said, upon coming across TechCrunch’s article I completely disregarded the whole affair. Granted, at that point I had not seen the actual presentations, but the mere fact that I possessed absolutely no interest in the cause behind such a large and generally respected publication posting such an apology is, I believe, indicative of a systemic problem within the tech community especially.
A few years ago, before the linkblog format had gained widespread traction and prior to Apple’s climb to fame, the community of commentators surround Apple consisted of a relatively small subset of bloggers dedicated to writing about the company they loved so dearly. Today, that group has grown out of its designation as a “community”: with more and more linkblogs appearing every day, the once close-knit community has become both massive and fragmented as increasingly more people jump on the Apple bandwagon in an attempt at grabbing some of the attention surround the world’s largest tech company. The group’s growth in popularity has unearthed a number of excellent writers with very interesting opinions to share, such as Shawn Blanc. Inspired by John Gruber’s blog Daring Fireball, Shawn Blanc launched his own site in 2007. For all the notable writers this revolution brought about, however, it led to a net decline in the quality of content this once-elite group produced as more and more writers both without anything meaningful to say and dispossessing the ability to say it well sought to make a name for themselves.
Today, years later, we see the same thing happening again in another segment of the tech industry: those discussing the issue of gender inequality amongst our ranks. A long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away, the thought of chronicling one’s encounters with gender discrimination and offensive behavior would have been pointless. Who would have listened? Who would have cared? Thankfully, we advanced from those dark ages and for a time, those discussing these issues made progress and effected some degree of change within their microcosms. But eventually this, too, went the way of the linkblog and exploded in popularity. Seemingly overnight it shifted from a topic of constructive discourse to the latest buzzword, and the internet exploded with story after story, article after article, piece after piece decrying women’s suffrage in this industry. In accordance with its growth in popularity, the intelligence of the surrounding discussions moved in the opposite direction much like that of the Apple commentary pre- and post-Apple becoming the world’s premiere tech company.
Now, misogyny has devolved to an umbrella term for any action from which a member of the female gender could, in some circumstance and with a good stretch of the imagination, find some offensive aspect. As the collective has trivialized this term, we have become Increasingly desensitized. Every time someone stands up and unnecessarily cries “sexist”, each and every time someone’s overly-feministic article goes viral, our perception of each term and what it means to act sexist or identify with feminists degrades ever so slightly. The justified accounts shore that decay, but with such a low signal-to-noise ratio they only delay the inevitable.
I don’t deny the existence of sexism and misogyny; I live in the real world just like everyone else. I do, however, strongly disagree with how frivolous the terms have become, bandied about like iPhone rumors in every single article I read. It not only degrades the seriousness of the issue, but the surrounding conversation as well. I’m talking to you, armchair activist: your anecdotes — your exaggerated, imagined offenses and self-righteous anger — do not help the cause you so readily profess to support. In the end, those articles weaken and dilute the discussion. Because when someone does actually encounter sexist behavior or misogynistic tendencies whether in the workplace, at a conference, or anywhere else, all I hear is your story about the time you overheard two guys say something out of context while walking down the street, and how it infuriated you on behalf of the entire female gender. Because you aren’t a woman, after all, but you do have a friend who just so happens to fall into the feminine category and this gives you the authority — nay, the audacity to write as if you ever, for a single day in your life, experienced any disadvantage because of your gender.