adria-richards

The war against women continues as more of our bright, courageous voices are deliberately shamed into silence. Adria Richards lost her job and became the target of death and rape threats for simply reporting sexual harassment at the PyCon tech conference on Twitter and her blog.

Blogger and web developer Adria Richards, one of the few black women in tech, was made to feel like an outsider at the PyCon tech conference when two men made inappropriate lewd comments a row behind her.

She writes:

“The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so. He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.

That would have been fine until the guy next to him… began making sexual forking jokes I was going to let it go.

It had been a long week. A long month. I’d been on the road since mid February attending and speaking at conferences. PyCon was my 5th and final conference before heading home. I know it’s important to pick my battles. I know I don’t have to be a hero in every situation. Sometimes I just want to go to a conference and be a geek.

But… like Popeye, I couldn’t “stands it no more” because of what happened – Jesse Noller was up on stage thanking the sponsors. The guys behind me (one off to the right) said, “You can thank me, you can thank me”. That told me they were a sponsoring company of Pycon and from the photos I took, his badge had an add-on that said, “Sponsor”. My company was a Gold sponsor as well. They started talking about “big” dongles. I could feel my face getting flustered. Was this really happening?How many times do I have to deal with this?”

Richards photographed the men, tweeted the picture and reported their actions to the conference organizers. The two men were reportedly fired by their company for their inappropriate behavior. At that point, Richards became a target.

In addition to receiving rape and death threats, she was fired from her company, SendGrid, who released the following vague statement:

“Effective immediately, SendGrid has terminated the employment of Adria Richards. While we generally are sensitive and confidential with respect to employee matters, the situation has taken on a public nature. We have taken action that we believe is in the overall best interests of SendGrid, its employees, and our customers. As we continue to process the vast amount of information, we will post something more comprehensive.”

In what world is it okay to fire someone for speaking out and reporting sexual harassment? The tragic and deplorable mishandling of this situation by SendGrid sends a message to women that having a voice and defending yourself can cost you your job. It is a way of silencing and disempowering women in an environment where sexually obscene and offensive comments are all too prevalent. The death and rape threats Richards is now receiving are just another example of sexism rearing its ugly head. Media outlets are blaming the victim, asking what she could have done differently rather than addressing why these men thought their lewd comments were appropriate in the first place.

As Richards is faced with daily attacks and commentary questioning her character, we want to support her, be in solidarity with her and thank her for her courage. Her actions were commendable and necessary to protect herself and other women from a sexist culture that constantly threatens to demean and humiliate them.

Her attackers and SendGrid are the ones who should be ashamed.

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  • LovestoTeach

    It is true that most sexual harassment takes place when no one else is in attendance. That way, the harasser has no audience and you have no proof of what took place. I most certainly understand the issue of disempowerment. Here is my story.

    I love teaching. It is a kind of ministry to young people. We excite them, we open doors for them, we talk about new ideas with them, get them engaged, give them opportunities to express themselves and have wonderful conversations. I love the possibilities.

    After a hard earned masters degree in graphic design and several years of industry experience often working 60 hour weeks, I accepted a position as an assistant professor of graphic design in the art department at Towson University in the fall of 2000. I was excited to enter this new chapter in my life. I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter. 

    The art department consisted of 16 full time faculty and many adjunct faculty. The majority of the tenured senior faculty were men. The majority of the nontenured faculty were women. What people don’t talk about is how dependent the junior faculty are on senior faculty. The imbalance of power is far stronger than the power imbalance of faculty to student. A student wants a good grade to move on to the next class. He or she wants to graduate or continue into a good graduate program, and eventually move away from the university. The junior faculty must have the approval and support of senior faculty for promotion, for raises, and for a permanent position in the department. The support of senior faculty is critical every year and at every juncture.

    No one discusses powerlessness. No junior professor would ever want to admit that she is subservient to a male, but this is exactly where I found myself between the years of 2000 to 2006. In 2001, the most senior faculty in the art department began to body bump me in the hallways. He was 6’1 and I am 4”11”. He eventually got me into his office where he told me repeadedly that he couldn’t take his eyes off of me, and stated that if I didn’t sleep with him, I wouldn’t get tenure. I knew that this was not acceptable behavior and let him know that I wasn’t interested. I also knew that this was a clear case of sexual harassment. So, I reported the incident to my chairperson and to the Dean of the school. The Dean advised me to let him know that I was not interested and to do this in front of other people so that there would be an audience. She reminded me that harassers are known to bully when no one else is around in order to ensure that there are no witnesses.

    On the following day, in front of two other faculty members, I told him that I wasn’t interested in him and that he was to leave me alone. I asked him if he understood and he replied yes. On the following day, as I was leading my class into a computer lab, one of the faculty who had been present the day before (also a male senior faculty) assaulted me. He threw me up against the door and shoved something hard into my back. I fell. I took a moment to get my breath. Shaking, I walked to the art office and reported this to my Chair. I was being physically attacked, intimidated, bullied, and harassed. I thought that, surely, something would be done to these two people, that some action would be taken. I had been harassed and assaulted. The law had been broken twice. I was in a state of shock.

    The institution launched a “so-called” full-scale investigation where all of the faculty in the department were questioned. I was told to keep quiet about it until it had been completed. Several faculty reported to me that this was not the first time these two had been in trouble. My own attorney interviewed every faculty member and found the same information and also found that these two senior faculty were best friends. But the institutions findings reported that nothing had happened. In fact, they began to launch an investigation into my background. I was hounded, harassed, and totally ignored. Everyday, my student display cases had garbage stuffed in them. No one would sit next to me in faculty meetings and I was not invited to departmental gatherings. I became a pariah. Then, the faculty tried to end my contract. However, both professors continued to sit on tenure and promotion committees and to fully participate in the running of the department.

    I experienced deep humiliation and embarrassment and I became deeply depressed. The non response from the university and the denial of all that took place coupled with their insistence that I keep quiet could not have been clearer. They were not going to take any action against these two professors. I can’t help but think of Penn State, the Catholic Church, and other instances where institutions coverup the actions of bullies. By doing nothing, the university condoned the illegal and unacceptable behavior. This incident would follow me to my next teaching job where I was blackballed by Towson University.
     
    Non-tenured professional women in academia don’t want to talk about these things. They live in fear that they will be next. Like dutiful daughters, they fall into lockstep with their powerful abusive ‘fathers’. They don’t dare question or complain. They are entirely dependent on these men for their future and their economic stability. How can one NOT talk about this power imbalance that forces us into subservience or the loss of employment?

    So, now I ask, how do we combat institutionalized brutality against women? We talk about equality in the workplace, but how do we deal with inequality and violence against women when it happens? What advice do we give our younger female professors when such instances arise? Speak up and forfeit your careers or stay silent and compromised? I still have no answers..

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  • http://www.hairobicsallnatural.com Marissa

    Sexual harassment is a very serious issue. No one should ever have to be quiet about what they see taking place. Especially not a woman.

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  • Raj Dutt

    How is it sexual harassment?. Just because she felt squeamish? Is that a woman thing? How do two guys behind her, talking between them, joking to themselves, and her hearing their conversation amount to sexual harassment? It wasn’t even about her!!
    I’m sorry for both parties and this shouldn’t have spiraled this much out of control but can someone please explain this to me?

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