[Content Warning: this post contains references to subjects that may trigger a trauma response. Read with caution.]
This is not a technical post. I was going to write about how SQL Server stores the
sql_variant data type this week, but something more important came up which involves almost 50% of the adult population worldwide, including me1As some of my readers know — especially if you read my article on SQL Server Central at the end of July 2020 — I am nonbinary, and it would be super convenient to hide behind that label when we have to talk about the behaviour of men. But I look like a man, I sound like a man, and I dress like a man. Unless I tell someone otherwise, the general perception is that I’m a man. For all intents and purposes in this discussion I’m including myself, and I’m calling out other men for their behaviour towards women..
Men, it’s 2020. We have to do better.
It’s hard enough to be a woman online, to exist in the public eye as a woman, to be constantly judged — even rated — according to a manufactured ideal of sex appeal that has no basis in biology or science. Add into that mix a woman who is in a technical field, science, biology, or chemistry, heck, even the arts, and the judgement is increased exponentially. How do I know? Women tell me. Believe women.
There’s a saying you may have heard which goes something like this: if you meet a woman at a conference or interact with a woman online, assume that she is technical and is capable of breathing fire.
That joke reference to dragons is to make it memorable, because for some reason men forget. There are hundreds of stories about women who are assumed to be non-technical, “booth babes,” “eye candy,” or the WAG (wife and/or girlfriend) of the technical man. In other words, it is assumed that women are not technical by their very nature. Just existing as a women seems to be a recipe for dismissal based on preconceived biases that have no evidence or basis in reality.
It stems from fear, from men who feel threatened by the existence of women, who feel challenged by their abilities to do exactly what men can do and in some cases much better. There’s a reason the word “mansplain” exists. Here are just two examples of men who think they’re smarter than the woman they’re explaining something to, where the punchline is that those women actually wrote the thing those men are trying to explain to them about.
Men on the internet telling me, author of the book ‘The Good Friday Agreement’ which is (unsurprisingly) about the Good Friday Agreement, to read the Good Friday Agreement is my favourite genre of reply guy https://t.co/S8DAhEpiCf
— Siobhán Fenton (@SiobhanFenton) September 7, 2020
Look it up, baby. You’ll see my name on it.
— Ian Coldwater 📦💥 (@IanColdwater) August 10, 2020
Here is a series of tweets where I have personally called out bad behaviour from men:
Men have to do better https://t.co/9kQyVJNvqz
— 🧑🏻💻 Randolph 🏳️⚧️ (they / them) (@_randolph_west) August 18, 2020
Men need to do better. https://t.co/EWHcJm21wM
— 🧑🏻💻 Randolph 🏳️⚧️ (they / them) (@_randolph_west) September 8, 2019
Men have to do better. https://t.co/u0F5IEOR9m
— 🧑🏻💻 Randolph 🏳️⚧️ (they / them) (@_randolph_west) May 25, 2020
Men need to do better. Specifically, these men need to move out of management. https://t.co/YqPZYthSt4
— 🧑🏻💻 Randolph 🏳️⚧️ (they / them) (@_randolph_west) September 8, 2019
Men have to do better. https://t.co/ijNIGaoaqK
— 🧑🏻💻 Randolph 🏳️⚧️ (they / them) (@_randolph_west) July 5, 2019
On a personal note, here’s an anecdote which will explain the subject of this post. A man who was already banned from events in the SQL Server community for being a documented creep (including taking photos of conference attendees without their permission, making sexual advances, gaslighting, and accusing women of sending mixed messages while not appreciating his sense of humour), has showed up again on Twitter after changing his account name and profile photo.
Recently, after a woman in the SQL Server family tweeted about Yet Another Example of men being creeps by sending unsolicited photos containing their genitalia, this man decided that women are “too sensitive” and should just ignore the messages. This is called victim shaming, also known as victim blaming.
If you’re bored you can look up that thread where I engaged him, but the bottom line is that any attempt by a man to tell women how to react is fundamentally sexist. Dismissing a woman’s experience is sexist. Judging a woman’s response without the ability to experience it yourself is sexist. By going after the women who receive them, you are defending the act of sending unsolicited pictures in the first place. You are giving permission to men to behave badly.
So to bring this back to the subject, if you see this behaviour you need to call it out.
If not you, then who?
Excuses that don’t count
I have seen a bunch of excuses for men behaving badly. They are easily refutable.
“I am autistic” / “I have Aspergers.”
I am autistic too, and I find it quite easy not to be a raging misogynist.
“Boys will be boys”
Really? Why is it appropriate for men to treat women as property? Wasn’t there a whole thing about that?
“Not all men”
If you are not a creep, if you are not sending unsolicited pictures of your genitals to women, if you are not sending women death threats, rape threats, or threats of bodily harm, then this doesn’t apply to you. Move along, or share this post with someone else. However if this post offends you, that might be a chance for some introspection. Ask yourself why it offends you. If you find the need to defend bad behaviour, then you are part of the problem.
As Phil Plait wrote in 2014:
Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them. Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. […] [W]hen a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in. You might be the potential best guy ever in the history of history, but there’s no way for her to know that. A fraction of men out there are most definitely not in that group. Which are you? Inside your head you know, but outside your head it’s impossible to.
Finally, it goes without saying that adding any additional dimensions makes life even harder for the person in question. Whether being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Colour), being queer or gender-non-conforming, being Deaf, being neuroatypical, being disabled, being unattractive, or falling outside of your society’s ideal body image (too skinny, too fat), each one of these dimensions makes it even more difficult to exist without risk of attack by Schrödinger’s Douchebag.
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