Is the Firing of Pax Dickinson the Beginning of a New Era in Tech?

pack your things

Matthew G. P. Coe explains that Business Insider’s prompt disposal of Mr. Dickinson shows that the voices of those in the industry who will stand up and say, “are you kidding me?” are being paid their due attention.

2013 will go down in history as the beginning of a sea change in the technology industry. Thanks to social media, technologists of all stripes are making it known that they will no longer laugh at rape jokes at E3, they will no longer remain silent about sexual harassment at industry events, and they will no longer be confederates in misogyny.

TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF event was one of the most brazen displays of tech misogyny, leading off a series of presentations with a mobile app called “TitStare”–an app where one can upload photos of themselves, well, staring at breasts (no one ever accused the name of being misleading)–complete with mimed masturbation on stage. In the audience was Alexandra Jordan, the nine-year-old creator of SuperFunKidTime, an app made to help schedule play dates between kids. Ms Jordan now has a very vivid idea of what to look forward to in a career in technology she might be considering. Sexism in the industry is alive, but it’s not exactly what you might call “well”.

 

TechCrunch swiftly apologised and denounced the presenters of TitStare, and amended their Disrupt policy to attempt to prevent such critical errors in judgment in the future. Whatever you may think of TechCrunch’s past behaviour, or the apology, the brogrammer quarter immediately went on the defensive, including Business Insider’s now-former CTO, Pax Dickinson. Mr Dickinson decried TechCrunch’s backtracking, tweeting, “accusing someone of ‘misogyny’ over some low-grade sexism means you owe another apology.”

A brief review of his Twitter history shows, as Salon discovered, that this is hardly an isolated incident for Mr Dickinson. His misogynistic attitude toward the technology industry went on display for all to see, culminating in his forced resignation from BI this morning. While social media, and the Web at large, provide misogyny with an unprecedented platform, Business Insider’s prompt disposal of Mr Dickinson shows that the voices of men and women in the industry who will stand up and say, “are you kidding me?” are being paid their due attention.

This incident is only one of many high-profile incidents, and is a glimmer of the dark misogynistic underbelly of the technology industry–if TitStare is what two developers thought was appropriate to announce at an industry event, what is being said behind closed doors? But seeing both high- and low-profile technologists respond to this event with warranted disgust, and seeing a high-profile company respond appropriately, I have hope that technologists of all stripes will find the strength they need to stand up for the victims of these statements. Feminism in technology needs men and women to point out this behaviour when it happens, and we can take this as an example of what we can do–and those who make these statements should take it as an example of what they should expect.

 

Photo: Flickr/z287marc

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About Matthew G P Coe

Matthew G P Coe is a Toronto-based computer programmer, father, husband, and self-professed science fiction nerd, though not necessarily in that order. He writes occasionally, at Quoth the Runtime, “Segmentation fault”, his blog about programming and issues in the software industry. He can also be found on Twitter and Google+.

Comments

  1. John Anderson says:

    “and is a glimmer of the dark misogynistic underbelly of the technology industry–if TitStare is what two developers thought was appropriate to announce at an industry event, ”

    I don’t know where I stand on “creep shot” technology. On the one hand people shouldn’t post or distribute non-consensual pictures of others. On the other hand, how are these pictures any different from photographing a car when a person is passing by or in the shot? How is this any different from someone setting up a webcam to catch street traffic? I’m sure people will say that there’s a sexual connotation to it, but how does that make something wrong? I know people will say that having a body part on display makes someone uncomfortable and causes stress. From a guy who doesn’t like his looks and doesn’t like having his picture taken even in family photos, having my normal picture non-consensually distributed is stressful and upsetting. Notice I don’t use an avatar (when I can help it and even then I never show teeth).

    If there is nothing wrong with the technology either legally or morally, why would it be inappropriate to announce at an industry event? There might have been some issues with the presentation (mimed masturbation), but I take it the images were PG-13.

    As far as Mr Dickinson dismissal is concerned. There are few free speech rights that employers are legally bound to honor. I don’t know that what he did was even egregious enough to warrant a reprimand. He gave an opinion, which may actually have been the correct opinion depending on the details of the incident. How did he determine TechCrunch accuse them of misogunu, etc?

    I’ve been in the industry 25 years. In my experience it hasn’t been misogyny that has kept women out of the tech sector. They can’t penetrate the networks that the men have established. They don’t have the industry contacts. They don’t have the mentors. Men especially men who have difficulty talking to women anyway have been reluctant to socialize with the women for the exact reason that many are afraid that something can be blown out of proportion and jeopardize a career. I’m not sure a heavy handed approach is best if you want women to be accepted in technology.

    • Danielle Paradis says:

      “In my experience it hasn’t been misogyny that has kept women out of the tech sector. They can’t penetrate the networks that the men have established. They don’t have the industry contacts. They don’t have the mentors. Men especially men who have difficulty talking to women anyway have been reluctant to socialize with the women for the exact reason that many are afraid that something can be blown out of proportion and jeopardize a career”

      That IS misogyny.

      • Okay so being reluctant to socialize with women is to hate women?

        So from there then it seems the solution would be to get those guys used to socializing with women.

  2. Business Insider was nowhere on my radar before today, and today has given me two reasons to write them off. We have this bit of misogyny, for starters, and then “The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide To Being A Man”. http://goo.gl/IxTuIx

    The uphill battle continues.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Well, but BI fired him. Shouldn’t that stand for something? To me, that means a lot more than what we usually see.

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