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On the Internet, As In Real Life, the Onus Is On The Woman to Not Get Burned

Adria Richards speaking at a tech conference.Adria RichardsTo paraphrase Smashing Pumpkins, "The Internet is a vampire, set to troll." It can get pretty ugly out there and it's gotten very ugly for Adria Richards, who after tweeting about lewd language at a tech conference her employer was co-sponsoring, found herself out of a job. The ensuing publicity surrounding the case resulted in fine Internet dialogues like this ... and this:

From the UK Guardian:

One of the jokesters was fired from his job. The other, who worked at the same company, was not. Angry about this apparent travesty, internet harassers came out in full force. Richards' own site and that of her employer, SendGrid, were subject to denial-of-service attacks. Richards was personally bombarded with rape and murder threats. Someone sent her a photo of a naked, decapitated bound woman's body with the caption "When I'm done." A concerted effort began on 4chan to get Richards fired. Instead of standing up for an employee in the face of rape and death threats, SendGrid caved. It fired Richards because, in short, she was a trouble-maker

A lot of focus has been made on whether or not Richards should have tweeted about the vulgarities she heard and put the offenders on blast. But this has the all too familiar ring of "she was asking for it."

Why is it when a woman does anything, rightly or wrongly, regarding a man's behavior she is immediately threatened with sexual assault and dehumanizing language? It's not about whether Richards used the proper venue to air her grievances, it's that in our world, the only right way for a woman to deal with uncomfortable, lewd behavior is to "shut up and ignore it." Anything beyond "shut up and ignore it" makes the woman "fair game" for any and every kind of attack because she dared to say a man offended her.

I've seen it and experienced it first hand.

The first time I "came out" as Bipolar was involuntary. I was working as an entertainment reporter in Bakersfield, Calif. when a very opportunistic writer was pushing me to write a review of his book. I didn't do book reviews, which I told him repeatedly, and due to such he decided to declare "war" against me and my newspaper. He was initially more annoying than anything, until I wound up hospitalized for a mental breakdown shortly after my ex-husband contacted me. The writer decided to make my sudden disappearance from the paper about him, and blogged about it constantly.

Months later, on of all venues, on MySpace, I told several friends in a blog post that I suffered from depression and Bipolar Disorder to deal with rumors about my hospitalization. The writer, again, decided to make this about him, accusing my newspaper of "covering up" my mental breakdown (which was less of a "cover up" but more like "proper human resource practices"), and, quite proudly, wondered aloud if he had caused my mental breakdown. 

This blog post lived for an obscenely long time online, following me to job interviews and on dates, constantly coming up because I, a non-book reviewer at the time, did not review a book. 

I was eventually able to get the post taken down years later, but this harassment pales in comparison to what a close friend of mine went through when she outed a certain Congressman who was sending shirtless photos of himself to women on Craigslist. Rather than focus on the fact that a married Congressman was behaving like a jerk, a lot of attention was focused on my friend.

People thought her trademark humor and sarcasm about being on the receiving end of the photo was arrogance and malice. People questioned why she released the photo at all because she "ruined a man's marriage." One would argue cheating could ruin a man's marriage, but it wasn't about the cheating for a lot of people online. It was about getting caught and how he got caught. He never even met my friend because he used his personal email address and when she popped it into Facebook, found his personal page with family photos and the word "Congressman." 

Suddenly a date with him seemed a lot less interesting.

But it didn't end there. Called a "sex scandal" (despite there being no sex), my friend was harassed at work and home by the press. Supporters of the Congressman (or just cheating men), harassed her online, one even going so far to make a web site disparaging her, then spamming that web site to the press. And the complete nadir of my career as a journalist came when I had to negotiate with TMZ's ever dumber cousin, gossip site Radar Online for a photo exchange. They were going to run a story on my friend, but were going to use, by far, the least flattering picture in the world of her. So I negotiated for two hours to get "better photos" so if, at least, they were going to defame her, she could look nice while having her name dragged through the mud.

A lot of people felt my friend brought this on herself because "she shouldn't have said anything" or the even sillier "why was she on Craigslist!" But why was there this response in the first place? Why was she such a target? Why was the onus to not get stalked and threatened put on her and not on the man to perhaps not send shirtless photos of himself to strange women on Craigslist?

Women who don't do as they're told or remain silent in the face of hypocrisy or sexual harassment are told they get what the deserve. After all, if I had just done what a man told me to do (review his book), I wouldn't have had to deal with people knowing I'd been in a mental hospital well before I was ready to talk openly about it. If my friend had just, said nothing, perhaps some other woman the Congressman sent pictures to would have been the one to be targeted. But none of this would have changed the fact that these men are not good people.

The easier route is the passive route, or at least that's what society teaches women. I mean, did you even try to talk your rapist out of raping you? Did you even consider it? Says all of society, all the time. But passivity doesn't stop harassment or rape or entitled male behavior, it only silently endorses it. 

In my first Women's History Month post, where I celebrated my friends who pushed back, I wrote about how even on a small scale, they had to deal with men who were more angry about a woman speaking up for herself or even retaliating when wronged, rather than the cheating and abuse they were enduring.

In "She's Not Difficult, She's My Friend," I wrote:

The reason why I don't push back, (among the fact that I am quite possibly a wuss, but I prefer to imagine myself as some kind of pragmatic), is because my conscious won't allow it and women who push back get a "reputation" -- An unfair, double-standard reputation of being "trouble." Of being "difficult." Of being "crazy," when they're only hitting back after being hit. It amazes me that the mark of sanity in a woman is found in her ability to take a punch, stay silent, then remove herself from the situation, rather than stand her ground and demand satisfaction.

Adria Richards, like my friend, and like me, now has a "reputation" because she didn't play the game. But as horrible as it may seem now, this is survivable. Even after a media shitstorm and people doing opposition research on you, as happened with my friend, you can move on. My friend did it mostly by refusing to go on air, only speaking to me, the Washington Post and on her own blog. I ended up being the "face" of the scandal, defending my friend on everything from Good Morning America to The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

Her life of being a mother and a writer, went back to normal. I became an advocate for my fellow mental health sufferers and use my writing and visibility as a way to tell fellow Bipolar sufferers that it can get better and they can find stability and health if they stick with their treatments and find good doctors and support systems.

I don't now how Richards is going to turn this lemon into bittersweet lemonade, but just as a woman is expected to be silent, she's also expected to persevere and move on.

At least one of those things makes sense. 

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Reader Comments (14)

I heard about this story on Monday and I have no problem with with her actions.

All I kept hearing was "she shouldn't have tweeted the photo because the conference has rules" and to me that just doesn't make sense. I'd hate for my daughter to be a rape victim and be told not to tweet a photo of her rapist because "the conference has rules" against rape. I think this is a serious problem.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAfterMath

Adria Richards overreacted and she got checked for it. I don't agree with any rape/death threats of course, but she deserved to lose her job as much as he did. The joke between the two guys about dongles doesn't rise to the level of sexism or sexual harassment. She thought their language was inappropriate? Fine. Report them using the proper channels.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblack yoda

Or how about instead be an adult and speak to the person who said it. Why didn't she just let him know she found it offense? No doubt he would have stopped. Instead she wanted to raise attention. I've never met anyone whom when confronted with bad behavior didn't stop.

That's how adults behave.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdealer

The joke between the two guys about dongles doesn't rise to the level of sexism or sexual harassment.

Says you. Which tells me that you have not been on the receiving end of a freaking LIFETIME of sexism and sexual harassment.

Newsflash---you don't get to be the one who defines for a woman what "sexism" or "sexual harassment" look like. There are actually laws and policies that do that--and creating a "hostile work environment" is the product of the former and certainly a form of the latter.

PYCon had a Code of Conduct for the conference and it EXPLICITLY addressed the issue of sexist, racist, and/or exclusionary speech. If these guys didn't know what constituted sexual harassment, they should have asked--rather than assuming that a woman would not be offended and then acting all surprised and butt-hurt when one was.

Why didn't she just let him know she found it offense? [sic] No doubt he would have stopped.

I suggest you check out the Twitter hashtag #IAskedPolitely. In addition to the hoards of rape "jokes," you will find a metric ton of replies from women who "asked politely" and the person they asked did NOT stop. In fact, in many cases, the harassment got worse--much, much worse.

Y'all are either male or living in a Huge Bubble O'Privilege (or, most likely, both) to even make those statements. Adria Richards is a woman of color in a white man's industry. She has talked about why she did what she did, and all the things that preceded it. It took an incredibly amount of courage to confront those men. As far as I'm concerned, she's a hero--and anyone who is questioning her actions is asking the wrong questions. See Deanna Zandt's column at for a fine explanation of that:

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoxy

People are in denial of the EEOC regulations. Although its hard to accept: you cannot make jokes about sex, race, religion the workplace(which has been determined that this conference was because she and the other men were there for the company) It is the law. If you have a beef with the EEOC law, then do something about that. If you have a beef with the guy having been fired, then reach out to his employer, If you think she needs to apologize, go read the transcripts of what happened: she apologized and so did the guy who lost his job. If you think its warranted for someone to get death threats and rape threats, then you have an issue. NO situation justifies rape and death threats. Period. It's time for people to seek more mature ways of dealing with every thing that has happened. The way its being handled by the violent public is not making it go away. There's a saying that if you keep using the same tactics over and over again and they don't work, then you must be -----(fill in the blank yourself: google it.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersandy

Here's a challenge: Look up sexual harassment and sexism and then tell me how a joke between two men about dongles qualifies for either one. I'll wait...

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblack yoda

How's about YOU read the PYCon Code of Conduct for the conference?

Adria Richards experienced their jokes as sexual in nature and therefore a BLATANT violation of the conference Code of Conduct. I would have felt the same way--as would a lot of women of my acquaintance.

Even if PYCon had not made the rules, what those guys did would have been sexist and harassing--but PYCon DID make the rules and they broke them.

Call the WAAAAAHHHHambulance....

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoxy

While you're waiting black yoda contact a labor attorney because the determination has been make. Duh? why? even her employer saw the truth. You resist it.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersandi

I'm sorry. Did I argue that his comments were appropriate? What I said is they do not constitute sexual harassment nor were they inherently sexist. Are you trying to say that comments that can be interpreted as sexual are automatically sexist and/or sexual harassment? People here are doing a disservice to real victims by defending her. What he said could be deemed inappropriate. O.K. You handle it by saying something first to the person (who wasn’t talking to you, by the way). If she was too scared of the tech geeks, then you report the incident. People here need a WAAAAHHMBULANCE and a dictionary.

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblack yoda

From sexual harassment training by the EEOC, if you are in a workplace and you are around people making a joke or talking to each other where you can hear: about sex, race, religion or age. AND what they are saying is "joking" it is interpreted by EEOC that this is an environment that is not safe. Yes, I know it doesn't sound right. But if you take any training from EEOC they will tell you not to joke with each other about such things within earshot of others. Because if the others are offended by your "joking" it is considered an environment of "isms". (race, sex, gender, religion)
I was once in an environment where people were talking loud about "old folks" in a joking way and someone construed it as age discriminating in the work place.
It's hard to wrap our heads around this, I know. (especially since we live in a world with so many comedians) But you do have to be careful what you say and how you say it.
Another example: If you go up to someone and say something like: I love your blouse...whereas you didn't mean it in a sexual way. If the person thinks you are being sexually suggestive that can be problematic.
Another example: a group of folks laughing among themselves about a scarf joke and an ethnic group. Maybe they are laughing because they are trying to show the absurdity of the situation. But if a person wears scarves such as what they are laughing about and they think it is a religious joke, they can report to the EEOC and or boss that there is an environment of religious hate.
We live in a society where what you say and the "context" of where you say it becomes important. While you may not agree with this, it is this way. I

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersandi

Black Yoda Here is more on the issue.

As far as "you handle it by saying something to the person...well that depends on what experiences we have, whether we think it will only aggravate or escalate the situation more. It depends on how the person feels. Each person is different. Words and behaviors illicit different reactions and consequences.

Did you ever read about the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill case? I remember the world being split over whether Anita Hill should have just ignored Clarence Thomas or "not have taken what he said so seriously"...the fact was: he said something that was later determined to be hurtful.

With these allegations and cases you have to look at "context". That's the way it is. How you or I would handle something is no litmus test to determine how another should handle what they perceive as offensive.

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersandi

If you want to argue that their joke created a hostile working environment. O.K. That's still not the same as sexual HARASSMENT or sexism. I'm still waiting for someone to take what they reportedly said to each other and show how it constitutes either sexual harassment or sexism. No one has done that yet. Post your definition of sexual harassment and then show how their joke fits that definition. Post your definition of sexism and then show how their joke fits that definition. Let me help some of you out. Here is one definition of Sexual Harassment:

Take note of the second section (unwelcome) and the section about severe and pervasive. Now someone reconcile that with a joke between two guys about big dongles and her subsequent reaction to overhearing it.


After that, try the same thing with sexism.

Now let's assume they did create some sort of hostile working environment by their joke. Fine. Do I think it’s ridiculous? Yes. Can I understand how someone might not take kindly to hearing jokes about big dongles or being fondled by TSA agents? Sure. Now what kind of environment did she create for her peers by photographing them and publicly shaming them? What kind of work environment did she create by not following proper procedure herself? A hostile one perhaps? This brings me back to what I said before: "she deserved to lose her job as much as he did."

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblack yoda

We can agree to disagree. I can see how she felt. As far as taking a picture of them, I cannot judge her because one has to see everything in context of everything that happened. I've read her total account of the story, I've read how the guy apologized for his actions, I read that she didn't think he needed to be fired before she was even let go. When I look at everything that happened I don't think I can judge her action. Never say never: one can always look back after an incident and judge what should have been done.
At this point, I don't agree on what "public shaming" is out of context. I've read definitions about it; but I think this whole case needs to be examined by all legal and professionals involved. I think if this guy had not lost his job perhaps this whole thing would be seen differently; I don't know and won't speculate any farther. I know that each employer did what they had to do for whatever reason and if it is legal or not I'm willing to leave it to the authorities. There is no point in going on.

March 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersandi

Good post about black community, good blog.

April 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrabwah
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