The final installment of Passionate Sanctimony introduces examples culled from social media that clearly illustrate blatant contradictions in the most divisive issue we face as a community and the failure of industry leadership to lead by example.
iPitchforks and Double-Standards
“Stand up to sexism when you see it!” says the heroic, anonymous avatar in one of the most subjective calls-to-action imaginable. This simple statement tacks a garrish neon light on a double standard no one wants to acknowledge: The fact that a small group of social gatekeepers very consciously pick and choose who they make examples out of. As one of the most consistent finger-pointers in the trenches of empathy states, "Lastly, we should avoid finger-pointing and placing blame, except for overt and/or egregious offenders."
Why then did the following marketing images by a well known A-Lister in the tech community not bring out the torches and pitchforks? Do these images represent the difference between “humorous objectification” and a “bad joke”?
Are these images permissible because they weren’t projected onto a screen during a conference presentation? Or are they permissible because they aren’t “serious”? Or because the individual who posted the imagery is a popular figure in the industry?
It seems to me the suggestions represented in the images above are precisely what people are screaming about. Yet the 29,000 Twitter followers of this web-celeb didn’t so much as blink an eye at the use of an objectified female or an ode to geek masturbation to sell a book to people in the web industry. In fact, numerous people, women included, reTweeted the images.
These advertisements didn’t result in naming and shaming, nasty Tweets based on hearsay, outrage, judgement, lecturing, name-calling, assumptions, slander, or accusatory articles published by online tech rags. No one made an example out of this individual. No fingers were pointed. Nothing. Both of these images were**Approved by the lynch mob.
How is dispensing advice or selling a service or product at an industry conference any different than dispensing advice or selling a service or product via Twitter? If you are being intellectually honest, you have no choice but to answer “there is no difference”. But there is a difference, a big one: The audience on Twitter is an order of magnitude larger than the number of people who could pack into any conference hall (even at SXSW).
Yet the following Twitter comments by web-celebs weren’t called out by any one of their combined 330,000+ followers for being offensive - a list that includes a number of well known people who regularly jump on the inclusivity bandwagon when a self-serving compassion-marketing opportunity presents itself.
“But. But. But. Twitter isn’t the same as a conference!” Bullshit. The odds are that you aren’t following popular industry figures on Twitter because you think they’re hilarious or even insightful. You’re following them in the hopes they’ll retweet one of your witty retorts or project announcements and make you internet famous for five life-changing minutes. “But. But. But. You can unfollow someone on Twitter!” And you can choose to attend or not attend a conference based on who is speaking. Or not attend the lecture of someone with whom you don’t personally agree.
The only people who seem to get hammered for claims of sexism are the people who are judged by accusers to be especially vulnerable - you know, people who can "be made an example of". This theory is conveniently confirmed by Mrs. Hough as she twists morality into a pretzel in her profound conclusion, “If [Company's] business collapses for a few sentences of sexist copy, I hope that other young founders get to see the wreckage before following them off the plank.” This comment is absolutely despicable and perfectly encapsulates the mentality of an angry mob who is incapable of seeing their own pious exclusiveness for what it is ... intolerant of anything that causes them to confront their own lack of comfort in an industry that spans dozens of disciplines and is comprised of individuals who represent a broad spectrum of life experiences.
Why is nasty, hateful behavior like this tolerated in the professional sphere? Simple. Because the people who we look up to as leaders behave in exactly the same manner when they are confronted with a contrary opinion. Their behavior sets the standard for discourse in our industry and followers, being who they are, mimic their heroes.
If one of the most well-known voices in the industry leads in the following manner,
and his good friends egg him on with “support” that undermines any sense of professional etiquette,
how can we logically expect discourse or behavior or attitudes or perceptions to improve in the industry?
Collectively, we can not possibly expect to improve anything when our ability to communicate has not evolved past the infantilism of the high school cliques we all loved to hate.
The following stupendously ironic comment (conclusion from object 1-1, Part 2) posted by anonymous epitomizes the abject failure of our community leaders to set a responsible tone for professional behavior and discourse.
This issue isn't about a single person or a specific incident. It's not even about a specific issue like sexism. It's about a pattern of behavior that blatantly contradicts all the moralizing about building a better community by singling out convenient targets for subjective condemnation and bitch-slaps professionalism across the face. In short, it's about a pattern of behavior that is designed to stop discussion in its tracks and browbeat people into conformity.
"Naming and shaming", public humiliation, call it what you will … It's bullying. There is not an argument that can be made that makes it okay to willfully and maliciously attempt to ruin another person's reputation and/or livelihood over a word or image or whatever that someone else found "offensive".
The fact that bullying behavior can be witnessed across the entire industry, from the most inexperienced newbie to our "thought leaders" speaks to a much bigger communal problem than whether or not every individual, female or male, is embraced with unicorn hugs.
But there is no question that treating people with whom you disagree with a contempt usually reserved for murderers, child rapists, and atheists is destructive both socially and, for the object of derision, personally and professionally. Such behavior does nothing more than create division lines in a shifting sand of smug reverse intolerance.
At it's very core, this boils down to an issue of mutual respect. You don't have to agree with everyone, nor like everyone you meet. But "inclusiveness" begins with respect. And respect is not bestowed, it's something you have to earn.
I will conclude by stating the obvious. Sooner or later, I will offend someone again, and so will you. Get over it, and deal with the outcome like an adult. You aren’t morally superior. And if you really want to clean up the industry, begin with your own behavior. The next time you decide to be offended, before you react, ask yourself how you would like to be treated when you make a mistake.
You have a right to an opinion. You have a right to disagree. You have a right to be offended. You even have a right to be angry. But anger does not give you the right to be cruel.
Passion does not excuse common decency.
And empathy is a two-way street.