Taking Punches is a Sucker’s Game

I could criticize this as a race to the bottom, but there’s no bottom. Outside of something that brings in the police, there is no bound to how bad accepted behavior can get when “learn to take a punch” is your cover-all. And people can get very creative when it comes to socially-cruel ostracism when they feel entitled to it.

At the core, I see the “don’t be so sensitive” attitude as the well-intentioned cousin of trolling: It devolves into a staring contest to see who will break first. To admit offense is to lose. To win you will need either indifference or the strength to suffer in silence. That’s a sucker’s game and either way, you will live with the knowledge that tomorrow you will be dealing with the same bullshit that you had to deal with today, because if you speak up it will only get worse. Especially if you’re a woman or minority.

This isn’t the foundation you can attract and build a community on and it’s not something anyone who wants to grow a community can ignore. (I point to Anil Dash’s blog post “If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault” as a great take on this.) Learning to lighten up, to not be so easily offended, to not make a big deal out of it, or to take a punch is never the raison d’etre of any community. People don’t pay conference registration fees to test their emotional mettle for abuse. (If PyCon’s increased attendance and rates of women’s participation demonstrate anything, it’s that people pay money for the exact opposite.)

Having resilience to not let insensitive comments or outright abuse drive you away is a good thing to have. It’s admirable to be shatterproof. But it’s callous to demand it from others. I thank the PyCon board and volunteers for putting together a great conference and a great community. They’ve had the guts to stick to their guns about not just having a Code of Conduct (the mere existence of which hasn’t been without resistance) but also the spine to enforce it and provide guidance for attendees to do the same. They’ve had to take quite a few punches themselves for this (and not just in the last few days), but I’m grateful that they do and that they push to ensure others won’t have to.

(If you’re interested in more on this topic, I recommend John Scalzi’s blog posts “The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get” and “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” (and the rest of his blog in general) and the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

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6 comments on this post.
  1. Marius Gedminas:

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. alex dante:

    Well said, thank you.

  3. Ken Whitesell:


  4. Mark:

    “I’m not going to talk solely about sexism itself in the tech industry (though at the front of my views on that are pointing out how widely the Internet blames Adria Richards for the dongle-joker’s firing rather than Play Haven, who did the actual firing.)”

    The reason “the Internet” blames Adria rather than Play Haven is because of the way she chose to handle it. There were staff on hand that she could have spoken to directly rather than blow it into something larger on the Internet herself. As evidenced by PyCon’s CoC and the way they handled it showed that they were serious about enforcing against bad behavior.

    Your post talks about getting to a point where we shouldn’t throw punches – even if they’re just light jabs – then we definitely shouldn’t condone throwing sucker punches like she did.

  5. Al Sweigart:


    One can either think Play Haven overreacted in firing the guy or that Play Haven did not overreact. If you think Play Haven overreacted, then it’s Play Haven’s responsibility for the firing. If you think Play Haven took appropriate action, then there is no one to “blame”. Either way, Richards is not the cause of the man’s firing. Play Haven is. This is still true even though Richards was in the wrong to post the photo to Twitter.

    > The reason “the Internet” blames Adria rather than Play Haven is because of the way she chose to handle it.

    I disagree. “The Internet” (i.e. the vitriolic and often anonymous crowd) blames Adria because the Internet likes to target outspoken feminists. My argument: If Richards had forwarded the photo to PyCon staff and Play Haven overreacted by firing the guy (and considering they did in reality overreact once, this is fair assumption to make that they would do so again), the Internet would still blame Richards with the same level of venom. Posting the photo was wrong on Richards’ part, but for the outraged and hateful crowd (which I would say makes up a large part of her critics) it is just an excuse.

  6. Sean Upton:

    I say damn them all who cannot have a slight bit of etiquette and decency in a professional setting. That means both parties. The behavior that offended Adria Richards should never have happened and her response could have been handled discretely. In both cases, parties did not extend some reasonable decency towards their environment. Handling it in a name-and-shame public channel made it a one-upsmanship zoo, which is (IMHO as an ardent feminist) both anti-feminist and far less than pragmatic toward the end of improving diversity and camaraderie in technical communities.

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