Sexism, Reddit, and Women in Tech

Reddit-LogoSo over the last weekend we all got to watch the Front Page of the Internet go literally nuclear: a bright flash followed by darkness- over the firing of Victoria Taylor, the person responsible more or less for one of Reddit’s biggest draws; celebrity AMAs. This one combined a lot of the tech media’s favorite things: Celebrities, women in technology (though admittedly, Victoria isn’t getting much air time), sexism, and evil misogynists. It’s been a feeding frenzy ever since, let’s try and figure out what happened.

I would say we have three sides to contend with here: On one are the genuine and really screwed up people who think women belong in kitchens and that this is still an acceptable attitude to have. We’re skipping them.

My official position.

My official position.

Moving on, we have the standard pro-women position that Ellen Pao was ousted by a conglomerate of evil men doing what men do: screw things up. At first glance this looks probable, and a pretty easy sell from anyone looking to convince you that the Internet is hostile to women. I don’t disagree with this entirely, but I don’t think it’s the whole truth either.

Finally we have a much smaller group of reasonable people who are pointing out that while women do face challenges in the work place that they are roughly similar to the challenges faced by men and that the tech industry at large is not nearly the brohouse that some women would claim it to be. In this article, Enough is Enough: No More Babying Women in Tech, Kindra Pring articulates that position pretty well and I recommend you read it.

A lot of the articles on this subject are low on facts and high on opinions which is kind of unavoidable in a topic like this. I’m going to endeavor to try to keep things to what we know, not what we think we know. Here goes:

The AMA Reddit then went private to protest the move by the parent company in removing Taylor. Other Reddits went dark in solidarity, and between them, roughly 2/3 to 3/4 depending on who you ask of the site was suddenly gone. That’s not a nothing thing for any website that depends on traffic. The front page of the Internet was suddenly blank.

While it’s unclear what the motivations were for Taylor’s removal, how effective or ineffective Ellen Pao’s leadership was before or after the crisis, or how long the communication issues were going on between the website administration and it’s content creators, again, what we know is:

For those unclear, Reddit the company produces very, very little of what is on Reddit. The vast majority (if not all, really) of the content of the site is produced by, and the comments on it moderated by volunteers from around the world. According to the community, Reddit consistently asked it’s community to do more with less in terms of tools and support. To me, that rings true because it’s typically the marching mantra for any large company. Reddit was getting larger, and being incorporated into a media conglomerate.

This all mushroomed in the firing of Victoria Taylor, for reasons I’ve summarized.

After this setup, Internet happened. Reddit exploded into the sexist and racist community Internet veterans know to expect any time you give anonymous, small people access to a large podium with little control over what they say. For some reason the tech media still finds this interesting to watch, despite it being all over YouTube for the better part of two decades. I’m not saying that’s good mind you, but there’s a reason Facebook makes you use your real name.

What a lot of bloggers seem to be forgetting is that much of the upset community which is dismissed as being sexist is upset because a female employee was terminated. I do not understand why Victoria Taylor is not getting more coverage in all this since her black bag style termination was the spark that set off the powder keg, but I suspect it’s because she isn’t saying a whole lot, most likely because she can’t.

No, instead they’ve continuously focused on Ellen Pao, someone who has gotten her share of the spotlight and then some (way too much some, frankly) after her court fight with her former employer over, you guessed it, sexism. Yet she was put in place as Reddit’s CEO to help foster user growth and improve the tools for the community. Instead she moved the office and when she left, displayed the same tone deafness she was hired to fix in the first place, so clearly that wasn’t going well.

It’s worth noting that during her day in court at her previous job, she was criticized for lacking leadership skills. Now that was from the defense of said former employer so I take it with a big grain of salt, but let’s stick to facts. Ellen has now left two companies on bad terms (one with the company, one with the company’s community) over similar issues: Poor performance and leadership, and lack of vision.

So sit down with me for a moment and strip away all the bull mess that’s surrounded these things: I don’t know Ellen personally, and never will, but she’s been publicly lauded as the victim of sexism, shielded from any form of criticism by the media, and portrayed as a victim of the man-centric attitudes of Silicon Valley and yet when you look at her professionally she has little to show in terms of actual accomplishment. Victoria Taylor had a much smaller job, and arguably did less important things, but she wasn’t known in the media because she was doing her job and doing it well. Ellen Pao, on the other hand,_ is known in the media_ for not doing her job and being removed from said job and then crying sexism afterward.

Speaking as a white man, I can tell you I’d love to work with one of these women, and I’d do anything to avoid working for the other one. I’ll let you riddle out which is which. There is a serious lack of women in technology, but as the author of the TechRaptor piece put it best:

So for those who are curious, what people like Ellen Pao do is not fight sexism. They encourage sexism. They require sexism to sustain themselves, which is why they find it everywhere they look whether it exists or not. Pao is not a pioneer for women in tech. Anita Sarkeesian is not a pioneer for women in gaming. There have been women in both of these industries, as well as science, mathematics, engineering, and every similar field, for much longer than either of these ladies have even lived on this earth. They are also not pioneers for feminism, because they defy the very basic principles that Western feminism was founded on.