Amy Stephen

Hacker Grandma


Social Network Attacks On Women

I told a few people that I would share concerns I have that are related to patterns and harm brought to a woman who responds to or calls for action related something a man did. I tried to quickly write this down, so it’s lengthier than it needs to be. I tried to point out how these patterns punish victims, not the one doing the wrong. I also tried to address all of the typical ya-but arguments that follow and show how those are not valid and only perpetuate more harm.

Note: The fact that certain assertions are made about how women should be treated or what women’s rights are in no way suggests anything one way or the other about men. This article is not about men. This article is only about women. For some people, that is very difficult and offensive. That’s why I am pulling that point out at the beginning. If you are unable to comfortably consider a woman’s perspective independently, I advise you not to read further.

Note 2: These are my opinions. You might feel differently.

How are we harming women who report bad behavior by men in community settings

Without naming names or pointing to anything that happened, this is a basic pattern of action and consequence for some of the high-visibility conflicts where women have been negatively impacted in the tech community.

The pattern

  • A man did something bad to a woman.
  • The victim was not silent, but instead made the man’s bad behavior visible. Many times the crowd is asked to take action.
  • Someone with authority fired the man. His name and the event is documented on the Geek Feminist Wiki.
  • The crowd responds by attacking the woman for not remaining silent and for causing the man’s firing.

That is the basic pattern. When it’s all said and done, the punishment for the woman can be extremely severe. “Concerned community” write blog posts which fan the flames of hate. It is not uncommon for the victim to be threatened physically.

Even after the situation dies down, the story never goes away. There are constant reminders of what so-and-so did every time a new situation arises. It’s like a magically orchestrated threat to women Shut up. Stay quiet. Do not say a word.


This is a victim blaming. This is sexism.

The only discussion of the wrong doing itself is an evaluation of whether or not it was wrong with the purpose of clarifying the woman did not respond appropriately. Seemingly concerned citizens evaluate the mental health, the stability, the history, tweets from years ago, of the woman at adhoc trails across the Internet.

The only discussion about the authority who made the decision and took the action to fire the man is about the woman triggering the authority into action. The authority is nothing more than a button pushed by this woman who overreacted to the situation. “She had him fired.” “She used her considerable influence against him.”

Respinning history

By the time the story has been re-scripted, it looks more like this:

  • A man did something of poor taste.
  • This feminist, bitch, cunt, man hater called in angry mobs and threatened his company to fire him.
  • Trembling, the company caved and fired the poor guy.
  • The crowd protected their freedom and fought back against the climate of fear that women and other politically correct zealots are imposing on the masses.

Where we are we failing to protect women?

I think there are a number of weaknesses in how these situations are handled that need consideration. There are opportunities to build common understandings of expectation that could help.

Awareness of consequences

First of all, there seems to be a lack of awareness that what you do in public could get you fired. That’s especially true if you are wearing your company logo. So, anything that can be done to keep a continuous message playing that what people do online could get get them fired could help raise awareness.

Women should be treated with respect.

It seems there is a lack of appreciation that women should be treated with the respect. Reminding people of that simple message “Treat women with respect.” is a good start. That should help build discussions on what that means and encourage personal growth.

Personal accountability

One predictable outcome of these events is this notion that holding people personally accountable for their behavior creates a climate of fear. The suggestion is that personal accountability for good behavior is an unreasonable burden on individuals.

It needs to be acknowledged that what is bad is subjective. The full definition could vary from person to person. It is difficult to always know if something you say or do will be perceived to be inappropriate. It is even likely something acceptable in your peer group, or in your region of the world, is not acceptable in a broader environment. Safely navigating those unclear group norms is the responsibility of each of us, individually.

That means suggesting women must explicitly define how they must be treated and they must ensure every person understands these expectations is nothing more than an attempt to transfer personal responsibility to the victim.

There is no reason to deny that it is not always clear what the rules are. Those concerned about crossing the line should be encouraged to build awareness on what is expected today by research and reading, talking to women in their lives, and asking questions. Being conservative in behavior in public always helps reduce risk.

Ongoing conflict

Sometimes, these events are part of an ongoing conflict. Regardless of what the woman did, retaliation is never a justification. What she did prior to the man taking action is not an excuse for his decision to take that action.

No Double standards

Not dealing with ongoing conflict could result in double standards. Ignoring this tends to feed the angry crowd and could potentially result in additional harm brought on the woman.

Those closest to the woman are best able to help resolve these problems. Making certain all parties are satisfied with the results is very likely in the woman’s best interest.

It is important that as women we treat others with respect. Leading by example, holding friends to account, stepping in and helping defuse a situation are all good ways to help.


One specific caution related to the ‘tone argument.’ It is important to protect that message that a woman’s tone when communicating frustrations or discrimination or an assault should not color how her message is received.

For that reason, ‘tone’ should never be used to mask bad behavior. A personal style of harshness and rudeness and cursing is bad behavior. It should never be excused as tone. Doing so puts the concept at risk for those who do need that understanding. Important for everyone to keep an eye on this and step in when the term is misused.

Women have the right to express their concerns.

There should full agreement women are entitled to express concern if they are uncomfortable, mad, threatened, harassed, offended, and so forth and so on.

A woman has the absolute right to respond to something in her environment or an act done to her is vital. She does not require the approval or support of anyone. The way she responds, be it quietly whispering into the ear of another or publishing it to Twitter is her choice. If the information is true, she has the right to express herself.

Her clout, her impressive social network following, her massive supporter base, the fact that she can share information with a wide audience, the fact that most people would or would not do what she did in no way reduces her right to express herself. Attempts to silence her in anyway are completely inappropriate.

Generally speaking, no one questions a man’s right to express his opinion. Very little discussion on how or when or why he said something. This message needs to be on repeat by many people that women also have these rights. Blog posts, tweets, examples from real life, etc., keeping that message out there will help build awareness.


It is often said “she had him fired.” As though she pressed the button, she had the authority, she made the decision, again, painting her as the aggressor.

Helping people understand when they do that they are assigning an action to her that she did not do and is not authorised to do.

In the end, a woman has a right to respond to something that happened to her. It is up to the authority to evaluate the situation and take action.

She can recommend he be hung by his toes from the top of the tallest building. She can recommend action be taken for something that offended her that most people are not offended by. She does not have to justify her point of view.

What the authority does with that is the authority’s responsibility. If the action was overly harsh, it is not the victim’s fault, it is a matter to discuss with the authority. The employee is responsible for the relation with his employer. The woman is in no way forbidden from speaking with the employer. That is her choice.


Concerned community members need to respect the woman’s privacy. These blog posts and comments that follow post event are often nothing more than a place for MRA, Reddit, HackerNews hate mongering to ooze out.

Discussing the private lives of women, discussions of their mental health and stability, prior issues, political views, associations and feminist viewpoints are attempts to assassinate character and impose penalties for her exercising her right to express herself.

Regardless of what the author says (i.e, “it’s not about her, this is just an example”, or “if this approach (i.e., a woman exposes the wrong doing a man did to her) continues to be used it has the potential to impact the community” are nothing more excuses and masks for punishing a woman by attacking her character, her reputation, her likability and support.

Intent does not matter. When these things popup, supporters should be there reminding people of these points. If the author is convinced that it’s victim blaming and harmful to the woman, the hope is the post will be removed and damage stopped.

Again, this is an area you just don’t see happening to men. If he responds to something that happens to him, seldom, if ever is his life and reputation exposes in this manner. Important to raise awareness of this distinction and help people understand this subtle but damaging form of sexism.

Apologies and support

When these events happen, it is important to encourage the man who did something wrong to apologize. It is equally important to acknowledge his apology. Those acts, if nothing else, reduce angst in the crowd. If he is helped to understand the damage he created and if he is treated with respect he will most likely grow and hopefully not reoffend.

Conversely if he is treated overly harshly by the community it could create resentment and more bad decisions could be made. When these situations come up, and if someone is so inclined, helping him acknowledge his wrong doing and react without making the situation worse is good.

Blame and shame

The Geek Feminist Wiki is has a controversial record of events that happened to women. It is my belief that the record does not necessarily reflect the values of a broad and diverse group of women. In cases where there was ongoing conflict where the woman’s part in the conflict is not resolved, posting the man’s name there is extremely harsh. It would be good to get community discussion and debate as to whether or not this helps are harms women in the community. There has not been open discussion of this and it’s time there is.

Respect Pledge

It could help to have a simple pledge of sorts for the broader technology community to help set expectation. My preference would be a pledge that is held by the honor system that those who take the pledge agree to treat others with respect.

Keeping it very simple and trusting people to comply would be a step in the right direction and should encourage good behavior.

Trying to institute a code of conduct or something with more than that would not bring more clarity but it would create unnecessary push back.


If there are areas I really missed the point, please do share. Understand, these are just my opinions that I have shared for the purpose of discussion and with an intent to help reduce overall conflict and stop these events where women are harmed. Not pointing fingers at anyone.

Respectful comments are welcome. Comments that name people or events will be removed. This is not a place to rehash the details of a past event. If you are able to discuss at an conceptual level, your input is welcome..

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