How to Deal with Oafs, AKA the Adria Richards Mess

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A female developer evangelist calls out a couple of misbehaving males for making sexist jokes at a conference, getting one of them fired. All hell breaks loose online. What lesson, if any, can we learn from this unsavory incident?

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

You’re minding your own business pursuing professional enlightenment at a tech conference when two dudes behind you break out the frat house humor and start making jokes about ‘big dongles.’ What do you do?

If you’re at PyCon and you’re Adria Richards, a developer evangelist for SendGrid, you snap a quick pic and shame them on twitter. But that’s not even close to the end of the long story (which is laid out in all its gruesome detail here on The Daily Dot).

What happened next? The organizers spoke to the dudes. One later publicly apologized, but that wasn’t enough to stop him being fired for being an oaf. Harsh? Depends on your perspective, but what’s undeniably over the top was the reaction to this news online.

A vicious, inexcusable stream of vitriol was unleashed on Richards who was called a bitch, a hypocrite and a coward, among other insults. And, in news just breaking now, Adria herself was also apparently fired. So what, if anything, can we learn from this unsavory incident?

First off, sexism sadly isn’t dead and culturally tech still often tolerates bro-ish behavior that’s alienating to women. That bears repeating but isn’t exactly stop-the-presses-type news.

Another observation worth making: why does it have to be a woman shaming guys for inappropriate comments? How can we get more men to step up to the plate (in the style of this delightfully sane post) and tell fellow dudes that it’s just not OK to talk about body parts at professional gatherings not geared towards medical professionals?

Finally, this incident raises a practical question for women: how do you handle sexist behavior that makes your professional life more difficult? The direct approach, apparently, sometimes comes with a terrible backlash. Is there a better way – perhaps to fight bad humor with good, shaming those making fools of themselves through their bad behavior with a barbed but funny comment?

Photo credit: Clinton Steeds via Flickr.

How do you handle this sort of sexist behavior?

jstillman Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter @entrylevelrebel.