Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Harassment of Our Authors is Not Ok: A Conversation

A few months ago, we received an email from a 16 year old young woman, asking to publish in the Code Like A Girl publication. That Sunday night, we posted her phenomenal story about how she teaches elderly people how to code. We also posted the story to Hacker News in the hopes of getting more visibility, as we usually do.

The next morning, we were surprised to see that the post had over 3,000 views — the majority coming from Hacker News. A lot of the comments were about the post’s grammar and structure; far fewer were about the actual content.

Soon, Dinah received an email from the girl, who was distraught. She was receiving unwanted male attention on her social media accounts, and felt it was our fault for posting it on Hacker News. The unfortunate truth is that she posted to a public forum (Medium), and linked that forum to her Facebook account, making it very easy to connect with her personally.

The writer took down her post. The fact that she felt that she had to hide her thoughts and feelings on something as innocuous as teaching seniors how to code is not ok.

Dinah decided that if she did nothing, she’d be sweeping harassment under the rug. Code Like A Girl’s mandate is to amplify voices. We won’t allow our writers to be silenced by fear without standing up for them.

So, Dinah published Harassment of our Authors is Not Ok, stating:

Code Like A Girl is a space where we support, and encourage women and girls to choose technology and excel within it. This has had the opposite effect for this very smart and talented young woman.

In response, we received many messages of support and commiseration. Many people reached out to Dinah directly to ask how they could help.

There were also a few people who suggested that we encourage young writers to adopt a pen name, or publish anonymously.

Could you republish the piece anonymously, or post future pieces anonymously from vulnerable contributors?
– Phil

Maybe for the younger girls or more reticent, a pen name and a Code Like a Girl related symbol might be better to publish on for the time being.
– Zara

We love these ideas and have started to offer these options, but we also agree with some of the other comments: it’s unfortunate that concealing your identity would be necessary at all. This way of coping with harassment actually puts young women at even more of a disadvantage than young men who might be more likely to write under their own names.

I am horrified that young men could start their young life with bylines to create connections and engage a community they way they so choose.
– Kelly

When their voices are silenced, everyone is harmed including the brilliant mind that now lives in fear and everyone who cannot hear what those minds have to say. I understand the desire for a pen name but these girls and women lose the opportunity to list their posts/work on a resume, show it to friends, develop a network, etc.
– Kathy

Does anonymous posting defeat Code Like A Girl’s purpose?

A lot of people also wondered why we published the follow-up article at all.

The blog post was, to me, like someone complaining about stupid comments on the internet. The digital equivalent of tilting at windmills.

Is this conversation truly the digital equivalent of tilting at windmills? Is talking about harassment and looking for solutions not a valuable use of our time?

In addition to wondering why we were bothering to talk about the problem, some readers wondered if we were exploiting this young woman by keeping the conversation going.

What is clear is that the young person did not want the attention. So for Dinah Davis to write another article grinding her axe seems rather insensitive.

People expressed disgust to Dinah that she would bring any more attention to the matter. (I bet they’re really not going to like this second post on the subject.)

She responded on Hacker News:

I did consider that and thought about whether or not I should post. I knew that posting would bring more attention to it, but I also felt that by not posting I was allowing things like this to continue and that is not ok. I felt there was value in standing up for someone who decided to write for our publication, and was approached in an unwanted way. At least this way there are thousands more people that are aware that situations like this happen. In the future, we will try to protect our young posters against this by anonymizing their content.

I’d like to add my own thoughts here as someone who’s been on the receiving end of the trolls’ wrath more than once. Wanting specific, negative, very personal attention to go away is not the same thing as not wanting a story to be told.

So, to the brave young woman who stood up to talk about what she loved:

Some people will suggest that by posting your feelings and thoughts online, you should expect that personal, negative attention. They might be right, but that doesn’t make it ok. You’re allowed to expect more of the men and women who are part of our community. I hope you always do.

It’s ok that you backed down this time. It’s ok to walk away and take a breather. Sometimes I feel like a wave — the undertow pulls me back, but that’s just where I gather the strength to crash forward again. I hope you rise stronger than you were before.

When you’re ready, we are here to support you.

What do you think?

Should we have published the story Harassment of our Authors is Not Ok? Are you annoyed that I published this one?

We’d also love your thoughts on other potential solutions. While anonymous posting protects authors from personal harassment, it doesn’t elevate the standard of public discourse, nor does it allow our authors to take credit for their amazing work.

As a tech community and a Code Like A Girl community, we’re works in progress. Let’s keep talking!

Edit: For those of you participating in the conversation here and in other forums, you might be interested in checking out the current Hacker News discussion on this story!

Other conversations we hope you’re participating in:

Conversations is a monthly letter from Code Like A Girl where we take a look at some of the discussions that our stories have generated. Follow us for great articles from women in tech and look for the next letter in October!