Misogyny in WordPress is Real

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Written By Michelle Frechette

52 thoughts on “Misogyny in WordPress is Real”

  1. Thank you. We must be vocal. We must call out these things. If we don’t, who will? If we don’t, we get relegated to the back room, the kitchen, or nowhere at all. So thank you for being bold enough to stand up and say something. Count me in your corner, standing with you.

  2. Simply – men, do better. Treat someone as a person.

    Michelle, thank you. I’m sure it feels like you might not change anyone’s mind, but someone not seen may decide to do better. Thank you.

    • Yes! Perfect analogy. Just some of them are paper cuts and some are much deeper. Thank you.

  3. I adore you.

    I’d also add, re: tech being a punishing career: The tech industry is not a natural law. It is not an unavoidable fact like hurricanes and earthquakes. It is a built environment, and if it’s a punishing career it’s because it has been intentionally developed that way. Which means it can also be restructured. It does not have to be a punishing career, hostile to workers with caregiving responsibilities. That is a choice (a series of choices, really) that has been made, and it can be UN-made.

    • Very good point! And if you’re in a company that is that punishing, perhaps you’re in the wrong environment.

  4. I think you presented at a WordCamp and I attended your session, which I enjoyed.

    Let’s use your session as an example.

    What is the difference between misogyny and disagreeing with you? I might not of enjoyed your session, or something you said (a tiny fraction of your session).

    There has been session I attended at different conferences (not just WordCamp) that I did not enjoy, both men and women speaking. I stayed because I feel weird just getting up and leaving. Everyone is going to be staring at me.

    Part of my culture (one of them) is being directly blunt, not “beating around the bush” as it is said in English. English not being my first language.

    What seems fair criticism in my culture, tends not to be “nice” within North American standards.

    Like if you ask me, why I am leaving your session….most likely it would be because I am not enjoying it or I find it boring, by nature, I am going to answer that way. It’s the truth, people are going to get upset.

    There are people (both genders) that can’t accept genuine criticism.

    Just so you know, that session of yours a few years ago is on my top 15 sessions I have attended ever.

    • There’s a difference between not accepting criticism and the examples I provided in this post. Not everyone will enjoy my talks and sometimes people leave. I’m not offended. But the blatant disregard for women in the examples I provided is not anything like a disagreement.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my session, but if you had not, that would have been fine, too.

    • The problem here is that the quotes Michelle cites aren’t criticisms: these are quotes of outrage that someone wants to be included, or quotes with the stated belief that women/non-binary people aren’t as capable as men (when that is categorically false). Criticism is fine; and given the right circumstances, welcome. Misogyny, manslplaining, and the like in any form is not only unwelcome, but shouldn’t exist in civilized society.

      And being blunt may be cultural, but when you’ve been living in North America for 10+ years, I think you need to stop blaming your culture and chalk it up to a character flaw. Is misogyny cultural too?

      • I chose Michelle’s session because the description interested me. There are people, not saying Michelle, that can’t handle criticism and twist things and call the criticism…misogyny.

        I am going to be honest, I did not know what the term non-binary means. I did Google it as I typed this sentence.

        I did not give up my culture just because I lived in North America 10+ years. Just because I lived in North America for 10+ years, shouldn’t mean I should change.

        The only flaw I have is my hair.

        Misogyny is partially cultural, yes. There are places on this planet where Michelle wouldn’t be welcome because she is a woman. There are places on this planet who someone isn’t welcomed because of their skin colour, religion, ethnicity, etc… I’ve been told I am not welcomed in (city/country) because of where I was born.

        Also for the record, When I chose sessions at WordCamps, or any event, I look at the description of the session, not really on who the speaker is.

        manslpaining is when a man is explaining things to a woman? That word…language barrier.

    • There is night and day differences between criticism and misogyny. Criticism is when you share your point of view that is not a favorable one. Misogyny is when you talk down or at a someone who identifies as a female. Misogyny is mansplaining. Misogyny is when you ask the men to “help this woman out” and it is when you think a woman is not a capable human.

      Criticism is only saying you didn’t like something for your own reasons.

        • Note from author: We cannot verify that the comment above is the actual commenter from the Oxygen group, as the email address was misspelled and the site the commenter listed as their website does not exist. They also misspelled the prior commenter’s name.

          • Excellent article, Michelle. Thanks for writing it. It does matter, and communications like this can indeed lead to social change. May it be so, as we tarry on. ✊

        • I think that’s a common perception Miroslav, but men who are having difficulty seeing a distinction between criticism and abuse should ask why they are having that difficulty when other men and women do see a difference. What is it about them — not women — that might explain their fear, frustration, or anger that “anything perceived as negative” will be called out? The responsibility to figure this out is on you.

          What did you think of the example I gave? It’s from a situation I was in a couple of years ago, running a workshop on composting that got deeper into organic chemistry than usual. I had just met a woman in the audience who was a post-graduate student in one of the life sciences…

          I recognize there are a lot of men struggling to stretch themselves to see a difference between “mansplaining” and valid, constructive, context-appropriate criticism. Everyone should find it challenging to self-consciously navigate those waters with kindness and empathy. If you’ve never been concerned you might be misunderstood or unintentionally offend someone — and you’re only just starting to feel that concern and awareness because of women speaking out about misogyny — good! But what has allowed you to go without this awareness so far?

  5. The TechLead guy is a piece of work. I watched his videos a while back for the unintended comedy. At first, I almost thought it was a bit, like he was playing a character who was a card carrying official member of the he-man women hater club. He’s the real deal though. It’s not a bit.

    Needless to say, women can code. Men who think otherwise are idiots. It’s ridiculous. The last time I had a major problem with fixing a plugin I created, a woman helped me fix it.

  6. This post got me. I’ve been around tech for a long time. A really long time. So long that I remember being the only woman in an organization and being called “the marketing girl.” It enraged me, but thanks to a brilliant boss who encouraged me to use my anger to show them up, I was able to turn the tables on the misogynist. Now that my daughter is testing the waters of the tech field, I don’t want her to have to go through what I did. I didn’t think she should have to. But apparently we’re regressing now? What the heck people, don’t make me have to hack your brains.

  7. Michelle, It’s a team fight that some of us have been working on for all of our adult lives.
    Be you female, male, transgender, non-binary or self determining, you have a part to play!

    So rather than shouting just about the negatives, why not identify businesses, organisations and practices that are pushing to change the ways women are viewed by some.

    Your choice of “Rosie the Riveter” as your headline image does not nothing to promote the fully inclusive team that is required to rid the world of misogyny and other forms of discrimination.

    Keep on with the fight, but build a team to carry it on, as it will not be won in our lifetimes.

    • I will be turning this into a series of how to create safer/better space and how to be an ally, as well as how to advocate for oneself. Showing what’s happening in our community is really important, and all of these examples have happened in public forums, not just within businesses.

  8. Michelle, your call to action at the end of the article is perfect. Unfortunately misogyny doesn’t get fixed overnight, but it will get better if we keep working at it. Thank you for your courage, and the encouragement to do better.

  9. Using a plural adjective for a singular makes my teeth grate. The proper gender-neutral singular adjective is “it”, not “they”. That said, the plugin author’s response was over the top.

    • “Wow – that driver was really speeding.”
      “Yes, they had to be going over the speed limit.”

      They is appropriate for human singular.

  10. The TechLead guy has a weirdly distorted idea of what coders do. He said it’s a “24/7 job”, which is obviously ridiculous, and he equated it with what astronauts and soldiers do, which is just hilarious. I don’t understand why you took him seriously at all. There are assholes everywhere.

    • I think he’s utterly ridiculous, but it’s still an example of what’s happening and what we see on a regular basis.

  11. It also feels very strange that a number of WordPress people here seem to have missed hearing about the massive changes in society and language involving pronouns. How do they have the nerve to post here with grammar rules from ten years ago, claiming that those rules have some kind of authority?

  12. Add my voice to the pile of those in support of ridding toxic culture and people who act like this — from our space. Exile is the only polite thing to do with people who do not listen or learn when they are given the chance to grow from these kinds of experiences. If they simply dig their heels deeper, cover that hole up.

    I hope I continue to remain open and always listen to people if/when they confront me with my own words. None of us are done growing and being better.

    I’ll continue to speak out where I can, but never intentionally over the voices who need to be lifted.

    Your ally in the fight, SKC

    • Always a thoughtful and helpful reply from you Scott! And I agree, if they dig deeper, cover that hole up. There’s no reason we should have to put up with those kind of people in our space!

  13. Thank you for stepping up and calling this out, Michelle! It’s needed and I’m glad to see so much support for you doing it as well!

  14. Answers to the Best Possible Restatement of Too-Frequently-Asked Questions by Anonymous Men Who Aren’t Listening and Whose Very Long and Borderline Offensive Comments Will Not Be Published Here:

    Q. Why do a few examples of random idiots get taken as the norm and pinned on all men, or men in the WordPress community?

    A. They don’t. But the few that exist are actually quite a lot of people. They have an outsized impact and are persistent enough to be a very big problem to everyone who isn’t an idiot or caping for them. Like if 1% of all queries in an HTTP request never hit the database, or one buggy plugin causes a fatal error — it’s still a total failure. The “WordPress community” has very porous boundaries and exists within other tech communities as well, so we can’t treat any group as if it’s hermetically sealed off from the others. But again, the point isn’t that any individual case represents all men. Getting stuck on the “not all men” rebuttal is so self-concerned, it’s infuriating because you’re not hearing the very clear and loud message: Women experience this garbage constantly and never know when it might spring out. (And then, instead of being allies or simply listening, a bunch of men minimize and invalidate that experience.)

    Q. Why do small triggers like using generic gendered pronouns generate such anger?

    A. They don’t — unless it’s being done when an appropriate alternative exists. In the case of Mr. Aswad, he was the one who got incredibly angry. The woman pointing out the error bent over backward to signal she wasn’t angry or issuing blame. She was clearly not impugning anyone’s motives. Mr. Aswad went ballistic at this, taking the correction as a slight against all men and him personally. It’s his assumptions about others and his own actions that were misguided and misogynistic. No one was being called out until his unhinged behavior made it absolutely necessary to call him out. If you didn’t see this fundamental point in Michelle’s post, you need to read over that section again more carefully, especially before making comments half as long as her post and explaining things in a patronizing way.

    Q. Why is this post not an example of “womansplaining” if “mansplaining” is just a man expressing his thoughts?

    Because that’s not what mansplaining is. It’s a direct reply that may involve interrupting and talking over women. It’s more than being impolite and senseless to one’s social context. It involves unwanted or unnecessary answers or advice delivered in a patronizing way even if the women are experts or senior to the man in experience or responsibility. No one has been forced to read Michelle’s post, and it did not hijack a discussion among professional peers. It is not patronizing; it has the tone of someone righteously pissed off at points, which is completely appropriate.

    It is possible to blunder innocently into unintentional mansplaining. For example, if a man happens to be leading a workshop and is asked questions he’s not sure he knows the answer to, he might start cobbling together his best shot at one…and then realize there are more senior experts in the audience — who happen to be women. If he fails to notice this, it might be implicit bias. If he notices and steams on full speed ahead, that is misogyny.

    Continuing this example (based on real events), imagine the man in this situation who is in a position of quasi-leadership. The women in the audience are probably rolling their eyes and wondering whether it’s safe or worth the possibly unpleasant consequences of raising a hand and trying to help him and the group learn together. Given that cue, if the man is being attentive to his audience, he might take the opportunity to make an ego-check and do the right thing: say “I don’t know.” And then ask if there is anyone in the group who can answer the question. He could identify and call on any experts present, especially if they happen to identify as part of a group that’s not usually treated to this very common courtesy among privileged men. These small events accumulate to reinforce a more or less inclusive culture that poses different incentives or barriers to entry and growth based solely on perceived aspects of identity, like gender.

    Q. Is “the patriarchy” real or just a few jerks whose words are taken as evidence of a conspiracy to keep women down?

    It is hard to see how these questions could be sincerely asked by anyone paying attention to events, certainly during my lifetime and in the last ten years — or the last week.

    It is certainly open to anyone to be a jerk to others, but because most of us live in societies organized in dominance hierarchies where men have typically held higher status positions just for being male, men are often socialized from childhood in contexts where it’s common and even encouraged for males to crowd out the females in certain fields, roles, or activities. We oppose this and want to prevent it from happening in the WordPress community. This requires a significant and vocal effort. Misogyny in culture is often institutionalized where it’s been deeply internalized. Many people may think it’s reasonable for men to set policies denying women equal freedoms (even over their own bodies) by different degrees of pressure, coercion, and even open violence. We oppose this. Equality of persons and opportunity is what we want, what we’re supporting here.

    Q. How can it be fair and not a double standard to call for “special treatment” of women and other historically disenfranchised people?

    A. The question answers itself when it’s put this way. Your difficulty stems from your disbelief that patriarchy exists or ever existed, and your misapprehension of it as a conspiracy theory rather than structural inequities and implicit biases. There’s an enormous amount of good writing about this topic in the long history of feminist writing, in which there’s a lot of diversity and intense disagreement. But I do not think you can find any criticism of patriarchy from a relevant, recognized expert who says it is a kind of lie or conspiracy to defame men. If you are open to learning, you will probably find a lot of value in reading books on gender studies or feminist writers widely recognized for their contributions. If you can expand your conceptual toolset beyond stale insult terms like “SJW” and “virtue signaling,” that would be a benefit to everyone, even if it doesn’t make you a feminist.

    I don’t want to dignify arguments about things like an all-women release squad by repeating them. I will just say it should go without saying in open-source that if we want to nurture and protect certain unique products and cultures, just letting everything play out in a free-for-all where privilege, advantage, bias, and active bigotries skew heavily in one direction will result in a tragedy of the commons that is especially tragic for volunteer-driven projects: half the population (and other underrepresented groups) aren’t anywhere close to being proportionally involved. And it’s not as if they don’t want to be. Putting a thumb on a scale (or rather brushing a little finger against it) is hardly an inequity for men when the scale is already tipped heavily toward them. It’s actually a step toward equity for all.

    Q. Why can’t we all get along — by not writing posts like this or calling anyone out for their egregious behavior?

    A. Don’t you really mean, “Why can’t we get along by agreeing misogyny isn’t real or serious enough to treat as a problem that matters?” Or do you really believe you can be friends with people who do believe it matters and are deeply affected by it, but only if they pretend this isn’t so? What kind of friend is that? You have to start — at the very minimum — by recognizing others’ pain and grievance from injury. You may not understand it and want to explain it away, but if you recognize their experience is real and make a real effort to learn what it has been like for them, you might be capable of being a friend. Friendships that really hold up and make each person better require looking directly into the gaze of a person you have (inevitably) hurt, disappointed, enraged, or even betrayed. If you both can sustain that, you’ve got something real to work with. But I’m afraid you sound more like a tyrannical narcissist who would compel everyone to submit to insults and injuries — and say they like it.

  15. Jumping on the bandwagon to say how much I love this post and your call-to-action, Michelle.

    It’s so important to continue having these conversations, but also for guys to call out bad behaviour and model what is appropriate. I love that the Post Status team has rallied to set a good example for the community.

  16. I am a woman who stayed home with my kids. During that time the Internet started and I learned to code because I knew I wanted to “work on the Internet”. I became a web designer/developer/website host and when my husband lost his job, he joined me and we supported ourselves for 13 years. I would not have gone this route if I had not stayed home with the kids. I would have continued to be a legal secretary.

    I could care less if someone says “he” or “gentlemen” or “you guys”. We all have different ways of speaking depending on when and where we grew up. If someone uses different words than what you think should be used, it is unfair to assume they meant to offend you.

    We wrap ourselves into pretzels trying not to offend someone. It’s almost to the point that it is impossible to communicate. It’s like 1984 and newspeak/doublethink. Saying the wrong thing gets you reported to the “party” (cancelled) and maybe even arrested and put in jail. K-12 kids are being punished with suspensions, accused of sexual harassment or even being sued by their schools for using the wrong pronouns. It’s crazy.

    As the saying goes, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you are looking to be offended, you will be offended. I’ve been told I was “too cute” to be hired into a group of men. I’ve had a boss throw a paper ball down the front of my blouse. I laughed because they did not have power over me. Learn to ignore it, and you will be much happier.

    • When I wrote this, I knew there would be at least one woman who would, essentially, say “suck it up.” And if that’s what you choose to do, no sweat.

      But calling on all women to ignore the types of things I specifically posted about in this article, is sad, in my opinion. Honestly, when someone uses “you guys” I’m (personally) not offended, but others are. Do I think they meant to offend, no. Is it still ok to ask for more inclusive language in public forums? Yes, absolutely.

      And telling a woman to “pluck her eyes out” or telling women they shouldn’t be coders, or saying that an all-women/non-binary release squad can’t possibly succeed, is beyond the pale. This behavior should always be called out.

      Is it wrong to try to make our space more inclusive for women and non-binary people? No, it isn’t. You don’t have to get behind it – but don’t get in the way.

    • Hi Julie. Just because you are okay with people treating you like you are less than they are does not mean that others should put up with it. Just because it does not affect you does not mean that it is not an issue. That is a very huge lack of empathy for the fellow human. If I ever had a potential employer to tell me I was “too cute to work there” my response would be and “and I am too smart to work for you.” That is not appropriate at all to say to another human. Period. This type of behavior of “acceptance” is why our daughters have to adhere to a misogynistic version of a dress code instead of teaching the sons to stop sexualizing females. The younger generations are looking to us adults to show them what is appropriate and what is not. Letting the behavior happen in our work environments and in the WordPress Community should not be okay. As if we let this type of behavior slide, it is not a far jump of saying that someone who was sexually assaulted that it was “their fault” and if you are that type of person, you definitely have no business in a professional community as WordPress where everyone is equal.

      When it comes to communication, one would put more thought into how the message is heard than how one puts it out there. We as a society should lean towards empathy instead of being such selfish communicators. Like building a website, it does not matter what the builder wants but the message that the visitor receives. Our words that we use have power. If we do not be purposeful with our words, then why even try? Then you are just talking out your rears.

      Talking about “how people are raised” my great aunt who was born in 1920 would inform anyone who referred to her as “you guys” that she is not a guy but a lady and should be addressed as such. So this being offensive is NOT something new. She said this in 1948 and 1984.

      Also, you allowing them get by with inappropriate and criminal behavior is you letting them have power over you. You are letting them treat you as property instead of human. No boss should ever throw something down anyone’s shirt. Ever.

  17. OMG, I was JUST thinking about writing an article called “Tone policing is real, Karen (I am Karen)”, and was wondering where to start.

    Julie, I see how you as a working Mom buck stereotypes and create space for other women to do the same. Michelle is creating space for other women too, just in a different way. Why do we as women love to call for peace when things get uncomfortable?

    I think it’s because we are afraid to get caught in the crossfire of any hateful backlash our fellow women’s actions provoke. I get it. As a recovered people pleaser, I understand wanting to be liked better than most.

    But here’s a secret: being liked doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. And telling other people to be quiet in order to protect ourselves doesn’t work on any front — the patriarchy is still the patriarchy, and our policing just pisses people off to rage against it even harder.

    I don’t know what my conclusion is. People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. I would challenge Julie to question the assumption that Michelle is unhappy calling out men on their egregious behavior just because she would be. I see Michelle thriving in her anger, using it in a positive manner to make people think.

  18. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but fuck me, are these actual people saying this stuff? I guess I am fortunate to live a fairly solitary life, and so am not exposed to dicks like these very often, if ever.

    No woman (or man) deserves to be spoken down to in this way by such social dinosaurs as these men clearly are. That said, they can only hurt you as much as you allow them to, so ladies please, do not allow them to hurt you. They will die off soon enough, that kind of attitude and anger is cancerous, and will take them out.

    Meanwhile forgive them where you can, and then ignore them, as they deserve to be.

  19. I very much appreciate this article — especially that you did not attempt to hide the names in the posts. I agree with your reasoning. If they are not willing to take responsibility for their comments, they should not make them.

    I only wish you also included text versions of the comments so Google could return them when these folks are searched!

  20. I just joined Post Status for one reason….to comment to this well-written post and say I am so sorry to see and read about this crap.

    While it is, of course, not a surprise that this still happens, there are a few names in the examples that I recognize, spouting such immature statements (and then digging in). They are sad people who show their true selves and their ignorance in such public ways. When I step back from my own anger about what they have said, I actually start to feel sorry for them. I can’t imagine living my life with such prejudice and an inability to understand that there are others who not like them! They miss out on so much.

    Being of “a certain age” (nearly 60 years told), I’ve seen the changes in society over so many years, particularly on social media. As others have said, the few who carry such anger and misogyny in their hearts and their lives are not a true reflection. In fact, over the long term I believe we will find ourselves living an increasingly tolerant*, empathetic and diverse society. But when we see such anger and under-developed, juvenile perspectives it can still be shocking. Sadly, these folks are often very vocal and with “limited skills” in listening, accepting feedback and a willingness of change. They believe they show strength when, in fact, they have a weak, scared approach to life.

    As a so-called middle-aged white guy I welcome and celebrate the move away from a world where “my sort” has unearned advantages. Diversity and acceptance of other perspectives in life is a beautiful tapestry and those who choose to be blind to those riches constrain themselves immensely.

    I am deeply sorry that so many suffer such direct and awful prejudice. I appreciate you posting this and, in my own small way, voice my strong and unqualified support.

    * I dislike that word, by the way, since it implies we “put up with something”, but I guess it has role.

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