Wednesday, March 21, 2012

That's what she (really) said

Great post from Jessamyn Smith on the Geek Feminism blog. You should read the whole post for how she brilliantly countered a bunch of male colleagues telling her to "lighten up" about a joke she didn't find very funny. Here's an excerpt:
I work at a startup, and most of the time, I enjoy it. Compared to most tech companies, and certainly most startups, we have quite a few people who are relatively clueful. There are relatively few moments of “brogrammer” culture. There is, however, one thing that has been bugging me for months, ever since it was introduced. 
I took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the “That’s what she said,” joke, but a recent conversation with a consultant friend made me realize some industries don’t feature it on a daily basis. For those who haven’t heard it a million times, the idea is that when somebody says something that could remotely be turned into a sexual joke, e.g. “I’m trying to solve this problem but it’s really hard!” you say “That’s what SHE said,” in a lascivious tone. 
Now, I admit to having made this joke myself, at times. Once in a while, I even find it funny. What I don’t find funny is a bot we have in our general IRC channel at work, that has some basic AI devoted to determining when to interject TWSS into the conversation. 
I asked a number of times to have that bot function turned off, but got the usual combination of being ignored, being told it’s funny, and being told I should lighten up. I tried explaining once why it was objectionable, and managed to get the guys saying variations, e.g. “That’s what your DAD said,” for an evening, but that was about it. 
Last Friday, the bot went a bit crazy and started throwing TWSS into the conversation with no apparent rhyme or reason. Finally, I had had enough. And then it came to me: I would write my OWN bot, that responded to TWSS with a quotation from a notable woman. If they are so keen on what she said, why don’t we get educated about what she really had to say. And so the “whatshereallysaid” bot was born. It might annoy the guys into shutting off the TWSS bot, or we might all learn about notable women. It’s a win either way, in my books!
Kudos, Jessamyn! Well played. I only wish I could be half that clever when encountering such situations.


  1. TWIWIS!
    (That's what I wish I'd said!)

  2. I love it. I spoke up about all the "Mom" jokes floating around the office about a year ago (following a different offensive event). I felt really conflicted about it since I sometimes thought some of them were funny. However, sometimes the jokes were super crass and I didn't like that the main humor thread in the office was at a women's expense. I felt like there had to be a line. Their response to being told to knock it off was to create a private room that I'm not allowed into. I feel a little annoyed that, rather than finding the environment become more inclusive and friendly, there are now "boys clubs" that I can't access. On the other hand, we all need our private space and I don't want a complete Big Brother atmosphere. I wish they just GOT IT and cleaned up their act.

  3. It's too bad there are so many tech companies that make life so difficult for female developers. I guess I've gotten so inured to the sexism I don't even notice it anymore. But it does show up on the radar when male colleagues start to act patronizing, like an idiot coworker that can't seem to figure out that he's not my manager and can't boss me around. I'm not underhanded so I don't do sabotage. For revenge I usually just work harder, accomplish more, and accumulate more prestigious credentials than these colleagues. It's actually taught one never to mess with me, since it makes me work harder and my bosses like me more. Lame tactic? LOL yeah maybe, but I haven't seen any downsides to this strategy...