Dell and Sexism

A very stupid man (Mads Christensen), whose only real achievement to date seems to have been to upset some survivors of a massacre by suggesting that they should have fought back, was invited to speak at a tech conference for Dell the computer company.

This is bad publicity for Dell, they must be very happy that it “only” happened in Danish.

Why he should be invited to speak at a tech conference I am not sure because he has naff all to do with tech. He is just some wanker. I think he got invited so he could make some jokes. You know, because people who work in tech can’t make jokes, let’s just get any old wanker. And he’s cheap, is he? Great. Book him.

Anyway. The stupid wanker made some jokes. And the jokes were the following (as live tweeted by @christianevejlo):-

“Men have invented everything worthwhile. All we can thank women for is the rolling pin.”

“You are the last bastion in IT, boys. Hiss it through your teeth. Shut your fucking face, bitch”

Same report in English from Christiane.

As is usual in such “jokes”, the reason he was able to make them was total ignorance of the facts. The reason that wankers feel the need to tell everyone to “calm down, it was only a joke,” is because they believe he was making an edgy point grounded in at least a little reality. The reason that the 800 or so men in the audience laughed… well, I will come to that in a minute.

The facts: IT and invention (especially in tech), is not the last bastion of men at all. Of course women have been inventing things since prehistory. I am guessing if Stone Age women were in charge of “gathering” like everyone likes to tell me, then they probably had a lot to do with the invention of agriculture. You know, the invention that kickstarted the Neolithic Revolution. The history of recent tech started out with a lot of women initially but as it became seen as desirable, women got pushed out. How were they pushed out, you ask? The usual. Everyone saying that women cannot wrap their heads around science, maths and technology because of their biology and people “joking” around like this assclown. (Not to mention hissing at them to shut the fuck up and calling them bitches.)

Mads Christensen cannot have known that the inventor of programming, Ada Lovelace, was a woman. She invented COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. The stuff that stops Dell’s products from being a very large paperweight. He also cannot have know that the inventor of frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology was Hedy Lamarr. Who was also a woman. The invention that makes wireless and mobile phone technology possible. He cannot have known that the original word “computer” meant a woman who worked in a computing department, doing all the computing. Before computing machines existed. He cannot have known any of these things because if he had, he would have instantly known that his joke does not work.

Also, as a purist, I like to insist that jokes are “funny”. Advising a room full of men to hiss “shut the fuck up, bitch” at imaginary women who work in IT because that is where BOYS work; that does not even work on one level. It is just bizarre. Don’t give me the “irony” defence, please. If it was irony, he would tell them off immediately for laughing and THAT would be the routine. Making them question their initial response to his awful joke would be pretty interesting comedically speaking (and also, you know, a use of irony).

My problem with the rolling pin joke isn’t so much the fact that John W. Reed (a man) invented it. And it’s not really so much that the history (and current affairs) of tech has so many important and amazing women in it.

My problem is that he, a failed comic, (for indeed you do not dream of working tech conferences when you first start out in the entertainment industry. “oh boy oh boy, I hope I get to warm up the Dell tech conference! Then I’ll KNOW I’ve made it.”), where was I? ahh yes. He, a failed comic, puts himself in the company of Leonardo, Edison, Bell et al by virtue of his peen.

And the 800 or so men who were entertained by the thought of stupid women inventing only a rolling pin in the couple of million years of all human history, those stupid bitches! What have those men invented?

A couple of elegant lines of code at best. Maybe a new way of arranging something that already exists like computer chips. And good luck to them, keep on keeping on, boys! But despite their lack of straight up inventor creds, they were also thinking in the same flawed way.

Leonardo had a peen. I have a peen. Therefore I am like Leonardo. Because of my peen.

Do me a favour, guys. Go and invent the helicopter and come back, you smug fucks. (Or computer programming, for that matter.)

So, why did they laugh? I have my ideas. Many of them will have been tickled by his jokes. Some of them will have found them amusing but hoped he was being ironic. But a hefty group will have been laughing because to not laugh, well, that is a bit dangerous in a room full of men. What might the man next to you think? You don’t think women are more than just for food and reproduction, do you? What are you, some sort of girl?

This is Tony Porter’s  speech at TED women. I think a lot of them laughed because, like Mads Christensen, they are trapped in the Man Box.

UPDATE-ARAMA 23/4/12

Hello everyone!

Firstly, Mads Christensen says that he actually said “Hold kæft, kælling” not “Hold din kæft, kælling” and that is more like “shut up, bitch”; so not at all like “shut the fuck up, bitch”. He also intended it to be said to the wives of men who work in IT, not to female co-workers.

Secondly, some people don’t think that Ada Lovelace exactly invented computer programming because she only wrote the first ever computer program (or “algorithm”), in the entire history of computer programming. Okay, fine.

Apparently Grace Hopper is a much better example. She invented the compiler and the idea of a machine independent computer programming language; and is now my newest hero, go Grace!

So, you know, we’re still cool. Women have a lot to do with the inception of computer programming.

I think also because Hedy Lamarr didn’t invent the frequency hopping jibjab alone, people are taking that away from her. Shit, son. Is nothing sacred? The guy who invented sellotape is revered in our culture and he didn’t act alone, ok?

Thirdly, Danes are desperately trying to claim it is “Danish humour” and “satire” and “irony” and “Danish culture”. They are claiming that only people who can’t get jokes are “offended”. Let’s be clear, fellas, I am not sure anyone IS offended.

Shocked and disappointed, maybe, like a favourite teacher when they catch you mocking someone for cheap laughs.  They make a sad face and they say

“Did you think that was funny, to be so mean? Wow.”

and you go: “Oh man, I should act like a human being in future.”

And you do. And everyone learns something.

Like that.

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20 Responses to Dell and Sexism

  1. Jennie K. says:

    Great post A&J!!! Christiane wrote her version here in Danish http://elektronista.dk/socialt/dress-code-blat-slips-og-mand/

  2. etellerandet says:

    Christiane has spoken to him and he’s basically said “Sorry for any offence, it was supposed to be a joke” and she has given him right to reply on her blog.

    He also, in theory, has right to reply here. But I am not sure I can stomach another one explaining “Danish humour” in pisspoor English.

    He’s just a big turd, really, who can’t craft a good routine about the gender imbalance in computing without relying on the “It was IRONY!” defence when people tell him the joke doesn’t work.
    Dell are idiots for asking him to come speak (and cowards for not turning off the mike)

    • etellerandet says:

      LOL, let’s say “Hold din kæft, kælling” doesn’t EXACTLY translate as “shut your fucking face, bitch” and we can claim the rest as satire and have a nice cup of tea! Hurrah! It was all a BIG understanding because kællinger can’t hold deres fucking kæfte.

      Wouldn’t you know the apology would be “I’m sorry IF someone took it seriously” and not “I’m sorry I told jokes that weren’t funny, didn’t work on any level and embarrassingly revealed that I (and the men at Dell), have no fucking clue about the history of technology.”

      Honestly, I wonder when he was a little boy and he thought about what he would like to be when he grew up, I wonder if he thought “I really hope I make the online technology news filler pages for saying something really idiotic at a tech conference, and then have to explain the joke and end the explanation with ‘you had to be there’ because even the interviewer isn’t laughing at that point.”

      (My bf will be pleased, he gets all his news from that website.)

  3. SoTired says:

    Someone’s stuck up real good. Don’t pretend men and women take equal part in our technological advances, that’s just plain stupid. Sum up all inventions, buildings, technologies and group them by gender… he’s right about this part at the very least. Why pretend otherwise, or even that it is a problem? Women have never pushed the boundaries of technology, but they are on the forefront on so many other important areas.

    • etellerandet says:

      Apart from when a woman invented computer programming, for example?

      Your “argument” such as it is, doesn’t work because all you have done there is said that I’m stuck up and stupid, then repeated the mistake Mads C made and act like I’m lying that what he said is untrue.

      Maybe it’s something you don’t want to believe, SoTired, but it is historical fact so … what did he say… hold din kæft, was it?

      • SoTired says:

        Yes, apart from the – admittedly long list of – exceptions you might find. I’m talking net sum here, not specifics. There’s a reason engineering is male dominant field.

        My argument is that technological advances are, and have always been, created by men in general – and I see nothing wrong in that, because I acknowledge the differences that seperates the two genders.

        Of all he said, this single thing is true, however offensive you may find it to be.

      • etellerandet says:

        That’s hilarious.

        “Women have never pushed the boundaries of technology…. except for the admittedly long list of exceptions”

        There are a really long list of exceptions in technology, you’re right. When this recent field of computing/electronics first opened up, loads of women were able to join and contribute because it wasn’t a desirable option for a man. They would want the “real” jobs, like law or finance and whathaveyou. Women could (and did) contribute with gay abandon because no one took the field seriously.

        When everyone realised that it was here to stay (and very prestigious), suddenly it’s not women’s work anymore. What do women know? Go home and invent a rolling pin, bitch. And so, it became almost completely male dominated.

        There IS a reason engineering is a male dominant field and it isn’t differences separating genders; it’s women being pushed out by sexism.

        If you want to look at it scientifically (and I very much do want to do just that), there is no unequivocal “difference” between men and women. Everything you might think to be true about women and men, (maths ability, spatial reasoning, emotional intelligence, ability to care, ability to lead), the evidence that these skill sets are gendered is not there.

        Who is offended? I’m nowhere near offended. I just think Dell made a major mistake inviting someone who isn’t good at telling edgy jokes to tell edgy jokes at their party. Especially since they have had to fire fight accusations of sexism before.

        “The reason” for all these nonsense of putting people in boxes has nothing to do with reality. It’s a social construct. No one can find any biological basis for what you are saying. You believe it because it is convenient for you, confirms nice things about yourself and you wave away any disproof.
        I think that you are letting your feelings get the better of you, SoTired. You’re not thinking about this objectively.

      • SoTired says:

        Sexism is pushing out women? :) Thats funny, in a sad kind of way. In the 50ies, sure, but today? It doesn’t seem like you have had a lot of dealings with the businesses we are discussing. Businesses are craving female employees to satisfy CSR goals, and they are struggling to do so – why would that might be, if sexism is so widespread as you believe?

        There are tonnes of peer reviewed materials asserting the biologically based behavioral differences between the genders. You refer to science, yet somehow what you say is contradicted by a majority of researchers. Gender differences are a thing of beauty, heck it’s the way we’re made to be. Its sad to see someone deny them so fiercely out of … what? I don’t get it.

      • etellerandet says:

        You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

        In the 60s (the early days of computing), programming was seen as women’s work. This is from a career guide from 1967
        “programming requires a lot of patience, persistence and a capacity for detail and those are traits that many girls have.”

        It actually wasn’t until the 80s that the idea of being a computer geek was made into a “masculine” male stereotype.

        The majority of researchers have found no biologically based behavioural differences. You have been misinformed. If you actually look at the literature, instead of relying on your own prejudices, you will see that the “evidence” is contradictory and very shaky.

        Women are not choosing certain careers because of something called “stereotype threat”. Attitudes expressed by wankers like Mads C don’t help, so it’s astounding that Dell would book him if they are struggling as you say.

        I’m sorry you are feeling sad, maybe you should come back when you have calmed down a bit?

  4. kutubuku says:

    “Women have never pushed the boundaries of technology…. except for the admittedly long list of exceptions”

    I can rephrase the sentence as “men have never pushed the boundaries of technology…except for teh admittedly long list of exceptions”. I mean the exception list is LONG, no?

    SoTired: I guess you must be a man.

    • SoTired says:

      The list is long; as in: women also invent things and work in technology. Ofcourse they do, but they’re exceptions to the norm. Take a look at your average computer science or enginering course enrollment. Women and men choose differently, even if given exact same opportunities – and there’s nothing wrong in that. The only wrong is taking offense at someone referring to it.

      • etellerandet says:

        No one is offended. Maybe you are projecting your emotional state onto others? You really need to calm down.

        The reason for your anecdote is something called “stereotype threat” and it is well described in the scientific literature.

        Your “argument” (bless you for trying), is that “this is what it is because it is how it always has been and always will be” and it doesn’t work because it’s circular.

        So, logic *and* reading comprehension aren’t your forté, SoTired? That’s okay, I’m sure you are very good at something.

        Have a look at:-
        “Women’s Underrepresentation in Science: Sociocultural and Biological Considerations”

        http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul1352218.pdf

        and if you don’t mind paying:-
        Pioneering women in computer science

        http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=543853

      • SoTired says:

        No, that was not my argument at all, and I am very calm.

        The first link supports my point exactly; that women’s preferences are the primary reasons for underrepresentation – although I only read the first and last chapters, I don’t quite see how you could use it to support your argument of the genders equality… “The evidence indicates that women’s preferences, potentially representing both free and constrained choices, constitute the most powerful explanatory factor;”

      • etellerandet says:

        Exactly, you are almost there… Keep reading.

        You’re saying those choices are rooted in biology and therefore immutable and the authors say the evidence for that is “contradictory and inconclusive”.

        They say the reason women are making these “free choices” (and indeed constrained ‘choices’), is social and cultural. It’s constructed. It is subject to change.

        The authors also point out that a secondary factor could be a poor performance on “gatekeeper tests”, which they note is socio-cultural rather than biological.

  5. kutubuku says:

    and why was engineering a male dominated workplace? Because back then in the 50s, 60s women were told to shut up and stay home and make babies, exactly what Mads C – in the 21st century – just said in Dell conference. It’s got nothing to do with women lacking talent or men being exceptionally bright.

    • SoTired says:

      Who said anything about “lacking talent”?
      Women, by and large, just don’t choose to work in enginering. Some do, sure. I’ve met a couple of hundreds at most, in my career, but have on the contrary met thousands of male engineers. The ones I did meet, were mostly brilliant.

      Your argument about womens rights in the 60ies is deprecated; the world of today is different. Now one shames female students for choosing a technical career. Why would they? On the contrary, affirmative action programs encourage women to seek traditionally male dominant educations.

      This isn’t about who lacks what abilities, it’s about gender differences in motivation, wishes and life goals. Not discrimination, but free will being exerted.

      • etellerandet says:

        In the 60s (the early days of computing), programming was seen as women’s work. This is from a career guide from 1967
        “programming requires a lot of patience, persistence and a capacity for detail and those are traits that many girls have.”

        It actually wasn’t until the 80s that the idea of being a computer geek was made into a “masculine” male stereotype.

        Then as soon as that happened, women thought the career wasn’t for them, felt “stereotype threat” and now it is male dominated. You are imagining gender differences so you can explain what you already believe. It’s not very scientific.

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