Julie Pagano

Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy: Vultures Circle Overhead

This is the first in a series of posts I am working on about being a tech feminist killjoy. I started out trying to write a large, cohesive post, but it just wasn’t working, so I am breaking it into smaller, more digestible chunks.

“My experiences in tech: Death by 1000 paper cuts” was my first piece of writing to get much attention. Without asking first or even the small courtesy of notifying me, several prominent publications wrote articles about the post. One day, I woke up to find my words dangerously misrepresented in national publications with millions of readers and my employer’s name in giant letters in the headline. I started that morning filled with anxiety about consequences at my relatively new job. Would I be fired? Would I sour these new relationships before I had time to get to know people? Thankfully, my employer has plenty of experience dealing with the press, and it wasn’t a problem. I wonder how bad it would have been if I worked somewhere else.

I intentionally disabled comments on that post when I published it. Comment sections are the cesspool of the internet. I had no desire to host a bathroom wall for people to write nasty things on. Unfortunately, every publication that wrote about my post had no such policy. They all had open, unmoderated comment sections that justified just how much the original post was necessary (see: Lewis’s law).


These are just some samples of the comments. There are many more where they came from.

I wish I could believe this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. A small handful of journalists do a good job covering issues related to underrepresented people in the tech industry. The rest are more like tabloid journalists and gossip columnists, aiming for attention-grabbing headlines instead of thoughtful, researched content. They circle like vultures whenever an incident happens, hoping to get their pound of flesh.

vultures in a tree
Photo of vultures from docentjoyce at Wikimedia Commons via CC2.

Our stories are not our own. Not while there is a headline to be had. Not while we can be used as click bait. We stop being people and become a commodity to take advantage of. A spectacle to gawk at.

COME SEE THE WOMEN IN TECH! HEAR THEIR STORIES OF WOE (hyperbolized and misrepresented for your entertainment)! THROW TOMATOES AT THEM (in the comments)! psst…don’t forget to click the ads, so we make money.

Every time I publish something, there is a non-zero chance that one or more journalists will have a slow day and decide to twist and turn and steal my words. That even if I write in giant bold text, it may not be enough. DEAR PRESS, YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO USE MY WORDS OR MY STORY. I DO NOT TRUST YOU. NO. STOP. That my consent is not required. That accurately representing what I wrote is not required. That even notifying me they will be writing about me is not required. But writing about someone who is in no way a powerful or public figure is apparently required. THE PUBLIC NEEDS TO KNOW. Journalism ethics are a funny thing these days.

I’ve learned that the press (particularly the tech press) is not to be trusted and will likely do more harm than good. Even well respected national publications have taken women’s words out of context to make them look bad in what were supposedly supportive pieces about “women in tech.” Many more have exploited heartbreaking stories about harassment and abuse without any deep analysis of why it happens. Others have pushed or dragged people under a magnifying glass with about as much care as a small child burning ants.

cartoon of press using a magnifying glass to focus the light of the public on women in tech

As far as I can tell, most journalists are much more interested in exploiting our stories than they are in investigating the systemic problems that lead to them. They have become one more thing to worry about in an already stressful situation. As if the potential for terrible things happening wasn’t bad enough. Now, many of us also worry about the press eagerly waiting to make those situations worse.