Guilt by Dissociation

I wasted the better part of the day yesterday, and a sizable chunk of today, responding to a post by Violet Blue called The Apple fanboy problem. The post doesn’t warrant that level of attention. It’s just unacceptable.

The perfect response came from Jeff Carlson on Twitter:


In a sane and just internet, you could leave it at that. Blue’s post is needlessly inflammatory, defensive, and it misrepresents everything that happened. And worse, it’s clumsily framed as an expose of some aspects of internet culture, when it’s simply a case of a writer being held accountable for something she’d written and instead choosing to respond in the worst way imaginable.

The Bad

There’s not much need in going through a point-by-point. Shawn King, one of the men called out in Blue’s post, recaps the situation in his posts Hear that noise? That’s Violet Blue’s backpedalling and Violet, Violet, Violet…. While it’d be possible to disagree with his tone or his interpretation, the actual events are all laid out, quoted and linked. Every publicly-visible thing written — posts and comments on the relevant blogs, not private emails or Twitter comments — about the whole nonsensical business.

While it’s not necessary to hold personal blogs to the standards of journalism (although it’d be nice), you do have to hold posts on a professional tech blog to those standards. Even if you want to call it “punditry” or “opinion” or “culture” writing, there are certain things you just don’t do.

You don’t dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as a “fanboy.” That’s the kind of thing that gets you laughed off of blog comments, much less actual blog posts. I don’t think even PC World is allowed to use the term anymore.

You don’t make ridiculous claims like “Women are already geek outsiders in Apple culture.” This is the computer brand that has been so associated with educators, artists, and publishers since 1984 that it’s even become a stereotype. That’s like saying “Vegetarians have always been outsiders in Greenpeace culture.” And that’s not even a case of catching Blue on a technicality or focusing on one poorly-worded or insufficiently thought-out phrase: it’s the premise of her entire article. When she puts herself forward as having insight into the culture of tech, that’s the first thing she’s supposed to get right.

You don’t call out people by name and accuse them of instigating an attack on you, when it’s right there perfectly clear in the public record that they did no such thing. Gruber’s link post quotes a relevant portion of her article with full context, and he mentions a valid point that two commenters (whom he correctly identifies!) made: that doesn’t look like a “booth babe,” but a developer. Accurately quoting a writer’s writing and commenting on it is not an “attack.” It’s a desperate stretch even to call it “chastising.”

You don’t present unsubstantiated allegations and anonymous complaints as if they were fact. She offers two completely unidentified quotes from people on the internet calling out Gruber — someone who’s notoriously contentious, but more on that in a minute — and presents them as evidence of some long history of unprovoked attacks from him and by the Apple community at large. We the readers are supposed to take these as serious indications of his character, even though it’s genuinely unconscionable that we should take any of the attacks on Blue from Twitter and elsewhere as if they were true indications of her character.

You don’t take a personal complaint, slap an Apple logo on it, and attempt to frame it as an Apple-related story. I still have no idea what was going through her mind, much less what was going through the mind of the editor who approved it. The most charitable explanation is that it was a sincere but inept attempt to turn one event into some kind of overall culture analysis. But at best, that would demonstrate a gross lack of awareness that nasty comments directed at writers happen everywhere on the internet, whether it’s about tech, politics, video games, comic books, and for all I know, even stamp collecting. And it makes absolutely no attempt to do any kind of research, interviews, or anything resembling actual reportage. The post is so inflammatory and filled with lazy generalizations, it’s hard to feel charitable about it. It’s a lot more likely that it was just a transparent attempt at link-baiting and a clumsy smear campaign.

But the worst example of laziness and sloppiness, is the deplorable way she continues to handle a simple case of mis-identification. Getting the wrong name for a photo subject is not, and never was, the issue. Even the woman in question, Zsófia Rutkai — who seems awesome and is one of the only people involved who’s able to come out looking reasonable — doesn’t care. No, the issue is that when called on it, Blue blamed everyone else for giving her bad information.

The witch hunt was based on inaccurate information about Macworld exhibitors that the men had provided to the public.

No. Shawn King and John Gruber, “the men” in question, didn’t provide the information. A commenter on the blog post did. King didn’t make the comment, and he didn’t “deliver the story to John Gruber.” King made a post about it, which got picked up by Daring Fireball as an afterthought. Blue included that info in an update on her post without bothering to check it.

Like everyone else, I assumed that Mr. Gruber and Mr. King were stating accurate and true facts.

No. Like everyone else, Mr. Gruber posted a link to a website that everyone with an internet connection is free to read. And Gruber actually correctly identified the man who left the comment. He didn’t state a fact, he quoted a commenter with a citation, “According to Tim Breen,” which is something Blue has yet to do.

Simply posting a link to a comment with the name of the commenter correctly identified — that’s closer to reportage than anything that Blue has done to this point. And yet, she paints herself as a modern-day Woodward and Bernstein for getting to the bottom of this breaking story — which, again, was never the problem people had in the first place — which just amounts to contacting a company and asking “hey, who is this?” (And one of her “attackers,” Shawn King, had already helpfully provided the link to the company, since this whole “Google” thing can be perplexing to those who aren’t part of the Apple Illuminati). And then, most galling of all:

People so eager to do a blog post takedown that they don’t check their facts for days, and do a follow up to take another shot at the person in the crosshairs… they must be pretty unhappy, right?

It’s just jaw-dropping. You can’t blame your readers for not doing fact-checking on an article that you wrote. Period. Failing to identify, and then mis-identifying, a person photographed in a puff piece about a tech show? That’s perfectly excusable and ultimately completely forgettable. Going on the defensive to a bizarre degree and blaming readers for your mistake? Inexcusable.

The Worse

And all that is just a small part of the sloppy mistakes, misrepresentations, and bizarre claims that make it abundantly clear it’s an example of bad journalism that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Unless, of course, the writer were to refuse to admit responsibility for making a sloppy but ultimately harmless mistake, and she instead tried to frame it as an example of institutionalized sexism, misogyny, and threats of violence against women.

Which would mean that those of us who do take accusations of sexism very seriously now have to waste our time going on the defensive about something that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

So take a step back, and look at the post that started the nonsense: MacWorld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys.

It’s largely inoffensive. It’s a substance-free account of going to a trade show on a tech blog that never actually mentions tech. It gives a single anecdote from the show floor, goes into considerably more detail about the show/party that night, and then name drops Steve Jobs which I guess was supposed to count as some kind of eulogy. I’ve read more vapid reports of trade shows and press events on Kotaku. Hell, I’ve probably written stuff with less substance (but didn’t get paid for it, I feel obliged to point out).

Except the post has “MacWorld 2012″ in the title, but the only bit that actually talks about MacWorld is a weird description that could be interpreted by any sane and reasonable person as being offensive to women.

Let’s be clear on this: Blue’s attempt at a rant about the sexism pervasive throughout the Apple community is the result of people in the Apple community pointing out to her that she sounded misogynist.

Gruber’s “chastising” “attack” quotes the relevant bit, unedited, in its full context, and says concisely and objectively what was objectionable. Blue sees a woman at a kiosk in a trade show and takes a blurry photo of her. Without once talking to the woman, because the woman seemed “sad” and her demeanor made her “unapproachable.” Then Blue writes an article calling the woman a “booth babe,” giving not her name or any of her thoughts about the show, but describing her only as a “pretty brunette,” and spending a paragraph talking about her “breasts that were packaged air-tight in a tight, branded t-shirt.”

It’s obvious and not completely relevant, but it bears mentioning anyway: if a man had written that, he’d have been virtually castrated by the “misogynist” Apple community within 24 hours.

The link on Daring Fireball doesn’t even say that much, though. It says what plenty of ZDNet commenters said: that the woman doesn’t seem like a booth babe, but a developer who happens to be a woman. (As it turns out, she works in Public Relations. Still not a booth babe).

Blue came right out of the gate calling people “fanboys,” blaming John Grueber [sic] for launching an attack on her, and trying to frame it as an issue of men vs. women.

What’s most telling, I think, is her cursory dismissal of the very idea that her post could be construed as misogynistic. She is, as she so often reminds us, feminist and sex-positive. She even links to an earlier post she’d written (good SEO!) as evidence that she didn’t mean “booth babe” as a pejorative.

It’s the article that begins:

CES doesn’t look much like a cutting-edge convention now that problems have emerged around the hired female models dressed in provocative outfits to be “booth babes” at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past week.

CES 2012 booth babes told press that women prefer raising kids to being in technology, men publicly harassed the babes for dates, and female attendees probably wondered if they’d accidentally wandered onto the set of Mad Men.

and then goes on with an extended fantasy interlude about what if the genders were reversed and wouldn’t that teach us all a thing or two about female empowerment? The women would be the ones who get all the respect, while the men stand around being objectified!

Blue tells us that that’s obviously how she meant “booth babe.” Which assumes that 1) people are not only aware that ZDNet still exists, but they read it regularly, instead of just googling for “MacWorld”; 2) the article in question doesn’t give a completely damning (and outdated) impression of booth babes as being nothing more than vapid models with no idea what they’re talking about; and 3) Blue’s internet presence is so pervasive that she can “take back” the term and coin it to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means, all in the space of two weeks.

In that comment, Blue says:

One commenter on Twitter suggested I dressed her down for being “not slutty enough.” This is absolutely untrue. And is very revealing about the person that said it.

Speaking of something that’s very revealing about the person who said it: Let’s look at Blue’s defense of her use of “booth babe” with the most charitable interpretation possible.

Blue assumed that a woman at a kiosk of a trade show, notable only for being “pretty” and for having breasts packed into a tight T-shirt, was some kind of nebulous “woman dev, woman hacker,” (because same difference computers whatever!), and not someone who was there just to look pretty. And Blue felt perfectly comfortable bestowing her with this new female-empowering connotation of “booth babe,” meaning a woman who knows her stuff and has something substantive to say about the technology she’s representing.

So Blue took her picture without talking to her, and then wrote about her hair and her tits and how she looked unapproachable and “sad.”

Instead of engaging the woman, asking her about her experiences, her thoughts on women in technology, her comparisons of MacWorld to previous years, what it’s like to be a female developer, her name. The kind of things that reporters at trade shows do. Apparently there was only one woman at MacWorld whose impressions of the show were important to Violet Blue.

It was never just about getting a name wrong. It’s that even when you take Blue’s backpedalling at face value, it’s still offensively dismissive of women in tech.

The Even Worse

Which is why it’s so appalling when she tries to frame it as a case of “how the internet treats women.”

It starts in her attempt at a defense in the comments, and then continues all throughout her irresponsible “Apple fanboy” post. She starts right out describing it as “an online witch hunt” against “a female blogger” based on “inaccurate information about Macworld exhibitors that the men” had provided.

Correcting and dismissing Blue’s posts was never about Men vs. Women. It’s about accuracy vs. inaccuracy, good writing vs. bad writing, journalism vs. whatever the hell it is she’s doing, and misogyny vs. respect.

I confess to never having heard of Shawn King before his post was linked on Daring Fireball. But all Violet Blue had to do was to look on King’s blog, on the very same page as the posts that mention her, to see him calling out a male writer for inaccuracies in an article about MacWorld. King calls the writer a “moron” and says “this is why the public hates journalists.” Hostile? Maybe. I dunno, maybe the writer deserved it. But it’s sure as hell not sexist.

And John Gruber is one of the most prominent writers in tech, especially where Apple is concerned, so he doesn’t need my defense. But it’s not a defense, it’s a fact: Gruber doesn’t stage witch hunts against women. Period. He criticizes stupid things people say on the internet about technology. Trying to run an expose on him as having a long record of “hostility” is like printing a shocking expose about rampant “perversion” on the internet whenever Violet Blue writes about dildos. For each of them, it’s pretty much their thing.

And Gruber regularly calls out writers on their inaccuracies. He will tear a poorly-written and poorly-thought-out piece to shreds, but I’ve been reading Daring Fireball for years, and I can’t recall a single instance where he’s staged a personal attack. He’s rude, sure, and he’s outspoken, and he’s often controversial, and I frequently disagree. But it’s simply not hostile to point out when someone prints something wrong. People are supposed to stand behind what they write, even on the internet.

Not to mention that there are plenty of female tech journalists who write about Apple — just off the top of my head, I can think of Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica, and Lara June and Joanna Stern of The Verge/Engadget — and yet I can’t recall a single time that they’ve attempted to present themselves as the victims at the center of systemized sexism on the part of Apple “fanboys.” Whereas it only took one MacWorld for Blue to tear the lid off a shocking web of systemized misogyny on behalf of a cruel woman-hating Fanboy Tyrant.

Blue’s attempts to claim that the Apple community is hostile to women aren’t just irresponsible, they’re demonstrably false.

Yes, King’s posts are increasingly dismissive of Violet Blue. But he’s not dismissive of her for being a woman, but for demonstrating a near-complete lack of journalistic integrity. That’s the point that King has made from the start. Unfortunately, King’s posts on the topic are to discussions of journalistic integrity what Michael Moore is to corporate responsibility: there’s a perfectly valid point at the core that you’d totally want to agree with, but it’s presented badly enough that you just kind of want to dissociate yourself from it.

I don’t think King is wrong so much as tone deaf. Point-by-point rebuttals (though justified) and calls for petitions just come across as petty internet sniping. Giving a condescending post title like “Violet, Violet, Violet” just comes across as demeaning, even though it wouldn’t come across the same way if he were talking about a man’s writing. (And to be fair, how are you supposed to handle names responsibly and like an adult when someone puts a registered trademark after her pseudonym?) [Stupid assumption on my part deleted, with my genuine apologies.]

And of course, using archaic words like “bint” simply has more weight to it than saying “moron” or “jack-ass” or even “dick.” And like it or not, fair or not, when someone is manipulating a discussion to frame it as an example of institutionalized sexism — even when it’s not — you have to be careful with the words you choose. Because you will not be given the benefit of the doubt, and every valid point you make will be dismissed, in favor of focusing on how you say it.

The Reprehensible

So obviously, what I’m saying with all this is that it was perfectly valid to wish violence on Violet Blue and call her an “ugly whore.”

Except wait no, that’s not what I’ve been saying at all. And it’d be pretty disgusting to even imply that’s what I’ve been saying.

But that’s how this kind of manipulation always works. It’s unfounded, Us vs. Them, guilt by association. If you disagree with me, then you’re obviously supporting the viewpoints of Internet Fucktard Number 1056 over here. It’s the same kind of lazy, baseless attack of generalization as using the intellectually bankrupt term “fanboy.”

Except if you call me a fanboy, I’m going to laugh it off. If you call me a sexist, I’m going to get pissed.

I said earlier that I’d never seen female tech bloggers that I respect write an article about pervasive sexism among Apple pundits and their unthinking minions. They very well might have, and I’ve just never seen it.

What I can say with absolute certainty, though: I would never, ever want to read any of those women’s unfiltered email inboxes. And that’s just on the PC- and gadget-oriented blogs. I don’t even want to imagine what gets written to people whose “internet presence” intersects with video games, like Veronica Belmont and Morgan Webb. I’ve seen glimpses of what was written about them publicly, and it’s enough to make a person reconsider the advantages of eugenics.

People like to think of the internet as being some kind of great equalizer, but it’s certainly not. It gives everyone equal voice, but without giving everyone equal eloquence, intelligence, common sense, or decency. There are plenty of articulate, seemingly intelligent people who write absurdly misogynist things. There are plenty more people who just aren’t thoughtful enough to consider they might be saying offensive things, or aren’t well-spoken enough to speak about something without using slurs. (And a few thousand years of institutionalized sexism means that there are a lot more insulting words for women than there are for men). There is a small but not insignificant number of genuine psychopaths. And there are millions of people for whom it’s absurd and archaic to even think that women are in any way inferior to men.

And to someone who actually cares, the easiest and laziest way to get him to back down from an argument is to claim that he’s complicit in behavior that he’d never want to be associated with. And it’s bullshit. It sucks when it’s used as an attack, and it sucks when it’s used as a condescending “teachable moment,” like a year ago when an entire chunk of the internet was informed that they were complicit in violence towards women.

People say nasty stuff on the internet. The more outspoken you are, the more you’re going to attract. It sucks. I’m a regular reader of Daring Fireball, and I can’t even imagine how many times Gruber’s been called a “dick.” (I must be responsible for at least five or six, myself).

And I’m about as far from internet celebrity as you can get, and I’ve still had a few comments about the way I look and one guy (an Apple pundit, coincidentally) tell me to “fuck myself in the neck,” for one of the least contentious things I’ve said online.

“But it’s different for women.” Of course it is. There is still a huge category of people — men and women both — who will judge women based on their appearance before anything else. (Like, for instance, their hair color and the distribution of their breasts in a T-shirt). And women can never casually brush off threats of violence.

The question is how you’re going to react to it. Are you going to ignore it? Are you going to make a genuine attempt to educate people about it, with a reasonable adult discussion including real people who are affected by it? Or are you going to paint yourself as defenseless victim, posit anonymous gossip as fact, make sweeping generalizations, and label everyone who doesn’t jump to your side as a crypto-misogynist complicit in the horrific treatment of women? Are you going to act as if there’s no difference between the person who says “you made a mistake” and the idiot who says “you’re a whore?” Does the difference even matter to you?

I can have sympathy for being the subject of internet mob mentality. I’ve seen it happen twice just recently to people who completely didn’t deserve it, and I railed against it. They’re caused by people latching onto a piece of one-sided gossip and spreading it. You fight it by getting the facts out. You don’t by pouring gasoline on the fire, launching an unsubstantiated smear campaign of your own in an attempt at public shaming to deflect attention away from yourself.

I don’t believe that Violet Blue is actually a misogynist. I think she wrote something that undeniably comes across as sexist and dismissive, and the responsible thing to do would have been simply to own up to that — even acknowledging that it sounded sexist would’ve been more mature and responsible. But we’re supposed to just give her the benefit of the doubt and take it for granted that she’s not disrespectful to women, even though nobody else is entitled to that.

Published by

Chuck Jordan

Writer, Programmer, and Designer of Videogames and Videogame Like Entertainment Products

55 thoughts on “Guilt by Dissociation”

  1. Oh man.

    I agree with a lot of this. It’s incredibly well thought out.

    But a lot of it also makes me uncomfortable.

    I’ve met Violet. I like her. I respect her. And I’ve seen, over the years of reading her work, the absolutely appalling and sometimes frightening comments that have been directed at her. I don’t think I could continue any kind of open online writing if I had to deal with even half of the shit that she’s had to deal with from idiots on the Internet.

    I’m not saying where she took this particular shitstorm is right. But I can’t brush off her claims of misogyny after seeing what she’s had to deal with in the past.

    But the main thing that made me uncomfortable, is when this all started over on Twitter, with your calling her out by @ ing her in that first Tweet:

    “To be clear: everybody understands not to take @violetblue seriously, right? It’s “misogynistic” to point out her incompetence? Appalling”

    I’m not disagreeing with what you said, just how you said it. I know this sounds mamby pamby, but isn’t it a good rule to only write a response to someone, or directed at someone, if it’s something you’d also feel comfortable saying directly to their face? I know I would never be able to walk up to a writer and say, “You know no one should take you seriously, right?”

    I realize this is a hard rule to follow! I mean, I’ve written my share of scathing reviews. But keeping the jabs out of Twitter and blog comments, well, that’s kind of an easier thing to do.

    I love you to death Chuck! I do! But you publicly dissed someone I’ve met and like, and who is good friends with my friends, so I have to say. It did bother me. Not because I think your misogynistic, but because I thought it was kind of needlessly mean.

    Now I’m scared. Be gentle.

  2. @Rain: Well, I have to say to start off that I think it’s a little unfair to say you’re “scared,” since I don’t believe I’ve said anything that’s out of line. My friend Jonathan always says I’m yelling at him, too, so maybe what seems like a reasonable argument to me comes across as yelling once it makes it online.

    But I think you make a completely valid point. In fact, when I started writing this yesterday, I included a part that said something like, “I don’t know Violet Blue personally, although I have friends who do.” And I took it out, because I realized it was completely irrelevant.

    Because I’m not talking about her at all, I’m talking about what she wrote. That’s a huge part of my entire point. There is a difference between criticizing someone’s work and criticizing the person, and it’s wrong to act like there’s no difference.

    The reason I spent a day and a half writing this in the first place is because Twitter is the absolute worst place to get a point across, which quickly became clear. “Everybody understands not to take her seriously” meant “in that inflammatory post that people are actually treating as if it were a genuine indictment with any merit.” But that doesn’t come across in 140 characters, so it’s understandable that it would sound like I’m attacking her.

    I’ll acknowledge that it could be misunderstood, but I won’t apologize for that part, because I think it’s clear from the context. If I’d said it out of nowhere, then it would totally read as insulting her. But in response to an inflammatory post that dozens of people in my Twitter feed were talking about, I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt to assume I was talking about what she wrote.

    What I will (and did) acknowledge as a mistake was my using the word “incompetence.” I still insist that the first post was vapid (and as I said, I know from vapid), the non-clarification was sloppy, and the follow-up post was irresponsible. But “incompetent” is a loaded word that I shouldn’t have used.

    As for only saying stuff on Twitter that I’d say to somebody’s face: hell yes, I would’ve said that to her face. After reading that article, I was pissed. And I take that very, very seriously.

    Even if nothing else is clear, I want this to be perfectly clear: I will not tolerate unfounded accusations of misogyny. I think it’s one of the worst possible things you can accuse a man of. And yes, that’s the one area where I’ll make a distinction: I do believe it’s far worse to accuse a man of being misogynist than accusing a woman of it.

    Where I come close to crossing the line is pointing out that she’s put a registered trademark on her pseudonym. But again, I don’t think I’ve crossed the line because it’s part of her online persona. Simply and frankly put, it comes across as fake, which I believe is relevant to a discussion about manipulation. Anyone who disagrees with me and thinks I crossed the line is of course welcome to say why; that’s what the comments are for.

    I do think it’d be disingenuous to act as if this whole thing takes place in a vacuum, and that her online persona has absolutely nothing to do with the way people have reacted. There is, undoubtedly, in the back of everyone’s mind (and the front of some people’s), some irony in being able to call out someone for saying something that sounds misogynist when she takes such pride in being outspoken in her support of women. And to be honest, I don’t even know if that’s good or bad. If you want to make an impact on people, you’re going to attract criticism. As long as it’s criticism of what you say and not criticism of you as a person, then fair game.

    There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that she gets a ton of unnecessary shit attacking her personally. I’m not even going to say “that’s not cool” because it should be obvious to anyone that that’s unacceptable. That’s not brushing off her claims of misogyny. It’s saying that the idiots who wrote that shit are the ones who are responsible. You don’t make progress by accusing good people of being complicit in the actions of bad people.

    But she didn’t call any of that out. She called out by name two men who did not attack her personally, and she put all the blame of it on them.

    I don’t know Gruber, either (again, irrelevant), and like I said, he can come across as abrasive and snarky, he attracts a ton of criticism — some of it personal and no doubt some of it violent, although again it’s not the same for women — and he certainly doesn’t need me defending him. But accusing someone of doing something he didn’t do is just plain wrong.

    So that’s why I don’t think I’ve been needlessly mean, and I’d hope that even if only through what I’ve written on this blog, I’ve made it clear that I’d be the first to own up to it if I had been. I think that last post of hers took this from forgettable internet drama into something way way too serious to let slide.

    I would never and have never brushed off her claims of misogynistic comments directed at her online. And I absolutely will not brush off her broad accusations of misogyny against people who don’t deserve it.

  3. Oh, I had no idea! I just assumed from the ® that it was a pseudonym, and I didn’t bother to check. That actually changes a lot about the tone, so I can’t say it’s a minor correction.

    Genuine apologies to Violet Blue for that!

  4. No worries! It’s actually more complex than I may have made it sound: Although “Violet Blue” is certainly now her legal name, there is some dispute over whether it was her birth name (several sources cite her birth name as “Wendi Sullivan”, but Blue denies it and no one has ever produced categorical evidence to prove her wrong).

  5. Well, I did a stealth-edit to my comment to clarify, since it’s so late. Part of my whole argument is that personal attacks have no basis or merit, so whatever her “real” name may or may not be is completely irrelevant.

    And it’d be completely irresponsible and hypocritical of me to claim that has any bearing on the argument if it’s a) not a part of an online persona, and b) I didn’t even do my own fact-checking. So I deleted it, and again, genuinely apologize.

  6. To be fair, women ARE inferior to men… in their ability to write their names in yellow snow! (Hey, we gotta cling to something. ;-) )

    I confess to not knowing who you are before the Betteridge’s Lawgiver linked to your post, but after reading such a thing I have only one response… subscribing to your newsletter!

    Painstakingly level-headed and even-handed. Good jorb!

  7. Also, did that guy at least provide you with directions as to HOW you could fuck yourself in the neck? I confess to being intrigued by the logistics.

  8. First, yes, well-said.

    Here’s the thing from my POV: Violet spent a *lot* of time last year bemoaning the rampant sexism in the Apple ecosystem, primarily instigated by the social ineptness of a dev who saw her at a party and committed two “sins”, one imaginary, one fairly real.

    The former? He didn’t KNOW WHO VIOLET BLUE WAS. o teh horrorz.

    The latter? He saw two women dressed up at the Ars Technica party, and assumed they were…well, I don’t know what he assumed they were, but it came across that he wasn’t thinking they were devs or other tech pros.

    The sad part is, because, as with everything Violet Blue writes, the article was all about her, she managed to fuck up a few good points, like how too many people, (Ironically, including Violet) see a woman dressed “nicely” at a computer trade show/conference, and assume she isn’t a tech pro. She must be window dressing. So stupid.

    Another point buried in her execrable writing was the valid observation that Apple, at it’s own WWDC, rarely puts women up on the stage. Now, she assumed it’s because of sexism, and I will somewhat disagree. It *could* be, but it could also be because it can be damned hard to get women to stand up in front of an audience and talk. (This is not conjecture, or “i heard”, this is based on my own experience as one of the organizers of the Mac IT conference at Macworld this year and previous years.) It can take a surprising amount of work to get really smart women to stand up and talk. So, it could be sexism, or it could be the various teams respecting the desires of the women on those teams to not speak, it could be a bit of both.

    In any event, neither she nor I really know the precise reasons why, but her observation was valid: the WWDC is a bit of a sausage fest both in the audience and on the podium. But that point was buried in such a fetid pile of awful writing that it was trivial to ignore.

    The same thing with this. “Booth Babes” are an actual problem in many people’s view. Not everyone’s, but a lot of folks don’t like the concept. (I shall however, completely ignore Violet’s insulting attempt to “redefine” the term. She’s doing no such thing. It is entirely an attempt, and a badly failed one, to wiggle out of her mistaken assumption. I shan’t buy it for I am neither a small child nor overly gullible.)

    However, once again, her pathetically bad writing, and insistence on everything being about her, buried that point. Because in the end, the only point of the article was how awesome Violet is, and how awesome you are not, because you’re not her, nor do you hang with her.

    Once she got called out for *the same thing she excoriated some guy for at the WWDC*, she went into full New Media Douchebag mode. “You are clearly using the OLD definition of the term, not my awesome new one”. “I’m right, you’re just too dumb to see it”, and finally, when all else fails, bring out the XX ad hom/Tech ‘pundit’ “speaking the truth about Apple” defense: SEXISMFANBOYSEXISMFANBOYSEXISMFANBOYSEXISMFANBOY.

    Sexism is not why she’s getting, rightfully, hammered over this shit. It’s her atrocious writing, and assumption that the people reading it are actually stupid. Here’s a person, who in the same article where she talks about how off-putting the woman’s demeanor was, and that was why she had to “hide” her picture taking, (is it just me, or is that just creepy as hell), and why she couldn’t talk to the woman in person at the show, (Funny how all these stalwart defenders of what is right somehow are never stalwart defenders in person, isn’t it?) yet *in the same article* brags about how she walked right up to Steve Jobs and asked for a picture with him at a Macworld years ago.

    A single woman at a booth with the thousand-yard conference stare is too off-putting to even talk to ABOUT HER COMPANY AND HER PRODUCT, yet STEVE FUCKING JOBS held no terrors for her?

    Ladies and gentlemen, two things are clear: Violet Blue needs editors who actually edit badly, and she thinks her readers are flaming morons.

    As to why ZDNet does nothing? Dude, they love this. The traffic boost is giving them orgasms, and they pay based on hits. The higher your hitcount, the more dosh you get. It’s their business model.

  9. First off: bravo, great article. You make a lot of excellent points, and in the particulars of Bluegate 2012, I agree 100%.

    That said, I have a bit of a problem with the paragraph that includes “The easiest and laziest way to get him to back down from an argument is to claim that he’s complicit in behavior that he’d never want to be associated with.”

    This is a very broad and categorical rejection. Well-intentioned people sometimes do things they wouldn’t want to be associated with – often because they were simply unaware that other folks would be hurt by their actions. When they do that, calling them on it is a kindness. I think I know which incident you’re alluding to in that paragraph, and it wasn’t really the “howling mob of idiots vs. white knights of gaming” situation you appear to be describing it as. Was the affair a giant Internet shitshow? Yes, but that’s because the Internet was involved, for all the reasons you mention in your post.

    The original point of that affair though – using victims of a violent crime as a punchline is insensitive – was and is valid. Was it *intentionally* insensitive? No, not at all. But that’s irrelevant, aside from the fact that those are – and I hate to use the phrase, given the scare quotes you put around it in the post – some of the best teachable moments.

    On the specifics of the VB situation, I agree 100%; I just don’t think it’s fair to equate this situation to the previous ones. That de-legitimizes cases where there was more substance to the objections (and yes, accusations) that were being made. Mac tech does much better than a lot of other industries, but we’re by no means perfect; I’ve had multiple conversations with female coworkers that prove that to me. We could do a while lot worse, but we could also do a whole lot better; congratulating ourselves prematurely is not going to help us solve the remaining issues.

    Again, on the overall point, I agree 100%; sorry to pick nits with a subtopic.

  10. Contrary to what men seem to think, calling a girl babe or chick is, in many circumstances, definitely NOT sexist. The context in which Violet said it – as a woman, no less – was not sexist. At all. Not under any circumstance can it be considered sexist. I don’t see it. No one I explained this story to – and most of my friends are women – thought it was sexist.

    What is sexist, however, is men jumping to someone’s defence, without asking, just because that someone is a woman. Assuming that a woman needs protecting just because she’s a woman is insipidly sexist, covered in a thick coating of faux-pas chivalry.

    King, Gruber, et. al. would have never responded to Violet’s story had it been about a man. That is what makes King’s and Gruber’s response sexist.

  11. Ms. Blue™ is trying so hard to be edgy that she crosses a line that’s uncrossable by men. She’s trying to be that odd seductive mix of geek and BDSM, emo, kink persona. And it’s all so meaningless. It’s a misinterpretation of what tech is about.

    Geek chic has always been stupid. Look at G4 and “The Attack of the Show.” Tech is a person in a room with some caffeine and a keyboard writing code. It’s not something out of a William Gibson novel.

    It’s just not.

  12. Great writing – very well put points.

    Of the original piece I can only imagine that Violet Blue was short of anything to write about and decided to go off on a tangent about someone in the margins of one of the pictures she took; it certainly doesn’t look like the photograph was taken with the woman in question intended to the subject.

    Along with being defensive about a demeaning pen-portrait of someone she couldn’t be bothered talking with, perhaps Ms Blue is all the more defensive about being found out for not really having much of interest to say about technology.

    It was so ridiculous to accuse people, who pointed out Ms Blue’s tiresome assumptions about another woman, of misogyny that she may, at least, have a future in writing social comedies. Technology? Maybe not.

  13. Great post. I think it’s pretty obvious what happened, frankly. Violet Blue has worked pretty hard to create a brand, and her original mistake unfortunately undercut that brand to the point that she couldn’t admit to it. As a result she’s tied herself in knots explaining it away and blaming everyone else. Maybe that’s the problem with trying to become a brand rather than a person, I don’t know.

  14. Great take on the whole situation. I really appreciate the careful lengths that you have gone through to bring some sanity back into the conversation. Some people just have a hard time with saying they are wrong when someone calls them out on it. I think you made it very clear that this is not an attack on Violet, just an attack on her poor standards of writing. Unfortunately, I have come across some pretty terrible work from her in the past so I was not too surprised by her reaction to this controversy.

  15. Very well done, Chuck. And excellent wrap up to the whole sordid affair. There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the tone of some of the articles (as you noted regarding Shawn King), and it’s not only ridiculous that Violet Blue is playing the misogyny card to dismiss her critics, it makes it ever more difficult to discuss misogyny because Violet Blue has fed into a stereotype of the defenseless woman set upon by brutish ruffians merely for being a woman rather than address criticism. And unsurprisingly, a legion of White Knights have leaped to her defense in the ZDNet forums to incessantly bash Gruber and King for things Gruber and King simply did not say or even infer.

    Again, excellent wrap up.

  16. It’s obvious and not completely relevant, but it bears mentioning anyway: if a man had written that, he’d have been virtually castrated by the “misogynist” Apple community within 24 hours.

    C’mon now.

    I agree with you, for the record, but the above is just not true. Some people might’ve gone “tut, tut, how disagreeable” but at best a small vocal minority might write a couple of disparaging tweets and it would’ve been ignored at large.

    Even when people do dumb misogynistic stuff *in a conference talk* it tends to be buried amongst all the people defending the idiots from the “feminazis” and “white knights”.

    Did Blue mess up? Yes.

    Did Blue interpret the fall out and exacerbate it by taking it extremely personally? Yes.

    However, we would not be having this conversation if it weren’t so deliciously ironic that a woman was being sexist towards other women.

    Don’t use that as an excuse to pretend we’re paragons of virtue.

  17. I don’t know Ms. Blue or anything about her. However, I DO read Mr. Gruber &, while I enjoy his “take” on all things Apple, I also respect him as a good citizen of the internets. He has given us markdown, and he holds up his end of the discussion in a way that is righteous and fair. I thought your own comments went on a little too long, but I have to admit I read the whole thing ;-)

  18. Excellent analysis.

    From a psychological point of view, obviously, based on what we know of her past and present, Violet Blue has a lot of emotional baggage – despite being ostensibly a nice and bright person – which clouded her interpretation of the booth woman through a process called projection.

    Because of this emotional baggage, she has blind spots and underdeveloped skills needed to cope with particular stresses and events. This has also clouded her response to criticism.

  19. I still have no idea what was going through her mind, much less what was going through the mind of the editor who approved it.

    It’s ZDNet.

    I’m not sure they bother with an editorial layer over the blogs, and experience suggests their standards aren’t real high.

  20. BTW, thanks very much for this post. Even if I come out looking like a bit of an asshole in it, you nailed the salient points.

    “She called out by name two men who did not attack her personally, and she put all the blame of it on them.”

    Absolutely the issue I had with her second article on this. If my posts were “increasingly dismissive of Violet Blue” it was because I was increasingly pissed at Blue for not only completely mischaracterizing the issue but for for, as you said, “demonstrating a near-complete lack of journalistic integrity” and for *her* fanboys coming after me with the same vitriol and crap she accused Apple fanboys.

    In addition, the idea that Gruber and I somehow sent our minions to harass and threaten her is not just laughable but patently offensive and probably illegal. I don’t take well to those kinds of attacks.

    As to me being “tone deaf”, I hope the irony of Violet Blue claiming, in the documentary MacHEADS, that she “would never knowingly sleep with a Windows user” is apparent to someone who accuses others of being “fan boys”. It’s less me being “tone deaf” and more “that’s just the way I am”. :)

    As for the “I’ve never heard of him”, I started the first Mac focused broadcast on the internet 16+ years ago. I’ve been around for a while. :)

  21. Also…since my memory goes waaaaay back…this isn’t the first time Violet Blue has had issues with people online. There was the big boing boing fracas of 2008:

    wikipedia on Violet Blue
    Around June 2008, there was controversy in the blogosphere after Violet Blue posted on her blog claiming that the blog Boing Boing had removed all posts referring to the author (estimated by a Los Angeles Times blogger[16] to number at least 70) from the site. A heated debate ensued after a brief statement on the Boing Boing site regarding this action stated: “Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her. It’s our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day“.[17] Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin said that she hoped she would not have to make the reasons public.[18]

  22. Wow – thank you for taking a day and a half to write this. All I can say is thank you. I think most people will now understand the wider implications of having a voice online, of having a vehicle to convey our opinions but above all, the enormous responsibility that comes with this. Sometimes, writers, bloggers, authors, journalists, etc forget to acknowledge this and enter their own little world, void of any sensitivity.

  23. Good post. I’m neither a reporter nor an academic, but I spent a good chunk of my working life as an intelligence analyst, so “getting it right” has been drilled into me. I do some very light blogging and often post comments, and the same standard applies to this practice that did in my days as an analyst — if I can’t get the facts right and qualify what I may not know for sure, I don’t post. Should be that way for everyone, but I guess that ship has sailed.

  24. I do think your piece could be shortened by about a third. Also, for one reason or another, Macworld is capitalized thus. Plus you have the WordPress double-prime bug in the string “MacWorld 2012” (sic); use a real quotation mark and that goes away.

  25. Two ways that you are better than Violet Blue: 1) you admit a mistake when you make one, and offer a sincere apology, and 2) you left the offending words behind when you made your edit, rather than just rewriting the paragraph to pretend that you knew it (probably) wasn’t a pseudonym all along.

  26. An attractive young woman wearing an app developer’s attire was mistaken for a “booth babe”. Time to throw on my cape and spandex to defend oppressed women everywhere. My people need me; to the keyboard!

  27. The impression I got from Violet Blue’s reaction to criticism is that she is acting very childishly. (She is certainly not unique in that, of course. I see that sort of behavior by commentors on Seeking Alpha and Philip Elmer-Dewitt’s blog.) Note that I wrote, “ACTING very childishly.” That is a slam at her behavior in this situation, not at HER or her character. VIolet Blue certainly wasn’t behaving very professionally in this instance.

    “Instead of engaging the woman, asking her about her experiences…” That sums it up. VIolet Blue didn’t even do the most basic things any good reporter would do. She could have turned the experience into a good piece AND given NeoPlay a bit of free publicity at the same time. Perhaps she could have tried out their app(s) and reported on them.

    “Apparently there was only one woman at MacWorld whose impressions of the show were important to Violet Blue.”

    OUCH! Now, that’s a bit of a personal attack, though perhaps justified by Violet Blue’s behavior. It does cut right to the core, though–and it’s mild compared to some of the things Violet Blue wrote about those who found fault with her behavior.

  28. Excellent post. Fully agree.

    Shawn and John drew substantial attention to the nature of what she’d written, leading to due scrutiny as well as some of the internet’s regrettable random hate being directed towards her. To suggest that this has anything to do with Apple or fanboyism is deeply flawed. Ms. Blue also missed a significant opportunity here—she may have recently and temporarily had the largest audience she will ever have, but under the pressure she responded with anger, blame and misdirected hate herself, instead of taking the opportunity to gracefully acknowledge her own mistake, and direct the spotlight onto what this says about just how pervasively we all collectively are influenced by cultural values that marginalise women in some contexts, such as technology. A pity.

  29. You want to see Gruber called a dick and worse? Try installing that Safari extension that adds comments to Daring Fireball. (The comments are hosted by the extension’s developer. Talk about a dick!) You’ll end up deleting it so fast you’ll think of Steve Martin buying the newspaper in Roxanne.

  30. Thanks for taking the time to put this up. I’ve been following this saga since the Gruber post (as well as Shawn King’s follow-ups), and you’ve perfectly captured it…

  31. Fortunately I’ve stumbled across a solution to all this unpleasantness years ago: IGNORE ZDNET LIKE THE PLAGUE! It’s really the worst of the worst techblog which brings out the worst of the worst in it’s own community and seems to revel in allowing all commentary and discussion to devolve into senseless, nasty flamewars faster than you can say “OMG i <3 APL/MSFT!!!!"

  32. I agree with many of your points, but disagree with many of the crucial ones and come to a very different conclusion.

    First off, I don’t see where Violet paints apple fans as misogynist. Given how personally you took this, I believe this is a key point. What she wrote is:
    “Women are already geek outsiders in Apple culture.”
    Women are minorities in any tech culture. Maybe less so in Apple culture, but still. It is harder for her to get taken seriously just because she is a woman. She has some enlightening anecdotes.
    Also:
    “In this particular instance the Apple fanboy target was female, and so the suggestion to openly dislike the target became ugly with what we all sadly know as the Internet’s root nastiness toward women.”
    I think this is spot on, and doesn’t clam that Apple Fan(boy)s are any more misogynist than the rest of the internet.

    She is sloppy in some of her writing though. Her characterization of Apple fan’s aggressive behavior harming Apple’s image is based on a little hearsay and a lot of her own opinion of the mob on her doorstep. She misattributes statements that Shawn King and John Gruber allegedly made, when they were just quoting other people.

    She also whines about John Gruber’s “attacks”, although he didn’t quite do that. What he did, however, was amplify Shawn King’s vitriol by giving him a big audience. He unrelentingly enables the vitriol against Violet without any attempt to temper it.
    With great power comes with great responsibility, and Gruber doesn’t handle his’ well. He turned off comment’s on his blog a long time ago. Problem out of sight, out of mind.
    I suppose I have rather high standards, but I believe this kind of behavior ruins the internet by drowning us all in hate. I find this worse than anything Violet did, although the root problem is of course Shawn King’s aggression.

    Another key point is whether calling Zsofia a booth babe is sexist or misogynist. I don’t believe so.
    It is inaccurate. Zsofia did not look like hired eye-candy. It also is sexualizing.
    It is easy to look at history and come to the conclusion that sex + women = exploitation. That sexualization = misogyny. Many feminists pretty much do that. Sexualization can be the result of misogyny, and in most environments, sexualization can easily lead to misogyny. But sexualization and misogyny are not the same.

    But there are also sex-positive feminists like Violet who find great value in sex, and think there should be more of it, as long as it is done well. Who believe that a bit of sexualization is all good fun, as long as you try to build an environment where women can be sexualized and men and women can still meet at eye-level. They believe that women should get to be equal and sexual rather than just equal. That does not make them faux-feminists.

    A certain amount of push-back against sexualization is reasonable, given that sexualization is somewhat dangerous, and there shouldn’t be too much of it. But it is not reasonable to expect this to be “interpreted by any sane and reasonable person as being offensive to women”. It is not reasonable to demand an apology or to start petitions over this. This is just the usual contempt people tend to have for women who enjoy sex too much.

    The word “babe” uttered by a woman is much like the n-word uttered by a black person. It tends to be okay when they say it, because you can be pretty sure about how they mean it. They are not the ones with a history of abusing it.

    Violet is a sex-blogger for god’s sake. The word babe crosses her lips rather easily. If you find her writing vapid, don’t read a column called “Pulp Tech”.

  33. Well usually poorly written, nonsensical articles with the words “Apple” and “fanboy” in the headline are just link bait garbage. In this case, not so: In this case it’s just a nonsensical article about stuff no-one cares about or should care about – personal sensibilities of said blogger? Who cares?

    To sum it up: Another poorly written article on ZDNet. What else is new?

  34. Thom, you’re engaging in a very well-known form of silencing. It is not inherently sexist for men to confront sexism. However, it certainly is trolling to make that claim as a silencing tactic — as you are currently doing, implying that it is ‘misguided chivalry’ and characterizing this debate as ‘leaping to the defense’. The sort of pigeonholing Violet engaged in is simply unacceptable, regardless of whom she did it to.

    This is the original point of contention here.

    Not to mention, there was no possibility of even getting in contact with the subject of the photo originally. In case you’ve forgotten, Violet Blue did not even attempt to speak to or provide information on whom the subject was. This makes ‘asking her’ rather difficult, wouldn’t you say?

  35. This is a vapid comment:

    Hey, cool, you got mentioned on Fireball!

    That was a vapid comment.

  36. It’s one thing to make a mountain out of a molehill. But at least start with a real molehill. I visited her website yesterday, just to see who she is. She strikes me as a foul-mouthed pervert with a keyboard. A man running a page like that would be shunned. I believe in equality as much as the next guy, so I don’t think she deserves any more than being ignored by intelligent people.

  37. This would be the first comment I’ve made anywhere about this whole saga, which I would not have a clue about if it were not for daring fireball (he does have a much larger audience and I agree with a previous commenter that he should be more mindful of that). I make my comment here because this post is the greatest analysis of the whole thing that I’ve yet seen, but I still think you come down too harshly on Violet Blue, and have made the same mistake that everyone else has.

    Forgive me if I’ve missed it, but nowhere in this post did you mention that Violet in her most recent post, did do the legwork to find out that the woman in question was Zsfia Rutkai, not Piroska Szurmai-Palotai as stated in the original comment on her original blog, which in turn was picked up on by Shawn King and then in turn linked to by John Gruber. While her finding that out now doesn’t excuse her original lack of research, it does show that everyone can and has made the same fundamental mistakes, and calling each other out for these on your own blogs (rather than just emailing each other as Violet Blue suggested Shawn King should have done) just adds fuel to the fire. Once it was public, it could only remain public.

    As far as the need for doing that research in the first place, I sincerely doubt Violet Blue would have held back if she really thought it was important. I assume from the framing of the photo that she wasn’t originally going to say anything about Zsfia. The photo was part of a gallery of 26 photos, and the “saddest booth babe” comment (while flippant), was almost certainly included after the fact at the time of posting. Her deciding to make it a starting paragraph to her “Island of Misfit toys” piece was likely done in retrospect too.

    To state what seems bleeding obvious to me, all of you bloggers have made a mountain out of a molehill. None of you is actually misogynist, and all of you like apple tech. You disagree about the level to which emotive characterisation should be a part of blogging, and you have a tendency (as does every human) to pick the parts that personally offend you and respond to that. As one of my teachers once put it “You don’t know it, but you’re actually having a heated agreement”.

    While Violet has dismissed out of hand the idea that her “booth babe” comment could be misogynist, you all have dismissed the idea of a core group of Apple loving enthusiasts who get incredibly and unreasonably defensive about Apple products. I don’t believe any of you bloggers fall into this category of “fanboy” because of your collective experience, but I do think it’s a legitimate term for commenters found in various forums. For the record, while I love Apple products for a number of reasons, there are some people for whom I would never recommend them (people who want to take stuff apart and customise it), and I think anyone who recommends apple products for anyone *no matter what* can legitimately be called an Apple fanboy because it describes their lack of reasoning.

    I suppose this storm will burn itself out soon and people will get back to what they actually enjoy doing, but I think it’s a shame that it goes on as long as it does. Have a good weekend.

  38. @Thom Halwerda:

    Contrary to what men seem to think, calling a girl babe or chick is, in many circumstances, definitely NOT sexist. The context in which Violet said it – as a woman, no less – was not sexist. At all. Not under any circumstance can it be considered sexist. I don’t see it. No one I explained this story to – and most of my friends are women – thought it was sexist.

    What is sexist, however, is men jumping to someone’s defence, without asking, just because that someone is a woman. Assuming that a woman needs protecting just because she’s a woman is insipidly sexist, covered in a thick coating of faux-pas chivalry.

    Respectfully, try reading my post again. I know it’s long, but try to suffer through it.

    As much as I hate contradicting you and your friends — especially since most of them are women and all — you’re wrong when you say that not under any circumstances can it be considered sexist. Because I considered it sexist right there, in that post at the top of this page. It’s not about the use of the word “babe,” it’s about assuming a woman has nothing to contribute other than her looks, and dismissing a woman as being not worth talking to.

    Nor is this about jumping to Ms. Rutkai’s, or any other woman’s defense. She’s gone on record as saying she doesn’t particularly care. Sexism doesn’t just affect the woman at the center of it, it affects anyone with a brain and common decency. If anything, I’m jumping to my own defense, because I don’t appreciate seeing men (I am one) being so casually and baselessly accused of misogyny.

    Also I don’t know what “faux-pas chivalry” is. I imagine it’s holding the door open for a woman while getting her name wrong?

    King, Gruber, et. al. would have never responded to Violet’s story had it been about a man. That is what makes King’s and Gruber’s response sexist.

    That’s pretty much bullshit. It doesn’t even make sense how you worded it — it’s just nonsensical to say that responding to a story that makes demeaning assumptions about women is sexist. I’m assuming you meant to say they wouldn’t have responded if the story if it had been written by a man? If that’s the case: also bullshit.

  39. @Phill:

    I agree with you, for the record, but the above is just not true. Some people might’ve gone “tut, tut, how disagreeable” but at best a small vocal minority might write a couple of disparaging tweets and it would’ve been ignored at large.

    Even when people do dumb misogynistic stuff *in a conference talk* it tends to be buried amongst all the people defending the idiots from the “feminazis” and “white knights”.

    Is that conference talk about something in particular? (Genuine question, not arguing!) I’d be interested to see a link, because the whole idea of the Apple “community” being hostile to women is just baffling to me.

    However, we would not be having this conversation if it weren’t so deliciously ironic that a woman was being sexist towards other women.

    Don’t use that as an excuse to pretend we’re paragons of virtue.

    I definitely wouldn’t describe the apple “punditry” (stupid word) as paragons of virtue. I didn’t spend much time trying to counter the accusation that people writing about Apple can often be smug, exclusionary, and hostile, because a lot of the time, they are. I’ve just never seen a case of its being misogynistic. If anything, I’ve gotten a sense that Apple conventions and conferences treat gender as a non-issue, ever since I first started going to Mac User Groups in 1988 and was surprised at how many women were present.

    No doubt people are getting off on the irony of Violet Blue getting called out for saying something misogynistic. But I wouldn’t call that “a woman was being sexist towards other women,” as much as “a woman who has built so much of her public persona on being pro-woman was being sexist towards other women.” Gender may be more or less a non-issue, but any example of hypocrisy is like a drop of blood in a shark tank.

  40. @Shawn King:
    First, don’t for one second think that it means anything if I’m not familiar with your work before now! I’m only tangentially familiar with “Apple culture” (I guess you could say I’m a male outsider) unless there’s a product announcement going on.

    BTW, thanks very much for this post. Even if I come out looking like a bit of an asshole in it, you nailed the salient points.
    […]
    If my posts were “increasingly dismissive of Violet Blue” it was because I was increasingly pissed at Blue for not only completely mischaracterizing the issue but for for, as you said, “demonstrating a near-complete lack of journalistic integrity” and for *her* fanboys coming after me with the same vitriol and crap she accused Apple fanboys.

    I didn’t mean to make you look like an asshole, just more to, well, make an example of you. (Is that better or worse? I can’t tell). But really: to show how baseless accusations of misogyny to manipulate an audience can turn everything so sour so quickly.

    I don’t take those accusations lightly, either, and I go from happy & well-adjusted to red-faced and livid in a matter of seconds. And I don’t care how reasonable and even-tempered you are: when you get accused of something that low, it’s designed to piss you off and make you get defensive. And then it stops being about what you say and all about how you say it: catching you for any rash word or not-entirely thought-out point. It’s manipulative, irresponsible bullshit.

    That’s what I meant by “tone deaf,” using words or terminology that can so easily be jumped on by people trying to catch you saying something they can call misogynist. (And that’s not just the typical complaint about them damn feminazis ruining everything for the men-folk: I actually saw exactly that happen to you on Twitter).

    In retrospect, comparing you to Michael Moore was a really low blow, though. Apologies. :)

  41. @Waquo
    Thanks for the reasonable comment! I think you make some valid points, even though I disagree, and it may sound like I’m picking them apart here:

    First off, I don’t see where Violet paints apple fans as misogynist. Given how personally you took this, I believe this is a key point.

    Yes, I did absolutely take it personally; I won’t even attempt to deny that. But not even because I’d consider myself an Apple fan, but because I consider myself a man who thinks the whole idea of gender inequity is stupid. That’s not even an attempt to make myself look good by saying “look how sexist I’m not” — it’s just a bafflingly dumb and outdated concept. So I hate seeing anyone try to manipulate that. Of course, the reason I saw it in the first place was because I’m an Apple fan.

    I think it’d be extraordinarily disingenuous to say that she doesn’t paint Apple fans as misogynist. It’s so blatant, it’s laughable to even call it subtext. From the start, she frames it as two powerful men against a female blogger just trying to do her job. And couches that in terms of “Apple fanboys” and how they’ve long perpetuated a hostile environment where women are treated as outsiders.

    Women are minorities in any tech culture. Maybe less so in Apple culture, but still. It is harder for her to get taken seriously just because she is a woman.

    Well, I think the “but still” is key. She singled out Apple. There’s an Apple logo in the post. Why frame it like that if not to suggest that this is a problem that’s endemic to Apple in particular? Which is silly, because Apple “culture” in particular is better than most.

    “In this particular instance the Apple fanboy target was female, and so the suggestion to openly dislike the target became ugly with what we all sadly know as the Internet’s root nastiness toward women.”
    I think this is spot on, and doesn’t clam that Apple Fan(boy)s are any more misogynist than the rest of the internet.

    But you can’t just translate “fanboy” to “fan,” any more than I can translate “slut” to “sexually empowered young woman.” One is inherently and intentionally pejorative and inflammatory. (And no, The Internet, I am absolutely not saying that “fanboy” and “slut” are equivalently pejorative).

    Incidentally: where exactly was the suggestion to openly dislike the target? I didn’t see it in Gruber’s posts, or in any of Shawn King’s, or in the first couple of relevant comments to Blue’s post offering a correction.

    But this quote is indicative of the entire article. It paints “the Apple community” with the type of wide brush usually reserved for barns and airplane hangars. And my real problem with it:

    She also whines about John Gruber’s “attacks”, although he didn’t quite do that. What he did, however, was amplify Shawn King’s vitriol by giving him a big audience. He unrelentingly enables the vitriol against Violet without any attempt to temper it.
    With great power comes with great responsibility, and Gruber doesn’t handle his’ well.

    I vehemently disagree with that. It’s just plain wrong to say that Gruber is responsible for anything other than what he writes in a public forum. Period. It’s the same for King, same for Blue, same for me.

    I think it’s appalling to say “Gruber should’ve known that by criticizing her, people on Twitter, blog comments, and email would start calling her a whore.” It says that she’s suddenly immune to any criticism of her work, because otherwise, some other people are going to be nasty to her. It says that Gruber and King are complicit in misogynistic attacks, even though they said nothing misogynist themselves.

    That’s not just patently irresponsible, it sets up a ridiculous double standard that’s no good for anyone. Every writer should have to stand behind what he or she writes, male or female.

    I suppose I have rather high standards, but I believe this kind of behavior ruins the internet by drowning us all in hate. I find this worse than anything Violet did, although the root problem is of course Shawn King’s aggression.

    Well, we have different takes on that. I don’t think King was particularly aggressive or vitriolic in this case until after he’d started to have ridiculous accusations flung at him.

    Of course I agree that it’d be better if everybody could be more civil to each other. But I’ve seen plenty of people say completely reprehensible things in the most civil and polite way, and there’s nothing to be gained by giving that a pass. It actually lowers the standard of discourse on the internet; we’ve already seen it in politics. It perpetuates the idea that you can say whatever you want, no matter how offensive, and as long as you word it nicely, it has to be treated as if it were a valid, reasonable idea.

    It is easy to look at history and come to the conclusion that sex + women = exploitation. That sexualization = misogyny. Many feminists pretty much do that. Sexualization can be the result of misogyny, and in most environments, sexualization can easily lead to misogyny. But sexualization and misogyny are not the same.
    […]
    A certain amount of push-back against sexualization is reasonable, given that sexualization is somewhat dangerous, and there shouldn’t be too much of it. But it is not reasonable to expect this to be “interpreted by any sane and reasonable person as being offensive to women”. It is not reasonable to demand an apology or to start petitions over this. This is just the usual contempt people tend to have for women who enjoy sex too much.

    The first part of this is a totally valid point; there is indeed a nuance there that’s often overlooked — the dangerous idea that it’s only the chaste and proper women who should be respected. (And I agree about the absolute silliness of a petition too, by the way).

    But I absolutely disagree that taking objection to Blue’s description is “the usual contempt people have for women who enjoy sex.” That just tries to make me sound like some kind of prude.

    The problem isn’t that Blue made a point of describing the woman as a “pretty brunette” with “breasts packed packaged air-tight in a tight, branded T-shirt” [I’ve quoted that like three times and it’s only just now that I’m noticing it’s lazily repetitive. FOR SHAME!] The problem is that she described the woman as that and nothing else. It’s not offensive to acknowledge that yes, women actually have sexual characteristics and that yes, it’s good to be sexually attractive. It is offensive to assume that that’s all a woman’s got going for her.

    The word “babe” uttered by a woman is much like the n-word uttered by a black person. It tends to be okay when they say it, because you can be pretty sure about how they mean it. They are not the ones with a history of abusing it.

    It’s funny, because when I first started writing this post, I linked to Louis CK’s bit about “the N-word”. He sums up exactly how I feel about it: there’s no such thing as an inherently bad word. (Except I make a somewhat hypocritical exception for “the c-word,” because it’s gross). Words are meaningless without the ideas they represent.

    It has nothing to do with history, because that implies that I’m complicit in what a bunch of strangers have done. It has nothing to do with race or gender or sexual orientation, because “you can be pretty sure how they mean it” sets up a double standard that’s inherently discriminatory. It’s all about intent. You can’t just make an assumption that because somebody’s a woman, they can’t be sexist, or because they’re not white, they can’t be racist. You have to actually take the time to consider what they’re saying and how they mean it, which is harder than just making a sweeping generalization.

    Blue’s post uses all the right politically correct speech, but its intent is to make unfounded generalizations and accusations of guilt by association. King’s posts occasionally use an archaic sexist word or demeaning terminology, but his intent is to call for responsibility and accuracy in writing. So which is the more offensive?

    And again, it’s not and never has been about the word “babe.” What’s sexist is seeing a woman and treating her like scenery, assuming that she’s worth taking pictures of but not worth talking to.

    Violet is a sex-blogger for god’s sake. The word babe crosses her lips rather easily. If you find her writing vapid, don’t read a column called “Pulp Tech”.

    Yes, I’ll happily agree to no longer read “Pulp Tech” so long as the writer of “Pulp Tech” agrees to stop publishing baseless accusations and hypocritically sexist comments.

  42. Chuck, while I think that the issue that prompted your essay is marginal at best, I thoroughly enjoyed reading every work. Thank you.

    To make good matters great, I marveled at this piece of sheer brilliance:

    “People like to think of the internet as being some kind of great equalizer, but it’s certainly not. It gives everyone equal voice, but without giving everyone equal eloquence, intelligence, common sense, or decency.”

    May I use it as a quote, and can I attribute it to you?

    -ch

  43. Forgive me if I’ve missed it, but nowhere in this post did you mention that Violet in her most recent post, did do the legwork to find out that the woman in question was Zsfia Rutkai, not Piroska Szurmai-Palotai as stated in the original comment on her original blog, which in turn was picked up on by Shawn King and then in turn linked to by John Gruber. While her finding that out now doesn’t excuse her original lack of research, it does show that everyone can and has made the same fundamental mistakes, and calling each other out for these on your own blogs (rather than just emailing each other as Violet Blue suggested Shawn King should have done) just adds fuel to the fire. Once it was public, it could only remain public.

    Violet ONLY did that because she had no choice. In fact, had we “just left her alone” like so many think, her *complete* mischaracterization of the woman as a “booth babe” would have been left as is, uncorrected.

    Note, that to date Violet *still* has not admitted error, nor apologized for that mischaracterization. What she’s doing now is an amazingly poor job of CYA. So spare me the “she finally did the right thing” line. No, she really hasn’t.

    As far as the need for doing that research in the first place, I sincerely doubt Violet Blue would have held back if she really thought it was important. I assume from the framing of the photo that she wasn’t originally going to say anything about Zsfia. The photo was part of a gallery of 26 photos, and the “saddest booth babe” comment (while flippant), was almost certainly included after the fact at the time of posting. Her deciding to make it a starting paragraph to her “Island of Misfit toys” piece was likely done in retrospect too.

    Based on what? How is it that you know, or even reasonably assume these things. in the *original* article, that picture was pretty much front and center, and that comment was pretty high up in the article. Your assertion that it was some kind of afterthought has no basis in reality or even logic.

    While Violet has dismissed out of hand the idea that her “booth babe” comment could be misogynist, you all have dismissed the idea of a core group of Apple loving enthusiasts who get incredibly and unreasonably defensive about Apple products. I don’t believe any of you bloggers fall into this category of “fanboy” because of your collective experience, but I do think it’s a legitimate term for commenters found in various forums. For the record, while I love Apple products for a number of reasons, there are some people for whom I would never recommend them (people who want to take stuff apart and customise it), and I think anyone who recommends apple products for anyone *no matter what* can legitimately be called an Apple fanboy because it describes their lack of reasoning.

    Strawman, strawman, dear lord, such a burning-man level strawman. No one gives a rat’s patoot about what Violet thinks about Apple. Everything she writes is about herself anyway, and this article was no different. “I’m cool, and if you were at the show and not at the parties *I* was at, you’re not cool, like me: Violet Blue”. The only reason this turned into anything beyond yet another craptacular VB egobatory post was because of her over the top hypocrisy and sexism. Remember, (I know this is a hard concept, keeping track of what happened before, but it’s important), Violet lost her friggin’ mind when someone at a party during the WWDC did the *exact* same thing she did here. Oh, how she railed at the inequity and injustice in the “Males Only” Mac community.

    Less than a year later, she does the same goddamned thing, and doesn’t even have the spine to admit she did it. No, she backpedals behind insulting attempts to redefine “Booth Babe” and when that fails, her entire argument is now “SEXISMFANBOY”.

    This is not about defending Apple, Apple needs no defense, not from her. This is about her being the same thing she railed against, and not having the self-awareness to admit that she made a mistake and apologize for it. Your attempt to dismiss everyone disagreeing with her as a fanboy is equally as reprehensible.

  44. Figured if I was raising your hit count, I should at least add a comment.

    I’ve been following this since first reading about it on Daring Fireball, and have tried to follow the sequence of events to get a better understanding of how this story has unfolded. I appreciate the thought and the care you’ve put into your post, and will definitely be keeping up with your blog from here out.

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