It's been a hard week for brogrammers, especially if your name is Pax Dickinson. Days after a popular presentation at TechCrunch's Disrupt Hackathon drew ire for its humor at the expense of women, Dickinson lost his job at Business Insider for a years-long habit of tweeting out jokes demeaning women, minorities, and more or less anyone who wasn't a similar-thinking white guy like Dickinson himself. In an interview with New York's Daily Intel, Dickinson took another shot at explaining himself.
Repeatedly, Dickinson explains that his critics don't understand his brand of humor, or him, or his much-mocked "brogrammer" twitter avatar. "Yeah, I have a brogrammer photo on my Twitter — that’s a joke man, come on. I don’t pop my collar! Like, this is so silly," he said. "I’m not even — I’m a nerd!" he added. And that's probably true, as it is for most who would fall under the now pejorative brogrammer label, which actually refers more to actions and privilege than to a sense of style. Ann Friedman's excellent column, also for New York, explains: "'bro' conjures a particular type of dude who operates socially by excluding those who are different. And, crucially, a bro in isolation is barely a bro at all — he needs his peers to reinforce his beliefs and laugh at his jokes," she writes, adding: "Because he’s used to enjoying a certain amount of financial and cultural privilege, he takes up a lot of space." Under that definition — which we would posit is the one intended by most of the pieces critical of brogramming culture, Dickinson seems to be the dictionary example.
On that note, here is his answer on whether tech has a women problem, something his critics have accused him of perpetuating:
I think the tech world is just kind of — it doesn’t have a woman problem. Women in tech are great. There's just not that many of them because tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in, I think. I mean, I don't think it has a problem. I'd worry more about taking away what makes tech great. The freewheeling nature of it is what leads to innovation. And my fear is that if we’re all going to police what we say, maybe we lose that innovation.
And, similarly, his thoughts on his controversy sibling this week, Titstare:
Titstare is crass and sexist and stupid, but it’s not misogyny. Real misogyny is, you know, hatred of women and violence against women and all that. Those are terrible things, but let’s not devalue those things, let’s not make those things, let’s not trivialize them by using the same words for things like Titstare. I mean, Titstare is harmless. It’s crass, but it’s harmless. but men need to be more careful.
One thing becomes clear in Dickinson's responses to the controversy that rose up around him: at best, he doesn't understand why his brand of humor drew so much exasperation and criticism. At worst, he doesn't care. And it doesn't look like Dickinson is alone in that regard. While sexism in tech is having something of a moment this week, it's been well-documented, reported, and criticized for a long time. And every time it happens, the tech world seems to bounce back, as bro-y and homogenous as it ever was. Dickinson's responses echo the pushback of many from inside the brogrammosphere on this week's stories of sexism in the industry. Brogrammers, many of whom understand after the fact that Titstare was inappropriate, simultaneously assume that they have the privilege of deciding why, and to what degree, on behalf of the women it frustrated.
That pushback places the two driving forces of this debate in tension: freedom of speech, and sexist or otherwise exclusionary speech, but only from the perspective of the bros in charge. As we've explained before, the first is often used to excuse the second in the tech world. And yet, an environment in which harassing, sexist, or demeaning speech or actions are allowed without consequence, all under the excuse of innovation, the speech of those outside of the central affinity group of bros in charge are constantly policed, sometimes into silence, when criticism of the Silicon Valley "culture" gets too noisy for the bros' ears.
And yet Dickinson would like his critics to take the time to get to know the real him, and understand the intricacies of his intentions and existence before condemning his words. Speaking of his friends, he says:
Yeah, I've had friends say that in the past, but you know, they also know me, and they know the real me. And the people who know the real me like kind of don't — would never take those tweets that kind of way. They know me well enough to know that I'm kidding, I'm playing a role. It’s a thing, it’s being — it’s comedy, it’s fun. People are so thin skinned and, I don't know, we cant joke anymore in this society it seems. And that’s kind of unfortunate, it seems. And it’s unfortunate that people didn't try to get my side of the story at all, really. It was just an instant thing. A post went on on Valleywag at 6:30 pm and 9:30 the next morning I lost my job. I feel there was a big rush, and that wasn’t necessary, and my side of the story could have been gotten easily. I'm easy to reach.
Those who are singled out, like Dickinson, will respond with the accurate rebuttal that everyone is human, and there's always more to the story. But especially in a male-dominated industry like tech, it's hard to feel sympathy: virtually the entirety of Silicon Valley is the brogrammer's side of the story. If Silicon Valley is truly a place were everyone is allowed to have space at the table by the merit of their talent, then its time the brogrammers started actually listening to the other people in the room.