Wanderlust Wendy

Le Wagon Week 2: Shut Down Sexist Jokes

Since today is International Women’s Day, the timing is perfect for what’s been on my mind for my second week at Le Wagon Shanghai – our general lack of resistance to sexist jokes.

Effort Toward Equal Representation

Women being a minority in the tech world is no news. During my time at the tech giant, despite being in the non-technical side of the business, decisions makers were still often men. No surprise.

Given those odds, I applaud Le Wagon Shanghai for creating a 50/50 gender mix in our current cohort. That is an achievement in and of itself. Yet, despite such effort to achieve gender equality, I was reminded how quickly one rotten tomato can undermine progress.

On Monday, an alumni mixer took place for us to casually meet former Le Wagoners, to hear their experiences, and to pick their brains. As is typical with these events, we gathered at a bar. The alums were mostly from previous Le Wagon Shanghai cohorts, who happened to all be men. Around 8 alumni each gave a short speech on what they’d been up to since the camp, and passed on tips and wisdom.

Takes Only One to Undermine Effort

It was all very interesting and informative until one former student, let’s call him Rotten Tomato, began to speak. According to his own account, he was on his way to the gym when a fellow alum asked him to join, signaling this would be an impromptu speech.

Before he began to give us his f-bomb filled wisdom, he addressed the male portion of my batch. I paraphrase, “You guys are so lucky there are so many girls in your class. We only had one girl, and she was… well kinda like a guy. It’s not motivating to come up with solutions when there are just dudes, but when there are girls to impress? Well that’s more fun!”

Now, imagine a much more exaggerated, frat-house, or “locker-room” version of the above words. Shocked, I rolled my eyes so hard. In hindsight, I wish I had call him out right there and then. No one did. But no regrets. Now I tell the world about it.

I am 200% sure Rotten Tomato thinks he was just having some good afterwork fun, thinking he was hilarious to make jokes about not having women in his class. I could let it go, but I would be guilty of perpetuating the issue.

Sexist Jokes Are Really NOT Okay

No sir, we women did not join a coding camp to entertain you, nor for men to impress us. And if you needed women to be present to motivate you, then that’s a different set of issues.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard sexist jokes. Let’s be real, they are all around us. But on Monday night, it became personal. I ruminated over the all-male alumni panel, and the implication of having a majority male team who leads our camp. This reflects the tech world at large. What does it mean to have men who make most of the decisions for me as a student, employee, and consumer?

The next day, a quick chat with a fellow female classmate revealed that I was not the only person disgusted by Rotten Tomato. I again questioned why no one spoke up? Why, when he was going on and on about his female classmate not being feminine, no one told him to stop?

Fortunately, besides this one Rotten Tomato, all the men that I’ve encountered so far in Le Wagon community have all been wonderfully respectful and pleasant to work with. But we, both men and women, must all take upon the responsibility to stop this type of behavior. Jokes are words, too. Laughing at them is consent. Let’s not give power to lame, sexist jokes.

So that was the biggest takeaway in week 2. I’m now exploring ways to get involved with female empowerment in the tech world. To have more female leaders means more participation is needed. Oh, and I did learn more Ruby & Object-Oriented Programming as well!

5 thoughts on “Le Wagon Week 2: Shut Down Sexist Jokes”

  1. I was that one girl who was… well kinda like a guy. Thank you for writing this article and articulating an unfortunately all too common problem.

  2. I’m the rotten tomato you were talking about, and I’m just here to clarify. I apologize for making you girls misunderstand and I admit the joke I made was not appropriate.
    There’s a difference between fact and thinking. Like the fact is the majority of people working in tech industry are men, but if people think women’s not good at this then they’re wrong. I’m not a sexist person and in fact I respect women coders more than men, because the women coders I know are all very talented and it was not easy for them because of all the bias and stuff the society has on them.
    I definitely did not mean women were for people to entertain. When i was saying the joke, I was thinking from a fact I observed through my work and learning experience, that teams are generally more efficient with a proper mixture of men and women because of a lot of reasons, like synergy or complementary personalities. I did not think women are for male to impress, that is wrong. However, I do realize it was not a very appropriate way to express this as a joke and I should have been more careful with my words.
    To summarize, I’m definitely not a sexist person and I did not mean what you said in the article. I apologize for making you and others upset and I did not mean to offend anyone. I wrote this statement not because I’m afraid that people will call me a sexist or something, but I want you to know that women are getting more recognition than you think. In fact it doesn’t matter what you think of me, but what matters is you have confidence in yourself. The tech world is mostly led by men now, and that has already caused some problems. I do hope one day you and more women can become one of those tech leaders, because the tech world needs you.
    That’s all. I don’t have that much wisdom, and it’s certainly not f-bomb filled.

  3. While it is true that sexist jokes are a no-no whether they are directed at men or women, it is also true that there are also different ways to address them.

    Wendy, one way of addressing it could have been to speak directly to this guy -maybe they didn’t have bad intentions after all. His comment posted right under this post seem to suggest so.

    Another way of addressing this issue could have been to address the alumni present. Or to speak to the organizers. Who knows, maybe they would have done something about it you had given them the chance to do so.

    You complain that nobody spoke up, but you were the first one to keep silent and expect someone to say something. You are also responsible for the situation you are complaining about.

    As for why nobody stopped him (including you):
    1. Several of us didn’t laugh and therefore not consented, in your own words.
    2. Everything was finished before it even started. The whole ordeal lasted maybe 20 seconds.
    3. One TA said "That’s my cue to leave" and left.
    4. At the end of the day, it’s just a bad joke. Yes, this joke offended you, yes it was a bad one and yes it probably shouldn’t have been made. But it was words, just words. Maybe nobody felt the need to start a verbal sparring duel in the middle a get-together session.
    5. Whether you like it or not, Mr "Rotten Tomato" showed up to this event to give you and your classmates advice for you to make the best of these 9 weeks. That doesn’t mean he can do whatever he wants but it would have been more understanding from you to keep his good intentions this in mind.

    Sometimes people say something you find offensive and though you might not approve of it, you can choose to let it slide when you see no bad intention.

    I also feel offended when you say that reaching at 50-50 parity is an achievement in itself, because it suggests that men were voluntarily keeping women out of the community so far, when there is nothing proving that this disparity is the result of oppression. I feel offended when I read a sexist comment like this one, especially coming from someone who claims to fight sexism.

    Whatever. You are entitled to your opinion, it might not be mine but I can let it slide instead of starting a fight. I am not going to make it a public post shitstorm with Le Wagon’s name on it like you are doing.

    Making it an explosive PR issue for our whole "respectful and pleasant" community before trying any diplomatic way to solve the matter is giving the exact power to the "lame, sexist jokes" that you complain about.

    Not cool for any one of us.

    I would understand you did that if you had tried the diplomatic way first but got confronted to a sexist administration. This would justify this public shaming that you are doing to our community. But I don’t think this happened since you were nowhere to be seen just seconds after the end of the speeches.

  4. Just to make myself clear: many women, when given a free choice, choose non-technical jobs. That doesn’t make men pigs and bigots. Suggesting that the 50-50 is an achievement in itself suggests that females are the victims of males.
    I’m not saying oppression doesn’t exist when women choose I job, I’m just saying that you can’t jump to conclusions without proof. Just because one category of the population chooses one job over another one doesn’t make one gender the oppressors and the other gender the victims. This way of looking at things is pure sexism.

    But I’m not going to call you a "sexist woman" or or a "Rotten Banana" with the name of your school on a blog.

  5. you go girl. I’m in LeWagon and have fortunately been lucky enough to work with males who get your point, and who won’t reply with these constructive critiques or experience-sharing with "I’m not a sexist tho/ you misunderstood what I meant". That said: when guys do come out like this, and when they easily express these comfortable, small-minded/narcissistic/ defensive/male fragility "replies" to "hey, that was sorta fucked up": I think of it as a great way to dodge a bullet. I actually got into tech/lewagon to specifically work with other women and be able to find a more international/community of people who have more open views and mindsets; who realize that their defensiveness is a mere by product of the shit they’ve been fed, or the insecurities they feel that only offer a glimpse into the consistent and perpetual frictions we as females or oppressed people experience every day. I’m almost relieved that the stupid ones out themselves before I invest a drop of time, work, or resources in them. Anyway, hope you keep chuggin at Le Wagon, and we can start our own fuckin women’s alumni group in the meantime 😀


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