Work Life

Speaking up.

Six months ago, something happened to me that I kept quiet. Some of my best friends in the industry knew it was happening and tried to help as much as they could. I started writing a post back then about what happened, I got halfway through and found it too much. Coming back, maybe with a stronger disposition because of what happened with my Mum, I now want to share what occurred. It’s come to my attention that there’s a lot of females in this industry suppressing stuff that is happening to them, for fear of backlash or just wanting a quiet life. It also might answer some questions about another point. I’ll come to that later.

Here’s what I started to write back in August…

It’s with great sadness I have to speak up about something. I’m not sad myself, nor am I particularly hurt – but being scared into silence is not an option. The reason I’m sad is that the person involved with what I’m about to speak up about, could be a member of our community. Infact at the moment, everything is pointing to the fact they are. They are currently feeding off the suppression of this topic, so I’m writing publicly about it.

This week – someone decided to upload fake porn pictures of me to the internet – when I say fake I don’t mean my head stuck on someone’s body, but lookalikes or in some cases, just blonde girls with blue eyes and terrible taste in underwear. I digress. This is someone with far too much time on their hands and someone with a definite grudge. I’ve taught myself over the years to take the rough with the smooth and develop a thick skin, I’ve been free of online trouble for a while and rightly or wrongly, I was kind of expecting my run of luck to end. To say it caught me off guard, would be a lie, but to see how low someone would stoop, did. However, it’s amazing how resilient and detached you can be when you know you’ve been that boring your entire life that you’ve never taken nude pictures of yourself.

The interesting thing about what this individual did was show themselves as wanting to try and damage my professional integrity with blatant trolling. It all started a week ago from the date of writing this. I started to receive emails from creepy guys that eventually traced back to a site where various pictures had been posted to. The pictures were uploaded alongside my personal email address, (old) hometown and a screenshot of my Twitter account. There was also an open forum for comments at the bottom, which I’m sure you can imagine the type of things posted there.

This is where I stopped in August, and here is where I will continue on in my words now…

The timing of everything was carefully executed, they knew I was speaking at one of our industry’s best known conferences, ‘An Event Apart’ – they started to try and spam the feed ‘A Feed Apart’ on the day of my talk – they then tried, unsuccessfully, to post to the ‘An Event Apart’ Facebook feed during my talk, they setup a fake Twitter account and tried to at-reply my employers for that conference as well as high-profile twitter users I was associated with, to ensure they knew about the pictures and their existence.

If you were at ‘An Event Apart’ in Austin last year, you might remember Jeffrey jumping up on stage and giving one of the best, off-the-cuff speeches I’ve ever heard, purely because he had only been told seconds before what was likely to happen during my talk. He said (paraphrased) “The feed is prone to trolls and spam at the best of times, at any point today, if you see anything derogatory about any of our speakers, please ignore it, do not engage with them. The conference is about everyone in this room, not outside, let’s keep it that way”. At that point, I couldn’t believe it had even gone through my head to have a stiff upper lip and try and soldier on without them knowing what was happening behind the scenes. I felt ashamed; that I was almost letting them down by being a speaker and bringing all this hassle to their conference. During my talk, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried at what the hundreds of faces, lit up by glowing laptops, were seeing or reading about me or what might have slipped the net. A feeling I would never wish on my worst enemy. Jeffrey, Eric and the team handled it with such aplomb and such care towards me as well, I’ll be forever thankful.

We never found out who did it.

This brings me to my last point. There’s many questions around why there aren’t more females speaking in this industry. I can tell you why, they are scared. Everytime I jump on stage, I get comments, either about the way I look, or the fact that I’m the female, the token, the one they have to sit through in order for the males to come back on again. One conference, I even had a guy tweet something derogatory about me, not 30 seconds into my talk, only for me to bring up the point he had berated me for not bringing up, not a minute later – which caused him to have to apologise to my face after public backlash. I’ve had one guy come up to me in a bar and say (after explaining he didn’t like my talk)… “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys”. I could write a book on inappropriate things that have been said to me at conferences about girls in the industry, so much so, it’s become a running joke with fellow speakers. I know other girls who could also chip in a fair few chapters but, underneath the humour sometimes found in these situations, lies a very real problem.

It’s no great secret that girls are a minority in this industry, you only have to look at the queues for the toilets at any conference, however, it’s forgotten that it’s not about female speakers, it’s about finding female speakers who have enough of a thick skin to want to stand up infront of an audience of twitter-trigger-happy males and public speak. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Then ontop – when you finally feel comfortable with speaking, you get put into a big black pot and tarnished with the label “same old face”. This happened to me on my third ever speaking engagement, third? I was tarnished as a “same old face”. Since then it’s become water off a ducks back – I’m not going to let a label stop me from developing and growing my speaking skills, I’m by no means perfect and still have a lot to learn. We should be encouraging anyone who shows an aptitude or love for sharing their knowledge with the community.

The wheels are in motion for something I hope will address this, I will share soon and hope you will all support me in this venture.

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365 Comments

  • Reply Why We Need to Talk About Female Speakers in Search | State of Search February 14, 2013 at 11:29 am

    […] examples of inappropriate behaviour at search conferences which makes me wonder – are women scared of something else? This is totally unacceptable and needs to […]

  • Reply Ann & Aidan | February 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    […] “There’s many questions around why there aren’t more females speaking in this industry. I can tell you why, they are scared. Everytime I jump on stage, I get comments, either about the way I look, or the fact that I’m the female, the token, the one they have to sit through in order for the males to come back on again.” – Sarah Parmenter, Speaking Up […]

  • Reply Knews Feed » Cassie Slane: Porn and Tech Conferences Shouldn't Go Together February 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    […] Ironically, I heard about Sarah Parmenter on Twitter when Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr and Hunch, mentioned how proud she was of Sarah for speaking out. I wasn’t sure what she was referring to until I read Sarah’s blog. […]

  • Reply Women in technology and harassment | commonplacebook.com February 16, 2013 at 12:10 am

    […] as designer and tech speaker Sarah Parmenter discovered after speaking publicly at several public events this past year, female tech speakers are still the targets of harassment […]

  • Reply What it Means to Call Someone a Dickless Wonder (mostly that you are boring) « Danielle Paradis February 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    […] this is why women aren’t prevalent in tech? Or this. Or […]

  • Reply Casey February 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    That really sucks. Sorry to hear about your bad community experience(s).

  • Reply Verónica Faulkner February 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Sarah, I’m very proud to have a woman like you as reference in this sector. Courage, as women we have a long way to go and get victories, you will always be an inspiration to the rest, men and women. Greetings from Madrid.

  • Reply Verónica Faulkner February 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Sarah, I’m very proud to have a woman like you reference in this sector. Courage, as women we have a long way to go and get victories, you will always be an inspiration to the rest, men and women. Greetings from Madrid.

  • Reply Jono February 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I am glad you shared this – I find it very shocking. I suspect it is the result of the environment or location where you are well known. I couldn’t imagine this happening where I live in Charleston, SC… but it probably does.

  • Reply GEEKFEMINISM.RU » Blog Archive » Линкспам #1 February 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    […] Speaking up […]

  • Reply Chatman R. February 26, 2013 at 6:15 am

    It pisses me off that this sort of thing still happens. I’m inclined to listen to valuable knowledge regardless of the source. Male or female, it shouldn’t matter. If you have something awesome to share, you should be encouraged to share it.

    That anyone would discount your experience because you happen to be female is odd. You’d think we’d be past that sort of thing by now. The faked pictures fiasco is surreal. I thought we left that in middle school, but hell, I guess that’s what happens when people are only biologically adults.

    Do they not realize they’re putting a stranglehold on the free exchange of ideas that defines our industry when they pull this kind of bullshit, because they’re making a not at all trivial number of fellow designers and devs feel unwelcome?

  • Reply Jonathan Beech March 2, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Sorry to hear about your troubles with bullies. It sounds like the whole thing was motivated by jealousy to me. You are clearly dedicated to the craft of web development since your online portfolio shows you are clearly passionate about what you do. Work like that you produce takes great skill and tenacity. I’m just starting out in web design and development, attempting to theme WordPress sites and its not a trivial activity.

    Furthering your skills as a public speaker which is a by product of your passion for the industry shouldnt be sabottaged by this sort of behavior. An attractive person should be able to go about their business without having to put up with this school boy bully nonsense.

  • Reply Gender and Digital Culture | SARA PERRY March 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    […] of ‘lad culture’ of misogyny, according to NUS”. Others, like Anita Sarkeesian, Mary Beard, Sarah Parmenter, Leigh Alexander, and see here, have all actively—and inspiringly— responded to what is […]

  • Reply Brad Weaver March 14, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Thank you for sharing and for standing up. Regardless of your gender or what you look like, I admire your work and respect you as a professional. Others should do the same. And I actually skipped the AEA here in Atlanta to go out of my way and travel to San Diego specifically to hear your talk and to take Luke’s workshop. So you’re not the same old face, you’re sharing new and valuable information that’s cutting edge and I’m blessed to learn from it. Keep up the great work and keep breaking down walls!

  • Reply Julian Krispel-Samse March 19, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s super courageous of you. If you hadn’t done this lots of people including me would actually not be aware of how bad it is.

    This has absolutely no place on or offline and shouldn’t be tolerated by anybody. Let’s keep our ears pricked and be vigilant!

  • Reply Ian T March 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    As a father of two daughters, who constantly encourages them to strive to do their best & be heard, I’m shocked… this cannot go on!

  • Reply Adria Richards Debacle | Seaway Creative March 22, 2013 at 3:44 am

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  • Reply ‘Donglegate’ Makes Me Want To Destroy the Internet March 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    […] legitimately important issues — i.e., the sexism that often occurs within the technology and developer communities, and the best ways to respond to it — has been lost, forever, because too many […]

  • Reply Patrick Prothe April 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Like others have said, thank you so much for sharing. It’s people like you with the courage to stand up that will help change the world. I think one of the most important books men and women should read is ‘Leadership of the Sexes’ by Barbara Annis and Michael Gurian. It talks about the differences in how we communicate and why we need to embrace the value and style each brings to the proverbial table.

    And we need more women in positions of power. Another article I read recently talked about how companies with women in leadership positions and represented on the boards performed better than those run solely by men. So shame on those who try to keep you and others down, and kudos to you for speaking up.

  • Reply Katherine April 11, 2013 at 9:31 am

    I haven’t kept up with your posts and tweets recently after taking time off work to have a baby and so have only just seen this post and what has been happening.I am shocked anyone would even be bothered to waste so much time being so malicious and targeting you like this!

    You are a great inspiration to other young woman like me trying to better themself and make a career our of this industry and its awful this has happened to rock your confidence.

    I hope this idiot realises there could be serious conciquences to their actions and it is not ok to behave like this to anyone.

  • Reply chirag jobanputra May 9, 2013 at 6:15 am

    It takes great courage to speak out for matters as such. I applaud you for being courageous and bringing up this issue. I am sure this will help all the girls out there who face similar challenges.

  • Reply Speaking at LXJS in Portugal | Laura Kalbag June 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    […] I jumped at the chance to speak at LXJS was their fantastic Code of Conduct. After hearing some horror stories from other women speakers, I wish more conferences had this sort of approach. It’s friendly, […]

  • Reply Let’s Encourage More Women in Tech to Speak Publicly - UX Brainstorm June 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    […] but the attention that women receive is especially disturbing. Designer and speaker Sarah Parmenter recalled how a troll posted fake pornography pictures of her to a conference Twitter feed as she was […]

  • Reply Women, the web industry and the importance of diversity | 8 Gram Gorilla September 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    […] and, perhaps most shockingly of all, well-respected industry speakers have been subjected to some horrendous and inexcusable sexual harassment. With industry heavyweights like Happy Cog, Paul Boag, Andy Rutledge and Uncle Bob also chipping in […]

  • Reply What it Means to Call Someone a Dickless Wonder (mostly that you are boring) | Dispatches from Paradis October 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

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  • Reply James Read January 17, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I am sorry you have had to go through this. For such a young and creative industry, i am shocked some men are still so narrow-minded and old-fashioned.

    I am not a web professional – i work in the City in insurance. However, i do design and code websites for friends small business and my personal sites.

    I’m in Grays, so you are local and a real inspiration to me. I have seen your articles in magazines and blogs. To me, you are not just one of the top females, but one of the leading people in the industry, male or female.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • Reply Jim Griesemer October 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I commend you for your courage and am angered that these trolls would do this to you or anyone. UX is about having empathy. There is NO PLACE for misogyny in this industry or any industry, for that matter. I have shared your post with my connections in UX with the hope that it help to point the light of shame on these trolling cowards. This needs to stop. It’s a black mark on UX and the community should stamp it out!

  • Reply Paul Brewster January 17, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Hi

    Don’t ever let the attitudes of some narrow-minded, myopic and old-fashioned me deter you from success in the industry.

    Good luck. And, never, ever give up!

    Paul

    • Reply Sarah February 21, 2015 at 2:38 am

      Thank you, that’s very kind of you.

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