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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jono

    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.

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  • 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?

  • 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.

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  • 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!

  • 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!

  • Ian T

    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!

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • James Read

    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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  • 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!

  • Amer Alsabbagh

    I am an IT professional male Arabian Muslim “geek” (as they says), and my English is not that good, but out of my love to help others and my religious duty to provide goodness to every human being, I am telling you the following words.

    I believe you are a victim.
    You are a victim of the people who down-looked at you regarding the IT field on the basis of your gender. But also, you are a victim of the people who encouraged you to stand up in front of such community you are living in, in the way you are standing up in from of it.
    Actually what happened should open your eyes to the reality.
    Almost the whole world in deep hole of madness.
    According to my understanding/experience, the natural mentality of a male is to be harmful to women, and you can be sure about that by reading the whole history of the human being.
    I believe, that all came from the fact that males are physically stronger than females and you cannot change that, and laws can not change it either. And because of that, naturally a male will try to have benefits out of this fact, and that cannot be fixed by laws. Just check the statistics of your country. But the governments are not going to confess their stupidity and lack of the real solution other than implementing the social system of Islam.

    While good manners/true faith can provide a solution for this problem, also stupid illusions and bad intentions can hide the problem for a while, but they can be disclosed and exposed when you think about what happened to you.
    I believe, most of the good guys in your community are good to women because they have either stupid illusions or bad intentions.

    The people who encouraged you at the first place to stand up and talk in such kind of community without preparing your self to such conditions, are the real criminals. They like to think about themselves as open-minded and pioneers of freedom, but they lack the basic understanding of human being, and they have no problem sacrificing your comfort to prove their greatness.

    In brief, I advice you to stop exposing your self as a female, just expose your self as a human being.

    Stop hurting males with your beauty. That is really a very weak point in males, and we cannot stop the hate feeling response generation. But we can only hide it by our manners. Please, stop the provocation. And if somebody told you I am exaggerating or talking out of the western context, please, be sure he is wrong, just check the statistics again.

    Wear hijab. it is good for any woman, Muslim and non-Muslim.

  • 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!


    • Sarah

      Thank you, that’s very kind of you.

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