Two days ago, a prominent designer named Sarah Parmenter published a post titled Speaking Up, in which she revealed the horrific harassment she has endured as a public woman in technology.
Sarah and I have spoken at the same conferences and share a lot of the same friends, and I have admired her ability to be so well-liked. I considered it her gift. I always assumed she’d never experienced any backlash from being outspoken and influential. I just figured she was better at it than I am.
When I read Sarah’s post, my heart sunk. I was sickened by what had happened to her, and though I’ve never known that particular brand of intimidation, I could identify. I wanted to scream, “Me too!” but I stopped myself, not wanting to “one-up” her or be perceived as using her struggles as an excuse for a bit of attention. You see, this is what women do. We stay silent because we’re afraid of how we’ll be perceived. We don’t want to come across as too masculine, too self-righteous, too assertive, too proud. So we diminish ourselves and our experiences; we want to be good but not too good, smart but not too smart, friendly but not too friendly. We’re afraid of being too much.
After seeing that two other women who I greatly admire — Leslie Jensen-Inman and Relly Annett-Baker — had posted their own stories yesterday, I realized that it was ridiculous of me to shut myself up once again. So here it is, the truth.
I have been the victim of harassment since I began blogging and tweeting in 2008. Almost as soon as I found myself with any kind of following, any sense of belonging within the community, people immediately wanted me out.
What I think has been different about my experience from Sarah’s or Leslie’s or Relly’s — or from any woman I’ve shared my story with who has shared her story with me — is that my predators have rarely hidden behind the cowardice of anonymity. My attackers are proud to demonstrate their attack. They have used their real names, their blogs and their Twitter accounts as platforms to declare their hatred for me. They have risked their reputation, their credibility, their status and their friendships for the higher purpose of taking me down.
I desperately want to name them. I desperately want to link to the posts they wrote and the photos they made, and make you see just how deeply they tried to hurt me, to destroy me. But that would be giving them exactly what they want. So I won’t.
Each time I’ve been vilified, I’ve been applauded for the “grace” and “humility” and “maturity” with which I’ve handled it. Because I didn’t fight back, because I didn’t stand up for myself, because I didn’t tell these people to go fuck themselves, I was considered to have done “the right thing.” My silence won me fans — believe it or not, it also won me clients (thanks for the exposure, vultures!). But by allowing their voices to remain unchallenged, their depictions of me became fact to those who held them in high regard. Their readers never got to hear my side of the story, never came to know the real me.
Over time I’ve noticed that people I once considered to be my friends began to distance themselves from me. People I had shared dinners with at conferences and spent late nights video-chatting with about client projects suddenly didn’t have the time for me. They wouldn’t sit near me during a session, they wouldn’t respond to me on Twitter, and they wouldn’t acknowledge holiday cards I’d sent.
To be honest, I don’t really blame them. I believe their change in behavior had less to do with actually believing the negativity that had been spewed about me, and more to do with not wanting to become the next subject of it. I attract haters, and they don’t want any. So they ran away.
I could go into how being persecuted makes me feel, what I’ve had to deal with as a result of it, what the psychology of this torment has been. But quite frankly, I think it’s irrelevant. I’m still here. I’m still writing my heart out. I’m still speaking at conferences all over the world. I’m still running a very successful business. I’m still in love with my life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
I can’t help how my good fortune makes another feel less fortunate; that has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. When I meet a fortunate soul, I want to learn from them, not resent them. I don’t have the urge to hurt people. I strive to know people, to dig deep until I find out who they really are and how I can help them. That’s why I’m still close friends with kids I met in Kindergarten. That’s why I’m so passionate about working in the field of User Experience and evangelizing its message throughout technology and business. I work to expand my empathy every day and share those lessons with the world.
People have tried to shut me up. If they think their venom will make me go away, they don’t know me very well after all. Nothing turns me on more than being underestimated.
And it’s okay, the pain they inflict is fleeting. It only takes me a moment to see inside them, to perceive the origin of their hate, and to pity their misery, to hope they find a light in their life that will guide them towards happiness. This isn’t nonsense, it’s awareness. It’s strength. And I owe them thanks for helping me find it.
To anyone experiencing harassment, male or female, young or old, I implore you: don’t suffer in silence. Raise your voice. Tell your story. Open your heart. Find your power.
Be you. No one else can.
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