Shanley Kane, Danger Seeker

Much amusement has been had at the disintegration of Shanley Kane. I have sniggered at her situation, but not much, because really I do feel sorry for her. She has, by any standards, been horrendously abused.

The major aspect of that abuse was, of course, being told that what she was doing was worthwhile. To quote from Amelia Greenhall’s blog, “I wanted to found a new feminist tech media company.” The word “company” is a little out of place there; obviously what she actually founded was a political pressure group, funded by supporters. The Conservative Party sells newspapers, but it’s not a company.

So the purpose of this political pressure group, which Kane was invited to co-found, was “feminist tech media”. In other words, to disrupt and make trouble for the tech industry. There were people who wanted that, and they were willing to pay Greenhall and Kane to do it. Think of Kane’s assigned role as something like this:

You would have to have something wrong with you to take that task on as enthusiastically as Kane did, and it is now revealed that she does indeed have a lot wrong with her. Attempting to impose on technologists a culture based on giving primary importance to the nature of interpersonal relationships is as much a request to be hurt as is getting into a sexual relationship with Andrew Auernheimer.

But the effect of throwing missiles like Shanley Kane at the technology industry is very large. Eric Raymond, in his open-source Withywindle, can ignore the battles going on outside and say, shut up and show us the code, but the world of commercial software development has HR departments, regulators and press to deal with. Once it gets to the point that a female candidate for a software role is more likely to be a political trouble-maker than one of the unusual women with a taste for technology, then all such candidates are necessarily going to be treated with a great deal of suspicion.

I have never met a single technologist who wanted to keep out women. It would come naturally to any of them to welcome women colleagues and even to go out of their way to make things easier for them. But now that has to change. Because of people like Shanley Kane, and the men who fund them and send them into battle, it is now becoming important to keep women out of technology, because every single one is a danger. Even if they don’t start out as political activists, they might change and become one, and then attempt to tear your organisation down around them for the popular rewards that would bring. The existence of the tech industry in its present form is an insult to those who base their influence on the claim that men’s and women’s minds are identical, and those who have been brought up in that religion, and they would rather destroy it than have it continue as a reproach to their principles.

The future misogyny needed by technology is an instance of a general principle. A confident, secure structure can allow quite large amounts of diversity of thoughts and attitudes; something that is genuinely very valuable. You can have women who want to program computers, obsessives who talk to themselves and have beards down to their navels, camp gays and women who wear bow ties and smoke pipes.

A structure which is under attack, however, cannot allow itself those luxuries. It must respond to the threat by closing ranks, emphasising a common culture and defending that culture from outsiders. In doing so, it reduces its potential, but it has no choice. That is what our society is coming to. Women and minorities will be worst hit.


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