There’s been a lot of discussion about Adria Richards’ reaction to men’s sexual banter at a recent Tech conference. It’s interesting that the conversation so often turns to critiquing how women react to men’s sexist behavior and the effects of those reactions on men’s careers, and away from critiquing the men’s behavior and its effects on women’s careers.
Some women may not find sexual banter at work offensive, but research shows they are few and far between. Research also shows that regardless of how people feel about it, sexual banter in the workplace is harmful — especially to women, but often to men as well. Finding sexual banter offensive and being harmed by it doesn’t mean one is weak, just as finding racial banter and jokes offensive and being harmed by them does not mean one is weak.
It’s individually adaptive to go along with or try and act like members of the majority group when one is outnumbered. There are even rewards for criticizing others for not doing the same. But this individually adaptive behavior perpetuates the status quo.
Adria Richards reacted harshly. It’s usually best to give people the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to correct their behavior. Richards’ reaction may have done her more harm than the comments that inspired it, but it may have done women in Tech more good than a private confrontation. If you read her blog, that seems to have been her intention.