Recently, Sarah Parmenter posted an article exposing her abusive experiences as a speaker in the web design industry. Publishing the truth is a display of both her strength and vulnerability. Since then, Whitney Hess, Leslie Jensen-Inman, and Relly Annett-Baker have each written about their similar experiences with abuse as speakers at public design events. I respect all of these women professionally, and am grateful that they are bringing awareness to what it actually feels like to be disrespected, undermined, and exploited. These are not isolated incidents, and they won’t magically disappear.
Note: Leslie’s story was personally disheartening, because she was the female mentor who encouraged me to pursue a career in web design and technology.
In the comments section of each post, I noticed a theme: fear. Women who are new to design and technology are expressing their reservations about participating in our community, and how they’re scared to speak publicly. We know that when we step on a stage, there’s a damn good chance we’ll be publicly criticized for our gender, appearance, our knowledge of the subject at hand. What’s worse, we may be stalked, threatened, or verbally abused. Why bother putting ourselves in that horribly uncertain space, when we can stick to the sidelines safely?
Please, please don’t keep quiet. Don’t stay on the bench. Don’t let bullies–or the fear of bullies–keep you from becoming a speaker in our community. We need your voices, your opinions, your insights. What you can contribute to the world is bigger than small-minded people who have been taught that women are second-class citizens who aren’t to be taken seriously.
Sexism will never completely disappear. And there will always be racism, violence, and poverty. It’s disheartening, I know, but stick with me here. Just because the dark, horrible, make-your-blood-boil things in life will always linger doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to change them.
Every time you speak publicly, you win. We all win. Every time you give in to the fear of trolls and abusers, those fucking cowards win. Men who abuse women for speaking publicly are afraid of losing their power: they’re afraid of your power. Putting yourself out there is not going to be easy, and your fear is absolutely justified. I want you to know that I’m on your side. A whole vibrant community of good-hearted people are here to support you.
Public speaking is already intimidating. The fear of bullying, trolling, stalking, threatening has no place in our industry. Thank you to those who are speaking out, and thank you to those who are calling for change.
How can you start speaking? Make friends with women who have experience speaking. Ask their advice about finding friendly venues to speak at, and how to brainstorm topics that you’re comfortable speaking on. Don’t let age, experience level, or any other excuse keep you from speaking. You are worthy, and you are capable of whatever you put your mind to.
My smart and cool friend Julie Horvath is a designer who speaks publicly quite often. She wrote a post on her motivation for becoming a speaker. She also shared these wonderful links with me, so I could share them with you. Thanks, Julie!
- Elise Huard, The art of speaking at conferences
- We Are All Awesome, Be a Role Model
- Jen Myers, Confessions of a Semi-Amateur Speaker
- Jen Myers, How to Avoid Feminist Burnout
- Nicole Sullivan, Don’t Feed the Trolls
Speaking out against things that are wrong help them become smaller. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as you want to be. Now, go forward with confidence: we’re all here for you.