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We Have Work to Do: #yesallwomen and the Web

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Last week, I plucked an article from our submission inbox. It was about getting stuck in the “friendzone,” and likened women not wanting to date men to both the Holocaust and terrorism.

It was obviously ridiculous—a terrible article terribly suited to our magazine. I told the author it was sexist, made a joke about it on the ALA Slack channel, and moved on with my life.

We’re A List Apart, after all. We published “Responsive Web Design.” “The Discipline of Content Strategy.” “A Dao of Web Design.” We’re here to help you make better websites and digital products, not get bent out of shape about every stupid example of sexism we see.

And yet. Someone thought that was right for us.

I woke up Saturday morning to news of tragedy, and watched as that tragedy turned into #yesallwomen, a Twitter conversation about sexism and violence against women so large, so powerful, that most of the women I know contributed to it.

The women I know, by and large, work in tech. They’re your designer, your developer, your content strategist, your user researcher. They’re our authors. And more often than any of us wants to believe, they’re getting groped at tech meetups. They’re receiving death and rape threats for speaking at a conference. Their bodies are being made the targets of office jokes.

They’re being talked down to, fired, catcalled, harassed, abused, and raped—and blamed for it, too.

But of course, that’s not our subject matter. A List Apart is about publishing the Next Big Thing in design. It’s about shaping standards. It’s about the business of building websites.

And yet. When I look at those articles that most influenced my career (and probably many of yours), I see our mission, clear as day: to encourage a more thoughtful, curious, and engaged web industry—one that pushes past easy answers and encourages ongoing growth and learning.

Technical skills—and by that I mean everything from JavaScript to typography to taxonomy—will take us part of the way there, but they’re not enough anymore. Not now, not when we’re facing the big, messy problems that come with designing for an increasingly web-connected world.

We need as many brains and hearts as possible to solve these problems. And if we do not make this a welcoming place for people of all kinds of backgrounds—women, as #yesallwomen clearly shows, but also people of color and younger people and older people and people who don’t speak English as a first language and people with disabilities and even people who don’t think gifs are funny—then we, as an industry, will miss out. We’ll miss out on talent, on perspective, on ideas.

So we, the staff of A List Apart, are putting a stake in the ground: we will be part of this conversation, too. Sexism and discrimination and diversity are not fringe issues—not problems that should be relegated only to niche sites or individuals’ blogs. They’re mainstream issues that have found far too comfortable a home in our industry. An industry we’ve worked too damn hard to grow, guide, and collaborate with to watch it falter and flail now.

We’re not going to stop publishing articles about CSS Shapes or Sass mixins, not for a second. But as we do, we’re also going to be thinking about our responsibility to this community. And that means a few things:

  • We expect the people we publish to be respectful to their community, and we will not publish those we see doing otherwise.
  • We will be vigilant about the voices we choose to amplify, and those we do not.
  • We will actively, purposefully seek out diverse contributors.
  • We’ll be spending more time talking about sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, even if it makes some readers uncomfortable.

Most of all, we’re here, and we’re on the record: the web industry has a diversity problem. It’s got a misogyny problem. It’s standing in the way of the web we want, and we are all—every one of us—responsible for changing that.

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