Feminists in tech are a little drained today, considering we’ve already had two sizable misogynistic controversies in one week—and it’s only Wednesday.
Where to start? There was the giant shitshow of TechCrunch Disrupt’s opening startup presentations, which included a demo of the on-the-nose app Titstare (which was as awful as it sounded), followed by a man pretending to masturbate on stage. That was followed by a lot of back-and-forth raging as many people bemoaned the rise of the Tech Dude Bro, and just as many people defending the Tech Dude Bro.
One of those people defending the Tech Dude Bro was none other than BusinessInsider CTO Pax Dickinson, whose trollish tweets have been a hallmark of obnoxiousness and douchery for many years. Even BI’s Chief Correspondent Nicholas Carlson has said he blocks Pax Dickinson on Twitter.
Evidently, Dickinson’s douchery this week ramped up to a level of awfulness that officially crossed the Dude Bro line and went straight into Troll. For that, Dickinson was fired Tuesday. So sayeth Henry Blodget:
“A Business Insider executive has made some comments on Twitter that do not reflect our values and have no place at our company. The executive has left the company, effective immediately. Business Insider's team is composed of more than 100 talented men and women of many backgrounds, and we highly value this diversity.”
Dickinson has gone on to found Glimpse, an "ephemeral social network" that sounds like a Snapchat for texts. Explaining his move, Dickinson wrote: "I believe as strongly as anyone that freedom of expression should be protected and that it's threatened by the government but also by a politically biased media shaming culture."
Wah wah wah, I got called out for my bullshit, wah wah wah.
So, victory, right?
Wrong. The problem isn’t just that these assholes are making sexist jokes and then mansplaining misogyny. It’s that Silicon Valley is so cultishly entrenched in the belief that tech is a meritocracy that it creates a cozy little home for these assholes who continue to make sexist, racist, and classist jokes while simultaneously washing their hands of it all by claiming to be gender-blind and color-blind because hey—it all comes down to who has the most “passion.”
Think about every tech startup event you’ve ever been to. How many times have you heard someone ask a VC “which startups will fail and which ones will survive?” And how many times have you heard the VC respond “the right startups will survive.” I HAVE HEARD THIS SO MANY TIMES I’MNOTEVENJOKING.
The insistence that survival and success in Silicon Valley comes down purely to merit glosses over the reality that female entrepreneurs receive just 4.2% of venture capital funding in the U.S., while 92% of venture capitalists are men. So we’re either saying that women just don’t have good ideas or don’t know how to execute good ideas—or we’re being willfully ignorant.
What really sucks is that so many women in Silicon Valley have to drink the Kool-Aid if they’re going to thrive in the tech world. Take, for instance, Citrus Lane CEO Mauria Finley’s post, “VCs don’t have a bias against women; we're just bad at pitching.” Like a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus self-help guide for women in Silicon Valley, the article insists that there is no sexism in Silicon Valley; women just don’t know how to think big or sell a large idea. And men need to retreat to their caves because laydiez talk too much! (Finley didn’t say this.)
“By not understanding that VCs are focused on home runs, I ‘played small’ during the pitch process. Instead of talking about the huge baby-and-kids e-commerce opportunity, I focused on the nuts-and-bolts of how I would grow the business and attract new customers,” wrote Finley.
The problem couldn’t possibly be that male entrepreneurs tend to overestimate themselves and their achievements? Or that male investors are notoriously drawn to high-risk investment opportunities compared to women?
You might be tempted to say—as one person has to me—that if you can’t sell your idea to an investor, you won’t be able to sell your idea to the general public. But then we’re right back at square one: assuming that the investor is Emerson’s transparent eye: “I am nothing; I see all.”
No. You don’t. No one does. You bring your biases to the table just like everyone else, but saying “I’m totes gender-blind, bro” means you just don’t see it.
So now that Pax Dickinson is out and TechCrunch is apologizing for sexist presenters, does this mean feminism is making gains in Silicon Valley? Yes—to the extent that outrageously offensive behavior is no longer being tolerated. But the underbelly of dog whistle sexism and discriminatory thinking still persists—the belief that women ruin the dude bro fraternal atmosphere of the founder culture, the assertion that the real reason women aren’t being promoted is because they take the mommy track out, and the dogmatic insistence that if women don’t like it, they should change it (while they’re being told to stay out of the boys’ clubs). And until that underbelly is flipped over and exposed outright, the Tech Dude Bro will live on.