Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TechCrunch, TitStare and a Tale of Two Silicon Valleys


This weeks spectacular display of bad taste by TechCrunch Disrupt has lit up the Twittersphere with more analysis of how hostile tech is for women. In case you missed it, TechCrunch Disrupt opened with not one, but two awful presentations (awful unless you are a teenage boy). An app designed so you can capture people staring at other people's breasts, TitStare, and a demonstration of on stage masturbation (male masturbation of course), with an iPhone app counting the number of times you can shake your iPhone in 10 seconds. We have such a long history of bro-dom in tech, and such a lot of material, that the Atlantic has written a poem to it.

What I find so bizarre about this week's particular brand of puerile presentation is that it is still going on. Are these guys living in a time warp?  Do they actually work in Silicon Valley or not? Twenty years ago I would have expected it, but not today!

In the real Silicon Valley today most people are so busy building products, users and revenue they don't have time to make fun of women, or their breasts. If it doesn't make me money, leave it out. Enterprise software is back in fashion, the Cloud and Mobility are turning the world on it's ear - who has time for sexism any more?

In the real-world of Silicon Valley now we have strong sexual discrimination laws. Woe betide you if you work for a real company and you harass a female employee or create a hostile environment. And if you work for a real company pay attention - you can get fired in the blink of an eye if you put the company at risk by hitting on the women you work with, or worse yet who work for you.

In the real-world of tech we have more and more women in power - Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer and Ginni Rometty and Christy Wyatt and Mary Meeker and Theresia Gouw and Arianna Huffington and many more, including me... and I sure hope the tech frat boys are smart enough to keep their breast interests outside of our offices.

In the real-world of tech we have women changing the way we think about sex. Cindy Gallop is changing the world through sex and challenging the way we even think about sex in today's society. As she posted in Facebook "You're absolutely right TitStare doesn't get a thumbs up from me". But in contrast the boys of Hacker News defended TitStare with "I don't see the problem. Pornography is perfectly legal and big business." At least they equated it to porn, which it is, but pretty boring and tasteless porn.

Two contrasting views of how tech power views women have been emerging for the last 10 years and there are two Silicon Valleys - two worldviews within the tech industry. First, there is the tech world 95% of us live in. Intense work on powerful technology, long hours, explosive markets, serious investors, growing revenue and creating long lasting products and customer engagement. Some gender bias in graduating degrees (yes I write often that we need more women in STEM), little gender bias in the workplace, no misogyny in the office.

And then there is the tech world that attracts press and discourse because it drives traffic -- the world of the tech boy culture so perfectly captured by TitStare. But it's rare. It's now almost as unimaginable as a politician sending a text photo of his penis to a woman via social media -- but wait, that was real too! Some people's (lack of) intelligence boggles my mind.

But if you do run into the second tech world, the misogynistic one, and it makes you angry, remember: don't get mad, get even. Smile and take over. Whether you are female or male, don't tolerate the behavior and it will, eventually, die.

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