I feel the need to repeat my frequent disclaimer: My opinions are mine, and not anyone else’s. They have nothing to do with my employer.
You may have heard that sexism and gender equity are issues in technology and science (where I’ve made my occupational home for most of my life now). The issues, general and specific, have been described amply all over the Internet, so I won’t go into the broader picture here except to say that the problem is real, and that I try to do better and associate with people who do better.
So, today’s specific kerfuffle: There exists a social network for techies called Geeklist. I have an account there (but only because they haven’t implemented account deletion yet). Like young companies building a brand sometimes do, they sell apparel – t-shirts for men and women, and a couple of different styles of panties that look somewhat less unisex. No boxers or briefs for the guys. (Note: As of this writing, it looks like they’ve taken down everything but the t-shirts.) The videos on the product pages for this apparel, as well as another promotional video on Vimeo (also taken down), featured a young, shapely woman dancing around in a Geeklist t-shirt and panty set, and occasionally associating with a fully-dressed, bespectacled man who I guess was meant to be some kind of male geek archetype.
You know, whatever. That shit is sexist and kind of insulting to thinking geeks of both genders, but I have code to write and bigger fish to fry (have you seen what the Republicans are up to lately?). If it were limited to this, I’d have just rolled my eyes and moved on.
Someone had a stronger reaction to it than me. Predictably, it was a female programmer. Her name is Shanley Kane, and she tweets as @shanley. Her initial tweet on the matter:
@csanz @rekatz why the ads with a woman in her underwear dancing around to dupstep?
(@csanz and @rekatz are, respectively, Christian Sanz and Reuben Katz, the founding CTO and CEO of Geeklist.)
OK, great. She has every reason to be annoyed at the public intersection of soft-porn sexism and geek culture, and every right to speak her mind on the topic just as publicly.
At this point, it would be instructive to read the full exchange between the @shanley and the Geeklist guys. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, so that you don’t have to take my word for it when I summarize that @csanz and @rekatz:
- Avoid any meaningful discussion of @shanley’s complaint.
- Tell her they don’t like her tone – a common tactic to avoid substantive discussion.
- Claim that all the women involved with the video were cool with it. (This might even be true, but does not change the fact that the video reinforces crap stereotypes of both genders.)
- Claim that it’s not really their fault or their problem, despite the fact that their brand is all over the thing.
- Tell her she’s unprofessional for not emailing them privately – despite the fact that their offense was public. Clearly, they’d rather make the problem go away quietly – and they clearly saw the problem as the complaint, not their imbecilic video.
- Finally – and here’s the kicker – they try to drag her employer (Basho Technologies) into the discussion, and point out that they are clients of her employer, and suggest that she’s not reflecting well on their brand. (To Basho’s credit, they were supportive of Kane’s right to express her personal opinion.)
Most of this stuff is no more or less than the usual asshattery exhibited by educated men who should know better but somehow remain clueless. In the face of most of this behavior, I might give the bad actors the benefit of the doubt, assume them to be educable, and have settled for expressing myself with a tweet or three. For most of what @csanz and @rekatz said and did, a genuine apology (rather than their half-assed “I’m sorry you were offended” non-apology) would have covered it.
Even if they issue that apology, I still want to delete my Geeklist account and make sure I never support another Katz and/or Sanz venture. Most of their behavior could be described as clumsy or unnecessarily defensive, but forgivable. They went the extra mile, though, to attempt to drag her employer into the conversation and throw in implied threats to her livelihood. This is not the act of a geek entrepreneur out of his depth in the social arena – this is attempting to silence a critic without addressing the issue, by threatening her ability to pay the rent. This goes way beyond casual sexism, or cluelessness, or anything else that should be gotten over with an apology.
I want to be clear on how strongly I feel about this – and, in case of the unlikely event that Katz or Sanz reads this, I’ll address my main point directly to them:
You amoral pricks acted from a position of security to threaten someone else’s livelihood because she criticized you. You are fortunate that I am not one of your investors or on your board, because I would be making your lives all kinds of hell until you either gave me my money back or resigned your positions in favor of better people – and I would be doing my level best to make sure that no respectable investor ever touched one of your ideas again.
The fact that the tactic of dragging Basho into the discussion seems to have backfired (presumably because it is run by better people than Geeklist) matters not at all. What matters is that Sanz and Katz were great enough scumbags to even try it – and I’m not going to give them a pass for it no matter how many months they decide to highlight women’s achievements in technology. This is not a PR problem; this is a problem of people in a leadership position who clearly do not deserve it. I want my Geeklist account deleted and my data off their servers.
And of course, I am not a Geeklist investor, and about four people read this blog, and not many more actually pay attention to me on Twitter. But I have Twitter handles for some of Geeklist’s investors (Crunchbase FTW). Maybe someone should raise their awareness of how Sanz and Katz are representing the Geeklist brand?