Last week I did something I rarely do. I posted an angry tweet:
“Everyone,” huh? Again, TV people, would it be so bad to put just one serious woman in a show about tech startups? :( pic.twitter.com/jMCogg2V7u
— Monica Guzman (@moniguzman) April 11, 2014
I hesitated before I sent it. There’s more going on here than can be summed up in 140 characters. More than could possibly be fronted by my one, narrow reaction.
But the thing is, I’ve had it. The tech world is getting this big screen moment and in this one way, at least, it’s a total letdown.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend Hollywood is real life. It idealizes everything — hardly in the most noble directions — and that’s fine: Nobody wants every show to come with a token this and token that and political correctness oozing out every pore, like “Glee.” Ugh.
But the tech world wants to make its progressive culture more progressive. It knows it’s critical for women to become a truer part of an industry that shapes everything. So how media help or hurt feels not only important, but, to some of us, personal.
And what I end up afraid of is this: That far from solving this nasty gender divide in the most important field in the world, we’re not even able to picture what it looks like when men and women work together in technology.
This gets messy fast, so let me sweep away what this is not about: This is not about “Silicon Valley.” It sounds like it is, but really, it isn’t. The new HBO show just premiered, it’s getting strong reviews and though it’s tough for me to laugh out loud at cliches that are so two years ago if you live in the startup world, it’s entertaining enough and has every right to be and not to be whatever the hell it wants.
The problem is not with a show. It’s with the landscape.
Months ago I saw the first episode of “Betas,” one of Amazon’s first original series. Like “Silicon Valley,” it’s about a group of guys building a company. I wrote a post on Medium about why I wasn’t going to watch the second episode. It wasn’t because it was riddled with easy plot lines and bad writing (or at least, not just because of that), but because every woman got hit on, and the one woman poised to become part of the team was a conquest before she was a colleague.
Isn’t tech about disrupting things? ‘Cause that is so old.
I don’t kid myself that this is something that bugs all women in tech, though I think it should. And I definitely don’t expect it to bug men as easily as it might women. When you don’t see yourself in the depiction of a world you hope is yours, you feel it.
This is, I suppose, where I should list the recent offenses that illustrate what you already know: There’s a really low number of women in tech positions (a dismal 12 percent of software developers at tech startups, according to one rough estimate), and a male-centric tech culture is part of what keeps them out.
The New York Times summed it up nicely in a Sunday piece on the front of its business section a couple weeks back, “Technology’s Man Problem.”
The TechCrunch Titstare debacle is in there, of course, as well as references to a “brogrammer” culture so pervasive it sits entrenched in “Silicon Valley” and “Betas” like it’s the whole point.
“I know H.T.M.L.” reads the T-shirt of one character in “Silicon Valley.” “How To Meet Ladies.”
The tech industry is hardly the only one where women don’t always fit in. A female friend who’s a stock analyst told her Facebook network recently how the foul-mouthed macho culture of “Wolf of Wall Street” is — still — not as far from reality as you might think.
You don’t see big stories about “Wall Street’s Man Problem,” and that’s part of my point: The tech industry really is progressive. It wants to change. It was clear in TechCrunch’s reaction to Titstare: When people in tech see a problem, they care. That’s why this is interesting. That’s why it’s worth talking about it at all.
Every entrepreneur knows women who call the shots, and everyone who’s ever succeeded at something hard knows that visualizing success is a big step to achieving it.
“Silicon Valley” can line up five guys in Steve Jobs turtlenecks. “Betas” can drop a woman in its poster like a prop, looking over the shoulder of a guy who’s actually at the table.
But I know we can demand more.