Leadership

Sexism and Silicon Valley: What do you think of this magazine cover?

Women's Agenda /

What Silicon Valley thinks of women. That is the headline on the cover of the most recent issue of American magazine, Newsweek. The image alongside it, featuring a woman having her skirt lifted by an arrow, is causing many to ask another question. What does Newsweek think of women?

The cover story is comprehensive and revealing in the way it explores the cultural barriers that impede women in Silicon Valley. The author, Nine Burleigh, uses the experience of two female entrepreneurs to illustrate the reality of life in the world’s most famous hub for technology impresarios. It seems computer programmer Lauren Mosenthal and her partner Eileen Carey had almost everything they needed to succeed in Silicon Valley.

They tweaked and revised their pitch a dozen times. They met with more than 50 potential investors and had 1,500 clients wait-listed for a beta launch. Five big technology companies, including Twitter, were interested. Despite this, they struggled to land the funding that seemed inevitable.

“There is, though, one thing these two founders are missing, and it is almost the sine qua non of the fabled Silicon Valley startup,” Burleigh writes. “They don’t have penises.”

It sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? But as Burleigh dissects and illustrates the “savagely misogynistic” culture, evidenced through the proliferation of sexually explicit images and language, threats of violence, casual sexism, sexual harassment cases and entirely base conduct from the stars of the start-up world including Tinder & Snapchat, it’s hard to conclude otherwise.

“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a front line, if not the trench of the global gender war, is in Silicon Valley. In that sense, Silicon Valley culture echoes the Wolf of Wall Street culture in the ’80s and ’90s. But while Wall Street today seems tamer—thanks to lawsuits and diversity consultants in every corner—in Silicon Valley the misogyny continues unabated. A combination of that very traditional Wall Street wolf-ism among Northern California’s venture capital boys’ club and the socially stunted boy-men that the money men like to finance has created a particularly toxic atmosphere for women in Silicon Valley.”

The feature is well worth reading because apart from merely describing the endemic, Burleigh considers the consequences. “Since digital technology is our era’s Industrial Revolution, fortunes being made now and business models and corporate cultures forming today will be with us for a century to come—and women are for the most part sidelined.”

It’s a considerable problem that is captured well by Newsweek but since the magazine hit newsstands, the cover has attracted criticism. Does it not merely entrench the sexism that the article highlights?

In response to this criticism New-York based Business Insider journalist Steve Kovach asked his followers for their views and found they were divided. It was either loved or hated.

The cover does effectively depict the problem of women being objectified in Silicon Valley but in doing so it does seem to contribute to that objectification. What do you think?

This story originally appeared on Women’s Agenda.

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