FeminismSkepticism

Everything Sucks, but Not How You Think

Dave McClure might not be a familiar name in the skeptic community, but he’s pretty well known in tech. A self-described “late bloomer,” he’s a guy who held various software industry jobs before founding the popular accelerator 500 Startups. He blogs and speaks at conferences and the like, typically with eyeball-peelingly bad slides and some foul language to boot.

And today, he called a woman a bitch.

Or least that’s what it looks like from the Twitter stream for Big Omaha (livestream/videos here, though McClure’s doesn’t seem to be up yet), which brings the fine Silicon Valley tradition of unbearable self-aggrandizement to the Midwest with its slogan, “the nation’s most fabulous conference on innovation and entrepreneurship” (gag me with an Omaha steak). According to the Twitter trail, McClure called Gigi Yogini (aka Brigitte Kouba) a lying fucking bitch onstage at Big Omaha, then gave the classic “I didn’t mean it” half-apology. Yikes.

Twitter exchange

Given that McClure’s talk at Big Omaha was titled Everything Sucks, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he used some vulgar language. I wish it were a surprise that he felt empowered to direct such language at a specific woman while on stage at a “professional” conference, but we’ve seen plenty of this crap in the past.

While McClure’s decision to call a woman a bitch was misguided, and he apologized (if not without giving himself the laughable out of “not intending” to hurt), there’s something more deeply problematic at work in his presentation. McClure’s slides joyfully proclaim, of tech industry leaders, “These arrogant douchebags are insufferable, but they make our lives fucking amazing”:

Insufferable douchebags make things amazing

This is the heart of the problem with misogyny across multiple industries. People’s “amazing” technologies or ideas (and, especially, their money) are seen as excuses for truly unforgivable behavior. Dave McClure is not the only one who does this. Many, many people excuse bad behavior because its perpetrator is good at something else, whether that something is tap dancing or software coding or making noodles (mmm, noodles). Did you record some popular hip hop songs? Go ahead, beat your girlfriend! We’ll write a super funny article about it. Do you handle balls (heh heh) real good? Assault somebody! Assault a couple of somebodies! Are you a man? Call a woman a bitch! That is so damn manly and awesome of you!

This is not how it works. As McClure’s talk points out, everything sucks because people let it suck. But he doesn’t take the next step and acknowledge that people actively celebrate people who are terrible humans just because they are good at other things. Don’t let people be terrible! At all! At least not at things that matter, like being decent humans. You can be terrible at, like, folding origami or knitting sweaters or juggling fire. You don’t have to be good at everything. But you do have to be a decent human being, even (especially?) if you are also talented or rich or famous.

Calling a woman a bitch might not have even been the worst part of McClure’s presentation. That might have been the part where women were dismissed as vapid golddiggers, where McClure wrote, “Those guys [super important idea guys–and they have to be guys, of course–like Tony Stark and Elon Musk] never got laid until they got filthy stinking rich”:

These guys never got laid until...

It’s not just calling a woman a bitch that sucks. It’s playing into an entire culture that sees women as nothing more than objects to be acquired and used sexually. Clearly, women are to be acquired using your mad wealth, and that mad wealth, in turn, is to be acquired by being an insufferable douchebag. Because being insufferable is worth it if you’re loaded (and getting laid)! Aaagh.

Even McClure’s critics went kinda sexist on us, probably without realizing it:

Sexist shaming

Criticizing McClure by saying (or Twitter-implying, if that’s a thing) he sucks dick suggests sucking dick is a bad thing. And since mostly women (or gay dudes) suck dick, this attempt at criticizing McClure is kinda sexist and homophobic (the word “sucks” by itself is pretty far removed from this connotation by now). So even those attempting to come to the “defense” of women are actually putting them down in the process, without realizing it. How much more infuriating can it get?

Mark Zohar may have put it best when he said, “I hope today’s events at #bigomaha shine a bright light on the rampant misogyny & empty bravado that permeates the tech industry.” I hope so too. But I mostly think that after this weekend or even later today, the hashtag will die down. People will forget fast. McClure and others in tech will be able to go on supporting “amazing” startups run by insufferable and possibly sexist douchebags, and men will continue to dominate the tech industry by making everything about making money instead of making good things. I would like for the situation to change, but that requires action from everyone involved.

In his talk, while also being sexist and crappy, McClure did urge people to do something good: “notice all the crap around you and make it better.” Yes. Do that. Start with yourselves, and those insufferable douchebags you idolize. And don’t just make things better so you can make money (because you think it will get you laid). Make things better because making things better matters. Being a good person matters. And like we said earlier, beware your bedfellows. If you’re hanging around with a bunch of insufferable assholes, you might become one before you know it. And wouldn’t that suck?

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Kerry is a longtime skeptic and technology enthusiast, currently in recovery from too many years spent working in enterprise software. She still believes in the power of technology to do good, when used judiciously. Find her on Twitter or Google+.

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4 Comments

  1. I must disagree – one shouldn’t be terrible at juggling fire. You can not do it, but please don’t do it and be terrible. ’cause I don’t want to have to read about it in the paper the next day.

  2. Yeah, those powerpoint slides are somewhere between a V14gr4 ad and the TimeCube.

    As to the term “sucks,” I was pretty sure that, etymologically, it came from “go suck an egg/lemon,” a somewhat archaic epithet at this point. I could be wrong about that, but it may have a distinct (or at least more roundabout) origin.

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