PBJs, Nail Polish, Barrels of Crabs: The Week(s) in Startup Sexism

Blue nail polishThere’s so much to say about startups and sexism! In the past few weeks, several items have surfaced that continue to reveal not just the deep-seated sexism in tech, but also the deep-seated denial and ignorance surrounding sexism in the industry. Don’t believe? Let’s review!

First, some guy raised $6.5 million dollars to tell women what they want to read about on a new-school website named after some old-school fashion. When women said “Hey, we’re women… and we’re already reading and writing stuff we we want to read,” commenters said the wimminz were just jealz and should leave the businesswork to the menz and write pretty blog posts about lipstick and labiaplasty, because that’s what women want to read about. One commenter actually, literally, said, “All you women are acting like crabs in a barrel” (what does that even mean? can crabs type good now? or are only the female crabs tossed in a separate website – excuse me, barrel – where they can talk about lady things without upsetting the men?). Another even said, straight up, that “women are used and discarded for their looks and end up overweight and discarded for the next 20-something plaything.” By gum, it’s a good thing some man came along and gave them a website to read after being discarded. Not surprisingly, Dave McClure of “start a startup to get laid” fame is an investor, perhaps hoping to use it as a way to meet ladies. Oh, and did I mention this entire announcement about starting a new website for women was posted on a website started by a woman? Without any acknowledgment of that fact? Wow. Thankfully, that female founder swooped in and acknowledge that Bryan Goldberg “has written close to 100 posts for us, unpaid,” reflecting her own commitment to… oh, that’s right, not valuing content. Facepalm.

Then there was the Storify stalking debacle. If you don’t want to get Storify-stalked, don’t get stalked, said the founder! (Sound familiar?). You can turn off notifications about being stalked, said the founder! You don’t freaking get it, said everyone ever. Now Storify has a report abuse option, so you can report the abuse that’s still happening. Cool! This incident gets first place for total denialism about a product’s ability to affect people’s lives in a negative way.

Then Marissa Mayer got a Vogue feature, which was cool I guess. Except the article focused on her being “an unusually stylish geek” (because geeks can’t be sexy!), which is part of “the paradox of being both glamorous and a geek” that Mayer struggles with every day of her life in “her cheerful, comfortable, but not especially grand Craftsman-style house,” reflecting not only that it’s possible to be geeky, glamorous, and down to earth all in one – but also that that’s the real news about Mayer, not anything she may actually be actually doing at her job. Which is what again? Oh, heck, no one really knows. It’s mostly important that she goes to the office every day. Where she does something or other that’s not interesting except for the fact that it led to the creation of the world’s first and best sentence combining PBJs and horses:

Working through a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a cup of pretzels from the cafeteria, she disarms confrontation with an easy, whinnying laugh.

It’s too bad that this worthy-of-gold-plating sentence is all about how Mayer “disarms confrontation” because she’s a woman and when women are around and there’s confrontation they’re mean. If only we could have focused on the lunch.

When women in SF aren’t busy disarming conflict with a whinny and a cup o’ pretzels (but were they Rold Gold or Mr Salty pretzels? Vogue’s journalists just aren’t what they used to be), what are they up to? Being ugly! Sooo very ugly that a guy hates San Francisco because of “all the girls who are obviously 4’s and behave like they are 9’s.” But this is a clear impossibility. First, everyone in San Francisco thinks he or she is a ten. Everyone. And everyone with a startup thinks he or she is a twenty (million). Second, by the law of averages, we’re all fives. As if calling us all ugly weren’t enough, the same guy lamented SF’s “Transvestite to Taxi ratio being quite literally off the charts – it is impossible to get home safely, especially if you live far from downtown.” Blatant and crappy transphobia aside, perhaps the most surprising thing is that he didn’t take the next logical step and found “Transcabs” – y’know, Uber for trans folks! A new nail polish in every car.

In response to the dissing of San Francisco, someone wrote a lovely song, part of which goes:

On the code jock douchebag mountain
You can shit on all the poors
And gentrify
Til the rent’s sky high
And call all the women whores

It might be easier to whistle along with the tune if it weren’t so true. So I give up on the Valley for August, but if you need me, I’ll be painting my nails Facebook blue. Again. And “Liking” it.

Blue nail polish image by Lelê Breveglieri not actually of Facebook nail polish, but of the only two behavior options for women, used with CC license.


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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  1. “Working through a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a cup of pretzels from the cafeteria, she disarms confrontation with an easy, whinnying laugh.”

    Someone’s been reading too many meal descriptions in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’?

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