I dealt with some disturbing stuff on this blog yesterday. Before I explain, here’s what I wrote in Women-Run Tech Startup Successes, on this blog, in January:
I believe there are disproportionately few women heading interesting tech startups; that this is bad; and that it’s neither their fault nor their preference. If you disagree, that’s your right, but I’m not arguing about it here. I’m saying it’s obvious and moving on.
This is what I wrote last year in 5 Points on the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship on Planning Startups Stories:
At the very least, the men in the crowd can recognize that it’s there, think about it, and make sure that we’re not contributing to the problem. Where we can, like in our local angel investment group, we can seek out successful women who qualify to be accredited investors and invite them, maybe even urge them, to join. We can at least know that those women we meet in startups along the way have overcome a lot of mindless stereotypes, and are still fighting them. We can wake up and at least recognize the imbalance. Then maybe we can fight it one situation at a time.
What happened? I’m not going to link here to the post in question. I don’t want to give it more play or more traffic. It was a stupid reference to bra straps in a tasteless and inappropriate way. It added nothing useful to the content of the post. I didn’t write it, I’d never read it, and I never approved it. It got here last weekend as one of several hundred posts brought here in a blog transition. I did approve having the flock of about 800 posts brought over here, but I had no idea that anything like this one was there.
It hit me like a kick in the stomach. Even though its author was clearly identified as somebody else, not me, this blog has been exclusively me for three years and it hurt like hell to see it there. People in Twitter blamed it on me. I agreed with several angry comments posted below it. I was going to just delete the whole post, or, at the very least, delete the offending sentences; but we’re a team here, and people I respect say it should stay there as an example. Trying to make it disappear would leave only the ugly residue. The tweets and the links and the comments. So we’ve left it there, along with the comments it inspired.
Which is why I quoted myself here from earlier posts. It’s one thing to distance myself after the fact; it’s quite another – and a hell of a lot better – to show what I’ve been saying all along, well before yesterday’s blowup.
I sincerely hate the sexual gender-specific references that men way too often play down as harmless, as if women were being too sensitive. Even the least offensive of them are demeaning, and the way we – men – quickly imply that it’s all good fun and nothing to make a fuss about makes it worse. The borderline offenses, supposedly harmless must be (I have to guess; I’m a man) like a low-grade fever or a stone in the shoe, a supposedly small, constant annoyance that ends up as a huge issue.
This stuff is always bad. Of course it rarely happens to men, but when it does, we don’t like it either. Read this post by Jolie O’Dell about how distasteful it is when it’s about a man. Still, women get it about a million to one, so I want to add another quote from the Gender Gap post I wrote about a year ago.
Sad but true: none of us men really know how hard it is. We look around and we see lots of women working side by side; things are certainly a lot better than they used to be. But let’s not kid ourselves.
For example, men don’t have to deal with some significant percentage of the population — wrong, of course, but still — assuming we’re bad fathers if we work hard; or that we should be at home taking care of the children; or that the house/home work is ours, because of our gender, regardless of the rest of what we do.
We don’t get up to the podium in a business plan contest as a woman looking out on a sea of male faces in the audience . We don’t stand up in a venture capital conference room or angel investment group as a woman looking out at 90% male faces.
Less than a month ago I was visiting with my sister. We were talking about this problem in reference to our daughters (I have four, she has two). She told me she was in a meeting once where a man referred to getting her to agree to something in a business meeting as “getting one button unbuttoned.” This happened to her 20 years ago, and she still remembers it in vivid detail today. Why does she have to carry that memory around? There’s no excuse for it. Things like that, and the bra strap reference I’m dealing with now, matter. They have to stop.