If the going metaphor of the startup is that male hackers are stars whose physical characteristics are a source of status and power, the role of women in startups often becomes tinged by differently sexualized and submissive ‘groupie’ expectations. Because even though employers might imagine that startup slogans like “who’s your data” are denatured of their original sexual meanings, they aren’t. Deploying terms for engineers that invoke sexual dominance signals that the startup at some subconscious level wants to emulate a model of power where men perform while others watch and wait, intent on servicing their needs. Some startups even make the desired correlation between women workers and selfless service explicit, as in the app “Geisha” which served links to web designers in the guise of a red-cheeked, submissive female product mascot. The Geisha app deploys fetishized racial stereotypes towards an all-too-common model of tech culture in which men are centered and powerful while women serve them from the position of exotic ‘other.’ The Geisha app’s deployment of racial and gender stereotypes was so blatant that it even received criticism on Hacker News, which prompted the app to change its name.
- Kate Losse, “Sex and the Startup: Men, Women, and Work”
Kate Losse, once again, doing a terrific job critiquing the masculine and sexist working conditions in Silicon Valley. You should really read her book The Boy Kings to understand what it was like working at Facebook; it’s an absolute eye-opener.