A Rebel Among The Disruptors

Book Review: “A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug” by Sarah Lacy

In tech, Sheryl Sandberg is your perfect, honor-roll eldest sister with the long list of accomplishments and extracurriculars that colleges love. She’s your parent’s favorite, and adored by everyone over 30. “Why can’t you be more like Sheryl?” they say.

In contrast, veteran tech journalist Sarah Lacy is your cool middle sister. She wears dark lipstick and black boots. She shares the details of all of her ugly breakups, with the hope of you not repeating her mistakes. She’s the enabler of your teenage rebellion and has your back no matter what. She would totally buy you condoms and beer, as long as you’re being safe.

I don’t have any older sisters, so this is mostly my imagination running wild. When you’re part an underrepresented group in a competitive industry, mentors are incredibly powerful. And sometimes, our female mentors have to be imaginary.

A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug counts Sarah Lacy’s decade-long journey, in her words, from “sexism denier” to “badass feminist warrior.” Take Silicon Valley, with all of its opportunity and optimism, and pull back the curtain. It’s also a system with warts and scars and chewed-up remains of many idealists. Only by taking this objective, multi-faceted view to the startup ecosphere, can we truly examine our biases and question the limitations that have been placed on all of us.

With her writing, Sarah isn’t interested in playing nice, should it offend a few mild-mannered perpetrators of benevolent sexism. She won’t kowtow to even other women who may see her as “too radical.” But maybe the filter of patriarchy has been distorting our reality so long, we’ve forgotten what “reasonable” sounds like.

That’s why, in the Series of Young Professional Female Awakening, Uterus should be the next assigned reading after Lean In. The polished, virtuous ideas in Lean In will open your eyes, and the unapologetic fire in Uterus will piss you off.

Sure, Lean In’s creed of “rise above it” can be aspirational, but we’re not going to achieve true equality by perpetually (and exclusively) being the “good girls.” Sarah’s rallies around “Let go of perfection and FUCK your guilt and FUCK the patriarchy” does a nice job of rounding out feminism in this industry.

And it’s nice to have the option of both.

In comparing these two models of female leadership, the last thing we want to do is pit them against each other. In fact, Sarah seems to have the utmost respect for Sheryl and her work, while recognizing the (very fair) criticisms of Lean In.

It’s worth noting, Sheryl truly is a badass in her own right. As Sarah says, she’s also the closest thing to a “mama bear” we’ve got in tech. And this is by seeming ever so poised, and always knowing just the right thing to say. She represents playing by the rules as an operator from inside the system. It’s a hard act to emulate, and potentially intimidating as hell. And if you don’t fit a certain profile: “(probably) white, well-educated, well-off”… it’s seems damn near impossible.

On the other hand, Sarah represents the swashbuckling crusader, embracer of chaos, and proud wearer of her extroversion. And not just because she’s been personally targeted by billionaire executives going after her and her family to silence her. It’s a model of leadership that’s far more forgiving of not having everything figured out, of being a little messy, and allows you to learn the rules by breaking them. It’s a path that’s been denied to marginalized groups for so long.

At the end of the day, I know my temperament and style is actually closer to Sheryl. Still, it is so refreshing to hear a smart alternative to the currently dominating image of female success. One that presents a far more rebellious, adventurous, “won’t take shit” path. It contributes to a far more complete picture of ambition, empowerment, and femininity.

Sarah’s story is important because it’s her work — along with Sheryl and many, many others — that’s allowed people like me to be here. I’m thriving in tech, AND I have the choice — the luxurious choice — of being myself. This opportunity has been denied to so many, then and even now.

If you identify as a man, you should read this book because as impressive as Sheryl is, she doesn’t represent all of us women in tech. And neither does Sarah, but it helps, a lot. Listening and practicing empathy for the diverse range of women’s perspectives — which have gone silenced for so long — is one of the best things you can do to help in the current growing movement.

And if you identify as a woman, you need to read this book because two older sisters looking out for you is better than one. Silicon Valley/tech is changing, and day by day, we’re dismantling the system that kept you out from entering and showing us what you’re made of. This crazy world may not be ready for you, but you’re coming anyway.

==> Get a copy of A Uterus Is A Feature, Not A Bug on Amazon.

I write about startups, the future of work/talent, personal growth, and diversity & inclusion in tech. Find me on Twitter.