Allyship + Friendship : Offenders + Victims
Dave and Chris. By now, everyone knows: they both really fucked-up. They not only fucked-up, but they (and many others) have also fucked-up with either hitting on, violating consent with touch, or behaving inappropriately with many more prospective founders & startup execs, than any of us probably realize.
We—women—don’t often discuss our encounters of discomfort in these situations with our male friends, I suspect because when we’re in those moments, we need that support—not our male friends. Most of us aren’t looking for a white knight when we seek that support from friends, as a victim—and too often (tho with the best of intentions) that’s what we have to invest energy in staving-off, when this stuff gets discussed with male friends. We want respect and agency. Without sexual interests distracting from that. Ever. Period.
But, I just… I was polite!
I know. So, back to Dave and Chris. They fucked-up with who knows how many women, and in ways that seem almost absurdly non-monumental to the rest of us: so what if Sacca touched some chick’s face? Wayl… y’all just think about some powerful investor you may have only been acquainted with for an hour, a day, a month, or a few months, reaching-out to touch your face while you’re still building your own platform of influence/power, and hopefully your stomach will churn & sink into that same place that ours usually do when we’re that woman in those situations.
Often times our own male friends are in the same boat as the offenders: they don’t realize that “innocently” (or even what they may feel to be somehow diplomatic) expressing interest in a female peer or investment prospect, in any professional situation where there’s not years of repor & trust already established, causes a great deal of damage to that person’s confidence and sense of self. So, it’s also likely not just Dave and Chris.
Dave and Chris: they’re not assholes (RETRACTION: Dave paid women to be quiet. That does so much damage to an already crushed psyche, and only reinforces the power imbalance — Dave’s a goddamned asshole). But, right now, they should not be the focus of anyone’s conversations. I appreciate (a lot) that they both came-out and silenced any potential doubters of the victims by admitting to what they did… but those heartfelt apologies focused 100% on themselves. Their own introspection, and frankly a degree of enlightenment that’s far easier to express in words than to really grok in your heart.
To Dave and Chris: I wish y’all could think about that. Realize that “nobody cares” that you’ll be doing therapy in the months ahead. That we also don’t care that you want to become that enlightened guy: words are hollow, and actions will take years to establish new patterns from. It’s kinda like Josh Duggar going to “sex addict therapy,” after his Ashley Madison scandal—as a public-facing gesture, that shit’s not gonna change his actions that caused so much damage to others.
This is the time to support the individual victims/survivors and to preserve the conversational stage for all survivors.
This is not the time for offenders to distract attention from anyone listening to victims, with their own announcements of newfound character aspirations or soul-searching confessions of regret. We appreciate that you’re sorry, Dave and Chris. Please however, just leave it at that. Admission and the simplest possible expression of remorse. Simply, concisely. Publicly. For now.
Circling-back: They’re not assholes!. Ok. That’s cool. And, in our very small-town-ish startup scene in SF/SV where everyone seems to be both friends and professional associates with everyone else, it’s likely that many are right now wanting to take to Twitter to defend their friends, Dave and Chris. From my own experience, both as a survivor of workplace sexual harassment (pre-tech) and many unwanted “expressions of interest” (both polite and less-than-polite) in professional situations (most of my time in tech), and as a friend to a coupla guilty parties over the years: now is not the time for those public assertions. In fact, no time anytime in the near future (so, months or year/two ahead) is ever the time, to publicly stand-up for Dave or Chris.
But it’s their reputation! This one… thing?! One lapse of judgement? Someone has to!
Here’s the thing: if you’re a true friend, you can reach-out to them directly, to support them. Not so much to ally-whack them over the heads out the gate with how they need to modify their behavioral choices going forward, but to truly just be there for them, right now, as one friend to another in crisis. They’ll both need that, as all offenders do learn how to behave better, going forward. And, they’re probably not assholes. But, they are m/billionaires… so worst-case scenario, they won’t spend the rest of their lives in the depressive downward-spiral of self-doubt that victims often times do—without any financial cushion to hold us up when we need those so often desired leaves-of-absence, to collect ourselves. Their retirement is paid for already. They likely have no debt. They have that space, that the rest of us don’t. They’ll be ok.
The point of all the public admonishment of offenders, is not to pigeon-hole them as assholes: it’s to finally hand the mic to the women who’ve loomed in silence for months/years, and to respect that it’s their stage right now.
Speaking as a victim, that silence? It’s deafening, and the resulting self-doubt and alienation, more crippling than anyone could ever imagine, w/o themselves experiencing it. I say that as a survivor of rape who truly didn’t grok that one, until I was on the other side of such a uniquely subjugating experience. In the hustle-centric “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” culture of tech, any sign of weakness is a sign that you should be the next to walk the plank—so, in the interest of our own survival, we keep quiet.
The victims: it’s their/our stage, right now. Not just because via the timing, there happens to be quite a substantial stage of support for victims this week… but because anytime someone comes forward as a victim, those times are never the time for anyone else to jump up to defend a possible offender.
As I’d stated earlier: I’ve been that friend, upset to read that a guy I know well and have worked with, is being alleged to have done things that my experience suggests he’d never do. That however, is precisely the point: my experience with those guys, is not the victim’s, and supporting victims means also accepting that folks we respect and look-up to, can show a different side of themselves to others just like ourselves… cuz we’re all humans. Being human is complicated.
Supporting victims does not mean relinquishing your friendship, esteem, or affection for an offender.
Really, truly. If anything, your offender friends need you now more than ever before, to both help them get through this crisis of theirs, and to help lead them forward to help them understand what it is to behave more appropriately.
I mean, c’mon: we’re an industry with more foosball and ping-pong in it, than water-coolers or othersuch Dilbert-y boundaries to contextualize professional from personal interactions. In tech, we pride ourselves on that. Because of that, a lot of this really is on the rest of us, as much as it’s on the offenders. And, that’s where we can all really make the biggest difference: to stick-by both known offenders, and all guys in tech, to get their asses to understand the critically important nature of self awareness and boundaries. To appreciate that handing all the women in the room their free beers first as a gesture of “I prioritize women!” is… well, really kinda Bill Cosby creepy. To also appreciate that with all the alcohol, all the fun, and all the free-thinking we pride ourselves on in tech, that we were the ones who jumped-up to shout from the rooftops “fail fast, fail often!” while also eschewing HR as not MVP enough to merit a presence in startup culture.
Right now, a great awakening is happening on the public stage. An awakening that many, many, many women have in fact been failed—and failed gravely, by tech. When it comes to failing other human beings… well, those failures carry a far higher cost, than failed business ideas, product features, or build deploys. That’s gotta matter, more.