Photo credit Marta Manso:

What Women Don’t Want

We know we don’t want Pax Dickinson or TitStare. Let’s hack tech culture, together.

On Tuesday, the tech world got a rare glimpse at gender justice: a dude was fired for being the exact kind of grade-A dick that keeps women and people of color out of the industry. A public shitstorm got Pax Dickinson out of his position of power as CTO of Business Insider. But it will take a complete tear-down and rebuild to make the tech world the kind of place we’d want to be.

We Don’t Want to Work For This Guy

Until Tuesday morning, Pax Dickinson was Chief Technology Officer of the online magazine Business Insider. And until yesterday, not many people had heard of Pax. I only first encountered him two weeks ago, and now wish I never had.

I was introduced to Pax by Elissa Shevinsky (@elissabeth), who was working with him on the app (now rebranded as “Glimpse”). Elissa tweeted that she was interested in my input on their forthcoming product. Then TechCrunch Disrupt happened.

Two apps were demo’ed at this tech mega-conference, one to help users share photos of themselves sneaking peeks at women’s breasts, and the other giving users points for mimicking male masturbation. Both “Titstare” and “Circle Shake” were displayed in front of a mixed crowd that included teens from BlackGirlsCode and even a nine-year-old hacker, there to present her own site. Yesterday morning, I awoke to find a tweet from Pax in my stream, claiming that TechCrunch should apologize to the TitStare founders for calling them misogynists.

“IMO accusing someone of “misogyny” over some low-grade sexism means you owe another apology.”
—Pax Dickinson, September 9, 2013

This is particularly interesting when placed in context: his own business partner, Elissa, was so horrified by the TitStare presentation that she wrote a piece announcing her changed opinions on sexism in tech.

I was furious and in no mood for Pax’s shenanigans. I replied that he should learn when to sit down and shut up, and that now was one of those times. Pax blocked me on Twitter, made fun of me to his friends and then proceeded to explain to us all what misogyny isn’t:

“’misogyny’ is ‘hatred of women’. It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies.” — Pax Dickinson, September 9, 2013

This did not jibe with the definition of misogyny I have lived with for my adult life. Sexist jokes, not taking women seriously and making an app to surreptitiously stare at my “boobies” all fall squarely within that definition. Still, I was willing to leave it alone until Tim Worstall wrote an entire op-ed in Forbes reasoning that we should all “grow up” about Titstare — that not only was their tit-staring app not misogynyst, our reactions of disgust were misandrist. Tell that to 9-year-old Alexandra Jordan’s father, Richard. As he remarked to NPR:

A lot of people have mentioned, ‘Oh, it’s not OK because there were kids in the audience.’ The bigger point is, that stuff shouldn’t be OK anyway.

Sadly, Pax’s seemingly off-the-cuff comments were just the latest in a horrifying string of offensive tweets and comments, dating back to 2010, and all during Pax’s tenure as BusinessInsider CTO.

Hank Williams, an early writer at Business Insider and serial entrepreneur explained why that’s a problem:

His tweets make clear he has a low view of women in tech. You just can’t have a hiring manager who has those views, and you *really* can’t have a hiring manager who feels free to share those views publicly.

One spoke directly to his lack of interest in a diverse workforce:

“Tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn.”
— Pax Dickinson,
May 14, 2012

Women in tech know that many male managers feel this way, but rarely hear it put so bluntly. The people responsible for hiring — at least this particular person responsible for hiring — have no interest in our being there. They just don’t think about it.

As Pax himself said in August, referring ironically to the less-than-classy behavior of his peers:

I like the tech world because the bar for professional behavior is set so very, very low by our elites.

On this point, Pax and I agree. Apparently, Business Insider has chosen to set their bar just a little bit higher from now on: they forced Pax to resign, and he is now pivoting to running Glimpse Labs full-time, though not with Elissa. She has quit.

We Don’t Want to be Unicorns

As Rachel Sklar pointed out earlier today:

This isn’t about Titstare or Pax Dickinson…. It’s about the communities wherein they find it so easy to thrive. It not an accident that, in those same communities, the thriving of women and minorities is fewer and further between.

Indeed, it is not an accident. It’s a carefully constructed narrative — a story that many women and people of color are tired of hearing. Given his interest in keeping his $5 million funding round led by Jeff Bezos, Business Insider founder, editor, and CEO Henry Blodget is, too.

Change comes slowly. But it’s up to us to bring it about. I used to look away from misogyny. Because you lose a LOT by acknowledging it. You lose being “the cool girl.” Lose jobs. Lose friends. But we gain each other. Gain real connections. Gain the ability to make cool shit, on our terms. I’m glad I speak up to dudebros, because they don’t deserve to be the face of tech. We do.

“There are people making tech who are positive, ambitious, thoughtful, inclusive, curious, empathetic and self-aware. They’re going to win.” — Anil Dash,
September 12, 2013

So What Do We Want?

Please tell us. Comment here, or write a response and I’ll link to it, below. Let’s hack this culture, together.