Elon Musk Is a Misogynist and It Matters
Musk tops the world’s wealthiest list and is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, but his sexist rhetoric worsens the lives of every woman in STEM.
Women in tech face considerable obstacles that start during their youngest years in school and persist in careers that they are frequently forced to abandon because of pay disparities and harassment. So when Musk, who holds considerable sway over (mostly) men in the field, makes a sexist tweet that gets over 600,000 likes, or moves company headquarters to a state that has put a bounty on women seeking medical care, it has a collective impact on women employed in tech jobs and a direct impact on the women who work for him.
Musk’s social media has won him the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a defamation lawsuit. But he has not had to answer for his tweets that would land him an HR investigation if he was anyone else but himself. In late October he tweeted, “Am thinking of starting new university: Texas Institute of Technology & Science.” That’s TITS if you didn’t get it. He followed it up with, “It will have epic merch.” Merch which he’d be quick to boost, like he did the year before when he tweeted out that the company was selling limited-edition booty shorts, with a link to the listing of a woman wearing a bra and the red satin short shorts, “S3XY” emblazoned across the back. (The word is an amalgamation of all of the Tesla models, with the 3 in place of an “e” in the style of seventh-grade boys using calculators for the first time.) There are plenty who dismiss these and his love of slipping “69” into his tweets or sending out soft-core stills as just some juvenile humor.
But tweeting like you’re the manager at a local Hooters instead of one of the tech industry’s top figures is, aside from being an embarrassment, harassment. And it gives license for others in the industry to also treat women as the literal butt of jokes. This is something that the women employed at Tesla have experience with, according to two lawsuits filed within a month of each other.
“The pervasive culture of sexual harassment, which includes a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior, including frequent groping on the factory floor, is known to supervisors and managers and often perpetrated by them,” reads the text of a lawsuit filed by Jessica Barraza, a production associate at the company’s Fremont, California factory. Barraza says she was harassed almost daily for three years at Tesla, with no response from HR except for them disabling their email address that handled complaints.
Erica Cloud, a Tesla assembly line worker, in another lawsuit says she experienced “continuous and pervasive” sexual harassment from her manager. When she complained to HR, she faced retaliation from other managers. Tesla seems to find it difficult to defend the women who work for it when its CEO engages in indefensible behavior so publicly.
As for the women employed at Tesla, if they manage to get through their workdays without being harassed, Musk recently gave them the opportunity to live in a state that has seen fit to put their lives in jeopardy. As Texas prepared to ban most abortions and put a bounty on any women who seek one or those who aid them, Musk announced that he would move Tesla’s headquarters to the state. While Tesla will maintain its existing factories in California and Nevada, any woman who wants to work at headquarters will have to make the choice between her job and bodily autonomy.
But what is a woman’s decision worth when Musk feels that the biggest risk to humanity is that they aren’t producing enough people? At The Wall Street Journal’s CEO council this month he said, “I think one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birth rate.” Never mind maternal mortality rates and that the country where he has made his tax-free billions has the worst maternal care in the developed world.
Musk is often praised for his plans to move humans off this planet and to Mars, at the root of which is his desire to make humans a multi-planet species. Maybe before he does, he should consider the harm he’s doing to half of the species on this planet.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.