Abhimanyu Muchhal, Section 8, Blog Post #3
Great work environment. Opportunities for groundbreaking achievements. Money. And fame. These are the characteristics that have seduced many tech wizards and entrepreneurs from across the America’s latest Gold Rush — the Silicon Valley. It is the pinnacle of the American Dream — work hard and get rewarded, lavishly — right?
But a closer inspection into the Valley’s values shows that this same paradise is in reality a disgusting playground of sexism. Our experiences in class have shown us how prevalent discrimination towards the “disabled” is in various fields. I would like to extend this analysis to the Sexist Valley.
Professor Mika Lavaque-Manty writes a chapter titled “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” (in his book The Playing Fields of Eton, University of Michigan Press, 2009) where he offers an analysis of the nature of women’s role in sport by comparing it with disabled athletes. One of the central concepts he covers is that of internal v. external goods, adapted from Alasdair MacIntyre. In the context of sports, the external good is the right participate in a sport while an internal good is “meaningful participation” (Lavaque-Manty, 135). Sports often offer minorities the external good but deny the internal one. This is evident in the examples of women being allowed to play basketball without any spectators, or the wheelchair athletes being allowed to participate under hindering conditions the New York City Marathon. Silicon Valley depicts a similar trend. The Atlantic reports that the largest corporations (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc) all have between 30-40% female employees. This statistic, while not the best scenario, is still reasonable considering the fact that the applicants to these positions are predominantly men.
Beyond simply denying them opportunities, men have also frequently taken advantage of women trying to advance in male-dominated fields. In class we heard the difficult experiences of Officer Suzy, a veteran of the Army who had served a the nation in various capacities abroad. Members of the armed services, regardless of gender, are the supposed to reflect the best qualities of an American citizen. Yet her story completely flipped this belief. Officer Suzy mentioned that most of her compatriots would look down upon her as a “thing” or a “woman” not a fellow service member.
She also mentioned various instances where her ranking officers would sexually harass her. In one specific instance when she asked a fellow patrol member to “back off” he simply lost interest in the operation, risking both of their lives. Like the army, Silicon Valley is too perceived to be an environment that attracts the “best of the best” and rewards meritocracy. But, this revealing blog reflection (published on Forbes anonymously) counters that claim. The author is a female who is the CEO of a startup tech company. She writes that many of her business meetings transformed into attempts at sexual harassment or public embarrassment by her male compatriots. And even after her clear denials at their advances, the men would keep on coming back. This shows that both in the Army and in the Valley males do not, or are not willing to respect the opposite gender. One specific similarity that I noted in both scenarios was the need to change clothing. Officer Suzy said one of her most profound memories was debating what she needed to wear to an Army Ball, as she needed to appear “modest.” Similarly this author stated that she needed to appear “feminine but not sexy, structured but not form fitting, classy but not too expensive.” Clothing in our society is a freedom of expression. The fact that women in both the Army and the Valley are forced to change their clothing, due to the fear of harassment, is a sign that men have severely limited the freedoms of women.
The above comparisons show that Silicon Valley, America’s pride, is inflicted with gender discrimination just the same as the athletics and the military. As a prospective computer science major, this comparison is really important to me as it represents the field that I may one day want to work in. And if the Valley remains as it is now, I would feel guilty in doing so.
So the question is what needs to be done to offer women a level playing field?
Historically society has been opposed to the progress of women in the belief that women are not suited to those roles. But day by day woman are proving the men wrong. There are countless examples in sport — Serena Williams, Diana Taurassi, Danica Patrick, but now even in Silicon Valley — Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook and Marissa Meyer the CEO of Yahoo — of women who have exceeded the expectations of their gender. So, if women are capable, then the onus of giving them opportunities falls on society. As Mika suggests, it all depends on l’opinion publique. This means that the onus is now on society, and especially on the men in society to change the status quo for the better.