The Sexist Valley

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.  

However, that’s only half of the story. Only 19% of those jobs are technical positions. The rest are lower payed service and staffing jobs. Moreover, Mark Gongloff of the Huffington post shows that there is a dearth of women represented at the higher levels. Only 4% of corporations have at least one female director, and only 0.7% of corporations have at least one female executive!! Like in athletics, years of progress in workplace gender equality has forced these corporations to hire women, just not where it matters. This mentality of giving only external goods was best represented well by Satya Nadella’s recent comment (see above) to women asking for a raise. Yes, he retroactively apologized for what the remark, but that doesn’t take away from the insight into a mentality that is still prevalent in American society — from the playground to the office — that women are inferior.

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?

Michigan Engineering

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Sexist Valley

  1. I think you are certainly onto something here. It’s statistically true that women hold these tech jobs at a far lower rate than men, but is it possible that this is due to more applications to these jobs by men? Since I have been at college, I have met more male computer science majors than female, and I hate to generalize, but it seems to me that men might be more interested in technological jobs.
    Nonetheless, I agree that women are certainly discriminated against in the contemporary workplace. I’m not sure of the exact statistic, but I have heard before that if a man and a woman hold the same job, the man will be usually be paid a small bit more. I cannot imagine any reason for this other than sexism; women and men can perform the same job, so why are they paid differently?
    I also think your point on restricting freedom of fashion, and therefore expression, is true. If women cannot dress as they wish, for fear of sexual advances in a purely non-sexual environment (the workplace), then men are restricting the basic human right of freedom of expression. If a woman thinks that they cannot appear attractive or beautiful, that shows that there is a fundamental problem in society, and to me, it’s disgusting.

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  2. Very interesting blog post! I agree that women are often discriminated against in society and in the work place, and that in technical fields, women are usually out numbered by men. Also, women are typically paid less than men, and are viewed as less skilled. Your blog sparked my thought process and made me think, perhaps it is to a women’s advantage to be outnumbered in these fields. If women are the minority, companies are more likely to hire a female over a male with the same credentials because if they have more women, the company will appear more equal. Also, in these fields of work, it is much easier for a women to be promoted. Because of this, I do not think that businesses are saying women are inferior to men because less women work these types of jobs. I think the lack of women in technology is a reflection as a society as a whole. We as a society believe women should not go into math and science, this arguably is because we think women are better at emotional jobs, or because we believe women aren’t smart enough to handle math and science jobs.
    Either way, there is a definite gender discrimination against women (as your blog suggested), but some women and men prefer it that way. How can we level the playing field and still please everyone? Although many women would rejoice in knowing men and women are equal in the work place, some women would be upset because they no longer have an advantage by being a minority. This situation is like Caster. Her advantage was her amount of testosterone, however, in order to be equal, she had to take estrogen, lowering her testosterone levels. She choose equality over an advantage, but in the end she received silver at the olympics. If she would have been able to maintain her advantage, maybe she could have won the gold.

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