Bizarre, ill-fated business ideas such as Dattch, the “lesbian social network,” are being granted places in high-profile corporate accelerators, while ordinary heterosexual sexuality is being policed like never before at prominent gatherings of entrepreneurs, investors and journalists. What’s going wrong in the startup world?
Take the “anti-harassment policy” I spotted at a recent conference staged in London by pre-eminent startup news blog TechCrunch. I should point out here that there’s no reason to single out TechCrunch specifically, since this is an industry-wide problem, but this just happens to be the most recent example in my collection.
Can you see anything odd about it? You should: what it effectively says, reading between the lines, is that any display of sexuality constitutes “harassment.” Not only are “sexualised images, activities” and “other material” a no-no, but exhibitors are also warned against “sexualised clothing” and creating a “sexualised environment.”
Dressed up as “anti-harassment,” this new refusal to engage with basic human reality is a sign that something is going a bit wrong with the psychology of the tech startup world. Is it any wonder the products made by this new, puritanical generation of entrepreneurs aren’t capturing the public’s imagination?
Should we be surprised that the sexes are more awkward about talking to each other than ever before, when the entire tech industry is awash with useless, counterproductive middle-class guilt-fuelled “women in tech” initiatives that do nothing to help tech and nothing to help women?
Before we even get to how creepy and strange it is to start legislating about “sexualised environments” at a tech conference, think about the subtext here. Because they’re not talking to their female attendees, are they–despite the fact that the only incident of sexual assault at London tech conference I can ever remember was perpetrated by a woman, in 2011.
I can’t be the only one left wondering how many women would be thrown out of TechCrunch’s conference for unwanted sexual advances versus men trying the same thing.
The tech industry is absurdly overprotective of women, yet you can say pretty much what you like about men and still get attention, applause and even financial support. Consider the awful joke of a startup Lulu, formerly Luluvise, a sort of online libel factory where women can go and bitch about their ex-boyfriends.
For years, the boyfriends had little or no right of reply or recourse, and the app was banned in Brazil. Yet the company has raised $3.5 million in funding, despite its only real purpose being for women to gossip with each other about whether a man was “generous” and “good in bed.” (Picture the scene if an app for men along similar lines was to emerge.)
I’ve been reporting on Lulu for years, and the number of horror stories I’ve heard from men on the receiving end of vindictive lies by former one night stands is nothing short of monstrous. Broken marriages and lawsuits are just the start. It’s funny how these “safe spaces” for women invariably end up really quite perilous for the men who aren’t allowed into them.
Meanwhile, at conferences, for the crime of asking someone out, you can now be ejected and banned. This contributes not, I don’t think, to an atmosphere of misandry–that’s taking it a bit too far–but certainly to a boring, anodyne, oppressively sexless environment in which normal human activity is practically criminalised–unless, of course, you’re a dyke with a Grindr knock-off, in which case you’re seen as a safe, special snowflake.
Americans, on the west coast especially, are hopelessly crippled by hangups, insecurities and politics when it comes to sex. It’s a wonder the men can get it up at all, so regularly are they reminded that their sexual urges should be a source of humiliation. We Brits, on the other hand, appreciate the virtue of a good drunken fumble and dishevelled walk of shame.
Is it any wonder US nerds are so awkward around women, when even their own conferences tell them that hitting on a fellow delegate might be grounds for a charge of harassment? As far as I can tell, this policy, and others like it, are further ground assaults in the war on sex, a bizarre Californian social ritual that, if you don’t mind, we’d really rather not have exported over here.