We have a nice recurring event here in the Bay Area that is part of a series which began in London and continues the world over. It's called the Girl Geek Dinners.
Every now and then, the organizers put together an evening — lots of men are there, too! — at which we hear a panel of women discuss their experience in the business world. The first dinner was sponsored by Google, and it was just terrific.
Another dinner is planned for later this month. I won't be going. One of the sponsors is a website, created by women, on which women are compensated for featuring photos of themselves in the altogether. Nekked. Or partially so.
Well, I guess we knew that kind of company would be here sooner or later — under the guise that this is what women's liberation is all about. I can accept that, as long as it's not in my face or being promoted as a shining example of a woman-owned company — as it was on the blog of one of TIME's 100 most influential people. [Incidentally, that was the first time in months said luminary decided to discuss a woman-owned company. Very revealing. Pardon the pun.] I can accept the funding of this company, but I'm not comfortable with it sponsoring a dinner designed to bring women and men together to discuss the contributions women can and do make to the technology industry.
Here's the comment I shared with the event's organizers.
Am very disappointed that this great event team has chosen to accept sponsorship by a woman-owned and led pornography company. Apart from being inappropriate, the choice concerns me from the perspective of what exactly we mean by female emancipation today. It is not the ability to build and run businesses of any kind in the way that men have — just because we can. Emancipation means freedom from enslaving ourselves and others to the belief that a woman's role in society is to use her body to attract business, keep business or do business. Further, having been around since before the millennium, I understand the broader implications of this move both for the pornography company and the men who have given it publicity: that by accepting this company as a sponsor and attending the dinner, women endorse the creation of pornography and it's because we can create it ourselves now. You are reinforcing the age-old rationalization that humans are here only to satisfy each other's baser instincts instead of demonstrating that the presence of women in business is a force for growth and greater civility. This will be thrown up in the face of every woman who attends this event, not to mention the other sponsors and the event team itself. I encourage you all to re-think your acceptance of this sponsor. Thank you.
I am not one to talk about being a woman in the workplace — I just want to do it, succeed and contribute. So I tend not to get involved in skirmishes around how some oaf acted at yesterday's conference or how some buffoon called me a marketing chick in the meeting today. And I usually have to be slammed with information right between the eyes before I realize that I've been marginalized because of my gender or my looks. But I've been noticing something lately, and I'm worried.
We now have a whole new generation of men and women coming into leadership positions who feel that relating to each other in business on purely sexual — which should be personal — terms is acceptable as well as newsworthy. They don't understand that this sort of characterization is a hop, skip and a jump away from, in ten years, calling an accomplished professional the marketing chick.
Without knowing it, women are encouraging men to think of them on purely these terms. And if you don't think that there are a lot of guys out there primed for this kind of encouragement, grow up. We've come a long way, but we have a way to go. While our society has made terrific progress through the efforts of mature, wise men and women in leadership positions, I now believe we run the risk of losing the strengths of womanhood as well as those of manhood just because we have the right to build a porn site.
Here's the nature of a woman's power today: to help to show ourselves and others that it is possible to lead a company, write code and conceive an algorithm AND be a feminine person. And to portray femininity by revealing the hidden emotional and intellectual prowess of women, not the vulgar display of your private physical assets.