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Category : Twitter


Once again, Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham’s mouth has landed him in hot water. The loose-lipped Silicon Valley power broker said some dumb stuff about women.

graham tweet

In an interview with The Information, Graham was asked about discrimination in the tech scene. Troves of evidence exist revealing sexism in tech exists, like this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference, as one example. But Valleywag highlighted Graham’s comments that show he doesn’t see sexism as a problem, and in fact thinks women are just naturally behind the hacking eightball. Graham now contends the whole thing is one big misunderstanding.

The Information’s Eric Newcomer asked whether Graham’s startup accelerator, Y-Combinator, discriminates against women, and his answer quickly became a defense of tech culture as a whole. Graham said his company does not discriminate, and that any gender imbalance can be explained by the fact that girls don’t start hacking at the same age boys do.

If someone was going to be really good at programming they would have found it on their own. Then if you go look at the bios of successful founders this is invariably the case, they were all hacking on computers at age 13. What that means is the problem is 10 years upstream of us. If we really wanted to fix this problem, what we would have to do is not encourage women to start startups now.

It’s already too late. What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that.

Later, Graham tried to explain that discrimination cannot exist because girls attend tech conferences too. Besides, the time thing. “We can’t make women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years,” he said, later in the interview.

The notion of limits on when and how one can start coding is astonishing. Coding is supposed to be the one thing anyone can learn and change their life with. What about all the homeless people? Silicon Valley is supposed to be where bootstraps pick themselves up by the bootstraps and change the world. But apparently that’s not an option for women because of they’re too busy not being on the computer at 13-years-old.

People were predictably outraged over Graham’s comments about girls not hacking for the last ten years. A storm is brewing. That these comments are coming from Graham, an extremely important and influential person in the tech world, is especially troubling. ”Here is a hacker hero—the figurehead behind Hacker News!—and he has no clue how to get girls to care about tech,” said Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku. But maybe they should not be surprising, considering this is the same guy who admitted discriminating against startup founders with foreign accents.

At one point Graham also said startups sometimes don’t hire people who did not start hacking until studying computer science in college. This, according to Graham, is why there’s some confusion. See, he meant to say “these women,” as in the ones who didn’t start hacking until college:

 

(Update, 04/01/2014 at 5:25 p.m. Graham expanded his defense in emails to Valleywag. He was allegedly misquoted during an interview for a profile on his wife.) To summarize: girls aren’t interested in hacking or coding at an early age, but sometimes they start in college, and then they’ll have terrible job prospects because they didn’t start early enough. Or, something. That’s a rough outlook for any women hoping to break into tech’s boys club.

Following Graham’s logic can be difficult. Tiku put it best when she said he’s merely “justifying the status quo,” rather than examining a real problem. Graham has once again proven himself proud to be the champion of everything wrong with Silicon Valley culture. Thankfully, there are people like Elissa Shevinsky telling women they can go to liberal arts school and read Plato and still play with computers.

Update, 06/01/2014 at 8:55 am: Graham has posted an explanation on his website at: http://paulgraham.com/wids.html


Lena Dunham

A couple of days ago, Amanda Hess at Slate published a piece on artists who collaborate with “creeps.” The immediate targets of her analysis were Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, both of whom have recently added creep collaborations to their respective bodies of work. Gaga did that duet with R.Kelly — which really takes the cake in terms of creep collaborations, to be fair to everyone else I’m about to mention — and one of the parade of Beyoncé videos from last week was directed by a Mr. Terry Richardson. In passing, Hess happened to mention that Lena Dunham, the unwilling patron saint of Internet fighting, had recently gone on a tear about how Gaga should not have collaborated with R. Kelly:

“There’s still a sense that being down with the predatory behavior of guys makes you chill, a girl with a sense of humor, a girl who can hang,” Lena Dunham wrote this week of the public endorsement of Kelly, after his long history of sexual assault accusations resurfaced. That’s easy for Dunham to say—it’s unlikely that any collaboration was ever in the cards for those two. (For the record, I have also made the difficult decision to decline to work with Kelly.) Dunham has, however, been photographed by Richardson; he is a hipster staple and also her friend.

Dunham took exception to this and took to Twitter to complain. Tweeting at Hess and another woman who’d linked to Hess, she said the following, which I’ve collated and punctuated but which starts here:

I respectfully want to note that trying to point out cracks in my feminist politics isn’t super constructive. As a young woman in this business, you are placed in immeasurable numbers of situations that test you. Feminism is never a matter of convenience, not for me and I hope not for anyone I admire.

That being said, aspects of this article really spoke to me and I’m so glad the conversation is happening.

I will cop that this confused me from the outset. One thing I am never going to understand about all these new feminism-adjacent pop cultural people and properties is why it’s wrong to analyze their politics in the context of the flag they are, themselves, flying. It would be one thing if Hess’ piece excommunicated Dunham from feminism, because that would be hyperbolic and silly. I am, as I have said, mostly tired of discussions about whether this or that person is a “feminist” per se.

But pointing out that Dunham is criticizing collaborations with creeps from a less than 100% pure political place isn’t out of line in the least, particularly in a piece that, like Hess’, goes on to argue that creeps will find work as long as they’re bankable:

… [I]f you’re a star who refuses to work with a creep, you risk bringing criticism onto yourself from industry executives, other artists, and their fans, while potentially missing out on a lot of money and maybe even compromising your career.

I understand this line of argument, and certainly sympathize with people who show up to work and find that their handlers have deeply, deeply misjudged their personal principles. But when you are at the Beyoncé level of your career, it’s possible that the people these industry executives want you to work with are more desperate to work with you than you with them. And “possible” is being diplomatic about it. Terry Richardson doing a video with Beyoncé is a boon for him, not her. Other cases are murkier, maybe. I’m not sure who got the boost out of the Gaga/R. Kelly performance; if anything, I think it was R. Kelly because it was, as Jim DeRogatis put it the other day, a legitimizing step. Put in that context, it seems pretty damned obvious that Gaga’s handlers could have turned this stuff down. But they didn’t. And that has to be recognized as a kind of choice.

When we get to Dunham being shot by Terry Richardson, a whole other layer of weirdness starts to come in. It does feel like a bit of a definitive knock on Dunham, so much so that apparently Michelle Malkin decided to fling irony to the wind and start tweeting asshole things at Dunham about it, because as we know, there is no greater standard-bearer for feminism today than Michelle Malkin. (Not linking. Malkin tried to follow me on Twitter about this and I blocked her because that’s quite enough space in my personal consciousness for her today.)

Well, as Facebook might say, It’s Complicated. Hess doesn’t talk about this so much in her piece, but there is an aspect in clubby cultural industries (like the one I’m in, for the record) where it’s not so much that you’re friends with everyone as that it becomes sometimes personally awkward to extricate yourself from situations you’d happily shut down on social media. Though, I think you can overstate what all might have gone on here. Hess says that Dunham and Richardson are friends, and she links for support to an Observer profile of Audrey Gelman. What the profile says is that Gelman, who appears in Girls periodically as Charlie’s other ex-girlfriend, Audrey, is close friends with Dunham. And that until recently, Gelman was dating Terry Richardson.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my close friends have often dated, sometimes for years, people I personally hated. So unless someone comes up with some statement Dunham has actually made where she has avowed that Richardson is her “friend,” or some kind of physical evidence like friendship bracelets they were seen weaving for each other on a bench in Central Park, there’s no real proof they are bosom buddies. That said, I guess Dunham had been getting blowback about the Richardson thing and she decided she needed to add some things on Twitter. To wit:

Someone implied my statement about R Kelly was invalid because I’ve had my photograph taken by Terry Richardson. I responded asking that my feminism not be picked apart because of one PR experience. You don’t learn to say no overnight. Any man who takes advantage of any woman sickens me. That’s all and that’s always. No debate. I am not immune to pressures.

Learning every day. Have a beautiful holiday. I know I need it.

“One PR experience” strikes me as a strange and overly diplomatic description. The shoot in question happened with V Magazine earlier this year, around the time Season 2 of Girls premiered. This means that it happened when Dunham was a pretty good get for a magazine like that. Magazine photo shoots are, of course, negotiated with a lot of interests in mind. But one of them, in the timing and context of Lena Dunham’s specific career, had to have been whether Dunham wanted to do the shoot. And since the shoot happened, we know that she did. Identifying her particular reasons — which does amount to mind-reading from my perspective — doesn’t matter as much as knowing that it wasn’t as simple as “one PR experience.”

I want, of course, to give the benefit of the doubt to people who make compromises in their careers. We have all had deeply creepy encounters with people who hold some kind of economic power over our lives, I think. We all know that the choices can be bad ones. But that doesn’t mean there is no choice. In fact, I think it means we have to recognize that the choices are all bad where creep collaboration is concerned, to get everyone to a place of ostracizing the creeps whenever possible. You’re gonna piss someone off and compromise no matter what direction you go. But there is a way in which you’re choosing who you want to make angry. What you do with that observation is, of course, up to you.

By Michelle Dean