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Yes, Our Story About Silicon Valley's "Geek Chorus" Contains No Women
Ellen Cushing | Photo: Photo montage by Caleb Pershan | September 18, 2013
First of all, I hope it's clear that the story we published this morning, Silicon Valley's Geek Chorus—which was written by George McIntire and edited by me—was never intended to be exhaustive, or empirical, or some kind of ranked power list or quality assessment. Rather, we were identifying a very specific breed of tech writer—one who writes entirely or mostly about tech, works at a high-traffic general-interest publication, and writes from a more or less outsider-y perspective. This logic is why people like Kara Swisher, Alexia Tsotsis, and Sarah Lacy, arguably three of the highest-profile women in tech journalism, aren't included: Because AllThingsD, TechCrunch, and PandoDaily, respectively, aren't really generalist websites. (It also must be said that this story was originally created for San Francisco—a print magazine, not a website—which is the main reason why our list tops out at a measly six examples instead of a more satisfying 10 or 25 or 600.)
Now. We're fully aware that there are more than six people in the world who belong in this category. We're aware that not all of them are men. We're aware that including no women (or people of color) sends a message—not just about the tech industry, but about us, the people who did the selecting. And of course we're aware that there are many, many, many great female writers who are contributing valuable commentary about this most obsessed-about of industries. As the editor of Betabeat, the New York Observer's tech vertical, Jessica Roy has demonstrated a mastery of tone that floors me every day and that all tech-blog editors would be smart to look at. Though the New Republic's Noreen Malone has interests that extend far beyond tech, she's written some of the most thoughtful pieces about the industry I've ever read. Jenna Wortham is a colossally talented columnist and beat reporter, not to mention a scoop machine and a hilarious tweeter. Tasneem Raja's piece about "brogrammer" culture remains a critical contribution to the issue of sexism in tech. Gawker's Nitasha Tiku is, without hyperbole, a personal hero of mine. Megan Garber, Kate Losse, Laura June, Betsy Morais: This could go on for a while.
But here's the thing: The fact that our list featured all guys is sort of the point, or at least part of it. This was, to be clear, by no means an exercise in trolling or a desperate attempt to drive web traffic—though we did suspect that a slideshow full of twenty- and thirty-something dudes would provoke a reaction. It did in our editors, and it clearly did in our readers. I stand by the assertion that this particular field is dominated by "mostly men," and George included that line precisely because it's significant. Just as tech itself is a boy's club, so—in my experience and that of many women I've spoken to about this—is tech writing. Journalism is still a boys' club. The world is a boys' club. And obfuscating that fact for the purposes of Tokenism or Appeasement or Not Wanting to Get Called a Misogynist by the Entire Internet is, in my opinion, not only dishonest but counterproductive.
As a woman who writes about tech, I've endured booth babes and Titstare and The Forty Hottest Women in Tech and unbelievable condescension and being asked out by sources in the middle of interviews. Various other women in this field have told me horror stories about much worse. Being a female tech journalist means getting used to being the only woman in the room; receiving countless PR pitches about shopping apps that I'm fairly certain Matt Buchanan doesn't get; feeling, honestly, like an outsider a lot of the time. It's worth noting that four of our six picks (Sam Biddle, Alexis Madrigal, John Herrmann, and Buchanan) were included because they are the editors of their respective sites or verticals, and it's also notable that the top ten spots on Wired's masthead are occupied by men (for the Verge, it's the top six). As a feminst and a journalist and a consumer of media, I would be absolutely thrilled if a woman were editing Valleywag or Elements or Buzzfeed FWD—but the fact is, they're not, and that's a much, much bigger issue than this list. This is not an industry that goes out of its way to be hospitable to women, and it was not at all surprising to me that when our (excellent, thoughtful, feminist) writer, George, and I settled on a final list, it was composed entirely of men.
Nitasha Tiku, Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, and Alison Dame-Boyle have all astutely pointed out that these lists are self-perpetuating—that in Alison's words, "and then the next similar piece will look to yours and the sense of (white) men ruling continues." That's true, and it's something I genuinely wish we'd thought about earlier. We messed up here! But there's a bigger, realer, harder conversation to be had here, once this blows over, and I'd really like to talk about why it is that we arrived on these six, rather than the fact that we did.