Just being bros

What’s all this feminism nonsense? Didn’t we figure out a long time ago that that’s just politically correct bullshit? Janet Kornblum is there.

So when I heard about this whole bro-haha this weekend over some presentations at TechCrunch that a bunch of people thought were sexist, I was like, why the heck does everyone have their panties in a bunch?

What was behind all this hullabaloo? “Titstare” was, for one—that is, bros taking pictures of themselves staring at tits. Also “CircleShake,” an app that measures how hard someone can shake a phone and like, required dudes to stand up and simulate as if they were, well, you know.

And then Business Insider fires its Chief Technology Officer for a few measly “offensive” tweets, such as, “feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.”

Really, so what, ladies? These dudes are just being bros, having a little fun. I’m like totally sick of girls getting on their high horses about stuff like this. Seriously. Bros wanna have a little fun and make money. BFD, right? You gotta laugh with them.

Right? Feminists just drain all the fun out of life.

Dudes need their bromance. Bros gotta be bros.

Girls complaining about it? Total buzzkill. You don’t go to a frat house and bitch about the beer. You shouldn’t go to a start-up and meow about bro-workers.

It’s totally pointless and destructive, ladies!

Sure, it’s all PC to make sure you “diversify,” but start-ups have to Start Up. Get it? They can’t be held captive to a bunch of old school, outdated, personnel shit about who they have to hire. They have to be fast. They have to be fluid. They gotta be able to hire the best man for the job—even if sometimes, it’s a girl.

They need brogrammers who get it. Not sisgrammers. See? That doesn’t even work.

But the thing is? In real life, I’m one of those. One of those feminists. And by feminist, I mean a woman who stands up for women.

No that’s not what you’re supposed to do! You’re supposed to just put your head down and GET ON WITH YOUR WORK without always talking about women.

When I covered start-ups starting back in 1996, I remember being shocked by the blatant sexism. No, I’m not talking about everyone—but definitely, definitively most. It was clear that this was a man’s world. Women could come, but only if they followed dude rules. It was only cool if you could roll with the bros.

It was the beginning of the dot-com boom and I thought, well, it’s a new industry born of the male-dominated tech world. It’ll change.

Now it’s 16 years later, and guess what? The boys-only sign on the clubhouse has been switched out—to bros-only. The bro culture is hard-wired into many, many start-ups. I’m obviously not talking about everyone. But the fact that guys could stand up in a room and simulate masturbation and talk about tits at a major industry conference sure says something.

These events are not random. This kind of stuff and a lot worse happens all the time behind closed doors. The fact that they played out in public? It’s a sign of the times: that entitled, frat bro-culture has become not just tolerable in many circles, but even acceptable. Even kind of “fun.”

More than kind of, where I see it. Absolutely fun, unquestionably fun, enough fun to spend hours a day doing it on Twitter and forums (ok fora, but nobody says that and Word Press corrects it to for a). For some people it’s a party that goes on all day every day.

Naming a problem is the beginning. I’ve talked with a lot of women in the tech world about this; almost universally they can tell me stories about feeling excluded in all kinds of ways that maybe men don’t even notice: gatherings where only guys are invited; CEO’s using language like “brogramming”; and mostly, being passed up for promotions or being shut down. If they call out the behavior they’re told they’re “too sensitive.” But of course, they don’t want to complain out loud. Because guess what happens? They get shunned. Or they get fired. Both.

Elsewhere they get smeared, cyberstalked, photoshopped, cyberbullied.

“Boys will be boys” is fine when you’re alone in your own homes. But bros? The next time you want to hire a brogrammer or ask your coworker out for a browski, please think again about what you’re saying. It may seem harmless. But it isn’t. It sends a message.

Let’s hope that the next time a CEO hires, he’ll look beyond his own personal network. Maybe he’ll open one of those binders of women. Maybe it’ll happen two or three times. And maybe when there are just about an equal number of women, those women will feel comfortable and accepted enough to tell the guys when they’re doing something that they don’t know is sexist, but really is.

Let’s do this.



  1. Rey Fox says

    Jesus. If I had to work in one of those offices, I think it’d be about a week, or maybe somewhere around the fiftieth utterance of the word “bro” before I flipped out and murdered everyone.

  2. Martha says

    @Rey– I agree with you about the frustration, but please be careful using language like that. It’s triggering for some of us. Especially in such close temporal proximity with today’s events in the US Navy Yard. Thanks.

  3. Martha says

    Someone else may already have pointed this out, but Matt Yglesias did a really nice job deflating the myth that the bro-sphere is required for the impressive rate of innovation we see in the tech sector:

    At the end of the day, the innovative nature of the digitial technology industry isn’t some great mystery. Hiring some programmers and buying them a few computers is really cheap compared to, say, building a factory. What’s more, when your computer program crashes nobody dies. Engineers who build airplanes are held to a much higher standard and need to proceed much more cautiously. And this, fundamentally, is where the innovation comes from. People can tinker around. They can launch services without being 100 percent sure they’ll be able to scale them properly or handle edge cases. When the servers get overloaded, there’s no explosion, no oil spill, no wreckage, nothing but an error message. It’s nice! People can try a lot of new stuff, and talented people don’t necessarily need to spend years paying their dues to give their big ideas a shot.

    But none of this has anything to do with people being jackasses to women.


  4. A. Noyd says

    I generally only encounter bros in the wild and haven’t had to work with them, but they seem to have a thing for constant self-congratulation that, on top of being utter douchebags, makes them all the more insufferable. If I was stuck at a job with the likes of them, well, I’d be getting to the unmentionably triggering things even sooner than Rey Fox.

    Also, on a bit of a tangent, a few days ago I passed a young man wearing a “cool story babe, now make me a sandwich” T-shirt. Since I felt relatively safe, I spat at his feet as he walked by, and then kept going. He didn’t really react, though. I figured if he’s going to wear his contempt for women so proudly, I’ll return the contempt.

  5. A. Noyd says

    I didn’t spit on him, I spat where he was about to step. And don’t try to tell me not to do that.

  6. says

    So I’ve worked in IT/Tech for well on 22 years now…. the bro thing…is new. It came with the arrival of the suits – Silicon Valley was the domain of uber geeks and hippie zen masters… a particular mix which developed with Lawrence Livermore, UC Berkeley, NASA, CalTech, Stanford, and well all off northern Cali hippie/alterna/punk culture mixing it up. The Well – was in Marin…started by Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog) and a bunch of dead heads…and the SF alterna culture which also gave birth to burningman… ALL of this preceded the goldrush that brought the waves of dot com booms and busts… That gold rush brought the opportunists….SOME of whome embraced the special mix that was the Bay Area from 1945- 1998…. but things started to change.

    Bro-ness was not common back then…in fact I don’t remember ONE bro in my time in Silicon Valley…except maybe a few sales guys.

    My experience in tech being surrounded by men – included some sexism.. for sure. But the sexism is a much wider phenom than the bros. Sometimes country of origin meant a much more pronounced sexism or confusion about why women were in the IT department… but generally that was a problem of individual men.

    Something much newer is afoot I think… part of it is the common idea that “feminism” is old news, not needed any more, something your mom talked about…. far away in the past. I think part if it is a generational issue…that is being addressed by the female peers of the under 40 set…A generation which is having it’s own rough complex discussion around gender, sexuality etc….a discussion it NEEDED to have but had not because… so many young women were taught that “feminism” was a dirty word…

    Anyway — bros are the fratboys of old, privileged, entitled and fucked in the head….who perhaps will come around in the long run… I have more hope for them because the women under 40s – take no shit.

  7. Francisco Bacopa says

    I have to add that I think that some of this BS is relatively recent. I grew up in 80’s bro culture and we would never have tried out a wank app. I was on a sports team and I never heard “hey ladies” used as a gendered insult against boys by a coach. I remember watching a TV show in the mid-90’s where the coach said “hey ladies” to a male amateur sports league with my SIL. I didn’t even comprehend what I heard. “Did he say Hey Ladies?” “Yeah, haven’t you heard that before?”

    But I hadn’t. My SIL is from rural Deep East Texas, but I am from the somewhat enlightened upper coast, I had no clue as I had never heard of such a thing.

    The Feminine is a contaminant that destroys all. It is icky uncleanliness. There used to be men named Shannon, Hillary, and Leslie. But once a few girls get these names, they are forever forbidden for boys. The feminine is pure poison. It destroys everything it touches. Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!

    And really dudes, if that’s how you feel why do you wanna fuck that degenerate shit? Oh yeah, you kinda feel compelled to. Women are disgusting and your own attractions are disgusting. Well you might as well date rape a few of them as they don’t matter anyway. You might get lucky and get your status object woman and kind of treat right, but you will still likely harass women at work. What that bitch be thinkin she can do shit right?

  8. oursally says

    Occasionally I meet a pillock like that, then I say Hey you pillock, what on earth are you thinking. Now, good I am senior enough and tough enough to do it, also I have the confidence only a black belt in Karate can give. The younger women here go straight to the boss and complain, then the pillock gets hauled over the coals. I only once had a boss who thought it was ok, the women, gays and foreigners left so fast he lost his projects and is now no longer here.

    There’s a shortage of qualified people. We can’t afford to scare away 51% of humanity here. And as a rule, the pillocks are not the best workers, too busy whingeing and complaining and finding excuses and blaming everything on someone else.

  9. oursally says

    And the Italian colleague who commented on the quality of someone’s legs got a Gibbs-style smack on the back of the head. He still does it but he looks round first to see if I am nearby… Now the other guys offer to smack him. I think he’s getting the message.
    Is this mobbing?

  10. says

    Francisco Bacopa/#10:

    Re some of it being more recent, I think that’s probably true. In broad social terms, I think you can generally call it backlash, and Faludi in another decade did a whole book on that.

    More concretely, among other dynamics, once equality is formally written into legislation, you have a sociological lag; attitudes don’t at all necessarily track that, certainly won’t do so universally. And it creates a new method of blaming victims. See (and there’s plenty to see) the ‘there are laws; why don’t you use them?’ thing. And never mind how practical that is, nor what it costs to use the law, nor whether or not it’s ever even seriously enforced.

    And the social shape of it ishardly mystifying. There’s a perception on that part of those previously privileged that such advancement of those previously beneath them threatens their own position. So they seek to entrench what they can. It will look a little different, year by year, because the social context shifts beneath them, and they’re trying to find a way to keep asserting that.

    The ‘hey ladies’ thing, tho’, is especially suggestive, I find. It’s saying to those who’d been a rung up that if they fuck up, don’t sufficiently play their part, they belong on that lower rung, the lady rung, and this, of course, is the dynamic, the deliberately created anxiety that keeps hierarchy in the place in the first place. So the fact that we’re hearing it says pretty concretely that hierarchy is still there. Or that people are trying to keep it there, anyway.

    I’m trying to remember, now, if I ever heard that ‘ladies’ thing from any of my gym teachers, some thirty years back, now. And y’know, I’m not actually sure. Really don’t trust my memory on this. Can almost picture it, and from one teacher in particular, but then again, I could be crossing that with any number of film roles, TV and movie-depicted coaches…

    Meh. Human brains. They’re a pain.

    Also, re the whole ‘women are disgusting and your own attractions are disgusting’ thing, I think you nailed that sentiment pretty well, too. I remember locker room talk in high school, and always figured that was a big part of the ‘I’d do her’ or ‘I did her’ stuff I heard. I thought at the time it was more about adolescents new to such stirrings being frightened by them, trying to sound all ‘manly’ by so strongly implying this was just a thing beneath them, a thing they could somehow put outside them by so describing it in the coarsest and most distancing possible terms, since such attraction might otherwise make them feel or appear vulnerable. So let’s make this just a ‘dirty’ thing I do because I’m bad to the bone, and if I get something smelly on me from wanting such gross things as those icky girls, hey, I’m a tough guy, it doesn’t really come off on me. And consider also that three years earlier they were still in the ‘girls are icky’ stage of development…

    But in retrospect, I think that’s not the half of it, and it was, as I think you’re saying clearly enough, again about contempt they were taught was somehow proper for a man to express both for women, and, by extension, for the desire for the company of the same. And ‘girls are icky’ isn’t, really, so much specific to grade school; it’s just that later, the expectation is you phrase it differently.

    It’s a bit of a conflicted mess though, when I think about it. Let’s see… the man’s somehow above sex, it’s just a dirty thing he has to do attend to periodically, perhaps like defecation; it could never really master him… But he’s also allowed to claim he’s such a slave to his boner that whatever he does–because he just can’t help himself–and because those durned temptresses are so irresponsibly tantalizing–is no bad. Natural urges, what can ya do.

    And heaven forbid it should ever be a mutual thing, a bonding thing, a thing might bring you closer to another human being, a thing you ask for, as opposed to demand or take. I am the stranger who just rode into town to break a few fillies. No one gets close to me. Call me Clint, please.

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