What does Silicon Valley think of women?

Newsweek has a story on sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, with a cover illustration that some people see as pretty sexist itself. Other people don’t see the problem.

newsweek cover

I’m not sure. At the first look I thought it was one of those having it both ways things – tutting about sexism but getting jollies from sexism all the same. Wink wink nudge nudge type of thing. But given the words right next to it…I think my first look got it wrong.



  1. says

    If I saw just the picture, sure. But in context it pretty much just tells you what the article is going to say. Maybe if the picture was a photograph or if the artwork was more detailed I’d think different, but the simplicity of the art helps keep it from going into questionable territory.

  2. says

    I think it’s appropriate. I mean, clearly the picture has sexist overtones, but that’s the point. You can’t be critical of sexism without, you know, LOOKING at sexism. The standard Windows mouse cursor helps clarify it; this story is going to be about the way the people in the world of tech treat women.

  3. chrislawson says

    I think it’s a great cartoon. At first glance it looks bad, but then you realise what it’s saying — and I think the facelessness, the short dress, and the very high heels are part of the satire.

  4. Jean says

    Isn’t that pretty much the same as saying that Charlie Hebdo covers are racist? Of course, Newsweek is not Charlie Hebdo but I think the analogy is still valid.

  5. Anne Fenwick says

    @5 – Yes, everyone’s entitled to think of this cartoon whatever they think of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon of Taubira as a monkey. And anyone who thinks something different has a problem of coherence. It’s also the case that transferred over the Internet and ending up in the possession of anyone who doesn’t read English, the cartoon would seem appallingly sexist.

  6. John Horstman says

    I think Newsweek c’est Charlie*, and I see others also see the parallel. It is literally impossible to criticize something without replicating it such that people know what you’re criticizing. The image absolutely is sexist, because it’s a depiction of SV’s view of women, which is ridiculously sexist. The context in which it appears is one in which that sexism is being criticized, so Newsweek itself is not being sexist, in the same way that Tony isn’t being racist in using racist images to illustrate the racism he’s criticizing in this series. Ditto for Charlie Hebdo.

    *I don’t speak French beyond a handful of common phrases and French loan-words in English, so I have no idea if this construction is actually correct.

  7. Anne Fenwick says

    All things considered, I would prefer satire which showed and mocked the agent of the sexism, rather than merely re-displaying the humiliation of women (apparently perpetrated by an abstract cursor?!). In looking at sexism, I think we’re all very familiar with the symptoms, what about the cause?

  8. karmacat says

    The title bothers me. It would make more sense if the title said “the problem of sexual harassment…” And sexual harassment is not just about objectifying women. It is about creating an environment that is hostile to women

  9. quixote says

    I haven’t been able to identify why that cover annoys me so much, but Anne @8 got it:

    “I would prefer satire which showed and mocked the agent of the sexism.”

    Mock the AGENT, dammit. Enough already with the “Ooh, women, lolol, you can look up their skirts.” Yeah. We know. About a million billion times over.

  10. moarscienceplz says

    The article is really long, I’ve only read about a fifth of it, but it seems its main thrust is the problem of women not being taken seriously as businesspeople. So the cover gives a misleading impression of the article.

  11. mildlymagnificent says

    The article is really long, I’ve only read about a fifth of it,

    Well, aren’t you in for a treat when you get to the bit about what happens when women accept invitations for dinner as part of the finance negotiations.

  12. theobromine says

    Speaking from my own experience as a veteran of decades in hi-tech, I would say that actual sexual harassment, is only one component (and often a rather small component) of the problem of women’s treatment in STEM fields. Some of the most sexist men I encountered I think would never even have considered making inappropriate comments or physical gestures, but neither were they particularly interested in taking me seriously as a colleague. So for that reason, I find the graphic rather misses a large component of the problem that the text refers to.

  13. Hj Hornbeck says

    The deciding factor for me is the lack of a face; the artist has made this woman generic, fungible, an object to be posed at whim. It’s straight-up objectification, and paired with the suggestion of sexuality it falls into the “sexist” bin.

    There’s also the problem that the cover doesn’t critique, merely display. It doesn’t say chasing tail is a good or bad thing, it just says that’s what Silicon Valley thinks. You have to walk in with the assumption “and this is bad” to turn it into a critique; if you don’t, then it could even be viewed as an endorsement of Silicon Valley’s views. Encouraging sexism isn’t solving it, even if only a minority of viewers are encouraged.

  14. AMM says

    @14 theobromine

    Agreed. In fact, from what I could see, the subject of the article was not so much the harrassment of women as such as the devaluation of women and treating them solely as objects for the use and pleasure of “real people” (= men) — cf. “booth babes.” This is of course hardly news to anyone who has been following tech industry blogs and news sites.

    I can think of a number of graphics that would have gotten that point across better, but they might not have the same T&A content.

  15. anbheal says

    I’m with KarmaKat, it’s not just titillating double-speak, it’s mocking the victim. Plus, it’s Newsweek — I’d perhaps have given it greater leeway were it Harpers or Mother Jones, but Newsweek is a white supremacist Libertarian sexist racist neocon piece of shit that has gone out of business, twice, for trying to be stupider and more conservative than Time.

  16. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    The deciding factor for me is the lack of a face; the artist has made this woman generic, fungible, an object to be posed at whim.

    Which is what Silicon Valley thinks of women.

  17. carbonfox says

    Anne @8,

    Great point, which sums up my discomfort with the cover.

    Although I imagine, for better or worse, the controversy would be doubled if the cover had satirized a sexist man (I’m trying to imagine what that portrayal would consist of). After all, harassing and objectifying women is par for the course outside a few vocal feminist critics, but mocking their harassers is uncalled for (“men can’t even be men anymore!” or “can’t you take a compliment!” or “you’d like it if it was Brad Pitt!”).

  18. Dave Ricks says

    The Newsweek cover works for me as satire, and I’ll explain in terms of syntax or form. By syntax, I mean a claim is equally valid in the active or passive voice. By form, I mean (for example) that jazz musicians call the chord changes to I Got Rhythm “rhythm changes” and (for example) most of the Charlie Parker tunes I know off the top of my head are launching pads to improvise over “rhythm changes” being a 32-bar AABA form.

    All of us can instantly parse a single-frame editorial cartoon that shows a bad person behaving badly. My analogy here is to the active voice, to show (for example) a greedy narcissistic Wall Street person gaming the system for personal gain but a net loss to society. That syntax or form says, “This person is behaving badly.”

    But there’s another syntax or form that some people have trouble parsing, like (for example) The New Yorker Obama fist bump cover (with the US flag burning in the fireplace). The object of the satire is the bullshit I heard on the radio and read online in Obama’s first Presidential election that Obama is a Muslim (delivered with the implicit understanding that Muslims are anti-American). In this syntax or form, the satire mocks anybody who would think the things shown in the cartoons. In a cartoon with this this syntax or form, really:
    • The Obamas are NOT Islamist militants.
    • Christiane Taubira is NOT a monkey.
    • Boko Haram’s rape victims are NOT demanding welfare money.
    • Women in Silicon Valley are NOT faceless.

    I respect Anne @6/8 for italicizing a preference for cartoons to show the subject of satire directly, like a preference to use the active voice over passive voice. The Newsweek cover says, “Women are disrespected by Silicon Valley”, and someone could wish for the same claim in the active voice, “Silicon Valley disrespects women”. I respect Anne @6/8 for italicizing a preference that stops short of saying one syntax or form is invalid or unethical, which some commenters seem to say here.

  19. says

    If she had been depicted smacking down the arrow with her notebook, it would be okay. Not this.

    That cover says as much about what Newsweek thinks of woman as it does silicon valley.

  20. says

    Wasn’t sure what to think at first, but Anne Fenwick @8, karmacat @10 and HJ Hornbeck @15 helped to crystalize our view and put the picture in the proper perspective. Satire fail.

    Regardless of the intent of the cover, the actual effect is that they are mocking the victims rather than the perpetrators instead. The use of a faceless, posable female character seems to be an illustration of the subject-object dichotomy where the subject acts and the object is acted upon. The subject in this case seems to be Silicon Valley represented by the arrow while, as HJ points out, the women is completely objectified and reduced to being some kind of prop to be acted upon.


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