Another Day, Another Apology for Harassment in Silicon Valley

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Marc Canter apologized on Medium for how he has treated women in the past. Photo: Joichi Ito/CC/Wikimedia

Marc Canter, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Macromedia, says he’s sorry. Or, at least, now that he’s been called out by women of Silicon Valley on Twitter and in the New York Times, he’s saying he’s sorry. Last week, the Times published a piece highlighting several stories from women in the tech space who allegedly have been harassed and discriminated against by their male peers. Canter was among those named, prompting him to publish an apology letter on Medium earlier this week. (His apology follows a similar note from VC and former Shark Tank star Chris Sacca, who was also called out by the Times.)

Back in 2014, Wendy Dent was starting her company, Cinemmerse, when Canter entered the picture and offered to help her find a co-founder. Dent told the Times her communication with Canter became increasingly sexual and uncomfortable. “Know what I’m thinking? Why am I sending you this — in private?” Canter wrote in one message to Dent, in reference to her outfit. In another, he called her a “sorceress casting a spell.” Canter, for his part, told the Times that Dent “came on strong to me, asking for help,” and that he only sent sexualized messages in an attempt to get her to leave him alone. In his apology note, Canter characterizes this behavior as “using a sexual innuendo to end our relationship.”

Dent’s story prompted danah boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research who also teaches at NYU, to tweet about her own experiences with Canter. On Twitter, boyd said Canter had asked her to have a threesome with him multiple times early on in her career.

“At the time, I was young and I was genuinely scared of him; I spent a lot of time and emotional energy avoiding him, and struggled with how to navigate him at various conferences. I wasn’t the only one who faced his lewd comments, often framed as being sex-positive even when they were an abuse of power,” boyd wrote in her own post on Medium, which she published prior to Canter’s post. “My guess is that Marc has no idea how many women he’s made feel uncomfortable, ashamed, and scared. The question is whether or not he will admit that to himself, let alone to others.” At the end of her post, boyd lays out four categories — Recognition, Repentance, Respect, and Reparation — explaining the sorts of behavior and actions she’d like to see from men in tech going forward.

Canter used these four categories to wrap up his own apology, after saying he now realizes that asking boyd for a threesome was “stupid and wrong,” and that he “NEVER intended to make danah feel uncomfortable, ashamed, and scared.” (Which, man, how did you think it would make her feel? Wanted? Sexy? Like your equal?)

His four R bullet points are fine — helping more female-run start-ups, hiring more female engineers and board members — but it’s hard to take them seriously given the tone of Canter’s entire letter. “I realize the impression of my statement are being misconstrued and being blown WAY out of proportion, but that doesn’t matter,” Canter writes early in the apology. “If she [Wendy Dent] didn’t like it and the NYTimes thought it was important enough to report — then I’ll deal with it.” Even as he’s apologizing for his egregious behavior toward women, he’s still pointing his finger at one. As though the rest of us who read Dent’s story had zero qualms with his actions, and only the Times and Wendy Dent found them unacceptable.

Another Day, Another Harassment Apology in Silicon Valley