Yesterday, San Francisco published "Silicon Valley's Geek Chorus," a list of the six young men who make up the Valley's influential peanut gallery (or as New York Times tech reporter Jenna Wortham dubbed it, the "peen gallery." Ha). Naturally, Twitter heavy-hitters and unknowns alike have responded with the same flabbergasted outcry of SEXISM! that these lists always stir up— most recently Wired's list of 101 "Signals" or best (nearly all male) "reporters, writers, and thinkers" on the Internet.
This time, though, the editor behind the piece, San Francisco senior editor Ellen Cushing (a female tech writer we admire) responded to the pitchfork-wielding mob outside her door with a thoughtful, genuine discourse on how she arrived at her final list.
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.
I admire that Cushing's rebuttal doesn't smack of "sorry, not sorry" obliviousness. Her argument (which relies on an easy-to-miss, parenthetical sentence in the original article's introduction) is that the magazine's intention was to highlight unfair representation in the industry at large: It's a bro's world, and she's just reporting the facts. While it's a slightly convenient, hindsight-y justification, we see her point. Almost.
Including women for the sake of appearances would arguably be a disservice, if it created an impression of gender parity where it doesn't exist, or whitewashed problems of representation. But ... the women are there, really. Today, CNN tech reporter Heather Kelly did a quick gender count of leading tech pubs and found that places like TechCrunch (43 percent female), Wired (36 precent), and AllThingsD (47 percent) are well-staffed with women. While Cushing says her goal was to focus on mainstream rather than niche publications, the numbers do undermine her broader position. And she — by way of apology — gave belated shout-outs to talented, well-known female reporters, editors, and writers.
The problem here is that this list isn't really mirroring the insular, bro-y world at large, it's mirroring (and perpetuating) our perception and biases that the tech journo world is solely dominated by the same six people some dude interacts with on Twitter. That can be addressed and corrected — just not here. This was a far more complex issue than a listicle can accommodate. So the takeaway is not just that tech is sexist, journalism is sexist, or San Francisco magazine is sexist, but that the issue of gender in tech is too complicated to be solved in listicle form. So let's find another way to write the story: in the words of Wortham (who, we assert, should be on this list and ALL the lists heretofore), “honestly none of this matters, back to business, time to twerk."