Sexism in the tech industry is a huge problem, and some tough activists have been trying to call it out for years. But it’s been an uphill battle, as a lot of people would rather just chalk it up to “boys will be boys” and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Every once in a while, though, something so egregious happens that everyone has to pay attention to it, and that happened this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, when two grown men presented an app called Titstare. It is, as one would guess, just an app for staring at tits. The brogrammers in the audience loved it, but not everyone agreed.
“There goes my attempt to teach my 9yo girl how welcoming tech industry is to women :-/” tweeted physicist and hacker Richard David Jordan after the event.
(Jordan’s 9-year-old daughter Alexandra was actually at the event presenting a hack of her own, superfunkidtime, a playdate-scheduling app for parents and kids that actually sounds useful.)
Worse than the “I saw your boobs” app was the resulting fallout. This sort of juvenile sexist crap appearing as the first presentation at a well-funded professional event was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people pissed off at the sexist attitudes pervasive in the tech industry. When they complained, the misogyny burst forth from the ground like Grendel’s mom to defend the brogrammers and their right to be douche assholes.
Get used to it or get out, they said.
TechCrunch, to its credit, apologized for the presentation and said that going forward it would be screening its hackathons and rejecting any type of sexism and discriminatory or derogatory content.
That just made the brogrammers angrier.
Business Insider’s Chief Technology Officer Pax Dickinson went on one of the most egregiously sexist Twitter screeds I’ve ever seen, with plenty of homophobia, classism, and racism. Dickinson’s whole misogynist rampage (including how women’s suffrage and individual freedom are incompatible) was captured on Tumblr. He’s since been fired.
Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of Glimpse Labs, said the event was the wake-up call that made her realize tech’s sexist status quo should not go on. Writing in Business Insider, Shevinsky said:
I had defended DefCon’s right to do whatever they want. I had suggested on Twitter that Women 2.0 and the Hacker Dojo start an alternative security conference. I was wrong. I take this back. We shouldn’t have to. Seeing Titstare steal the show at the TC Disrupt Hackathon was an epiphany for me. Reasonable, professional, and non-sexist behavior should be an industry standard.