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"Hackers and Hookers" Party Calls Attention to Gender Biases in Silicon Valley

October 29, 2013

A Silicon Valley tech start-up called Hacker Hideout found itself amid controversy last week when it announced it would be throwing a "Hackers and Hookers" Halloween party. Some publications, like Crain's Chicago Business, suggested that the theme was sexist because it portrayed men as tech-savvy hackers and women as sex objects. One party organizer -- a woman -- told The Huffington Post that it was meant to be a "spoof of something that we thought would be funny," and that her firm "(stands) behind it." Intentions aside, the event has added commentary to an ongoing national discussion about the state of women in tech -- or, more specifically, the challenges they continue to face in the industry at large, and the Silicon Valley specifically.

Despite reports that salaries and career opportunities in the technology industry are booming, women remain underrepresented. According to The New York Times, just 0.4 percent of female college freshmen say they will major in computer science, and this share of women has actually fallen over the years: In 1990, 29 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in computer and information science went to women. Today, women account for just 18 percent. That trend carries over into the workplace, too. The Times notes that today, only one-quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women, and their representation in the higher echelons of tech management is abysmal.

The Los Angeles Times suggests that none of this is really new, noting that tech has long faced a shortage of women. What is less known, notes the publication, is that this perceived culture of sexism is prominent in the Silicon Valley, too. Times report Jessica Guynn wrote that despite the region's "bravado about changing the world," prominent female tech success stories like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg remain "the exception, not the rule." One of Silicon Valley's best-known venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is being sued by a former partner, Ellen Pao, for sexual discrimination, she writes, and Twitter has not a single female member on its board of directors.

"The technology sector dresses itself up as progressive when in reality it shows every indication of being, at its core, powerfully retrograde," media critic and feminist activist Soraya Chamaly wrote in a CNN editorial. "Despite investing in diversity programs, the management of tech firms is distinctly not diverse, and indeed the industry continues to 'dazzle' with incidents in which men gleefully display their not even implicit biases."

Yet while one start-up's Halloween party and a trend of reports highlighting the underrepresentation of women in technology have some experts and pundits analyzing an apparent industry-wide culture of sexism, others have suggested that even those discussions are sexist. Political science student and PolicyMic contributor Easha Acharya suggested in an editorial of her own that women should not feel pressured to go into the tech industry at all, let alone succeed in it.

"It comes down to the entrenched, sexist idea that if you are a young, able, and intelligent woman you need to go 'where the boys are,' and that a change in numbers alone is what measures success for women," said Acharya. "It's also rooted in the logic that the success of women lies in power, influence, and dollar amounts."

As for now, Crain's reports that Hacker Hideout's Facebook page has been scrubbed of all references to the theme and issued a subsequent public apology, but its infamy in the so-called Twittersphere -- and the media at large -- lives on.


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"Hookers And Hackers Is The Least Surprising Tech Party Of All Time," huffingtonpost.com, October 23, 2013, Alexis Kleinman, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/hackers-and-hookers-party_n_4151569.html

"In tech world, women ignored," cnn.com, October 15, 2013, Soraya Chemaly, http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/15/opinion/chemaly-tech-leaves-out-women/

"Sexism is a problem in Silicon Valley, critics say," latimes.com, October 24, 2013, Jessica Guynn, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tech-sexism-20131024,0,387371.story#axzz2j2czFuo0

"Tech Needs Women, But Women Don't Necessarily Need Tech," policymic.com, October 21, 2013, Easha Acharya, http://www.policymic.com/articles/69095/tech-needs-women-but-women-don-t-necessarily-need-tech

"What does 'Hackers and Hookers' say about women in tech? (Hint: It's not good)," chicagobusiness.com, October 23, 2013, Blagica Bottigliero, http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20131023/OPINION/131029876/what-does-hackers-and-hookers-say-about-women-in-tech-hint-its-not

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