On Victims, Saints, and Venture Capital.

by Jessica Brookman in

FACT: Your attention is currency. Don't get leveraged up on bullshit.  

"I want to build a tool that captures content sentiment and filters accordingly from my  feed."
"You aren't going to like this...but edgy cynics don't get gigs."

I was heeding this advice from a strategist friend after getting into a brief twitter conversation with Anil Dash regarding his article on the Pax Dickinson / Business Insider blow-up.

Who kew Wyatt Earp was kind of a babe?  (Image )

Who kew Wyatt Earp was kind of a babe? (Image)

As a woman of Internetty Things, I am supposed to be thrilled when someone defends my "interest" in the scene. But instead, I find the reactivity of internet outrage distracting and occasionally infuriating. Here's why:

  1. The Tech/Media Echo Chamber:  
    In the business of tech, VCs are gatekeepers. They set the tone for conversations and define inclusivity by what they focus on. They do this directly, by creating content themselves. They do this indirectly, by leveraging their brand in tech media. From the bottom and the top, the conversations in tech are saturated with echoes of a supported viewpoint. This makes it difficult for alternate viewpoints to find traction, even when they are well-reasoned.

  2. Unacknowledged Elitism:
    As power in the industry consolidates, VCs are focusing on expanding their brands. It’s in their best interest to appeal to emerging markets. (see what I did there?) In this case, a member of a privileged group championed a non-privileged group by shaming another successful member of the same privileged group for having a dissenting opinion. The effective attitude here is "If you want to be a ruler, you have to achieve a certain amount of compassion for the ruled. Failing that, you will be ousted and we will carry on without you." It offers nothing in the way of solving the exclusivity problem, but actually reaffirms it. 

Blackballing someone is as close as a tech/business nerd will ever get to feeling like Wyatt Earp.

I get it. But it certainly doesn't improve the landscape for women aspiring to tech and VC prominence. Only women can do that. I'm not in any way implying that Anil Dash is a misogynist.* But he's probably not spending his free time roving the countryside to find women to individually mentor. And while it's nice to have allies, I'd rather have meetings. 

If we are collectively going to spend attention on this type of critique (i.e. What is allowed in the boys club vs. what is not), I would propose that we be concerned with the industry players acting quietly out of the same worldview as Dickinson** than the rare few who hang their prejudices like a banner on every social media signpost for a global audience.

The truth is, presently, that if you choose tech or finance, you will encounter some douchebaggery. This applies especially early in your career at entry points where trolls seem to exist relatively undisturbed and where your ability to overcome them matters most. I'm not saying it's right. It's just truth. 

Does this make me cynical? I don't think so. You can't cure a disease by stifling its (obnoxious) symptoms. 

The Pax Dickinsons are so fiercely rejected (instead of simply being dismissed and ignored as trolls) because they are proof of an ugly imbalance that we’d rather not experience.** We do not want to acknowledge the signs of the imbalance as indications of any systemic issues because we're still interested in winning the game.

If you want to succeed, play the game. Watch successful people and learn to think like them. Spend as little time as possible considering the ways in which you are being victimized and as much time as possible developing your talents. Do not give your attention to bullshit. You are better than that. And you are going to need all of it.

Lastly, know that the game is never fair. Someone is always pressing an advantage. 

Find yours. Do not wait for someone to show you the way. That person does not exist. The "way" does not exist. Find ways to break rules. You are navigating a shitstorm on rough, uncharted water in a makeshift 12' sailboat.*** 

And someone once told me that girls can't sail, but I'm pretty sure that's bullshit, too.

∆, Brookman

* And not to single him out, either, because he's just playing the game as he knows how to play it. 

** Whenever someone is punished into relative obscurity from the industry they usually "atone," either by building something remarkable on their own, or by finding some executive who quietly shares their outlook. These execs exist. I have worked for them. Luckily, many of them are aging rapidly, due to side effects of all of that internalized bigotry and what not.

*** This may or may not be a pep talk. To myself.