Last week, Tasnim Raja, Mother Jones‘s digital interactive editor, wrote an eye-opening piece highlighting Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem. The article relays several public references at conferences and Twitter of “gangbang interviews” and “bikini shots.” The piece was liked, shared, retweeted, and otherwise digested and commented on, and arrived on my screen via IM. I was surprised at it, and thought the men quoted sounded like asses, and was on the verge of moving onto the next thing, when the IM continued. “You know, this is all over the game industry too.” This percolated a bit, and I realized, it’s true.
If you’re not familiar with the term “Brogrammer,” Urban Dictionary defines it as follows:
A programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.
To be honest, I’m not sure I see much of this among programmers, it’s more among marketing and business development types to my knowledge. And certainly, in San Francisco there’s the hipster blend that includes aviator sunglasses, working out, and eating Paleo. For the most part, this stereotype has been more of a joke to me than anything else. If anything, the only attention I paid to it was to go out of my way to show that my own healthier lifestyle, foodieness, and reduction in shaving don’t make me a hipster, or this new variant. In short, it’s a harmless stereotype.
But now that I’ve been cogitating on this, it’s got more of a subconscious Revenge of the Nerds aspect. Nerds don’t think of themselves as oppressive, indeed, they were always the oppressed growing up. Either due to their geekiness, race, or other non-mainstream characteristic. Instead, nerds, and indeed geeks like us, make those words our own, and wear them as a badge of honor. We are the downtrodden, how can we possibly oppress anyone else?
Ah but we can. First, we’re oblivious to sexism. We don’t see it. We don’t hear it. It’s not something that affects us. In making games for adolescent girls, we make them about fashion. In setting up marketing events for our games, we have scantily clad booth babes attracting the mostly male attendees. And at some of the parties, we have almost naked women serving drinks. After some uproar around one such party, I spoke to one of the event organizers after the fact, trying to understand what exactly happened and why, since I didn’t actually attend. The organizer said it wasn’t that bad, and this is how business works.
I hear variations on this theme a lot. Like in the debate over the use of the word “gay,” many people are resigned to the fact that there’s not much that can be done. What can one person do in the one instance. I am reminded of an exchange from the film The Mission:
Altamirano: And you have the effrontery to tell me that this slaughter was necessary?
Hontar: I did what I had to do. Given the legitimate purpose, which you sanctioned…I would have to say, yes. In truth, yes. You had no alternative, Your Eminence. We must work in the world. The world is thus.
Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world…thus have I made it.
Certainly the context is markedly different, I won’t go into detail, I’ll just recommend that you see the film. But the lesson here is that if we stand by and do nothing, act as if the decision is made by others, then by condoning it we perpetuate it. People model their behavior around others. If someone has a heart attack, most wait for someone else to make the first move to help them. It’s human nature. And in this instance, only outraged women are speaking out about it. By not saying anything in support of their outrage, we are effectively disagreeing with them, and supporting the status quo.
So with that in mind, let’s first try to be a little more aware of what we’re seeing and doing. And if certain business traditions need to die, let’s speak up and put them down.
SF: I’ve never really understood the entire “booth babe” phenomenon. I can grasp the desire to create buzz, but I would much rather my product lead the way on something like that.
As to your broader point, I think a lot of this gets back to the cultural training folks get when they’re young. I can’t remember how many times I heard the standard tripe that “girls just aren’t good at math” and that they should spend their time with English. My sister is a math whiz that decimates me. By putting people into boxes when they’re young, we get things like an enormous software engineer gender gap. I’m sure there are other reasons for the gap as well, but cultural training certainly doesn’t help.