When meeting me for the first time, people will often ask if Silicon Valley is lacking in high culture. I always tell them I cannot judge that. My friends don’t perform chamber music, they go surfing. Another common question is how much I suffer from sexism. I always explain that I personally don’t suffer at all, but of course I’ve heard about it. I’ve even heard people in San Francisco poke fun at their reputation as a male-dominated culture. It happened at a Shakespeare play I recently attended with a friend. It was a comedic adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew”.
As You probably know from Your time in school this comedy is about a young woman. Katharina, so she’s called, doesn’t want to fit into the 17th century’s female stereotype, so she dresses and behaves like a man. I should probably say: She acts like 17th century’s stereotype of a man. I’m well versed in gender studies.
As it turned out the performance I saw was more sketch comedy than high culture. The best thing about it was that it pointed to stereotypes too. The absurdity of the play’s concept – that a woman would have to pretend to be a man to be succesful – perfectly showed Silicon Valley gender dynamics. The audience was willing to laugh about it.
One of the actors was from the cast of HBO’s Sitcom “Silicon Valley”. That TV-show paints a caricature of the tech-industry. Thomas Middleditch, who stars the shy programmer Richard Hendriks, developer of the famous music app “Pied Piper”, played the wicked king. He joked hard about the male frenzy for tech, unshaved geeks, in front of their computer all the time since early childhood.
Is Silicon Valley a macho-society? Probably. Is sexism in Silicon Valley alive? Yes. And when I have to listen to these bad stories about investors taking advantage of their position, sexual harassment or women not receiving funds because they are women, I’m really annoyed.
But I have also witnessed the sometimes funny effects of living in an environment where many of the men aren’t used to spending much time around women. Sometimes You shouldn’t take these guys too seriously. Sometimes it’s better just to laugh about it, look at the Shakespeare audience.
Last week, for example, I spoke with a manager from a large Silicon Valley company. After two or three drinks he said he wanted to see me again. And then he added something strange, that most men would probably recognize isn’t the smoothest of come-ons. I’m still not sure if he meant it a compliment. He said he wanted to see me again – because I reminded him of his mother.
This column is also published in German.
Britta Weddeling is Handelsblatt's correspondent in Silicon Valley covering the internet economy, latest trends and small curiosities in the valley of the nerds.