The Silicon Valley season premiere panel was eight men and one woman, and anyone could predict what would happen.
The interviewer onstage asked each man questions about the popular HBO show satirizing Silicon Valley’s tech boom. He asked the creator, Mike Judge, what inspired the show; asked a main character whether he knew it would be such a hit; asked an actor how much his comedic riffs got into the final cut. And then he turned to the one woman on stage, Amanda Crew:
“So Amanda, what is it like – this show is obviously a lot of guys – what’s your experience as an actress in this type of situation and also representing the females of Silicon Valley here?”
There it is.
I’ve never felt more gendered than since I started covering tech. I certainly like being a woman, but I wouldn’t consider it my primary identifier or interest. In Silicon Valley, one does not have that luxury. A woman in Silicon Valley, even one who’s just visiting for the night, is very specifically female – representative of women and there to talk about women. It’s by dint of scarcity (how odd to find her there!) but it’s deeper than that.
Monica Rogati, a data scientist, coined something she called the Bechdel test for tech conferences. It is a measure of whether women are truly being represented at an event. The requirements: 1) two women speaking 2) on the same panel 3) not about women in tech.
After covering tech for five years, I think I’ve seen it maybe twice. More typical is something akin to the upcoming Paypal panel called “Gender Equality and Inclusion in the Workplace”, which boasts a grand total of four men and zero women.
I remember when I first realized I would be very much A Woman in tech. The first party I went to as a tech reporter, I asked a venture capitalist who he thought would be interesting to profile. He listed seven women and a few shopping apps. I was confused, clarified that I covered tech not gender, but then it struck me: he couldn’t see past the female-ness of it all.
At a Salesforce conference last year, an interviewer turned to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and said: “Susan, you know something about babies. This is what I love about Susan: she has five children.”
Back at the Silicon Valley premiere, Crew balked and said simply: “I’m not the face of women in tech.”
You can’t blame Mike Judge or his cast for reflecting Silicon Valley back at us. That’s their job. Judge can’t skew the cast to be more female engineers than Silicon Valley has. The least believable part of his whole show is that he cast two female venture capitalists (an extreme statistical improbability).
The jokes during the premiere, like the jokes in the show, centered around dicks and ladies. The audience was the usual Silicon Valley scrum of startup founders, venture capitalists and tech press.
“At home I’ll grab my wife by the shoulders. I’ll physically grab my wife and look her in the eyes and [fart],” joked Thomas Middleditch, who plays the main character. “I need her to know that I’m the dominant dog, and I mark her.”
Or as Middleditch said to another actor: “Your known reputation around Hollywood as being a total little bitch has helped.”
Alex Berg, co-showrunner, said what made him most proud about the show was when it felt so real it made people sick.
“People who actually work in this business say the show makes them nauseous because they feel like they’re watching their life, and it’s too traumatizing,” Berg said. “The people who feel like it’s too real for them to enjoy, that’s actually a big compliment.”