It seems like every day is marked by some kind of news of sexism or discrimination bubbling out of the tech industry. There was of course the appalling mistreatment of Tinder’s sole female co-founder by her fellow co-founders. And then Twitter’s ongoing piss poor performance handling its users reports of abuse—not to mention the utter lack of diversity of its workers. And then there were Apple’s woeful diversity stats . . . even the recent story about a venture capitalist sending sexually aggressive emails to a female startup employee feels, sadly, almost commonplace.
And these, of course, are just the highest-profile cases of abuse and diversity failures. As Ravishly is nestled neatly in the Bay Area, we naturally wonder: just how bad is brogrammer-tastic Silicon Valley?
Unconscionably bad, is Shanley Kane’s answer.
Having worked in tech across startup, open source, and academic communities, the overt sexism and misogyny of the industry ultimately forced Shanley out of it—a fact that still saddens her, given her love of tech.
But it certainly hasn’t kept her down. Shanley founded Model View Culture, an “independent media platform covering technology culture and diversity” and now works as its CEO. And in addition to her more formal writing, she’s also an outspoken presence on Twitter.
We caught up with Shanley to hear more about the tech industry's extreme issues, her approaches to righting them (including why she advocates "leaning out" rather than "leaning in"), and the challenges of operating an independent media company.
What drew you to the tech industry and to the Bay Area?
I’ve had a passion for technology since I was about twelve, when I started using computers and the internet for publishing, web design, gaming and social interaction. I moved to San Francisco after finishing school with very little idea of how the Silicon Valley tech industry specifically worked. I had heard it was the best and most important place to work if you wanted to be in tech and that was about all I knew.
How have your views about tech and Silicon Valley evolved since you arrived?
When I first started working here, I was very naive and it took me awhile to grasp how the industry works, how the culture works. I began to really struggle with the violent and massive misogyny of tech workplaces, conferences, the online professional sphere—to really struggle with the feelings of anger, anxiety and depression that came from working in this incredibly male-dominated environment.
My work experiences in tech have been filled with lots of humiliation, constant disrespect, tons of harassment and abuse and a huge struggle to advance. I eventually realized that the systemic discrimination and misogyny is such that actually achieving my career goals and dreams was not going to happen for me. This was a very sad realization and something I am still sad about, even as my goals and dreams have since shifted. Meanwhile, if you work in the tech industry, you are surrounded by incompetent and entitled white men who have historically unprecedented access to money and power and are treating everyone else like shit—and running companies into the ground.
What prompted you to start Model View Culture?
What I found here is that there is an entire problematic culture, a whole system of beliefs, values, stereotypes and mythologies, that is driving so much of the industry. It’s a culture that goes almost completely unexamined and is very much broken. I became really fascinated with exposing and analyzing tech culture and started writing about engineering teams, management, startups, women in tech and other issues. That writing was well received by many and also deeply hated by others. At the same time, I came to particularly loathe the tech press, which is an uncritical mouthpiece for the existing power structure, and wanted to start a media company that was challenging, political, that cared deeply about diversity and inequality, that gave voices and perspectives not heard in the mainstream a certain shared place.
Can you describe your goals for MVC? What are some of the challenges with running an independent publishing platform?
Model View Culture is basically rebellion media against tech culture. One major goal is obviously to show and document how deeply fucked up this industry we built is. And more than that, it’s about providing alternative models, frameworks, influences and critical lenses within technology. It’s part intellectual community, part screaming into the void and part publishing beautiful luminary thought and analysis. Model View Culture says OK, this is the tech culture we have, but here are all of these tools and frameworks for deconstructing that and building something different, more inclusive, something better. And we have the profound—absolutely profound—honor and joy of working with brilliant, diverse writers, activists and technologies and our goal is to give them a great publishing experience and to publish in a way that is rigorous and dedicated to looking at the many dimensions of diversity by critiquing and analyzing oppression by gender, race, sexuality, mental illness, class, disability and their intersections.
The challenges are time and money. We don’t take venture capital or corporate money—we’re 100% reader-funded. So, we don’t have access to a lot of capital. That said, we’re profitable and we’re sustainable, and we’ll take that and being independent over having lots of capital and compromising our editorial perspective.
Also time, we really never have enough time.
On Twitter you refer to yourself as "Silicon Valley's last cultural critic." What's behind this description?
It’s a little hyperbolic, probably. I wrote it a bit tongue in cheek in the sense that Silicon Valley can feel very hopeless and doomed in terms of making change, yet I often feel basically unlimited energy to keep fighting it. So, the “last” part is: I will still be here.
And there’s also this thing where women in tech aren’t allowed to be intellectuals, aren’t given that respect and that space. So, claiming that and being like, hey fuck you, I *am* an intellectual, a critic, is important.
You've described how visibility online can dovetail with violence. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this on an individual level and also what should social media companies be doing to combat it?
It’s funny because even though I have way, way, way fewer Twitter followers than many white men in my industry, I’m widely considered to be a “public figure”—and I receive an overwhelming amount of stalking, abuse, harassment, insults and disrespect. And I am “hypervisible” in the sense that my work is incredibly widely spread without many of the benefits of that accruing to me. Instead, my life and achievements get erased, ridiculed and discredited whereas the details of my life—including my sexuality—are just consumed and over analyzed and torn apart. For other people going through this, I suggest really trying to harden your security online and in real space as much as it is within your means to do so. Also find other people you can talk to who understand. And do what you need to do to be OK—whatever that is. For me, it’s becoming very introverted in my approach to the world, keeping a very close circle of friends, drinking good wine and getting lots of sleep.
What do you propose for making the tech industry safer and more diverse?
Such a huge question! Which is really addressed so much better by our writers than I could do here, so make sure to check out our site.
You've written about Sheryl Sandberg and her, now seemingly ubiquitous, call to "lean in," but take issue with this ideology. Instead, you espouse "leaning against"—can you describe this a bit?
I have to start by encouraging everyone to read bell hooks’ essay Dig Deep. But yeah, basically “lean in” is bullshit—and it doesn’t work. Success, ambition, achievement, attempting to conform to patriarchal standards—these cannot save your career from patriarchy. Misogyny gets you one way or another. Hell, even the top, top women in our industry—venture capitalists, founders, CEOs—constantly report that it doesn’t save you. These women are still raped (rape and sexual assault are major problems in the tech industry), disrespected, fired, harassed, chased out, demeaned, underpaid, etc. I don’t believe in advocating “leaning in,” or trying to achieve disproportionate success within this system—instead we should be working to dismantle and destroy it. We actually did an entire issue on Lean Out that was just awesome.
What's next for Model View Culture? Do you have any other projects we should be following?
Next up, we’re working on a redesign of the site, as well as working on publishing our third quarterly edition which has so much great new content and will ship in September. (You can buy a digital or print subscription to Model View Culture here.) We’re also working on our upcoming Sex issue which looks at sex, technology and culture which we’re very excited about.