Yesterday, Gawker's ValleyWag published a story about sexual harassment in tech. The post calls attention to the allegedly predatory behavior of angel investor, Seedcamp advisor and TheNextWeb contributor Pavel Curda.
Curda, according to ValleyWag, attended the same Berlin networking meeting as Gesche Haas, a female member of the New York tech community, who is currently with Conjure.io. Haas told ValleyWag that the two spoke for 20 minutes, and when she returned to her hotel room she reportedly found an email from Curda with the subject line "i [sic] like you a lot" with the body "Hey G. I will not leave Berlin without having sex with you. Deal?" The gross email can be read here.
As Sam Biddle of ValleyWag points out, if these allegations prove true, it is yet another example of the power disparity between tech investors, who are predominantly male, and women in the tech industry. (Earlier this month, Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator wrote a blog post for investors warning them to not sexually harass founders at their August Demo Day.)
It also however opens up a different can of worms: The way women are treated after they're harassed.
An email like the one reportedly sent to Haas is predatory, creepy and entirely intolerable. Just as equally problematic is the fact that due to our victim-blaming culture, Haas initially thought that she was somehow at fault. She blamed herself for unknowingly provoking him, telling ValleyWag, "I was so flustered. I couldn't sleep for an hour or two. What did I indicate to him?"
We're stewing in a culture where women are blamed for unwanted sexual attention -- told they're "asking for it" with short skirts, low cut shirts or the number of drinks they had. And frankly that is just fucked up.
"When we spoke, Haas still seemed nervous that she'd brought this on herself, a month later, added that she'd only had one drink during the exchange. She also worries that by sharing this story, "people will think I'm just trying to get attention." But attention is just what technology's sexist streak needs: sunlight, and shame, and attention. "I believe that [when] women see what I posted, next time it happens they'll call them out." We hope so too. Men have a near monopoly on the power and money that keeps the Silicon Valley machine spinning, and this comfortable arrangement makes them act with impunity. For every gutsy woman like Gesche Haas, that monopoly gets a little less comfortable.
Yes, we do need to pull back the curtain on the dark, sexist side of tech, and rearrange the power structure. Yes, if more women open up, it should make it easier for more to come forward with their own stories.
However, we also need to look at how we frame these types of stories.The headline for the ValleyWag piece was "One Woman Finally Calls Out a Tech Investor for Creepy Advances," which places the onus -- and some of the blame for this issue -- on women for not coming forward soon enough.
In the same way that we must teach our young men not to rape, we must teach them not to harass -- and that nobody is entitled to harass. And if we expect women to open up, we have to do better as a society to let them speak without fear.