While issues of sexual harassment and the gender pay gap are widely discussed in relation to Silicon Valley, a new article adapted from a forthcoming book is putting the spotlight on another side of gender and tech: sex parties. Emily Chang’s "Brotopia" details the exploits of the men in Silicon Valley, while also looking at the origins and impact of the sex-and-drug fueled culture.
For the book, Chang spoke with more than two-dozen people about the parties. While there were many differing opinions on how problematic they actually are, the double standard applied to women in Silicon Valley, who must decide whether or not to attend, is clear.
Here are a few of the ways this double standard operates, featuring excerpts from Chang’s adaptation in Vanity Fair.
Not attending the parties can shut women out of deal-making and business opportunities
As one female entrepreneur told Chang, not attending parties led to the perception that absence was abnormal, with the consequence of missing shop talk: “They talk business at these parties. They do business,” she said. “They decide things.” Ultimately, this person moved herself and her business to New York.
Chang writes of the “unfair power dynamic” this creates, interviewing one woman who said, “If you do participate in these sex parties, don’t ever think about starting a company or having someone invest in you. Those doors get shut. But if you don’t participate, you’re shut out. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Attending the parties can bring women into the inner circle, but can lead to slut-shaming or damage to a career
While not attending can appear odd to men in tech, or leave women out of the loop, even if women do attend there’s no guarantee it will actually help their careers.
Chang spoke with one man, a married venture capitalist. Chang writes, “Married V.C. admits he might decline to hire or fund a woman he’s come across within his sex-partying tribe.” As he put it, “If it’s a friend of a friend or you’ve seen them half-naked at Burning Man, all these ties come into play.”
This also perpetuates a culture of one-sided anonymity. Chang spoke with a woman named Ava who used to work at Google, who “ran into her married boss at a bondage club in San Francisco.” Though they never talked about it, “A few months later, at a Google off-site event, another married male colleague approached her. 'He hits on me, and I was like, What are you doing? Don’t touch me. Who are you again? He was like, I know who you are. The other guys said you like all this stuff.'”
Ava left Google and said, “The trust works one way.”
Attending these parties, or broader sex explorative events with overlapping social circles, can lead to later harassment
Chang writes, “The problem is that the culture of sexual adventurism now permeating Silicon Valley tends to be more consequential for women than for men, particularly as it relates to their careers in tech.”
This extends to the example shared by Esther Crawford, who “talks openly about her sexual experiments and open relationships.” However, Crawford described how at the end of a dinner with an investor, he gave her a check and then tried to kiss her. Chang added, “Crawford thinks it’s likely that this particular investor knew about her sexual openness and found it difficult to think of her simply as an entrepreneur rather than as a potential hookup.”
It perpetuates a culture of stereotyping women and heteronormative masculinity
From “founder hounders” to the fact that these parties often invert normal Silicon Valley gender ratios (usually having more women than men), the culture continues to perpetuate gender dynamics.
Chang also writes that “Women are often expected to be involved in threesomes that include other women; male gay and bisexual behavior is conspicuously absent.” The married venture capitalist told Chang, “Some guys will whip out their phones and show off the trophy gallery of girls they’ve hooked up with.”
Ultimately, Chang concludes that, “The problem is that weekend views of women as sex pawns and founder hounders can’t help but affect weekday views of women as colleagues, entrepreneurs, and peers.”
Chang talks to those who disagree about these parties, and the culture of Silicon Valley, but the issue of sex and power will continue to come up in that context. In the #MeToo moment, there are big questions at hand about the role of sex and power in the workplace, from celebrity essays, New York Times features and books like “Brotopia.”
Read the adaptation in Vanity Fair.