May 15, 2021

"The lack of women in tech is a complicated problem. Attacking or ignoring one book written by a misogynist won’t solve it."

"However, rejecting the book as a typical narrative of our industry might be a good start. The book tells the story of an uninspiring, morally questionable individual in tech, who stands out only for the way he disparages people of minorities. It’s not 'a guide to the spirit of Silicon Valley' as the author and his publisher try to present. Men don’t have to be like the author, and women don’t have to work with, even tolerate, men like the author to fit into the tech world." 

Wrote Chip Huyen, a writer and computer scientist, in "A simple reason why there aren't more women in tech - we're okay with misogyny" (at her own blog). She wrote that 2 years ago, criticizing Antonio García Martínez for his memoir, "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley." It was March 2019, and García Martínez had just been hired to write at Wired. Huyen wanted people to know that he'd displayed himself as an out-and-proud sexist. 

Huyen quoted this passage from the book:

“Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.”

I was reading that because I was sent there by Axios, in a new article, "Apple parts ways with employee amid backlash." García Martínez had moved on to a job at Apple, and some employees there put together a petition, stating "We demand an investigation into how his published views on women and people of color were missed or ignored, along with a clear plan of action to prevent this from happening again."

That is, whoever hired him at Apple could have read the whole book. It was conspicuous, published by Harper Collins and well reviewed. Even just the cover might make you wonder whether he's the sort of person you want in the corporate community:

Apple had to have known about this book. Maybe the hirers only looked generally at the book — who reads books? — but the passage had been extracted and quoted on line, so didn't they even find that? 

The petition demands to know "how his published views on women and people of color were missed or ignored," so ousting the author is not an answer to the question it asks. Did they miss his openly sexist presentation of himself or did they see it and decide it was okay? Might they even have actively wanted it?

Firing García Martínez is like settling one lawsuit. It evades the larger problem. If García Martínez told the truth, then the book is evidence of the culture of the tech industry. Maybe that's why he seemed to belong there and was hired in the first place. I don't know. Maybe the book is bullshit — lies and puffery in pursuit of the goal of becoming a NYT bestseller, which it was (according to the cover).  

Getting rid of García Martínez, now that the petition has made a spectacle of his sexism — his real or fake sexism — is a way for Apple to do its PR. I don't know. Maybe that PR is bullshit — a phony message about Apple's wholesome inclusiveness. 

But good for García Martínez if he wrote a great memoir. I haven't read "Chaos Monkeys," but I've believed for a long time — ever since reading "Liar's Club" — that the key to writing a memoir is to be harder on yourself than on anyone else. You have to look into the darkness and tell the truth. Don't flatter yourself and make other people the antagonists. You are the one with the deep flaws. Maybe García Martínez is a great writer. If so, he's better off without his corporate job. It's ludicrous to think that Apple is a place for looking into the human heart. 

If García Martínez is a good pop culture writer — as the book cover suggests — then he's got the option to write more books like that. Lay it on thick. Be outrageous. Get your readers. I see the blurb on the cover says it makes "Gordon Gekko look like Gandhi." Gordon Gekko, Gandhi — this is grist for the movies. A movie could be made out of his book. He'll have to be the villain, of course, but is that any worse than being a corporate drone for Apple?

ADDED: From the 2016 NYT review of "Chaos Monkeys"

The literature of Silicon Valley is exceedingly thin. The tech overlords keep clear of writers who are not on their payrolls or at least in their thrall.... There are other barriers to literature.... Nailing this slippery culture would take an unholy combination of David Mamet and Tom Wolfe in their primes...

But "Chaos Monkeys" will have to do:

It is autobiography as revenge, naming names and sparing few, certainly not the author.... He describes the way the big companies resemble life in Cuba or Communist China circa 1965, with “endless toil motivated by lapidary ideals handed down by a revered and unquestioned leader,” not to mention the posters on the wall proclaiming, “Proceed and Be Bold!”... 

For all his criticism of the valley’s way of doing things, he never stops to wonder about ethics....

First prize in Silicon Valley is enough money so your family and descendants will never have to work again until the sun goes cold. Second prize is a whole heaping pile of money. Third prize is you’re fired, which is often pretty sweet too. Three years after being escorted out of Facebook, García Martínez is living on a 40-foot sailboat on San Francisco Bay.

That was in 2016 — fired and doing just fine. Now, some of us — e.g., me — are hearing about him for the first time as he's fired again.  

AND: Matt Taibbi writes about Apple's treatment of García Martínez in "On the Hypocrites at Apple Who Fired Antonio Garcia-Martinez/Much easier to ruin a career than mess with a corporate cash cow." I've avoided reading this until now because the beginning is (intentionally) off-putting: "I’m biased, because I know Antonio Garcia-Martinez and something like the same thing once happened to me...." I'll read it now: 

At one point, as a means of comparing [his girlfriend favorably to other women he’d known, he wrote this:

Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.

Out of context, you could, I guess, read this as bloviating from a would-be macho man beating his chest about how modern “entitlement feminism” would be unmasked as a chattering fraud in a Mad Max scenario.

In context, he’s obviously not much of a shotgun-wielder himself and is actually explaining why he fell for a strong woman, as the next passage reveals: [His girlfriend], on the other hand, was the sort of woman who would end up a useful ally in that postapocalypse, doing whatever work—be it carpentry, animal husbandry, or a shotgun blast to someone’s back—required doing.

Again, this is not a passage about women working in tech. It’s a throwaway line in a comedic recount of a romance that juxtaposes the woman he loves with the inadequate set of all others, a literary convention as old as writing itself.

The only way to turn this into a commentary on the ability of women to work in Silicon Valley is if you do what Twitter naturally does and did, i.e. isolate the quote and surround it with mounds of James Damore references....

James Damore... I'd forgotten that guy, but now I remember.

[T]he same people at Apple who hired Antonio, clearly having read his book, [immediately] fired him, [and issued] a statement that implied a problem with workplace “behavior,” which was not remotely the case.... It’s cowardly, defamatory, and probably renders him unhirable in the industry, but this is far from the most absurd aspect of the story.

Taibbi takes a sudden turn:

I’m a fan of Dr. Dre’s music and have been since the N.W.A. days. It’s not any of my business if he wants to make $3 billion selling Beats by Dre to Apple, earning himself a place on the board in the process. But if 2,000 Apple employees are going to insist that they feel literally unsafe working alongside a man who wrote a love letter to a woman who towers over him in heels, I’d like to hear their take on serving under, and massively profiting from, partnership with the author of such classics as “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and “Lyrical Gangbang,” who is also the subject of such articles as “Here’s What’s Missing from Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up.”...

[G]oing after Dre would mean forcing the company to denounce one of its more profitable investments — Beats and Beats Music were big factors in helping Apple turn music streaming into a major profit center....

Taibbi proceeds to bring up Apple's use of Uighur labor in China. That's a much bigger deal that the passages in "Chaos Monkeys," an opinion Taibbi expresses with sarcastic humor that (of course) will be taken out of context and used against Taibbi: 

Maybe the signatories to the Apple letter can have a Chaos Monkeys book-burning outside the Chinese facility where iPhone glass is made — keep those Uighur workers warm!

ALSO: García Martínez is tweeting about the conflict, here. He says: "Apple was well aware of my writing before hiring me. My references were questioned extensively about my bestselling book and my real professional persona (rather than literary one)."


Ann Althouse said...

Birches writes:

"I know people just want to be outraged, but I am having a hard time finding what was objectionable about that excerpt. It doesn't read as talking about women he works with, but about women he's dating, especially because he uses the word worldliness. I wouldn't use that word to describe any tech worker. Complaining about the dating scene wherever you live is a time honored pastime.

"Now that I've thought about the excerpt more and his complaint about fake independence and it reminds me of my old neighbors. They were enlightened feminists who believed in complete equity of the sexes. That translated into the wife having to promise her husband that she would keep her full time job if they had kids, which they did. It required them to alternate who took time off when one of the children was sick, even though the wife was generally more concerned and really wanted to be the one home. She often said, "it's ok. This is what we agreed to." My guess is that Garcia Martinez was looking for a relationship like that and found it difficult. Because it is."

Ann Althouse said...

Tim writes

“ I do not know the guy, have not read the book, and could care less about Apple, I consider their products to be overpriced crap. But the quote " the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel" is absolute truth. It also applies to about 90 percent of the men at Apple or Facebook. Give me a farmer or ex military or diesel mechanic or for Christs' sake a stay at home mom. They will have skills that will help you survive. Give me that electrician, or electrical engineer or chemical or mechanical engineer. Let's see if we can keep civilization alive. Let me have a nurse practicioner or a surgeon. Forget Silicon valley, they will be useless mouths to feed.”