Yeah, but here’s the thing…

Rashmi Sinha just published a piece about her experiences with Dave McClure as a female CEO. She has good things to say about him and attributes her Series A funding in part to his advocacy on behalf of her as a female entrepreneur. I have no reason to believe that her experience isn’t exactly as she tells it, but here’s why it doesn’t matter: if the problem is that that Dave behaves inappropriately sometimes, it doesn’t really mitigate the situation that he doesn’t do it all the time, and to every woman he encounters.

When the accusations about Justin Caldbeck came out, there were women who stepped up to defend him to the reporter who did the story, and they probably weren’t lying when they said their experience of him was fine. Creeps don’t necessarily creep on everyone. Caldbeck seemed to target Asian women specifically, though we don’t know the full extent of his behavior yet. (I expect that other women will come forward, and more stories will come out.) Predators choose their victims.

At any rate, it’s just not that helpful to say that the Guy Behaving Like A Dick, Doesn’t Behave Like a Dick at Every Opportunity. I’m sure Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t eat everyone he met, either.

And I realize that there’s a range of behavior. Caldbeck’s behavior disturbs me more than some of the other things coming out because it’s so obviously predatory, and so clear that he knew what he was doing. There are a lot of men who just display more banal sexist behavior and are largely oblivious to the fact that they’re doing it. They ask women to jump through ten times more hoops than their male counterparts because they believe women are inherently less competent. They characterize female behavior they’d applaud in a male entrepreneur as undesirable, and so on. I’ve written about these double standards before, and here are some relevant examples from another piece:

what is expected of the Platonically Good Woman is directly at odds with the qualities that are typically identified with successful men: emotional control, courage of one’s convictions, a willingness to defy conventions in order to innovate.And there is always downside to conforming to the Platonically Good archetype. For example:

You are expected to be demonstrative emotionally because it’s a marker of femininity (but you will be punished for being too emotional and having no self control if you are). You are expected to be warm and sensitive (but you will be perceived as vulnerable and by extension, weak, if you are — because these are “soft” traits). You are expected to be liked by everyone (but being liked by everyone will often mean avoiding controversy, strong opinions — or opinions at all — and never publicly disagreeing with anyone). You are expected to be the communicator and the nurturer, whose primary function is to get everyone on the same page, often at your own expense (but you will be perceived as a serial compromiser with no backbone if you do that).You are supposed to be decisive (but if you are, you will be punished for not getting enough input from other people, or being arrogant for not second-guessing yourself). You are supposed to be upbeat and bubbly (but if you are, people will think your bubbly-ness is a function of your airheaded-ness).And so on.

And all of that is before you add sex to the equation. But even in those cases, for every woman who’s on the receiving end of sexist behavior, there’s another woman the perpetrator treated decently.

There’s a type of guy who is a jerk to female subordinates and perfectly respectful to women he perceives to be somewhere in the professional hierarchy above him. There are men who do the opposite, and treat subordinates better because they don’t find them threatening. There are men who will elevate women who seem submissive and malleable to them and go out of their way to undermine women who don’t. And there’s always a wife or mother or friend or colleague who will vouch for them, no matter how badly they behave.

I don’t blame the people vouching for the person they think they know. It’s clear that Sinha credits McClure with some of her early success and I don’t believe her willingness to speak up on his behalf is coming from a place of bad faith. But it adds little to the conversation because it has no bearing on the core problem, which is that McClure harassed women who are not Sinha, and this sort of behavior is enabled systemically in the tech industry. It should be a relief that McClure has been supportive of some female entrepreneurs, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Of course he has.

And it’s irrelevant.



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Elizabeth Spiers

Elizabeth Spiers

Writer, NYU j-school prof, political commentator, digital strategist, ex-editor in chief of The New York Observer, founding editor of Gawker