Elissa Shevinsky, Ed. Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-up Culture (New York O/R Books, 2015)
Ever wanted to get some gender in your class on technology or capitalism? Get technology and capitalism in your course on gender? Find transgender, queer and woman of color voices from the worlds of business, banking and management? These nineteen short essays and an introduction are from the front lines of Silicon Valley, venture capitalism, and the world of start-ups. Entrepreneur and editor Elissa Shevinsky busts open the myth of the all-male, bro-mantic world of tech portrayed in books and biopics about Bill Gates, Marc Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. These heroes of geekdom “did not build their companies by themselves,” Shevinsky writes. “Women played irreplaceable roles at Apple and at Facebook. Photographs and documentary records of the early days at those companies show women as critical parts of the founding teams.” No surprise to the women’s historians among us, but those stories, and others that document the long history of women in computer technology, have been “carefully erased” by corporations building their brands around boy geek heroes.
Those who have followed the #Gamergate harassment that caused feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk at Utah State University in 2014 won’t be surprised at the racism, misogyny, and sexual violence that is described in these stories. What may be new is the introspection of many determined young feminists to persist in the start-up world, and to critique a culture that turns on both men and women who work for change. Rather than “leaning in,” Shevinsky argues, feminists may want to “lean out” and away from the values of a world that thrives on hyper-competitiveness and masculinist stories about itself.