We all know a bitcoin bro. Also called the tech bro or the brogrammer, they can be found trading bitcoin, or some other form of cryptocurrency, and providing regular—and often unsolicited—updates on how much money they’re making. They write long-winded Facebook statuses on entrepreneurship, the power of positivity, and motivation. They idolize Elon Musk, share countless posts about SpaceX, and drool over the prospect of colonizing Mars one day. They love virtual reality, augmented reality, any reality where the Scarlett Johansson-voiced artificial intelligence from “Her” is real. They are constantly forming startups that seek to “disrupt” an industry, or that seek to be “like Uber, but for [groceries/toothbrushes/lint rollers].”
And these are almost always men, working with colleagues or co-founders who are also men, who all pride themselves on being bros who just want to “bro down and crush some code.” Being a bitcoin bro isn’t just defined by your occupation or hobby; it’s a lifestyle, an image, an aesthetic. And this aesthetic is overwhelmingly characterized by a desire to exclude women. Beneath their inspirational TEDtalks and their grand ideas of creating a better future for humanity lies a deep-rooted disdain for women and subconscious belief in male superiority.
This sentiment was rendered most explicitly in the anti-diversity memo that circulated around Google, where a male Google employee claimed that women are underrepresented in tech because, “the abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes.” But this was by no means an isolated incident. Sexism is rampant in the tech industry, and it shows in the numbers. A whopping 27 percent of women cited toxic workplace culture as a primary reason for leaving their job in the tech industry. As a result, major companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft have massive gender disparities, with women making up less than 20 percent of employees in tech roles.
It’s not shocking why so many women are deterred from working in tech. UploadVR, a San Francisco-based virtual reality startup, is alleged to have regularly hired female strippers and prostitutes for company parties, sent out emails about looking for “submissive Asian women” on fundraising trips, and even have had a “kink room” in the office so that male employees could have sexual intercourse in the office. Meanwhile, women were expected to clean up after events because they were “mommies.” And when women speak up about these incidents, they are silenced. Elon Musk’s company Tesla responded to a female engineer who complained about catcalls and sexual harassment by firing her.
Bitcoin bros simply don’t value women or see them as their intellectual equals. Until he was called out by a Vice article, Elon Musk did not follow a single woman on Twitter. He has not retweeted a woman in his last 100 tweets, and the last woman he retweeted was his mother. Apparently there’s not a single woman in the world whose ideas he deems important. But while he doesn’t appreciate women for their brains, he certainly does appreciate women for their sex appeal—which is evident in the way that he transformed his first wife into a blonde trophy wife, and the way that he chases after pretty actresses like Amber Heard.
Across the industry, bitcoin bros systematically treat women as pretty sex objects rather than their professional peers. And the consequences of this devaluation of female intelligence are considerable. Studies have found that venture capitalists are four times more likely to fund all-male startups than those with even a single female founder. Even though startups created by women perform 63 percent better than those with all-male leadership, venture capitalists continue to deny women-led businesses the funding that they would need in order to succeed. Instead, male venture capitalists are more likely to use meetings with female entrepreneurs as opportunities to sleep with them.
And these prejudices also trickle into the products and services that the tech industry delivers. The tech industry prides itself on shaping the future of our society. But when bitcoin bros are in charge, what we end up with is a vision of a future where women are marginalized and subjugated.
Our subconscious biases invariably manifest themselves in the observations we make and the conclusions we reach, making even “objective” claims very much so subjective. This is even more so the case in the tech industry. Artificial intelligence is extremely prejudiced simply because their programmers are extremely prejudiced. Machine-learning software is trained on datasets, and programmers often unconsciously inject biases into their software.
As a result, AI software been found to associate images of shopping and washing with women and images of coaching and shooting with men, and they have also been found to associate female names with artistic terms, and male names with math and science terms. And unlike humans, algorithms are often unequipped to counteract learned biases. This is why Twitter was able to teach Microsoft’s AI chatbot to be a misogynistic and racist Nazi in less than a day. Robots mirror their programmers—and if programmers believe that women have nothing to contribute to society besides cooking and sex, then the robots they create will end up echoing and amplifying those beliefs.
Technology can play an crucial role in creating a better and more equitable future for society. But unless the tech industry stops being such a hostile and toxic environment for women, our future is going to end up looking exactly like our present.
Nian Hu ’18 is a Government concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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