It also ignited quite a lively backchannel conversation amongst the various women in tech groups I’m part of. The reactions (including mine) ranged from “I can see her point, but ’embarrassment’ is a harsh way to put it,” to “OMFG &*#(&#)@#*@!” Mine was somewhere in between, but the biggest thing that struck me was how familiar it sounded.
And it isn’t a familiar because I’m a woman founding a fashion/shopping site, it’s familiar because in every single profession where the population of women starts growing, the same thing happens and the same sentiments get voiced.
As the number of women doctors grew, there was (and still is) an outcry because female physicians outnumber male physicians in pediatrics and female residents outnumber male residents in family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, and psychiatry.
I’ve heard the same said about women lawyers: they pick ‘softer’ forms of law to pursue such as non-profit, family, government and general practices. Women are less likely to run a firm or become partners at a firm and more likely to be in-house council.
But this isn’t the issue. Nature or nurture or interests or whatever, if more women choose to practice medicine, law or do startups around the stuff we are familiar with, I’m not too concerned. I figure as time goes on and our entrance into professions becomes more common, things will even out. What I’m concerned about is the sentiment around the decision to pursue more feminized versions of these professions. The feminine itself is negatively valued.
Feminine = Soft/Bad/Stupid/Shallow/Underachieving/Embarrassing ??
Think about how we assign value to certain things like: logical vs. emotional. Or independent vs. dependent. Or analytical vs. intuitive. I’ll bet when you read the words, you instantly understood what ‘gender’ was assigned to each (and when I say gender, I don’t mean men vs women. I mean masculine vs. feminine.). Neither is better or worse, but depending on the context, there is a differential in how they are valued. And in the tech industry, being emotional, dependent and intuitive is a death sentence…unless you are a man who has a ‘proven’ record (proven being the uber masculine differentiator).
The same goes for types of startups. Business tools = good. Analytics = good. Content aggregators = good. Productivity apps = good. Shopping = bad. Fashion = bad. Babies = bad. UNLESS…you are a man. Diapers.com was founded by two men. They are super rich now. Zappos.com was founded by men. They’ve done pretty well. Amazon, Bluefly, Kaboodle, Shopstyle, Stylefeeder, eBay…the list goes on. One could argue all of the founders behind these have done pretty well for themselves and even the sites that aren’t super popular were acquired for good money and had good exits. I don’t know…sounds like a shopping (baby and fashion) startup is a pretty solid, awesome, smart, hardcore, good, kickass type of startup to have.
So why is it so embarrassing to have so many women entering the startup world through such a lucrative entry point?
Because, well, it’s embarrassing because we are so few and there is so much hope pinned on our performance. We’ve been begging and screaming to get included and then we show up in high heels talking about designer snugglies and nailpolish. Damn these women being all womeny talking about women stuff! Who invited these ones to the party? Where are the serious female entrepreneurs?
Right here. In high heels. Wearing great nailpolish (I swear by this stuff…it’ll extend your manicure for…nevermind). I’m emotionally and intuitively navigating through this. And I’m dependent on more people than I feel comfortable with: my customers, my users, my co-founders, my advisors, my boyfriend, other startups, my friends, the weather, the economy…you name it.
When I moved to San Francisco in 2005, it took me about 6 months to deny myself my femininity. It wasn’t fashionable to be fashionable. I moved to SF with a closet full of designer dresses, suits and shoes and within 6 months all I was wearing were jeans and t-shirts. I am ecstatic to see photos of events filled with women in dress clothes and high heels. My only embarrassment lies in that I didn’t have the *erm* balls to be the woman I am back then.
Instead of embarrassed that there are so many women doing startups involving fashion/shopping/babies, I’m proud. I’m proud of a truly inclusive tech scene where women can women, men can men, women can men, men can women and all sorts of other genderific combinations thereof. And I, for one, welcome the pink ghettoization of the tech startup scene – at least for the time being – because it means women are making a grand entrance. And what an entrance it is!