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18 July 2017
The Bigger Victim of Sexual Harassment
You most probably are aware of the recent sexual harassment scandals in Silicon Valley, which led to serious career problems for Dave McClure (former CEO of 500 Startups), Travis Kalanick (former CEO of Uber), Chris Sacca, and a few others. Let's try to put emotions aside and analyze what's happening and what long-term consequences this panic may have for our male-dominated engineering environment.
We will never know what really happened between those male investors and female entrepreneurs behind closed doors, but the gist of the accusation is that the former were making advances towards the latter, where it was clearly inappropriate.
What does that mean exactly? What, for example, did Dave McClure do in order to be kicked out of the company he founded?
Let's see. According to Katie Benner from The New York Times, he sent this message to Sarah Kunst, who was an applicant at his incubator in 2014 (other "harassers" were accused of doing something very similar):
I was getting confused figuring out whether to hire you or hit on you.
Obviously he was flirting. And what's wrong with that? Can't we flirt any more? Is it a crime all of a sudden? One thing is wrong though. It was a threat.
Even though this message didn't say it explicitly, it actually implied that "you either go along and we go out, or you won't be hired." Of course, "no hire" may not hurt as much as a knife or a fist in the face, but it does hurt. Especially if you are a woman, a member of a minority group.
I feel bad when I see women being threatened. I want to protect them
and I expect our system of justice to help me, just
like it helps when we deal with physical violence.
These threats or attempts to threaten must be punished.
There is nothing wrong with the game between the sexes by itself. Just like we don't prohibit sex because we are afraid of rapists, we must not stop asking women out because of our fear of a possible harassment accusation. However, it seems that this is what is happening now: men are becoming afraid of women. Especially powerful men with money and status. They realize that a small incautious step may help them become the next Dave or Travis.
This fear is destroying us.
Thanks to this fear our masculine characteristics become a victim of this dangerous game
that society is playing right now, with a noble intent to protect women against
verbal and psychological abuse. We men are losing our self-confidence,
our self-esteem, our
This fear mentally castrates us.
We must be absolutely clear that those harassers are guilty not because they "made advances" towards women who work with them or for them, but because they were threatening those ladies. There is nothing wrong in being attracted to a woman, no matter who she is: your boss, your employee, your schoolmate, or the founder of the business you're investing in. Moreover, there is nothing wrong in making advances, falling in love, having sex and marrying them. Threatening them in order to get all that is very wrong.
Not every flirtation is harassment. Not every man with a sexual instinct is a rapist.
How would I re-phrase that message to Sarah if I had been Dave and had fallen in love with her at first sight? I would probably say:
I was getting confused, figuring out how to isolate my hiring process from my desire to hit on you. How about dinner? I promise, no matter how it ends, it will not affect our hiring decision at all.
I realize that it's not perfect, since she wouldn't be completely comfortable, and still might expect Dave's feelings to affect his hiring decision if it turns out she doesn't like him or simply already has a partner. However, this would seem like a respectful attempt to put the weapon down.
It is difficult to not threaten a woman if you're holding a gun in your hand while asking her out. Money and power is the gun.
Guys, let's be very careful. However, let's not forget how to seduce women and fall in love with them. We have to stay men, especially when some of those among us are weak abusers deserving no respect.