The Toxic Masculinity Bubble has burst

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 14, 2017

From The Gender Wars Desk

Joan C. Williams is one of the top researchers in the world when it comes to gender bias at work.

I was riveted by a piece she just wrote for Harvard Business Review on why Sexual Harassment is particularly bad in venture capital.

Riveted because her view describes men as victims of a culture of toxic masculinity as well as the women:

Sexual harassment is prevalent among VCs because of the hard-driving bro culture that confuses the pursuit of money with the pursuit of masculinity. Work becomes a masculinity contest (to borrow Jennifer Berdahl’s term) in which men become obsessed with showing that theirs is the biggest — the biggest deal, the longest hours, the most money...

When sociology professor Michael Kimmel asked his students what it means to be a real man, responses included being authoritative, taking risks, and suppressing any kind of weakness. But when he asked students what it means to be a good man, they mentioned qualities associated with gender-neutral decency, like being honest and respectful of others.

The “real man” syndrome is a reflection of what psychologists call precarious manhood: the view that masculinity has to be earned over and over again. Bro culture is often depicted jocularly, but the endless game of zero-sum one-upmanship is not only off-putting for most women; it’s also draining and humiliating for many men. 

This really rings true to me as a diagnosis of what’s underlying this disruptive bro culture, and why it’s so toxic for everyone.

When companies are celebrated for breaking laws, founders are given total control, there’s no board oversight, and young men are told to “ask forgiveness, not permission” are we really surprised that predators like Justin Caldbeck thrive? That men exploit the power asymmetry to see what they can get away with?

It also explains why people in Silicon Valley who claim to be so obsessed with data are simply ignoring it when it comes to everything from the clear and well documented benefits of diverse teams to the diminishing returns on productivity and health if you work more than 50 hours a week. It’s all about fragile male ego founder anxiety. And plenty of men are victims of that cycle too.

I read the piece a couple of days ago, en route to Montreal to give a keynote at StartupFest about Silicon Valley’s Morality Crash. In lieu of an economic crash that the industry has been hoping for for years, my view is that the excesses of the culture is what is currently causing the very beginnings of a very real reckoning here. And I think it’s a moment where we can drastically change how this ecosystem works. But we have to examine the entire food chain: From schools like Stanford to the LPs enabling some of these predators.

The keynote was less than half an hour long but contained a ton of stats about sexism and inequality that made audience members (literally) gasp. I promised to share the slide deck via email with any attendee who was interested to read more.

Thanks to Robert Scoble's livestream, though, I've been inundated with emails and tweets from non-attendees too -- so I figured I’d post them here for anyone who missed the talk to "enjoy" as well.

I should have video of the keynote soon, and I'll update the post to include that too.