Don’t Bring An iPhone To A Gunfight

This is a post about sex, gender and tech – but it sadly has no hot sex in it. Skip this post if you hang out here on TinyNibbles for the porn; it’ll be back after this intermission.

Last week, I went to events for Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, a very expensive and exclusive event for developers of hardware and applications for Apple platforms. I was invited to parties and even considered a VIP at times. At two specific times, however, I felt like I ran head-on into the issue of gender-bias within the Apple community. In my post on CBSi/ZDNet, WWDC 2011: No Innovation, Developer Discontent, published last Sunday night, I related my experience of being “profiled” for my gender by two guys at the truly fantastic Ars Technica and Idea Flight party. Short version? I and my production/personal assistant Juliette were considered hot, so we were treated like ditzy girls who did not belong there. Juliette reminded me later that their opening line was, in fact, “So, how did you two girls get in here?”

This attitude was evident from the get-go in the guys attempting, however badly, to flirt with us, so Juliette deviated from SOP and told a little white lie that wasn’t a little white lie. She told the guys we were models. We are both models, but she left out the probably more important fact that Juliette is a coder and led the launch of my first app, and I’m a tech writer, blogger, and podcaster. The guys too-easily clocked us as stupid on matters technical…and by our allowing them to lead the conversation, they ended up doing a lot of mansplaining, which was both hilarious and insulting.

Another guy also very rudely (and very loudly) insulted me for having an Android phone – and then later denied he’d done anything of the sort, making up a fairy tale to explain his publicly rude antics, rather than simply apologizing. Could it be he’s not so sure where the future is headed in terms of app development… and doesn’t want to burn any bridges by having his bad behavior toward Androids made public? Or is it more likely that I was imagining things he did – in front of witnesses?

I saw these encounters as examples of the growing monoculture in the Apple community. They represent the crushing sense I have that Apple has entered a new era. After Apple felt entitled to purge their developer community after building a market off their backs – in the interest of making “innovation” an externality, maybe because it’s cheaper than health benefits – fratty white males of a certain age have come to symbolize the hostility to the “outsider” that will limit Apple in the years to come.

For a company that’s always aimed to celebrate the outsider, that’s more than just disappointing. It’s the deepest betrayal of their customer base. My experiences illustrate Apple’s now-institutionalized disconnect with the people who built their products, their loyal fans, and the customers they claim to serve.

I put it this way:

WWDC 2011 lacked innovation and exemplified a monoculture that casts the closing of Apple’s Jobs-era legacy in a light of exclusivity, hostility, and heartfelt angst among those who felt that Apple’s core strength was in its elevation of outsider thought.

From the response to my article, you would have thought that I’d just burned the flag. The guy who ridiculed me for having an Android phone didn’t get why it might have been fine to do that to “one of the guys” – at a party full of guys. He laughed it off, and then called me a liar.

An editor of a prominent local blog – a woman – emailed me saying, “When I got up Monday morning, read your article, Googled him, and found him on Twitter, he was just all “heh heh” about it. If an article lied about me/made an error, my *first* reaction would be to say so. Instead, it took him HOURS to make the accusation.”

I never claimed, as some have said, that he insulted my phone because I am a girl; that was clear in my article. That’s not the point. The point is that public ridicule of someone obviously in the minority at an Apple developer’s conference – an Android user – creates an awkward, hurtful and embarrassing situation for someone who is already the odd man out (female). So much for thinking different.

He may not have ridiculed me for being female, sure. I never said, or wrote, that he did. But insulting someone with an Android phone (as many Twitter users also felt comfortable doing) is even more pointed, since it takes gender out of the mix. The Android comment wasn’t about making a girl feel uncomfortable. It was about making anyone different feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying that’s the explicit intention – I’m sure nobody thought this through, because people with privilege generally don’t need to. What I’m saying is that male privilege translates to “always being right.” Rudeness is rudeness and exclusionary behavior is exclusionary behavior, whatever minority it’s aimed at.

Then there’s the matter of Juliette’s “little white lie” – which, again, isn’t a white lie, since I’ve done quite a bit of modeling and Juliette does a whole lot, professionally. I didn’t initiate the conversation “as a bimbo.” I did not try to persuade them that I was a bimbo. I didn’t induce them to do anything they weren’t already doing. Ignoring my point about the hostility toward the minority (women being not a minority population overall – but definitely a minority at WWDC), Juliette and I were accused of “tricking” men. I was also accused of attacking both Apple culture and “male” culture – when the opposite is true. I love the innovation Apple has always – up ’till recently – brought to its ingenious products, and guys who aren’t rude assholes are top-notch in my book. But when Apple shows itself to be (in my opinion) uncharacteristically un-innovative, and guys show themselves to be assholes, I’ll fucking well say it, and loud.

The response surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. The abuse, harassment and trolling I have received this past week on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and in podcasts – almost exclusively by very angry men, especially John Welch – is reminiscent of the abuse and threats I regularly got while writing for the Chronicle for four years. There, I regularly got death threats and the same kind of abuse, harassment and trolling for suggesting that certain aspects of American culture overall were not as “open to innovation” as I would have liked. Abuse, harassment and trolling, incidentally, tend to indicate that the person behaving in a consistent, aggressively threatening manner is not “open to innovation.” They’re also rarely a hallmark of a female-friendly culture.

Before you follow me any further down, please do go read No Innovation and decide for yourself if accusing Juliette and me of being cock-teases is a good way to argue that I’m wrong about monoculture inbreeding and stifling innovation. Then read the response interview with me No Violet, We’re ALL a bunch of Socially Awkward Dorks, and decide if you agree with me that there’s a connection between crappy male social behavior being tolerated, and a lack of tech innovation.

But many “commentators” never made it that far; they got hung up on the sexual politics and started showing their diversity and innovation by calling me names. One of the Angry Mac Bastards (John Welch), on his personal site, called me a “sex-positive New Media Douchebag” (“New Media?” As opposed to…what, exactly, at WWDC?) and my column a “steaming turd.” He then trotted out a token female to write a “response” to me in the form of a guest post.

This token female was consultant Pam Lefkowitz, and I feel obligated to respond to it directly. Her post was supposed to be a presentation of the “real” female tech zeitgeist in response to my article. What it is, in fact, is a rant filled with careless inaccuracies that could have been remedied by about twenty keystrokes on Google and forty-five seconds reading Wikipedia (for example, about my name – as usual). What’s not out-and-out ignorance and anti-male sexism in Lefkowitz’s post is mostly a series of insults directed at me.

Just indulge me for a minute, Angry Mac Bastard. Is this really the iPhone you wanna bring to this gunfight? That’s seriously the best you can do? Did you even make it to the end of my article, or did you stop when you found out that Juliette and I had allowed a couple of guys to mislead themselves as to whether they had a chance with us “stupid bimbos”? Did that just outrage you so much that you couldn’t even address the issue of whether Apple has stalled in its innovation? Or did you just have to start speed-dialing every woman you knew in hopes of finding one who would berate me by way of “proving” that not all women think men who behave badly should be called on it?

Is having a female Apple consultant call me an ungrateful hooker and spew prejudice in the name of gender equality really your most killer response, or the response “women in tech” want assigned to them?

The most egregious claim in Lefkowitz’s article – and there are many – is that I harmed women in tech with my behavior:

That post alone has set the world of women and technology back 10 years at least. Violet has, effectively, made it so that tech-men are going to hesitate talking to women any more. If they don’t talk to us, they can’t possibly include us. Without including us, they *surely* can’t learn to respect us. So thanks for moving the Women’s Movement backwards with a flip of your hair and a bat of your eyelashes.

According to Lefkowitz’s dates in her post, her “movement” is about 40 years old – she’s stuck in Feminism, circa 1970, when women couldn’t be sexy and smart at the same time. Not only that, but she’s stuck in the fantasy world where if I’m a woman, and you’re a woman, and I’m sexier than you, I am your enemy in the boardroom.

How much further do you need to go to find a textbook example of a catfight staged for the entertainment of cheering frat boys about three inches below the glass ceiling?

As for all that hard work Lefkowitz has done for “women and technology” (thanks for that, by the way), I guess, in Pam’s view, I just undid it. Wow, OMG – the power. I haz it.

And if Lefkowitz, who feels she furthered the cause of women in tech just by being there – but has neither a Wikipedia page nor a blog, thinks I have it easier now as a woman in the tech world…?

She’s crazy. Of all the people you can accuse of having it easy, I’m not the one you want to pick on, sister. You’re yet another person bringing an iPhone to a gunfight. I’ve got it “easy,” do I, Pam, because of the hard work people like you did by dressing dowdy and defending male privilege by accusing other women in tech of being whores? I’ve gotten death threats and had my home address published on Wikipedia. I’ve gotten threatening packages in the mail featuring the bodily fluids of completely insane people. I’ve gone up against the country of Libya over female freedoms and the .ly TLD. I’ve told Leo LaPorte and Dvorak to fuck off for making fun of the women in tech, and even got an apology. I was the first female podcaster (and had a man hijack my feed for its high traffic), the second blogger – and first female blogger – pulled from the blogosphere to write for an Old Media outlet (Hearst) in America (not only was there nothing “easy” about it, I got the job because I was doing breaking news coverage on local blogs). I’ve had the Library Association of America fight to keep at few of my 30+ published (award-winning) books in libraries when a man decided to enlist Focus On The Family in a campaign against me, I fought Apple to keep sex ed podcasts in iTunes and succeeded and then got a red carpet tour of the Mothership for my troubles.

Incidentally, I’ve also spoken about sex, women and technology (and privacy, trolling, harassing and stalking) twice at Google Inc., multiple times on stages large and small for SXSWi, at ETech, LeWeb, Gnomedex and other technology conferences – on the main stages. I was not invited to do these things because I batted my eyelashes or flipped my hair, or as you have accused me – being a sex worker.

How easy, exactly, do I have it, Pam?

But Lefkowitz believes not only should women like me allow men’s bad social behavior; we should correct it. In short, it’s the”mommy complex” – it’s the responsibility of the person discriminated against to correct bad behavior that’s encouraged by the monoculture. Hey, women’s studies people… Any of you recognize this crap from Blame the Victim Bingo? When a man treats me as an inferior because of my gender, I’m supposed to correct him in my “mommy” voice? That’s what Lefkowitz says:

Do I try to trick them just so I’ll have an article to write about gender bias? No. In my very adult voice, I tell them how I expect to be treated. If that doesn’t do the trick, I take my toys and move to another sandbox – their loss.

There aren’t any other sandboxes, Pam, and women shouldn’t have to move to other sandboxes because of men behaving like assholes. Just because I look attractive to a guy doesn’t mean he gets to treat me like my ideas are less important. In the short term, if what he wants is sex with me, a guy like that is barking up the wrong tree. And in the long term, that kind of behavior helps keep innovation out of technology and away from Apple. Monoculture is not challenged by the women like Pam who claim that they further the cause of women’s rights by not dressing sexy, or by mommying boys when they’re bad.

There’s no magic button to solve the issue of women in tech being treated with monolithic sexism – sexism itself is too ingrained in male culture. But the miserable thing is that Apple, which has always been the company of the outsider, is now growing a monoculture so overwhelming that it’s about to threaten the very innovation that made Apple in the first place. Pulling the rug out from under thousands of developers in 2010 was one thing, Apple – that was a betrayal not just of your dev culture, but of your customers. Lack of transparency with developers, plus in your orgy of being ‘back-on-top’, the Apple community has started to take on some of the nastiest things about the frat-boy culture of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, and puts your the motives of innovation into question – that’s simply undignified.

And I see the growing sexism in the Apple community as a symptom of innovation crisis. But I take a harm-reduction approach to sexism. There’s no shame in sexualizing or being sexy. Some people – very often men – are going to behave badly in response to it. We need to acknowledge both and do what we can to reduce the negative impact of the inappropriate behavior on communities we care about.

But Lefkowitz is not on board with this. Instead, right before she calls me a “dick” (way to debate!) she argues we were “asking for it.” Remember that the first question to us was, “How did you girls get in here?”


Do I lead them on with sexual innuendo and language that implies “I’m just a stupid little girl”? Of course, when women such as yourself and Juliette, play like stupid little bimbos how can the guys possibly respect us.

As if I’m a tech PR chick on the Idiot Float Parade cockteasing for clients.

At least I showed up to WWDC, Ms. Lefkowitz.

Share This Post


  1. Violet. As a long admirer of your intellectual and physical talents, I find new reason to applaud you. This episode you bring to light says a lot about our egocentric frat party culture. It goes beyond Apple mania. I love my Apple stuff. And I hope to think that Steve would find his boys’ behavior immature and tasteless. Good for you.

  2. I’ve gotta confess that I stopped reading about halfway through this articulate and convincing response. You’re right, he’s wrong, I didn’t need to read more, and didn’t want to read more, because while you were arguing quite well, you’re above this, and I’d rather go read what else you’ve written lately.

    You rock Violet; keep it up.

  3. …°agree with me that there’s a connection between crappy male social behavior being tolerated, and a lack of tech innovation.”
    yo, may I express my agreement at least with this/your conclusion. and IMO you expressed it a lot more “nicely/friendly” than I do in my thoughts/analysis. thank you.

  4. Huh. When I read your article what I got out of it was, well, what you said. Idiot guys acting like they just wandered out of the frat house and feeling that they had no reason to be or appear otherwise – and this at a business event – isn’t indicative of an inclusive culture. And un-inclusive cultures tend be particularly hidebound and distinctly un-innovative in the long term. Very good point, I thought.

    So I don’t understand why anyone has a problem with what you said or how you acted. Your point should be worth arguing if they disagree. Unless they’re so far down Apple’s cultural rabbit hole that they can’t stand criticism of it. Which is what it feels like is actually happening. People only get this angry at someone in your position when you’ve made a damn good point that they can’t easily dismiss. They don’t want to discuss the issue because if you agree discuss your own culture, you tacitly admit it might not be the best, and that tends to undermine the whole happy happy joy joy feeling of being part of it – above the ability to denigrate all outsiders as inferior ‘others’.

    Sorry you’re bearing the brunt of so much hostility. And sorry that some people aren’t adult enough to say ‘Gee, I acted like an ass, sorry about that.’

  5. I used to be a Mac person; but only because I was shackled to it by virtue of it was what the newspaper industry I was in used so predominately.

    With that industry on the wain and no longer being a part of it, I have seen no reason to pay Apple’s Clique Tax… nor do I want to be a member of it.

    Keep on calling out the douchebags as douchebags.

  6. Is it ‘mansplaining’, or is it fem-misleading? I’m not criticizing, but I am saying that when you start down one deceiving path, you can’t claim to objective of the other side anymore. Again, I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know – and you seem smart enough. But it doesn’t make me want to read from paragraphs 5 on, when by the end of the 4th one I’m cringing about how I’m being textually shepherded into a semantic gender argument. Blast me for not reading the whole thing or the other comments, but it’s unfair of you from the get-go. Just sayin’.

  7. The level of internalized misogyny in that woman’s article is just…wow. These are grown men. They are responsible for their behavior. The idea that women who are sexy, women who are models, women who don’t feel like they should have to spew their intellectual credentials at a man within 10 second of meeting him, etc. are somehow responsible for men being assholes to them isn’t just hateful to women, it’s hateful to men.

    I feel very lucky to have men in my life who don’t need every woman they encounter to spell out for them that she’s a human being with feelings and an intellect in order to treat her as such. Shame on anyone who believes that any man who does is in any way justified or that anyone other than he and he alone is responsible.

  8. Howdy, Violet.

    Sadly, you ran afoul of mob mentality. All emotion. Twisted, if any, logic. Unrestrained histrionics and hyperbole.

    While I’m sure you and I have distinctly different world views on some things, anybody willing to tell off Apple fanboys and call out the tyrannical Leo LaPorte has significant redeeming qualities in my book.

    Keep up the good work.


  9. Good for you standing up and saying something about it. I’ve been right there with you for my whole career in tech. I was almost always the only girl in the room all through college. One of the best things about going to work in the IT department of a non-IT corporation afterwards was that, after decades of an active focus on gender diversity, the company is much closer to the 50/50 mark on gender. Even so, certain sub-groups (Unix administration for example) are still exclusively male, and there is still a certain sense that there’s a “boy’s club” going on over there. I’ve never had a problem breaking into the club – but other women do, and so the department goes on being an all-male group.

    Something my mother told me when I was a kid always comes to mind when I think about gender bias in my professional community. I asked her how on earth there could still be sexism in this day and age. She took my hand, and rubbed a finger on my wrist. “It’s like that. Doesn’t bother you very much, does it? Well imagine that all the time… every single day… hard to ignore now, huh?” It’s the little things.

  10. Excellent!

    I do not understand why the sexual bias exists in the tech community other than to bolster the tiny egos of the people that feel emasculated by women that show they can think and function on their own.

    I used to use apple products quite a bit, my first being an Apple II but the snobbishness of the users and community has led me to only currently owning only one apple product, a laptop still running 9.2.2
    The rest have been fed to the kids for science experiments in smashing things.

    I am also an android phone user. It works pretty well, and has a lot of network and wifi apps that are not available for IOS. I believe there are currently more phones running android than IOS. It is the wave of at least the short term future.

  11. As usual, I believe you have done MORE, once again, to further the feminist cause. You have NOT let the douchebags get away with their douchebaggery, you have called them out on it. I know it means you have to be the one to put up with the resulting backlash of comments and “rebuttal” from Lefkowitz. Conditional equality (equal if we hide our sexuality and female-ness) is not equality at all. Those of us that want to be sexy AND smart thank you.

  12. Oops! I somehow missed that Lefkowitz was not the dude who insulted you! Reading comprehension ftloss. If the moderator could please toss out my previous comment, I would be very appreciative! Thanks!

  13. “Violet has, effectively, made it so that tech-men are going to hesitate talking to women any more.”

    This statement from Lefkowitz appears to make the assumption that all tech-men are inherently sexist, e.g. they view all women in a servile/sexual manner so they would “hesitate” to have their assumptions challenged.

    Well that’s just plain silly. You see someone at a conference and you don’t know them? You ask them interestedly what they do.

  14. I recently got a associates degree in computer science. The people I met in those classes had the most incredible egos and convinced me to not continue in that field. No amount of money or intellectual challenge is worth dealing with them. Thank you Violet for calling these assholes on their behavior. Keep up the good fight, we are all proud of you.

  15. I have little I can add, other than to cheer you on. You have inspired me a lot in the world just by existing, and anyone wanting to step up and say ‘you are doing it wrong’ had damned well be able to back it up with actions, not just attack pieces on men’s websites.

  16. The power indeed… even if Ms Lefkowitz were right, charming and influential as you are, if I’m not sure that even you can set the world of anything back by 10 years with a blog post – it’s that kind of hyperbole that lends little credence to her article.

    I thoroughly concur about the monoculture at Apple. I’ve been loyal to Apple – not out of any fanboy-dom, just because their product is good – for long enough that to say how long would make me feel really old, but am increasingly disenfranchised of late. Although I use Mac OS, I don’t particularly care for the the elitist, svelte hardware I need to run it; and have no interest in the censored walled garden of iOS. (And am worried that the same ‘preserving-the-quality-of-the-user-environment’ argument might be used to lock down Mac OS in some future iteration.)

  17. Violet,
    i was originally going to reply to this post to discuss my current frustration with the seemingly irreparable
    tendency of men to be a bunch of dicks. This is an issue of some importance to me. But after having read the full post that seems inappropriate here, so I will limit my comments to things that are relevant
    I myself am not an Apple fan (I use Linux) but i am stunned to hear that such a supposedly “innovative” company could apparently condone such a blatantly sexist atmosphere, in what should have been a
    attempt to win as many people as possible over to Apple products. The incident you describe with you and your assistant (Juliette) is grotesque to me. I fail to see why you or her, should have had to tell “a little white lie” or any kind of fucking lie. Why should you have to put up with this sort of juvenile behaviour, at the “premier” of a multi billion dollar companies event? As for Pam Lefkowitz ‘s
    comments, she strikes me as a person, who as you so eloquently said, is stuck back in the feminism of the sixties, when all men were evil, and all women were victims. No offense Violet, but you have never struck me as a “victim” (I’m scared of you personally, LOL).
    Concerning your comments about the male dominated culture in tech. i agree that it’s stupid, there is no shortage of brilliant women coders. It seems to be a by-product of the sad fact, that during the initial
    creation of computer technology there simply were no women allowed into the culture, no doubt to its loss. I will stop now. It is just to sad to me to go on. I am really sorry this happened to you.


  18. wow, these people are absolute douches. i’m sorry you had to experience this…but amazingly impressed that you were able to put this out. I love this blog, not for the porn but for the views of the world.
    i hope you don’t mind, but i reblogged this. Sure NO ONE reads my blog, but to hear that there is such disgusting behaviors in something that is supposed to be “forward”.
    and for them to attack you for who you are, just because you called them on a lie.
    i just don’t get it.
    people really suck.

  19. Thank you for writing this, I won’t doubt that quite a bit of energy was poured into it (That I wish could have been placed elsewhere, but here we stand).
    I find it fascinating to watch people try and gently (or not) push society in the right direction, and the ocean of vitriol they receive in response. I wish it wasn’t this way.

  20. Damn. Try that again. Sorry.

    I don’t mind the non-porn posts, Violet. I appreciate them. Look, I know I’m a guy. I have testosterone and, like Anthony Weiner and Dan Savage, have been known to have an Internet Connection, a Laptop, and Testosterone all at once. All I want is to be on an equal footing with the women (and the men, yes, too, *le sigh*) around me.

    If I comment on Lefkowitz, I feel like I’m contributing to the catfight, which I don’t want to participate in.

    That said, I have been the lone Linux user in a room full of Appleheads. I don’t mind throwing their shit back at them. I’m an ordinary white guy whos interest in cocksucking is not on display. I don’t have to remember that in other contexts I would feel like a minority.

    Just keep writing. I guess that’s all I wanted to say. Don’t stop just because you have nothing sexy to say.

  21. Violet,

    Thank you for this response. You are amazing, and I completely and utterly admire your strength. Lefkowitz’s response was a pure ad hominem attack…I can’t believe that was published as a serious rebuttal.

Post Comment