Sunday, December 11, 2011

STFU About What Women Want

In a recent post on TechCrunch, Penelope Trunk tells us (again) that most women don’t want to do startups.

First, I’d like to extend that to Asians, African Americans, Gays, and Latinos. Oh, and white men. Most of them don’t want to do startups either, because most people don’t want to do startups for a whole host of reasons.

Penelope tells us that women are different though, because women don’t want to join startups because women want to have babies. As evidence, she points out that most women downshift their careers as soon as they have babies, which of course makes startups impossible.

It’s not that women don’t join startups because of lack of opportunity or sexism or doing what’s expected of them or anything else. Now that we have completed defeated bias, all women can choose to do anything they want, and they are choosing to have babies rather than go to startups. Case closed!

Here’s the problem: Penelope, and other people who say things like this, are making my life a whole lot harder, and I’d like them to knock it the fuck off.

I’m not going to argue that most women don’t want to stay home with their children. Frankly, I don’t care what most women want to do.

I know what I want to do, and what I want to do is to work at startups. I don’t want to have children. I’ve never wanted children. I never will want children, and I certainly wouldn’t want to give up working at startups for them.

So, when a publication like TechCrunch spews some nonsense about what women want, it means that the next time I go into an interview with a male founder (and they are overwhelmingly male for some reason that I’m not going to address here, but that Penelope assures us has nothing to do with bias) who has read that nonsense, he may be thinking, consciously or subconsciously, “she doesn’t really want to work at this startup because she wants to have a baby.”

And frankly, that sucks for me and all the other women like me. Oh, did I mention that there are lots of other women like me? There are.

But let’s just look for a moment at what all of these other women, the ones with babies and without startups, are choosing to do. They are choosing to stay home because of...I don’t know what the current argument is. Hormones? Biology? Bad government policy? Nature?

It couldn’t possibly be bias or lack of opportunity because, of course, some women are choosing to work at startups, so it would be trivially easy for all women to choose to work at startups, right?

Except that my father’s law school class of 1963 had 3 women in it. That’s right. Three. Now, clearly more women could have joined the class. His law school didn’t have a 3 woman quota or anything.

But the women of 1963 chose not to go to law school. And I’m positive that there were all sorts of blowhards opining that women didn’t go to law school because they were too busy having babies, and this was perfectly normal, and we shouldn’t do a damn thing to promote more women going to law school because WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

After all, we weren’t actively STOPPING women from going to law school (any longer). It was their choice! Except that, as Penelope points out, more than 50% of the law school graduates now are women.

So, far more women are now choosing to be lawyers. You know, despite the fact that they still have babies. What women wanted, with regard to law school attendance, somehow changed between 1963 and today.

Similarly, long before women had the right to vote in the US, many women didn’t actually want the right to vote. Some even felt that women were biologically not capable of voting well. And for years after they had the right to vote, many people still felt that it was the wrong decision.

How many women in the US do you know who don’t care about voting? Fewer than felt that way a hundred years ago, right?

The point is that “what women want” changes over time. What people want changes over time. Because what we want is hugely driven by social norms and massive cultural shifts and all sorts of things that may seem biological at the time but turn out not to be.

In other words, if suddenly there are a ton of women at startups kicking ass and being awesome, it might turn out that more young women want to join startups in the future. And 25 years from now, we’ll all be laughing at the idiots who said things like “women don’t want to to law school...I mean...join startups!”

Penelope, do you vote? Do you know women who went to law school? I do. And I am forever grateful to the women who fought not just for the right to do these things but to make them seem like totally normal things to do.

I salute the women who said, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe having a vagina doesn’t determine what I have to want from life! Just because a lot of women want something, doesn’t mean that I have to want the exact same thing!

And I’m still a little annoyed at the women who said, “Oh, women don’t WANT to vote. Voting is for men!” I take that back. I’m a lot annoyed at them. They sucked.

So stop doing it. Stop assuming other women want to make the same choices you do, especially when society has such an enormous and invisible impact on your choices. Stop assuming a young woman just starting her career knows everything about all of the wonderful, exciting career choices she could make.

And mostly, stop making it ok for other people to assume that I want what you want. That’s clearly not true, since what I want most right at this moment is to punch you in the face.

I am a woman. I want to work at a startup. I don’t want to have children. I want to vote. I want to wear stiletto heels and write jQuery, sometimes at the same time. In other words, I am an individual, and I have all sorts of wants that are neither determined nor predicted by my gender.

I am a woman, Penelope, but you don’t have any idea what I want. So, kindly shut the fuck up about it.