Women Vs. Women, Or The Ugly Side Of Feminism

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With the birth of the new feminist narrative sweeping popular culture, it is bound to enter its awkward teenage phase. And just like a teenage mean girl, the new feminism is growing unwieldy before gracefully settling into something we can agree on. But before it makes it there, I hope it doesn’t tear us all down in the process.

A few weeks ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York, I observed hundreds of men descend upon the Manhattan Center determined to build an app that would catch the eye of various parties awarding prizes. Among them were a handful of women who were certainly holding their own in the testosterone-heavy environment.

One of those women headed a team that built an app to help women organize trips to the nail salon. It was called Indulge and as co-founder Velina Ivanova was pitching on stage, I couldn’t help but get excited about the concept. At the suggestion of the editors backstage with me, I wrote about the project. “If you like it, write about it, Leslie!” they encouraged. So I did.

First rule of blogging is to never read the comments. The rancor that my blog post and the unwitting Indulge inspired was disheartening, and not in the way you’d think. What was most upsetting about them was that women were attacking Velina simply for the idea of Indulge.

mean girl

Love the responses to the initial comment.

Wow. Nothing that I love more than broad, sweeping generalizations. But that aside, it upset me because Velina is an incredibly bright, articulate, highly educated, substantial young woman who came with her (male) co-founder to the Hackathon and competed against 650 other developers to build something that ended up winning second place from our TechCrunch judges. The problem obviously extends further than our Hackathon, though.

Here’s the rub. Lately in the press I’ve been seeing a lot of second-guessing of self which women are apparently especially prone to. I’m guilty of it myself. In the annual “Shape Issue” of Vogue Magazine (AKA the one with Kim Kardashian on the cover), several articles focused on high-powered, arguably successful women in business. Each woman expressed some concern over being taken less seriously because of her individual interest in fashion and style.

“…if you talk about fashion in the boardroom, it takes on a stigma. It’s an insidious form of misogyny,” Audrey Gelman aptly put in the issue. Where I become frustrated is where men are concerned, a stigma does not exist when talking about sports or other male-associated topics in a business environment; but women hesitate to fully express themselves in this way lest it erode their image.

You’re considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion… but I think you can be substantial and still interested in frivolity.
— Sofia Coppola

Consider the Vogue profile of Marissa Mayer, which drew quite a bit of criticism. Onstage at Disrupt last year, Michael Arrington jokingly asked her to autograph his copy of the magazine. The Yahoo CEO has never shied away from her interest in fashion, as she’s moved through the ranks, but it is not supported in a way, say the Larry Ellison’s infatuation with boat racing is. This double standard is what Velina, Indulge and, subsequently, I were subjected to when my post hit TechCrunch.

As a woman who has a successful career in business and plans to continue in an upward trajectory, I also enjoy my twice-monthly manicure and get excited about the color of the polish I choose. This is totally healthy and normal behavior, by the way.

I also enjoy watching college basketball, practicing yoga, purchasing high-end footwear, and traveling. All of these activities make me a well-rounded individual, and certainly not someone who would be less capable of running a company one day. I’m not a one-trick pony and neither are the women who were featured in Vogue.

I started to feel badly about supporting Indulge because of the comments on my post, and that is unacceptable. My initial reaction — excitement about the app, seeing a real use case, and then expressing that to the TechCrunch audience — is what really matters, and I’m proud to stand by it.

I know we’ve been Lean In’d to death in the last year, but Sheryl Sandberg raises a valuable point about women needing to support one another. The Queen Bee syndrome does nothing but fragment us. Until we get to a place where we are truly equals, we cannot tear each other down for something like a project at a hackathon. No one bats an eye when a man builds a sports-related app at a hackathon. I want more for us and fewer mean girls attacking women who are trying to build new things.