Recently I attended a blogging conference for women, aptly called BlogHer.
One of the keynote speakers was a guy, aptly called Guy.
Guy Kawasaki is a baby boomer who rode the first wave of Apple's success (in marketing, I believe) and doesn't seem to have looked back, career-wise. He has more twitter followers than God. I found him to be an engaging, articulate speaker.
Most of the audience seemed to be loving his talk. I was feeling a little suspicious about how heavily he was flogging Google Plus since he, you know, works for them, but I guessed the audience were mostly aware they were being sold to and were cool with that.
Then, he dropped a couple of comments that made me feel uncomfortable- beginning with an ostensibly benign "compliment" about women having great blog names. It felt like women were being bundled together and damned with faint praise. Lea Grover further explains the concept of benevolent sexism here and why that didn't sit well.
After that the generalisations started coming thick and fast. Next up was "real women use android." And then "behind every successful man in social media there is probably a woman." When asked how he balances work and family life, he said he has three women BEHIND him- his wife, who runs the family ("God bless her"), a nanny and an assistant. I wondered why he couldn't say they were BESIDE him, as an equal relationship would imply? Imagine inserting a minority group instead of the word "women": re-read it and ask yourself whether it sounds ok.
Then there was the remark that he "didn't have the right chromosome" for Pinterest, managing to offend both women and the men who like Pinterest all at once. There was also a generalisation, maybe thrown in for good measure, that he was sure the (female) audience would disagree with his assessment of social media being a tool to market your brand because we all think it's "all kumbaya and sharing your feelings"- patronising much?
I tweeted out my displeasure, as did several others in attendance. A few days later a piece popped up in the Huffington Post claiming that "everyone loved it except for one person." Interesting. Untrue. Several women walked out of the talk and several others tweeted and retweeted their concerns. Not a large proportion of the audience, sure, but we're not talking the Lone Ranger here. The piece went on to lambast this mystery woman for her man-bashing, and then extrapolate that criticising one man was the equivalent to hating on all men. Anyone spot that leap in logic?
The plot thickened when I realised that the piece, written in defence of not just Guy Kawasaki but apparently men everywhere, was written by none other than Kawasaki's assistant, Peg Fitzpatrick. Although she assured us that she 100% thinks for herself, I do question how much impartiality an employee who presumably likes her job has when discussing her employer's casual sexism or lack thereof. Call me crazy. I also question whether she has a full grasp of the concepts of casual and internalised sexism.
It feels a little like shadow-boxing, but since I had indeed criticised Kawasaki publicly and since she claimed only one person did it, I will assume I am said man-bashing feminist. Fitzpatrick went on with the dubious assertion that "the damage was done by the attack of one woman who felt it was her duty to project her feminism onto the only man present." This sentence called to mind, for me, a lone feminist assassin, tweeting from the shadows dressed all in black, determined to take down the poor, defenceless, solitary male, with nothing but a horde of angry feminists-who-love-men to stop her.
I can assure you I adore certain men, but not all of them. Because it turns out they're not all alike. Shocking, I know. Also, perhaps equally shockingly, all I was doing was calling out some casually sexist commentary, not executing a personal attack on the dude. Why is it ok for Kawasaki to generalise about women according to his own taste, but when I call out one guy on his comments, I am accused of being a man-hater?
Guy Kawasaki is super wealthy, influential, male, American and a baby boomer. He IS the fricking 1%. Instead of discussing the issues that came out of the comments, maybe investigating why some one else might have a different view, a woman who works for him decided to come out swinging. Really now? Because engaging in reasoned debate is, what.... too hard? Too uncomfortable?
I don't think any one is calling Kawasaki a raging misogynist. What I, and others, are saying is that nice guys perpetrate sexism too. It's casual, it's insidious, and it's a product of the culture we live in. I have no doubt that Kawasaki probably doesn't think he is sexist at all. Fitzpatrick assured her audience that "if I felt something that he said was sexist, believe me, I would have been the first to call him on it." So what, if you think something is sexist it's ok for you to say so but if someone else has a different view that's not ok, they have to be quiet lest someone tells them they aren't being nice? If I see sexism, I feel the need to call it out, whether that makes you uncomfortable or not. That makes me neither a man-basher nor slandering an entire gender.
One issue Fitzpatrick and I agree on is that bashing men is not a feminist act. I just don't think that voicing a disagreement over some comments one man made during the course of an interview I attended fits into this category. Five years ago, I may not have taken issue with Kawasaki's comments either, but I like to think I would have been open to other people's interpretations. Since then I have listened, I have read, and I have learned. Fitzpatrick would do well to do the same. In the meantime, I'm sure Guy Kawasaki is doing just fine- possible flesh wounds excepted.