Blew it

I can understand the eagerness with which TechCrunch wanted to criticize IBM’s extraordinarily tone deaf #HackAHairDryer campaign, but it went at it in a way that was offensive in its own right.

As a middle-aged white man who often finds himself in conversations with other middle-aged white men, I’m well aware of the kinds of stereotypes we indulge ourselves in. Because I’m seen as a safe audience, I hear the most atrocious things said about women and minorities. Even men who think they’re being respectful often can’t stop themselves from being derogatory.

So I’m not surprised that someone came up with #HackAHairDryer, although I am a bit surprised that no one in IBM’s PR department saw it as patronizing and put a stop to it.

(As a child of the 70s, I confess it took me a second to see the sexism in blow dryers. When I was in college, every guy on my dorm floor owned a blow dryer. And a belt with an onion.)

But by the same token, maybe an editor at TechCrunch (assuming TechCrunch has editors) should have changed this article on #HackAHairDryer before it was published. Here’s how it starts (emphasis mine):

Looks like IBM needs to reengineer what it thinks about women. A tweet went out on IBM’s official Twitter feed asking women in tech to, I kid you not, “Join the #HackAHairDryer experiment.”

Not hack computer software, math problems or something of social impact – a beauty product. According to IBM’s Twitter account, that’s “what matters in science” to women.

Why denigrate beauty and fashion? Because it’s typically seen as a “woman” thing and therefore frivolous? And as for the assertion that beauty products have no social impact—that’s just demonstrably wrong. Beauty products are, have been, and will continue to be a huge worldwide industry. The notion it’s somehow less important than, say, yet another internet-based “sharing” service from Silicon Valley, is just an internalization of the SV dudebro mindset.

It’s a big world out there, and people should be allowed to find their niches, wherever they are. IBM’s offense was that it thought it should choose a topic for women to work on, as if women don’t have a huge range of interests. TechCrunch’s offense was that it thought it should be in charge of ranking those interests.