Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tara Hunt: Shy, retiring wallflower?

Tara Hunt from horsepigcow, Pinko Marketing and, oh yeah, her actual day job, Riya, has a problem: her boyfriend Chris Messina is getting sole or more credit for ideas/actions that are jointly theirs or even mostly just hers. As she puts it in this lengthy post:
"We talk about being "Partners in Crime" (that's what the PiC stands for - cat is out of the bag), but people most often credit Chris with our co-projects and either totally dismiss my involvement or chalk it up to being somewhat lesser."

Tara gives highly visible examples of this happening to other fine Silicon Valley women. Tara also thinks of herself as non-self-promotional, and therefore is quite willing to go down this path:
"None of the above examples makes anyone bad or's just a continuous perception problem that persists through changing times. And truly, I don't want to become an aggressive self-promoter."

I'm no Tara-stalker; I don't follow her every move, but I've seen her in action. She spoke on a BlogHer panel at SXSW Interactive in March, and just Tuesday she and I (and her PiC Chris) shared a panel at the NetSquared conference.

I was going to leave a comment on her blog, but it so easily broke my "3 paragraphs or more, and a comment needs to become a blog post" rule that here I am with this to say:

Tara: you are neither a wallflower nor a whiner. I think of you as extremely vocal and visible. How many speaking engagements have you had this year? How quickly has your blog become successful and well-read? To my knowledge you are widely known, sought after, quoted etc. The bottom line is that you have made yourself one of the least invisible valley denizens there are this year. And if you accomplished that via self-promotion I say: good for you! You have ideas and strong beliefs, and obviously they resonate with people. The only time people get offended by the aggressive promotion of one's ideas is when they happen to disagree with the ideas! Silicon Valley thrives on ideas. Bring on the ideas. Who is ANY blogger to complain about aggressive self-promotion, after all, when we're all busily working our own "personal printing presses" (as Jay Rosen dubbed blogs, I believe.)

Why are you (and actually everyone else) so quick to say: "None of the above examples makes anyone bad or sexist"? Are we trying to be polite here?

If they're not bad or sexist, I guess the alternative is that people were too lazy to do their homework. I think it is pretty obvious Pinko Marketing is yours. I think it was pretty obvious that WineCamp was a co-production. Just as it should have been obvious that Kaliya (otherwise known as IdentityWoman for god's sake) was a co-producer of the identity event and Rashmi the co-producer of DCamp. All you had to do was look at the event web sites.

Stopping after the man's name isn't an accident or unavoidable. People should be called on it, and if they're not bad or sexist then they'll correct themselves, damnit, and are embarrassed into not making that horrible gaffe again, not making the assumptions that led to their erroneous statements or actions.

And if I hear the "aggressive vs. assertive" thing one more time my head will explode. Look, all people can be assholes. Men and women. Don't be one. Or be one, and live with the moniker. Larry Ellison does, right? Clearly it doesn't bother him. But I dont buy that "women have to learn to be assertive not aggressive".

Women have to do what they think is right to get what they want and live with the consequences of how they did that, just like men. You can be the nicest, most ladylike gal on the block, and someone is going to find some reason to call you a bitch. Same goes for men of course. Although they might call you something else.

You get more than one woman in a room, and amongst ourselves we will often talk about our personal experiences of sexism, harrassment or just plain marginalization. Everything from Carly Fiorina being called a "token bimbo" to women who aren't invited to certain company "team-building" functions (read: golf outings or bar-hopping.)

When I went to have a serious one-on-one with my CEO about my advancement path in the company, he started by asking me how old I was. No-no number one, no matter the gender. I knew the question was coming, and I was ready.

"I'm 5 years older than you were when you founded this company and became its CEO" said I.

His response? "Really? What's your secret? You look so young."

"Drink lots of water and stay out of the sun" said I, "but back to my question."

His response, with a figurative pat on the head: "Come on, don't you think you've done pretty well for yourself already?"

"Yes, and now I am looking toward my future path."

And I sat there and tried to imagine this guy asking any ambitious, go-getter junior exec man how old he was and why he wasn't satisfied to sit tight where he was.

The point is that even if some of us haven't personally been there, it's not really surprising when another woman tells us her story.

And we have to be willing to tell those stories in mixed company. Because most men would find them as appalling as our fellow women.

My favorite moment of the recent movie "North Country", which starred Charlize Theron as a miner fighting persistent, sanctioned sexual harrassment, was towards the end when it became obvious that most of the men in the mine were also appalled by the treatment the women were getting and were willing to stand up with them.

Because it is not "female trouble" when this stuff still happens. It is trouble for us all!

Thanks, Elisa, for saying this so well.
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