I’m doing Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge, and, once again, I’m doing it with a feminist bent. In putting together my feminist book recommendations, I came across a whole bunch of interesting titles that I probably never would have heard of otherwise. That’s how I stumbled across Elissa Shevinsky’s Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture.
The book is filled with personal essays by cis, trans, and genderqueer women who work in tech and venture capital. Most of the authors are white, but those who are not are very blunt about the added struggles of being a person of color in a field filled with straight white men. A few of the contributors took on high-profile roles within the industry, speaking out on GamerGate, or linking their names to articles addressing sexism in tech. Most, however, are just average people who have decided to come forward and voice their personal experiences with sexual harassment and rape, poverty, sexism, and trying to pave a way for marginalized groups to be heard and valued.
In “What We Don’t Say,” one of my favorite essays, Sunny Allen is blunt about the way that trying to make it in start-ups changed her into a person she didn’t like or recognize. In the early days, she worked on passion projects while trying to survive an abusive relationship. As success came, her personality morphed into something ugly, and her essay ends in somewhat of a question mark: is it worth it?
That seems to be an underlying sentiment. In “The Other Side of Diversity,” for instance, Erica Joy talks about the effects of often being the lone black woman working in a sea of white men. She discusses the toll that microagressions — and just simply being different — have had on her mental health. In a similar vein, ana anthropy’s “But What If It’s Killing You?” talks about the stress of working in the field she loves; problems are never fully addressed, and she’s at the point where perhaps it’s better to just walk away:
Gaming and tech have done nothing to make you feel welcome. They have tried everything they can to hurt you, to wound you. Sisters and brothers, they don’t deseve you.
Not everyone is so downcast. In “What Young Women In Tech Really Need,” Jenni Lee gives practical advice while calling for big-name tech companies such as Google to do better. And in “Where Do We Go from Here?” Lauren Bacon asks for more from her fellow “techie feminists” in developing a plan of attack for the future.
Plenty of essays left me going “YES!” Sometimes the book is a little uneven, but for the most part, I think it has a pretty good balance of presenting sobering reality and celebrating the (admittedly modest) gains made for women and people in the LGBT community. Change is happening; I just wish it would happen faster.
Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture was published in 2015 by OR Books.