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May 26, 2019
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Gender, race and social change in tech; Moira Weigel on the Internet of Women, Part Two

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Tech ethics can mean a lot of different things, but surely one of the most critical, unavoidable, and yet somehow still controversial propositions in the emerging field of ethics in technology is that tech should promote gender equality. But does it? And to the extent it does not, what (and who) needs to change?

In this second of a two-part interview “On The Internet of Women,” Harvard fellow and Logic magazine founder and editor Moira Weigel and I discuss the future of capitalism and its relationship to sex and tech; the place of ambivalence in feminist ethics; and Moira’s personal experiences with #MeToo.

Greg E.: There’s a relationship between technology and feminism, and technology and sexism for that matter. Then there’s a relationship between all of those things and capitalism. One of the underlying themes in your essay “The Internet of Women,” that I thought made it such a kind of, I’d call it a seminal essay, but that would be a silly term to use in this case…

Moira W.: I’ll take it.

Greg E.: One of the reasons I thought your essay should be required reading basic reading in tech ethics is that you argue we need to examine the degree to which sexism is a part of capitalism.

Moira W.: Yes.

Greg E.: Talk about that.

Moira W.: This is a big topic! Where to begin?

Capitalism, the social and economic system that emerged in Europe around the sixteenth century and that we still live under, has a profound relationship to histories of sexism and racism. It’s really important to recognize that sexism and racism themselves are historical phenomena.

They don’t exist in the same way in all places. They take on different forms at different times. I find that very hopeful to recognize, because it means they can change.

It’s really important not to get too pulled into the view that men have always hated women there will always be this war of the sexes that, best case scenario, gets temporarily resolved in the depressing truce of conventional heterosexuality.  The conditions we live under are not the only possible conditions—they are not inevitable.

A fundamental Marxist insight is that capitalism necessarily involves exploitation. In order to grow, a company needs to pay people less for their work than that work is worth. Race and gender help make this process of exploitation seem natural.

Image via Getty Images / gremlin

Certain people are naturally inclined to do certain kinds of lower status and lower waged work, and why should anyone be paid much to do what comes naturally? And it just so happens that the kinds of work we value less are seen as more naturally “female.” This isn’t just about caring professions that have been coded female—nursing and teaching and so on, although it does include those.

In fact, the history of computer programming provides one of the best examples. In the early decades, when writing software was seen as rote work and lower status, it was mostly done by women. As Mar Hicks and other historians have shown, as the profession became more prestigious and more lucrative, women were very actively pushed out.

You even see this with specific coding languages. As more women learn, say, Javascript, it becomes seen as feminized—seen as less impressive or valuable than Python, a “softer” skill. This perception, that women have certain natural capacities that should be free or cheap, has a long history that overlaps with the history of capitalism.  At some level, it is a byproduct of the rise of wage labor.

To a medieval farmer it would have made no sense to say that when his wife had their children who worked their farm, gave birth to them in labor, killed the chickens and cooked them, or did work around the house, that that wasn’t “work,” [but when he] took the chickens to the market to sell them, that was. Right?

A long line of feminist thinkers has drawn attention to this in different ways. One slogan from the 70s was, ‘whose work produces the worker?’ Women, but neither companies nor the state, who profit from this process, expect to pay for it.

Why am I saying all this? My point is: race and gender have been very useful historically for getting capitalism things for free—and for justifying that process. Of course, they’re also very useful for dividing exploited people against one another. So that a white male worker hates his black coworker, or his leeching wife, rather than his boss.

Greg E.: I want to ask more about this topic and technology; you are a publisher of Logic magazine which is one of the most interesting publications about technology that has come on the scene in the last few years.

The Exit: Getaround’s $300M roadtrip

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In August of last year, Getaround scored $300 million from Softbank. Eight months later they handed that same amount to Drivy, a Parisian peer-to-peer car rental service that was Getaround’s ticket to tapping into European markets.

Both companies shared similar visions for the future of car ownership, they were about the same size, both were flirting with expanding beyond their home market, but only one had the power of the Vision Fund behind it.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. [Have feedback? Shoot me an email at lucas@techcrunch.com] 

Alven Capital’s Jeremy Uzan

Alven Capital partner Jeremy Uzan first invested in Drivy’s seed round in 2013. Uzan joined Index Ventures co-leading a $2 million round that valued the company at less than $10 million. The firms would later join forces again for the company’s $8.3 million Series A.

I chatted at length with Uzan about what lies ahead for the Drive team, what Paris’s startup scene is still in desperate need of, and how Softbank’s power is becoming even more impossible to ignore.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Getting the checkbook

Lucas Matney: So before we dive into this acquisition, tell me a little bit about how you got to the point where you were writing these checks in the first place.

Jeremy Uzan: So, I studied computer science and business and then spent three years as a tech banker. I was actually in a very small investment banking boutique in Paris helping young startups to raise their Series A rounds. They were all French companies, my first deal was with the YouTube competitor DailyMotion.

On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

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“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Milkinside

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Gleb Kuznetsov refuses to settle for less. After spending years leading product design for startups and corporate clients, Gleb started a boutique branding agency, Milkinside, that helps clients translate new technologies into useful products.

Gleb and his team of experienced creators are committed to serving the end user, which is why they love taking products from zero to launch. Their services are expensive, partly due to their expertise in product development, motion graphic design and animation, but we spoke to Gleb about why Milkinside is more than just a branding agency and how they strive to be the best.

Why Gleb created Milkinside:

“I wanted to create a team that wasn’t just an agency that companies could contract, but a partner that would support the client’s product development from beginning to end. Everything from the product narrative, product branding, product design, UI user experience, motion design, design languages, motion design languages, etc. I looked around the industry and didn’t see what I was envisioning so I created my dream company, Milkinside, in 2018.”

“Gleb has one of those rare skills that can make ordinary, plain parts of a design come to life and doing so in a beautiful and useful way. Always pushing the boundaries.” Jacob Hvid, Stockholm, Sweden, CEO and Co-founder at Abundo

On common founder mistakes:

“There are a lot of founders who believe they created useful technology and are absolutely certain people will use it. But everything is moot if users aren’t able to understand your product narrative and how it fits into their lives. Establishing a product narrative at an early stage is essential. A lot of founders will try to create a minimum viable product as soon as possible, but they aren’t thinking about the narrative, branding, the product design, and how everything comes together.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Milkinside Founder and Director of Product Design Gleb Kuznetsov

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of branding and design?

Gleb Kuznetsov: I was 10 years old when I started programming and learning different coding languages. At the age of 15, I shifted to design and became pretty passionate about what could be possible in the digital world. I worked as a product designer for 15 years before I started Milkinside. I worked for big consumer product companies across various verticals and platforms. When I was a chief design officer at a startup, I was responsible for everything from the product design, UI design, branding, advertising to producing product explainer videos.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Phil Weiner

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As a former entrepreneur turned independent designer, Phil Weiner gets the startup life. He often describes himself as a second co-founder for his clients, unafraid of 2AM phone calls and prepping pitch decks for investors. He’s a “full stack” creative director based in Oakland, CA with a passion for tackling cultural tension. Learn more about why design runs in his blood, his branding philosophy, and more.

On his ideal client:

“There are certain values that we have to have in line. The number one value is that they don’t view their people as resources, they view them as people. If I start to get the inkling that a founder isn’t necessarily great at managing their teams and their people, empowering them or removing obstacles, it’s probably going to be difficult for us to figure out customer empathy. Number two, design is an investment, not an expense.”

“Phil has worked with us to create and shape a number of impact brands like 100% Human at Work – and hundreds of visual presentations that have inspired hundreds of entrepreneurs to do something bigger in their lives.” Jean Oelwang, London, UK, CEO, Virgin Unite

On the power of branding:

“I get to be able to shape culture because that’s what brands are able to do. You can build a really great product and introduce it into the market and that’ll have it’s own life cycle until trends change. Brands can last a lifetime. I think that’s the only way that I can make a mark on the world, even if my name isn’t on the company. If it’s contributing to the brand, I’ve scaled my potential impact in the world.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


The Interview

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about your background. How did you get into design and branding?

Phil Weiner: So I actually didn’t study design. I’m self-taught designer. I come from a pretty cool line of designers. My grandfather drew the “I Love Lucy” heart and did album artwork for Motown Records, and typography. My mom’s also a graphic designer. She’s been with The Washington Post and The NY Daily News for years. She just retired.

The first thing they actually told me was “Don’t go to school for design. Go to school for business. Because if you don’t understand business, you don’t understand design.” So I went to school for econ and math. I studied design in “the streets”. I started my first company when I was 21 years old. It was an early version of Hired.com. When you don’t have any money, you have to do things yourself and be creative so I learned everything from basically failing. I know a lot about what startups are going through, whether it’s designing a pitch deck, selling a product, A/B testing, or trying to convert traffic on a webpage. I ended up selling that first company, which was a recruiting business that was based on scraping Linkedin for what we call, “The most placeable candidate.”

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