Jodi Kantor’s New York Times article entitled “For Stanford Class of ’94, a Gender Gap More Powerful Than the Internet” which attempts to educate readers about the realities of gender inequality in Silicon Valley does not include a single one of these jarring statistics.
Instead of being bound by the bore of facts and statistics, the author decided to recount a story. This tale happened to be a comparison between the careers of former Review Editor David Sacks and that of Jessica Dilullo. Cantor uses Sacks, ex-COO of Paypal, founder of Yammer and COO of Zenefits, as a foil for Jessica Dilullo the founder of Stella & Dot “a boutique style accessories company offering flexible entrepreneurship for women” in order to symbolize how different it is to be a male versus female entrepreneur in the technology sector. Moreover, Kantor draws from Sacks’ early writings in The Stanford Review about the merits of cultural diversity in order to paint him as an anti-feminist, implicitly suggesting that he was a causally related to or at the very least emblematic of misogyny in Silicon Valley.
Kantor’s argument is based almost entirely on generalizations and the exploitation of preexisting stereotypes. Her storytelling style, lack of facts, and use of outliers as examples disqualifies her argument from anthropological or sociological relevance. It is an all too frequent narrative that plays to the classic hero-villain-victim prototype in order to avoid having to delve into any substantial analysis. In fact, Kantor is so obsessed with characterizing Sacks as a privileged, intolerant white male that she mistakenly claims he was in a fraternity while at Stanford. Moreover, she gets away with including factually vacant statements like “a large number of the women who were inclined toward science and information analysis chose to become physicians.” What’s more the article completely fails to acknowledge that even amongst male entrepreneurs Sacks and the entire Paypal mafia stand out as outliers in terms of their success. Their fame and respects stems from the fact that they are willing to tackle problems from first principles as opposed to relying on existing frameworks of thought – the underpinning value of this publication.
Furthermore, Kantor completely mischaracterizes Sack’s positions at The Review. She claims that “Sacks had fought the school’s diversity efforts bitterly” suggesting that he had been attempting to suppress the voices of women at Stanford. However, anyone who has read Sack’s work knows that his crusade was against the denigration of the Western Civilization curriculum at Stanford and the rejection of divisive identity politics – the exact kind of politics that lead to Kantor style ad-hominem attacks and rhetoric. This classic straw man maneuver serves to further characterize Sacks as a villainous, but it also reveals Kantor’s agenda. That is if her illustration of Sacks as “an awkward freshman who often had trouble looking other students in the eye” does not prove that this article goes beyond the scope of gender inequality in tech.
Evidently the portrayal of this paper as being the progenitor of gender inequality is offensive and unfair, especially when coming from a paper as well established as the Times is. The fact that, in Sacks’ case, the author goes back 20 years to find content that will fit her narrative is but one indication of the lopsided oppositional nature of her article. What we are left with is not a sophisticated or informed portrait of the very real problems facing Silicon Valley, but instead an attempted character assassination. Bringing attention to systematic problems is honorable. However, this type of rhetoric hijacks the hard work of people like Jessica Dilullo and Gina Bianchini by failing to portray the systemic nature of the problem and bringing no new information to fore.