Tough as … Nails

South by Southwest 2015 is in full-swing and rounding toward its close. An awesome event overall for several reasons: the western world focuses its attention, for at least one full week, on innovative things happening across a variety of media platforms. Rooms are full of interesting people dedicated to sparking interest in both underground and popular media topics alike – the mental dexterity is, at the very least, impressive, inspired, and inspiring. I follow along from a distance, tuning in and out eagerly (and jealously at my non-physical presence) as anyone. Overbearing and slightly-soul-crushing sponsorships and corporate plugging aside, it’s great stuff overall.

Unfortunately, the not-so-great follows, as it often does in life, immediately alongside the very-great: digital magazine Adweek highlights a “female-oriented” interactive nail salon, exclusively for women, which allows women a physical space in which they can feel empowered in the face of a largely masculine-governed tech industry. (Check it out here).

Truthfully, it’s long been known that the tech industry is a boys’ club at its roots; women have long found it difficult to make their mark, find their place, and insert themselves credibly into the world of technology, so long dominated by male influence. The problem is a real and tangible one, and certainly needs progressive transformation – but is a “manicure” really the vehicle of empowerment which the “women in tech” cause needs?

First, let’s take a look at the rhetoric surrounding this article: Adweek calls the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge a “safe haven” for women in tech, originally started as a “sleepover party” and expanded into a physical space, a way for women in industry to “band together.” Guys “do deals; girls create relationships” – and apparently the nail salon, over “bubbly” and “foot reflexology” (whatever the hell that means) is the space where women in tech get in touch with their empowerment.

The language dictates a problem that, in reality, needs less segregation – not more. Separating the men from the women in a literal, concrete way (creating a firmly non-male space) amplifies and widens the gap between men and women tenfold instead of shrinking it. Sleepovers, massages, and beauty salons are awesome, for both men and women equally – but assigning those things exclusively to women is insulting to men, patronizing to women, and deeply backward in purpose. The “safe haven” that women need is not the nail salon; women with any real drive will, like most of the women I know, find their own safety in the male-dominated idea-space itself – they’ll make themselves known, carve themselves a spot, and assert their presence, whether they feel “safe” or not.

If comfort is safety, then I’d caution anyone – man or woman alike – to stay home entirely; the business world does not take well to comfort, safety, or “havens.” Work, struggle, creation in the face of uncertainty is a haven for anyone of character – especially in tech, an industry which is rooted in uncertainty and the absence of safety. Wouldn’t you want your daughter, your sister, your mother to feel “safe” in a space that is entirely non-cushy, non-rosy, non-idealized? Life is not pink and filled with free bubbly and foot massages – so why should the professional “female” space be like that?

The space basically dictates that while the men in technology are gathering over startups, the structures of modern business, and digital evolution (i.e. “deals”) in one room, the women of tech are getting their nails done in another, entirely separate, room, discussing…well, each other.

Do I really have to explain how women – and women in tech especially – are worth a hell of a lot more than their ability to chat and build relationships? The stereotype is an archaic and a hyper-tired one; on an average daily basis I alone am surrounded by a slew of impressive women whose skills have nothing to do with “building relationships”; they make stuff happen in a real way, challenge normative standards of expectation, and effectuate long-lasting change, in tech and in other industries.

Sorry, Adweek and Ipsos Girls’ Lounge: it’ll be a cold day in hell before I tell my younger sister, just starting out in the workforce, that while the men are getting real things done in one room, she should head to the nail salon next door.

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