Many of the world’s problems could be solved with a simple name change. Take the Middle East. In an ideological age where people hew to black and white, naming it the Middle East is just asking for trouble. Ask Ayn Rand – she called the middle “evil.” If you can’t change the mind-set – my first choice – at least change the name. How about Kate Middleton East? Everybody loves her.
Or say Silicon Valley really wanted to attract more women. I know, but let’s say they do. Forget the mentoring and the recruiting and the STEM classes. Just change the name.
I’m a woman and when I hear the word “Silicon” I don’t think “innovation” or “entrepreneurism” or even “libertarianism”. I think breast implants. Not to impugn anyone with breast implants, or the choice to get them, just making the point that they aren’t natural. Like Silicon Valley itself.
Silicon Valley used to be called Paradise Valley. It was awash in orange groves and avocado orchards and well, you know, nature. Now, it’s all about dominion over nature. The only difference between Bibilical Eden and Silicon Valley Eden is that Silicon Valley wants to dominate nature andmake a buck.
Full disclosure: I hate being dominated and I’m sure nature doesn’t like it either. I can speak for nature because, historically, women have been identified with her. If you don’t believe me, read Hannah Arendt, the German philosopher. In “The Human Condition”, she quotes the kind of things Sputnik enthusiasts said at the 1957 launch: “Finally, we are free of our bonds to Mother Earth!”
So okay, that was almost 60 years, but just 3 years ago I was at a Long Now event where a NASA higher-up and Singularity aficionado enthused about leaving “the Mother Planet.” The next day, a young woman who’d been there as well saw me on the street and told me how much she hated the “When-we-leave-the-Mother-Planet-guy.” The next day – swear to God – the same thing happened with another completely unrelated young woman who said exactly the same thing. (Full disclosure: Actually, the first one saw me in the hair salon having my hair colored – I didn’t want to admit that because then it’s me being unnatural, but since then I’ve stopped coloring and anyway that’s not my point.) Here’s my point: neither one of those women had read Hannah Arendt. But their instinctive revulsion spoke to the larger reality Arendt was critiquing, the link between the human condition and its embodiment in nature and the link between nature and women.
You can read more about the first here. As to the second, Arendt argues that classically (i.e. from the time of ancient Greece), men have been associated with “work”. Work is what comes out of the head; it is what we imagine, or imagineer. It’s how we leave our mark upon the world.
Labor on the other hand is associated with the body. It’s in synch with the cyclical rhythms of the universe. It’s bio-degradable, which is why we degrade both it and the people who perform labor. In fact, the Knowledge Economy has banished labor from our shores, outsourcing it to countries still in full body mode, that is, whose populations labor for sustenance.
But classically too, labor is associated with women. In fact, women are doubly cursed – and hence degraded – as people who both undergo labor and perform labor. Never mind that it’s called “housework” – the devices meant to liberate women from it were called “labor-saving.” As per the circa 1950’s magazine ad for such a labor-saving device: “Don’t let drudgery kill your wife. Let electricity do it!” Women aren’t stupid.
So the more Silicon Valley talks about leaving the Mother Planet and the Singularity – how we’re going to upload our consciousness and leave our bodies behind- then the more the women Silicon Valley says they want will have that same instinctive revulsion expressed by those two young women I encountered. For all its talk of being innovative and future oriented, Silicon Valley is stuck in an old mind-set, and the women they say the want, the ones smart enough for a career in hi-tech, are smart enough to know it.
My advice – if you can’t change the mind-set – change the name. How about Valley Girl?