We don’t just need more women in tech. We need to value the feminine
Donald Trump’s 2016 election felt like an attack on the feminine and therefore on women in particular. Trump is the acme of immature, unchecked masculine values which encourage “winning”, profit and domination rather than positive masculine qualities like courage and competence.
Our culture exalts masculine values like efficiency, control and independence, and technology helps us to achieve those things, while devaluing more feminine values like beauty, spirituality, community, creativity and caring (unless they can be used to turn a profit). Things you can’t translate into power or money still have value. Love, beauty and the arts are, after all, often what give our lives meaning.
Each person and every culture contains a unique mix of the masculine and the feminine. An individual woman may have many more traditionally masculine qualities than feminine ones and vice versa. Some family therapists talk about a process called halving which occurs in early childhood, when masculine and feminine qualities are assigned to genders. Splitting a human being is traumatic. It can only be achieved by violently suppressing parts of ourselves and denigrating those qualities in others. Halving is not healthy for individuals or for society.
Because we devalue the feminine, we devalue people associated with the feminine. Female-dominated professions have lower salaries than male-dominated ones while skills like programming mysteriously become higher status once men start to pursue them. Women are bombarded with career advice about how to act more like men while men are penalised for displaying feminine qualities. Even feminism itself has often focused more on finding a place for women within masculine power structures, than on changing those structures to reflect feminine values.
During my own tech career (I was a Machine Learning researcher, developer and startup CTO) I was rewarded for my masculine qualities but felt I had to suppress my feminine ones. The dominance of the masculine in the tech industry manifests itself as creativity without caring, cleverness without wisdom and capitalism without responsibility masquerading as “making the world a better place.”
As a developer, I was trained in the tools of logic and analysis. Those tools are useful, but like every tool, have their limitations. My tech career did not encourage the development of intuition, compassion, interconnection, creativity and other more feminine qualities. The seemingly random twists and turns of my later work life — training as a yoga teacher, becoming a tech journalist, developing tech products for low-income Americans — were perhaps an unconscious attempt to reunite my divided self.
The tech business has become rich and powerful. It needs to take its social responsibilities seriously. Creating a “platform” should not mean making founders and investors rich at the expense of the people who do the real work. Always having the latest gadget should not be more important than preserving our environment. Overpaid techies should not step over the homeless in San Francisco while their employers avoid paying billions in tax. Technology should help us to solve problems for all, not just generate more conveniences and toys for the well-off. It should enrich and expand our experience of our world, not just offer a multitude of distractions from it. Integrating feminine values into tech’s world view could help us to tackle all of these issues.
In the wider world, the imbalance between masculine and feminine expresses itself in physical and psychological violence against women, animals and the natural world, gross financial inequality, social isolation and a crisis of loneliness and mental illness.
In an aggressive, competitive, individualistic, hyperactive masculine world, we seek security in material things rather than in our relationships with other people. Selfishness triumphs over social responsibility. We chase short-term financial and status rewards and still end up lonely and disconnected. We have a constant, nagging hunger for meaning. The masculine without the feminine becomes sterile and destructive.
Our species faces multiple existential threats from climate change to inequality. To tackle them, we need a healthy blend of the mature masculine and the mature feminine. A tech industry which values both could genuinely help us to survive and thrive.
Bringing more women into technology but only rewarding their masculine qualities misses the point. We don’t just need to change the players; we need to change the game. The future must be feminine or it may be no future at all.