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Gender, race and social change in tech; Moira Weigel on the Internet of Women, Part Two – TechCrunch

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.

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There’s No Slowing Down Teaira McCowan 🔋

Before Teaira McCowan became the most dominant player in the SEC, she had to overcome an obstacle far more challenging than any opponent she’s had to face.

“[My height] was something that I carried as a burden for so long,” McCowan says. “I didn’t really like to be stared at or pointed at or people were taking pictures of me. That was really hard for me to adjust to.”

By the time she was in the sixth grade, McCowan had grown to 6-7 and was towering over her classmates. She even stood a whole head above her parents, who are both 5-7.

“Some days I would feel like, no, this isn’t for me. I can’t have people looking at me like I’m some type of freak or something. I’m not supposed to be here,” McCowan recalls.

There were times when she didn’t want to leave her house, but she eventually realized power within herself after she arrived on campus at Mississippi State in 2015. Over the past four years in Starkville, McCowan has thrived as the center of attention.

“When I got to Mississippi State, I noticed that it’s not going to really change. People are always going to stare. People are always going to want to take pictures,” McCowan says. “I just had to tell myself to use it as a positive.”

From coming off the bench as a freshman and playing just 13.7 minutes per game, McCowan’s progression has been astronomical throughout her college career.


As a sophomore, McCowan was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time during the NCAA Tournament, where she helped lead the program to its first Final Four appearance. In one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, Mississippi State ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak to advance to the national championship game.

The following season, McCowan started every game, establishing herself as an elite rebounder, shot-blocker and one of the nation’s premier defenders. This past season, McCowan became the most efficient scorer in college basketball, despite seeing double- and triple-teams on a nightly basis.

And she routinely showed out when the stage was the brightest. In December, 24 and 18 vs Marquette. In January, 26 and 24 vs South Carolina. In the SEC championship game vs Arkansas: 24, 14 and 3 blocks.

After leading Mississippi State to its third straight Elite 8 in March, McCowan was selected No. 3 overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2019 WNBA Draft.

And while the Fever finished with a franchise-worst record of 6-28 last season, McCowan can draw some similarities to her first year at Mississippi State.

“Indiana is a team that’s rebuilding and trying to re-lay its foundation and just get off the ground,” she says. “I’m happy to be a part of that. Much like at Mississippi State when I came in, we were laying the foundation, and now we’ve been to two Final Fours. So I’m just ready to get in and get my team going.”

As a high IQ, defense-oriented, team-first player, McCowan was exactly who the Fever needed to add to their young core. Rookie of the Year is one of her goals for this season, but changing the identity of the program is her mission. And she’ll be using her platform to share an inspiring message to everyone who might be struggling with the judgement of others.

“Don’t worry about what other people think, because this is a big world,” she says. “As long as you think about yourself and are giving positive energy to yourself, then you’ll be alright. You’ll make it.”


Ryne Nelson is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @slaman10.

Photos via Getty.

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