At this point, outsiders to the larger tech/geek world are probably beginning to wonder if there can be a conference about sci-fi or technology that doesn’t erupt into controversy over some gross misogyny. The latest dust-up at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference wins points for being particularly stupid. Two Australian developers, Jethro Batts and David Boulton, got up on stage for a minutelong presentation of an app called Titstare, billed as a way for men to share pictures of themselves staring at women’s breasts.
TechCrunch later apologized for Titstare and also for the introduction of an app whose sole purpose appears to be measuring how many strokes it takes a masturbating man to finish the act, calling them “two misogynistic presentations.” But that’s not quite right. Watching a dude shake his phone and pretend he’s jerking off is not my idea of a clever presentation, but it’s not really misogynistic—there’s nothing anti-woman about a man having some alone time. The Titstare presentation, however, was based on the premise that sexual harassment is not just to be celebrated as a male-bonding ritual, but that women who resist (like the ones maybe not laughing at the “joke” app in the audience) are killjoys who don’t know their place. While I’m glad TechCrunch issued an apology, its conflation of stupid but harmless raunchy masturbation jokes with overt sexual harassment only ends up reinforcing the idea that the problem with sexual harassment is the sex part and not the harassment part.
There’s going to be a bunch of words dumped this time and during the next controversy and the next controversy after that about the way that sexism in the tech industry and the larger geek world is running women off. That’s an important conversation, but I’d like to take a moment to point out that antics like Titstare are bad for male geeks, too. The long-term consequence of all this press coverage is the reinforcement of the stereotype of male geeks as guys who fear women and hide behind misogyny to cover up for their vast sexual insecurities. Leering at women is not “geek chic.” The sooner that male geeks get this and run the sexists out of their circles, the better off for everyone.