It was a Saturday night in San Francisco, and so, of course, there was a booze-fueled start-up launch party at a hip SOMA bar. We were among the Kickstarter backers and enthusiasts invited by SpaceVR to "be an astronaut" by donning a virtual reality headset to explore a 3D-version of space pulled together from publicly available footage. Someone in a space suit was dancing wildly under a pink chandelier. We were waiting to try out the glasses and pay a visit to Mars when a guy wearing a black t-shirt that read “I'm not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look” decided to chat us up.
He hadn't just wandered over from a distasteful Mardi Gras party by mistake. He told us he was an investor in SpaceVR.
Like most startup parties, men outnumbered women, here by a ratio of approximately 15 to 1. This guy was eager to sell us not only on a future where virtual space travel is a high-demand thrill, but also, it seemed, his charm.
SpaceVR, he told us, was really cool. He liked it, he explained, because he really “gets science.” He followed up with a scientific inquiry about our astrological signs, and then, based on "data" that he said he'd gathered from our interaction and taste in jewelry, he attempted to guess them.
As female journalists who cover Silicon Valley, where sexism is often felt but hard to put a finger on, we were more interested in his blatantly sexist taste in apparel. We asked about the suggestive t-shirt, telling him that it was an interesting choice of attire for a professional event.
We expected perhaps a show of remorse, or maybe even an admission that it was a poor choice given that so much of Silicon Valley has been publicly rethinking the way it treats women. But instead of displaying embarrassment about the inappropriate wardrobe, he beamed with pride.
“Isn’t this awesome?,” he said. “No one here would expect that I’m, like, someone important.”
We explained that it made him seem instead like a douchebag. The t-shirt was the equivalent of a cat call on the street — an unsolicited advance that reduced us to sexual playthings, to the sum of one part.
He appeared amused by our discontent. A friend of his who had joined us suggested a fun party game, in which a person lists their favorite cocktail and three reasons they like it, a supposed indicator of what they look for in a lover. They suggested we go to another bar, somewhere to really get the party started. We passed.
When he found out we were journalists, he declined to tell us his last name, though we later found his LinkedIn profile. We reached out to him again today to see if maybe his bro-tastic responses on Saturday were the alcohol talking, but he hasn’t replied.
This evening, Kelley Holmes, SpaceVR's director of business development, told us this dude wasn't affiliated with the company in any way.
"Our investors do not wear shirts like that out in public, nor do we condone that behavior in any way shape or form," Holmes told us. "There are people going to these parties and posing as people that they are not. I think that's what happened."
We asked if he had donated money to the startup's Kickstarter campaign— maybe that was how he invested in it— but Holmes said she couldn't comment on that because "Kickstarter pledges aren't public information." All she would say is that t-shirt dude wasn't an investor in the company.
We've decided to not name him, because we wanted to shame the behavior and not the man. He represents a larger problem, a consequence of a culture that by default regards women as sexual objects. And it's unfortunate that Silicon Valley is a place where such a joke doesn't get you turned away at the door, even if you claim to be an investor.
We later found his t-shirt for sale on Amazon, retailing for a cheap $10. Guys, take it from us: Comparing yourself to a gynecologist isn't doing you any favors. When we tweeted out an image of the t-shirt, many people responded, equally appalled:
Our colleague suggested a clever response. We’re thinking about getting some t-shirts made.
Join the sexist fashion police: If you have cringe-worthy stories of your own to share, please send them along.
Update 6:14 pm PT: We've updated the story to reflect comments by SpaceVR director of business development, Kelley Holmes.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.
Kristen is a technology reporter for Fusion. She enjoys tea, giraffes and the occasional app.
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