There are ideas whose time has long since passed. Yet they resurface, using inconsistent arguments and manufactured facts to defend bigotry and discrimination. A leaked 10-page internal memo by an employee at Google, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, attempts to justify gender imbalance and systemic discrimination in the workplace by stating “men and women biologically differ in many ways” and that “Women, on average, have more Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance)”. Google, which was accused of gender pay discrimination by the US labour department earlier this year, has distanced itself from the memo.
While it is tempting to dismiss the pseudo-science and bigotry of the memo as the rant of a single individual, its underlying assumptions are commonly deployed by the guardians of the status quo. The idea is simple: Social and economic discrimination is “naturalised” as is the privilege of those that gain from it. Using this basic format, injustices, from the caste system to slavery as well as colonialism and gender discrimination, have been justified. At the same time, this tendency has been constantly brought into question, even when the intellectual tools to do so were unavailable. Plato, for example, while subscribing to the patriarchal beliefs of his time and place nevertheless argued for women to be soldiers and leaders in The Republic. And Friedrich Engels in The Origin of Family, Private Property and State, managed, as early as in 1884, to establish the underlying relationship between property and gender relations. Why then, after all this time and multiple waves of feminism, are arguments which ought to have gone the way of the dodo appearing in Silicon Valley?
In 2016, the Elephant in the Valley survey found that 60 per cent of the women working in Silicon Valley received unwanted sexual advances and 87 per cent witnessed demeaning comments from colleagues. Earlier this year, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick resigned after stories of harassment and discrimination in the company came to light. Ideas like those in the Google document are a poor attempt to turn the clock back to when patriarchal privilege could display itself with impunity. And they use the oldest trick in the book: Blaming the victim.