Highlights From Vanity Fair‘s Silicon Valley “Brotopia” Story

It's excerpts from an excerpt, as the book comes out later this year. But it's as depressing as it is unsurprising.

For all its pretenses to delivering humanity out of this vale of tears and into a gleaming future where everyone is digitally connected and cities no longer have corner stores, Silicon Valley sure loves a good old-fashioned drug-fueled orgy. For its February 2018 issue, Vanity Fair excerpted Emily Chang‘s forthcoming Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, and they did so with an eye toward cataloguing the parties.

It’s especially timely, coming after a holiday season when many companies opted out of open bars and other seasonal accoutrements that could potentially lead to non-consensual sexual conduct among employees. (Not all of them read the prevailing winds, though.) Let’s not forget that some male-dominated startups are so slanted toward awkward anti-socialites that planners need to import models and maybe optimize an algorithm to stock the room with a few Myers-Briggs ESFPs just to avoid a death spiral for at least 45 minutes.

This is not like that. First, we have entitled boorishness as emancipation from the social strictures of the old era — to a point.

The stories I’ve been told by nearly two dozen people who have attended these events or have intimate knowledge of them are remarkable in a number of ways. Many participants don’t seem the least bit embarrassed, much less ashamed. On the contrary, they speak proudly about how they’re overturning traditions and paradigms in their private lives, just as they do in the technology world they rule. … Few participants, however, have been willing to describe these scenes to me without a guarantee of anonymity.

Most of the men are rich and powerful, and most of the women are young and beautiful. That’s grimly unsurprising in light of, well, men. Also, guys need direct invites and can’t bring a wingman, but they can bring unlimited female guests.

In some scenarios, the ratio of women to wealthy men is roughly two to one, so the men have more than enough women to choose from. “You know when it’s that kind of party,” one male tech investor told me. “At normal tech parties, there are hardly any women. At these kinds of party, there are tons of them.”

To save face, nobody would be caught dead using phrases like “cuddle puddle” in a digital format that leaves a trace, but that’s what they are — sort of.

Invitations are shared via word of mouth, Facebook, Snapchat (perfect, because messages soon disappear), or even basic Paperless Post. Nothing in the wording screams “sex party” or “cuddle puddle,” in case the invitation gets forwarded or someone takes a screenshot. Besides, there’s no need to spell things out; the guests on the list understand just what kind of party this is. Women too will spread the word among their female friends, and the expectations are hardly hidden. “They might say, ‘Do you want to come to this really exclusive hot party? The theme is bondage,’ ” one female entrepreneur told me. “ ‘It’s at this V.C. or founder’s house and he asked me to invite you.’ ”

Let no one ever ignore an opportunity for corporate branding. 

But at the most intimate gatherings, guests will cook dinner together; that way they don’t have to kick out the help after dessert. Alcohol lubricates the conversation until, after the final course, the drugs roll out. Some form of MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy or Molly, known for transforming relative strangers into extremely affectionate friends, is de rigueur, including Molly tablets that have been molded into the logos of some of the hottest tech companies. Some refer to these parties as “E-parties.”

The predation factor jumps off the page, but if you subtract the gendered power imbalances, this is neither new nor all that heinous. Many human beings enjoy intoxication, and that’s fine. It’s treating women like rental furniture for the glorification and titillation of men that’s the problem. And there is a ton of that, especially from a venture capitalist dressed as a bunny who tries to lure one “Jane Doe” into joining the party with a bag of powdered MDMA — with his wife present.

‘Your wife is right there; is she O.K. with this?’ ” The founder’s wife acknowledged that, yes, she was O.K. with it. Jane Doe, who considers herself fairly adventurous and open-minded, kissed the founder, then became uncomfortable, feeling as if she had been pressured or targeted. … “I remember saying to him, ‘Aren’t people going to wonder?’ And he said, ‘The people that know me know what is going on, and the people that don’t, I don’t really care.’ ” Before dawn, she jumped into her car and left. “What’s not O.K. about this scene is that it is so money- and power-dominated. It’s a problem because it’s an abuse of power. I would never do it again.”

Chang makes the point that the onus of being sexually adventurous (read: women must kiss other women for the enjoyment of the men) is on the ladies alone. Further, people deliberately mis-apply the rules of consent that the BDSM and fetish scenes have created to ensure a safe, enjoyable experience for all. Specifically, they enforce the prohibition on voyeurism against women when, in the vast majority of cases, voyeurs tend to be lone men panting in the shadows and casting an unblinking stare.

There’s also the underlying anxiety that insecure men feel about intelligent, accomplished women — who they’re eager to dismiss as gold-diggers. A woman named Ava got wise to this real fast.

In Ava’s experience, however, once men like this land a woman, they are quick to throw her back. After a few extravagant dates, Ava says, she will initiate a conversation about where the tryst is going. The men then end things, several using the same explanation. “They say, ‘I’m still catching up. I lost my virginity when I was 25,’ ” Ava tells me. “And I’ll say, ‘Well, you’re 33 now, are we all caught up yet?’ In any other context, [these fancy dates] would be romantic, but instead it’s charged because no one would fuck them in high school. . . . I honestly think what they want is a do-over because women wouldn’t bone them until now.”

Insecure or not, these guys think they’re the real masters of the universe.

Furthermore, these elite founders, C.E.O.’s, and V.C.’s see themselves as more influential than most hot-shit bankers, actors, and athletes will ever be. “We have more cachet than a random rich dude because we make products that touch a lot of people,” says Founder X. “You make a movie, and people watch it for a weekend. You make a product, and it touches people’s lives for years.”

You really have to read the whole thing. If nothing else, do it for the vintage-1990s pic of people in a hot tub with a laptop.

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