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The Annoying, Misleading “Don’t Complain, DO Something!” Meme

The following is a post I wrote on ChangeTheRatio.com in response to this by Pownce’s Leah Pulver at the Daily Beast responding to TechCrunch’s MichaeI Arrington responding to Shira Ovide‘s piece in the Wall Street Journal quoting me. If that hasn’t already driven you away, read on.

I am just surfacing from everything that piled up while I was away and working on a post to address the WSJ/Arrington contretemps, to which there is another slew of responses every day. Good. As I wrote to Arrington on Twitter, I’m grateful for the light he’s thrown on this. The fact that people are talking about this – whatever they are saying! – means that it’s on the radar screen. So, mission as articulated in the WSJ accomplished: “Part of changing the ratio is just changing awareness, so that the next time Techcrunch is planning a Techcrunch Disrupt, they won’t be able to not see the overwhelming maleness of it.” I really did just mean that as a recent example (cough 84 speakers 8 women cough), and not to pick on Arrington per se (there is noperennial grudge, contrary to what he wrote). But either way, the conversation is open, results are happening, and I’m a happy camper.

But.

On a personal note, let me just say that getting that Google alert on Saturday night was not fun (who’s the funnest girl at the New Orleans dance party? The one next to the wall outlet, charging her Blackberry so she can respond to something on Twitter). Sunday morning, I tore myself away from the computer to go to the Lower 9th Ward – why I was there in the first place – but knowing that I was leaving this all unresponded to was frustrating.

Actually, it wasn’t at all unresponded to, I just hadn’t gotten it together to write a post yet. Anyone who’s engaged in advocacy work knows that there’s all sorts of other stuff that goes on. But more to the point, I was also doing other work, on a few fronts but most visibly for the site which I helped to build on an issue to which I was committed. So I don’t love how this quote from Arrington has gotten seized on and amplified:

“There are women like Sklar who complain about how there are too few women in tech, and then there are women just who go out and start companies.”

When you put it that way, who wouldn’t like to be identified with the dynamic person who makes things happen rather than the sulky pouter who complains on the sidelienes? The thing is, I prefer to call it “advocating for productive, awesome, overdue change” than “complaining,” and I happen to be doing it *and* going out and starting companies. (Or helping build them, because the mythology that leadership is only synonymous with having been a founder is one of the fallacies CTR works against.) But either way, it’s a mistake to (a) assume that writing about gender issues in tech or any industry is not “doing something,” and I direct you to the fine work of Irin Carmon on this point, (b) that there is only one way to “do something” and I direct you to the fine work of Marie Wilson on this point, and (c) that “doing something” is an either/or proposition, wherein you either point out ratios that look completely and ridiculously lopsided or you keep your mouth shut while you’re starting whatever it is you’re starting. Good lord if I couldn’t multitask I don’t know what I’d do. Oh look, it’s adancing dog! The point is, there are many paradigms within which women – people, entrepreneurs, advocates, concerned citizens, whatever – can get shizz done.

Which brings us to the quote above, and the source, Pownce’s Leah Culver in the Daily Beast. She’s right – starting a company is way more fun, and certainly more fun than reading about yourself described as a lazy do-nothing complainer. Fortunately, that’s not what Change The Ratio is about. Leah says “less words, more action” and suggests that “we need to congratulate more women on their accomplishments and praise those who helped them along the way.” Done and done – CTR isactionoriented, and filled with the ladylove. (And, to be honest, the man-love.) The name was specifically chosen to connote action – in the form of “changing” something – and the focus is on the ratio of visibility, access, incentive and opportunity.

Doth the woman protest too much? Probably, but I like to argue. (“No, YOU hang up!”) The real point is, I had to take issue with the specific portrayal of me as doing nothing but complain, and the broader issue of characterizing the broaching of these not-always-fun conversations as just “complaining” with no concomitant “action.” It may not always be fun, but it’s not passive.

And also, often it’s pretty fun, too.

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