By now, you may have already heard about the internal memo that James Damore, an engineer at Google, recently released, to the tumult of his company and his colleagues. Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” it makes the argument that biology, not society, is to blame for the gross misrepresentation of women in tech and leadership. Basically, he says, if men and women are biologically different, they will make different choices, and will be drawn to different vocations. Sounds just vague enough to be innocuous, I guess. You might even start thinking, hey, maybe he’s kinda got a point…
Except no, he really doesn’t, and his argument is flawed on many levels. Not only are the ‘female skills’ he listed actually some of the most important skills in engineering (according to a tech guy who knows), but there has been a ton of research revealing the systemic sexism not just in tech, but in our entire culture. Ironically, there has even been research showing that men, when faced with an actual study showing this sexism (specifically in science), are surprisingly likely to write it off.
But, however wrong the facts in this memo might be, the misconception is a common one. Whether it’s willful or innocent, naive or malicious, it’s a misunderstanding that certainly exists.
Not long after this memo went viral, Damore was fired from Google for violating their code of conduct. As much as I disagree with the guy, I’ve actually been on the fence about whether I agree with Google’s decision to terminate. Let me explain.
WHY I MIGHT AGREE WITH IT
Google did not condemn every single aspect of the memo. Specifically, it was mostly the portion that claimed female biology made women less suited for tech and leadership roles that was described by many as creating something of a hostile work environment. I have to say, I think this makes sense. As a woman, it’s going to be really tough to work with a guy who has publicly stated he thinks my sex makes me less capable in my current job. The Freedom of Speech doesn’t cover your relationship with your employer; they have every right to restrict the type of speech you share on company time. Damore published this paper internally, in a company-wide memo — not on his own personal blog or anything. What’s more, making sweeping generalizations about groups — especially negative statements, and especially marginalized groups — seems foolish and hurtful. In firing him, Google protected the work environment of a marginalized group of people.
WHY I MIGHT NOT AGREE WITH IT
Here’s the thing, though: Damore wasn’t actively arguing for the firing or harming of women in any way. Sure, his views are categorically wrong, and mind-numbingly frustrating to read, but it’s clear from the document that he did make an effort to be respectful. In reading it, he seemed like the kind of guy I could actually have a conversation with about this, and a female veteran in tech feels the same way. It would be a tough conversation, because I disagree with him on so much, but it would at least be civil. And if we talked enough, if I showed him enough of the science, he might even change his mind! This simply did not have the ring of a wild or unreasonable MRA rant. It kind of made me wish he had just reached out to someone about this topic, rather than post his ten pages. Then again, another point he made was that he and his fellow conservatives did not feel comfortable speaking out. In the ‘leftist’ bubble of the Google culture, he claims, conservative ideas are often met with open hostility.
“But I shouldn’t have to have that discussion,” I can hear some of you saying, “it’s not my responsibility to educate him.” No, it’s not. No one is obligated to defend themselves to an oppressor. That being said, if no one does — how will change occur? How will perspectives shift, if not with those very discussions? This isn’t a moral imperative, it’s a practical one. Every American citizen has a vote, and if you refuse to take the time to engage with the perspectives of people like Damore, they will use those votes in ways you probably won’t like.
Then again, there always comes a point at which discourse is no longer useful. Finding that line is the trick.
You can see why I’m on the fence about this. Were Damore’s discriminatory claims about women creating a hostile work environment? Or was it all just an expression we should be free to disagree with?
What do you think? Weigh in below.
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