Readers Mad as Hell About Columnist's 'Mad Men' Era Sexism

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Reading Bloomberg View Thursday morning, it's easy to imagine that like Newsweek, the site had gone retro in tribute to Mad Men with Amity Shlaes' column on sexual harassment sounding a little too much like throwback to the pre-enlightenment world of the AMC show. Of course, many folks on the Internet are angry.

The topic at hand is Ellen Pao, a junior partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, who sued, alleging sexual harassment. Pao says that when she complained to senior partners, she faced retaliation. Shlaes says, in essence, that Pao is preventing other women from getting jobs by making all women look whiny and litigious. Or, in her words:

Human-resources specialists aren't idiots. They see how much Pao, still merely alleging, is costing a firm such as Kleiner Perkins: time, image and distraction from its main work, finding value. Other businesses will work harder to avoid a litigious hire.

Won't they also work harder to avoid hiring a sexual harasser? No, wait, the larger point—the largest point really—is that Shlaes has totally turned common sense on its head.

Women have come a very long way to advance their cause by calling out companies that create hostile workplaces for women. And companies should aim to clean up inhospitable workplaces that might cause women to sue, not avoid hiring women altogether. Or as @amaeryllis, a prolific tweeter and lawyer who has much to say on the column this morning, puts it, "Remember before women started standing up for their rights when they were given equal opportunity and treated with respect? Me neither."   

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The other odd piece of Shlaes's argument is that somehow, firms that have more non-traditional cultures should be granted more leeway to... Sexually harass women? (This an idea that was floated in 2002 when a writers assistant sued the makers of Friends for comments made in the writers room.) This is not an exaggeration. She draws a distinction between "square" and "wild" companies. Here's Shlaes:

The wild type, common in venture capital, does everything differently, starting with the open office.

Over the years, creative rebels have often behaved poorly in their creative workplaces. Do most of us approve? Hardly. Nobody likes, say, the way the great creator of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs, treated many colleagues.

But creative environments boast an advantage: They contribute more growth than the old dinosaurs.

Sometimes growth helps women, so maybe they should take one for the team. She hedges a bit there:

This isn't to say that sexism or sexual harassment is acceptable, or that Pao should tolerate it, or that Kleiner Perkins shouldn't take action against wrongdoers. It is to suggest that there is a cost to remedying the problem with showcase litigation.

That's the sort of "this is just the way the world works, honey. There's no winning," argument that people take when they recognize they're making an unpopular statement. 

The most common reaction to Shlaes's column we've seen has been to ask simply, "Is she joking?" In our view, no. And while it might seem easy to find the worst column on the internet today (it didn't make the cut for "Five Best" anyway) and point out why it's terrible, the issue with this is that Shlaes's writing runs in a prominent publication and her idea that women should keep quiet to help each other should be pointed out as wrong lest anyone believe it and start sleeping with Jaguar execs upon request to get ahead. You know, like in the good old days.

*The post originally misspelled Shlaes's last name on several references. We regret the error

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.