Elias Bizannes, one of the four judges for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, argues that believing that Titstare is representative of sexism in the tech world is "just as bad as the majority of American's who thought Al-Qaeda was in Iraq," by way of defending what is arguably the worst 'joke' yet to emerge from brogramming culture.
The long response to the whole controversy was posted on the Sydney-based Silicon Beach Australia listserv. According to his quick n' dirty bio, Bizannes describes himself as, "Elias Bizannes is an Australian entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley that is the founder of StartupHouse, StartupBus and Australia’s 'silicon beach.'" While some (ahem) were hoping that "Titstare" might serve as a teaching moment on the tech world's well-documented gender problem, Bizannes's response indicates that many in the industry are dismissing the controversy as an overblown product of the media. You know, just like the Iraq war.
"Step away from the objectification of a female body part, and you will see it was an attempt at comedy. The words, the timing — it was an attempt on comedy, not an attack on women," Bizannes wrote, adding, "the guys found a nerve (glass ceiling, women in tech, general male sleaze bag behavior) and smashed it with a hammer with their political incorrectness in a culture where if you fart you've caused global warming."
We spoke to TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis yesterday, who corroborated some of the details mentioned here of how Titstare made it to the stage. But while it appears that TechCrunch is taking the revealed lapses in their conference management strategy seriously, not everyone would like that to happen.
Here is an annotated version of his full email:
I am getting sick of reading about this. A lot of damage is going on and people need the facts.
First, let me qualify myself:
- I was one of the five judges at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon. Yes, I had to sit through six hours of 264 presentations.
- I was also there backstage when the female judges lost their shit where I had to calm them and the TechCrunch management were fuming and worried someone else would do this unprecedented thing that day.
The "female judges" who Bizannes believes he saved from lady hysteria would be Marci Harris, the CEO of PopVox; and April Underwood, Twitter's director of product.
- the apology the team wrote was because I told them to do it and they are not talking to any more press since I gave them a schooling. I wrote them a detailed apology because they had no idea what to write hours after the event, and later they wrote a completely new one with several female friend's of theirs which was more their own words.
The longer apology they wrote, by the way, is on the official Titstare Facebook page, where it went relatively unnoticed. He goes on:
- the guys worked on a different idea. They gave up and in the early hours of the next morning and changed it to Tit stare, because they thought they needed to do something to get the free tickets and thought they might as well have fun.
- the submission system was broken and they couldn't submit their app. Geoff McQueen (the Aussie host) minutes before the event started told them bad luck -- I was there when Geoff walked off and the (unbeknownst to me) Tit stare team member who I had met a few days earlier for the first time asked me if I could help. I said sorry man, they are tight today on scheduling.
- We watched a brave nine year old girl present an app about playmates, who's was number 237 on the list but was bumped to be one of the earlier presentations. Everyone was busy on the sidelines preparing their pitch so it's likely the guys didn't even see the pitch as they called up 50 teams at a time to prepare. You try organising 284 presentations from teams that didn't exist 24 hours earlier, it's harder than you think.
So as many suspected, Titstare was an even more last-minute presentation than is normal for a hackathon, which runs on flying by the seat of one's pants. Since the duo got in for free (reminder: the audience paid to see Titstare) as participants, they had to do something on stage to earn those free spots. The rest practically writes itself: why not Titstare? It's a fun Aussie hack! Back to the email:
- Presentation 66 was an app where a dude starting making wanking movements. It was juvenile but people laughed.
- When presentation 68 came, we were told there has been a change to what was going on and that this was 68a.
- Presentation 68b (tits stare) come on stage after 68a and did their presentation. If you haven't seen it, here it is: http://valleywag.gawker.com/techcrunch-disrupt-kicks-off-with-titstare-app-and-fa-1274394925. You will notice it's a presentation intending to take the piss out of guys who stare at women's breasts, a fact people seem to misinterpret as myopic due to the fact they guys made fun of the viral internet article we've seen for years that staring at women's breasts is good for your health and some cheesy play on words.
Yeah, we missed that, somewhere between the terrible breast puns, the constant giggling of the presenters, and the absolutely zero jokes made at the expense of men.
Fate would have it that the next presentation was number 69 (which one of the judges thought was the reason they did this presentation, until I corrected her) and Ariana Richards who made headlines earlier this year for being fired due to Tweeting sexism at a conference, happened to be standing behind them on stage as they made their presentation.
And now, prepare to learn why all the ladies (and men) who find Titstare offensive are wrong:
If this presentation was a skit on Full Frontal or a comedy club, people wouldn't have said anything and laughed just like they did at the conference. Step away from the objectification of a female body part, and you will see it was an attempt at comedy. The words, the timing -- it was an attempt on comedy, not an attack on women.
It was juvenile, it was rude. But that's what some comedy is: saying the things people don't say and that are politically incorrect. The last fact a major cultural difference between Australia and California: Australian culture, like British culture (hello page 3 girls) is very male dominated and crude -- we grow up politically incorrect and tolerate things more than our American friends. I offend an American every day here in San Francisco, and usually it's just me trying to order my lunch. I'm not saying that's right, but it's why you will find more Aussies less offended by this.
Strangely, the writer seems to understand the difference between part of what went wrong with Titstare — the objectification and alienation of women — and actual satire, while simultaneously dismissing the sexism in the presentation as peripheral to the real issue:
What the guys did was wrong: they used a sensitive term in the context of a female body part (tit) in a offensive way for a behavior women need to tolerate often (men staring at their breasts) at a professional event which did not have a mandate for comedy and had unspoken expectations of respect. That said, had they called their app "Douche Bag tracker" and focussed it on pathetic men who stare at women's breasts at they talked to them, they would have got a standing ovation from women who deal with this on a daily basis.
But the rest is blowing things out of proportion -- the guys found a nerve (glass ceiling, women in tech, general male sleaze bag behavior) and smashed it with a hammer with their political incorrectness in a culture where if you fart you've caused global warming. Add to the fact it was Sunday, the slowest news day; and that Valley Wag loves to trash anyone when they can and boom, you have a controversy that is bigger than it deserves.
To be fair, Titstare, if anything, created extra work for tech bloggers on the Lord's Day.
Here's Bizannes's conclusion, where we learn that thinking worse of the Titstare dudes is tantamount to being Dick Cheney's best pal:
I'm not defending the guys: they screwed up and deserve the consequences. It will serve as a lesson in how to respect women, which all us men need to learn as we don't realise sometimes, unintentionally, our words and actions make women uncomfortable (which I learned due to my sisters, but guys with brothers miss out on as an education). But if anyone in the Australian tech industry chooses to ostracize them because they fail to actually reflect on that they did and how the press is manipulating this story to be worse then it actually is, then I'm disappointed in you. Why? Because you're just as bad as the majority of American's who thought Al-Qaeda was in Iraq and hence one of the stupidest wars of recent memory, all thanks to taking things hook line and sinker due to the media.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.