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Sorry, Google guy: ‘Biological’ reasons have justified sexism long enough

Alexandra Eul is an editor at EMMA, Europe's oldest and largest feminist magazine. She is a visiting journalist to The Globe and Mail and Arthur F. Burns Fellow.

Thank you, James Damore. Finally, someone has the guts to speak the truth: Women are not made for a great career in a rational industry such as technology. Our female brains are just too female. Too emotional, too empathetic, too agreeable, too focused on people. We are too focused on our hobbies, instead of working late at Google offices to increase our status in a man's world. Plus: We are so anxious. We can't handle stress either: That's why we tend to be hysterical every so often.

So it is that we need a real man such as Mr. Damore to put the world back in order. A 28-year-old, white, self-proclaimed "classical liberal" and, until recently, a software engineer at Google's search division. His 10-page internal memo, titled Google's Ideological Echo Chamber, went viral last weekend: It's just another puzzle piece in the accusations of extreme discrimination of female employees at Google, if the continuing lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Labor is to be believed. (Accusations that Google firmly denies.)

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According to Mr. Damore, the lack of women in tech is not a result of systemic discrimination, no. It is nature – and caused by the biological differences between women and men. If there are any real victims at all, it's men like Mr. Damore, according (of course) to Mr. Damore. He has been silenced by a monoculture of "political correctness" that has taken over Google, the tech industry and the world.

On Monday, Mr. Damore was fired – and another sharp debate about sexism took over Silicon Valley. And for good reason: His belief in the so-called universal biological differences always has been the bottom line for sexism and racism alike. And his argument doesn't seem to be in line with the image that Google (and arguably most of Silicon Valley) has been working on for years. As an industry, tech has long been believed to be a hostile bro club that satisfies men's demand for power by creating new technologies that make them even more powerful.

That's not to say Google doesn't try very hard to present itself as a diverse, open, welcoming company. But for a dose of reality, take a look at Google's latest diversity report: 80 per cent of the tech developers are male, a number that hasn't changed much during the past three years.

Mr. Damore's memo to his co-workers reveals once again where this culture comes from. The company's promise to "support diversity at Google and beyond" is nothing but a small cosmetic correction when it comes to the sexist culture rooted deeply in an industry that has long been thought of as a man's playground. That Mr. Damore argues on a biological background – that women as such are more open to "aesthetics and feelings rather than ideas," prefer "people rather than things" and are more "gregarious" and "agreeable" than men – might even sound like a compliment to some women. But in the end, this argument reduces all females to a role we have been forced into. As Simone de Beauvoir writes in her book, The Second Sex, "One is not born a woman, but becomes one."

History is full of examples where the "nature of women" was used to exclude women from all sorts of bro clubs. In Germany, for example, women were excluded from universities until the early 1900s. In those days, scholars such as the physician Theodor von Bischoff argued that women's intellectual development is "much closer to a child than a man" – proven by measuring the size of their heads and brains. Or recall the Suffragettes fighting for women's right to vote in Great Britain, which was finally granted in 1928: One of their greatest challenges was to erase the idea that women weren't able to think in a political way.

Sexism in technology has been an open secret for decades. Studies have shown that women enter the so-called STEM-sector (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in high numbers – but a lot of them flee their jobs within the first year because they can't handle the hostile atmosphere.

Thankfully, more women are speaking up against the everyday sexism they face, such as former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, or the six women who stood up against the alleged sexual advances of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck.

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Despite what Mr. Damore believes, women do strive for success and higher status. We are not always nice, and we'll refuse to adhere to some sexist excuse of a biological notion about how we're supposed to be: Maybe that's what men such as Mr. Damore fear most.

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