Is It Alright to Call a Female Founder “Miss Thang”?

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How about if you’re Dave McClure? That’s the question a tweet from the founder of 500 Startups about our PITCH Competition raised this weekend.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Applications close for our PITCH Competition on January 10th, so this weekend several startup heavyweights took to Twitter to urge their networks not to miss the deadline. Among them was Dave McClure. Here’s what he tweeted:

We’re obviously thrilled to have McClure remind followers of our competition for female founders, in fact, Dave and several partners at 500Startups have been long-time judges for the competition and have funded some companies from the competition itself, including and TinyPost (which got acquired quickly after the competition), HealthyOut and GreenGar .  Though not everyone was so appreciative of the text — not it’s quirky wording at least. Among those offended was VC


But not everyone was so taken aback by McClure’s attempt to jazz up his tweet with a bit of humor. Among those not particularly bothered was our own CEO Shaherose Charania, who clearly found McClure’s text more humorous than offensive:

“My connotation to the word is light hearted and humorous. Growing up, I associated the word with the album of one of my favorite R&B artists, Monica, who has an album of the same title. My friends and I would playfully call each other Miss Thang. The context and associations were different, were open, were not negative. But context is everything. My environment in a very multicultural suburb in Canada had its nuances that only I would understand. Clearly others had different associations,” she explains.

“Further, knowing Dave personally, I was very aware he meant no harm but only humor. I did not question his intent. If you don’t know Dave, if you had very clear connotations to the phrase, I can understand how it could be misunderstood.”

The takeaway, according to Shaherose: “Twitter is a unique social environment; 97% of what you say is HOW you say it — body language. With limited characters and no body language, Twitter is ripe for misunderstanding.”

Another person who wasn’t bothered was Cynthia Schames, founder of AbbeyPost and the winner of our last PITCH Competition. Like Shaherose, she noted that context and intent matter, McClure, “is a huge supporter of women in tech” and as founder of an organization well known to support female females at a higher rate than average, had earned himself the right to goof off.

Plus, she also notes the context of the comment, “he’s Southern & used a Southern colloquialism.”

As for McClure himself, his reaction to the criticism was measured and thoughtful. Rather than leaping to defend himself or counter-attack, he quickly acknowledged his comment may have been inadvertently offensive — or, at the very least, decidedly not funny — engaged in conversation with Kunst and ended up tweeting again, this time addressing his comment to “awesome female founders.”

So, we’re curious, what’s your take?

Is it OK to joke around like this if you’re a known friend of women in tech or did McClure’s comment cross the line?

jessicaJessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is the editor of Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.

Photo credit: Joi via Flickr