Penelope Trunk’s Skewed Perceptions Of The World, Part 2

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By Anna Billstrom (Developer, Momentus Media) Editor's note: Founder and CEO of Lark, Julia Hu's editorial on pitching for venture capital as a woman is an excellent read on women starting companies and raising VC.

As usual, Penelope Trunk is fanning the flames and creating controversy (Part 1 is here). Her latest is in TechCrunch, "Stop Telling Women to Start Startups" (ironically linked to by a female startup CEO friend of mine).

If you don’t know Penelope Trunk, she had a blog 10 years ago about job-hunting (based on her experience as a professional volleyball player… really). She’s founded companies but they are more extensions of her brand as a media/journalist. She’s definitely like Scoble where she’s a big personality, but not an inventor. Anyway, take that into account regarding her opinions on VC funding and startups.

Back to her points, which are valid, and interesting. Her delivery detracts from getting her point across. I think her point is: we should make it easier for men to be primary caregivers of young children. Yay! Yes! But the way I wrote it -- not a very sexy thesis or title.

Granted, she tries to be kinda clear here in her first statement: “We need to get more guys who are running tech startups instead decide to be stay-at-home dads.” I am pretty sure she agrees with me about making parenting more gender-neutral but instead she makes it all TechCrunchy and unnecessarily controversial.

Here comes the part where she channels backlash feminism akin to Camille Paglia and Ann Coulter. Penelope Trunk: “If you are worried that women don’t feel capable of doing whatever they want, you can stop worrying.” So many assumptions and double negatives! I think she’s responding to a concern that women feel unable to get what they want, and she’s going to negate that. We can get what we want.

“Women outperform men in school at such a huge rate that it’s easier to get into college as a male than a female.” So first, believe that women outperform men in school (which school/grade, etc.? Reference?) Swallow that, then negate it again with, it’s offsetting a college admittance quota (I think that’s what she’s saying, not sure) therefore, men are being preferred?

In total: we have it all ladies, quit bitchin’. And if you’re still with me, women in their 20s earn more than men. That 75 cents women earn per man’s dollar, the glass ceiling, etc. forget it.

While I’ve read various accounts that she refers to, I’ve also read contrary ones. It’s not scholarly or definitive, so I’m like, maybe 50% with her in believability at this point without taking into account the context, which is, she writes for a living and the most professional job she’s had was in sports.

Moving on…

“Women would probably continue out-earning men except that when men and women have kids, women choose to downshift way more often than men do.” OK now that’s interesting, and I think we’ve all read the recent studies about women under-earning progressively through their career -- though some attribute it to negotiation skills and not just childcare choices.

So right when you’re back in rational land and maybe even agreeing with her, she internally links to one of her own blog posts and makes (uncomfortable squirm) the biological argument: “Men and women are different.” Really? Interesting. Not. It’s like you’re going to tell me, because I’m a girl I’m bad at math or can’t think fast enough to be a programmer.

Then I think she was like, wait, the title of my blog post is about startups, I need to get back to that, so she starts going on and on about women not pitching to VCs. How she’s done it, these other writers haven’t, so her opinion is better, blah blah. Kind of lost me. That is, seriously, an entirely different topic and a really interesting one, don’t get me wrong.

First, you can start a company without VC money. I’m in one, my mom had one, etc. Then, in classic Penelope Trunk fashion she overshares: “But I can tell that all three times I’ve done it, raising money for a startup has been hell [ed: internal link to more oversharing], so I think we should really be asking why anyone would want to try to convince someone to do it.” It’s so like her to be personal, and bewildering. Why was it hell? Why do you continue to do it? Isn’t it biasing your argument to admit you hated it? Why did you do something you hate? On and on.

But it is a controversial topic now in startup land, whys and wherefores of gender disparity in startup world- from funding to being the funder. She doesn’t help understand it or present a new idea, except perhaps her first statement, that, rephrased into something boring and real, I can stand behind, except I disagree.

I think it is easy for men to be primary caregivers in this industry. Five to ten years ago, I worked as a database and CRM consultant for large corporations. I traveled and telecommuted a lot. I worked remotely with lots of guys, almost 100% guys. It’s significant in my memory -- and I’m not sure how to quantify this so I’m not going to try -- but a lot of them worked from home part-time and took significant roles in caring for their young children.

I am positing that in the corporate world, in IT, and in the last 10 years, it is a lot easier to have non-traditional hours and working conditions, such that guys can play a 50% or higher role in childcare. Back to the article: Penelope Trunk pisses off a lot of hard-working women in startups by making these outlandish generalizations. And, she’s wrong.

So at the end, she adds her spin: “Men can stay home. Women can do startups. The thing is, most don’t want to. And that’s okay.”

So, in her view men don’t want to stay home. It’s very contrary to what I have personally experienced. I’ve worked with guys who wanted to take care of their young children, and didn’t want to start a company (at this point in their lives). Sweeping generalizations -- there are people OF BOTH PERSUASIONS.

Let it be open, Penelope, like I think you want to convey, but fail at doing so. Let men, who want to, stay home and care for young children, let women, who want to, start companies in their child-bearing years. Voila. And, guess what! You can say this without pissing off the hardworking female entrepreneurs!!

Oh, right. TechCrunch won’t post a blog post like that, ha.

Great article on TechCrunch by Eric Ries (OK sometimes they post pro-feminist stuff).

By the way, I would *love* to see Penelope and Eric on a panel. Am I wrong? Who’s in!!??!!

This post was originally posted at Banane.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Anna Billstrom is a developer with Momentus Media, a startup in the Mission District of San Francisco specializing in helping brands go viral. Their recent app "8 Bit Your Pic" for Black Eyed Peas saw 2 million users in 2 weeks. She's done the gamut of OLAP DB modeling to iPhone development and Ruby on Rails. Currently, Anna is enjoying the fast lane of rapid, viral app development on Facebook. Contact her at anna@momentusmedia.com or follow her on Twitter at @banane.