Felix Salmon, guest-blogging for Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, had a post yesterday titled "Bitcoin's Problem with Women."
Men make up an estimated 96% of the Bitcoin community, which means that if Bitcoin does end up succeeding, as its adherents think it will, and if the people who own Bitcoin see their holdings soar in value, then all of the profits will end up going to what Brett Scott calls the "crypto-patriarchy." Not many men, to be sure: as Charlie Stross says, the degree of inequality in the Bitcoin economy "is ghastly, and getting worse, to an extent that makes a sub-Saharan African kleptocracy look like a socialist utopia." But it's not many men, and effectively zero women.
I guess I don't get it. Is this the result of some sort of active discrimination, or is it just one of those choices that tend to skew male or female (like the decision to become a lumberjack or a health care worker)? I know most of the cryptography world is dominated by paranoid men, and many of these same folks were the early adopters of Bitcoin.
Beyond one lame anecdote (where one random guy at some Bitcoin function mistook a female VC for a girlfriend of the real VC), the author does not seem to present any evidence of systematic discrimination and exclusion. Knowing some of these Bitcoin and cyptography people, though, many are from the family of guys who are socially inept and were shunned by girls in high school, so I would not be surprised if they are awkward around women.
If anything, much of his post seems actually be an exercise in gender stereotyping, arguing that men care about politics and ideology and women about community and practicality. Seriously, under the guise of somehow defending the equality of women, he bares his gender assumptions:
If you talk about Bitcoin with the people who use it, the language they use is always about technology and finance. Bitcoiners tend to think in terms of how things work, rather than how they're used in the real world. Buying and selling Bitcoin is still much more difficult than it should be, despite many years of development, which implies that people aren’t concentrating enough on real-world ease-of-use....
That's a product design job, and frankly, it's a product design job well-suited for women who aren't approaching the problem while grinding the ideological axes so widely held inside the Bitcoin community. As one woman involved with Bitcoin put it to me, "Money is a political issue for Bitcoiners. It's a human issue for everybody else."...
Let's say you wanted to build a mobile savings app in sub-Saharan African. If you asked male Bitcoin developers to build such a thing for a target audience of young African girls, they might have talked about how to maximize the amount of money saved. But, working on the ground in South Africa, the Praekelt Foundation came from a different perspective. Apps like these aren't really about maximizing savings, so much as they're about empowerment. If you can build a product for girls that ratifies their identity and individuality and gives them self-esteem, then you're creating something much more valuable than a few dollars' worth of savings: you're keeping them in school, and you're keeping them healthy, and you're helping themto not get pregnant. That's the kind of way that cryptocurrencies could change the world. The problem is that the men in Popper's book just don't think that way.
But I digress. The key point is this: Bitcoin is a freaking open source, anonymous platform. Anyone can work with it. No one even has to know your gender (like the old internet joke about no one online knows you are a dog).
Throughout the piece he talks about the "Bitcoin community" as if it is some structured body, the membership in which is required to work with Bitcoin, like saying that one has to be a long-standing member in good standing of the Communist Party to join the Soviet Politboro. But the Bitcoin community is no such thing. A better definition of it is "people who happen to be working with Bitcoin today." You no more need to be a member of the current bitcoin community, or even be known or liked by them, to create your business or service model in Bitcoin than you need to be pals with Tim Berners-Lee to be able to create an Internet company.
The whole point of why we wacky (male) libertarians get all excited about bitcoin is not that it somehow ends gender or racial or any other sort of discrimination, but that it helps makes all of these more irrelevant. I won't pretend to read Salmon's mind, but if I had to guess, he is frustrated because he sees the capability of Bitcoin to help end discrimination. If that is true, great. But many of us assume that bad people with bad motives will always exist, so we seek out anonymous currencies and cryptography so we can live our lives without the permission or even knowledge of these people.