LA-based entrepreneurs Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer wanted to create Witchsy, an online marketplace for their feminist-centered, darkly comic fashion accessories. But along with the usual woes that come with getting a startup off the ground, they had another problem: men.
Talking to Fast Company, the duo discussed the phallus-shaped hurdles that stood between them and their goal. Getting any business venture off the ground requires a small army of third-party collaborators, marketers, mentors, graphic designers, and web developers. Dwyer and Gazin found that email exchanges with male contractors were terse, condescending, and misogynist. They say one web developer, for example, tried deleting code from their site when he was turned down for a date. Another started an email to his clients with “Okay, girls...”
Frustrated, they came up with a plan. They created a fake partner, Keith Mann, to field their email correspondence.
“It was like night and day,” Dwyer told Fast Company. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”
She says that Witschy has now sold over $200,000 in art, managing to turn a “small profit” even as the duo give 80 percent of each sale to the creators of goods on the site.
The bottomless assholery of sexism in tech is unavoidable. It’s somehow both extensively well documented, and yet still fervently, almost fanatically denied by men in tech. Silicon Valley is obsessed with data collection, yet woman are still forced to “prove” that sexism isn’t just in their heads. It’s made for an exhausting and intractably complicated maze, and kudos to these two for figuring out how to survive long enough to get their business off the ground. For now, Keith Mann is in retirement, but the pair says they’ll re-start using the moniker if need arises. Rest easy, Mann.