Aug 14, 2017 ยท 8 minutes

It’s hard to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of depressing news coming out of the White House and the most “respected” and highly valued corners of Silicon Valley.

The summer has brought allegations of sexual harassment that have brought down one venture firm, Binary Capital, and sees another one, 500 Startups, losing limited partners as its founder left in disgrace. It has seen careers of other VCs ending loudly and quietly throughout the Valley. It has seen a Google engineer actually argue that white men have more power because they are biologically superior. Google’s management acted swiftly to fire the engineer in question, but only after the memo that had been internally circulated for some time finally came to light in the press.

And most disturbing, we’ve seen “respected” men across the Valley argue that the engineer's “valid” point of view shouldn’t be silenced. Even despite the engineer having jumped straight from Google into the arms of so-called “alt right” bigots.

I would hope that once the people who drove the hatred we saw this weekend Charlottesville this past weekend -- you know, actual nazis-- start to take up your cause, it might give you pause. Might make you wonder why you so badly need to believe this manifesto has “merit”?

Not so much towards the end of last week, when David Brooks argued in the New York Times that Sundar Pichai should be fired as Google CEO. Fired for kicking hate speech being promoted by bigots and racists out of his company. Brooks-- astoundingly-- argued that Damore hadn’t said anything negative about his non-white-male colleagues… in a memo where he said his race and gender were biologically superior. Um… Ok.

That was before the weekend. So how about today?

How about after watching actual nazis march in a US city with swastikas and spewing hatred for minorities? How about after an alleged nazi sympathizer drives a car into counter protesters? How about after the President can not even bring himself to condemn American nazis in the aftermath of this horror? Do we still think it’s important to consider whether a guy whose “manifesto” on gender (and, again let’s not forget, race) were so firmly embraced by bigots and hatemongers?

Amid this unbelievable and way too close to home shit show of basic human disrespect, you’d be forgiven for missing another piece of depressing news that came out over the last few days. Something central to why women become so marginalized in fields like engineering.

Aaron Perksy, the judge in the Brock Turner trial, has pulled a judicial Hail Mary to stop the effort to recall him.

Last Friday, a legal motion halted the recall campaign that was just starting to get signatures to push forward. Persky filed for “a temporary restraining order” that would prevent the campaign against him to collect the signatures needed to trigger the recall election in June.

It was a devastating blow not only for Michele Dauber, the Stanford professor who has painstaking raised nearly half a million dollars to fund the recall. It’s a devastating blow for the voters of Santa Clara County who are in danger of having their right to vote taken away from them. 67% of people in Santa Clara County favor the recall, and 85% of women do. Clearly Persky has calculated that he’ll fare better with his friends and colleagues in the judiciary than those voters.

"Our petition was approved Wednesday after months of working with the County to ensure that it closely followed all legal requirements,” Dauber told Pando. “Our signature effort was underway. This lawsuit is simply a last-ditch desperate effort by Judge Persky to avoid the democratic process. The Constitution and the California Elections Code are completely clear. We scrupulously followed every provision required by law, as did the County in approving our petition and telling us that we can collect signatures."

It’s attack on the first amendment too, Dauber argues. “Judge Persky sought an injunction against anyone from circulating the recall petition and this injunction clearly and on its face violates the First Amendment,” she says. “Petitioning is a fundamental right. It is core protected political speech -- the right of petitioning is literally in the First Amendment. Judge Persky is damaging our democratic process, he is damaging our First Amendment rights, and he is doing it because he is afraid of facing the voters. He should be ashamed. And he should be recalled."

It’s mostly a blow to every corner of the burgeoning women’s movement in this country. If women can’t safely study majors like computer science at the most elite universities without fear of sexual assault, how do we expect companies like Uber or firms like Binary Capital to treat them any better?

Let’s review a few facts: Brock Turner was found guilty of three felony counts of sexual assault. There were witnesses. There was forensic evidence. The victim fully cooperated. There was no ambiguity here. But he got a lenient sentence from the judge who worried a harsher sentence could have a negative impact on Turner’s future. As for the permanent damage inflicted on his victim, Persky just noted that that damage was already done.

It was shocking then and remains shocking. Imagine, a judge in a murder trial using that same logic.

Of course, the more the history of Persky’s lenient sentencing for jocks came to light, the less shocking it all was.

43%  of Stanford undergrads experience sexually assault or sexual misconduct, and schools like Stanford aren’t much better. Until this is addressed, women will never have equality in careers like tech. Because many of them have to fight through toxic male spaces and counseling to get the same networking benefits that men do. This is why the whole “pipeline problem” myth breaks down. 50% of the entry level computer science classes at Berkeley and Stanford are women. Something sure happens to them after orientation…

As Michele Dauber said when I interviewed her almost a year ago:

The vast majority of sexual assault occurs in the first semester of freshman year. These women are showing up and going, ‘I want to be a founder, I want to be an engineer, I am at Stanford, and I can’t wait!’ And then they get assaulted and that changes everything. Instead of learning to code or instead of learning to start a company and instead of meeting with people in the Valley who could advance their careers, they are going to trauma counseling and taking incompletes and seeing their grades plummet. They are derailed almost immediately upon coming in the door...Is it any wonder a girl who has been assaulted does not want to enter this space? I have seen this happen personally, where they come in and want to do this and get assaulted and now they are an English major, because they want to do something that has more women and women faculty that will be supportive of them.

If you want to get to very beginning of where women in tech start to be treated like they are… “biologically inferior”, where they start to get marginalized, schools like Stanford and judges like Aaron Persky who put the futures of men over the trauma they’ve inflicted on women are all good places to start.

And -- thank the Lord for one sign of humanity left-- most people in Santa Clara county agree. Enough agreed that Dauber has been able to raise the nearly prohibitive amount of capital necessary to give them the right to have their voices heard.

And so this is why Persky is fighting this battle in court. He’s hoping Dauber won’t be able to raise the increased money to fight it, that momentum will stall in a world even more filled with daily atrocities against women than it was at the time of Turner’s assault.

And that approach may work, even if his claim is meritless.

Vote suppression… where have we heard about that tactic lately to keep your job?

Ah yes, the White House. Earlier this month, Persky hired a former Trump operative to run his campaign. You couldn’t draw a clearer line between holding a white male’s future above the assault of a woman, a President who defended a dozen claims of sexual assault by saying the women were too ugly to be assaulted, and everything else that’s played out in the Valley this summer around race and gender.

"Judge Persky's campaign disclosures show that he went out and hired Donald Trump's Arizona State Director to run his campaign,” Dauber says. “Then he, in true Trump style, ran to the courthouse with a frivolous lawsuit intended to harass and intimidate his critics. His goal appears clearly to be to stall and delay the election and cause the campaign to waste time and money.

“His Trump operative charged him thousands for polling which I am sure confirmed what all the polls show -- he is going to lose because the voters of this county don't want a judge who treats women so badly and who treats white defendants better than defendants of color. He was going to lose. So he ran to court."

I keep hearing from wealthy men in the Valley who ask me what they can do to make things better than they are now. Here’s a concrete answer:

If you are a lawyer, the recall effort could use some pro-bono help. If you have money, the financial burden to put this on the ballot just got higher. The victim of Brock Turner’s assault has already done the hardest part. In a long slog, Dauber has already raised half a million to get this on the ballot. The constituents Persky is supposed to serve should have a right to cast their votes.