Chaos Monkeys: Relations between the sexes in Silicon Valley

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez complements the New York Times coverage of Ellen Pao and similar.

How do men and women (or “employees who currently identify as men” and “employees who currently identify as women”) get along at Facebook?

Picture the Facebook corporate scene for a moment: buildings full of young, emotionally inept male geeks, and sprinkled throughout them, maybe a 10 percent population of young women. What could possibly go wrong? Rather than harshly regulate every step of this sexual-legal minefield, Facebook preferred to lay down basic guidelines. Delicately, but unambiguously, our HR Man stated that we could ask a coworker out once, but no meant no, and you had no more lets after that. After one ask, you were done, and anything beyond that was subject to sanction. So you get one shot on goal, do you? I thought. Better use that one shot wisely.

An idle mind is the devil’s playground, as the saying goes, so in the meantime I got down to the serious business, as some product managers do, of trying to bang my product marketing manager. PMMess, as we’ll call her, was composed of alternating Bézier curves from top to bottom: convex, then concave, and then convex again, in a vertical undulation you couldn’t take your eyes off of. Unlike most women at Facebook (or in the Bay Area, really) she knew how to dress; forties-style, form-fitting dresses from neck to knee were her mainstay. Her blond hair was offset by olive skin, and bright blue eyes shone like headlights from her neotenic face. She had a charming perfectionism around email orthography and usage, despite the generally rushed illiteracy that reigned in Facebook corporate communication. We traded flirtarious barbs around whether CPM was an initialism or an abbreviation, and whether a needlessly flowery formulation of mine, written in response to some insipid corporate conversation, was a metonym or a metaphor. Like me, PMMess would lose herself in bouts of louche, ethanolic self-destruction that typically ended in some disinhibited act of carnality. A couple of times already, such behavior had involved me, though only at a relatively PG-rated level of barside making out.

What are employers missing by having more male employees than female employees? [Remember the question of “Should the SEC make it illegal for public companies to employ men?”] Martinez differs from Hillary Clinton here:

Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.

What about after hours?

The runway for its accelerated particles travels alongside Sand Hill Road, under Interstate 280, and into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which define the western border of Silicon Valley. Lastly, there’s a high-class brothel: the Rosewood Sand Hill, a posh restaurant and hotel complex wedged in between SLAC and the Sand Hill–Interstate 280 intersection. Thursday nights at Sand Hill are famous for serving as “cougar nights,” where older, lonely women (and younger ones explicitly on the clock) congregate to ensnare Sand Hill’s wealthy denizens.

Martinez chronicles his close association with one particular woman, whom he refers to as “British Trader” due to her former career as an oil trader:

The contemporary honeymoon of a several-week fuck-fest, consummated at the start of a new romantic liaison, played itself out comme il faut. No surprises really, other than British Trader’s taste for being physically dominated in bed, a bit of a surprise given her alpha-female exterior. To a woman, every girlfriend of mine has been intelligent, ambitious, and independent. Until very recently, all were vastly more successful and wealthier than me. And yet, come the pressing hour of physical need, so unfolded the countless boudoir scenes recalling Fragonard’s Le Verrou: a ravished chambermaid, half resisting and half yielding, violently seized in the arms of her predatory lover, who slams shut the bolt on the bedroom door.

She gets pregnant while they are dating and decides to have the child:

I invite anyone with a philosophical bent to witness a human birth and observe as unstoppable forces meet immovable objects, with neither yielding. Modern medicine does little to resolve this paradox made flesh. The only real differences between the bloody, screaming tableau before me and that of, say, my grandmother’s birth a century ago in rural northern Spain by candlelight, were the little plastic packets of mineral oil, like the salad dressing at a Denny’s, that nurses would regularly crack open and pour over the heaving, tumescent mass down south. It was a sweaty, white-knuckle affair shattered by piercing shrieks of pain that resonated across the maternity ward, and which the heavy institutional doors the nurses slammed shut did little to stifle. I quietly entertained bouts of Mad Men–esque nostalgia for a time when men simply paced nervously and smoked in some other room while the dirty business was completed. … After two hours of battle, old flesh yielded bloodily to new, and Zoë Ayala came into the world.

Martinez does not enjoy domestic life:

By the time AdGrok [a Y Combinator-funded startup] had managed to free itself from the existential crisis, my relationship with British Trader was suffering under stress and our mutual friction. I was done with her imperious hectoring and stiff upper lip. Living with her en concubinage with Zoë resembled less some bohemian family sitcom, and more a stint in the Queen’s army. … British Trader’s desire to be absolute captain of the ship was fine, but there’s only one captain of a ship or company. If she wanted the role, she could maintain the house herself.

Right around when the Adchemy drama was winding down to its victorious conclusion in late 2010, I decided I had had enough of the British barracks room I was living in, and announced I was leaving the household, and British Trader.

Out of nowhere British Trader informs me she is once again pregnant; the calendar math takes us right back to my move-out imbroglio in December, our last tryst after a breakup desert of nonintimacy. After a brief debate, British Trader confirms her desire to keep the child, whatever my thoughts on the matter.

It occurred to me that perhaps this most recent experiment in fertility—and the first—had been planned on British Trader’s part, her back up against the menopause wall, a professional woman with every means at her disposal except a willing male partner—in which case I had been snookered into fatherhood via warm smiles and pliant thighs, the oldest tricks in the book.

Perhaps due to the California child support guidelines extending to infinite levels of income and being applied rigidly by judges, the biological parents avoid litigation. Consistent with “Parental Responses to Child Support Obligations” (Rossin-Slater and Wust, 2016), based on Danish data, as the mother’s profits from child-ownership are increased the father’s non-financial investment in the child is decreased:

Informally, British Trader and I worked out a payment schedule that complied with recommended California state child-support levels. Like the Civil War draft, in which the wealthy could pay a commoner to take their spot on the firing line, I paid my way out of fatherhood, mostly out of fear of the compromise to freedom it represented. I retained visitation rights, but those would be conditional on my always rocky relationship with British Trader. It would suck, but I was ambiguous about my suitability as a father anyhow (as was British Trader).

Martinez fits this into a more comprehensive theory:

What’s my big beef with capitalism? That it desacralizes everything, robs the world of wonder, and leaves it as nothing more than a vulgar market. The fastest way to cheapen anything—be it a woman, a favor, or a work of art—is to put a price tag on it. And that’s what capitalism is, a busy greengrocer going through his store with a price-sticker machine—ka-CHUNK! ka-CHUNK!—$4.10 for eggs, $5 for coffee at Sightglass, $5,000 per month for a run-down one-bedroom in the Mission. … That’s the smoldering ambition of every entrepreneur: to one day create an organization that society deems worthy of a price tag. … These are the only real values we have left in the twilight of history, the tired dead end of liberal democratic capitalism, at least here in the California fringes of Western civilization. Clap at the clever people getting rich, and hope you’re among them. … Is it a wonder that the inhabitants of such a world clamor for contrived rituals of artificial significance like Burning Man, given the utter bankruptcy of meaning in their corporatized culture?

[What would the price tag actually have been for the use of British Trader’s body and her services as a mother? Martinez says that she was out of the oil game and earning only a standard MBA’s salary ($250,000/year?). Martinez discloses that his own pre-tax compensation during his best years was close to $1 million (mostly in Facebook stock). If we plug those numbers into the California child support calculator, using the default of 20 percent time with the father, British Trader gets $97,248 per year, tax-free. ADP Paycheck calculator shows that she would have earned $149,945 after taxes. Thus if her pre-tax salary had been $250,000 per year, by obtaining custody of two children British Trader increased her after-tax spending power by 65 percent.]

Martinez is gracious regarding at least two women in the end-credits:

Thanks to British Trader, who not only bore most of the burden of raising our children but also provided invaluable counsel during the most trying times. Shame that a household, like a ship, admits only one captain. Thanks to Israeli Psychologist, my long-suffering mate during the Facebook half of this book, without whose warm ministrations I’d never have survived that infernal experience. As your people once wrote: “A woman of valour, who can find? For her price is far above rubies. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and the law of kindness is on her tongue.” Your endless kindness deserved a worthier target.

More: read Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley

8 thoughts on “Chaos Monkeys: Relations between the sexes in Silicon Valley

  1. Sounds like he tried to be a poet, in a millenial way. Wonder how he encountered so many women who weren’t married yet able to have kids. In small companies in 2001, it was all men & the 1 woman was married unless she was over 50. The story must have been a lot different in marketing departments at large companies in 2009.

  2. LOL. I’ve never had anyone analyze my domestic situation in more detail than this. Almost goes without saying that much of the analysis is wrong, but understandably so. I skipped much of the domestic detail that wasn’t relevant to the greater story; who wants to hear about child support and paternity issues in a book about tech?
    Nonetheless, the attention is flattering. Hope you found the non-domestics sections (which form the bulk of the book) as equally interesting.

  3. @ AMG #3, given your appreciation of Philip’s sparse embellishments of a few quotes from your book as some profound, in-depth social commentary on your life (acc. to the principle of “no feedback is negative”), I’m sure you will doubly appreciate my three earlier comments about it, in  chrono  order.

    PS. your attention span prevented you from finding out, researching? beforehand, that in this blog we, the readers, gather explicitly to read about child support and paternity issues, esp. when applied to waitresses having sex with three rich-bastards dermatologists etc. each, and thus becoming set up for life.

  4. Antonio: thanks for commenting. I have a bunch more posts coming about your book, which I think is one of the more important books of our time. Internet advertising and Facebook are remaking big sections of our society and you are, as far as I know, the only person who has written with total honesty about the inside experience.

  5. Another way to understand why this book is so important is that the alternative for learning about life inside Facebook and Internet advertising is to read journalists who spend a few days talking to insiders on their best behavior.

  6. I am glad to hear from AGM there is nothing about domestic life that will add greatly to a career in tech. If only we could convince the women!

    But maybe you should of leaned in…

  7. The analysis is fascinating, however, anyone who knows Britsh Trader likely also knows that she receives $0 in child support from AGM.

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