This is what it’s like to be a woman at a Bitcoin meetup

Posted on January 24, 2014

The other night my good friend & fellow cryptoenthusiast Ryan Shea suggested we head to a new Bitcoin meetup neither of us had been to before. I agreed to meet him there, and though the conversation was stimulating, much of the experience was pretty demeaning.

I walk in and a group of people are already sitting at a long table. I say hi and hover for a second, determining where to sit. Entirely uninvited, and before I even have a chance to react, one guy proceeds to grab me by the waist and pull me into an awkward, grope-y side hug next to him on the bench. To reiterate, I’ve never met this man in my life. I try giving him the benefit of the doubt and make some quip about his being a friendly sort, but it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly when he puts his hand on my leg and leaves it there until I squirm uncomfortably.

Unsurprisingly, this type of treatment wasn’t specially reserved for me. The person who actually suggested the event to Ryan was another young woman (the only other woman at the event), a VC who was in town from San Francisco and was interested in checking it out for the first time. The aforementioned groper knew Ryan vaguely from other Bitcoin events, and greeted their arrival with a warm “Oh, nice to see you! I see you brought your girlfriend this time.” When the two of them try to point out that a) they are not together and b) she was actually the one who had brought him, they are cut off with a swift “Sure, sure, I just wanted to see what the dynamic was between you two.” Apparently that’s code for “checking if you’re ok with my hitting on her,” as that’s exactly what he proceeds to do.

The guy sitting on the other side of me turns and introduces himself. Turns out, he’s the organizer and leader of the meetup. He follows with a swift, “So, how did you find out about this?” I’m honestly not sure if he means the meet up group or Bitcoin in general, so I go with the latter and tell him I’ve been interested (ok, obsessed—my friend Sam Smith may or may not have nicknamed me Cryptoqueen) since around mid 2013, which is when I started buying some.

He then starts to look at me like I’ve suddenly morphed into a unicorn. Literally: bulging eyes, mouth slightly agape, the whole nine yards. Apparently the expected response would have been that I was Ryan’s friend/girlfriend/sister who had somehow accidentally ended up there. “Seriously? You mean you actually own bitcoins? You don’t look like someone who would even know about Bitcoin!”

Err…thanks? It’s not a reaction I’m unfamiliar with (I usually get the same one when people hear I have a motorcycle-and no, it’s not a vespa) so I just smile it off and start explaining my interest in the international implications of widespread bitcoin adoption, especially in countries where currency manipulation by corrupt governments has caused rampant hyperinflation and a host of other economic woes. I conclude the thought, and he (again, staring like I’m some sort of extraterrestrial creature), goes, “Wow. Women don’t usually say that type of things”.

I mean, what do you even respond to that?

Undeterred, I try to sidestep it and go on with my argument, concluding that what I am describing is “much more effective and efficient” than the current system. “Well,” he says looking at me knowingly, “Women don’t usually think in terms of efficiency and effectiveness”.

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A few minutes later he starts describing an app he is working on to someone else at the table. “You see, women don’t care about crypto currencies, so we don’t have to design for them”. When I tell him he’s wrong, he smartly replies, completely in earnest, “Oh ok cool, so if we start dating I can use the app with you!”

The irony here is that he actually meant these things as compliments. But what he was implying that the bar for women is so low that my entirely unremarkable comments put me lightyears ahead of the “average woman” (whatever that even means).

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m pretty thick skinned. My self esteem remained intact throughout the exchange; if anything, it made me more determined to learn. I was not even made to feel unwelcome; these fellows were clearly thrilled at the presence of two women at the event. The problem lies in the conditions under which our company was desired. We were not treated as peers or individuals who might be able to contribute intelligently to the discussion. We were ogled and clearly assumed to be someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s potential future girlfriend.

Was either of us mistreated? Technically, no. But the conditions under which our presence was accepted were such that from the moment we entered the room, the other attendees’s preconceptions were at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall Warren Buffet’s comment that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half of the population. We can view it as an opportunity. Being underestimated can be a surprisingly effective tool in the appropriate context, but perhaps that’s just me being overly optimistic. I know many women, many of whom are far smarter than I am, who would have felt seriously out of place there. Would they go back to the next meet up? I doubt it. If the organizer of the meetup makes people feel so unwelcome, it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.

I’m not bringing these comments up because my feelings were hurt, and the last thing I need is sympathy. I’m also not concerned that one particular guy thinks women couldn’t possibly know about Bitcoin, or that another grabbed at me, but unfortunately this is representative of a larger trend. The current generation of hackathon organizers (largely led by the singular efforts of Dave Fontenot —hellllllyeah) is making a concerted effort to encourage the participation of women at their events, and while I’ve still gotten my share of off-color comments, the situation is gradually improving. Since Bitcoin is still so new, we have the rare opportunity to get onboard before the ship has sailed, becoming knowledgeable before a vast majority of people have ever even heard of it. Learning about it now, instead of trying to play catch-up as it often seems like we are in terms of women in STEM fields, programming, or traditional finance, will surely reap great benefits.

I think my experience at the meetup is worth sharing because Bitcoin lies at the heart of both finance and tech, two industries that carry tremendous weight and which have traditionally struggled to attract women. Given the events of the other night, this is hardly surprising. I am undeterred and if anything will be even more proactive about attending these events. In my mind, it’s a little preposterous that if I want to do so, however, I have to be ok with being felt up and indirectly insulted. If women fail to take an active interest in Bitcoin now, when it is still in its infancy and its potential is largely untapped, we will have yet another sector in which the gender is underrepresented and trailing. Bitcoin as a currency has the ability to revolutionize the banking and financial system, but the implication of Bitcoin as a protocol extend much further than that. I’ll write a post of my own on that soon, but in the meantime I recommend you check out Mark Andreessen’s excellent post on why Bitcoin matters.

Anyways ladies, ignore the naysayers and get out to those Bitcoin meetups! If you want to attend a meetup or chat crypto anytime, shoot me a line on Twitter.


25 Replies to "This is what it's like to be a woman at a Bitcoin meetup"

  • Anthony Alfidi
    February 28, 2014 (12:35 pm)
    Reply

    Mt. Gox had a massive FAIL this week. That’s going to impact Bitcoin in a really big way. The narrow-minded people you met at that meetup never saw it coming.

  • DareDevil
    March 4, 2014 (12:28 pm)
    Reply

    ” Entirely uninvited, and before I even have a chance to react, one guy proceeds to grab me by the waist and pull me into an awkward, grope-y side hug next to him on the bench.”

    “Was either of us mistreated? Technically, no”

  • Bitcoin: Women and Children Last - Buttcoin - The P2P crypto-currency for butts. - Buttcoin - It's Bitcoins with Butts! - Buttcoin.org
    March 4, 2014 (3:25 pm)
    Reply

    […] enough, this list omits Arianna Simpson, a woman who gained a fair bit of attention after attending a Bitcoin meetup in New York City and was marginalized and groped, then treated little better than a child. I […]

  • Hilgi (@hilgi)
    March 6, 2014 (3:50 pm)
    Reply

    This is a common occurrence at Libertarian Party events also, it is a sad refection on all of us activists who promote individual liberty and crypto currency. Having seen this type of action before many of us would give announcements or written suggestions to our members regarding this sort of behavior.

    One of the problems is most of them are rational communicators with poor social skills, so seeing and interacting with someone not like them is always awkward, hence their poor promotional ad persuasion kills.

    I am glad you can see past it but I hope you see that in order for Bitcoin and cryptos to move mainstream, we need to take the promotion and marketing from the rational communicators. It looks like you are off to a great start!

    Great work!

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems – Bitcoin Magazine
    March 9, 2014 (10:15 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Bitcoin Deals/News
    March 9, 2014 (10:34 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Bitcoin News
    March 9, 2014 (10:38 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Bitcoin Trading Room
    March 9, 2014 (10:41 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems : REPORTCOIN
    March 9, 2014 (11:07 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | BITCOIN CRAZE
    March 10, 2014 (4:55 am)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Coin Talk
    March 10, 2014 (8:10 am)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Signals News
    March 10, 2014 (9:42 am)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t go and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | Anarchist Report
    March 10, 2014 (3:29 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems
    March 10, 2014 (4:43 pm)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems | BTC World News - Bitcoin News - Information - Trends
    March 11, 2014 (7:09 am)
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    […] does being female. Women are told, subtly and less subtly that they don’t belong and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. True, there are […]

  • Mircea Popescu
    March 11, 2014 (11:04 am)
    Reply

    Well actually… [url=http://trilema.com/2013/the-stuff-all-good-conspiracy-theories-start-with/]this[/url] is what it’s like to be a woman at a bitcoin meetup. Yours doesn’t load.

  • Проблема биткойна-привилегии? | Bit•Новости
    March 14, 2014 (11:52 am)
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    […] относится к женщинам. Женщинам постоянно намекают, тонко и не очень, что новые технологии и биткойн – не для […]

  • Geek As Citizen: Deep Geeks - Muse Hack
    March 19, 2014 (11:14 am)
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    […] reading about women’s experience among Bitcoin enthusiasts or ignorant bro-geek activity at Dropbox. It’s wondering how people can spin weird […]

  • Bitcoinference California: Women in Bitcoin, VCs, and the ‘Unconference’ - Cryptonewz.com
    March 21, 2014 (8:26 am)
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    […] Simpson, though, talked about how it has been a bit of bumpy road personally, something that she described in a blog post back in […]

  • » Bitcoinference California: Women in Bitcoin, VCs, and the ‘Unconference’
    March 21, 2014 (10:29 am)
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    […] Simpson, though, talked about how it has been a bit of rough highway personally, something that she described in a blog post behind in […]

  • required
    March 21, 2014 (3:59 pm)
    Reply

    Whats it like to be a satoshi in a hash salt world. Who cares, bitcoin is anon, gimme a break.

  • Bitcoin’s Actual Privilege Problems - Signals News
    April 27, 2014 (3:11 am)
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    […] does being feminine. girls are informed, subtly and much reduction subtly that they don’t go and aren’t needed in tech and bitcoin. true, there […]

  • Let’s do Anjie. Well actually : let me do Anjie while you watch. pe Trilema - Un blog de Mircea Popescu.
    May 18, 2014 (9:13 am)
    Reply

    […] being trained into idiocy. Here’s a fine example, from an otherwise remarkably un-annoying Arianna Simpson […]

  • Christopher A.
    May 21, 2014 (8:39 am)
    Reply

    Reminds me of my experience as a person of color. Specifically, when I went to a “Transition Movement” meetup. (It’s basically harderline environmentalist group.)

    So I’m a male, hispanic and in my mid-twenties. And they were shocked, literally stood still shocked, when I walked into the room. They were all white, and twice my age or older. And I immediately felt out of place. But what was worse, was the second meeting.

    Literally, when I came to the next meeting, the first thing they said was, “Oh, we’re surprised *you’re* back…” in a deflationary tone of voice. I tried to give doubt’s benefit. Maybe this is just all in my head. By the ending of the meeting, somehow the group got jnto an argument about diversity, right in front of me.

    I search my mind for anything I might’ve did that rubbed them wrongly. Honestly, I said little in either meeting. I was mostly just sitting there quietly. Then one of the group said, “This is why we can’t have diversity!”. That was right in front of me, in what was supposed to look like a private conversation. It felt super awkward. A couple members looked embarrassed. I thought, “What did I do?”

    Of course, I never went back. And this has happened in other situations. But usually it’s just this feeling of exclusion. The story above was just more egregious. The default assumptions made about you suck. They are unwarranted, bias, unfair and unearned.

    And let me be clear Arianna, in no way am I trying to out “oppression olympics” you. What you face is obviously different as a woman.

  • Mary
    July 20, 2014 (5:47 pm)
    Reply

    Or how about the fact that at the recent bitcoin conferenece in Chicago, a certain company hired burlesque dancers for an after party event? Seriously. Booth-babes and these sorts of shenanigans do not help women to be taken seriously in ANY industry.


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