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‘Real Housewives’ of Silicon Valley?
A U.K. production company denies that its casting call for ‘glamorous’ wives of tech gurus reinforces gender stereotypes. Its emails to a prospective cast member show otherwise.
Late last month, a casting call for a new reality television show featuring the “girlfriends of Silicon Valley” caused a small uproar in tech circles on Twitter.
According to the call, London production company The Connected Set is seeking “confident, glamorous and outgoing” San Francisco women in their 20s and early 30s who are “dating or married to someone working in the tech industry” for a new American television series.
And in case there’s any doubt which popular Bravo franchise this new show may be modeled after, the call asks specifically for women who “have a fabulous lifestyle, a great group of friends, and live life to the full.” All that’s missing is a steady flow of white wine.
That’s right. This show would appear to be Real Housewives of Silicon Valley in everything but name. In an industry with deplorable gender diversity figures, a reality television show focusing on Silicon Valley’s “girlfriends” risks adding insult to injury.
Jason Mitchell, the creative director at The Connected Set, could not provide specific information about the show to The Daily Beast as it is still under embargo by the American broadcaster. He did, however, clarify via email that the casting call was “part of a wider casting campaign for a new show that is in development.”
“We are not looking to reinforce any stereotypes around the role of women in technology at all,” he writes.
But according to Polly Superstar, a San Francisco-based author and self-described “21st century sex culture revolutionary,” the problem with the casting call lies less in its stereotypes and more in its misunderstanding of Silicon Valley culture.
The Connected Set reached out to Polly Superstar for casting this spring. She describes the email she received as being “from someone who clearly hadn’t done their research about either who I am or what San Francisco is like.”
The casting email—which she forwarded to The Daily Beast—contains specifics about the show beyond the flier that circulated on social media late last week: “We’re looking for women who face their own challenges—whether that’s running a busy house, trying to get your partner’s attention in a city known for anti-social work hours, or even trying to get your own start-up off the ground, we want to show the ups and downs of this competitive and fast-paced city.”
“Their attitude about San Francisco was funny, calling it a fast-paced town,” Polly Superstar tells The Daily Beast. “These people obviously live in New York or London and are projecting their ideas of what San Francisco is like.”
A Real Housewives-esque approach may indeed be ill suited to documenting the contours of Silicon Valley culture. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report on The Best and Worst Cities for Women Looking to Marry, the San Francisco Bay Area has one of the highest ratios of employed single young men to single young women. Add to that the fact that around 60 percent of employed young men in the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas are unmarried and The Connected Set’s first production challenge will be finding communities of Silicon Valley partners, fiancées, and wives to highlight in the first place.
As for casting women who are “running a busy house,” San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any major U.S. city, according to statistics reported by SFGate. Less than 14 percent of San Franciscans are under the age of 18. Oakland and San Jose fare better but the chances of finding a whole litter of over-privileged kids akin to the Real Housewives crew in the Bay Area are slim.
But it’s the call for women who are “trying to get [their] own start-up[s] off the ground” that Polly Superstar finds most amusing. “The misogyny in the tech industry is out of control,” she writes. “The idea that a little lady such as me could start my own company? Boy oh boy.”
In 2014, only 12 percent of startups in California had one or more female founders. The Venn diagram of those female founders and women who are “dating or married to someone working in the tech industry” has some people in its intersection but The Connected Set may have a hard time locating them. It is much more common for couples to found a tech company together—DogVacay, Modcloth, and The Knot were all founded by husband-wife teams—than it is for the individual members of a couple to each have their own startup.
But as misguided as the casting call might seem, Mitchell stresses that it is not representative of the overall ethos of the show, which he compares to MTV’s The Real World rather than the Real Housewives brand. He adds that female entrepreneurs will be involved with the production and that the show will feature “male partners of those working in tech” as well.
Mitchell also urges anyone concerned by the tone of the casting call to watch The Connected Set’s documentary How to Be a Young Billionaire, which recently aired on Channel 4 in the UK. The documentary follows three British tech entrepreneurs who are trying to court financiers across the pond, focusing specifically on Robyn Exton, founder of the lesbian mobile dating app Her (formerly Dattch).
In stark contrast to the sensationalistic show envisioned by the “girlfriends of Silicon Valley” casting call, How to Be a Young Billionaire is a fairly sensitive portrait of young British tech talents who are trying to reach investors and launch their products. With this respectable project under their belt, Mitchell seems eager to distance the new production from the flier that inevitably gave way to the Real Housewives comparison on social media.
“It’s tough to communicate all our casting objectives in one flier and I also recognize that the tone of language was quite breathless and wide-eyed to appeal to the fun, light-hearted side of those work in tech,” he explains.
But until more details emerge once the embargo is lifted, it’s hard to know the precise role that the “girlfriends of Silicon Valley” will play on the show. Only time will tell if The Connected Set’s forthcoming reality television program resembles their previous documentary or if it will be the drink-throwing drama that American viewers have come to know and love.