Mea Culpa

Writer of Complex’s ‘50 Hottest Women in Tech’ List: I Tried!

He tried to make the list as empowering and good-hearted as it could be. But that’s not the one that was published.

It was me. I wrote it. I ranked “The 40 Hottest Women in Tech” for the website Complex, the list that has everyone talking on the Internet today, and not in a good way.

I felt bad about taking the assignment; ranking women on the Internet is an inherently evil thing to do. But we live in a world where strapped freelance writers are often asked to contradict the things they stand for, and where a writer’s livelihood is unfortunately dependent on ranking almost everything.

As the deadline for the list approached, I talked to my friend and fellow writer Devon Maloney. She told me if I wrote this list, she’d hate me, which I understood. But we got the idea that maybe we could make a list called "The Hottest Women in Tech” sound as earnest and empowering and good-hearted as it could possibly be. I made sure to never make any allusions to any of the finalists’ looks, and the blurbs would focus solely on all the cool things these women have been involved in. Beauty would take a backseat to their accomplishments. I would even talk about the patriarchy in the intro. It would be the first “Hottest Women in Tech” list (of which there are many) to include Roberta Williams, the brilliant 60-year-old videogame designer.

Still, I knew that regardless of any of my efforts, it was going to get some flak, because any list like this points to the annoying macho-exclusion that the tech world has been constructed on. But at least it might be slightly less heinous. I was writing something that was inherently bad, but I wanted to make it a little bit good.

Of course when the list was published, I discovered that all of my not-as-attractive women were cut. In fact, the total number of women went from 50 to 40, with the same old faces like Morgan Webb and Jessica Chobot added to the mix to further dilute my meek attempt at inclusion. My editor at Complex did not warn me about these changes, and I didn’t even know the list was published until I checked the website this morning. So it goes, life in the machine.

At the end of the day, any list of any sort of women is at best annoying and at worst evil. I was writing something called “The 50 Hottest Women in Tech” for money, and that’s not a good thing, no matter how it’s framed. But know that I did try to make it better.