HBO's new comedy Silicon Valley has been enjoying a great freshman year: a second season pickup, a plum spot after megawatt hit Game of Thrones, and generally warm critical response. However, as the show approaches its first season finale it's becoming clear there's a bug with the tech world comedy: the show has a real woman problem.
When the show premiered, one of the only criticisms leveled against it was the not-so-surprising lack of female characters on the show. To date, there is still only one recurring female character, the straight-laced and professionally competent Monica, assistant to venture capitalist Peter Gregory. Monica has gotten scant development in her time on screen, mostly popping up to play mother hen to the Pied Piper guys or taking on the role of put-upon assistant to Gregory. While her competent energy is much appreciated on a show involving so many screwups and socially awkward bro-grammers, she's not exactly blazing a new path for female characters on male dominated comedies. Aren't the female characters in most "dude" comedies kind of always the straight (wo)men?
Throughout the first season's seven episodes, other women have also appeared on the show. This is unfortunately not the great news you might think. Before the gang caravaned down to TechCrunch Disrupt the only women who popped up on the show were a stripper and a scantily clad girlfriend, whose entire storyline revolved around which of the housemates she would sleep with.
The TechCrunch Disrupt storyline only served to highlight just how poorly women are portrayed on the comedy. At the conference the ratio of women to men improved slightly, but their characterization did not. We met a girl who claimed Richard was "obsessed" with her, a girl who used her feminine wiles in exchange for code, and the wife of a judge Erlich has sex with, multiple times. The only woman, besides Monica, who speaks and is not entangled in a romantic subplot is a panel judge, not exactly a fully-dimensional character. In the world of Silicon Valley, women are around to be eye candy or romantic partners, and not much more.
Preparing for the conference, Monica tells the man-children in her care that while normally the tech world is about two percent women, at Disrupt it will jump to a staggering 15 percent. In point of fact, rough figures put the number of women coders at somewhere close to 12 percent; still low but not exactly the nonentities they've been on the series so far.
And that figure only takes into account women who code; it doesn't consider all the women in other roles within the tech world, meaning we should be seeing more than one woman with a regular speaking role on the show. Women might not dominate the tech field, but they're certainly not the unicorns Silicon Valley has made them out to be.
To be fair, the real Silicon Valley is also extremely male. And the show has given nods to some of the most egregiously sexist nonsense that has gone down in the real tech world. Take Bighead's app "Nip Alert," which lets you know when the nipples of a nearby woman are erect. Even a stripper dropping into the episode pegged the app, correctly, as horribly sexist. You'd think that's something only the twisted and hilarious mind of Mike Judge could conceive, but the app actually has its roots in reality. At TechCrunch Disrupt 2013, controversy erupted when a similarly sexist app called "Titstare" was unveiled. As bad as things seem to be on the HBO comedy, they might actually be worse in real life.
Silicon Valley, the television show, has an opportunity to do what Silicon Valley, the location, has not: include women in the conversation. The show is smart and funny and painfully aware of the world it is satirizing. But despite what the writers seem to think, the world of Silicon Valley isn't a world without women. Thankfully the show has been renewed for a second season, and if Pied Piper takes off (despite its thus far horrendous conference announcement) there will be opportunities to bring new women characters (and coders) into the mix. Just like the socially awkward men that populate Silicon Valley, there's plenty of humor to be mined from the women who call the Valley their home. If only the show would make room for their stories, and their voices, to be heard.
What do you think? Do you think Silicon Valley needs more women in the cast? Sound off in the comments!