Porn site sponsorship of girl geek dinner causes a stir

On June 26, a group of local women is holding the second Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner. The dinner is part of larger series of international gatherings that aim to provide a place for women to gather to network and discuss tech subjects. The latest event will include a panel of women, most of whom work at Facebook, one of the event’s sponsors.

The problem, for some women, is the event’s other sponsor: Zivity.

Never heard of Zivity? That may be because it’s still in beta. Or it may be because it’s a porn site. Actually, it’s a kind of Web 2.0 porn site that aims to mashup high-class porn, user-generated content, and social networking.

Check out this stream of Twitter comments that were being made about Zivity’s role in the dinner on Tuesday.

So what is Zivity?

According to the homepage:

“Every woman has an inner model trying to get out. Zivity empowers women to feel their most beautiful and comfortable. With helpful guides on makeup, hair, and photo shoots, Zivity is the place to unleash your inner model. We offer cool social tools to track your fans, tally your votes, share your photos with friends, and even collect royalties.”

Zivity got some buzz back in March when it raised $7 million in funding from BlueRun Ventures and Founders Fund. Once it officially launches, the site plans to sell subscriptions rather than ads. Members will be able to vote and rate models who then get some pay based on those rankings and comments.

The company has a legitimate pedigree. Co-founders Scott and Cyan Banister are a husband and wife team who have worked on several notable start-ups.

Maybe any kind of buzz these days can be a good thing. Still, should be interesting to see whether this chatter helps or hurt attendance. In any case, expect a healthy debate over the next few days about   whether the site like Zivity is empowering women or demeaning them.

Update: In response to an e-mail inquiry, the dinner’s coordinator Angie Chang (who is also founder of Women 2.0) wrote:

“Zivity is sponsoring fun and silly geek-themed photo shoots by professional photographers. We invited Cyan to give a 3-5 minute introduction as she was voted Sexiest Geek Alive in 2000 (just like Ellen Spertus of Google won the award in 2001 — Ellen was invited by Google to give the intro talk at the 1st Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner).

Cyan is also the co-founder of a Series A funded technology startup, which I respect greatly as a female tech entrepreneur myself.”

And:

“Zivity sponsored photography at the Crunchies in San Francisco last year (http://www.flickr.com/photos/zivity/sets/72157603695209491/) against a sponsor panel. We will also be utilizing Zivity photographers for taking pictures of attendees against a sponsor wall, but only if they choose to.”

Update: Here’s a blog post from Mary Hodder about her views on Zivity’s sponsorship:

“It’s not that we object to porn, just to the using (or appearance of using) girl geeks to get back their cred. Even if tha’s not what’s happening from their perspective, the rest of us who would like to *not* be sexualized and objectified in our work lives really find the Zivity association disconcerting.

I hope you aren’t being used, but I also won’t attend on Thursday night because I don’t want to support Zivity.”

Update: Here’s another follow-up from Hodder’s blog. Apparently, Zivity has been removed as a sponsor:

“Apparently the founder of Girl Geek Dinners, Sarah Blow, made GGD SF remove Zivity as a sponsor. I was told this from someone I met at PDF2008 who emailed her, which she forwarded. I didn’t hear this directly. But it does explain why I had seen Zivity sponsorship there as a sponsor at the GGD SF website when I wrote about this originally.. and then it was gone without explanation. Couldn’t figure out what happened.. but just got word of why it’s gone. Blow didn’t like Zivity sponsoring.. apparently she picked up on Zivity using the GGD sponsorship to buy cred with GGD.”

It’s reading her whole post to get to her views on the troubling intersection between porn and women in the workplace:

“And people who feel bad about it are often also the ones coerced into doing something they don’t want to do… like allowing themselves to be sexualized at work, to be forced to be “hot” first and maybe then be good at their jobs, worth funding, worth hiring for a leadership role. It’s unfortunate that we live with that in our culture. But why put women even more in that position, with a Girl Geek Dinner originally to be sponsored by Zivity (sponsorship has now been removed by the founder, as I mentioned above) with Zivity speaking and taking photos.”

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

 

Share this Post



 
 
 
  • Hi,
    Couple of things. The Girl Geek Dinner website is a blog and several of us left comments asking questions about the event, and I sent an email to Angie Chang asking to discuss it.

    They deleted our comments, and haven’t responded.

    I don’t think they want to discuss the idea that they are being used, post having Cyan take her shirt off on the top of Techcrunch, for this dinner event, next Thursday.

    Basically, a lot of women I talked to didn’t object to the video (it was funny) but realized that the only women founder with a video at the top of Techcrunch had to take her shirt off to do it.

    Silicon Valley isn’t great for women. Before working here I never would have thought I’d see sexism in the workplace. But here it’s rampant. Maybe because we have such loose structures so there is no “authority” to tell the boys.. you can’t do that. In some respects that looseness in structure is fantastic, because it means we can build amazing stuff in SV, but it also means everyone is encouraged to objectify women to the hilt.

    When I’m at work, I don’t really want to be reduced to someone’s sexual object.

    Now.. networking events for work, have porn companies sponsoring, speaking, and taking photos. And the event organizers are shutting down speech around it, not responding to questions about what’s going on, and I think justifying the porn shots at the geek event by saying it will be “fun.” Maybe it will, in some ways, but it’s a work thing.

    Do you really want to put women in that position? Come on.. be cool.. just a few shots for the boys.. in your office. It’ll be fun! And we’ll pay you. Sounds coercive to me.

    mary

  • john blac

    Generally Ido not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! really nice post.

  • This is sick. If RiRi doesn’t testify she’ll save him a lot of pain and cause herself a lot of it.

  • You are a very smart person! 🙂 I did a search on the issue and found most people will agree with your blog.

 
 
css.php