Down With The Norms

Goldman Rightly Punished for WECode Support

Goldman Sachs' Logo (courtesy of

Goldman Sachs’ Logo (courtesy of

My Facebook feed was recently swamped by a sea of posts assailing a New York Times’ article that questioned the motivations behind Goldman Sachs handing out mirrors and nail files at WeCode (Women Engineers Code) Conference, 2014 organized at Harvard. The overarching argument that resonated across board focused on the NYT choice of highlighting seemingly insignificant details over the groundbreaking initiative itself that WeCode itself represented. To quote a Crimson article, NYT “
overlooked the company’s generosity and commitment to the noble goal of encouraging women in
computer science.” The same editorial questioned the NYT’s decision to not report the
attendance of the event by “more than 300 attendees from 40 schools” and the “thousands
of dollars in scholarship” that were doled out at the event.

However — for all the monetary gratuities that flowed out of its generous coffers
and for all the encouragement to XX chromosomes that it helped provide — Goldman’s
choice of free swag ultimately annulled all the good work. The mirrors and nail files only
reflected in their metallic sheen a patriarchal set-up’s expectations of a certain way a
woman should conduct the orchestra of her body. They help strengthen the belief that
good looks shall continue to remain as important, if not more, as a woman’s purely
professional achievements. Ultimately, the ‘small details’ trumped all advances
negotiated by the conference by sending out the message that no matter how many lines
of effortless, magnificent code that the girl coder next door may conjure, a girl needs a
complementing appearance for her success and efforts to be validated by society.
Goldman Sachs ways could potentially be categorized under what are often
termed as microagressions. Referring to subtle, offhand and oftentimes unintentional acts
of non-physical aggression that involve demeaning implications for the victim,
microaggressions are perpetuated as a result of (in this case) a person’s gender. The
handling out of he said swag represents to me a microaggression for a very obvious
reason that I go on to outline.

The free gifts could — alternatively — be interpreted as unfairly characterizing an
entire sex under a certain umbrella — that women are concerned significantly with their
appearances. Note here that I am, in no way, attributing a negative aspect to being
concerned with your appearance. A woman (or for that case any man, transgender or
subscriber to any form of gender identity) can keep at her nails obsessively with a nail
filer for several hours a day to get that perfect curve and still be an awesome human
being, coder, …[insert word here]….; as can be people who doesn’t give two dimes about
the way the way their unkept cuticles chafe or uneven hair strays off in directions defying
gravity. However to lump together an entire body of people under a common
characterization vitiates and distorts the basic right of distinct individuals within that
larger body to be what want to be — the very reason I consider the gifts to be
representative of a microaggression. For instance, when we characterize an entire gender
as being obsessed with appearances, women who choose not to stick to the stereotype end
up being called out as ‘abnormal’ or ‘misfits’. Such incidents only distort their incentive
to be who they want to be but rather promote their conformity to a set requirement, that is
the obsession with appearances and good looks.

But where does such characterizations originate from and what feeds its
existence? It derives itself from an institutional, self-sustaining vicious cycle, whose
existence actions such as Goldman Sachs’ help sustain. Because we have been
historically and culturally conditioned to think that good looks are as (if not more) vital to
the female advancement as merit and talent, companies such as G.S. deem it appropriate
to hand out such goodies at women conferences under the assumption that women should
ideally like these goods. When (amongst a host of other things) such big corporations
mass-distribute goods like mirrors at such progressive events as a women’s engineering
conference, women attendees take home the subtle message that they are supposed to like
these goods; that they are supposed to uphold the beauty ideal. From this follows more
cultural conditioning and the beauty ideal continues to be upheld. The vicious cycle runs
it path over and again — in scenes diverse and varied, the WeCode being just one
example. And so we continue to subject our women into living by unrealistic and unfair
standards. By imposing on it a constraint that isn’t applied to the other sex, we work
actively to suppress the female form, and the potential and possibilities arising from it.
The same Crimson article protesting the New York Times’ move also stated:
“The conference, entitled
Women Engineers Code
never intended to be gender neutral. In fact, the sponsors were encouraged to provide
or WECode, (rather obviously) was
swag that would appeal to the women attending.”

These words once again encapsulate within them the same blatant characterization
displayed by G.S.; with these words, the Crimson shows itself to be just about the same unflinching product of cultural conditioning as Goldman. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will say this once again: to assume that mirrors and nail files are products that appeal to the women attending is the same as assuming that one size fits all.
It is rejecting the diversity — in tastes, in individualities — of all the beautiful and colorful specimens that comprise a population of individuals. It is denying them the choice to be who they want to be.

It is pigeonholing them into suffocating straits, waterboarding them with unrealistic ideals, and subjecting them to double standards.Let the games end.

Aditya Agrawal ’17 (adityaagrawal@college) is sick and tired of gender normativity.