The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Decoding the ancient logic of the Google Bro

The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, Calif. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Testosterone is the most effective solvent for human brain tissue. Just a drop or two can render a perfectly functional human cortex completely stupid. As evidence, I offer all of human history.

This is a bold statement. I also believe it to be true. (I am currently struggling with my own testosterone levels to try to write this column coherently.) Naturally, I have a right to express this statement, much as did Google Bro James Damore, when he wrote his now infamous manifesto suggesting women were less successful in tech jobs because of certain biological impediments. For example, he suggested women were naturally too neurotic for high-stress jobs. Apparently, he did not have a mother.

What Damore did not have of course, was the permanent right to a job at Google. The tech giant fired him for violating the company’s code of conduct on Monday. Google is a private company and is well within its rights to fire people who promote intolerance. And to fire people who demonstrate themselves to be idiots.

But of course, visible ignoramuses like Google Bro are only part of the problem. That is not to minimize the negative effects of Bro-ism. We seem to be living in a golden age of this particular malady as witnessed by the “grab them by the p––––” shenanigans of Donald Trump and the exhibitionist, sexist compulsions of the bare-chested 64-year-old Vladimir Putin. Both of them are engaged in the world’s most notorious bromance.

The problem is that the foolishness of bros worldwide has dire global consequences. Indeed, while our eyes are drawn to headlines underscoring the imminent threats we face today, no problem has caused more damage to more people in the course of human history than the subjugation of women, who make up about half of the world’s population. From the millions of girls and women who still die yearly because they are seen as unworthy of equal medical care as males, to millions who lead less fulfilling lives because they are denied opportunities by male-dominated societies, the suffering involved is not open to debate.

The repression of women’s rights is still defended as a cultural prerogative in every corner of the globe.  Even in the most educated, prosperous societies, it is a problem perpetuated daily by the wrong-headed, insupportable beliefs of guys such as Damore and by bros in top government and corporate positions worldwide.

Google responded quickly to the Damore issue because it, like the entire tech sector, is rife with anti-woman discrimination. According to the company, women make up only 20 percent of those in tech roles. Even the Labor Department described discrimination there as “quite extreme.” But the reality is worse. It is not extreme. It is the norm in sector after sector worldwide — especially in critical leadership roles, the places from which change can be driven.

According to the United Nations, only 22.8 percent of those in legislatures worldwide are women and only 18.3 percent are government ministers. As of January, only 10 women serve as heads of state worldwide and nine as heads of government. According to the EY Worldwide Women Public Leaders Index, while women account for 48 percent of the employees in governments worldwide, they hold less than 20 percent of senior jobs. In business, Fortune magazine celebrated the fact that women now hold 6.4 percent of top company chief executive officer jobs — the highest level ever.

In international politics, Putin celebrated women this International Women’s Day by hailing their “beauty,” “tenderness” and for “always being on time.” He also approved a legal change that decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Trump actually made a living objectifying women with his Miss Universe pageants and modeling agency. But despite his daughter Ivanka’s efforts at pink-washing his record, his administration has taken his biases and translated them into the U.S. power structure. According to the Brookings Institution, as of March, only 27 percent of the appointments in his administration have gone to women. The American Enterprise Institute has concluded the gender pay gap in the Trump White House has more than tripled that of the Obama years.

In fact, while a woman won the popular vote in the last U.S. presidential election, you would have to go 15 places down the succession list in the U.S. government before you find a woman in a position to succeed Trump. (That would be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.)

With hiring practices like that, Trump, like Putin and myriad other leaders in business and government, is sending an ancient message to the Google Bros of this world saying, “Bros before justice, man, bros before what is right. Equity and decency be damned.”