New York Times article saying ‘men invented the Internet’ criticized for its ‘sexist’ language
Some stories have opening lines that endure.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
On Saturday, The New York Times published a story with an opening line that's in the process of becoming Internet famous, albeit for less desirable reasons.
"Men invented the Internet," it begins.
The article is a detailed look at a sexual discrimination suit filed by Ellen Pao against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the famous Silicon Valley venture capital firm where she is a partner.
The Times report inspired a post from BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin, who called the story's opening line "a steaming turd" due to inaccuracy and sexism. She also voiced concerns about the article's headline, a photo caption, and the role that Pao's husband plays in the story. (Jardin correctly notes that Times reporters don't typically write headlines and captions.)
Jardin's point is straightforward: men alone did not invent the Internet. But they get the credit. She suggested an alternate opening line:
"Men are credited with inventing the internet." There. Fixed it for you.
"I ragequit this article like, 10 times, and couldn't get past that awful opening line," Jardin writes.
She rebuts the opening line by citing names of three women who made major contributions to networking, computer programmer and other technologies that led to the Internet:
Radia "Mother of the Internet" Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.
I emailed David Streitfeld, author of the Times article, to get his reaction to Jardin's post but haven't heard back.
One element worth noting is his opening sentence is followed by a few subjective and playful sentences:
Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolized Mr. Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died. Nerds. Geeks. Give them their due. Without men, we would never know what our friends were doing five minutes ago.
Did Streitfeld offer his declarative opening line as evidence that tech has long been seen as a man's game? A place where they get all the credit. Is he offering his opening statement with a wink?
That's one reading of the opening sentence, but I offer it with the acknowledgement that it strikes me as weak.
The story's lead is a factual statement. Men invented the Internet. It's open to criticism and debate -- and accusations of inaccuracy.
For at least some people, that lead has become the story, rather than the reporting and insight contained in the article's ensuing paragraphs.
Truly memorable opening lines draw people into a story, not out of it.
Related disclosure: Craig Silverman was a candidate for The New York Times Public Editor job when he wrote this story.