Richard Boase on women’s reactions to bitcoin and why this may be, based on Hal Finney’s 2007 seminal blog entry. He heralds those women who are making large contributions to the movement.
The first time I heard about bitcoin was over dinner in mid-2012. I had been having some trouble with my computer (a Mac which was running very slow) and I happened to mention this to someone at the meal who instantly offered to give it a look over.
My security was hysterically lax, as he quickly managed to get me to give him my (terrible) password, and within the space of five minutes he had sorted out the machine’s issues. I was running it in 32bit mode instead of 64bit mode with a switcher I’d installed to run old programs. Just as quickly he had installed TOR and taken me onto The Silk Road (why was not exactly clear. I was just out of my two year stint in a Buddhist monastery and teetotal at the time).
My first question was: ‘I don’t think you can use mastercard on that, how do people pay?’ to which his answer, totally casual and deadpan was: ‘Bitcoin: it’s a decentralised cryptographic peer-to-peer currency’. This had me hooked, line and sinker, from that second on. “That has ‘implications’”, was all I managed to say.
Fast forward three weeks and I had split up with my girlfriend. My new obsession with bitcoin having gripped me whilst away on holiday with her family had been the last straw. There was a rather awkward moment where I (a rather shabby potential suitor to his only daughter) tried to explain to my girlfriend’s father, a very nice but conservative retired optician and blue chip investor in his sixties, how this new and tenuous of financial instruments, was actually NOT the biggest multi-level marketing Ponzi tulip scheme ever devised in the history of mankind, but rather potentially the saviour of modern humanity…
I made my investment immediately on my return, split up with her (somewhat sadly) and basically lost interest in all other things. Once the fever really took hold, I asked my Mum if I could put £50,000 pounds into bitcoin (at about $9 each) to which she replied that it was my inheritance money and it was for property only’. (Cue comedy ‘whacky races’ style curses here!) *sigh*
I guess my millions will have to wait.
But these two examples of my early interaction with women and bitcoin are illustrative of two things, best summed up by the anecdote about the guy who bought US $17 worth of ‘bitcoin’ back in 2010. According to his girlfriend ‘buying fake money’ was the last straw and she promptly dumped him, or so the story goes. Last year he bought a nice little flat in the centre of Oslo with spare change after becoming a bonafide bitcoin millionaire.
I’m not just writing this article to be snarky though. (Although, yes, a certain ‘I told you so’ feels justified here!) I actually got my job with CoinDesk after a comment on that specific article about the bitcoin-sceptic girlfriend!
The truth as I witnessed it was that neither of the closest women in my life took an interest, or understood what fascinated and obsessed me about bitcoin. Neither did they share my ardent belief that it would grow spectacularly profitable in such a short space of time.
Bitcoin was an obsession for me but my partner at the time got bored pretty quickly of hearing about it. She didn’t understand it (and had no technical background) and little patience for it. Nor did she have a thirst to learn about it, because the battles that she was fighting in her life, are values battles that push in a diametrically opposed direction to accumulating great but arbitrary wealth. She was (and is) interested in health food, yoga, natural lifestyles, Buddhism charity and family. A great combination but values which are often directly at odds with a technological, money oriented, politically libertarian leaning mindset (driven by a virtual worship of all things new and shiny).
It didn’t matter to her that my obsession with bitcoin was my route to creating a sustainable lifestyle to support the things I wanted, for myself: family, charity, a healthy lifestyle and a secure home. And because it was basically ‘boy’s stuff’ to her, she really didn’t have the insight, need, desire or interest to get into it at the beginning. Before its (inevitable) explosive growth in 2013.
Whilst that’s a bit of a shame, in some ways, there’s also a pretty important lesson here- that money isn’t everything and that our relationships (with women and other non-bitcoin believers) are also, immensely valuable. In a very different way to money, but not-to-be treated casually.
Now if you’re one of the early bitcoinfangirls who discovered bitcoin back in 2011 and saw its potential for growth. If you saw that it was a revolutionary new financial, political and social paradigm, not just because you could buy drugs with it on the internet, I salute you.
And as it happens I have worked with a lot of great women in bitcoin:
Megan Burton at www.CoinX.com
is a powerhouse in the regulation and compliance space in bitcoin exchanges; Stephanie Murphy from Let’s Talk Bitcoin is arguably the most powerful voice in bitcoin today. She is followed possibly only by Emily Spaven, whose writing I religiously followed for about 6 months before she became my editor and task-master at www.CoinDesk.com
. Jinyoung Englund is a veritable force to be reckoned with as is Elizabeth Ploshay, a Bitcoin Foundation board member and communications director at www.BitcoinMagazine.com
, who is brilliantly communicative and travels all over the world doing a sterling job as a bitcoin ambassador.
Recently Connie Gallippi from www.Bitgivefoundation.org has been pushing forward very actively on the charity front, and as a charity focused person myself, I’m very much looking forward to reaching out to her in future and exchanging notes on how to build a charitable community so that more people can benefit from bitcoin and so its effects are felt more widely than by just those at the top of the financial and technocratic pyramid, who have money to play with.
I’ve also been impressed with the work, dedication and skill of Solene Cravic, a cypherpunk documentary film-maker who has been tracing the developments of Dark-Wallet and the underground crypto-anarchist movement relentlessly over the last two years. Her friend and colleague at the Financial Times, Jane Kuan Wildhas written some powerful articles including at least one front pager quietly championing bitcoin.
I want to switch track slightly here and talk about one of my favourite threads as it relates to women’s interest in finance and politics which I discovered whilst researching for my (now defunct) documentary “Finding Satoshi” in 2012.
In it, he tells a joke about how work is split up between domestic partners. Essentially what the joke boils down to it that it’s the man’s job to solve all the big questions: Global Oil Prices, Soviets vs The West, how to stop terrorism etc. And the woman’s job is to solve all the domestic stuff, like how to manage the family budget, what to eat for dinner and what schools the kids should go to. But this joke was originally presented to me slightly differently. In the version I heard first, the woman proudly proclaims that as a result of her taking care of all the small problems first, his big problems never arise!
Now for the most part, male navel gazing about military manoeuvres in Egypt and Syria might well be an excuse to avoid doing the dishes.
But it’s ironic to me to read that Hal thinks it’s vanity that drives men’s predilections for tackling global problems in the abstract. Hal Finney’s reuseable proofs of work (RPOWs) are one of the fundamental building blocks of bitcoin, and because his economic abstractions were absolutely crucial to bitcoin development. RPOWs and the other innovations in bitcoin have helped re-write the rulebook on a centuries-old system of government money and bank credit; given rise to a (thus far) $12bn techno-tour-de-force adhoc economy, and has (as a by-product) challenged communists and capitalists, libertarians and conservatives alike, to radically reassess their previous economic and political assumptions and positions: Open source is communism, bitcoin is capitalism, but bitcoin is open-source? And because of that, it is challenging governments and taxation, and the price of oil and gold, are sure to be affected as a result. (It is no coincidence that Gold had a dramatic crash at the same time of Bitcoin’s epic first bubble to $260 around the time of the Cyprus debacle).
In short, it is not simply vanity that drives man to ponder the big questions (as Finney suggests towards the end of his blog post) but rather, a recognition that we all have the capacity to change the whole world through our own actions. Be that the general policy of Soviet banks, or how our kids learn about money. But we can really only engage in bitcoin, if we’ve already prepared ourselves to some extent by trying to understanding the difficult, often intractably bitter economic, technical, and academic debates and even emotional battles that precluded its arrival.
With this in mind, it’s often easy to see why more women aren’t in the bitcoin scene: they just don’t care that much about what are often perceived as “men’s battles with other men”.
But just as women get involved in the debates over the price of bread and milk, it is equally important and proper that women be involved in every part of the dialogue about bitcoin and how it relates to the economy at large. Women are a critical and vital part of the battles bitcoin is fighting. That’s why it’s crucial to engage with them at bitcoin meet-ups and gatherings, to involve them in the dialogue (even if, like my Mum, they insist you play it far too safe), to listen to their ideas and embrace their input and opinions. To more generally show them the respect they command.
So here’s to Emily Spaven, Elizabeth Ploshay and Elizabeth Rosiello, Connie Gallippi, Stephanie Murphy, Megan Burton, Solene Cravic, Jinyoung Lee Englund, Beata Stryjecka and Charlene Chen, and of course, a special big thanks to Eva Pascoe and Niki Gomez, who gave me my first big break writing about bitcoin (out loud!) on a public platform at Cybersalon!
I look forward to working with you all in 2014!
Richard Boase is a Journalist for CoinDesk and Bitcoin Magazine and a motion graphics producer based in London.
Summary : Boase on women's reactions to bitcoin and why this may be, based on Hal Finney 2007 seminal blog entry. He heralds those women who are making large contributions to the movement.