The Corner

Economy & Business

There Are No Women in Bitcoin? Really?

Fusion’s Felix Salmon has a piece called “Why Bitcoin’s male domination will be its downfall.” I had to read it since for years I have worked an office away from one of the leading experts on Bitcoin — who happens to be a woman, named Andrea Castillo. 

Salmon writes:

Nathaniel Popper’s new book, Digital Gold, is as close as you can get to being the definitive account of the history of Bitcoin. As its subtitle proclaims, the book tells the story of the “misfits” (the first generation of hacker-libertarians) and “millionaires” (the second generation of Silicon Valley venture capitalists) who were responsible for building Bitcoin, mining it, hyping it, and, in at least some cases, getting rich off it.

The tale is selective, of course: not everybody involved with Bitcoin talked to Popper, and the identity of Bitcoin’s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, remains a mystery. But Popper did talk to most of the important people in the cryptocurrency crowd, and he tells me that he put real effort into trying “to find a woman who was involved in some substantive way”.

The result of that search? Zero. Nothing. Zilch. Popper’s book features no female principals at all: the sole role of women in the book is as wives and girlfriends.

There are nasty consequences of this. If you are a woman involved with Bitcoin, you are invariably going to get treated like an outsider. As Victoria Turk says, “it seems that the only Bitcoin community that particularly welcomes female participation is the NSFW subreddit r/GirlsGoneBitcoin”, which is basically a site where women get paid in cryptocurrency to pose nude.

Now, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t describe Castillo. But considering how much she’s written on the issue for years, I wonder how Popper missed her when he was so ardently looking for women involved in Bitcoin. The same goes for Salmon. Didn’t he try to see if the number of women substantially involved in women is indeed “Zero. Nothing. Zilch”?

Thankfully, some people have weighed in to set the record straight, including Castillo herself. She talked with Mercatus’s Eli Dourado about it:

She isn’t alone, of course. In this piece, Daniel Roberts of Fortune names a few other important women the Bitcoin world. He writes:

On Twitter, Brito responded to Salmon’s article by pointing out that Castillo herself is one of the most influential women in bitcoin policy, along with his Coin Center colleague Robin Weisman.

“You can always look at a ratio on paper,” says Castillo, “but for me the more interesting question is, Are there any barriers? Are there people who don’t want them [women or people of color] to join and be involved? I don’t see that at all. I see everyone saying, ‘Are you interested in bitcoin? Join us, get involved.” I mean, it’s an open-source project.”

M.K. Lords is another vocal woman in the industry, and one of many people who are actively involved in the bitcoin community without working full-time at a bitcoin company. Lords’s day job is at a brokerage that accepts bitcoin for precious metals. In her free time she runs a bitcoin blog, hosts a bitcoin radio program, and has assembled multiple bitcoin conferences. “To say there are no women in bitcoin is sexist because it diminishes all the very active women in the space,” she says. “Women are accepted with open arms in the bitcoin industry. Yes, you deal with similar culture in tech at large, it is mostly male, but I haven’t experienced any kind of sexism. At my conferences, I had 40% more women in full speaker slots than other conferences.”

There are in fact so many women working in the industry, Lords says, that, “if you ask three different women who the prominent women in bitcoin are, you’ll get different names each time. There really are a lot of us.”

He goes on to list ten prominent female voices in Bitcoin. It is a pretty impressive, even though non-exhaustive, list, and I wonder how Popper and Salmon missed them. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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