I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed this weekend when something catches my eye. It’s a retweet of someone I’ve never heard of and the first sentence has me doing an instant double-take.
Cue the sound of a needle scratching to a halt on a record (some of you know this sound, others will have no idea what I’m talking about). This person is levying accusations of sexism against…a credit card. Ok – you have my attention. Who are you?
A click on the profile tells me that the accuser operating as the Twitter handle @dhh is the creator of the web development framework Ruby on Rails, the founder and CTO at Basecamp, a best-selling author, and a Le Mans race car driver. I still don’t know his name because none of that means anything to me and he doesn’t have it on his profile. I guess he just assumes that you don’t have to Google to know that his actual name is David Heinemeier Hansson.
Hansson is pissed. He’s gone on a multi-tweet tirade detailing the saga of his wife’s application for an Apple Card; a credit card program created by Apple and issued by banking juggernaut Goldman Sachs. Her application returned a credit limit 20x lower than his even though their finances are unified and they’ve been married “for a long time.”
In a series of tweets that attacks everything from blind faith in algorithms to mansplaining; from the utter shock that support reps wouldn’t have any insights into the proprietary algorithms used by Goldman to determine creditworhthiness (“Hi tier 1 customer service rep new hires! Today we’re going to tell you about our algorithm that we use to issue $10 billion in credit for a new credit card!”) to his thoughts on society’s marginalization of women, Hannson’s Twitter tirade takes more turns than…ahem…a Le Mans race track. Sorry – I had to. And yes, I’m just as mad at myself for making the joke as you are for me making the joke.
The tirade ends with Hansson’s lamenting a knee-jerk signup for a credit check with TransUnion and, according to a posted screenshot, paying for it with an Apple Card (I wish I was kidding). His wife is also given a “VIP” update to her credit limit; a fact that came as a shock to many. You see, for those without 356,000 followers on Twitter, the only available remedy for when your limit comes in lower than you’d like or your APR comes in higher than you’d like is to wait six months, establish a history, and then try again. It is indeed a truly hard life here among us simpletons.
Our tale, however, does not conclude here. Hansson’s rant got the attention of the New York Department of Financial Services, an agency tasked with regulating Wall Street (so, you know, they’re really effective and totally on your side). A spokesman confirmed that an investigation is underway, so taxpayer money is now being used to look into why Hansson’s wife got a credit limit lower than what he thought she should get.
I assure you that nothing will ever sum up the first part of the 21st century more than what you just read.
It’s the perfect storm of navel gazing, virtue signaling, and social justice (in fact, that’s also the perfect description of most of Hansson’s Twitter feed). And it is crystal clear evidence not of a society’s, bank’s, or tech company’s inherent bias against women, but our society’s outright addiction to outrage. In fact, I’d argue that Hansson’s tweets were custom-tailored, designed, engineered, manufactured, and packaged specifically to create as much outrage as humanly possible. The sad part isn’t that it worked, but that it worked so well.
Acceptance of Hansson’s premise would first mean accepting the idea that one of the largest financial institutions the world has ever seen decided to anchor a significant portion of its business to not extending credit to half of its customer population – a scenario made even more preposterous by the fact that according to most available sources, iPhone ownership is driven by women.
Second, you’d have to have irrefutable proof that this was happening across the board. Application and acceptance of an Apple Card is done completely through an iPhone. Decisions are generally rendered in under a minute and, as previously stated, Goldman has thus far issued about $10 billion in Apple Card credit.
So, aside from a few highly-amplified voices on Twitter (yes, I acknowledge that Woz himself chimed in with a similar story), what has the global breakdown been on Goldman credit issued to men versus women? Does a human being check these numbers at any sort of interval so they have something to say at staff meetings on how things are going with Apple Card? Do we seriously believe that a person of the caliber necessary to work in such a position lacks sufficient gray matter between their ears to be capable of wondering – perhaps even aloud – why the company is issuing orders of magnitude more credit to men than women; especially when more women own iPhones than men (thus leaving sweet, sweet Apple Card money on the table)?
Say it with me: anecdotal evidence is not good enough in these situations. This is true regardless of whether you’re a race car driver, a computational genius (put your pants back on Hansson, I was talking about Woz), or one of “the rest of us.” For every story that shared Hansson’s experience, I saw one that also had higher credit limits issued to women over men. Does that disqualify the accusation? What’s our actual sample we’re using to levy a claim of sexism in Apple Card issuance other than Twitter users who applied for Apple Cards? Or, is that all it takes now?
For this to be a systemic issue illustrative of one of society’s greatest woes, wouldn’t the discrepancy have to be so obvious that it would be virtually undeniable? After all, factors of 20x are large enough on their own. When scaled to $10 billion, they become even more magnified. Why then is this the first we’re hearing about this “crisis” since the Apple Card launched in August? Surely, the Hanssons and Wozniaks can’t be the first couples of means with iPhones to see such significant discrepancies in credit issued in the past few months. Before we start throwing Apple and Goldman execs in a lake to see if they float, shouldn’t we take a look at a bit more evidence?
Last, why is Apple even in this conversation, let alone accused of sexism itself? Apple’s not issuing the card – Goldman is. Apple’s not issuing the credit – Goldman is. Apple’s not coming after you if you don’t pay your balance – Goldman is. If accusations are going to be levied, shouldn’t they at least be levied at the correct party?
Don’t try to make that argument to Hansson though. “I’d be surprised to learn if the team at Apple working on this wasn’t over-represented with men,” he writes in another tweet during his tantrum, “or at least women who haven’t had to worry about credit approval. Easy to go with status quo when it flows for you.”
Ok, hold up. Let’s dissect this for a moment.
“I’d be surprised to learn if the team at Apple working on this wasn’t over-represented with men.” Ok – that’s easy enough to understand. Next.
“I’d be surprised to learn if the team at Apple working on this wasn’t over-represented with…at least women who haven’t had to worry about credit approval.”
Oh! Women like Jennifer Bailey perhaps? You remember Jennifer Bailey, don’t you? She’s the Vice President of Internet Services and Apple Pay at Apple and the woman who took the stage at the keynote to introduce Apple Card.
As a guiding hand in the creation of a new Apple service, is it Hansson’s assertion that Bailey worked to create a product that was specifically designed to minimize and disadvantage women who don’t share her wealth? Did he ask her?
Surely if 350,000 Twitter followers can get you a VIP update to a credit limit, it can get you a quick reply from an executive at a company you’re attacking for sexism. Hell, maybe there was someone else in the room and they heard her say “you know what I want to see? I want to see our logo on a credit card that fucks women who don’t make as much as I do. And let’s make it titanium while we’re at it.” I’ll bet they all laughed and laughed. Someone probably ripped a hundred dollar bill in half just for the gigs.
Has anyone like that come forward?
Wait…now I’m getting confused. I thought I was supposed to be outraged at Apple for having a sexist credit card. But now I’m supposed to be outraged at rich women (and, I think, some dudes) for creating a credit card that underserves not rich women.
Be right back – searching my house for some ibuprofen.
Do bear in mind through all of this, however, that the outrage machine has no time for any of these questions, especially when its throttles have been pushed to the stops and the conductor is stopping only to marvel at his creation and amplify those that are amplifying him. With his fame now stretching into its fourth day and his name now being uttered from the lips of those at Good Morning America, CNBC, Bloomberg, and others, Hansson must be giddy at the thought of turning those 350,000 Twitter followers into 500,000. I wonder what kind of VIP benefits you get at the half-million mark.
So what’s my point? If you’ve read this far and concluded that I’m simply a part of the patriarchy that is also now apparently colluding with rich women in an oddly specific effort to keep not-rich women down, well, you’ve wasted your time. I don’t know any rich women.
My point is that accusations demand evidence. Regardless of their size, regardless of their scale, accusations require evidence to back them up and actual, civil discussion to determine their merits. It could very well be that we discover that there is something screwed up in the Goldman algorithm that is making it issue disproportionately low credit limits to some women. And if that’s the case, then Goldman should be made to apologize and remedy the situation and see that it never happens again. If the act was intentional, then some people should lose their jobs.
But one or two or 30 or 50 or 100 or 500 instances out of $10 billion is not evidence of sexism. It is evidence of a rounding error. Let’s all just calm down a bit, take our fingers off the trigger, and spend some time asking some questions before we take our pitchforks to Cupertino.
Or wait – was that Wall Street? Ah fuck it – wherever we’re supposed to be mad today.