Conflicting accounts of what may or may not have happened at a big-name Silicon Valley party provide the latest evidence of how the tech world continues to reckon with its long history of mistreatment of women.
The newest controversy is over a report that a party cited in journalist Emily Chang’s upcoming book Brotopia as an example of the salaciousness of the Valley scene was, in fact, an after-summit gathering thrown by a principal of the venture capital firm DFJ.
Steve Jurvetson, the “J” in the firm’s initials, left DFJ last year “by mutual consent” for unspecified reasons. Axios obtained text from the book reporting that Jurvetson, a one-time director at SpaceX and Tesla, was the host of the party.
How the party has been described
Entrepreneur Paul Biggar wrote on Medium on Jan. 10 that the party, described in an excerpt adapted from Brotopia in Vanity Fair, was “way worse than it sounds.” The account in Vanity Fair tells of a party at the home of an unnamed venture capitalist. In Silicon Valley, Chang writes, such events “may be devoted primarily to drugs and sexual activity, others may boast just pockets of it, and some guests can be caught unawares.” The June 2017 invitation for this one asked partygoers to wear “glamazon adventurer, safari chic and jungle tribal attire.” Chang writes that a woman she calls Jane Doe described the event to her:
Doe found herself on the floor with two couples, including a male entrepreneur and his wife. The living room had been blanketed in plush white faux fur and pillows, where, as the evening wore on, several people lay down and started stroking one another, Doe said, in what became a sizable cuddle puddle. One venture capitalist, dressed up as a bunny (it’s unclear how this fit into the edge-of-the-earth theme), offered Jane Doe some powder in a plastic bag. It was Molly. “They said it will just make you feel relaxed and you’re going to like being touched.”
Biggar said the event was the official party for a VC firm he did not name, hosted and attended by general partners in the firm, and included portfolio founders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk. Biggar says he left at 12:30am, adding “I didn’t personally see…anyone, do anything illegal, or having sex or taking drugs.” He wrote that his general observations about the party lined up with details from Chang’s book, which is to be published Feb. 6.
What people who were there say
Tesla confirmed in statement to Business Insider that Musk attended the party for a couple hours, but “left around 1am after talking with several DFJ-funded entrepreneurs about technology and building companies. His impression was that it was a corporate party with a costume theme, not a ‘sex party’, and there was no indication that it would become one after he left.” Musk told Wired: “Nerds on a couch are not a ‘cuddle puddle.’ I was hounded all night by DFJ-funded entrepreneurs, so went to sleep around 1am. Nothing remotely worth writing about happened. ”
Other attendees also contested Chang’s portrayal of the event by saying it was not improper in any way. Mary Lou Jepsen, a startup founder and former Facebook and Google executive, called it a “complete mischaracterization.”
On Twitter, Biggar used the party to rail against Silicon Valley’s general acceptance of hostility toward women.
An apology from DFJ
DFJ issued a statement, Recode reported, in which the firm said: “We were dismayed to learn of behavior at the party that was completely at odds with DFJ’s culture, which has been, and will continue to be, built on the values of respect and integrity. We would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable and we are sorry if that happened.”
The controversy comes amid a flood of sexual-misconduct allegations against Silicon Valley’s rich and powerful. After former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote about systematic abuse of women at the company last February, accusations were leveled at venture capitalists and executives of multiple firms. Several admitted to sexual harassing female entrepreneurs or employees and were forced out of jobs at Amazon, 500 Startups, Sherpa Capital, Greylock, and Binary Capital.
Quartz has reached out to Jurvetson for comment. Earlier, Axios reported that he had “not responded to a request for comment, although his resignation statement did include mention ‘taking legal action against those whose false statements have defamed me.’ “