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Silicon Dreamin'

Author Glenna Matthews charts history of women in high tech's ground zero

By Allie Gottlieb

ONE RESPONSE to feminism's dulled edge is to doubt the movement's successes. Feminism, like some ball of string, has been batted around so often over time that its frayed empowering ends get caught in one's angry, angry claws. Otherwise put, the word's stigma alienates this post-backlash, post-Camille-Paglia-traumatized generation.

Without attitude, and with an academic hum, Glenna Matthews' Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream runs through Santa Clara County's startlingly women-strong history of the "fruited valley" and the "feminist capital of the nation." Matthews, Stanford grad and former host of a League of Women Voters TV show about San Jose and Santa Clara County public affairs, traces the evolution of local female political clout back to the 19th century, listing a San Jose resident as one of the first women to encircle her fist (see the feminist logo) and join up with women's suffrage.

Meanwhile, the book also ticks off a more general history of Silicon Valley. Matthews, for instance, mows down the lie that the valley was named as an ode to fake breasts. She explores immigrant influxes that constructed humankind around here, and she looks at the invisibility of the very workforces that, through "punishing jobs," grew a rich tech crop in an orchard.

Binding subtexts together with the glue of disparity, survival and growth, Matthews' book pats the back of labor. She starts out "The Valley as 'Feminist Capital of the Nation'" chapter with the "herstorical" entrance of Central Labor Council star Amy Dean into the San Jose power crew. Dean, clearly pleased by Matthews' book on local history and gender power, contributed her positive feedback to the jacket cover.

More work must be done, however, if women plan to take back the might. In 1987, notes Matthews, three of the five county supervisors were women. Now, in 2003, only two are women. Eight of the 11 members (including the mayor) of the San Jose City Council were women in 1987. Now, five are women.


Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream: Gender, Class, and Opportunity in the Twentieth Century by Glenna Matthews; 313 pages; Stanford University Press; $22.95 paper. Matthews will appear at a signing event on Tuesday (June 24) at 7:30pm at Barnes & Noble, 3600 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose. (408.249.5201)


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From the June 19-25, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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