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‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Had A Hopeful, Heartbreaking Vision for Women in Tech

The just-finished AMC series closed with a beautiful, hopeful plea for equality and a brighter future.

by Danielle Riendeau
Oct 20 2017, 2:00pm

All images courtesy AMC

The following contains some mild story spoilers for the final episode of Halt and Catch Fire.

If you haven't yet watched Halt and Catch Fire—and sadly, most people haven't—I'd implore you to do so. It's quality TV that goes well beyond its " Mad Men, but for the computer industry and the internet" pitch, with some of the best writing and acting this side of The Americans. And, sadly, it's over now, as its final episode aired last weekend.

Laura Hudson does a phenomenal job encapsulating the message and strengths of the show here, but suffice it to say, this series has made me empathize with its characters—particularly its women characters—more than almost any TV series I've ever watched. They go through hell, especially Donna, who tries to make a career as an engineer and later as a power player in silicon valley while raising two daughters, navigating relationships, and swimming in the sexism that still permeates the tech industry today. Possibly, arguably, even worse than it did in the early 90s, where the show leaves off.

In the final episode, she gives a speech at an event she's organized for women in tech. It broke my heart with its hopeful tone, looking out from 1994. She speaks about her experiences, navigating the world as a VC investor, her humble beginnings in computer engineering, her worries that she doesn't spend enough time with her daughters. And she hopes, sincerely, that being a woman in tech—or really, in any field—will be less fraught for the next generation.

Donna and Cameron in the finale

Variety ran an interview with the actress who portrays Donna, Kerry Bishe, where she notes she cried when she first read the draft for the speech:

"One of the lines in it that always gets me is when she's like, 'Hey, you know, I'll hang out with you and eat good food whenever. But I hope that when my daughters are my age, they don't have to have gatherings like this to remind themselves they're actually here.' And what's hard about that is … that's me. My generation is those daughters, and we're still having these gatherings and conversations. You think about all the "Women in Hollywood" dinners and cocktail parties. The women of the BBC just had to organize to try to get equal pay. It's 2017. It's so hard. Tiny little baby steps, you know? So that part's kind of sad."

As Hudson rightly points out, in the show, Cameron and Donna were never the subject of harassment campaigns or other forms of targeted sexism that can ruin the lives of women who work in this space today. They certainly faced plenty of sexism, being women in a male-dominated field in the 80s-90s, and both constantly fought with the fact that lesser-qualified men constantly received more attention and respect.

But, of course, here in 2017, we are still organizing events for women in tech, women in games, women in damn near any male-dominated spaces. In 2017, visible women are harassed and threatened on the internet with gendered slurs and harassment of every description.

That speech left me on the verge of tears (as with many times on the show, which also handled grief beautifully, with one late-series episode about cleaning the house after the death of a loved one being possibly the all-time winner) and pensive. I was only ten years old in 1994, and naive. But, on my worst days, I fear that we've not progressed much or even backslid from that time in some ways, that things might get worse for women before they actually get better ( Blade Runner 2049's treatment of women is still fresh in my mind as well).


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We don't live in the world that Donna wished for. Her daughters would be in their thirties or early forties now, and if they went into tech, they'd almost certainly still be going to networking events because women are still underrepresented, or being forced to listen to gender essentialist bullshit from coworkers or bosses. Maybe they'd get daily rape or death threats from whatever branch of toxic masculinity inc. deigned to reach out that day, or sexual harassment from investors or coworkers.

I want to live in the world that Donna wanted in 1994. That women like her have worked so hard for, and will continue to work hard for. But I'd be lying if I said that speech didn't depress me, for all the wasted opportunity and vast distance between what could have been, and what is.

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