Susan Fowler was just 25 years old when her blog post describing the sexual harassment and retaliation she'd experienced at Uber riveted the nation. Her post would eventually lead to the ousting of Uber's powerful CEO, but its ripples extended far beyond that.
... sharp and engrossing ... Fowler’s revelations came eight months before The New York Times and The New Yorker published explosive allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse of women, and helped catalyze the #MeToo movement. What is less well known is the remarkable back story that came before Fowler found herself at the center of these newsworthy events ... Fowler does not provide a satisfactory explanation as to why she was unable to attend the local high school—one of several moments in her story when infuriating or baffling things happen to her that seem to be presented in an oversimplified or one-sided manner, which undermines the strength of her narrative ... Whistleblower is a powerful illustration of the obstacles our society continues to throw up in the paths of ambitious young women, and the ways that institutions still protect and enable badly behaving men.
In one way, the memoir is an expansion of the 2017 blog post: It documents, in detail that is deeper and more gut-wrenching than a 2,900-word entry could allow, Fowler’s experiences at Uber. It recounts casual sexism and casual racism and, as Maureen Dowd put it in an article about Fowler’s original post, 'the self-indulgent, adolescent Pleasure Island mentality of Silicon Valley.' But Whistleblower, despite its subtitle’s reference to Uber, is also a memoir in the classic sense. It is the story of how Fowler’s life was shaped by her time at Uber—but a story, too, of her fight for a life that would not succumb to the company's influence ... Throughout, Fowler wrestles with the tension between the two modes: Fowler as a person famous for one thing, versus Fowler as a person, full stop. The book succeeds precisely in its acknowledgment that the two figures cannot be meaningfully disentangled from each other. Fowler’s story—her full story—is the indictment. That is what gives Whistleblower its power ... Whistleblower and its fellow memoirs, however, are not so tidy. They may have clear villains, and they may share a general goal...their intimacy, however, complicates them. Their intimacy acknowledges how difficult it is, when you’re talking about systems, to separate the act of whistleblowing from the more basic act of storytelling. Where does the one end and the other begin?
Exceptionalism is one of Silicon Valley’s founding principles, and a little bit of that has crept into Fowler’s book. There is no denying that she has been incredibly brave, and her life story is one of David against many, many Goliaths. But there is a danger in overstating the power that one individual has. Silicon Valley is defined by systemic ills ... Susan Fowler is as interesting a person as you could imagine ... her account is a memoir, meaning that she is writing about her experiences and convictions; her book isn’t meant to wrestle with the bigger, systemic questions about technology and capitalism. But as readers, we are left with only a partial view of the issues afflicting Silicon Valley and, in fact, most workplaces ... If only all people could be as exceptional as [Fowler]—but in a more just world, they wouldn’t have to be.