— On her evaluations at Amazon, Kristi Coulter used to
get notes like this: "I wish she’d speak up
now, when you think about the way Coulter’s voice —
funny, acerbic, feminist — reverberated around the
internet after she wrote an essay for Medium last year
about all the "super double tanked" women
women are so busy faking it? — ?to be more like a man
at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at
50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses
anymore," she wrote. She called the piece "Enjoli,"
after the perfume once advertised with a song about a
woman who can "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a
pan and never, never, never let you forget you’re a
columnist for The Washington Post remarked that almost
every woman she knew had read the piece. Time, Slate and
the New York Post chimed in. Within a week, she had a
book deal seemingly well-positioned to make her a
sought-after cultural observer at this moment of
reckoning over gender roles.
Good Can Come From This," her series of essays
about quitting drinking and seeing the world newly
sober, is coming out in August. Publisher Farrar, Straus
and Giroux — comparing her to authors Cheryl Strayed
and David Sedaris — plans to push it hard, Coulter
Washington Post recently interviewed Coulter for a piece
about the current tsunami over sexual harassment, a
subject that also animates her Facebook posts.
you guys understand how incredibly (expletive) dumb you
sound?" she wrote, posting a New York Times story
about men wondering if they need to cancel holiday work
parties and take other extreme measures so as not to
unwittingly harass women.
why did Coulter have trouble finding her voice at
Amazon? "It wasn’t that anybody was trying to
keep me silent," said the 47-year-old, who has
worked at the retail giant since 2006, currently as the
principal writer promoting the futuristic grocery store
it was the alpha males trying to out talk each other,
none stopping to ask what she thought. "Oh my
God," she would think, "this is a room of
dudes practically yelling at each other."
two hours of conversation at the Belltown cafe Assembly
Hall, Coulter talked about what it’s like to be a
woman working in tech, why she thinks sexual harassment
is more pervasive in Silicon Valley than in Seattle and
the inevitable backlash that comes with being a blunt
person, she’s more approachable and easygoing than you
might expect from her writing. "I can be very
acerbic, but I also don’t think that’s a great way
to move through the world," she said, though one
senses having sharper edges might have helped her at
in point: Ann Arbor in the late ’90s. Coulter, a
graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA
creative-writing program, interviewed for a job with the
founder of a company archiving movie and music data.
asked me the least amount of money I could live
on," she recalled. She told him the truth: $30,000.
He gave her $31,000.
child," she said of the young woman she was, who
never thought to negotiate her salary.
stayed seven years before moving to Seattle for a job at
Amazon managing content, promoting books and other media
— first in the U.S. and then worldwide. "Seven
months after I had gotten to Amazon, I was in Tokyo. It
was like that Talking Heads song: "How did I get
just went with it, because what else what I going to
by a "deep, deep insecurity," she was
overwhelmed. But this was the Amazon way, as she
understood it. "Just go and figure things
actually was probably the smartest thing I ever did —
to just be brave."
went on to take on a variety of roles, including West
Coast editorial director of Amazon Publishing and
coordinator of a leadership-coaching program, before
assuming her current job at Amazon Go.
said that’s one of the reasons she’s stayed:
"You can reinvent yourself every few years."
has worked through Amazon’s alpha-male environment, as
she described to hilarious effect, without naming the
company, in her essay "Enjoli."
scene was a work panel for interns she was on. One
asked: "I’ve heard this can be a tough place for
women to succeed. Can you talk about what it’s been
like for you?"
answer: "If you’re tough and persistent and
thick-skinned, you’ll find your way … I have."
which point, a man on the panel jumped in to offer an
even rosier view. And then another. And then —
"just to make sure we have 100 percent male
coverage on the topic," she wrote — the third man
on the panel.
is not an experience unique to tech. Still, she mused at
Assembly Hall, tech has a lot of people who "think
they know things they don’t know" — including,
as she sees it, what it felt like to be her.
Amazon, the culture is changing, she said. People are
thinking about the idea of inclusion. There’s been
what she described as a grass-roots attempt to raise
consciousness about how women feel when they’re
interrupted, and concerns about being perceived as too
aggressive despite a "leadership principle"
that urges employees to "respectfully challenge
decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is
uncomfortable or exhausting."
she said, has also followed an explosive 2015 New York
Times piece that depicted the Amazon workplace as
making a big deal about it, I feel like Amazon took that
to heart," she said. "How are you
feeling?" managers will ask. "Are you guys
taking your vacation?"
said she has not seen a harassing culture at Amazon,
though she guesses there have been cases, as at any
have, including an allegation against Amazon Studios
head Roy Price, who resigned. That happened in October,
after voluminous allegations against film mogul Harvey
Weinstein unleashed the #MeToo movement.
more stories pouring forth by the day, it will take more
time to know how any one company will fare in this
moment of reckoning.
Coulter suspects predatory behavior — legendary in
tech’s bro culture — may be less of a problem at
Amazon because of its focus and relative maturity.
lot of the stories out of Silicon Valley are from
startups," she said. Ones that create an
environment geared for men just out of college: beer
kegs in the office, foosball, video-game competitions.
men getting "all this stuff thrown at them,"
she said, "develop the notion they’re more
important than they are."
Seattle area doesn’t have the startup scene that
Silicon Valley does — yet; Coulter noted this region
is getting more of one as people leave companies like
Amazon and strike out on their own. And that, she
speculated, may be why we’ve heard about fewer
harassment stories here.
what’s next, The Washington Post asked Coulter, in
reference to the landscape around sexual harassment.
"In a strange way, figuring that out is
exhilarating," she replied. "It’s also
exhausting. And then I’m bracing for a backlash."
sounds like where she is in her writing career.
her essay came out, she got thousands of emails.
were from men, along the lines of "I don’t think
I’m that guy…" They were referring to the
panelists she described, and letting her know that they
were now trying harder not to be that guy. (She never
heard from the actual panelists.)
letter-writers told Coulter she had changed their lives;
they were quitting drinking, or quitting something.
others were furious. Was she telling women they shouldn’t
drink? "It was as if I said: ‘Debbie in
Montclair, New Jersey, put that margarita down.’
also was a lot of press criticism, which took issue with
what they took to be her message to women — as the New
York Post summed it up, "Your boozing is the fault
of the patriarchy."
I was kind of proud at the time that the word ‘patriarchy’
appeared in the Post," she said, alluding to the
paper’s conservative bent.
she said she wasn’t totally blaming the patriarchy.
Feminism, from its earliest days, empowered women to
drink and smoke, just like men, she said.
looked at drinking through women’s experiences
because, well, she wanted to write about women. The
anger she got — that comes with the territory of doing
so frankly, unapologetically, she figures.
needed to be hardened," she said. "When the
book comes out, I’m going to get more of all of