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Anthony Bourdain with the ChefSteps crew on Vashon Island.

Image: Courtesy CNN

It turns out, that Parts Unknown episode that missed the mark on Seattle filmed and ultimately cut a conversation dedicated to gender discrimination in the tech industry. Though despite being cut, the two participants in this discussion—including Nikki Barron of Techbridge Girls—still appear in the lip-synch montage at the end. Further complicating matters, they were unaware the episode would include a segment on virtual reality porn, and Barron would not have participated had she known of this inclusion.

After the episode aired last week, Nikki Barron reached out to me to explain how earlier this year Parts Unknown producers contacted her in hopes of developing a segment about abuse and discrimination experienced by women in the tech industry. Barron is on the board for Techbridge Girls, a nonprofit focusing on getting girls interested in technology. She, along with Liz Rush of Lesbians Who Tech, eventually met with producers to hash out what such a discussion might look like.

Barron says she and Rush filmed said discussion with Anthony Bourdain this summer at Knee High Stocking Co. in Capitol Hill. Barron recalls the conversation as a vulnerable and ultimately disappointing experience. She divulged on camera personal stories of abuse, cited common workplace problems for women such as frequent interruptions at meetings, losing out credit for original ideas once they are repeated by a male coworker, and retaliation for bringing up problems in the office. To this, Bourdain—widely considered a vocal progressive who came swinging at Harvey Weinstein and apologists after his girlfriend, Asia Argento, accused Weinstein of rape—didn't offer much by way of response, according to Barron.

Prior to filming, Barron watched prior Parts Unknown episodes that dealt with colonialism in Madagascar and the civil war in Myanmar. "I thought, 'This guy is so intelligent and well versed in these really nuanced issues.' But he is not nuanced in women's issues in any way." She says Bourdain offered up advice that included punching a man if he tries to interrupt you in a meeting. He also cited what Barron calls male feminist tropes, like "I have a daughter" as a sort of ally credential.

In the end, Barron felt the women in tech segment had been pushed by producers while Bourdain seemed less than interested, and she was not totally surprised when they informed her the week before the episode aired that her segment had been cut. Footage goes unaired all the time in television, and this was not a major point of contention. When she watched the episode on November 19, however, she was surprised and disheartened to see Bourdain's interview with VR porn startup MiKandi.

During her first meeting earlier in the year, Barron says the producers listed every organization that would ultimately make it into the episode, including GeekWire and Hollingsworth Cannabis. The only one they left out: MiKandi. While proponents argue pornography can be an empowering and sex-positive force for women, Barron views mainstream porn as blatant objectification with a history of harm for the performers. She would not have participated had she known of this inclusion, and feels the show runners may have intentionally withheld this information.

This is particularly problematic to Barron since she and Rush still appear in the end montage lip-synching Mark Lanegan's “Strange Religion" (2:49 in linked video).

There is nothing to suggest Parts Unknown had insidious intentions when they left out the women in tech segment. And the contract Barron signed before filming gave producers the right to use any, or none, of the footage filmed—including the lip-synch sequence. But to Barron, since they removed the segment about women-in-tech issues, they should have removed her face, too, especially since she now appears in the same episode as a company she believes goes against what she brought to the table in the first place.

Barron wrote to the producers after the episode aired, but received no explanation as to why she hadn't been told about MiKandi. At the time of this writing, neither the producers nor Parts Unknown press contacts have responded to requests for comment.

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