Aug 31

Who Really Was the Man Behind the Curtain in the Women in Tech Debacle?

Man behind the curtainMichael Arrington can be a harsh person, but he is smart. I wouldn’t say that he and other TechCrunch writers are the nerdiest in the industry, but I’d trust his assessment of whether or not a startup will make money and have a viable future.

Having such brutal honesty offline AND online is hard. People don’t like being told their babies are ugly. They don’t want to hear that their UI sucks, their competitor is leaps ahead of them in advancement, or that there aren’t many compelling software companies founded by women. Michael Arrington has faced criticism from all angles and from every part of the planet, because he and his team happen to run the biggest technology blog the world has ever known. People want power, they believe they deserve power, and telling them they haven’t earned it yet will get some people angry at you.

Shira Ovide singled out the culture of TechCrunch in her Wall Street Journal piece as a factor for why there are so few women leaders in technology. Arrington found this unfair. He, after all, has a female CEO whom he picked himself because of her skills. He would LOVE to see female entrepreneurs in the space and end the sausage fest. So he responded with an invite that TechCrunch is happy to cover software created by women that actually interests people.

I read the piece and thought, “Man, he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman out there”. It’s not his fault. He’s a guy, and it’s easy to assume that if YOU are cool with having a female CEO, others would be as open too. I disregarded the post entirely until I noticed commenters saying that women just don’t have the right skills for software. I thought this was a bogus statement, so I commented back. It isn’t nature that ensures there are no women in the tech space. I used to be quite good at math and science. I just gave it up because there are a lot of societal pressures on women and frankly, the sciences are a very lonely place for us and I like having friends.

What ensued honestly freaked me out. People would state their impressive credentials and then would put out some of the most illogical, hateful statements I have ever seen. I continued to comment, trying to keep my cool figuring it would do me no service to be nasty about it. I was continually painted as a whiny, know-it-all manhater, almost always by anonymous or obscured commenters. I was called beyond horrible names. It was bizarre enough to almost be funny. Almost.

Prior to installing Disqus, an innovative commenting system, the men behind the curtain of TechCrunch (in this case Arrington and MG Siegler) would have deleted the nasty comments and then grumbled to themselves that humanity is going to hell in a hand basket. But Disqus is real-time and comments show up literally as fast as people can type them. When a nasty comment would pop up, Arrington or Siegler would attempt to delete it and thirty, often nastier threads would show up after it. As the real-time web becomes more prevalent, it will become easier and easier for online mobs to take these pot shots at people with little fear of repercussion. After all, the moderators can’t control them anymore.

People want power. Nice people want it and mean people want it. Like it or not, TechCrunch has it, so it attracts the good AND the bad element no matter what. That’s just reality. As the web speeds up and becomes more connected, it will be up to US to ensure that this blog and other blogs we read are fair and civil for everyone. It’s up to decent men to tell the sexist ones that their jokes and vitriol are not acceptable. It’s up to women to stand up for each other instead of tearing each other apart, or simply ignoring the the problem. Not just when it is easy to add a +1 to a blog post opposing such buffoonery like my last one, but when someone is getting hounded by trolls for standing up for what is right, when it’s brutally hard. The web, like the real world, can be a cruel place. You can’t expect the man behind the curtain to fix all the nastiness for you. It’s just too hard of a job for one person to handle.

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  • Anonymous

    Michelle,

    First, fantastic post. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Michael Arrington (and being one of the rare few to interview him) and I agree with your assessment. He is a smart guy but is probably too honest for a lot of people’s taste. He does also have a flair for the dramatic which doesn’t always endear him to folks… but hey, that’s one of the reasons TechCrunch is as popular as it is.

    While I won’t get into the who is smarter/who is better equipped to code/run a business discussion, I will pat you on the back for your disgust for the trolls and atrocious behavior that some people find acceptable. Unfortunately, along with the good that results from the transparency of social media comes the ugliness of hate-speak and intolerance. As a guy, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid having to deal with much of the dark side of social but as I think about my wife… or my two daughters… or my sister… or friends like you being subjected to this nastiness, it saddens me that there are people who take advantage of the openness that social media affords and cast their stones, all the while hiding behind their fake user names or worse, anonymity.

    Finally, I’m sorry that you had to endure the public humiliation of being called the C-word — something NOBODY should EVER have to experience. Period! Please know that on behalf of all men, I’m sorry that someone felt like they had to resort to that. It’s one thing to disagree… or to get upset even. But that type of behavior is just not tolerable. Anywhere.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  • http://www.businessinsider.com/warroom Ashontell

    I feel your pain Michelle, you should see how people tore me up in the first article I ever wrote. 300K views and 286 comments about a brutally honest experience I had– about 80% of the commenters told me I was a moronic bimbo.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/my-nightmare-interviews-with-google-2009-11

    Really hurtful, but you just have to keep in mind that their just trolls, probably sitting in tighty whities in their moms’ basements. They’re definitely not justified– people will say anything when there are no repercussions. Hopefully someday it will change, but for now it certainly forces you to have a thick skin.

    The first time people really bash you is always the worst. Sad, but it really does get easier over time, although that certainly doesn’t make it right.

  • Anonymous

    I just don’t understand why we have to put up with it, and why we are labeled “bitches” or demoralized if we do.

    My tennis instructor growing up was the biggest dick in the world. He was that way because he knew I wanted to be good. It worked. I just want to be respected on the same plane.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/ogarcia11 Olga

    Hi Michelle,

    You wrote an incredible post here and it take so much gumption to say the things that you have. I truly respect you and admire your courage. As a young woman who has been caught between the worlds of loving math (tutoring in math and accounting was my bread and butter during college) and being a more creative spirit in marketing, I face this dilemma daily.

    I come from the beauty industry where you just run with everything and while the majority of the execs are male, you don’t pay too much attention. Transitioning to the online/tech/startup industry, I have found that the path is clearly divided. That is one of the reasons that I started a group in Austin centered around helping young women connect with the female executives. That’s also why I signed up to be on the board for Girls in Tech.

    I figure that the way to change the landscape is by joining it. That is what I am committed to doing every day. My sincerest apologies for the rude comment that was made to you. I feel your pain. While I have never been called that, I can say that I have experienced similar comments.

    I am on the path to trying to accept where I am surrounded by the people that think this way. My solution is to develop a good relationship with the women around me.

    Thanks Michelle for inspiring me!

    Olga

  • Anonymous

    Olga,

    All I can say is keep on keeping on and live every week like it’s Shark Week.

  • Rob E.

    There is a wide variety of personalities and persona’s on the web, anonymity often causes people to lose their discretion. Keep that in mind, then keep your chin up.

    You never know who’s lurking and learning….

  • http://twitter.com/sameder Sam Eder

    I think that if you can’t stand behind a comment with your real name, you probably shouldn’t write it. I wish I could blame the viciousness on anonymity alone, but having seen the Silicon Valley shark tank myself, I think that the eat your own young mentality over there has a lot to do with it.

    On the positive side, I think that the incubators out there, which have heavy emphasis on alumni network participation and, in some cases, shared ownership where businesses in the class all benefit from a class member’s successful exit- which encourage collaboration and actively discourage assholishness ;)

  • Faodhga

    Without going to the “controversy”, Michael Arrington has done nothing to suggest he is dishonest, and certainly does not have anything to apologize in not deleting insulting comments fast enough.

  • Anonymous

    When I read the original TC post (as a non-tech outsider) I thought, well, maybe he’s right to be defensive, maybe he’s wrong about the over-all climate.

    But the comments (1,076 last I looked) certainly put things in perspective. I thought your restaurant analogy was apt – not just for TC as a place to discuss, but for the field as a whole.

    (It did occur to me that most of us could have foreseen the need for comment moderation, and we might have been a bit more careful about when we swapped comment systems… but I don’t know tech, so maybe that’s unfair.)

    Best wished

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Michelle:
    First, I completely empathize with you: Having read some of the comments (enough to know I did not need to keep reading more of them), I saw that they would have been enough to make almost anyone want to cry. You have responded well within your own blog. There is nothing to be gained by even acknowledging such attack comments which is, however, what we all tend to do reflexively if we ever attempt to defend against such drivel. Defending merely tells the attacker that he has your attention and invites a continuation of his abuse.

    It is appallingly sad to see the flood of inane and vitriolic comments that appeared in the thread of Michael Arrington’s blog yet it was not Arrington’s own comments that directly led to the flood; his blog merely provided the platform for the weak to spew their bile in response to your attempts to bring some perspective to the thread about the issues from a woman’s point of view.

    Only those who feel insecure in themselves feel threatened by the expression of the opinions of others: Only the threatened attack. Just think of how a Blowfish responds to danger by puffing itself up. I would not normally say anything like this but perhaps it would make you laugh to see the results if we could evaluate the abusers and discover how high is the proportionate percentage of them amongst all other commenters that rely upon the big “V” for themselves to be “blown up”!

    The now ex-husband of a client of ours became the ex shortly after he left a book entitled “The Subservient Wife” on the bedside table of the wife as her business began to prosper while his was languishing: She became so much more self assured as her business grew yet, conversely, he felt more and more threatened instead of relishing the prospect of enjoying the results of her efforts being brought into the family coffers. She took the hint and divorced him: He became even more fragile and abusive.

    However, there is some good news after all: Change of this nature takes enormous time and consistent, concerted effort: The suffragette movement went through considerable struggle for considerable time before obtaining results hat have benefited us all today. Bringing these issue to public light for intelligent discourse is really the only practical way to stimulate progress.

    For all of us who support the efforts of women who are in business and the efforts to support and encourage women to be in business and, particularly, to enter technology business in entrepreneurial form as distinct from taking the corporate path – which has its own challenges – we must continue the effort to bring light to the subject and not become waylaid and distracted by those who feel threatened by such development: Rome was not built in a day but America absolutely is the best place to be for innovation, creativity and in leading the way for environmental and economic change for the better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jan-Der/100001393296342 Jan Der

    Only a dumb cuuuunt like you would see the world in terms of “nice” and “mean”. Just further proof that women are too fuuuuckkking stupid to compete with men. Go do your nails ya dumb biiitch :D

  • http://noahkuttler.wordpress.com Noah Kuttler

    You are one of the first people who has put together the fact that the sheer viciousness of Internet trolls combined with the real-time nature of new technologies (such as Disqus) are a recipe for disaster in instances like this one.

    The good news. We have smart people, such as yourself, on the case.

    As echoed by others on the comments here. I never met Arrington. Wouldn’t know the guy if I was standing next to him, but he did right by responding to your comments on the last blog so he’s got a point in the “good” category in my book. Let us all remember that the first thing people do when you get famous is they try to knock you down (see comments about trolls). It’s sadly true.

  • http://twitter.com/projectshave No Name

    I’m surprised that you’re surprised that trolls exist on the Internet. Did you just recently get online? (FYI, please stay away from 4chan.) There have been blistering flamewars since the early days of Usenet, well before you were even born. In fact, I’ve frequently seen men get torn apart on women’s sites like Jezebel. People, both men and women, are psycho when they are allowed to remain anonymous. My point is that getting all butt hurt because strangers are mean (sob!) really makes you look like you’ve got serious PMS issues. I’d recommend a fistful of Advil and Summer’s Eve douche before your boyfriend lets you online again.

    Did you see what I did there? I’m helping to thicken your skin. I get pounded every day online on every topic: politics, tech, music. I was even attacked by a group of women on a gardening forum! Either get over it or cancel your internet service.

  • Shannon Aronin

    Hey Michelle,

    So I read the initial post, and saw you had commented. In fact, my first thought was hey, I know her! And here she is commenting on tech crunch. I thought about adding my $.02, but declined because I’m not a coder and I suck at math and science. I DO think I had teachers who absolutely left a bad taste in my mouth for science, but math is a natural sucky inclination for me personally. I’m a writer and a communicator – ie a typical woman. But I get that natural skill set from my DAD. So I felt like I had lost my voice and where I would normally stand up for women I didn’t know what to say.

    After seeing all that transpired, I deeply regret not speaking up in there. I am AMAZED by women and men who think sexism is dead. The problem is it so often seems that it is, its latent. People forget that women still make less than men. Men have never felt the need to bring up that they are done or don’t plan on bearing children in an interview for fear they wouldn’t get the job b/c someone was worried about maternity leave but legally can’t ask. Some of those comments were shocking and appalling. And while *I* may not have quantitative skills, my 3 closest girlfriends are a hs biology teacher, a public health scientist, and a professor of biophysics. My sister is majoring in biochem. The fact that these jerks can argue it’s about brain function… well it is quite similar to the stance racists have taken to explain their stereotypes of minorities as being inferior with less developed brains.

    I like Michael Arrington and Tech Crunch. But the post itself did invite this as some of your commenters here have pointed out. Granted, he’s not an asshole like the trolls that were there claiming feminism is an evil plot for female supremacy (like we want to wipe men off the planet or something!). But this “it’s not *my* fault attitude does minimize the real barriers to women in tech. I wonder if he’s surprised at all by the attitudes that came up in the comments or if he knew the post would stir up controversy at best and misogyny at worst.

    Thank you for speaking up when I didn’t.

  • Anonymous

    Shanon, thanks for visiting. I feel as long as we see this as something ongoing, we’ll be okay. We can’t fight back but we also can’t back down.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, you are making yourself look like an idiot on my blog. Props.

    My commenters are intelligent and add to the conversation, precisely because I try to surround myself by intelligent people.

    If you do not see this as the purpose of a blog, then go back to 4chan. You are not welcome here.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, aren’t you supposed to run into me and tell me this? :P

  • Anonymous

    Michelle, like most self-absorbed, self-entitled cunts, you whine about the behavior of men while ignoring your own insulting, childish behavior. As many men have already pointed out, you’re simply too STUPID to grasp the point of the article. And your retard chick logic has been exposed as nonsensical professional victim speech whining.

    Women don’t get ahead because, like you, they’re simply too fucking stupid to connect the dots.

  • Anonymous

    Shut up stupid cunt. You make about as much sense as Paris Hilton.

    • http://twitter.com/JennaWhidby Jenna Whidby

      You’re hot!Really, get out of your mother’s basement much troll?

  • Anonymous

    Shut up stupid cunt. You make about as much sense as Paris Hilton.

  • http://EricSusch.com EricSusch

    This comment is a really great example of what Michelle is talking about. The overwhelming hate is unbelievable. Personally I think this type of thing reveals much more about the commenter than anything else. I also think that the culture of debate in America has been declining for some time becoming much more about shouting people down than anything else. I’ve dealt with my share of trolls online but I think this kind of thing is new. There’s almost no engagement at all. Most trolls relentlessly try to make you look wrong about the subject while linking their (and by implication, your) self worth to the outcome. This above is pure hate.

  • Anonymous

    Eric, you are a typical mangina white knight. You sheer faggotry makes men cringe. It’s emotional faggots like you that turn debates into punchlines. Real men address content. Emotional fags like you cry about how the truth makes you feeeeeeeeeeel. Go do your nails you pussified mangina. Oh and here’s a video that aptly covers your condition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppd6LHfhkd0

    And just like a faggot, right on cue, you cry “troll,” as if your panties are too tight in your crack. I would bitchslap you but i don’t want to get any fag juice on my hand. Your boyfriend’s cock awaits your lips Eric.

  • Jenn Wilson

    Hi Michelle, I just read the TC article and came here because I appreciated your comments on the article.

    I am one of those rare female tech entrepreneurs. It really is completely unacceptable for anyone to make a general statement that *all women* are better at X or worse at Y. Every individual is, uh, individual. Thanks for making that point, again and again, even while being aggressively and unfairly attacked. There are probably many women in tech that didn’t speak up for fear of harming their own companies or careers.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for dropping a note on my blog, Jenn. It means a lot.

      Just keep on keeping on and inspire others to do the same. :D

  • http://twitter.com/sameder Sam Eder

    You are NEVER downtown anymore ;)

  • proud to be a woman

    I’ve been following the story of what happened to you at TechCrunch (thanks to Jezebel), and all I can say is, You Are Amazing! I’m also one of those women in a “quantitative career,” and everything you said is spot on. Thank you so much for so eloquently and honestly standing up for what is right!

  • Anonymous

    All I can say is, keep on keeping on and remember that haters are going to hate no matter what.

  • Jake

    Despite this comment kind of proving your point, Michelle, it really should be deleted and purged from an area where intelligent, civil discourse is encouraged. Reading that and feeling the underlying hate made my stomach churn.

    I agree that it is good to stand up against those who flame and make sexist, demeaning remarks, but trolls are a different class of people, and I don’t think they are worth anyone’s time or emotional energy to address. If you have the power, I’d say it is more effective and better for everyone else just to silence the mindless trolls and prevent their vitriol from burning more eyes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jan-Der/100001393296342 Jan Der

    you sound like such a retarded faggot, it’s comical. go put your tampon back in you fucking faggot.

  • http://twitter.com/TimGasper Tim Gasper

    If you feel comfortable publicly using that word, you should use your real picture and put your real name instead of genericgoldfish. You must love that the Internet gives you the luxury of being anonymous so that you can smile and say how your day was to your wife and kids in one instant, and then go online and make sexist, angry commentary in the next instant. It’s really sad. I’m Tim Gasper, and I use my real picture, and when I make my opinion stated, I live up to the consequences. You should too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jan-Der/100001393296342 Jan Der

    Like most incoherent fags, you don’t realize that people avoid exposing themselves on the net so they don’t have to worry about fags like you coming over to their house. I would have no problem slapping you in public and calling you a fag. And there’s nothing you could do about it besides cry like a bitch.

  • Postscription

    Thanks for continuing to stand up. Any man who claims that sexism in tech doesn’t exist can and it’s all one big happy meritocracy can simply be directed to your posts to see how it really is. There might not be that many women posting, but I guarantee there are many watching.

  • Postscription

    I think it’s useful to keep comments like this visible, it’s very instructional for those that don’t believe reports of the sheer hatred that comes from (some) men, towards women that encroach on “their” territory. As you can see, men aren’t safe either, if they defend women, they’ll be attacked just as vigorously. The sexism is stomach churning but handily proves the point.

    • http://sethop.com Sethop

      I concur. And if she deleted it then they would have come back with stupid comments about how evil censorship is, that if she can’t take the heat she should get out of the kitchen (ie, the internet…) and other such original and refreshing thoughts that trolls come up with.  I think that as a general policy, nuking troll-posts from orbit is the least worst option, but in *this* case they really are just proving her point, so it’s better to leave them in situ.

  • http://sethop.com Sethop

    I have pondered the general problem space as a moderator, blogger, commenter and one time forum software developer, and in general I think the key is to just nuke their posts from orbit. The less time their posts are visible to the public, the fewer replies they get, the less they will bother coming back. Eventually they go back to trolling themselves on 4chan.

    • http://sethop.com Sethop

      …oh, and if it gets too much for one moderator to handle, then the tone of the place needs a reset. To help do that they can point people to the comments policy as they nuke the posts from orbit, and if they haven’t got a comments policy, then they deserve to have everyone leave in disgust. I don’t think it’s fair to expect users to slime themselves by engaging with the trolls, bloggers and moderators have to step up and show what is appropriate and what is not. And if the bloggers/moderators themselves don’t know, they don’t deserve our patronage, and their ‘power’ will surely fade.

  • http://sethop.com Sethop

    He certainly doesn’t *have* to, but the less they moderate, and the less they apologize for not moderating, the more the polite people will leave and the idiots and trolls will be the only ones left participating.

  • Anonymous

    “I just want to be respected on the same plane without the vitriolic name calling.”
    Do you see Michael Arrington write posts when people call him names? No. It sounds to me that you are trying to be on a different plane by making a big deal out of it.

    Want to be on the same plane? Put up with it like everybody else. Of course a guy won’t get the c-word but will get words like douchebag, retard etc.

    That you want more posts on TC about female entrepreneurs is fine but whining that people argue or troll you is both counter-productive (will get you more trolls) and will make it look like you want the attention on _you_ instead of your _points_ in general.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, Arrington doesn’t put up with it. He closed comments on a post where a bunch of Reddit trolls spammed him, has left TechCrunch when someone spat in his face, and deletes comments on a VERY regular basis.

      In this particular moment, they had just enabled the real-time commenting system Disqus and therefore could not delete the comments in time. Arrington apologized to me personally, and he was very sincere about it.

      I am not down with whining, but I also don’t like being told that I am a f*cking whore who should be raped. That adds nothing to a conversation and if someone came to my blog and said they think that you should be raped, I’d take that down too. People have a right to say what they want, but I have a right to delete those comments so people feel they can express themselves on my blog without being attacked. That is only fair.

  • Anonymous

    Seem a few points didn’t come across. First of all if you have to argue don’t make the points about “me, me, me”. Arrington makes point in general, eg. that people are being rude towards others and he wants things to cool down. You on the other hand took things so personally as if you’re the one and only person getting flamed on the net.

    No one argues that it’s nice to read such comments but most will argue that rebutting or making a scene out of it will just make it worse. That’s exactly how bullies and trolls work, the more you react the more they will come back. Just ignore or remove comments if it’s on you’re own site – nothing more. As you said Arrington _left_ when he got spat as he was better than that.

    You always talk about people not bringing anything to the conversation: talking about that tiny, but loud, minority that spurt out foul language does not bring anything to the conversation either (that minority will never ever change and us others have grown enough not to even care about them). Just look at all these posts and comments. How many are about your reaction and how many are about your initial point of having more female coverage?

    I don’t see the deal with Arrington apologizing…Of course he is going to apologize. He is afterall a smart man with principles who stands up for the little guy/gal when needed. Also, can you imagine what a “douche” he would look like if he didn’t apologize? Talking about being fair, I don’t see you once say something along the lines of “Arrington is being a gentleman, he apologized even though he wasn’t the one who wrote those comments”.

  • Anonymous

    He apologized and also saw me as a hero who stood up for the right thing. I think I’ll stick with his interpretation over yours.

  • Hangoverbetty

    I give you a lot of credit for ceding the high ground to TechCrunch, but the fact is the blog LOVES the classless comments. It is entertainment. It draws traffic. It makes for more page views. In short, it makes TechCrunch more money.

    I doubt the TechCrunch crew would have ever “grumbled to themselves that humanity is going to hell in a hand basket,” when it is exactly that sort of nasty comment that the blog has always hoped to incite.

  • http://twitter.com/JennaWhidby Jenna Whidby

    “The web, like the real world, can be a cruel place.”

    Actually it is a more cruel place… (with the exception possibly of junior high)… people feel free to say things on the web they they would never consider in real life.

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