Am I the only one bothered by this?

This was supposed to be a rant on a recent NY Times article called To Appeal to Women, Too, Gadgets Go Beyond ‘Cute’ and ‘Pink’ (feel free to bingo it in my stead), but I got to reading a Gizmodo article called NY Times: Smaller, Easier to Use Gadgets Are Made for Women and was distinctly bothered by it.

I was heartened by the unabashed use of “sexist” to describe the NYT article, and the fairly good breakdown of why the stereotypes are insulting and wrong. But three things that showed up soured my reading of the article, to the point where it sticks as a negative in my memory rather than a positive. Three things in particular got me: the accompanying picture and two of the “jokes” that Matt Buchanan, the author of the article, cracked.

Thing 1: Pandering to the Male Gaze

Pandering to the Male Gaze

This was the very first thing that I saw when i loaded that page. A thin, conventionally beautiful white woman holding a pink computer. She has no clothing except for a lacy bra, and her gaze is unfocused even though she’s looking at the screen. It’s fucking creepy.

Even so, I thought that perhaps it was there as a cultural critique, the use of which would be made clear in the article. Except that the article doesn’t reference it at all, nor does it talk about the male gaze or relate stereotypes about women and technology to the beauty myth. In the absence of any of that, it simply becomes yet another image offering up the objectification and hypersexualization as a sacrifice on the altar of the “sex sells” trope.

Thing 2: Sarcasm Fail

As our six female readers can attest to, that’s total BS.

[snark]Gee, Matt, that couldn’t have anything to do with the absolutely inappropriate choice in pictures to accompany your article, could it?[/snark]

I’m going to give Buchanan the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was meant as a self-deprecating joke to illustrate the sexism that runs rampant through the technology community. But, despite any good intent he may have had, the joke fell flat. Way flat. You see, women in male-dominated fields and/or those who have hobbies which are male dominated hear that said to us in seriousness all the fucking time.

Examples of context in which that is funny:
People on the Iris boards saying that about Iris or Cerise
Female geeks saying it to each other
Saying it in an article clearly aimed at women geeks (who know very well that they exist, and know that you know, too)

Examples of context in which that is not funny:
Saying that on a mainstream site which continues to be male-dominated and male-oriented
A male geek saying it to other men
Saying it if there’s any reasonable doubt as to whether your audience might believe it
Saying it in an article where the picture used to represent women one that objectifies women

And, see, while I seriously doubt that only six women read Gizmodo, I’m pretty sure that men are the norm there. The writer isn’t a woman making fun of the ridiculousness of the statement, nor is it said in a context where it would be clearly taken as a joke. And because of this, there’s nothing to make the joke seem like anything but one of those “now make me a sammich, bitch” type “it’s funny because it’s true” jokes.

Thing 3: Equal Opportunity Sexism

We now return you to your regularly scheduled boob and dick-joke posts.

I don’t know how much boob and dick humour actually is or is not in Gizmodo. But, based on only this article, that line was the nail on the coffin for me. It smacks of apologist humour that’s trying to downplay the sexism found elsewhere on the site (again, I’d like to say that this is my impression) by framing it as “equal opportunity” sexism: “Making boob jokes is okay because we make dick jokes, too!”

Except it’s not. Obviously context makes a difference here; me making boob jokes with my friends is funny. Men making boob jokes about women generally isn’t, at least not to those of us who have seen how those kinds of “jokes” help keep women from being taken seriously, or seen as people first (or sometimes people at all).

Men aren’t the ones who are encouraged to post “sexy” pictures of themselves online in order to be accepted as a geek. Men aren’t the ones who have had their chances of getting a career hurt by dick jokes, or the consequences of that kind of culture (see “sexy” pictures and sexual harassment). Men aren’t the ones who are struggling to get themselves taken seriously as geeks; they have the luxury of assuming that they will be because geekdoom has always been a boy’s club.

Both jokes might reference secondary sexual characteristics, but the similarities stop there. They aren’t weighted the same, and trying to pretend that they are just makes you come off as intellectually dishonest and as an apologist for sexism on the site you’re writing for.


It’s not that I want to crucify the article, or make it out like there’s nothing good in it. It took down the harmful stereotypes that the NYT — a supposedly professional publication — put out there. Buchanan didn’t shy away from using the “s” word. His words, in general, showed a respect for women that is absent in most mainstream sites for geeks. I appreciate this, really, I do.

But it’s not enough to just criticize the sexism in others; you have to be aware of where it applies to yourself and the places that you work for. You need to fight it, and fight against it when you see it. Because otherwise it’s just one step forward and two steps back. And I, for one, am tired of being constantly pushed back by shit like this.

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7 thoughts on “Am I the only one bothered by this?

  1. It’s all two steps forward, one step back. 🙁

    I know someone has pointed this out before, but women in underwear posing with tech is the same as women posing with cars in underwear. Which really speaks to the whole tech gadgets as male hobby thing.

  2. I don’t know why he’d want to undermine an article he’d written by engaging in the very same displays he’s criticising in another article. You’d think he’d have a little more interest in self-preservation yeah?

    The picture makes me cringe. I don’t think I’d be able to take seriously whatever article it’s accompanying unless the caption makes it clear that the author is using it to illustrate a point.

  3. They could have at least shown a picture of a woman using a computer. Her hands are not even on the keyboard – and it makes it appear that she bought it not to use, but because it is “cute and pink”. A realistic photo should have had her hunched over her laptop, hands on the keys, and certainly a less vapid stare.

    I myself have had to struggle with being a girl in “geekdom” recently, and it is hard to get respect. And while being underestimated has sometimes given me the upper hand, it does not feel that great when you hope to command respect. And while it is hard work to get the “props” we all deserve, I think more and more men are coming to see that we are equal players online and otherwise.

    Once again, great post. This blog never fails to give me something to think about.

  4. re: Thing 3

    There seems to be a distinct lack of understanding going around regarding what makes something ironically funny – rather than just making fun of people.

  5. No, you aren’t the only one bothered by this.
    One note: I think “boob and dick-joke posts” means “boob posts and dick-joke posts because we’re acknowledging or joking about the way we perpetuate this stuff”, not “boob-joke and dick-joke posts because we’re making a lame attempt to say we’re equal-opportunity mockers”.

  6. L. Keller: The same could be argued about the “make me a sammich” jokes, but the use of them makes it no less harmful. Also, please refrain from using ablist slurs like “lame” on this blog. Thanks!

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