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
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
[snark]Gee, Matt, that couldn’t have anything to do with the absolutely inappropriate choice in pictures to accompany your article, could it?[/snark]
As our six female readers can attest to, that’s total BS.
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.