Home Open Thread: ‘Sexy Girls,’ Smart Women & Tech

Open Thread: ‘Sexy Girls,’ Smart Women & Tech

I’ve tried to pick some interesting and controversial topics for these open threads over the past few weeks, but if there’s one topic that’s sure to divide public opinion and light the sky with burning effigies, it’s this one.

I’m a woman, and I’m in technology, and I demand here and now that you stop catering to me. That’s right, I’m talking to YOU: brands, marketers, PR flaks, hardware manufacturers, advocacy groups and the women and men in my industry. And while we’re at it, stop referring to me and my female colleagues as “girls.”

How do you feel about women in tech? Let us know in the comments.

Now that I’ve had my little rant, let me tell you why I’m so incensed.

For some time, I’ve been courted by a few organizations purporting to address the issues of women in technology. And issues there are, I’m sure. Certainly, many women have a hard time being taken seriously in what’s traditionally a male-dominated industry.

For example, those of us who are fortunate enough to have good hair days and decent posture get flaunted as sex symbols, and those who have better things to think about than what shade of lipgloss to wear get criticized, overlooked, underpaid, or even – gasp! – taken seriously.

I’ve been fortunate enough to (usually) be on the former end of that equation, and I can tell you it ain’t all roses for cute women, either, especially when you cross the line into “too cute” territory and are accused of being brainless, opportunistic, shallow and far, far worse.

It’s true that our male colleagues often undergo the same process of judgement and criticism, but to a much lesser degree. Still, we as a culture have come a long way from the days of Cosmopolitan’s 1967 article “The Computer Girls,” which vacillated between praising the intelligence of its female programmer subjects and talking about their marriage prospects and hair color.

Or have we?

Google’s still listing 8 million results for the search terms “sexy girls in tech” and around 4.5 million for “sexy girls in tech 2009,” in case you were wondering whether the sexism of the past was skewing the results. This is compared to a mere 1 million results for “sexy girls in tech 2008.” I have thus very unscientifically proven that tech is becoming more sexist, not less, by continuing to marginalize and objectify “sexy girls” in our industry.

Moving on from Google and sexy girls, how are brands treating women? Just last year, Dell tried to foist off a horrendously sexist site aimed at women; the content suggested that their pastel-hued laptops could help us count calories, plan meals and listen to Sarah McLachlan clones to our heart’s content. The site was ripped to shreds (rather brilliantly) by The Register and promptly removed from the tubes. In other hardware news, Sony’s just issued a Barbie pink Vaio (with a floral pattern!) that’s well out of the price range of the Barbie-buying market, and others just can’t stop pitching us on “fashionable” laptop cases to match our handbags.

So who’s responsible for putting women in a pink, perfumed corner? Is it the women-run groups, who segregate us from the rest of our colleagues and still insist on calling us “girls?” Is it the men who slaver shamelessly over “sexy geeky girl” posts with more regard for cup size than intellectual caliber? Is it the computer manufacturers who cater to women by slapping flowery shells onto devices and gadgets? Or is it women themselves, who sometimes rely too much on their gender and looks, counting on the fact that the “male-dominated” industry will more likely be charmed by those factors than impressed by their intelligence or talent?

Technologists don’t have to treat women like men, but perhaps we should all make an attempt to treat one another with a little more neutrality. And for goodness sake, can we all agree on a moratorium for script fonts, sparkles, the word “girl” and the color pink? We might be females, but we’re not 4-year-olds.

I’m fully aware that this point of view will tick off quite a few readers, so be sure to tell me exactly why in the comments. We welcome all opinions in these open threads, whether you disagree, concur or simply have a different point of view.

Read more ReadWriteWeb articles from the Gender & Tech archives. Also see these related articles on other websites from Clay Shirky, Jeanne of Feministing, danah boyd and Gina Trapani.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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