This past week has been a bad one for the tech world. For those that might have missed them, we had two episodes that had the tech world buzzing around the issues of inclusion and feminism. First, there was the situation with Ms. Adria Richards which consisted of her overhearing a comment by two male attendees of the Pycon event that she interpreted as sexist and offensive. Her handling of the situation, taking a photo and posting to Twitter of the offending characters, eventually led to one of the men being fired, Ms. Richards being terminated and an explosion of opinion around the “right or wrong” of the whole incident. Second, Complex magazine published its list of the “40 Hottest Women in Tech” that caused a similar uproar and subsequent rebuke by many of the women listed.
Both stories caught my attention, but I’d like to primarily focus on the abovementioned Complex list. The post, written by Luke Winkie, begins:
“Technology has been a boy’s club for most of its existence. Just another unfortunate repercussion of the patriarchy. But that’s been slowly changing, and over the last decade we’ve seen a number of wonderful, intelligent, and cunning women make inspiring strides in the field of technology. Through web development, social media, space exploration, and video game design, we see the world of tech becoming a more equal playing field. Here are 40 women we admire doing work in the field of innovation.”
The digital reaction was quick and sharp. Most people tore into the list in general as well the naïveté of the author denouncing it as an attack on women’s competence in an industry that already devalues their contributions.
To be honest, this reaction caught me off guard. Perhaps because I work in the fashion industry, dominated by women and where appearance is clearly important. Perhaps it is a function of my personality and background to not take these things that seriously.
So given these two factors and knowing the nature and target audience of Complex, I viewed the list in a lighthearted way and with a sort of curiosity. So naively, I thought, this is actually a good way to congratulate these women that have accomplished so much in a field dominated by men. In short, women are intelligent, hard working, determined and can also be celebrated as being beautiful. There is nothing wrong in having these qualities and for being recognized for them. I also come from a prejudice-free mindset that favors women. No matter how attractive you are, if you reach the pinnacle of your chosen field you are supremely qualified. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a throwback to an age better left in the past.
The tech world is often perceived as being a male dominated environment. Add to that, the men are also seen as being smart, but ultimately are boring nerds that exist primarily in their own world of bits and bytes. So in my mind, I see the television show Big Bang Theory, subtract Penny, and there you go. So seeing the Complex list, shifted my perception as I saw women that were accomplished, beautiful, and in tune with their femininity. This confirmed that tech industry stereotypes are wrong and it helped to have an idea of the real women in tech.
So when I considered how terribly offended many women in tech were over this list, I didn’t quite get it and would love for someone to explain me what damage was done. All publicity is good publicity and I think the list was a way to promote their business and brand. In a way, I believe some women overreacted because they saw an opportunity to advance their own agenda and get attention themselves. It’s likely these women would have preferred to be included in another list that was based solely on their merit and accomplishments, but Complex did not go down that road. Any kind of list can be viewed as objectification but we can also take a collective digital breath and choose to not take things so seriously.
So to all those perspective editors/bloggers in fashion, feel free to include me in your “hottest” “most stylish” “best ever” list. I don’t mind and take the compliment in the spirit it was intended, and then, I’ll have a good laugh. Something we need to do a bit more.