“The message […] from the media is […] ‘If you don’t get married and have kids right away, you’re gonna be miserable the rest of your life’.” – Caryl Rivers

November 7, 2011

It is often said that media portrays women badly. We’re offered up as sex symbols to men, as size zero models for girls and fashionistas for women. Even when said with the best of intentions, the implication is always there to dress like Michelle Obama, have the charitable goodwill of Melinda Gates and the talent of J.K. Rowling.

The media usually misses out the non-artistic, non-charitable women. On occasion, they pick up women in the sciences and technology and those like Susan Greenfield and Marissa Mayer tend to get the attention because they are beautiful, blonde women – and that dominates the story far more than their brains.

But it can be countered that that’s not always the case. The media picked up on Ada Lovelace Day to a surprising degree, with Wendy Hall and Sue Black doing pieces on BBC News and print journalism reporting and even contributing to the event. Articles regularly appear, usually in the education arena, examining the percentages of girls taking various subjects and how they have varied. The declining IT workforce has been a matter of priority for some time now, and the role that women play is usually not ignored when looked at properly.

Then there are the magazines. Currently located in WHSmiths under the all-inclusive header of Men’s Interest, they include publications such as Stuff, which claims to be “stylishly designed, wittily written and packed with reviews of the latest gadgets, gear and technology.” Nikki Moore of Girl Geek Chic is a contributor to Stuff.tv and aims to showcase ‘girl friendly’ gadgets with the hopes of increasing female interest in the latest innovations. But if it’s under a clearly labelled Men-Only banner, how far will she be able to reach?

While the success of Ada Lovelace Day has been lauded by many, I believe it has further to go. The goal was to combat this issue regarding a lack of technical female role models, and shout out about their professional and academic accomplishments. This was achieved far beyond Suw Charman-Anderson’s original expectations, and for that she gets kudos. But the day was showcased on BBC News, in the Guardian podcast, in the BCS publications.

Where are the next generation of potential female technologists looking now? Do they follow the ten o’clock news and visit their favourite newspapers website? Or are they at their local newsagent, picking up another copy of Cosmo and then going home to sit on Facebook? Perhaps they’re sitting in front of their televisions, ignoring the typical ‘boys shows’ and flicking over to Friends for the billionth repeat. This is where we need to go next, these are the ones that need to see those role models to believe.

They say that Ada Lovelace Day is over, but it’s only just begun.

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  1. |[P]| says: April 7, 2009

    Magazine placement is an interesting point I hadn’t considered (though I routinely despair at the content of the magazines routinely targeted at a female audience – arguably no worse than the “lads mags”, but then they don’t start quite so early and always seem a bit more self aware/tongue-in-cheek).

    There’s certainly a limit as to how far Stuff’s gadget porn (which its photography somehow manages even without a woman draped over/licking the product) will reach. However I am really curious as to how the launch of the new UK Wired will go. I’ve not had a chance to look in detail yet, but with a few good female writers I think that’s where the balance could really be redressed.

  2. Lily says: April 7, 2009

    I have to admit, I haven’t really been paying attention to what’s happening with Wired – I only heard about the launch the other day by chance, but I’ll definitely be following it to see what happens. I’m pleased to see that their initial marketing campaign will cover both GQ and Vogue, so that’s already a good sign!


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