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Month: January 2011

Real-World Tech Influencers

Last week an infographic went viral that posed the question “Which Female Tech Influencer Are You?” By answering inane questions such as “Jimmy Choos or running shoes?” and “White wine spritzer or tequila with worm?” you are supposed to find out which successful female tech influencer you most resemble.

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Please. I know this is just meant to be fun but really — isn’t it incredibly patronising to suggest the biggest decision made by dynamos such as Google vice president Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is which handbag they might like to take to work? Writer and real-world tech influencer Alexia Tsotsis nailed it on the site Tech Crunch:

The women who have been highlighted here are smart, driven, and have worked hard for their success. They deserve so much more than being reduced to an infographic bobble-head on a cartoon body.

When you think of all the legends in the development of information and communications technologies (ICTs), you rarely hear the names of women. The usual names that spring to mind are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Stallman and, recently, Mark Zuckerberg , for being the genius behind the popular social networking website Facebook. Can you imagine anyone asking these men how they prefer to style their hair?

How can we move beyond limiting stereotypes and sexist sniggering?

By telling HERstory!

HERstory is an initiative of Take Back The Tech, a grassroots campaign that encourages everyone, particularly girls and women, to take control of technology and use it as a tool to do something incredibly vital: put an end to violence against women. The campaign lends itself to some excellent and much-needed school-based work on cyber safety and activism. Their website includes sensible online safety tips, campaign banners and posters, videos, blog posts and an “Idea Kitchen” filled with inspiration.  One of those ideas is to tell HERstory by spotlighting “the innovative girls and women around you who are doing creative, inventive and groundbreaking things with technology”.  I had never heard of the following women who shaped the cyber frontier until I visited the website for Take Back The Tech:

  • Ada Lovelace — the first computer programmer in history, who wrote the first algorithm specifically for the computer
  • Grace Hopper — the inventor of the first computer language composed of words
  • Betty Holberton, Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jean Jennings and Fran Bilas — the six women who were the original programmers of the first general-purpose computer, ENIAC.

Why does telling HERstory matter? Because when only men get attention for their roles in ICT:

This contributes to the idea that ICTs is the domain of men and boys as creators and innovators, and that women and girls are mainly just users and consumers. This in turn affects the choices that parents make in encouraging their children to study science and technology based on their gender, and the masculine culture that permeates the industry, making it hard for women and girls to enter as equal participants and decision-makers. What happens is a perpetuation of this cycle of gender stereotypes and myths that cast women as passive background actors in the development of ICTs and men as active groundbreakers – the stuff of legends.

— Take Back The Tech

I am always inspired by the women I know who are using technology to make changes. The team over at Collective Shout have initiated a number of successful campaigns lobbying corporations to end their objectification and sexualisation of women. Their recent petition to ban the release of Kanye West’s Monster video now has almost 7,000 signatories.

And I am really excited about the new site launched by the Equality Rights Alliance, Sharing Young Women’s Stories. This site has been set up to celebrate 100 Years of International Women’s Day. It features a number of guest bloggers (including yours truly) and encourages people to upload and share stories of women who inspire. There is also a postcard that can be downloaded and sent to  Minister Garrett, asking him to do more to promote healthy body image. Enlighten Education is going to pay to have 10,000 of these cards printed to distribute to our client schools during our upcoming in-school events. We find girls willingly embrace activism!

So, perhaps a revised infographic suggesting the decisions women really make when using technology to shape their careers, and indeed their culture, might actually pose questions like: “You see an injustice. Do you blog on it or set up an on-line petition?” and ” You like to share the love and encourage the women around you who are making changes. Do you Tweet about their work or set up a Facebook Fan Page?”

No . . . even that would be far too limiting. The smart cyber-amazons I know don’t just chose one path. They do it all.

Postscript:

Other Butterfly Effect posts on girls and technology that may inform and inspire you (particularly when planning International Women’s Day events at your home or school) include:

And my 3-part series on cyber world:

Part 1 — What is working?

Part 2  — Cyber bully busting

Part 3 — Dealing with more difficult truths

Hands off our vaginas

I lament the use of terms such as “liberation” and “empowerment” to sell women more and more product. In this post I want to particularly question the use of terms implying female empowerment in the growing trend to convince women to change what is surely something quintessentially female — our vaginas.

Case in point?  The latest series of advertisements for Schick Quattro’s TrimStyle all-in-one razor and bikini trimmer. The ads invite you to “celebrate your inner confidence” and, using the language of liberation, “free your skin”.  According to the company’s PR blurb,  five everyday Australian women were photographed and filmed for the campaign wearing nothing but lingerie, in and around some very public locations in Sydney’s CBD.  Men are shown gawking at them, whilst other women look on admiringly. The women do have inspiring stories — there is a single mother and a cancer survivor — yet surely as the advertisement is for a bikini razor and they are seen posed in lingerie, we can only assume that their confidence actually comes from having well-groomed vaginas.

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Speaking of well-groomed vaginas reminds me of one of the most flabbergasting moments in talk-show history. In January last year Jennifer Love Hewitt famously discussed on American TV that she had devoted an entire chapter of her new book on relationships to decorating her hairless vagina with jewelled decals — a practice known as “vajazzling” that is gaining in popularity here, too. Hewitt told her host “Women should vajazzle their vajayjays . . . It really helped me.” She went on to say, “After a breakup, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady . . . and it shined like a disco ball.”  It really “empowered” her, she insisted  (although apparently she was not quite empowered enough to use adult terms for her anatomy).

Forget the war on terrorism — if the amount of ads for decorating, shaving, waxing and electrolysis are anything to go by, it is the age of the war on women’s vaginas.

Actually, it is not just grown women who are being told they should doubt their own genitals. During the formal season last year, beauticians noted a huge increase in the number of young women wanting “intimate” grooming treatments. Girls as young as 14 were asking for Brazilian waxes. Enlighten Education’s Program Manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen, who is also a women’s health and sexuality educator, tells me of a school in NZ for Year 1 to 13 students that ran a beauty salon’s ad for Brazilian waxing in the school diary. Imagine pulling out your five-year-old daughter’s homework diary and an ad for Brazilian waxing jumping out at you.

It seems teens no longer even know what “normal” is. In episode one of the UK’s 2009 Sex Education Show, when teens of both sexes were shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. The producers had set out to show that in reality “we all come in all different shapes and sizes. From penises to pubes, bums to boobs whatever you’ve got it’s all perfectly normal.”

Cosmetic surgeons would have us believe otherwise. As if waxing, plucking, electrolysis and decorating is not enough, far more serious procedures are being widely promoted by surgeons as  important for restoring women’s “confidence”. Researcher Karen Roberts McNamara argues that women are going under the scalpel to have their vaginal openings tightened and their labias made smaller because they have been convinced this will “normalise” them and thus give them confidence:

The sanitized ideal of the clean, delicate, discreet vaginal slit, so widely used in the plastic surgery industry discourse, functions in such a way as to cast the bodies who have not undergone these procedures as necessarily dirty and unsightly . . . Scholars have noted that in years  past, women rarely had the opportunity to see other women’s vaginas and thus had no sense of how a typical vagina might look. Yet with the mainstreaming of the adult entertainment industry, the situation has changed dramatically. Now, a beauty standard has emerged, one established primarily through porn actresses, nude models and strippers . . . The irony of this situation is that in pornographic films and photographs, everything from eye colour or stretch marks, to genitalia, can be modified digitally.

Amanda Hess, in her excellent piece “The Problem With Defending The Sacred Choice To Vajazzle”, concludes with a call-to-arms of sorts that I am taking up, and that I urge all girls and women to take up.

For now, the more extreme performances of femininity, like breast implantation, vaginal ‘rejuvenation,’ and Vajazzling aren’t considered the norm for women. I’m not going to be met with shock when I remove my pants and reveal to my sex partner that I haven’t converted my pubic mound into a shiny disco ball. But these days, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to be shocked that I’m not perfectly waxed. The body hair ship may have sailed, but vaginal modification is at a point right now where we are still in a position to fend off the tide. And my greatest fear is that someday, we will wake to find that our girls are being routinely Vajazzled upon puberty, and realize that we never stood up to say, ‘This…is . . . ridiculous.’

Prevent Official Release of Kanye West’s Women-Hating “Monster” video

I have been expressing concern over music and music videos that demean women for some time. Back in 2008 in a post “Claim back the music” I questioned the growing trend towards lyrical sexism and misogyny:

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed society’s boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now – thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centres, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

I went so far as to call on radio stations to devote a day to music that portrays women in a positive light:

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof…

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

Sadly, rather than noting change what I have noted is just how mainstream hypersexual imagery in music has now become. Case in point? At the Australian Small Business Champion Awards held in November last year, where Enlighten were Finalists for Educational Services Business of the Year, the entertainment was a Gaga tribute band. You may recall me questioning Gaga in my previous post Lady Gaga’s Toxic Mess:

(in her film clip for “Telephone”) Lady Gaga gets thrown in a sadomasochistic-porn-fantasy version of a women’s prison; there is violence, sexual intimidation, graphic tongue kissing, cigarettes, and barely any clothes. Then her lover Beyonce bails her out so they can go on a killing spree, murdering multiple people, most of them strangers, by poisoning them. They look like they’re having a great time. They drive off into the sunset. Think “Thelma and Louise” but drained of all meaning and instead filled with product placement for mobile phones, sunglasses and other branded gear you may soon be expecting teen girls to start asking for.

There my team and I sat amongst the other mostly senior businesspeople dressed in our black-tie and ball-gown best, whilst up on stage the Gaga wannabe pretended to masturbate with a microphone and rubbed her crotch up and down her dancers, who were gagged and dressed only in silver underpants. It was surreal. Sad. Embarrassing. Where to look? What to say? “Congratulations on being named Entrepreneur of The Year. And oh I say, if you look up now on the big screens you will see a charming close up of that woman’s crotch!”

A snapshot of how women are portrayed in the musical charts at the moment also proves I am right to remain concerned. Number one on the iTunes charts is the song “Dirty Talk” by Wynter Gordon. She repeatedly tells us she is no angel, wants to “fight through the night” and likes it “hard-core”:

Kitten heels, lingerie,

Pantyhose, foreplay,

Legs up, on the bar,

in the back of your car,

latex, champagne,

bubble bath, whipped cream,

cherry pop tag team,

can you make me scream

In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, “cherry pop tag team” is a reference to her wanting to have sex with many partners – one after the other. One assumes she’d prefer this to happen whilst being made to scream.

The one-time poster girl against domestic violence Rihanna, in her song subtly named “S&M” croons:

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it

Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But chains and whips excite me

I appreciate that sadomasochism does not predispose those aroused by it to participating in or enjoying violent acts outside the metaphoric bedroom – yet I can’t help but wonder if the young fans get the distinction. Surely mainstream exposure to lyrics like this, sung by artists they admire, make it more challenging for them to distinguish what is acceptable in a relationship? As I cited in my recent post Because We’re Worth More, the most recent national data shows that one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, nearly one in five women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 and almost every week, one woman is killed by her current or former partner.

The reality is not very sexy or song-worthy is it?

Meanwhile HipHopConnection.com has leaked a video teaser for the Kanye West hit song “Monster.” The teams at Adios Barbie and Collective Shout gave me the heads-up on this one. So alarmed were they by the scenes of eroticised violence against women that they have put together a petition to ask for it not to be released here. They explain why it is so disturbing.

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In just 30 seconds, viewers take in image after image of eroticized violence against women:

– Dead women, clad in lingerie, hang by chains around their necks.

– West makes sexual moves toward dead or drugged women propped up in a bed.

– A naked dead or drugged woman lays sprawled on a sofa.

If that’s not enough, a behind-the-scenes clip of the video includes a semi-naked dead woman laying spread eagled on a table in front of Rick Ross as he eats a plate of raw meat. It is likely we can expect more brutal images in the full-length video.

The victims in this video are clearly women. Only women. And the men, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z, are far from bothered by the female corpses. They seem to enjoy being surrounded by lifeless female bodies, apparent victims of a serial killing.

The official release date of the full-length video has not yet been announced. Let’s make it clear to Universal Music Group, the controlling company of West’s record label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and MTV that the music industry’s portrayals of women’s pain, suffering, abuse, objectification, and victimization as valid forms of entertainment are not acceptable.

We call on Universal Music Group and MTV to combat violence against women by refusing to support, promote, and/or give airtime to West’s “Monster” video.

I urge all my readers to sign this petition too. It will take less than a minute.

Enough is enough. Agree?

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