(Do not) Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day (Or Don't)
Today was supposed to be "Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day." A clever and amusing way to point out how differently our culture treats female tech writers compared to their male peers.
Earlier this week, though, the creator of the idea called it off, fearing a misunderstanding of the intent.
Her idea, though, is worth discussing, for many, many reasons.
It's possible that much of the disconnect between how men and women are treated women comes from a fundamental difference in how – and what – men and women want to hear. This is, I think, where a lot of the humor could have come into the OaMTWD. For example, I know of no man that wouldn't want to hear "nice butt" or "Those glasses make you look sexy" from any female. Many of my tech writer compatriots were even looking forward to the event.
Well, dammit. There goes my one shot at being a sex object: goo.gl/qSxnJ- Dennis Burger (@DennisBurger) January 30, 2013
I don't think I'd mind if it went a little further. Personally I would have no problem with a woman I barely knew slapping me in the rear "as a joke."
I'd probably draw the line at a stranger "accidentally" sliding her hand between my thighs in the middle of a tradeshow floor. Sorry, too graphic? That one actually happed to a friend of mine, except the genders were reversed. Think about that for a second. There's some horrifying disconnect there from "fellow human" to "object located in my world."
But that's me. I'm not everyone. But I'm not sure why it's hard to understand that "Your genetics have caused that part of your anatomy to be aesthetically pleasing" is nice to receive from a loved one, sometimes OK to hear from an acquaintance, rarely good from a stranger, and NEVER in a work environment.
Welcome to the line. Look at it. It's a solid one.
OaMTWD stems from the pervasive and personal derision of female tech writers. Instead of commenting on what they're saying, these callow "men" attack who's saying it. This is called "argumentum ad hominem," or "argument to the person." It distills down to this:
Female Tech Writer: "Product A is bad, because the screen isn't as good as Product B."
Angry Fanboy Commenter: "That's stupid because you're ugly."
Or, the opposite, where their worth based solely on how attractive they are. As if their looks have anything to do with what they're saying, or how they've said it.
If you've never seen these kinds of retorts, you're either blind, or have never been on the Internet.
This fixation on looks is disturbing enough, but it goes deeper. Either as a cause of this objectification, or a symptom of it, female tech writers are accused by many as not knowing as much as male tech writers. Or, just as dismissively, not as "into" the gear as men.
Disturbingly, I think I can understand where this is coming from. Not, and let me be clear here, as an excuse mind you, but at least where this mindset might arise.
Most guys have probably never met a woman who was into gear like they are. Partly this is because many women simply aren't into technology. Many men aren't either (shocking, I know). Where the distinction comes in – and this is vital to the conversation – is how men and women are into technology.
I think it's safe to assume I'm into tech the way many men are into tech. I want to know about all the parts and bits about how the piece of tech works: MHz, GHz, resolution, and so on. Or, to explain in a description of my other hobby: cylinders, horsepower, torque, trick intake manifolds. When I read a car review, I skip to the engine part. Moarpowwwwerrrrrr.
I have many female friends, several of them tech writers. In a broad sense, this not how they're interested in tech. They're less concerned with the parts, and more concerned with what the product as a whole can do for them. This may seem like a small distinction, but it's a fundamental difference in the way men and women see tech. Generally, men want the best parts. Generally, women want the best experience. Certainly there's some crossover on both sides, but I believe this is the core of the issue. If you haven't already, go read Adrienne Maxwell's brilliant article, It's Complicated: Understanding a Woman's Relationship with A/V Gear. She says it a lot better than I can.
I'd argue that the "woman's" perspective on tech is more valid than mine in many ways. These plastic boxes that occupy our time, homes, and lives should do nothing less than enhance that life. Honestly, who gives a flying truck how much RAM some phone has if it doesn't actually make the experience of using that product better. This is to say that I think as audio and videophiles, we too often get bogged down in the sprockets and cogs and miss the greater picture of what these things actually do for us (other than drain our wallets).
This different viewpoint on tech comes to a head on the Internet. Your stereotypical fanboy, fixated on and fascinated with every performance spec, judges others on their knowledge of the same thing. With that visual conjured in your head, I'm going to expand it outwards. I'd hasten to bet most men, at some point or another, have used their technical knowledge (gained from their specific type of interest in their hobby), to talk down to someone who lacks that knowledge.
I don't want to condone this, but with what you just read, you can see how it can happen, right? If my interest in tech is with the bolts and bobbles, and I'm discussing tech with someone who's interest is radically different from mine, there's a disconnect. If they don't know the specs as well as I do, then it's a fact they don't know as much as I do on that topic... in the way that I know the topic.
Except, different does not mean worse. You can't judge someone's interest level in a topic if your interest in said topic doesn't overlap. Say someone is an expert on WWII planes, and they meet someone with an equal level of interest in WWII tanks. The other knows nothing about the other topic. How do you judge who is "more into" their topic? You can't.
And, for that matter, WHO THE FRAK CARES?
Why does it matter?
Whenever the issue about the anti-women bent in CE is discussed, invariably there's someone who says "why does it matter?" As if the concerns of many are somehow unimportant.
But you know what? They're right, but not for the reasons they think. Why does it matter who's saying something? That should be the larger point. Why should anyone care what a tech writer looks like or what their gender is? If you disagree with their opinion, and feel the need to say so, do it. The moment someone steps over the line to attack the person, then they've lost all credibility.
No, I'm not just hopelessly proposing more civility on the Internet. I'm asking the 99% of you reading this who are male to take a step back and think about how you talk to others (especially women) about technology. This goes for CE industry folk doubly so. In my 12 years in this industry, I've seen some shockingly disgusting behavior by PR flacks, "fellow" tech journalists, company reps, and others when it comes to dealing with the minority of us who lack a "Y" chromosome. We should want more women in tech, and treating them like children, posting scantily clad pictures of women in trade show booths (or in advertising), insisting on hiring "booth babes" in ultra-short dresses, and worse is not the way to do it.
Bottom Line (you do have a nice ass)
When it comes down to it, there is nothing that I or anyone else can say to change the mind of the misogynist wackjobs who seem to make up a disturbing percentage of the male populace. No one and nothing will get them to see past a bunch of uppity, complaining women and the weak, "dainty" "men" that try to agree with them.
They can suck it. The point is not to elevate woman above men, but to bring them to equality. Because (shocker!) they are, and in CE they are not treated as such.
All of the things we've discussed here tie together to perhaps partially explain (but not excuse) the behavior. When the feeling of superiority gained with knowledge, in this case tech, is threatened, many lash out. When that threat comes from a woman who clearly doesn't have the same type of knowledge, and in fact has an interest in tech that is foreign, lashing out is a sadly common response. Because men deal with physical attributes differently than women, these specific attacks take on a personal nature.
Maybe there is some overlap here, as I've been called some nasty things, sometimes having to do with my physical appearance. But of course, it's not the same, which we've also discussed.
Being conscious of how men and women view tech hopefully will reduce the occurrences of the condescension and patronization all too common in CE. This is where OaMTWD could have really raised the level of debate, instigated a real discussion about the actual differences between men and women. Maybe, in its cancellation, it still has.
Lastly, if your company's products are such crap that you need scantily clad women to draw attention to your booth, guess what, your products suck and you don't deserve attention. I, for one, will ignore you.