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pjf (2464)

pjf
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I run Perl Training Australia [perltraining.com.au].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Sunday June 20, 2004
09:37 PM

Gender Issues

[ #19397 ]

There's a very old phrase that "sex sells". Put more correctly and in modern terms, "sexual images and suggestions are attention-grabbing"; so are bright colours, flashing lights, and movement. All of these are used to sell things. Furthmore, if you can invoke an emotional response, then viewers may associate your product with that emotion. This is why actors always look incredibly cheerful when they reach for Wonder Washing Liquid(TM) to do the otherwise tiresome task of washing the dishes.

"Sex sells" because it provides the double whammy of both attracting attention and invoking desire, at least in a significant population demographic. Show a set of golf-clubs, ho-hum. Show a guy with the same gold-clubs in one hand, and a bikini-clad girl in the other, and Wow! They must be some golf clubs.

I don't have any strong opinions on the 'sex sells' techniques. Almost all advertising showing images of people use 'beautiful people' to push their products, which is a very basic (and usually very tasteful) form of 'sex sells'.

Where I do have an issue is using more overt gender-oriented advertising with regards to IT products. This continues to reinforce gender stereotypes and causes very real damage in the IT industry. Unfortunately, that damage is not always immediately visible.

I've seen girls decide not to study Science/IT/Engineering because it's perceived as a 'male' field, and they don't feel they would get along. I've seen women turned off IT events because of the gender issues in advertising have made them feel they're not the target audience. I've seen very real instances where they weren't the target audience, and women at user-group meetings have been assumed to have been attending with their male partners. That's a very good way not to encourage them to come again.

For a real stomach-churning instance, see this article, by Raven Alder. It's more than enough to turn some people off IT (or at least sections of it) for a long long time.

How does this damage the IT industry? Put very simply, highly-talented individuals are discouraged from entering, contributing, and remaining in the IT field. With less talented people available to IT, the quality and value of IT will suffer as a result. Highly talented individuals are not exclusively male.

So I guess I do have a problem with "sex sells" advertising, at least when it's in my own backyard. Luckily, most IT advertising these days don't use any gender images at all. Sleekly-fashioned iPods and images of rotund penguins appear to be the image du jour, and I consider this to be a very good thing.

However, if you do find yourself in a position where you have some control over the advertising of an IT product, don't try to suggest it will attract bikini-clad girls away from the golfers. Instead concentrate on selling it because it's unique, or better than the other products in the field. Given that your target audience of geeks is likely to be highly intelligent and goal-oriented, that's going to get you better results as well.

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  • I take it you don't approve of the FreeBSD Daemons (or whatever they're called). I've seen a few picks of women dressed in skin tight, plastic looking red suits with pitchforks and such at some convention, but I couldn't tell you which one or how often that occurs (or if it still does).
    • My primary concern is that otherwise talented individuals are not entering what would be their preferred field. Either advertising, stereotypes, peer pressure, or other influences are presenting an image that discourages participation by a particular gender.

      This is not a problem which is at all limited to the IT field. In Australia, nursing is predominantly seen as a female role. We see a disproportionately low number of men entering the nursing field. This is not because men cannot handle the sight

      • I've seen them, and if you like latex-clad daemons [userfriendly.org] then they're for you. The guys all say that it's awful while they're staring directly at the woman's boobage. As for why there are so few women in, say, perl, it's likely a lot more complex than just a lifetime of discouragement and a sexist society. Watch how nerd guys with small children behave at conferences towards their children, especially the ones who say they're all for women in IT, etc. Some things change very slowly.
  • Considering how many women are around these parts and Randal's 'booth babes' at OSCON, it really shouldn't come as any surprise that things aren't that different here. The boys have to exert social pressure among themselves to change this sort of behaviour, but they're too busy downloading porn and hoping it's someone elses job to fix the problems before their nerd daughters grow old enough to get the same treatment.