Women Geeks Are Gorgeous



In my article "Talibanism in Technology" I pointed out one of the
myths about being a woman in technology is that they are usually considered
unattractive. For some reason smart, sexy women and technology are considered
mutually exclusive. It is as if women in tech are female replicas of male nerds
with unkempt hair, baggy clothes, and glasses. Well, Lilac Mohr decided to do
something about it.

Lilac Mohr, a senior Java developer was determined it was
time to set the world straight after hearing the myth repeated at her workplace.
She decided to produce a ‘Women Geek Calendar’ where all the models are
women computer professionals. According to Mohr, intelligent women are sexy too.
She has declared the proceeds of the calendar sales would go up to setting up a
scholarship fund that would help girls who would like to pursue computer science
in college.

sLilac Mohr, a senior Java
developer was determined it was time to set the world straight after hearing the
myth repeated at her workplace. She decided to produce a ‘Women Geek Calendar’
where all the models are women computer professionals.

The Geek Gorgeous Calendar (www.geekgorgeous.com) has kicked
up a controversy in the tech circles for some see this as just another
objectification of women like fashion models. Some women have objected to the
calendar on the premise that this is only a step back and Mohr in the guise of
helping computer women professionals has ended up hurting her fellow
counterparts in the computer field.

The Objections
Those objecting to this calendar cite three primary reasons:

The first one is that the calendar just portrays women as sex
symbols and does nothing, but perpetuate the idea of beauty as just sexy women.
With this calendar, some worry that male colleagues and co-workers will not take
them or their work seriously, but instead wonder if they are as sexy as the
calendar models.

The second one is, they question how this will help the women
in the field as the calendar is only seeking to perpetuate the stereotype. The
calendar plays right into the socially defined idea of beauty as it conveys the
idea that beautiful, smart women are always slender, glossy with flawless skin,
perfect makeup, and hairstyle, thus reiterating superficial beauty and sexiness.
They ask why Mohr feels the need to prove there are sexy women in the IT field
and how this calendar is going to help break the myth. They claim the brainy
aspect of beauty is completely left out and this would add additional pressure
on technical women that being smart isn’t sexy.

The third objection is that if it was going to be a geek
calendar why does it not have both male and female models? They argue that boys
and young men face the same problems initially though later on they are able to
overcome it in life, because women prefer intelligent men than just eye-candy
men! They point out that unfortunately, the situation is reversed for women, as
men prefer to date and marry pretty women rather than smart women.

The Response
Lilac Mohr responded to the above accusations with this
statement, which she published on the calendar’s website. She says, "I
obviously knew that this project would cause some controversy, and there would
be individuals who felt that the project would promote men to view their female
co-workers and classmates as sex objects instead of accepting them for their
technical competence. It is a difficult task to create a product that breaks
stereotypes, and yet has market potential in a society that is still driven by
physical appearances. The sad, but honest truth is that very few people would
pay attention to, much less purchase a calendar that features women in business
suits.

When I started this project, my biggest concern was
objectifying the women-I kept reiterating that I did not want the poses or
attire to mimic the types of images found in Maxim magazine. What I found out,
is that the models themselves wanted to show off their sexy sides – they didn’t
view this as a step back for women, but as a form of empowerment and fun.
Something they could look back on in time and be proud of. Our media culture is
constantly flaunting actresses and singers wearing next to nothing and acting
provocative -these entertainers get attention and unfortunately have become
role models for teenage girls. What is so wrong about intelligent women showing
the world that they can be just as sexy and comfortable with their bodies as the
bimbettes are, but hold careers where they are valued for nothing more than
their brain power? The bottom line is that sometimes you need to get people’s
attention in order for them to listen to the underlying message. "My
intentions are good, and I believe my methods are justified. I hope others
understand."

My Take
The male reaction has been mainly leery and they do not read
the brief write up of the calendar models, which is there in each page. Most
women have been critical of Lilac Mohr and the computer women professionals who
volunteered to model for the calendar. They suggest that the calendar was an
extremely bad idea. Personally, I think the calendar is a very good idea despite
the reactions from people in the tech field. Why?

For starters, high school children, both girls and boys,
would mostly buy the calendar. If this calendar can make boys think brainy girls
are sexy, then girls may not be afraid to be geeks and would be themselves
instead of trying to be someone else. It may also help change at least a few
girls’ minds about taking it up as a career instead of dropping it after
marriage. The high school boys and college-going guys who buy this calendar may
grow up to realize that girls in computing are ‘real’ girls who enjoy
mathematics and engineering just as they do. In the long run, the future
generations of boys and men will not be intimidated by ‘smart’ women and
would be able to treat them as equals as the men in teaching and medical
professions do today.

Secondly, many a time, this sort of ‘in your face’
marketing needs to be done for women to be taken seriously! Most of you reading
this may think I am crazy, but take sports for example. In tennis, women tennis
truly became huge around the world, only after short skirts came into
vogue. Of course, the reason was technical (shorter skirts for better movement
and less wind resistance) but it was seen as sexy. It started a debate around
the time about objectification of a women’s body and women stars being just
poster girls. However, the next generation did benefit and women tennis became a
sport to be reckoned with.

Thirdly, we do not need a male geek calendar for whether we
admit it or not, there is a paucity of women and not men in the science and tech
field. As the aim of the calendar is to get more girls into the field, we need
to show or prove computer women as sexy.

In closing, I found it strange, but disturbing that both
Lilac Mohr and those who disagree with her seem to propagate a very
narrow-minded stereotype by using words like "bimbettes." Women
models, singers, and actresses have to work very hard and are not clueless just
as women geeks who work in the technical field are not unattractive. By
resorting to the "Gentlemen prefer blondes" and
"objectification" argument, both leering men and women debating and
producing the calendar in our field are guilty of perpetuating this prejudiced
label based on a superiority-inferiority complex as the case may be.

So let us wait and see what effect the calendar has on our field, if any
effect at all.

Deepa Kandaswamy,
The author is a writer and engineer based in Trichy, TN, whose articles have
been published in six continents. She is also the founder-moderator of the
IndianWISE e-group

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