by Imran Siddiquee
— Morgan W (@MorganR11) January 10, 2013
Apparently some in the tech industry just aren’t paying attention at all. Despite numerous calls for less sexism and more gender inclusiveness, companies at this week’s massive Consumer Electronics Show continue to show complete insensitivity and disregard for the issue. Case in point: Hyper. This Silicon Valley-based company (with offices in China) specializes in making accessories for Apple products, and this week decided to turn women into physical props to sell their “hyper-drives.” This isn’t your run-of-the-mill objectification and degradation of women though, it’s a company openly (check out their Twitter and Facebook pages) dehumanizing women for profit.
The women at the Hyper booth (and in the video on their website) are portrayed as lifeless robots, covered in body paint and unmoving, they are meant to be valued simply for their sexuality – the way their bodies look. And when we portray women as nothing more than physical objects, we are inviting others to see and treat them as such. Which – to spell it out – means we are feeding rape culture in America. Yet let’s say you don’t accept any of that. And you don’t believe any of that is true. Why should you care? Aren’t these just extreme examples in a community where women are largely doing just fine? My colleague Jennifer Siebel Newsom, along with the great Jean Kilbourne, answered these questions this afternoon in an Op-Ed published over at The Daily Beast:
Should we simply point out that by discouraging 51 percent of the population from entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), let alone succeeding, you are limiting your company’s potential for innovation? That making an effort to better represent women in advertising, to recruit them at younger ages and to invest in programs that increase interest in these fields early on, makes plain sense for your business? We could make these points, as those working for women’s equality have done for years, but the truth is, many continue to say (if not publicly, then internally): Well, we’ve been doing pretty well without a lot of women around, haven’t we? We’ve made billions of dollars while paying women less and with barely any women on our corporate boards, right? No one can deny that we’ve been leading the world in innovation and creating revolutionary products for years that have drastically changed, and in some cases, improved human life, all while often ignoring women completely. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Though things may not seem broken to you, things are certainly broken for your daughter. Broken for all the girls in elementary school down the street. Their possibilities in life are quite limited. They live in a world where becoming a leader anywhere – let alone in technology – is statistically far less likely than for a boy on the same block, in the same house. They live in a world where the chance of seeing a children’s TV character that is female and a scientist is far less likely than seeing one who is hyper-sexualized. A world where being bullied online for the way they look – being criticized for not fitting a false ideal of beauty – is the norm. And being praised for an interest in engineering or math is an exceedingly rare exception. Can we say this isn’t a broken system in which to grow up?
UPDATE 1: People on Twitter and Facebook are taking action against Hyper, who have yet to respond. Here are a few of our favorite comments thus far:
UPDATE 2: The CEO and Founder of the company behind Hyper, Sanho, is on Twitter as well. Ask him if he is OK with his company being known for the dehumanization of women in their marketing: Tweet @chindaniel
UPDATE 3: Gizmodo just posted an article describing Hyper’s display as a “harmless art installation.” Here’s an excerpt of the infuriating article:
“While the women were painted and wore flesh-colored underpants, many people are now outraged.
It may be my Spaniard nature—used to see naked or topless people on the beach and not looking twice—but I don’t find this is offensive, tasteless or derogatory at all. At least, not as much as the classic booth babe. I find it stupidly dumb and unnecessary, but that’s all.
Yes, I realize that this company is obviously trying to grab eyeballs, but I look at this booth and I just see female bodies painted. They are not in an erotic position. They have no attitude whatsoever. They are just there, standing like statues. Neutral.”
In that last paragraph writer Jesus Diaz is both missing and making the point. As we stated above, the fact that these women are presented as lifeless and without “attitude” furthers them being seen as purely objects for the viewer’s pleasure. Which, again, means we are being encouraged to treat them as such.
This is not preferable to the “classic booth babe” (which just goes to show how deeply ingrained this attitude towards women in technology is), if anything, it’s worse. At least a dancing naked woman is more clearly a human being.
UPDATE 4: HYPER RESPONDS
This morning Hyper posted this blog, in response to the #NotBuyingIt campaign we began last week, in which they claim we tried to profit from the outrage to their booth at CES featuring lifeless nearly-naked women. Here’s a quote from their blog:
What is offensive, however, is that an organization (aka Miss Representation) based on civil rights and allegedly focused on “the greater good” has taken it upon themselves to leverage their opinions and instigation by reaching out to our company to gain our business.
The idea in that final sentence, that we wanted their business, is based on this message I sent their customer service last Friday:
We’d love to work with you in releasing new ads promoting the quality of products without offending our community. And we’d love to champion your agency as receptive to change and the voice of women.
To be clear: MissRepresentation.org is a non-profit organization and we definitely were not soliciting Hyper for any kind of business here. I was hoping to offer them some (free!) advice on how to create marketing that is more inclusive of women and girls. I made this offer because our belief is that it’s not enough to simply call out companies on sexism, but we need to offer to guide them forward as well. Because often they are unaware of how problematic their marketing is and/or are unsure of how to improve. We want to be available to companies interested in understanding a concept like objectification, why it is so harmful to society, and how they can create successful marketing without relying on it. And again, this is not done with the intention of making any money.
MissRepresentation.org is serious about shifting media culture to a place that values women’s voices for more than their youth, beauty and sexuality, and one where we are all equally represented. If you have any questions, please contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Imran Siddiquee at MissRepresentation.org. Follow him on Twitter @imransiddiquee