There are times when people try to do something good and wind up missing the point entirely. Such is the treatment Newsweek has given their cover story "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women" — and the truly gross cover they created to go with it. And honestly, who cares what the magazine found out about Silicon Valley's view of women when their own seems so hopelessly backwards?
The article itself, written by Nina Burleigh, is fine, more or less. It tries to tackle a big issue comprised of many complex topics — start-ups, sexism, geek culture, harassment, graduation rates, the flow of capital — and it provides a decently thorough overall analysis, one that doesn't go terribly deep, but again, it's a lot to cover already. The piece does make caged understatements like "the anonymity of the Internet has proved relatively more menacing to women" and seems hesitant to actually call out the sexist culture it describes, but it's not a bad article.
The cover though, is another story (and it should be noted that Burleigh, as a writer, almost certainly had little if anything to do with its design). The cover depicts a thin, shapely woman standing in profile in red heels and a short red dress, holding what looks like a laptop at a ridiculous angle, while looking over her shoulder at an image of a cursor pulling her skirt up from behind. Of course, looking might not be the right words because, although she has bright red lips, she doesn't have any eyes.
The question persists: What were they thinking?
The image is presumably meant to be some sort of satirical take on the brogrammer view of women, but it's presented without any visual cues to suggest that it's all a sexist delusion. Or that any of it is, for that matter. And so what we're left with is an image of women in tech as dressed for a porno — right down to the lipstick and preposterous grip on the prop-like laptop — as she is sexually mistreated and stands helpless by, just looking. All that's missing is the surprised hand covering the mouth and a high-pitched, breathy "Oh gosh!"
The cover is an insult to the many, many women who do work in the tech industry and are far more than helpless victims of sexual harassment. The women actually presented in the article talk about their experiences with frustration or anger or confusion or worry, but they don't talk like the sort of passive victim portrayed here, someone being taken advantage of without making any move to defend herself or walk away. The image on the cover doesn't even seem to react — but then, it is hard to show reaction without eyes.
It's a cover that caters to the male gaze while pretending to critique it, that casts women as helpless victims while claiming to support them, that treats a laptop like a prop rather than an important (and heavy) part of a woman's job, that can't even be bothered to give a woman a full face as it exploits her.
It's awesome that a major magazine is trying to take a long and serious look at sexism in the world of tech and tech startups. But if that magazine can't even be bothered to create a cover that doesn't exemplify the types of attitudes they are supposedly critiquing, I'm certainly not going to give them any points.
If you're interested in reading the full article, you can find it at Newsweek here.