New York Times to Geek Girls. Get thee to the Fashion and Style Pages!

10 years ago

An article with the hopeful title Geek Chic: Not Just For Guys–Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain in The New York Times this week got my attention. I clicked through to read the story and was amazed to discover that this article about girls who blog was in the Fashion and Style section.

The NYTimes quoted a Pew report from last December, saying,

Pew Internet & American Life Project found that among Web users ages 12 to 17, significantly more girls than boys blog (35 percent of girls compared with 20 percent of boys) and create or work on their own Web pages (32 percent of girls compared with 22 percent of boys).

Girls also eclipse boys when it comes to building or working on Web sites for other people and creating profiles on social networking sites (70 percent of girls 15 to 17 have one, versus 57 percent of boys 15 to 17). Video posting was the sole area in which boys outdid girls: boys are almost twice as likely as girls to post video files.

That sounds like big news in the Fashion and Style world to me. What do you think? Yeah, here's some fashion news for you. Martina Butler, 17, of San Francisco, was the first teenage podcaster to snag a big corporate sponsor. Her Emo Girl Talk, an indie music podcast brings in the bucks.

Then there's Nicole Dominguez, 13, of Miramar, Fla. Nicole likes to design icons, layouts, animations and web pages. How very stylish and chic and cute of her.

OK, enough already with the sarcasm. The New York Times is a serious mainstream news organization and they would never demean the female gender or a physics instructor's age by reporting a story from an unsupportably biased viewpoint.

Mary Hodder at commented in The NY Times on Girl Geeks: They are Fashion, Not Technology that

Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain talks about how girls are coding up more content online: webpages, web art, blogs and podcasts.

And then they decorate it with an image of a girl at her laptop with a devilish tail. But instead of asking one of the girls they interviewed to make the artwork, they ask Adam Strange to do the art for the article:

the image used in the NYTimes article

So when they interview people like Doc Searls, Loic Le Meur or David Weinberger, all of whom are very smart about tech, those articles are in the tech section or business, but when they talk to girls, who for the record, are far more technical in this article than these three tech experts, girls are put in Fashion. I've never seen coverage with Doc or David or Loic in fashion. Maybe they should be there depending, but they aren't put there by the editors that I know of....

This is not about David or Loic or Doc (all extremely supportive of women in tech, btw), and certainly they don't choose the section the paper puts them in, but rather the way the editors and writers at the NYTimes see them, verses the girl geeks in this article.

My point is that the NYTimes puts men who talk tech and trends or social impact in tech/biz, and women who code web art / pages in fashion.

Elisa at Worker Bees Blog picked up on this story too. In her article Geek Girls are sooo cute and fashionable!!! Squeeeee! she gets right to it:

Check this NY Times article on Girl Geeks. It seems to be touting the fact that girls are outpacing boys at using and creating content on the web. There's a gender gap in blogging and other social networking and media...and it's widening. Cool, right?

Except I direct you to the top of the article, to the place where you'll note the section of the newspaper in which this appeared.

Fashion & style.

Because geek girls are so cute aren't they?

When they code CSS or html they make all their fonts pink, don't they?

I loved this sentence:

"It is possible that the girls who produce glitters today will develop an interest in the rigorous science behind computing, but some scholars are reluctant to draw that conclusion."

"Glitters"? "Rigorous science behind computing"?

'Cause the guys who are code jockeys are all into the "rigorous science"?

Laura at GeekyMom says in Girls rule–sort of that

I also am struck by how the activities that girls do participate in is almost immediately devalued. Their activities are only good, the article seems to imply at times, if it leads to harder science. It'll be interesting to see where we are in about 15-20 years when these teenage girls start choosing careers.

Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast with her post Around the Blogroll and Elsewhere got a bit irritated with a male interpretation of the NYTimes article.

Kevin Hayden on yesterday's New York Times article revealing that teenaged girls outnumber their male counterparts in the creation of web content. Kevin (rather snottily, in my opinion), makes the point that "Content creation is a whole different animal than the nuts and bolts of code crunching at the heart of the computer industry", which is sort of like saying that working on cars is too dirty and complicated for girls to do, but then also makes the point that if content creation is different, women shouldn't be as underrepresented in the design, writing, and related fields as they are either. The larger point, if we extrapolate outside the teen age group, is that many companies still believe that code jockeying and content creation are part of the same skill set, and that's why you see jobs posted that want advanced Photoshop skills AND 2-3 years of C#, ASP.Net, and Java programming (and some even throw in network administration in the bargain, but those are jobs clearly designed to NOT find qualified American workers). The larger question, of course, is that the whole issue of Web code vs. content is yet another example of the stuff men do better being ranked higher than that at which women excel, because it's men who do the relative ranking of skills. If you've ever tried to navigate a web site put together by someone more concerned with code than content, you know how undervalued a flair for user interface is.

Another male blogger reported that Girls Rule. Boys Drool, which sounds like a sexist headline, but he actually means that boys are so behind in this area that they are still slobbering in their bibs.

But as Laura at rarepattern reported a while back, Geeks not immune to cheesecake (or cheese):

Gina at misbehaving points to the Geek Gorgeous calendar, featuring rather cheesy shots of young women who, we're assured, are true computer geeks.

The little model bios are quite funny in this context--

Lilac, who started working as a programmer at age 16, is now a senior software engineer with an acronym-rich skill-set that includes Java, J2EE, EJB, JSP, JMS, PHP, ASP, ADO, SQL, XML, UML, J2ME, MIDP and more.

Not quite what you'd see on the flip of a Playboy centerfold.

Now that you've gone and looked, I'll say I join Gina in disappointment over the photography and art direction. It could've been so cool, soooo geeky! But while they obviously put some work into this production, the result isn't just cheesecake -- it's cheesy.

Girls and women DO write. Girls do write code. Whether it's a blog, a newspaper article, a web site, or a book, there are plenty of females putting fingers to keys. Perhaps the NYTimes needs a reminder as to how to approach the topic of women in tech from a positive point of view. Perhaps my own article about My Web Design Author's Dream Team or the O'Reilly series on Women in Technology: Hear Us Roar could give them a clue. Here's another clue: a model geek is not the same thing as a cheesecake model.

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