An Open Letter to Wired Magazine

Dear Wired:

I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship with you. I love you. You’re charming, attractive and smart, everything I could ever want in a magazine. My heart skips a beat when I see a new issue in my mailbox. Most of the time, you’re harmless, and I tell everyone I know how awesome you are. But every now and then you slip, and you make me feel very bad, make me question my judgment.

When I noticed this month’s issue in my mailbox, I approached it with the same breathless anticipation that I do every month. I didn’t even mind the naked picture of Jennifer Aniston on the GQ subscription insert. I mean, it’s just advertising. You’ve got to make a living, right? Then, I turned you over to see what fascinating topics I would be delighted by this month.

Boobs.

Right there on the cover. A pair of breasts, no head, no rest of body… just boobs. Sure it accompanied a story on tissue re-engineering, so what other possible way might you visually represent that, but with a pair of breasts? No other possible way?

This isn’t the first time. We’ve been through this before. Your covers aren’t all that friendly to women on a regular basis, and that makes me sad. There was naked Pam from The Office in 2008 (you thought you were so clever with that acetate overlay–I mean, how else would you depict transparency?). In 2003, you had the nice lady covered in synthetic diamonds. There were the sexy manga ladies and LonelyGirl15 and Julia Allison with their come-hither looks. And Uma Thurman, she’s a lady, and she was on the cover. … But wait, that was for a character she was playing in a film based on a Philip K. Dick novel.

Come to think of it, the last time that a woman was featured on your cover, because she was being featured in the magazine for an actual accomplishment, was way back in 1996 when it was Sherry Turkle, the academic and author. And, the only other time was in 1994, when musician/author Laurie Anderson was featured. Because since then, I guess no women have done anything notable in technology unless it had to do with their bodies? Really?

Martha Stewart in 2007 doesn’t count, and neither does Sarah Silverman in 2008, because those were both just jokey, thematic covers.

It’s not like we haven’t talked about this. In the 1996 book Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace, edited by Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, the author Paulina Borsook details the woman problem in Wired in “The Memoirs of a Token: An Aging Berkeley Feminist Examines Wired.” That was 14 years ago! In 2005, I met one of your female editors, Rebecca Hurd, at SXSW. We had a nice chat, and she politely said that if I had any ideas about women who should be featured in Wired, I should send them to her. I went to the Web to solicit some input, and subsequently sent her an 11-page document of women doing interesting things with technology. I don’t think one of those ideas came to fruition on the pages of Wired.

Things were looking up a couple months ago when you published that great article on Caterina Fake of Flickr and Hunch fame. That could have been a cover… Instead you went with Will Ferrell… If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. Go back through your covers over the years. How exactly are young women supposed to feel about their role in technology by looking at your magazine?

You can say that if I have a problem with your covers then I probably shouldn’t read GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Cosmo, Glamour, Rolling Stone or just about any other magazine on the planet. Well, I don’t read those magazines, and I don’t recommend those publications to my students, many of whom are female, as an important source of technology knowledge regarding trends and culture. You’re better than this. You don’t need to treat women in this light to sell magazines. You have the power to influence the ways that women envision their roles with technology. Instead, you’re not helping. Like Jon Stewart said (stealing his quote criticizing the now defunct TV show Crossfire), “You’re hurting America.”

So, I’m breaking up with you. As much as it pains me, really deeply pains me, I can no longer stick around for this abuse. Had this been an isolated incident, a clever and provocative way to introduce an article, I might be able to forgive you and move on. But how many chances do I have to give you before you grow up? Or before I wise up? I’ve got the kids to think about … I’m doing this for them.

I still love you. I think I need you, and I’m not sure I can live without you. But you left me with no choice.

In sadness,
Cindy

Reprinted with permission from Cindy’s Take on Tech. To see a Wired editor’s reply, visit the original post.

Comments

  1. It was a story about tissue engineering in general. It was a story about a few doctors that created a machine that extracts stem-cells from fatty tissue. The reason there are breasts on the cover is because the machine is currently being used for post-lumpectomy surgery, post-mastectomy surgery and breast enlargements.

    It's also interesting that so many people are against this article. A quick read would show that many parts of the article are critical of the fact that the only way to get this regenerative medicine research funded is through plastic surgery. The article explains that the medical hurdles for getting these technologies approved for breast tissue is easier than for vital organs.

    With hundreds of more glaring examples of objectification, I honestly question your judgment in attacking this particular article.

    • Cindy Royal says:

      Ian,
      Thank you for your comment. I didn't attack the article, which was well written and informative, like many of the Wired articles that I have read and loved over the years. In my post, I talk about the pattern of representation of women in Wired. This headless breast shot was just the last straw. Had it been in the context of more balanced coverage or less objectifying content in Wired, I would have been less upset by it. If you have some time, go back through some of the issues of Wired and gauge your own impression of how women are represented. I focus on covers here, because it's the most visible window to Wired. But the covers are definitely reflective of the content inside.

  2. Amanda Alexander says:

    She's not attacking the article, she's attacking the choice of cover photo. I think she points this out pretty clearly: "Right there on the cover. A pair of breasts, no head, no rest of body… just boobs. Sure it accompanied a story on tissue re-engineering, so what other possible way might you visually represent that, but with a pair of breasts? No other possible way?"
    An article on tissue regeneration could have been accompanied with numerous other photos and numerous other body parts, but instead Wire chose a pair of boobs, to sell magazines.

  3. Thank you Cindy! I thought the same thing when I looked at that issue: "Really? Not just boobs, but FAKE boobs?"

    The fields of science and technology are teeming with amazing women, despite the fact that we still often get paid less than males in the same position with the same accomplishments. Being the forward-looking, hip magazine that it is, it would be smart for Wired to write about these women, if not feature them on the cover.

    As for the comment by Ian: if you read the blog, you might notice Cindy is attacking the trend of not putting women on the cover, and not the article itself. But if you feel fake boobs need defending, by all means.

  4. Pretty sure she's attacking the cover, not the article …

  5. In all honesty, from a marketing standpoint… when aren't breasts good? I love mine. If the pink campaign can use them (and provocative slogans) to promote breast cancer research why not use them on the cover of a magazine talking about tissue engineering? I mean, can anyone else point to large lumps of fat on their bodies with such glee and appreciation? They're beautiful. I'd much rather have them to look at than a movie star or tech head.

    • Comments like this are a lost cause so I'll keep it brief. Women are capable of (as you say), "loving" their breasts without the Pink!-Boobies!=wimminz! marketing gimmick pulled by the breast cancer research foundation/Wired/PETA campaigns etc. That's not self-love, that's a marketing technique that's grossly reductive in portraying women through highly sexualized body parts.

  6. Dave Alburty says:

    Why wasn’t the picture a photomicrograph then, up close enough to see the real focus of the story, the tissue engineering? I agree that the photo seemed gratuitous and not pertinent to the technical focus. I don’t read Wired regularly enough to comment on a pattern here but I think the pattern is not localized there but pretty widespread – women don’t get their props in tech more often than not. This can be especially biasing to impressionable kids. The cover may be the cover, but stop it – we all need to look more than “skin deep.”

  7. I agree with the post. I actually 'channeled' my energy and wrote a deck about it– posted it on slide share…. so far i have had over 4,000 views, 60 downloads and i received dozens and dozens of replies….clearly we are not alone. link is b elow…

    I too love, love wired. But i too have chosen to cancel my subscription. For what its worth, Fast Company is great. I am really enjoyed it.
    http://www.slideshare.net/AnitaBajajNewton/wired-

  8. I think Cindy is right – the glamazons of the tech field are all men – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Shawn Fanning and the young Mark Zuckerberg are the names me know. If we need to identify a woman in technology well, I dont know the name of a one (a point I will change immediately).

    Yes, the boobs in question are for attention and yes, they can be seen as objectifying. They are also not the worst representation of objectification out there. I would almost argue they are pretty. But you gotta look at who the target maket of Wired is and its just the demographic that loves some boobies. Its simple business and marketing.

    Use your blog and publishing abilities to blowup the technology field with the divine grace of its brilliant women. Dont look for Wired to do it – they won't no matter right you are. Its not good business. But you have a great point and great idea: kick ass with it and if you're over Wired then F*@#! em.

  9. Many comments have reiterated “sex sells.” Like that makes it okay. Is money the only, or most important, value? http://broadblogs.com/

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