Is the Newsweek cover above sexist? Depends on who you’re talking to.
When the cover, depicting a cursor lifting up a faceless woman’s skirt, leaked ahead of its accompanying feature story on sexism in Silicon Valley, Twitter lit up with condemnation. Many felt it too closely mirrored what it was trying to critique:
Some women in tech agreed the cover was a failure. Alexia Tsotsis, the co-editor of Techcrunch, wrote:
Newsweek’s faceless and sexualized symbol of women in tech is a disservice to these women and countless others. It’s basic and reductive. We have worked so hard to broaden the scope of what we can be, in Silicon Valley, in the world, and here comes Newsweek putting us back in the box with an image that bluntly, sloppily trivializes how painfully that progress was won.
If Newsweek was trying to highlight how the contributions of women in Silicon Valley are discounted, why not put the faces of Lauren Mosenthal and Eileen Carey–the subjects of the feature story–on the cover instead? Why use a sensationalist, objectifying illustration when the magazine could have granted more visibility to real women of Silicon Valley? It seems like a missed opportunity. Journalism surrounding the male leaders of tech like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates would never have their narratives reduced and compartmentalized in a such a way.
Whether one hated or loved the cover, one can’t argue with the facts the actual story presented. Calling the culture of Silicon Valley “sordid and systemic,” writer Nina Burleigh chronicles the endless hurdles Mosenthal and Carey faced while trying to get their startup, Glassbreakers, funded. Glassbreakers is a networking platform designed to help Silicon Valley firms locate talented women. Using an algorithm similar to a dating site, it matches women seeking tech employment with potential employers or mentors based on location and skill level.
In the attempt to launch Glassbreakers, the two entrepreneurs had to contend with an environment where 96 percent of venture capitalists are male and only 2.7 percent of companies that receive venture funding have women CEOs. An environment where rape jokes, sexual harassment and violent threats are considered part of the landscape.
Not to say there aren’t many women who have pushed past those barriers. In our Ms. 2012 feature story titled “Women of the Valley,” reporter Laura Sydell tracks the long list of women who have been–to borrow overused tech slang–”disruptive” in their innovation and vision. Women like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Meg Whitman of Ebay, Diane Greene of Google and of course, Ada Lovelace, the programmer of the world’s first algorithm. Too often these stories are erased.
Some felt that to focus on the cover was to miss the point. Sarah Seltzer at Flavorwire warns that we should not “judge a magazine story by its cover”:
The cover was an extremely accurate representation of the content. Was it unnecessarily titillating, too? Maybe, but if it brought readers in, I think it did its job.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the Newsweek cover ignited a much-needed dialogue. What do you think? Sound off in the comments!