What Really Matters for Women in Tech: Hotness!

March 25, 2013

40 Hottest Women in Tech
Thanks, Complex Magazine! Finally, someone is talking about women in tech from a brave, new angle: hotness. If you haven’t seen it yet, “The 40 Hottest Women in Tech” (“hottest” as in “sexiest”) is a mess on many levels, denouncing the cultural patriarchy in the first paragraph and proceeding with a disorganized slideshow of 40 women whose accomplishments rank second to physical attractiveness. Many commenters and bloggers have already taken Complex to task (Gawker, The Atlantic Wire, MTV, and some of the women themselves included), but one more voice can’t hurt.
My colleague Salima Ladha recently wrote a great post for the OpenView blog: “Using Creative Approaches to Inspire More Women in Technology.” Salima explains that despite impressive achievements by women in the technology sector (some of which are noted in Complex, under the sexy pictures but above the “technology” and “hottest-women” tags), very few women are entering the field. She goes on to highlight some inspiring initiatives aimed at combating this, none of which include listing women in tech based on hotness. Welcome to the technology club, women, where your professional accomplishments will still be viewed through an aesthetic lens.
Ugh. Two steps forward, three steps back. If there was any doubt regarding Complex‘s intentions, I present to you the Tweet announcing the list’s release:

Complex 40 Hottest Women in Tech Tweet

Got that, ladies and gents? Men are the owners of the tech world. They decide who gets let in. Good thing these women are pretty and good at stuff like being CEOs of Fortune 500 companies! Otherwise who knows if they would be welcome.
This should be insulting to everyone in tech, not just women. Both women and men are working hard to change tech’s gender bias, and it is irritating pieces of link bait like this that they have to combat every day (luckily this piece is so poorly done and difficult to justify that it’s an easy job).
It seems like bewildered defenders of this article have three main questions. Let’s dissect each one in order:

Why are people offended?

The current reality of the tech world is that not enough women are entering it, and that should change for innovation to grow. Technological innovation requires a diverse set of experiences and skills working towards a goal, and we can’t reach our goals when half of the world’s population isn’t participating. The reasons for this are complex and varied, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise, but lists like Complex‘s aren’t helping.
“The 40 Hottest Women in Tech” reduces the accomplishments of the women that are contributing as secondary to their hotness. Sure, Complex makes a half-hearted attempt at highlighting their impressive achievements (thankfully not many of the actual descriptors elaborate on appearance), but let’s not maintain any illusions here — the many inspiring women on this list are there because of how they look first and what they’ve done second.
People are offended because technology is not a sector one enters expecting appearance to be a determining factor in success. People are offended because women are already underrepresented in technology and are now being further alienated. People are offended because the article advances nothing, helps no one, and further contributes to the “boy’s club” mentality it both embraces and pretends to condemn.

What if there was a “The 40 Hottest Men in Tech” list? Would you be offended then?

Oh, it’s been done. I would prefer neither list existed, but this question implies that being a man in tech and being a woman in tech carry the same weight and challenges. It’s a false comparison that doesn’t do anyone any favors. Women in tech are already fighting an uphill battle, and publishing this kind of article is like throwing stones at them from the top.
As Salima notes, we’re living in a world where women hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and yet they make up only 20 percent of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in computer science or engineering. Not to mention the troubling cultural attitude towards women in general, which I won’t touch here but I’m sure you can research a bit on your own in light of recent events like Steubenville.
The bottom line is that listing professionals based on hotness is generally not a productive endeavor, and listing female professionals based on hotness in a male-dominated field is particularly toxic.

Couldn’t “hot” just be referring to “successful” or “current”?

Sure, but that’s not what’s happening here. I think the tweet above is pretty clear on that point. Plus, the author had this to say about his own article:

I was assigned to write the 50 Hottest Women in Tech by Complex and it really bummed me out, because the idea of perpetrating the same old gender divisions in an area like tech — which has predominantly been a boy’s club throughout history — seemed like kind of a messed up thing to do. It represents the most banal form of internet content that exists. But it’s hard to say no to a paycheck.
So what I tried to do was see if it was possible to make something called “The 50 Hottest Women in Tech” earnest and empowering and an actual good thing. I pretty much only included normal looking women, who were involved in something really crucial or exciting in the tech space. I made no allusions to their looks in the blurbs, and ended up with simply a long list of very exciting women.
Of course when the piece actually ran, I discovered that over half of the women I had included were replaced with people like Morgan Webb, complete with the usual lascivious dialogue. Sigh. It’s hard to win when you’re writing for Complex, but please know that I tried.

I mean, fair enough. We’ll even try and disregard the fact that he’s failed to produce the list of “normal looking” women who were cut and chalk it up to a writer in need of a paycheck. Regardless, this article is not about success. Want further proof? Just check out the additional content under the “hottest-women” tag. Anyone up for reading “The 11 Best Asses in Videogames” after we’re done?

This woman in tech is tired now, but I’m interested in your thoughts: What did you think of “The 40 Hottest Women in Tech”? Surely I’m not the only one bothered by this?

Marketing Manager

Megan is the Marketing Manager at <a href="http://thedomaincos.com/">Domain Companies</a>. Previously she communicated with the firm’s portfolio and supported OpenView’s content marketing strategy.