Vintage Sexism: The Data Game

Images via Bored Panda.

Versatile! Dependable! Compatible! Maybe even sexy? Well, judging from the lucky fellow in the second advertisement, it sure looks like computers can transmit some serious sexual magnetism. When I was searching for subject matter for this current edition of Vintage Sexism, I was taken aback by how many computer and software ads targeted men exclusively, using women as eye candy to enhance the appeal of the products, like how bikini-clad hotties are portrayed in flashy sports car ads. I found myself wondering how many of these were out there, and just how bad things got.

Images via

In the above ad, this guy lands himself not one, but two lovely ladies lounging poolside with him while he leisurely conducts some serious executive business (with a piña colada at arm’s reach). The message here, similar to that of the Technico ad, insinuates that men need computers in order to be successful, perhaps both in business and in pleasure. But, why only men? It simply does not compute!

Images via UneasyScience and Boing Boing.

Ouch, that first ad really stings! The perplexed look on that poor, bewildered working woman’s face indicates that even when she’s presented with a computer in the office, she has no idea what to do with it. And the second ad removes the woman altogether, but assigns the computer a female gender, giving it all of the ideal qualities of the perfect secretary–no actual woman needed.

Images via Boing Boing and Found in Mom’s Basement.

These were different times, indeed–long before computers became ubiquitous in households, workplaces, school, and almost every other part of modern society. Back then, they were largely seen as tools of the workplace, and the workplace was still largely seen as a man’s turf. Both of the above ads call attention to professional careers in the computer science industry, where there was clearly little room for women to thrive at the time!

But even nowadays, men are still statistically much more prominent in this particular industry than women.  Both the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Women & Information Technology recently published research reporting on the imbalance of gender diversity in these professions, with the NCWIT noting that woman today earn only 18 percent of all computer science degrees–a surprising and major drop from 1985, when women earned 37 percent of CS degrees. Do you think the stereotype of computer science as a male field still exists? Techie female ModLovers, we’d love to hear from you!

As a side note, there are some great blogs and resources out there for women who are interested in computer science and technology–check out Geek Feminism Blog, The Female Perspective of Computer Science, and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

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  1. Avatar
    Shae 02/03/2011 at 2:42 pm #

    18-percenter here.

    Yes, my classes were dominated by men, as was the Computer Science club. And for what it’s worth, several guidance counselors tried to talk me out of the CS degree and into something more “arty”.

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    Mandi 02/03/2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Absolutely! You don’t even have to go as high brow as computer science to see that. My xBox 360 red ringed on me and when I went to buy the tools to fix it the person on the phone kept saying “now be sure to tell your boyfriend…” Here’s the kicker; I was speaking with a woman! The funny thing is Computer Science could arguably be a woman’s field. Ada Lovelace is often recognized as the world’s first computer programmer.
    And she was pretty with great style to boot!

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    Annie (ModCloth) 02/03/2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Wow, what a great post! My mom is a professor of Computer Science, so unfortunately, I grew up hearing all about the stereotypes you’ve cited above. For many, many years, she was the only female in her department, and I’m guessing she oversees no more than three female CS majors a year, compared to dozens of men. It really is unfortunate, because CS is such an interesting and fast-paced field. I really encourage young women everywhere to take a programming class or two during their high school years (if possible), at least to give it a try and see if CS is something they would be interested in pursuing!

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    Lynn 02/03/2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Both my mother and I are in the engineering field.
    My mother’s experience was one of adversity – despite her expertise (over 40 years of experience) she was dismissed by bosses and had to fight for respect.
    I had more access to resources. I was given a tremendous amount of respect by bosses and instructors – and was asked out by classmates and later coworkers.

    Women and girls aren’t shown how accessible technology is. They think that it isn’t worth the effort.

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    Kat 02/03/2011 at 5:36 pm #

    I’m just about to graduate with my BS in Comp Sci, and I’m the only girl in my class. Not only that, out of the last three intern groups where I intern, I’m the only female. Luckily my boss is like a superwoman, so no one ever makes any flip comments about the fact that I’m female.

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    tiffany 02/03/2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Im in IT and a stay at home mom. I was one of 3 women in my class. I wasnt taken seriously…at first…then I kicked misogynistic butt, then again at my first job, then I just learned to roll with it at my third.

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    sparkles 02/03/2011 at 9:29 pm #

    I was looking through (being interested in all things geeky), and there’s a book “a girls guide to dating a geeky guy” but there was not “guys guide to dating a geeky girl”.
    An obvious example of gender disparity

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    Colleen 02/03/2011 at 10:28 pm #

    I can really relate to all of your comments. I am ModClother Annie’s mother. Before I became a prof, I worked as a Nuclear Engineer in the late 70’s. I remember writing the software for a piece of monitoring equipment. When they took the promo picture for it (which, oddly, looked like the Bored Panda pic in this article), they asked a cute and shapely secretary to pose with it, instead of the female geek who actually designed it. Black flats, stretch pants, and sweatshirts have been my main fashion statements since then… However, my fashion-loving daughter is changing my mind..and I may toss that sweatshirt for a ModCloth offering in the Spring. Life is about change and evolution at any age!

  9. Avatar
    Katharine Ellis Tapley 02/04/2011 at 7:22 am #

    (Annie’s Mom is WAY COOL!)

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    Carrie 02/04/2011 at 2:13 pm #

    I am always amused by the shocked looks that I get when I mention building my computer all by myself or being really into gaming. People seem to have some sort of image in their head of what someone who is into those things should look and act like. I guess I don’t fit into that image.

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    jessica 02/04/2011 at 2:50 pm #

    I’m not a computer gal or a gamer but i always have to call the Helpdesk for computer issue and i have to say i always hope i get a woman because they are so much easier to talk to and just get down to business and dont talk down to me like some of the male techs. They should really give me more credit cause i can problem solve a lot of it on my own.

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    Caitlin 02/10/2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Yes! I am a software engineer in Silicon Valley, and although I haven’t noticed any real discrimination as a woman, my engineering coworkers are definitely mostly men. There are plenty of women at the company, but most seem to be in areas like sales, legal, and user experience. It also seems like more men like to spend all of their time programming – while I like my work, I prefer to spend my free time doing “domestic” things like crafting and baking, whereas I know a ton of guys who spend their weekends hacking – but that might just be a difference in myself, not something gender-specific.

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    Cindy (ModCloth) 03/03/2011 at 1:23 pm #

    There’s an interesting article on Slate about the unconscious bias against women in the academic fields of math and science.

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    Dyana 04/12/2011 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m an electrical/controls engineer and work with all men. I went to college with three other girls!! It’s hard to beleive how few women have interest in the math and tech fields. I believe it is because it isn’t introduced to them at a younger age.
    I love my job but it has taken me a while to earn the respect that my co-workers have. Chalk it up to whatever you want, I love my job and will continue to fight for my place in this male dominated field!
    Great post by the way!!! 🙂

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    ElizaBeth 01/07/2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Ummm……. Just guessing but, is It possible that this was new to the woman in the first ad?
    Yeah! I know, I know but, You’ll probably need all that stomache lining for something more important.

  16. Avatar
    Isolde 08/19/2012 at 9:56 am #

    I graduated one of six women in my Civil Engineering class of around 105 in the early 90s — so not an 18%er, but a 5%er at that point. After a while, I left the CIVE field to work in software development, where I’ve been for over a decade.

    Women are certainly employed by software companies, but they are still very much a minority in roles where code is written (developer, tester). Women are more likely to be found in program management, technical communications, sales, or marketing roles, instead. I have also observed a striking lack of women at senior or higher levels in technical roles, which means that as a new woman coder entering the workforce, your direct manager and those above that person are most likely men.

    What I don’t have an answer to is why more women don’t enter the field and why more who do enter it, don’t stay. For myself, I’ve stayed this long because I love the work. But along with my innate stubbornness, it’s required some significant work on my self-confidence for me to remain and to take on senior positions.

    Cindy – the Slate article is interesting. Thank you for the link. I can relate to the sense of being an imposter. I wish the researchers did more exploration into how men feel about that. I don’t think it’s unique to women, but I would guess it could be more prevalent or more pronounced in women.

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