Easy-Peasy Reproduction of Gender & Race Norms!

Somewhere in the Twitterz a link popped up to this slideshow presentation:

Academia to Entrepreneur: How and Why to Leave Academia

It's a decent enough slide presentation and you'll learn a little about Mendeley along the way. Near the end there's a slide titled "Engineers" with 9 pictures variously titled "What my friends think I do", "What my parents think I do" etc.  You are supposed to enjoy the hilariosity of each group's total misconception of who engineers are and what they really do.

Let's ask who the "I" of the photo captions is.  Is this slide addressed to you at all? Depends upon who you are.  If you are a white male, the answer is yes! In the first photo, we see that what your friends think you are doing is sitting around on a couch gaming - you, a white male, and all your white male buddies. In the "What my parents think I do" photo at least there is one female, with three male figures, all white, looking at construction plans.

The fourth photo is of a young, slightly overweight white boy wearing glasses, non-fashionable clothing, and sitting in front of a computer.  The caption reads "What girls think I do."   Engineers are boys, and they're white boys, too. There is no corresponding picture for "What boys think I do".  There is, however, one for "What kids think I do."  So you can be a kid wondering what the grown-up (white male) engineer does, or you can be a girl wondering what the (white) boy does, but you can't be a boy wondering what the girl (of any color) does because that would be...

Well that would just upset our gender norms. And consequently wouldn't seem funny to most of us.  The "what girls think I do" is funny only if you accept the premise that the speaker is, indeed must be, a white male who can't get a girlfriend. The girls he cannot attract would, of course not be engineers.

In the last photo we see "What I really do":  a grown up white man, sitting in front of a computer.  This is so non-inclusive, and so non-representative of the multitude of things engineers do, that it makes me want to cry.  This one slide, with very few words but very strong images, hammers home the tired old gender and race stereotype of the engineer as a lonely white male in front of a computer.  It's not funny, it's sad and wrong. No one should ever use this visual again, except as an illustration of how easy-peasy it is to do gender and race norming without even trying.  I'm fairly certain that wasn't the intent of the person who put this slideshow together, but it is indeed the unfortunate outcome.

The only non-white person that appears in this slideshow is a floating head shot of Aretha Franklin in a slide making a point about respect. She is used more or less as an icon or signifier of the word respect, and has no relation to what engineers or scientists do. This use, combined with the total exclusion of people of color from the imagery of who engineers are, makes me unhappy.

It takes an effort to be inclusive, but it is an effort every speaker should make. If you aren't sure that your speech or presentation is free of unintentional bias, ask someone you trust to review it for you to be sure - especially when illustrations or pictures are included, but for language too.  Or I may have to come puke on your shoes.  I can understand that people may not see the bias themselves, but by now we all should be aware that it could be there. We all have a responsibility to try, to educate ourselves so we become more aware, and to ask for help before we send our words and chosen images out into the world. Don't be part of the (lazy-ass) easy-peasy bias reproduction machine!

5 responses so far

  • PeggyL says:

    It's so frustrating to keep seeing the same old, same old, over and over!

  • Gamma says:

    Well, to be fair. he's talking about his experiences and his perspective, and he is, after all, a white male. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that the "I" in his presentation may be intended to be him, so there's nothing wrong with it imo.

    • Zuska says:

      Yours is a generous but inaccurate interpretation. The slide is titled "Engineers" not "my life in engineering" or some such, and is followed by a slide titled "Marketers" with photos labeled with similar "what my friends think I do" bla bla, except here all the people are women, one even holding a baby. Well, except for the person dressed as a bird or whatever. Surely you don't think that in the "Marketers" slide, the "I" in the photo titles is solely self-referential. Why should it be any more so in the "Engineers" slide? No, it's referring to a generalized concept of who is an engineer. In addition, I've seen this slide, or ones like it, used in talks before as "humor". He didn't invent it and it isn't meant to refer only to him.

      But let's say the dude who created this slide show meant the "Marketers" slide to refer to marketers in general, while the "Engineers" slide is meant to talk about him in particular as an engineer. What then makes the slide work as a bit of humor? The slide counts on your understanding of a generalized concept of engineers as nerdy white male dudes, which, ha ha, we all agree is a stereotype, except, ha ha, it is sooooo true!!!!! and funneee!!!! because it's true!!!!! we canz haz laffing at ourselves!!!!!! He is asking you to join with him in identifying him as part of the gang, a true representative of the "typical" engineer, and have a laugh about it. What if you are an engineer, and you are black and female? Where do you enter in to this understanding of the typical engineer, and how are you supposed to join in his poking fun at himself? It doesn't fly.

      Final call: puke on this slide, and the "Marketers" one too, for feminizing and then infantilizing the feminization, of marketing.

  • sciwo says:

    Sounds like it was this one: http://whatmyfriendsthinkido.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/what-my-friends-think-I-do-what-i-actually-do-Engineer-500x392.jpg

    Thanks for the reminder to be inclusive in our words and images.