Signifying Thighs

As the affirmative action debate shudders rightward, forcing its defenders
to disavow fixed numerical targets, Wired magazine has devised a quota
system unrivaled in its efficiency. It hardly bears mentioning that the
magazine heavily favors WM as subjects and authors, but consider this one,
telling statistic: of the 27 feature stories in the past three issues, only
two were penned by women — Esther Dyson in both cases — and one of these
was a Newt interview, with most of the words coming from the loquacious
Speaker himself.

That’s why we were particularly surprised to find a whopping 35 double
x-chromosome bearers in the August issue. Why so many women? Turns out
they form a line of bare-legged Rockettes, wearing sequined lyotards and
top hats, and illustrating the wonders of Sun’s new S3 MP chip and network.
Even allowing for a heavy dose of irony, the image hardly fits the concept.
True the Rockettes’ legs are postioned in parallel angles, left knees bent
45 degrees, toes propped suggestively on their right knees. But the purpose
of Sun’s new technology is to coordinate the different activities of the
networked computers, creating a sort of low rent version of parallel
computing, where each machine tackles a separate problem. The Rockettes, on
the other hand, are all doing the same thing; standing on one leg smiling
for the camera, frozen like manic statues for the photo-op. Like the
Ferrari ads which feature a wine bottle, a naked woman’s contours and a
car, the analogy thinly disguises a gratuitous bit of T&A.;

Recruiting women columnists or tracking down less visible women in
technology would no doubt be beyond the pale for this libertarian monthly.
Instead, Wired serves up an adolescent boy (call it techno-phallic)
sensibility. And in this context, the Rockettes read as a poster of
frustrated lust. In all fairness, Wired does exhibit a dash of PoMo
self-consciousness by publishing the occasional disgruntled letter by Video
Grrrrl or some other Cyber Chick; and finding women contributors in an
industry so dominated by the less-than-fair sex presents a challenge to
even the most enthusiastic editor. But given the gender gap that spans
Wired’s two-and-half year existence, the magazine should at the very least
be sensitive to the visual metaphors it draws with women’s bodies.
Rockettes cannot be forced by sleight of digital doctoring or wishful
association to signify parallel computing. In another context, perhaps, we
might have over-looked the weak analogy between high-kicking babes and
microchips. But in the pages of Wired, those prettified Rockettes amidst a
sea of men come across as both startling and irrelevant, like those
scantily clad girls who jump out of cakes at stag parties.

— S.S. (September, 1995)

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