Michelle Obama. Elisabeth Moss. “The moms working at Saigon Sandwich”. Notably, a dog. These are just a few of the US edition of WIRED magazine’s “Wonder Women”, who they thanked for helping get their latest issue to press. It was designed to be a tongue-in-cheek, innocuous gag. Unfortunately, it has royally backfired.
Aside from equating their own female staffers – the majority of whom are collectively listed last as the “all-female WIRED photo department” – to “Coconut the dog”, WIRED’s misguided joke about the female presence at their magazine is set inside a magazine that includes only male bylines. And, as it has now been widely pointed out, using women as the butt of a weak punchline when you’re failing, quite blatantly, to support them is at the very least awkward, and otherwise plain insulting.
After Christie Aschwanden, lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight, tweeted the Colophon column, it generated a fevered response. Some have come out in defence of the list, saying that the section is satirical in its tone in every issue, and that the order that women and dogs were mentioned in on it was purely coincidental. Maria Streshinsky, the executive editor of WIRED, issued a short statement saying that “Colophon is not a ranking” and pointing out that “WIRED staff is more than half women: from editors to the entirety of our photo department, to art, video, social and production teams”. Some commentators added that both men and women on the magazine’s staff contribute to Colophon.
Whether the intention to be insulting or portray women in an infantilising, reductive way was there or not, the result was clear enough
However, the fact that women were involved clearly does not mean that something can’t be sexist, or problematic in terms of gender equality. We could applaud their office gender balance, as depressing as it is that something that should be a bare minimum warrants praise. But the issue is, of course, the message they are giving out to the wider public – about women, about the tech industry and about women in the tech industry.
WIRED doesn’t have the best record when it comes to elevating female writers – the issue that has become the subject of this debate is not the first to feature all-male bylines throughout the mag. A short analysis by Jezebel found that female-centric features are rare, perhaps not helped by the fact that WIRED is sold from the men’s interest section despite being a tech-based magazine – a non-gender specific subject. The Science Byline Counting Project, which analysed the gender equality in STEM writing, found that overall 73.6 per cent of the features written at WIRED were by men, compared with 26.4 per cent by women.
Could this joke have been funny in another context? In a magazine that doesn’t continually eliminate female writers from the conversation, in a world where women have equal opportunities in writing – and anything else they wish to do – to men, at a push. Whether the intention to be insulting or portray women in an infantilising, reductive way was there or not, the result was clear enough. Even Coconut the dog could see that.