This Friday, February 1 would have marked the first-ever “Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day.”
Notice that I said “would have” instead of “will.”
But more on that later.
Let’s start at the beginning. Alexander initially encouraged supporters to add comments about male tech writers’ physical appearance into tweets featuring links to their articles or other work. Tweets were to be tagged with #Objectify throughout the day on Friday, February 1.
In a piece featured on the New Statesman, Alexander explained her rationale behind the event. She stressed that its inception came not from a place of anger, but rather from a desire to spark conversation and awareness of the objectification that female tech writers, or females in any male-dominated field, often face. She stated:
“The purpose of the exercise isn’t to “get revenge” or to make anyone uncomfortable: simply to help highlight by example what a gendered compliment looks like, and to get people talking in a funny and lighthearted way about how these kinds of comments distract from meaningful dialogues and make writers online feel like their point of view is only as relevant as how attractive they are.”
I truly believe that Alexander and supporters of the event were well-intentioned. With the press the event had already garnered, they were successful in bringing the issue to light. It seems admirable for Alexander to devise a unique way to shed some light on this issue beyond yet another trite “Why Aren’t There More Women in Tech?” article.
But at first glance, the event seemed to condone fighting fire with fire. For those who failed to do further research into Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day after seeing the shocking title, that initial reaction could have been detrimental to the event’s success. (The event name is clearly blogger bait; it provokes a reaction, thereby feeding the conversation. Well played, Leigh.)
Despite Alexander’s comments to the contrary, encouraging people to make remarks about male tech writers’ appearances could have drawn attention away from a meaningful discourse, and direct the focus toward the specific word choices women use when describing men.
Fortunately, Alexander became aware of these pitfalls. She wrote a thorough Q&A on her personal blog (it’s since been removed) that addressed questions that were raised since she announced the event. Supporters even created a document titled, “How to participate in #Objectify A Male Tech Writer Day without being part of the problem” that very astutely outlines the types of words and phrases that should and should not be used in order to help the initiative achieve its most meaningful impact.
The title of the event, and the tone that many supporters have taken when discussing and promoting it, attracted backlash, most frequently in the form of sarcasm, memes, and the like. Unfortunate as it may be, the potential for this initiative to devolve into name-calling and finger-pointing was alarmingly high.
But again, Alexander seems to understand this.
Why It Was Cancelled
Just as the Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day initiative was gaining momentum around the Internets, Alexander pulled the plug on it via a post on her personal blog. She cited many of the problems mentioned above, and mentioned the idea that some men, including gay men, transsexual men, and men of color, are already victims of objectification, thereby making the event title a bit counterproductive.
Alexander acknowledged that the event–for the brief time it existed–generated a fair amount of productive dialogue and perhaps created a basis for further conversation.
What Are Some Alternatives?
When I first heard about the way #Objectify was going to be executed, I wondered if there was a better way to do it.
When addressing a problem or offering criticism, I typically try to bring a few possible solutions or alternatives to the table, rather than simply pointing out the flaws. But as I mulled over my response to Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day and tried to develop some concrete alternatives to the event that might accomplish the same goal, I came up a bit short.
My first thought was that a livestreamed panel discussion on the issue featuring prominent male and female tech writers could address solutions more directly than tacking on “compliments” to tweets featuring male tech writers’ articles. But should the moderator be a male or a female? And how would the discussion attract enough attention to make a difference? Clearly, there were some gaping logistical holes.
Here’s a major conundrum surrounding both the panel discussion idea and Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day: how can we measure their level of success? Sexist comments wouldn’t have ceased entirely because of Friday’s event, but perhaps we’ll see a tangible response from male (and female) writers in the form of articles or videos expressing their thoughts and contributing to the discussion.
Alexander’s colleague Patrick Miller wrote an insightful blog post about the event, and highlighted several factors that could contribute to its success: its inclusivity, specific time restriction, and its light-heartedness. Most notably, he referred to the initiative as a “moment” that feeds the “movement.”
More than anything, I’m interested to see the response to the event’s cancellation. At the end of the day, Alexander’s fundamental belief seemed to be sound, and the principle is one that all self-respecting individuals can stand behind: we should be judged on the quality of our work rather than on our appearance.
Were you planning to participate in Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day? Did you think it was even necessary, or have ideas on how the event could have been improved? I encourage you to start a conversation in the comments section below, and welcome you to tweet me your insights at @ChelseaOrcutt.