Consider this scenario: You’re interviewing a man about his hobby building robots. Would you in this interview ask him a question like “What do you think is your sexiest quality?”
Stay with me, I’ll get back to that in a bit.
I just read an article titled Talking to the “queen of shitty robots,” Swedish inventor Simone Giertz, and it made me mad. I won’t link it, but it shouldn’t be hard to find if you want to increase the read count. The article is an interview with Simone Giertz, famous for building silly robots and showing them off on YouTube. The first 10 interview questions were an interesting read. I admire her ability, enthusiasm and creativity, and she’s an inspiration for other tech geeks like myself to get off our lazy bums and create things just like she does. However, that’s not what this rant is about.
The rant is about the last 4 questions in the article. In this interview focused around her building her robot empire, what inspires her and how she got there, suddenly the interviewer drops the question “What is sexier to you – someone’s looks or someone’s mind?”. And then follows it up with “How have your mind/your achievements helped you romantically? Hurt you romantically?”. And “What do you think is your sexiest quality?”. And “Would you date someone smarter than you?”.
This made me mad. Not because romance and sex should be taboo topics, but because the interviewer would never have asked a Mr. Giertz about his dating preferences in an interview on this topic.
Now, I understand that Ms. Giertz doesn’t “need my protection” or anything like that. Maybe she didn’t take issue with the questions. That’s not the point. This kind of thing happens too often - like Swedish media being more interested in female politicians’ hairstyles than policy statements - and it needs to stop.
There’s a very easy way to spot this kind of everyday sexism: ask yourself “would I ask a man this question?”. If the answer is “no”, then there’s a good chance you’re about to contribute to everyday sexism (this can also be transferred to other contexts like racial or LGBT issues, by the way). Of course it’s not a perfect test that detects sexism flawlessly with no false positives - it will always depend on context; for instance, the above questions would have been perfectly acceptable in an interview on the topic of romance. Even so, this very simple mental exercise is a surprisingly powerful tool. I think people in general, and journalists in particular, should make more use of it.
So, to sum it up: What started as an interview celebrating a brilliant creator, an inspiration to STEM people and a great role model for girls and young women; concluded portraying her more as an object of desire. This is not acceptable. As a society, we need to do better.