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March 29, 2011

Beyond Riveting

Blogger Cord Jefferson of GOOD recently called out Wired magazine for its April 2011 cover shot of engineer and open-source electronics pioneer Limor “ladyada” Fried. Comparing the photo to other shots of Fried available online, Jefferson took umbrage at the photo’s artistic rendering of Fried, asking “where does [Wired] get off treating a smart, innovative scientist like she’s shooting a Britney Spears album cover?”

Although Wired has a spotty record when it comes to depicting  women on its covers, Jefferson’s critique misses the mark. I don’t know about you, but I prefer Fried’s techno-punk look (glasses, lip ring, short hair) to Wired’s postmodern take on Rosie the Riveter.  It’s not the airbrushing that bothers me. It’s the depiction of this forward-thinking original mind as a 20th-century icon of corporate American productivity. Fried’s open source mission opposes the system that made Henry Ford a rich man and put a McDonald’s hamburger in every minivan.

There is a feminist reading of the Wired cover, but it’s not that Wired exploited Fried by glamming her up. The Rosie reference is a complex one. Poor Rosie has been hijacked to shill everything from political candidates to cleaning products to tampons.

She remains attractive to advertisers because she’s pop culture shorthand for girl power—proof that a lady (any lady) can do a man’s job. If staffing the assembly line was  20th-century “man’s work,” electrical engineering is a similarly masculinized field in the 21st-century. Kudos to Wired for putting Fried on its cover as the standard-bearer for DIY ingenuity.

Unfortunately, however, there’s perhaps nothing more “do it yourself” than being a woman scientist, and depicting Fried as Rosie does more to underscore her difference from other scientific geniuses than it does to suggest that science is no longer a boys’ club. The Wired cover intimates that if Fried is successful in her field, it’s because (like Rosie) she can “man up” when the circumstances require. Fried deserves better. It’s time for a female aesthetic that’s as innovative as its subjects.

Q&A: Open Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution (Wired)

– Karrin Anderson

(photo 1: Jill Greenberg for Wired; photo 2: adafruit.com via Spiegel photo 3: Matt Biddulph/Flickr)

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