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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: via Spiegel photo 3: Matt Biddulph/Flickr)

  • black dog barking

    Rosie the Riveter successfully left home to do man’s work, to replace the men transplanted to Europe and to the Pacific. The experience opened eyes much like WWI did for the dough boys (how will we keep ‘em on the farm after they’ve seen gay Paree?). Evoking RtR is a compliment, not a condescension.

    ‘Course Wired could have gone with a Lisbeth Salander motif.

  • David HM Spector

    OMFG you are SO off the mark here. Fried herself said that the slightly punk lip-ring and glasses pic was her from years before and in fact the way she looks on the wired cover is IN FACT how she looks NOW, TODAY in the flesh, albeit with makeup on

    Here’s the link:

  • Michael Shaw

    bdb: I completely disagree.

    I think the cover concept is laughable both politically and creatively. On the political score, it’s telling to me that corporate media, confronting such an overtly threatening symbol as Fried with her thoroughly open source/free/anti-intellectual property/populist consciousness would seek to subsume her ideological identity in such a deep-rooted, and yet knee-jerk expression of American industry. Call it playing the patriotism card.

    And then, I think the concept is also thoroughly regressive and unimaginative. If Fried represents a whole new breed of entrepreneur, I think Wired punted rather than attempting to give us any kind of symbolism that breaks away, like Fried does, depicting the future, the fabulous new business and technological culture that Fried is incubating. Where’s the forward?

    • black dog barking

      I certainly don’t want to get caught attempting to defend Wired magazine as the beacon showing the way into our brave new electronic future. Wired is paper and ink, the soon-to-be obsolete technology — prima facie evidence of regressive and unimaginative in 2011. That said, there’s a strong case for the selection of the Rosie the Riveter motif for this subject.

      Home brew electronics is exclusively the domain of the pasty male. The few women in computing off the top of my head, Lady Lovelace, Rear Admiral Hopper from reality, Ms Salander from popular fiction, are software people. Ms Fried is apparently working in the much rarer air of computer hardware innovation. When I think of Rosie the Riveter I think of an image posted at this site some years ago, a photo from a factory lunch room in Iowa, 1944-ish, a group of women with grease on their hands and open lunch pails in front of them, taking a break from keeping the railroads running on time while the men folk were off to war. Their presence in that place was unimaginable just a few years earlier for no other reason than it was … unimaginable. The potential American workforce doubled in size because minds changed, a simple act of imagination. Yeah, there’s an element of put down in the Rosie the Riveter construction, but those lunch rooms changed our culture.

      If Ms Fried’s presence in the circuit cellar opens doors of possibility for half of our population, makes their universe of possibility larger, we’re all better off.

  • Joe Kubiniec


    I’ve always wondered – not being even close to this industry – but how much personal responsibility does the individual who appears on the cover of these mags have in how they are presented?

    How much was Fried “punked” by Wired, and how much was her choice? How do we know?
    It certainly effects the reading of the image.

    • Michael Shaw


      If you follow the first link in the post, Fried actually responded to the GOOD write-up. She liked the cover. But LeBron James also liked the VOGUE King Kong cover Leibovitz shot of him with Giselle that we looked at a few years back so who’s to say what that means.

  • Ivyleaves

    Actually, Rosie the Riveter was sent home to the kids and the stove as soon as the boys came back home, so, no, she didn’t change everything, she was used, discarded, and all but forgotten.

  • Matt Wolfgang

    FWIW, those pictures with the short hair are from 2008 or earlier. The cover photo looks like a very polished version of how she looks today, only she’s had pink hair for the last year or two.

  • Joe Kubiniec

    Thanks, bag. I do “feel” it is a give -n-take. Maybe contractual; maybe run by “handlers”. I wonder how many folks who have appeared are complete appalled at how they were manipulated. I remember the Lebron cover. Which reinforces that those that appear on the mag cover – aware of how they will be “treated” deserve as much of the credit/criticism as the mag/photographer.

    The have to know what they are getting into. I like the “Rosie” cover. If Fried is ok, with it, i have no problem with the “empowerment” or derivative nature of ripping off Rosie once again.

    Such a wild medium filled with so many variables….
    thanks for the reply

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