The Problem With IBM’s Anti-Feminist #HackAHairDryer Campaign

In a kind of clichéd and deeply unhelpful gesture that can only be equated to somebody in IT asking if you’ve already tried "switching it off and on, have you, love?" IBM's new social campaign is being criticised as patronising and anti-feminist. Currently trending on Twitter, #HackAHairDryer was intended to help readdress the imbalance of women working in the technology sector – where just 3 out of 10 are female – by encouraging more women to apply for science and engineering jobs. The hashtag is accompanied by a video that really helps spell things out. The excruciating footage features a voiceover that gaily intones, "so hack heat, re-route airflow, reinvent sound, and imagine a future where the most brilliant minds are solving the world’s biggest problems regardless of your gender." Unsurprisingly, #HackAHairDryer is now getting attention for all the wrong reasons – namely belittling women with the symbol of a hairdryer, rather than empowering them. Women actively working in science have taken to Twitter to show their disdain for IBM’s campaign with irreverent wit:
Of course, it all gets a whole lot less funny when we consider the year we've already had. There was Tim Hunt, the Nobel scientist who told a room full of people at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea that the “trouble with girls… is three things happen when they are in the lab… You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry." Then there was Apple Music boss Jimmy Iovine who – live on CBS – let us in on a little secret that explained his decision to launch playlists. “I’ve always known that women find it very difficult at times—some women—to find music,” he explained. “I just thought of a problem, you know, girls sitting around talking about boys, right, or complaining about boys when they’re heartbroken or whatever. They need music for that, right? So it’s hard to find the right music. Not everyone has the right list or knows a DJ or something.” If you're feeling even remotely hopeful after recalling those two whacky anecdotes, may we remind you of EDF's STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) campaign from October? In a bid to boost the 1 in 4 women in STEM careers, they came up with a project entitled "pretty curious". The pun being that girls aren't just pretty... they're curious too. Nice work, guys. It's almost impossible to think of men being targeted in the same trite and crass manner as these examples, but the #HackAHairDryer has at least cast a microscope over the already glaringly inconsistent attitudes towards women and men working in technology. While the response has been unquestionably silver-tongued and sardonic on Twitter, there seems to be very little science behind the prejudice that still exists towards women in 2015.

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