1. Mail sent to Ateneo CS and CompSAt mailing lists
Miguel Paraz just forwarded a _very_ interesting contest application to the CompSAt-EB mailing list, and I'm sending this to you because it is worth talking about, and that is because it is completely wrong.
The Philippine Computer Society (PCS) is doing a search for "Digital Pinay 2005". They're looking for role models for information and communication technology, "women who exemplify the qualities expected of future women leaders of the Philippine ICT industry."
To help them find worthy candidates, their application form asks for information like name, paragraph or two about why you deserve the award, IT experience, and such essential information as height, weight, bust, waist, and hip measurements.
I put up a copy of the form at http://sacha.sachachua.com/notebook/personal/digitalpinay.doc . Read it all the way to the end. You may start out amused, perhaps annoyed. I hope you end up horrified that such a thing could have been thinkable, much less thought a good idea. That it was proposed at all could be chalked up to temporary insanity, but that it reached this point cannot be attributed to reason.
A beauty pageant does not pretend to be anything but a beauty pageant. On the other hand, "Digital Pinay 2005" pretends to define an ideal woman in ICT, and _that_ is why it is so insulting. Or perhaps our Atenean curriculum is missing charm classes to help women learn how to wear business suits and casual clothes well?
Our industry _cannot_ be like this. Until now, I have not come face to face with such discrimination in what I believe to be such an egalitarian field. Our industry _is_not_ like this. But the existence of this contest sends a message to students, to professionals, to people inside and outside our industry. The message is that ICT in 2005 is about appearance more than substance, that how a woman looks and how she walks is more important than what she learned and what she can do. If nothing else, it tells us that our industry thinks this view is acceptable.
It is a farce that I must denounce in the strongest terms. If the PCS would like to beautify its meetings with models, it should not pretend at all to be promoting women in ICT when it is actually doing the exact opposite. If PCS would like to say that women are valuable contributors to ICT, it should not attach such values to them. For what will these women be but stereotypes and living proofs of discrimination in IT? What is their value? What will they be beyond a pretty face and a nice body?
(I find it interesting that winners are required to attend all PCS official functions. Essentially, you can buy a professional woman's time for P 25,000. The co-ed winner costs only P10,000 and the runners-up are free. Why will they grace the PCS functions with their presence? Who will take them seriously knowing the criteria by which they were judged? What of this promised visibility in the job market? Is that really the kind of job markets Ateneans are preparing for?)
The contest insults women by objectifying them, and men for proposing that such objectification is commonplace and normal. The contest insults our industry and our society. Will we not discuss it? Will we not consider how such a situation came to be? Will we not point at it and say that this is wrong?
Exams are going on and there seems to be no time to talk of things like this, but these are things that must be thought about. This is Science and Society. This is the Philosophy of Man. This is, even without all the subjects you've taken up, even if only considering that still and quiet voice within you--this is a matter of right and wrong.
So read, reflect, and be angry, for this is the sort of thing that should never be complacantly ignored. Realize that this _is_ a problem, that it _does_ exist, and that we contribute to it with our silence. Affirm what you believe in. Write. Write your fury, your shock--or casual indifference, if that is all you experience upon reading this.
As for me, I believe that just because something _is_ doesn't mean it has to be.
2. Digital Pinay 2005: Sent mail to Leo Querubin, Special Projects Chair of PCS
Your email was forwarded to me by Bombing of MediaG8way regarding your reaction to the Digital Pinay competition. I share your sentiments when I saw the application form.
There was a misunderstanding in the contents of the application forms (for the co-ed and professional) as the original forms did not include the info on height, weight, bust, waist and hips. Be that as it may, I take full responsibility over this as Special Projects Chair of PCS and I apologise for this. It was never our intention to promote the competition as a beauty contest.
You have brought several good points in your email. I would like to sit down with you and discuss these comments and see how we can improve the competition.
Leo Querubin </blockquote>
Sent this reply:<blockquote> Hello, Leo!
Thank you for your prompt reply. I'm glad to hear that the original forms did not include such demeaning questions. I would still like to clarify the rules of the competition and the expected public effect. If PCS also considers the present form of the competition to be insulting to IT students and professionals, I would like to help you do damage control and correct the impression people have received. After all, this is the form that's out there in the wild, and that's the form of contest people will see it as. Whether it is a mixup or not, PCS has done something wrong.
I would like a full explanation from PCS so that I can present other sides of the story. How did this make it past the proposal stage? Why was it approved by the committee? Did no one consider it as even the least bit discriminating? How is it that the country's premier IT organization can do such a thing?
I would also like to understand how one can calculate scores based on 20% popularity (measured through text votes), 40% appearance, and 40% intelligence and skills, and still not think of this as a beauty contest. As http://www.srcf.ucam.org/~hmw26/join-the-dots/2005/01/17/spectacular/ points out:
So let me see: that’s 60% for popularity and appearance based criteria, and 40% for intelligence and technical knowledge. Oh yeah, that makes total sense for an ICT professional award.
How is it possible that mature professionals can take all the terms used in beauty contests--you don't hear the term "formal wear" or "reign" in software competitions, do you--and pretend that this is something about the professional capabilities of women? How is it at all understandable?
What about the public effect of this contest? The public sees only the application and the coronation. They will not see whatever care you put into sifting through applicants' academic credentials. They will not see the interviews. They will only see the beginning and the end. They will only see this form that defines women by numbers and a "coronation" that involves how well a woman can wear clothes and walk. This _public_ includes students and children who may not have the experience or confidence to know that you can be successful in technology and yet not be an object because of your gender. They may think that even in this field, women have to be pretty, and brains or achievements don't really matter.
What about the "prizes" that these women win? Are you just looking for a promo girl? You cannot spin this as professional exposure for women without also exposing the exploitation of women. You cannot even say that this promotes women in computing when it reduces women to something pretty to look at.
Perhaps you meant well, but this is broken. This is a release-critical bug. This is something that should have never made it out the door in its present form. The contest by itself is wrong, but I am incredulous about the fact that PCS actually _came up_ with this thing. I have no idea why it took me to point out how broken this is, but this is not something you can just quietly apologize for, improve or even cancel. You realize that that form has made its way to schools and to other people's lists, forwarded by people who either thought it was a good idea or a farce. You must realize that the form brought with it an idea of how PCS thinks of women.
I need you to think very carefully about the reasons why this contest was implemented. I need that explanation from you, and I need it shared not only with me but with as many people as it can be shared with. I need you to think very carefully about how you're trying to encourage more women to get into IT. I need you to start doing damage control.
What happened here? </blockquote>
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