[SIGCIS-Members] The Women of Datamation

Dag Spicer dspicer at computerhistory.org
Tue Sep 1 19:54:09 PDT 2015

Dear SIGCIS friends,

I’m beginning research for a long-form essay on how women were used to sell computers as protrayed in the industry magazine Datamation.

I have completed my survey of images and am now seeking some guodance abdout possible theoretical perspectives to consider.

Estelle Freedman at Stanford pointed me to The Feminine Mystique, which I am now reading.  Of course, that was written many decades ago.  I don’t really track the scholarship in this area so any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

Working observation: In the late 1950s, women were portrayed as functional, "sensibly” dressed, clerical workers using the computer in a (contrived) but plausibly real-world application.  Beginning in the mid-1960s and onwards into the mid 1970s, women were portrayed as highly sexualized, alluringly dressed “human parsley,” garnishing a computer product -- in one case literally draped over a mainframe CPU cabinet in a bikini — with no relevance or appeal to the usual benfits cited for computers, viz. efficiency, cost-control, &c.  One of many questions I have: Does this long-term movement to sex rather than the prior economic or technical arguments reflect a change in the people making computer purchasing decisions?  Was it an ephemeral trope in adverstising — “it was the 60s, man!” or something else?  Sex sells… but who’s buying?  How does the portrayal of women in the leading journal for the ccomputer industry over decades reflect buerys and sellers?  Can we draw parallels with how other technologies have used women in their advertising?   &c.

Thanks for any thoughts…

Dag Spicer
Senior Curator
Computer History Museum
Editorial Board, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
1401 North Shoreline Boulevard
Mountain View, CA 94043-1311

Tel: +1 650 810 1035
Fax: +1 650 810 1055

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