Bad news from the Philippines
Digital Pinay 2005: A great leap _backward_ in promoting women in IT
by Sacha Chua
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, the largest Philippine IT
association) is doing a search for "Digital Pinay 2005". They're
looking for role models for information and communication technology
(ICT), "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.free.net.ph/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 IT
curricula are 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 market students prepare for, where
appearance matters more than substance?)
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. Even
without philosophy or morality, even without religion or social
science, even if only considering that still and quiet voice within
you, you know this is a matter of right and wrong. Whether you are in
the IT industry or not, you can still feel the magnitude of this
I believe that just because something _is_ doesn't mean it has to be.
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. Write your fury, your shock--even if all you feel is a mild
surprise that such an attitude can be held in our field and in our
time, share your thoughts with your readers and your friends. E-mail
the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org and
email@example.com . This is not just my story, and I am not
the only one who is humiliated and embarrassed by it. I am not the
only one who sees this as wrong, and I am not the only one who can do
something about it.
I learned what fury felt like today.
Sacha Chua <firstname.lastname@example.org> - open source geekette
http://sacha.free.net.ph/ - PGP Key ID: 0xE7FDF77C
interests: emacs, gnu/linux, personal information management, CS ed
applying as a Debian new maintainer | looking for a grad school