iPad makes women iMad? Gender or Generational Naming Gaffe?

Jan. 28, 2010 While the Baltimore Sun visual at left handily depicts the pros and cons of the new iPad tablet gizmo at a glance, geek girls and IT career women have been raising an iBrow at the iPad feminine hygiene connotations, as well as the more affordable than expected price.

Teens, however? Not so much.

One girl vehemently claimed it was ‘idiotic’ to make the leap to bodily functions much less have the jokes covered on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and all over the blogosphere and Twitter. Wow. Fascinating. Teen generational bracer and reality slap? Check.

Can’t wait to run this by the younger women at the She’s Geeky conference for a comparison contrast tomorrow; especially since MADtv called it quite awhile back. (ouch) It wasn’t that they weren’t bemused, it was more like they weren’t thinking in that direction at all…

When I polled about a dozen high schoolers asking the open-ended question, “What do you think of the name?” the majority of the responses equated to a ‘meh.’ I even had to “prompt” a reaction to elicit the femme menses path…The general consensus was, “Apple doesn’t get very creative with their names because of the i thing…It’s always just iPhone, iWhatever so what’s the big deal?”

As for the price point, I got a lot of  “I don’t even like the iPhone for texting, I’d rather have a REAL keypad, so why would I want an overgrown iTouch  even if it IS cheap?”

At first glance, this seems like we may have the most level-headed generation yet, but read on for why we need to shore up the flanks of HUMANkind and why lopsided gender parity matters at all.

I wasn’t planning on addressing the whole iPad naming kerfluffle, but after 25 years in name generation and new product development I DO have some perspective on the larger conversation…

Any trolls who’d like to belitte women for being ‘hyper-sensitive,’ may “Exit, stage right” as Snagglepuss used to say…(’60s cartoon ref;  but hey, this is a generational story, eh?)

…Likewise, those seeking the ‘real news’ of how iPad is slated to “transform publishing,” yadayada or iPad spec sheets or the “price point” story, get thee to a CNET site pronto.

This piece is more about some rather surprising generational (and gender) observations along the lines of the Lady Gaga as role model controversy (is she or isn’t she?) (btw, well written youth perspective by wordsmith Lilly on Rachel Simmons’ blog in the link above; she’s an amazing teen writer I follow regularly)

The polarity of viewpoints on the iPad, gender bias, and single-sex events is like a metronome, and I’d like to deconstruct this a bit in a generational context…

Example?

Even though the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference just wrapped, and She’s Geeky will run all weekend, (both events are aimed at inspiring, supporting and encouraging women to enter the growing STEM fields for more representation) guess what many teens in some of my non-tech circles voiced recently when I shared info about the two events?

“I don’t even get why you’d HAVE events like that.”

“Who’d want to be at something where there’s no men?”

“Isn’t that discrimination to be a girls only event?”

“I wonder what would happen if men tried to do that…”

Hmn. Altered states.

This brings up some lively contextual conversations to say the least, especially when it comes to teens vs. twenties, techies vs. non-tech and girl geekery workforce issues…

It also makes me want to explore more about the research studies of single-sex schools when co-ed influences are removed—not only for females in tech/STEM programs but for BOYS thriving in the ARTS once  gender pressures for conformity and stereotypes are removed, but that’s a different blog post. Let’s face it, there ARE differences in cues, education, social norms and career opportunities…it’s quantifiable. Yet the girls’ reaction makes me wonder:

Is this next generation of tweens and teens culture-shifting to a ‘gender-blind’ ideal in the same manner that many attempt to turn race into a ‘color-blind’ ideal?

If so, I’d argue this deserves an eensy weensy wallop of a wake-up call and perhaps a sexist pinch on the backside as well. I could say b-slap, which has entered the teen lexicon as a desensitized,  commonplace term, along with ongoing objectification, body snarking and misogynistic absurdity girls are subjected to…sometimes by each other! (I mean, really, who ever thought ‘ho and be-yatch’ would be uttered as anything other than a mean-spirited slam? ugh. We’re devolving and going backwards here, people…)

Let me be crystal clear.

There IS a HUGE reason for ‘events like this’ and though no one is suggesting STEM careers be a ‘numbers and quotas’ issue…much like racial parity, gender equality has a loooooong way to go, particularly when it comes to women in technology.

To pretend a chasm does NOT exist, is no big deal, or is totally dispensable and invisible does a disservice to all.

It alters the mindscape to depict an idyllic lala-land of ‘make it all go away’ happy chat without addressing the core stigmas, prejudices (and in many cases outright hostile) environs in favor of rose-colored glasses to make it all ‘appear okay.’

We can’t work towards a solution until people even see a problem. And there IS one when half of the global population is not being represented in a meaningful way. (in Apple’s case in either design/dev/backend systems or end-user functionality and…um, naming and product rollout)

Despite all of the funny, pithy one-liners,

“Are you there God? It’s me Steve Jobs…” etc…

There are telltale signs of gap-osis in Apple’s female representation…(one look at Apple’s exec staff roster confirms this) Sorry guys, crocodile tears on the branding brouhaha, you brought this on yourselves.

Anyone who knows what a “creative brief” is could tell you this project had to pass through umpteen channels of approval…so the core question remains, “…how many of those IT leaders making those approvals were women?” The blog Feministing echoes the incredulity, “where are the women on Apple’s branding team? MSNBC career columnist Eve Tahmincioglu points to “a dearth of women in IT.”

The National Center for Women & Information Technology NCWIT affirms it all hands down. (Full WIT by the numbers fact sheet)

Now for the ‘so what’ portion…

Girls represented just 17 percent of Advanced Placement computer science (CS) exam-takers in 2008… that’s the lowest female representation of any AP exam.

In 2008 women earned only 18 percent of all CS degrees…Back in 1985, women earned 37 percent of CS degrees. (again, going BACKWARDS)

Women hold more than half of all professional occupations in the U.S. but fewer than 24 percent of all computing-related occupations.

Only 16 percent of Fortune 500 technology companies have women corporate officers.

AND finally…A study on U.S. technology patenting reveals that “patents created by mixed-gender teams are the most highly cited (an indicator of their innovation and usefulness); yet women were involved in only 9% of U.S. tech patents.” (via NCWIT)

We need everyone’s head in the game to ascend humankind:

Half the population excluded tends to make new product development about half as useful. This goes for green/eco tech solutions, humanitarian problem-solving, and ‘thinking differently.’ (gee, Apple, remember that one?)

Mixed gender innovation teams would encompass better research and higher margins/profitability by getting features and functionality ‘right’ from the get-go…(which in turn means better products, competitive edge, etc.)

Who’s with me here, guys? Gals?

The teens’ reaction also disturbs, as it makes me resurface the need to do a branding overhaul on “The F word” (feminism) for this generation…(c’mon, when even Lady Gaga won’t call herself a feminist and is clearly confused by the word we’re in desperate need of an update!) This is not just a tech vs. non-tech stereotype either…

I wrote about this before when I asked the teens at New Moon Girl Media who self-identify as femme forward what THEY thought of their lot in life and the way they walk through the world as females…It was fascinating. (this was before we became an affiliate partner with their org; if you’re looking for a fun, safe chat/creative tween community, NMG’s an inspiration; click on the  sidebar at right)

So WHY does gender/girls in tech/generational interest matter?

In financial (and humanist) terms…think of how profitable our nations would be if we collaborated to achieve a ‘humanity ascending’ mindset versus an “I’ve got mine/win at all costs” competitive edge?

It’s The Girl Effect scaled onto the global stage…

Time and time again, we’ve seen the numbers, we KNOW how to ‘build a better mousetrap,’ think about things differently, create and design with visionary insights and sometimes, smarter, simpler solutions…

Yet without gender parity or at least an increased PRESENCE we’ll be destined to working with what is essentially, ‘half a brain’ on the intellectual, futuristic problem-solving aspects of our children’s tomorrows.

Finally, as far as the whole silly iPad name goes…

I wrote the following comment on  Eve’s Career Diva blog…

“The flow of feminine hygiene jokes (pun intended) makes me shoulder shrug more than cringe in that it COULD have a normalizing-desensitizing component that could be a good thing in terms of normalizing a natural bodily function in some ways…

In fact, of the CNN jokesters here I liked,

“16gb for light days/32gb 4medium days/64gb 4heavy days” …it really made me smirk.

“On the other hand, to envision the far too few women that have chosen to brave the tech terrain (aka guy world) being subjected to sophomoric silliness pains me.

It reminds me of the handful of females attending the Teens in Tech conference (coming up Feb. 6 in S.F. btw) who rolled their eyes at the acronym paraded on the powerpoint presos last year: “T.I.T.” Not a welcome one, lemme tell you; not edgy, not funny, just plain rude, dudes…

It was horrid to see those teen girls squirm uneasily in ‘go along with the gag, don’t be prudish’ mode when it was clear they were VERY uncomfortable, as was I.

Sooooo…the name game DOES matter, regardless of intention.

Yes, I wonder about the gender of the approval team, but then again, terms like touchpad, thinkpad, linkpad have become commonplace geek speak universally.

In fact, I ran the iPad name past a few engineer GUYS who didn’t even blink, other than to lambast the weight of the new device as “weapons grade” suggesting the name be iBrik instead.

They talked about features vs. price-points as the potential barrier for entry. (again, in the wrong hands, I see how this verbiage could get ugly, fast)

So if you were Apple would you:

a.) Crowdsource a new name being ‘responsive’ to customer concerns
b.) Ignore the kerfluffle and let the product wow both genders/speak for itself
c.) Address the concerns quizzically and contextualize them
d.) Focus group it at She’s Geeky among female engineer teams & techies
e.) Stick a numeric/next gen upgrade to deflect
f.) Let people get used to it and see what happens

g.) Get as many women in leadership positions at Apple (& other IT arenas) as possible

(that “G” should be a ‘g’ for given)

As Eve pointed out in her reply to me, Apple’s leadership/bio page is a bit measly and pathetic.

She said, “Women have to brave the tech terrain no matter how bumpy…it’s the future. Are we going to let another few generations of women be left out in the innovation cold?”

Gawd, I hope not. She’s Geeky attendees…I hope you’ll prove this to me firsthand in about 48 hours!!

Meanwhile, what’s in a name?

Depends on who you ask, how old they are, what gender, and whether they even remotely pay attention to this kind of stuff…

As Nancy and Meghan at  Geek Girls Guide summed,

“So, let’s be clear: is the name iPad going to prevent me from buying this product? No.

…”But it does tell me that it’s unlikely that any women were involved in the naming of this product. (My other favorite example of a product name I’m pretty sure no women weighed in on: the Ford Probe.)

Tellingly, Apple’s promotional video for the iPad contains not. one. woman.

It features interviews with the men who developed it, and action shots of male hand models using it. I don’t know, maybe it was hard to find women willing to star in a film called iPad. (I can’t imagine why.)

…”So, here’s the deal: I’m not offended. I just think it’s interesting that Apple picked a loaded (for women) term for their new product…”

Agree. Though in my 25 years of name generation I cannot BEGIN to tell you some of the hilarious monikers bestowed on brand extensions and such sans professional vetting and research…

In fact I wrote an entire piece for a magazine about International advertising blunders along these lines:

Chevy Nova  translates to “it doesn’t go”

Nescafe in Portuguese means “it’s not coffee”

Biz (presoak detergent) in Syrian means “breast.”

Gaffes aplenty, lemme tell you.

So all in all, iPad’s not lookin’ so goofy in the big picture, eh? With the State of the Union address on the same day as the iPad launch, there was plenty of name-calling atwitter competing for tip of the tongue time, so I’ll end on the mashup that blends both:

“Apple has restored our nation to its natural state: lusting after expensive consumer objects. Your move, Mr. President.”

Pithy, but pitiful at the same time.  Harkens me back to my ’07 post on the iPhone hype seeding kids consumerism…just substitute iPad for iPhone in the iHave, iWant, iNeed, iWish faux frenzy.

Remember what I wrote last time?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“…Adults chiding each other like spoiled brats to be the first on the block to try, review, diss, or blather about the iPhone makes me want to hang up on the blatant disconnect between what parents preach and teach about mass media.”

…”Some industry brass were miffed they weren’t sent one for free, others cluck and strut about their ‘inside channels’ for procurement, and the average joe seems to be clamoring for this status symbol d’jour like black market goods on the Silicon Valley circuit. (or a kindergarten slot at a decent public school!)

…”C’mon now folks; we really need to dial this down.

The haughty arrogance of the entitlement message is part of the ‘what you have is who you are’ zeitgeist we’re trying to shift here at Shaping Youth. When people go gaga over the latest gizmo it doesn’t do us any favors.”

I feel like the Bill Murray Groundhog Day movie all over again.

If we can’t get the name right with the iPad this round, could we at LEAST keep the socioeconomic class cues and the coveting and consumption craziness in check around the kiddies please?

Fingers crossed.

Visual credits: Lead photo of legal pad, BaltTech/Sun; rose colored glasses via TV By the Numbers.com; Steve Jobs and iPad ‘retouched’ via Feministing/Photobucket.

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Comments

  1. It’s a case of branding being too strong, eh?

  2. Great points Amy!

    As for the iPad, my friends and I immediately wondered if there any women execs at Apple were included in the decision process of naming of this product.

    If Steve had gone home and said to his wife: ‘Oh…we came up with a name for our new tablet computer–we’re going to call it the iPad.’ She most likely would have said, ‘Uh, no….” I guess time will tell.

    At last years “Teens in Tech” conference, there was only one young woman on the panels. And there were only one or two in the audience. Everyone kept asking the question: “Where are the girls?”

    It would be great to get some of the ‘Girls in Tech’ conference to attend the ‘Teens in Tech’ conference. And Ypulse too. Ypulse is looking for teen girls who are involved in a tech start-up for a youth panel. If you know anyone, have them get in touch with Anastasia.

  3. Thanks, Derek…yah, Jessica Mah anchored the Teens in Tech event for females; we need more for certain.

    I met some cool high schoolers at She’s Geeky yesterday and will connect, tho Jessica as a serial entrepreneur is in a league of her own, she’s amazing!

    I think the answer to the where are the girls could have much to do with that ‘unwelcoming’ body snarking dynamic (what teen girl wants to have a ‘breasts before brains’ acronym paraded in front of her in presos; humiliation meets self-worth/derailment might as well have had a playhouse/guys club with a ‘no girls allowed’ sign posted… Many are taking the temperature of the industry climate by attending events like that, and some teens are put off in a ‘life’s too short to battle that, fergeddabowdit, no thanks’ vibe.

    Hopefully they’ll be more inclusive this year. (I won’t be able to attend as I’m out of town, sadly…so if you’re goin’ could you cover it for crossposting? 🙂

    It’s also the same wkend as the Teens Turning Green summit, dangit. So splintered groups for sure.
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..iPad makes women iMad? Gender or Generational Naming Gaffe? =-.

  4. All: Derek DM’d me on Twitter some links to women in tech outreach by some corporation w/STEM programs which I’ll share at the conference today…we could sure use some GREENtech savvy in this field for sure:

    http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/community_math.aspx

    And Ashoka’s Intl Chgmker teaming:

    http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/exxonmobil/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&ndmConfigId=1001106&newsId=20100127005615&newsLang=en
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..iPad makes women iMad? Gender or Generational Naming Gaffe? =-.

  5. As a male I don’t have quite the same experience with the branding of pads so this didn’t even occur to me, although I’m not without experience and once you mentioned it, I could see why some (not all) women would snicker over this one.

    It wasn’t the most inspired naming – I liked iSlate a lot better – but if there weren’t a conflicting brand image for those other pads, it wouldn’t have been too bad.

    But there have been SO MANY bad brand/model names. My favorites (look up the meaning of the words if you don’t know them) are the automobile models (Ford) “Aspire” and (it’s a whole auto company) “Virago.”

    So, did you survey?

  6. I’ve enjoyed Apple for sometime, they produce gadgets that is aesthetically gorgeous while working like a champ. That can’t be said about alot of companies, it’s typically one or the other. Tech companies don’t usually take aesthetics seriously like Apple. With that said I’ve got to say that I’m very excited about the new iSlate. One thing I question though, is it too soon? I think that this may be ahead of its time. What do you think?

  7. I think there’s a great branding discussion going on over at LinkedIn inside the VERB power of language group that you should jump aboard! Check it out:

    http://j.mp/aYwFSC

  8. It does seem to be an odd name. I didn’t consider the female product connotations until my fiancee started sniggering about it. iSlate was a better name, and I think that’s what it would have been called had it not leaked (no pun!).
    .-= iPad´s last blog ..Free iPod Shuffle =-.

  9. @ipad: Hah, funny, pun or no pun 🙂
    iPad recently posted..iOS4 Won’t Make it to iPad Until NovemberMy Profile

  10. I don’t really considered the iPad as an odd name. I know that most women might misinterpret it, but the company only followed their previous product name, iPod. Also, it makes sense that iPad looks like an high tech pad paper so no need to be iMad. LOL
    Cole Stan recently posted..Be Thoughtful And Give Unique Personalized Wedding GiftsMy Profile

  11. heh. True, well, as predicted, everyone’s sort of ‘gotten over it’ (tempest in a teapot) though it does beg the branding question of why would apple bother with controversy to begin with…(they’re one of the few that can rise above it and wait it out I s’pose) Though I DID just see a ludicrous video spoofing it again just yesterday (which was pretty gross, I must say) so as long as they wanna deal with hassle, it’s probably STILL going to be the ‘most wanted’ on many a person’s holiday wish list. Certainly doesn’t qualify as a ‘toy’ 😉

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