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What if web-surfers were sexist pigs?

July 6, 2009
Mozilla Firefox
Image via Wikipedia

One of the accusations leveled against those who apply a feminist lens to media and culture is that we are just looking for things to get offended about. The truth is, however, that we run into these things constantly as we go about our days. Everyone does: the difference is that we take the time to think critically about it.

An example I recently encountered was a link being passed around as humor by Twitter accounts dedicated to discussion of social media, blogging, and the like: If browsers were women… (note that I don’t recommend clicking the link). The very concept equates women with passive objects to be used by men and indeed implies that men are the primary (or only) users of web browsers, even though 79 million adult women in the US alone use the Internet. The specifics of this “humor” page are even worse.

First, Firefox is described as desirable only because of “the stuff she gets from that huge bunch of her admirers”. The way in which this browser-woman is expected to serve a man resembles an exploitative pimp-prostitute relationship. Moreover, the implication is that if a woman owns a lot of “gadgets” she couldn’t possibly have earned, let alone invented, them herself,  especially as the author laments, “if only other women were so open for gifts”. Why not wish for a woman who had the ability to make her own? Of course, that would require believing that women have agency.

Of Opera, the second browser considered, the author notes that “[s]he won’t let you inside though, so full satisfaction is not guaranteed.” Because having open source code is exactly like giving consent to sex, apparently. I’m guessing the author missed the online response to the so-called Open-Source Boob Project. Women’s bodies are not community property, nor should women who don’t want their bodies treated that way be shamed for it.

With the third browser, Safari, we get the opposite side of the sexual shaming of women: “[s]he brings her iFriends with her without asking you when you invite her home.” (Of course, it is early on established that she is only desirable because “[s]he’s a hottie”.) This implication of promiscuity is relatively minor compared to the slut-shaming which appears in the description of Internet Explorer:

For most, she’s the first woman they tried. She’s really easy but can get you infected.

Women can’t win with the Madonna/whore dichotomy, can they?

Between Safari and Explorer we get what might be the most offensive comparison of all. An image of a clearly anorexic woman is used to represent Chrome. The description refers to “her” as “[e]xtremely skinny”. Apparently, in the author’s mind, a stripped-down browser that runs fast is exactly like a woman starving herself to the point where it threatens her health. This illustrates a callus disregard for women’s wellness.

But then if the author (along with those who find such commentary amusing) only thinks of women as something to be used, why would we expect anything more?

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