In February, outdoor screens across the UK displayed a red gender equality campaign that took a jibe at the popular TV shows and gossip magazines, such as; Love Island, Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach, Charlotte Show, The Only Way is Essex, Closer, amongst others…  


Launched by the diversity and equality campaigner Women in Data, one of such messages read, ‘Hey @LoveIsland Our girls need role models not pastedGraphic.png pastedGraphic_1.png pastedGraphic_2.png pastedGraphic_3.png pastedGraphic_4.png ‘; a cynical note with the playful references to the popular emoji culture.

Their tenet was the displeasure associated with the sexualised images of women, which doesn’t do justice to the gender equality initiatives that rely heavily on changing the way women perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others 

For Women in Data, there is plenty to complain about. In the data industry, male analysts and scientists outnumber females 4 to 1. Studies show that even if women choose a profession in the TECH sector, many quit their career mid-point because of sexism, bullying, sexual harassment, gender pay gap, male-dominated office culture, slow career progression for women among other reasons.


We can hardly wonder why. The current generation is growing up in the world where men can ‘grab women by their pussy’ and still become Presidents of a once-respected major country. Many media channels also provide ample evidence of the sexualisation of women; TV, music videos and lyrics, movies, magazines, video games, and advertising 

In young people’s minds, this creates an expectation that a woman’s value comes from her sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics. In other words, a women’s worth is more decorative than intellectual and their value is tied to their sexual value to men, TV producers, viewers/followers, film and the music industry.  


Research shows that women internalise this outsider’s view and learn to judge their worth based on how they think others perceive their physical and sexual characteristics. This effect is so powerful that experiments demonstrated that young women who performed a maths test on their own while wearing a swimsuit performed significantly worse than those who wore a sweater. Presumably, their self-comparison to the perceived sexualised cultural ideals interfered with their focus and attention and impaired the performance on mental activities such as maths or logical reasoning. Similar dynamics may play a role later in male-dominated workplaces.  


We hope that each generation will be different, but this comes down to the visibility of the role models; not the significant or inspiring gurus, but those who define the roles in our society that younger people will emulate and follow. Girls can only be what they can see! Unfortunately, the choice of examples in the public domain that is relevant to young minds is incredibly limited. 

Consider the following two examples and the message it sends to young girls; one of a female scientist who has helped develop Alexa’s machine learning capabilities, and another one of a female contestant who has won a dirty dancing challenge on Love Island. The latter is likely to become a ‘successful’ social media ‘careerist’ living a highly visible Instagram life boosted by sponsored content and media headlines long after the successful display of the twerking abilities on TV. In the former case, I dare you to find the name of the female scientist I have in mind…


We need the next generation of girls to believe that they can be leaders of thought in politics, economics, science, and technologies. But how can they? Why would they? These women’s achievements aren’t celebrated on billboards and in popular magazines. Paparazzi are not fighting to snap the best picture for tomorrows headlines – “she was seen leaving the lab in the morning barely covering her Nobel Prize with the Burberry coat”.  

If we do not celebrate them, perhaps their value is not that great? We shouldn’t wonder why our frustrating attempts to convince teenage girls to choose STEM falls on deaf ears…After all, don’t actions speak louder than words? It is us who have made the TV shows that promote and sell a women’s sexuality as entertainment popular. If we do not choose to look away, we cannot expect the next generation to look for inspiration elsewhere either.


An important point in this gender equality debate is that it’s not about how women look or how they express their sexuality. The importance of physical features will always be a part of evolutionary human nature. However, the subtle difference between sexualisation /objectification and sexuality as a healthy expression of female identity lies in WHY the spotlight falls on them in the first place. Is it because of the shape of their body that helped them win a man in a dirty dance challenge or because of their role in shaping the industry they are in?  

In their approach, Women in Data are trying to create a new trend of STEMcelebrities – female leaders who spearhead the industry with their ideas and inventions. To appeal to younger audiences, their approach is to celebrate women in data like Hollywood celebrities at the Oscar awards. Their message to young girls is simple – it is a new ‘cool’ to appear on billboards for their work, not for how they twerk.


Whether the Women in Data approach will work remains to be seen. One thing we know for sure is that the gender equality battle cannot be won on the basis of regulations that define equal pay and enforce 50% female executive roles. If we do not prepare the next generation of women of this, neither women nor men will change the attitudes that created the inequalities in the first place.  

For now, the fact remains the same – our girls need role models, not pastedGraphic.png pastedGraphic_1.png pastedGraphic_2.png pastedGraphic_3.png pastedGraphic_4.png.

New York and London Photography Prize Winner 2021/2022

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