Monday, August 11, 2014

How the media sexualized the story of a 16-year old girl in tech instead of acknowledging her work

Imagine you're a journalist. And you've been told to write a story.

You've been told to write a story on the winner of the 2013 Science in Action award. The winner is Elif Bilgin, a 16-year old girl from Turkey. The award is part of the Google Science Fair, and the title of her project is: "Going Bananas!-Using Banana Peels in the Production of Bio-Plastic As A Replacement of the Traditional Petroleum Based Plastic".

What do you do? Well, let's sum up the keywords: Bio-Plastic. Female. Google. 16-year old. Petroleum. Award winner. Tech. 

It sounds like a pretty great story, doesn't it? I think so. As a journalist, you have the chance to write a story that will inspire other youngsters who are interested in science. You have the chance to show the world that young girls with great ideas can be seen, acknowledged and appreciated for what they are doing. You have the chance to tribute women who are interested in technology.

Or, you could look at the story and think: Here's a girl working with bananas, I think we need to sexualize this. And that is exactly what the reporter at did when he wrote an article on the subject last week:

In english, the title reads: "You can never imagine what she can do with a banana". So, instead of attracting readers who would be interesting in reading about the great accomplishments of a 16-year old girl, the author decided to attract a completely different audience by sexualizing the article.
This pisses me off. First of all, the girl is not even an adult, she should not have to deal with men drawing parallels between her work and sex. Second of all, what she has done is incredible and the journalist shows no respect for what she has accomplished.

As a woman in tech, I glow with pride whenever I see other women do something that might attract even more women to our industry.

When I was younger, my mother would save any newspaper articles for me that could inspire me to pursue my dreams. I loved reading about other teenagers, both male and female, researching topics that could make a difference. Elif Bilgin would have been a true inspiration to 16-year old me, even more so than she is now. Would my mother have saved this newspaper article for me though? No, I don't think so. I think she would have wanted to spare me the insight of how some men decide to view women in tech.

I hope this journalist has learned his lesson. And the next time he gets the chance, I hope he decides to show the world that young girls with great ideas can be seen and appreciated for what they are doing.

If you'd like to read a serious article on Elif Bilgin's project, I recommend taking a look at this blog post from Scientific American.

Note: decided to change the title of the article after receiving numerous complaints. You can read the article here.

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