As part of our ongoing series examining the media’s “blind spot” towards gender, race and class, we ask Anne-Marie Imafidon, head Stemette at the Stemettes project, about the media’s attitudes towards women and the role digital media could play in ensuring that more diverse voices are heard.
How would you define, or characterise the media’s blind spot?
The media has a certain set of characteristics it uses to portray women on TV, in the movies or in newspapers. It hasn’t yet developed a character for a technically-minded woman as the media isn’t quite au fait with that character, a woman whom we call a ‘Stemette’. Stemettes are young women who are technical and able. The media’s blind spot in this area has an impact on how we, as a society, view women who are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM], who work within these fields, and who enjoy and have a passion for STEM.
What do you think of the media’s coverage of women’s issues generally, and how does the blind spot operate in that respect?
There is still a tendency to present an image of the angry feminist anytime you write anything about women. The media, as a whole, still display some unconscious bias and misogyny. I think the media is still finding its feet in terms of self-policing and knowing when they’ve gone too far, or when they’ve said something a little bit outdated. It’s early days, but I think the media is getting there. It’s great that we are seeing women’s issues being covered a lot more, so progress is being made. The question is whether the change is happening fast enough. I’m not too sure.
What are the challenges facing people working in the media?
As a journalist, it’s about understanding your unconscious bias and your prejudices, but also those of your editor, and those above you. It’s about having your arguments ready to respond to the criticism and say – actually, that’s not really a woman’s issue. It’s an issue for all of us that we don’t have enough women working within technology or engineering, given that these industries drive our economy. It’s also how we measure our standards of life. It’s definitely a big challenge. Working within the media doesn’t necessarily mean you control it. The other side of it is the fact that everyone in media needs to sell papers (or their equivalent), so making sure that you have stories that will do just that, and finding the right voice and the right way to reflect women’s issues in this kind of economic climate, is also difficult.
What role do you think digital media plays in challenging the blind spot?
Digital media, more so than traditional media, has got a little bit better on this front, but I think that’s because the barriers for entry are a little bit lower. You have a more diverse set of voices, though things like trolling and uncalled for comments don’t necessarily help within the space of digital media.
Have you encountered any negative experiences using digital media?
If you’re alive and online, you’re going to experience that. This is the 21st century. You are doing it all wrong if you haven’t had a troll. If you’ve not had a five minute hate video posted about you on YouTube or been propositioned, then you’re definitely doing it wrong. It’s not something you can take personally or let it knock you down unless, of course, it’s a criminal act, in which case you definitely want to report it.
Do you have any experiences of being represented in the media in a way that has been influenced by the blind spot?
I don’t like it when the media say things like “geek girl”. That’s the reason why we are called Stemettes. That’s where I think the press has missed the point in terms of what we are trying to do. Our message is focused around what it is to be a Stemette and be a modern woman who also happens to work in tech. I don’t identify as being a geek. I don’t watch Star Wars. I don’t read comics or play games. I’m quite technical and really enjoy programming. We are normal people. We are people who hang out at Lovebox with you. We are the people sitting on the train, watching memes and laughing at #BeyonceOnBeat. But we also do experiments and we also worked on the Shard. It’s the realisation that a Stemette is a separate character from the geek stereotype. We are aiming to be more visible because women are still part of the media’s blind spot.
Interview by Lwam Tesfay, Digital Women UK’s online editor intern.
About the author
Anne-Marie Imafidon is head Stemette at the Stemettes project, which she established to inspire the next generation of females into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Anne-Marie has always been interested in business, math and technology. Her rather unique set of achievements include holding the current world record as the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing (aged 11), being one of The Guardian ‘Top 10 women in tech you need to know’ as well as one of the youngest people ever to be awarded a Masters degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Oxford, aged 20. Anne-Marie was also named the UK IT Industry & British Computer Society’s Young IT Professional of the Year in 2013, Red Magazine’s ‘Woman to Watch’ 2014’ and the 2014 FDM Everywoman in Technology ‘Rising Star’.