11. Jailbreak the Patriarchy

I’d highly recommend everyone try the Chrome extension “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” – which switches the gender pronouns in what you read on the internet. More simply explained, any article about “he” and “him” is suddenly about “she” and “her.”

I found out about the extension shortly after it came out, and turned it on for fun. I wasn’t expecting any great revelations from this. I already knew that everyone I read about was male, and I was accustomed to that. (As an engineer, I read a lot about the tech world. You can name the female people you see regularly from memory. Marissa Mayer. Sheryl Sandberg. Lately, Randy Zuckerberg. Carly Fiorina. Caterina Fake. Meg Whitman. I also tend to remember Alexia Tsotsis and Leena Rao, since they write a lot of what I read on TechCrunch). Anyway, I was sure I knew what was going to happen. It would flip the gender of the people I read about. So what?  I was smart enough to realize what was going on.

After I installed the extension, I got back to work, wrote documents, did email, went to meetings, did all those things I’m actually supposed to be doing at work. When I finally got back to browsing the internet, I’d forgotten all about the extension. I didn’t remember it until I was reading an article about Seattle’s top bartenders. Somewhat astoundingly, all three were women. I felt proud! Proud and excited and surprised. I have nothing to do with the cocktail industry, and I still felt like this was a great success. Several minutes later I thought “well isn’t it funny that they all have men’s names? I wonder what that means.” and realized I had the plugin enabled, and they were in fact all men.

At that moment, I realized that the way gender is portrayed in the media still impacts people. Yes, it is much better than it was for my mother, or my grandmother, but it isn’t totally gone for me.  I know, because having my normal news flipped made me feel far more comfortable in the world. I felt far less like I had to assert myself, or prove something. It was like everyone had already done everything I thought was cool, and I was just going to do it too. My path became far more obvious, and far less controversial. It made it not a big deal, or even commonplace, to be a woman and be ambitious.

This general pattern continued throughout the day. The places gender portrayal mattered to me wasn’t in tech articles. It was in the rest of the media.  Apparently almost everything I read is written by and about men. This shouldn’t have surprised me, as I later learned only 20% of media coverage is about women, and most of that coverage is about situations in which they are victims.*

Since I did this experiment, I’ve been encouraging people to turn on this extension. Most of my female friends are also in tech and say “eh, I know the truth already.” We may know the truth, but we don’t know what it’s like to read news that’s all about your gender.  It makes the burden to achieve feel much lighter, because so many others are achieving it with you.  Most of my male friends look at me like “why would I do that?” but I wish they would, to see what it’s like to be female and read the news every day.

We have a long way to go, but it’s getting harder and harder to see what we need to change. Jailbreak the patriarchy helps make it clearer.

*Miss Represented