Wired’s breasts get shaken up

Wired’s November cover features a pair of breasts. Large, looming, poke-you-in-the-eye kind of breasts. So on Nov. 10, Cindy Royal, an assistant professor at Texas State University and a Wired magazine subscriber, wrote a blog post baring the more audacious news that the tech publication rarely runs photos of women on its cover, unless they’re jokes or promoting films, and the last time Wired’s front featured a woman doing real work in technology was April 1996. Too good a story to miss, in five days the blog post has picked up more than 200 comments, including a polite response from Wired’s editor Chris Anderson, who noted women don’t tend to sell magazine covers, in fact, humans rarely do, and he’s soliciting ideas for the future. All Things D, Washington Post and The Huffington Post chimed in. Wired’s boobs are making the rounds.

We see two lessons here:

1. People remain piggish, and oinky instincts often sell. The truth, of course, is that the tech world is filled with young men and images such as this one (from inside Wired’s magazine issue) do far more to juice sales and subscriptions than Gates and Zuckerberg ever would.

Given the loving attention to detail in these photos, we suggest Wired (if we could have your attention back, please) knows exactly what it is doing. This is not to condemn Wired; visit the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, and you’ll see most magazine covers have photos of beautiful females — at least 3 to 1 women-to-men. Greed, lust, and desire for aspirational beauty get noticed, and publishers who test every element of their covers respond with exactly what the market wants.

2. Change is possible if human communities override individual behavior. The fascinating thing about this exercise in feedback is how fast it’s moving; today is Nov. 15, less than a week since Royal published her critique of Wired’s boobs, and counterpoints have piled high. The National Center for Women & Information Technology gave Royal a link to 50 women who have excelled in IT and entrepreneurship, potentially worthy of magazine fame. Chris Anderson has moved into private email discussions with Royal over how to improve the magazine’s editorial. It may be too much to hope, but outside observers might think a real change in the magazine is possible.

If so, this is a lovely tale of how social media provides, with good writing and a touch of viral community support, a critical mass that can move society in a better direction. Royal notes that Wired is deeply influential in the tech industry; thus a series of Wired covers espousing the contributions of women to technology, and not just as gussied up sex objects, might inspire more female teens to engineering and tech college degrees, better hiring of women, more female CIOs, and future SXSW Interactive conferences filled with more than scruffy boys in T-shirts.

Unless magazine newsstand sales droop, of course; then, given human reproductive urgency and Wired’s male-skewing demo, Anderson will have to put skin back in the game.

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