Sex sells

sharonA calendar designed to encourage more women into IT occupations, and help dispel the notion that IT is not a desirable career for women, has caused a storm of controversy in Australia.

The Screen Goddess calendar features 20 women IT pros whose photos are taken as poses from movies such as Dr No, American Beauty, Basic Instinct and Charlie’s Angels.

The calendar’s promoters say the top two reasons why they have produced this are to “smash through the perception of the geeky technologist” and “generate media sensation to put a spotlight in the industry and increase national interest and awareness.”

Well, I’d say they are doing pretty well indeed with their second goal in particular:

[…] As debate over the calendar raged across the media, public forums and blogs, the site racked up 3.5 million hits worldwide within 24 hours. Then on Friday night it was almost struck down by a denial of service attack co-ordinated from the US.

Whatever the outcome of the media storm, undoubtedly the calendar will sell like hot cakes.

[Addition] There is at least one precedent for a calendar featuring women in erotic (or, at least, alluring) poses to promote a cause – the calendar produced by members of the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute in the UK in 1998 to raise money for leukemia research.

A hit movie was a natural development from that bold initiative.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Anna Farmery

    Mmm one difference between the Calender Girls and this latest stunt is that they were hoping to sell about 100 calendars…and all money to charity i.e the success was the naivety of the whole project. Not sure this was naive…and along with the TV advert, would appear to me to be a deliberate attempt to get attention. Congrats for achieving the attention but for me it is a cop out to real PR…as an aside I actually live about 5 miles from where the Calendar Girls live!

  2. Lee

    Well, my own post about a potential PR version of the calendar hit a nerve with BL… once the chaps have reconfigured my server, watch for my reposting of her comments on my blog — seems she was none best pleased, Neville!

    “Sense of humour failure” is one phrase that comes to mind…

  3. neville

    Just reading your post, Lee, re the missing things from your server. A real headache. Hope you get it all back to I can see what BL had to say!

    Good point, Anna, re that difference. I don’t see what the Aussies are doing as a cop-out to real PR, though. They’ve set a measurable objective which looks like being achieved. Where’s the cop out?

  4. Anna Farmery

    Neville…I think the cop out is that they know that the bloggers, news, etc will talk…its easy PR, if in doubt -shock. Not that I disagree, like you said if it hits the objective then hey…success. It just seems an easy cop out and it is just at what cost? Maybe it is because as a female, you struggle to get accepted for your skill at the best of times and then you see these kind of ads….I am so not a prude, if sex adds something then fine…there have been some superb perfume, bra ads etc that appeal to both male and female readers (for diff reasons!)it is just when it is used as a sex in itself…but hey life is great because everyone has a different view!

  5. Lee

    Allan and I have just finished recording our next ‘chat’ and Allan pointed out that one of the Nobodies was in a similar calendar for IT/PR folks in Europe. So the Aussie girls are by no means the first ones — they are the first, perhaps, to have so successfully marketed it. But then again, the ‘where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign has been a humungous hit around the world precisely because of its controversy!

  6. neville

    Just been listening, Lee, to your latest chat with Allan. Good show! So what was BL’s comment?

    I see your point, Anna. I can see, too, how and why other women may be less than impressed with this whole idea.

    Yet what impressed me in particular was the FAQ on the calendar site which, to me at least, provides a believable rationale behind it all, ie, it’s not a gratuitous promotion. This comment impressed me the most:

    […] sensual images can only encourage stereotypes if people think that women can be viewed as either thinking beings or sexual beings, not both – and that is exactly the kind of thinking that needs ending. It will be obvious to anyone who actually looks at the calendar that it portrays women as integrated people, who are justifiably proud of their minds, accomplishments and bodies – as they should be.

    Impressive, too, are the extensive bios of each of the women portrayed in the calendar.

    So I still don’t see any kind of PR cop out at all.

  7. Anna Farmery

    I just want to clarify I am not against it…honestly Lee!…I just think it is an easy way out…my only issue is that it is easy to go straight to the flesh! Flesh sells… what I prefer is when women use their sensuality and sexuality without going the easy option. Hope that makes sense! And good on them for doing it…so when are us women podcasters getting the male version with Lee, Shel, yourself with strategically positioned mics and “condensors”! By the way interviewed Heidi Miller 9She was fab!)last night as she is US and I am UK we thought we might go for a female version of Hobson and Holtz!!!!…must stop drinking caffeine late at night, my thoughts become wild dreams!

  8. Lee

    Of course, whilst some of us would need condensors, others would need expanders and one of us would, rumour has it, need a compressor! Of course, rumour also has it that another one of us would need a noise gate…

  9. Sharon Don

    I’d like to congratulate contributors to this blog for their rational approach.

    The most important thing to come out of this will be that hard working, unrecognised women [who are largely alone in IT organisations ( 1/20 where I am)] get the career guidance, promotion/pay oportunties and life support that they deserve. That can only come through co-ordinated management which needs $$$, and awareness.

    I workshopped the calendar with my colleagues for 6 months before agreeing to the release, and being a senior executive this took a great deal of consideration.

    If people are intereted enough to look under the image of each woman, they will find stories of passionate high achievers.

    And are only indicative of how many other stories we need to get out there to inspire women into this amazing industry (media/Internet/mobile/IT convergence).

    Best wishes

    Sharon Don
    Calendar Girl

  10. Sonja Bernhardt

    Hello I’m Sonja Bernhardt – the innovator behind screen gooddess initiative.. hope you’re enjoying the healthy deabte – it’s an added benefit that we didn;t even think would happen. Due to an ‘issue’ back in Australia with a sponsor we were catapulted into the international media even before we were ready – Official luanch is not until 11 August – and there is a real and fascinating reason why we have selected 11 August. Those women in IT out there see if you can work it out:-)

    and now for a long ‘chat’ from me: The IT Goddess calendar has already stirred controversy even before the calendar was printed, with print and digital media stories as well as blogs springing up daily.

    While its purpose is to promote IT study and careers for girls and women, has it sabotaged its own aims by merely pandering to and encouraging a view that women are just sex objects, not talented people who should be judged on their achievements?

    Categorically I, Sonja Bernhardt the screen goddess innovator say no it has not.
    Every women in the calendar is an intelligent thinking person who is accomplished and made their own decision to participate based on their confidence and comfort levels combined with passion and pride for supporting ICT careers.

    Remember the bottom line of this initiative is to raise much needed funds to run more intervention projects and programs to have a sustained impact on attracting retaining and promoting women into technology careers.

    The facts are that to be a commercial success the calendar has to be visible, attractive, and popular – or it will raise neither awareness nor the money to invest in projects to encourage women into technology careers.

    Movies and media are constantly focussing on actresses and models who are attractive and scantily dressed, and magazines for teenage girls devote pages to makeup and attracting boys. The “beautiful people” are, like it or not, seen as role models and women to admire. And it is not the media setting public taste – it is the interests of the public driving the media. And if that is what people want, is it better that the role models they see are limited to actresses and models – or should they see that a career in technology does not mean being a frumpy geek who can’t get a boyfriend, but can be interesting, challenging, exciting and glamorous?

    Is there anything wrong with admiring beauty? It is people’s minds that drive achievement, but we are not disembodied brains, we are integrated beings of mind and body. It is part of human nature to admire beauty in other people, it is human nature to be sexual beings, it is human nature to enjoy sensuality, it is human nature to seek and esteem the best people can be in all things. And we do not despise human nature, we celebrate it.

    On one of the most famous Screen Goddesses of them all, female novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand wrote that Marilyn Monroe projected “the joyous self-flaunting of a child or a kitten who is happy to display its own attractiveness as the best gift it can offer the world, and who expects to be admired for it, not hurt.” Our Screen Goddesses project that, and more. They are women who are accomplished in their careers, confident in themselves, proud of who they are, and not afraid to expose themselves to controversy in order to achieve their values. They are living embodiments of the principle that nothing in their sex prevents women from achieving their goals in any chosen field: without sacrificing their femininity, sensuality, or any other part of themselves.

    have fun – we did:-)

  11. Lee

    I am super impressed! I only wish that the correspondents over at my post about this, with a Women of PR perspective, would have visited this blog to get some perspective. Alas, my own explicitness was perhaps my undoing. But only with a few of the women I mentioned…

  12. neville

    Sharon, Sonja, thanks for dropping in here.

    I’m with you both on the reasons why the Screen Goddess calendar exists. I think it’s a terrific inititiave and I’m sure it will sell like hot cakes so you can raise those funds for the good causes you’re supporting. I wish you well in that.

    Sharon, your point about looking under the image of each woman is a valid one. I did that, ie, read the bios which certainly helped me to see that this endeavour involves people who are successful in their individual fields. Intellectual substance behind the physical portrayals.

    So each one of you is using your sex to further a cause. I have no problem with that – men do it all the time :)

    I also think you all gain credibility because you are women doing this. So the very best of success!

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