This morning I woke to a CNN special discussing women in the workplace and the evolving role of women in the world today. This theme reflects International Women’s Day which was celebrated this month on March 8. Notably, the United States is ranked #23 overall out of 136 countries in gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum 2013 Report. Clearly, the continuing debate over the emergence of women in business, politics and women’s rights advocacy remains a global issue.
In 2013, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women, launched a series of ads based on sexism in authentic autocomplete Google searches. Google autocomplete generates predicted searches based on “the search activity of users and the content of web pages indexed by Google.” Google autocompleted phrases including: “Women need to BE PUT IN THEIR PLACE,” “Women cannot BE TRUSTED,” “Women should STAY AT HOME,” and “Women shouldn’t HAVE RIGHTS.”
The alarming negativity and discrimination toward women in mainstream searches, from stereotyping to denial of rights, motivated the UN Women’s campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai. A woman working on the campaign stated, “the ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality.” UN Women utilized the blatant search sexism in the controversial ads to incite a global dialogue.
Though autocomplete adjusts slightly according to country, when I searched today, I experienced similar results: “Women need to SHUT UP,” “Women cannot HAVE IT ALL,” “Women should STAY AT HOME” and “Women shouldn’t VOTE.” I am horrified that mainstream searches reflect this sexism, and worse, feel guilty for never having noticed it before. I fear I am desensitized to the media sexism that surrounds me, yet I feel empowered by the UN Women ads that seek to encourage awareness, enlightenment and change.