Sunday Book-Thought 113

As the 1960s wore on, images of women interacting with machines became less literal and, in the process, more freighted with additional meaning. Instead of focusing on a relatively plain-looking feminized workforce, whose presence was simultaneously meant to stand in for low-cost labor and to recede into the background as the viewer considered the computing system, women started to become a subject of the advertising themselves. In earlier advertisements, women were often faceless accessories to the machine, but this trope began to lose favor as the
sixties progressed.

In many later images, the formula is reversed: The machines recede or disappear while the woman remains, this time facing the viewer. At a certain point, advertising imagery began to focus more on the fact that managers were buying a system for managing and maximizing labor rather than just a machine. Although this had been implicit in earlier advertisements, in the later sixties it became explicit. Women pictured in the ads retained their importance as a shorthand representation of workers who conveyed all the benefits, and few of the downsides, of modern office labor, but now that message became even more critical to the sales pitch. Women’s labor itself was being marketed explicitly as an essential part of the computing system.
Marie Hicks, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017), p. 122.

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