First female engineer graces the cover of WIRED magazine

Picture of cover of WIRED magazine, with woman holding power tool in a "Rosie the Riveter" style

This image has been getting attention, as Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the woman pictured, is the first woman engineer to grace the cover of WIRED Magazine. WIRED is a key publication in the tech world.

She’s posing in the now iconic “Rosie the Riveter” pose, arm out, sleeve up, bicep exposed in the “Yes We Can” poster style. It’s a great image, but I have to be honest and say that I’m tired of it. It feels so flat that that’s the only way we can represent women working in a man’s field. Limor’s field, engineering, is definitely a man’s world.

This chart from the US Department of Labor shows just how big the gender gap in engineering is:

Chart of the number of people in engineering based on sex. Men have thousands more positions than women. It's increased over time, but not much.

The pink is men in engineering, the blue is women. I’m sure the numbers have gotten better in the last ten years (this chart only goes until 2001) but women have not made up that huge gap.

I’m glad they’ve featured her here, and I’m glad that she’s not scantily clad like most of the women who grace the covers of national magazines. But when will we get beyond the idea of Rosie the Riveter? When can women across fields just be acknowledged the way their male counterparts are–for their accomplishments? Fried seems like a pretty amazing (and nerdy) engineer. Even her website homepage is set up like a circuit. Posing her like Rosie feels antiquated, and also draws attention only to the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world–not that she’s an incredible engineer in her own rite.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted March 18, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink
    • Posted March 18, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I saw that story, and then I saw Fried’s response in their comments section, which GOOD added to the post.

      The cover is stylized but that is really what I looked like. I was not ‘plasticized’ or ‘heavily photoshopped’. if I take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear make-up its what I look like. Jill uses lighting and makeup to create a glossy look, we saw the shots right off the camera and the only things that changed are the background color and the tool. Its her style and it looks cool!

  2. Posted March 18, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Why do women have to “close gaps”? Why cant they just do what they want to do? Do we really need to make women feel guilty because they chose to do what they want to do, rather than contribute to close any perceived gaps? Men dont feel guilty because they dont close the man gap in ballet or nursing.

    • Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      You really think that women don’t want jobs that pay the highest salaries right out of college or the one that are in demand all the time? closing the gap is not about “making women feel guilty” it is about making sure that women have the same opportunity to pursue a stable, rewarding career in a field they do choose. Do you know what the drop out rate for women in engineering is college? In my class it was 60%, that was women who chose engineering and then left. You can say some of that is just regular major changing stuff but that is twice the rate for men in engineering! Also women leave the field after graduation because of a lack of women friendly/family friendly environments. Women want to hold these jobs! Please don’t dismiss the gap as “Well women just don’t like math and technology” that isn’t true. There is also a race gap in engineering, do you really believe that Latinos just don’t like engineering?

      Also, check out

      FINAL REPORT OF THE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCES IN COLLEGE ENGINEERING (WECE) PROJECT

      Society of Women Engineers

      Women in technology International

      Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network

  3. Posted March 18, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I have to say, I agree with this article. Why was it necessary for her to “…take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear makeup…” ??? There is something further problematic about it that I can’t put my finger on…

    … That being said, I appreciate the fact that her body language suggests a powerful stance, and neglects the submissive poses often harboured by women in magazines and advertisements.

    • Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Hi Miriam, Allie and all. Thanks for the kind words about the cover, I’m very happy with it. The “pose” was partly my suggestion, it’s a wonderful iconic symbol that I *really* like – Engineering isn’t just a “mans world”. The best engineers I know are women. It’s great to see more people talking about celebrating them and how we can encourage more.

      • Posted March 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for commenting Limor! I’m glad to hear that the pose was your idea, and not imposed by the staff at WIRED. I totally get the power in the pose–I think I’m just ready for something new. Not going to critique your decision to use it (or you either deafbrowntrash!). When I say engineering is a “man’s world” I definitely don’t want to imply there aren’t amazing women engineers like you out there. Just that there is still a huge numbers disparity when comes to gender in the field. Congrats on all your amazing work and the recognition you obviously deserve.

  4. Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    But Miriam… I am gonna have a photo shoot this weekend and shoot a Desi-style ROSIE THE RIVETER photo of myself, in a saree with a bindi :-( (((

    but no, I totally feel ya. We NEED to create a new female icon that we can embrace for the 21st century…. !!

  5. Posted March 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    But it’s an actual woman, not just a pair of titties or a derriere. It’s progress.

  6. Posted March 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m bummed by the fact that there’s not even a tagline for Fried herself. Only a teeny arrow, declaring in the smallest print what her name is.

  7. Posted March 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Miriam, way to miss the point of the Rosie iconography. The point wasn’t that women are merely *capable* of joining the workforce, or that women are just “entering” the workforce. The point is that they *are* the workforce. I’m having a hard time believing you thought that Rosie the Riveter was a woman in a man’s world! The whole point was that’s it’s not a man’s world anymore.

  8. Posted March 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I believe that one of the biggest obstacles to women’s progress is ourselves, and my point is demonstrated by many of the comments above. Instead of picking at whether or not Limor chose to wear makeup, not wear her glasses or how she’s standing, why can’t we just celebrate this amazing woman, her incredible achievements and how awesome it is that she is representing women engineers on the cover of a national magazine?

    To Limor: your cover is beautiful and its wonderful to read about the accomplishments of another female engineer. You are an inspiration to us all!

  9. Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read Feministing for several years now. As a woman going through a tough engineering curriculum it was a sanity save to be able to reach out and be reminded that there are parts of the world where women are more than 22% of the population.
    But now, when I realize that this is only the first time that the “engineering” tag has been used on this blog, when the topic of a post is that a woman on the cover of WIRED still isn’t progress enough, and that a section of the population that hasn’t had to go to work around male engineers in a factory (it stinks) isn’t satisfied with ol’ Rosie, when this post came up I realized that this blog isn’t really relevant to the world and problems that a female technical professional is trying to work through.
    Look, I get that WIRED is off the beaten path of the NGOs and nonprofit world that Feministing is often concerned with. But reacting to a story like this by asking why Fried posed with her bicep showing or that the Rosie allusion is somehow what women like me should be spending our energy fighting against when there are literally hundreds of other things, makes me tired and sad.
    And it’d be awesome if women were just known for their accomplishments but we’re not there and we’re a heck of a lot further back in the rat race than our liberal-arts college sisters. So talk about anything else—literally, anything– in the field of engineering and technical application. Just don’t throw out a post where you vilify a woman in the trenches and the one, single icon that women working in dirty industry have to look at occasionally.

    • Posted March 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      I was really glad to read this response. Looking through the other comments, I couldn’t help but think that readers, and the author of this post, had fallen into acting in a way they would malign in other contexts: Seeing a woman and judging her, and other women who are choosing or not choosing to become engineers, based on the way her body is posed on a magazine cover. “too pretty!” isn’t any better a criticism of a woman, or an image of a woman, than “not pretty enough”. And sure, Rosie the Riveter is hackneyed, but she remains an image of the strength and ability that women can exhibit in traditionally male-dominated activities. What’s wrong with that?

      I would love to have seen, in the post, a discussion of Ms. Fried’s work or whether there was an article about her in the magazine or what the article covered, but I guess the writers and readers at Feministing couldn’t get past a cover image of a woman to the substance behind it, which I think is a shame.

    • Posted March 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      May I recommend Geek Feminism . It has a large focus on women in STEM but also women gamers (which I am not, but it is interesting to hear about). I am so glad I found it.

  10. Posted March 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    It seems as a women in engineering, the only time our issues are going to be addressed in more mainstream feminist discussions is when one of us breaks onto a cover? I thought this article and a lot of the responses were really trite and don’t do anything to actually help the state of women in STEM subjects. It does nothing to celebrate women or engineering. You could’ve at least tried to do one of those.

    You don’t even address what Rosie means, especially to the women in industry. Hell, you didn’t even try and address was Limor’s presence on the cover meant.
    Women and girls who want a place in industry will look at this cover and recognise a peer and a role model. The men who read this will (hopefully) recognise her for what she is, an amazing engineer and a peer. All you do is tear her down for her pose?

    There are legitamite gender disparity issues in the field of engineering that need to be addressed. Those statistics you list aren’t going to change until we change the perception of what an engineer looks like, sounds like, and works like. A competent, creative, entrepreneurial badass? That sounds like an engineer to me. Keep more of them coming, regardless of gender!

  11. Posted March 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    By focusing on the superficial magazine cover, you are not doing this woman justice. Why not focus on her achievements and highlight why she is a badass? Why not inspire your audience to be like her, to go compete with the men dominating in her field, and go build electronics!

    Have you forgotten why magazine covers are photoshoped and contain *identifiable* icons? Every magazine does it. The cover of any mag is 100% BS marketing. Marketing is about selling stuff, making $$$, and having customers identify with something common. Lady Ada is not affiliated with the Wiring marketing department, so why are you not doing he justice?

    There is a reason why Wired used Rosie the Riveter, just like they put supermodels in ads, use pink for little girls toys and use blue for little boys toys. Sure, it’s f’ed up, any reasonable person would agree, but it gets attention of a generalized audience that doesn’t usually look past the cover, which is the marketers MO because is makes $$$. Marketing has this down to a “science” and they teach this in schools. No matter how f’d up it is, that is the way marketing works. We can all complain about how we hate ads and how they reinforce gender roles to nauseum, but IMO your agenda in this article is purposeless and deflects from the real accomplishments of this badass woman. There are many other important things to complain about rather than how and why marketing makes horrible ads. Uggh!

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