Red Hot Optics

By Sean Carroll | February 21, 2007 12:31 pm

Would you be shocked to hear that the readership of general-circulation science magazines is overwhelmingly white, male, and middle-aged? Probably not. Of course, you might comfort yourself with the thought that lack of interest in such magazines is programmed into the DNA of women, young people, and non-Caucasians, despite evidence that the relevant genetic information is apparently evolving awfully rapidly.

Would it surprise you to learn that overtly sexualized images of women cause tangible harm to adolescents and young women? Maybe it would. Not that there’s anything wrong with sexy images of people of any gender in appropriate contexts, but in the actual context in which children grow up in our culture, the way in which these images appear enacts a vastly disproportionate toll on young girls.

Are you at all taken aback by the cover of the latest catalogue for Edmund Optics, purveyor of scientific optical equipment?

Edmund Cover

The same image appeared in ads in Physics Today. Which, by the way, is not a biker magazine.

This sales pitch has caused a bit of consternation, including a lot of conversation on the AASWomen mailing list. But it’s not just those uppity wymyn who are upset. Geoffrey Marcy of Berkeley has written to the company to complain:

Dear Mr. Radojkovic and Mr. Delfino and Mr. Dover,

As representatives of Edmund Optics, I hope you will pass the following message to the appropriate management at Edmund Optics.

I just saw the images from the Edmund Optics catalog that show a woman in a tight red skirt lounging next to some optical devices, some with the caption, “Red Hot”. I hope Robert Edmund and the board of directors of Edmund can be alerted to this problem.

As a scientist and professor at UC Berkeley I am embarrassed on behalf of the many female science students coming along. I wonder what message such images of sex objects in your ads send to bright young scientists
of both genders.

Moreover, after decades of overt discrimination against women in the physical sciences, including precluding their admission to the best universities and the denial of access to the world’s best telescopes, your ad represents a setback. It reminds us of a dark era of clear discrimination against women, a time that I’m sure Edmund Optics hopes is long gone. If so, you have made a very serious error that insults the scientific community.

As you can imagine, your ad has already generated extraordinary discussion in the scientific community, analogous to the discussion over the comments by Harvard’s president who implied that women might not have what it takes to be great scientists. In short, your company has left open the question of your equal and unbiased treatment of women in your company and in your contracts.

Geoffrey Marcy
Professor of Astronomy, UC Berkeley
Elected Member, United States National Academy of Sciences

To which Bill Dover at Edmund replied, in a classic example of “not getting it”:

Hi Geoff,

Thank you for your feedback regarding the EO catalog and our recent cover. No need to be embarrassed for the many female science students coming along. Rather, encourage them to celebrate that another smart, young, and attractive female has joined the ranks of women in a technical field, which breaks the pattern of discrimination you describe. You see, the woman featured on the cover is a six-year employee of Edmund and our Trade Show Manager and Spokesperson. Over the years we’ve received numerous positive comments and she has proven herself to possess the needed technical and social ability to successfully coordinate our tradeshows that showcase our products.

The recent cover photo emphasized a new product launch by Edmund. Our Trade Show Manager coordinated the showcase of these products at Photonics West last month. Had you happened by our booth for a visit, you would have had the opportunity to meet and speak with her about our Kinematic mounts as well as receive additional technical information from two other smart, young, and attractive, female optical engineers present at the time. So that you know, this line of Kinematic Optical Mounts, Table Platforms, and Mechanical Accessories are technically situated to become the standard for optical positioning equipment in the marketplace. We are excited about the quality, features, and price of these products and know that they will be very difficult to compete with and we chose our Trade Show Manager to help commemorate their release.

Professor Geoff, please encourage ALL of your female students to join the technical, engineering, and science ranks. There are too many that fall prey to the stereotypical concepts of what a person should look like or dress like which keep them from significant contributions in our society. That said, we value the opinions of our customers and we evaluate the feedback in developing our future strategies. I appreciate the time you have taken to mention your concerns here. I hope you will take the opportunity to encourage your female students to meet our female optical engineers at Edmund Optics. I think they, and you, will be impressed with their ability to support and represent woman [sic] in engineering.

Best Regards,

As far as I can tell, he’s saying that “she” is smart (so smart that she doesn’t need a name, apparently), so it’s okay! This is America, so any talented and attractive young woman with an interest in engineering can grow up to be a Booth Babe. He forgot to mention that “Better Performance. Better Price.” is the kind of slogan that any female should be proud to be associated with!

Actually it’s not okay. We’re not going to see this any time soon:

A little parity goes a long way, though. I have a vision of the next catalog cover–it features a handsome young man, maybe in chinos or a nice pair of jeans, barefoot, shirt halfway unbuttoned, an alluring gleam in his eye. Maybe a caption like “Well Oiled Mounts.”

And even if we did, it still wouldn’t be okay. (Although it would be highly amusing.) These images don’t appear in a vacuum; as long as the way that women and men are put on display in a wider cultural context remains dramatically imbalanced, a little equal-opportunity cheesecake here and there isn’t going to fix things.

Feel free to email Bill Dover ( and VP of Marketing Marisa Edmund ( to let them know what you think. (Thanks to Chaz Shapiro for the pointer.)

  • Thomas Larsson

    This reminds me of some ads for Swedish computer company Lap Power some ten years ago. Problem was that the sexy lady in question turned out to be the company’s vice president. When the dust had settled, it became clear that it is ok, at least in Sweden, to sell computers with scantily clad women, provided that they belong to the top management.

    Have you checked this lady’s position within Edmund optics, or are you just assuming that short skirts and big boobs are incompatible with brains?

  • mollishka

    I like how he refers to Prof. Geoffrey Marcy as “Professor Geoff.”

  • Ashlie

    Thomas Larsson:

    You see, the woman featured on the cover is a six-year employee of Edmund and our Trade Show Manager and Spokesperson.

  • Brad

    Plus, the featured equipment also looks like a gun of some sort. They’re really
    going after the Cracker Biker Scientist market…

  • The AstroDyke

    In a (perhaps quixotic) attempt to make Edmund Optics realize the sexist absurdity of their cover, I’ve written a tongue-in-cheek letter asking Edmund to put male optics beefcake on next year’s cover.

    Please co-sign the letter, and help make it funnier!
    password = redhot.

    Cheers, The Astrodyke.

  • Quasar9

    lol, Hot Chic!
    Better performance, better price!
    Well I guess if we are willing to pay for better performance in our cars & motorbikes …

    Sorry, what was the advert for?

  • Dr. Free-Ride

    Ah, she’s the brains behind the trade shows!

    Guy at trade show: “Do you come with the optics?”
    Super-hot chick who is, by the way, very knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the product: “Oh, you! Tee hee!”


  • Yvette

    About a year ago, I wandered by chance into a photographer’s art gallery near campus and the photographer begged me to model for him. I aquiesced, so there are now one or two photos of me hanging in his gallery. He says that whenever I get recognized it’s immediately dismissed, however, with a comment like “that must be just a model who looks like her. After all, she’s a physics major!”
    I always find these comments interesting because they imply that there is no way a girl can be smart and pretty too, as they can only be noticed as intelligent when they are not attractive. This also leads me to the conclusion that there is no way anyone looking at that picture or going to the trade show is going to think “wow, she’s really smart!”

  • Cleis

    My children and I read this catalog for the articles and instrument specifications, not the pictures. If any of you nerds takes the trouble to OPEN the catalog, you will learn that the cover girl was bitten on the CERVIX by a friendly snake, and that is why she’s displayed here with Edmund’s GROITAL probe. Hope none of these words offends you, and please don’t judge a book by its cover.

  • Cash

    I think I am with them on this one. We can’t simultaneously want more women in science and then insist they’re not allowed to look like and/or be women, they can only be androgynous look-alikes of men.

    It’s hard for an attractive woman in science – I am glad she is turning that around and making it an advantage. That is true empowerment.

  • spyder

    The following might go a long way towards explaining the phenomenon of “tangible harm” that our post-modern cultural iconographic media imagery is perpetrating.
    Click on the film EVIDENCE BY GODFREY REGGIO: Reggio filmed a group of young children watching tv to create this film which is as shocking as it is sad

  • Helma Bim

    Anyone remember the Python issue of “Linux Journal?” The one that featured a naked guy (strategically posed so it would pass as PG or PG-13 at worst) on the cover? (I can find the contents here, but not the cover.) As I recall, the letters about that cover were all over the map. One gentleman thought it appropriate to point out that the readership was 99 percent male so the magazine covers should only feature undressed women. Another said he was canceling his subscription because his kids shouldn’t be exposed to that kind of thing. I myself thought it was funny, but, of course, it was clear the guy was not for sale. (Just out playing the piano naked in a field to reference a scene from, well, you know, Monty Python.)

    Well, I won’t be applying for a job at Edmunds Optics anytime soon.

  • PhilipJ

    For what it might be worth, I don’t know anyone who buys much (or anything!) from Edmund Optics.

  • Allyson

    Holy ass! I wrote a letter to them in early January in disgust, and told them that I wouldn’t be distributing their catalogue.

    If any of my guys put that picture up in their cubes, I’d have an enormous problem with that.

    It’s not about her being lovely, as she obviously is. She’d be lovely in a suit. Wearing shoes. It’s about the pose, which is a play on pinup girl calendars with the plunging neckline, short skirt, and barefoot model advertising RED HOT! optics.

    And I say this as a woman sitting in a lab wearing a Bettie Page necklace. Um, just her face. Nothing with a whip or a cheetah. I adore pulp art.

    Seriously. I don’t have any issues with what the model looks like, I have issues with the fact that they thought it was cute and clever to send out a pulp cover, and now won’t cop to the fact that pulp covers aren’t so much appropriate in this setting. It’s so completely assy of the company to pretend that wasn’t their intent.

    I also got a crap response from Dover, and I just let it go.

  • JoAnne

    Women scientists and engineers shouldn’t have to dress like nuns, but there is a certain standard for professional attire (for both sexes). And in my book this ad crosses that line.

    I have seen a couple of women give scientific presentations dressed similarly as the model, er engineer, er booth babe, in this ad. Same hair, plunging neckline, and tight short skirt, but with shoes. I watched the men in the audience in these cases and none of them paid any attention to what the speaker, er science babe, was saying.

  • Bobby DuPea

    Allyson: “Seriously. I don’t have any issues with what the model looks like…”

    Yeah, right.

  • Perl

    JoAnne, I don’t know how women dress at Stanford but, judging from what I see around me, she’s very soberly dressed, not quite unlike a nun.

  • George

    It’s all about sex(ist)

    “Check out”- As in look at her.
    “RED HOT” — as in “she’s red hot” wink wink.
    “Better Performance” – Which? The model or the device?
    “Better Price” – OK, she’s a cheep date?

    Red skirt + red hot, = red dress = classic prostitute symbology.

    I’m assuming that the scientific device is a male sex organ for a robot.

    If I may make an empathetic projection, her expression suggests to me that she might be thinking “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

    If as mentioned previously, members of the scientific community “want more women in science”, then appreciate them as intellectual equals not as sexual objects. Maybe the next catalog should feature Joe Geek, barefoot, shirtless, tanned and buff like a Calvin Klein ad.

  • Allyson

    Uh, Bobby Dupee, I live in LA. I’ve spent enough time on sets to meet some of the most beautiful women in this hemisphere (Gina Torres!). Most of the women I know and see are gorgeous.

    Also? I’m pretty freakin’ adorable myself. So can the ‘tude, love.

  • Allyson

    Hm. I wish I could edit. I hate when I take the bait.

  • Annie

    Thanks George :). I tried to comment earlier but walked away because I didn’t want to post anything I would regret later. But I really did resent the implication that women should be happy to be *included* in science, even if they have to be *barefoot* to do so.

  • s

    Thanks for blogging on this. I’m on that email list, and have been following it since Allyson first brought it to my attention.

    I’m in one of the fields this company targets, and it’s a potential spark in a tinderbox of our workplace issues, sadly. We just had an ugly incident. The stuff that I’ve seen happen, or run into personally, in this field still shocks me. Hell, I had sexist bullshit thrown at me in an interview. Encouragement, or for that matter, exploitation, of that sort of climate is just unacceptable.

  • Sean

    Women should be free to dress however they want. I don’t think that the model’s clothes would be especially inappropriate around the office.

    The problem with the picture is that it uses sex to sell optical equipment, and does so by presenting the model as a sexualized object for the enjoyment of men. It doesn’t matter if the actual woman used for the picture is Marie Curie; that’s not the role she’s playing in this image.

    If we want women to feel as welcome as men in the scientific workplace, we should treat them as scientists rather than sex objects, simple as that.

  • s

    Sean, concerning #23, I had a similar, though more irate, post elsewhere. Exactly.

  • LisaP

    Anyone wonder where the inspiration for this cover came from? Mmm…I wonder. I guess it would have been fine. SIXTY YEARS AGO.

    I’ll take the company’s word for it that she’s a smart woman. She’s obviously beautiful. I don’t think her clothes are inappropriate–other than the lack of shoes. That’s just ridiculous. Combine that with the sensually pose, the phallic equipment and the RED HOT text and you’ve got a sexually suggestive ad.

    Which is inappropriate for the workplace.

  • LisaP

    Oops. Sensual pose.

  • Kevin Runnels

    It’s pure marketing genius! As this BBC article points out “Catching sight of a pretty woman really is enough to throw a man’s decision-making skills into disarray, a study suggests.” and “The men’s performance in the tests showed those who had been exposed to the “sexual cues” were more likely to accept an unfair offer than those who were not.” It just makes me wonder what kind of crappy optics these people are trying to push. You know that after half a pizza and a cigarette you’re going to take a good look at your new laser collimater and ask yourself “What was I thinking?”

  • Jennifer

    Sean and Geoff, many thanks for the heads up. I have just sent off a mail to this Edmund Optics company letting them know that I am offended by this ad.

    And it is really important to emphasize that it is NOT this woman’s outfit that I am protesting – this is not about workplace attire for me, in contrast with JoAnne – I personally have been at astrophysics talks with women speaking who were wearing very sexy outfits and I have no problem with that, I like to see the full spectrum of women in my field, not all of us hiding our bodies, even some doing a bit of flaunting – but my opinion on that is neither here nor there because that is not the point –

    It is so rude to put a woman lying down with the words “Better Performance. Better Price.” underneath her. It is demoralizing, and it does make those of us who do dress in anything other than potato sacks feel a bit prostitutish. The editor totally missed the point and his reply to Geoff was obtuse and smarmy. I don’t want the girls I teach to see stuff like this, girls who are just learning about physics and basic optics. It is not conducive to making girls feel they could have a place in the field. It doesn’t make them (or me) feel like we ought to be at the eyepiece of that instrument, but at the focal point.

    It’s wrong and it makes me very angry. I hope they pay attention to the mails they receive, and if there is any choice for me or friends of mine in buying optics instruments, you can bet that Edmund Optics will not get my business until they stop with the sexist advertising.

  • George

    Regarding the “pure marketing genius” observation: My point of contention here is not the utilization of an attractive female scientist to gain the viewers attention, nor does it specifically have anything to do with her attire. I’ll be generous and just say that I suspect what they were attempting to do was gain the viewers attention by using an attractive woman in the ad. The problem relates to something the Edmund advertising group has failed to perceive.

    What actually has occurred is in the process of composing the ad, they have re-contextualized its premise, from the scientific to the seamy.

    As others have also implied, this has occurred through the choice of the model’s pose along with the selection and placement of the text. These editorial decisions reframe and therefore create a sexual context from what otherwise might have been a benign piece of advertising. The choice of a sexual advertising context might be deemed appropriate in other aspects of our culture but in highly technical fields which are attempting to demonstrate an interest in equal opportunity for women, it comes off as a slap in the face and a poor decision. I do not think this occurred by accident and as such, it casts the Edmund company in a poor light by suggesting that their corporate policies are insensitive to the problems of gender in the workplace.

  • Doug

    Hmmm, I’m willing to bet that Edmund didn’t force this woman into posing for their magazine cover. No, she voluntarily decided to do this, astonishingly without first consulting the exalted National Academy of Sciences!

    A woman would choose to do this?!?!?! She must have been brainwashed by those sexist pigs at Edmund. We need to protect her from herself and stop this sort of tragedy from happening again!!!

    To Sean and the others: Your comments suggest that you think that this sort of advertising should be outlawed or heavily regulated. Please remember that modern science offends many people in America (myself not included–why do you think I read this blog?). I don’t think the policy of “ban whatever we find offensive” is a prudent one though, in light of the opinions that the majority of Americans hold. If you don’t like the way Edmund advertises, vote with your pocketbook and don’t buy any of ther equipment.

  • Sean

    Doug, would you like to elaborate on how my comments “suggest” that this sort of advertising should be outlawed or heavily regulated? I’m… fascinated.

  • Allyson

    No one has stated that this woman was forced, nor that this should be banned.

    You’re totally making up a straw man. Why?

    The people commenting ARE voting with their pocketbooks, and discussing the reasons why.

    I’m sure you can find someone, somewhere, who would suggest that she was brainwashed by the patriarchy and needs to be saved from herself, or that this should be banned, but it doesn’t appear to be happening here, and I’m puzzled by how you came to that conclusion.

  • Damon

    Doug, I couldn’t agree more. For me, I could care less what is on the cover of Edmund Optics catalog (although I laughed out-loud when someone above suggested it was a phallic symbol…it’s an Diameter Optical Mount). I personally buy over $80K per year in optical components and I reach for the catalog often because I know THEY WILL HAVE IT, WHEN I NEED IT. The cover photo is immaterial! It seems the majority of the bloggers here are trying to invent an issue to support their own cause…ridiculous.

  • D4/3Scott

    I don’t think the policy of “ban whatever we find offensive” is a prudent one though

    Good for you, genius. No one here even remotely suggested that that policy would be a prudent policy. So what’s the point of posting that statement, idiot?

  • George

    Doug, you miss the point and I suspect you’re part of Edmund’s target audience.
    The question here is not censorship, nor political correctness, it is about sensitivity.

    I’m an artist, not a scientist, but from what I’ve read, the scientific community is interested in attracting bright young people into the field regardless of gender. The young women of today are more conscious of gender stereotyping issues than those of past generations. This type of advertising sends the wrong signal about the culture of a an occupational field they might be interested in. Obviously it must not be totally incorrect but it appears from the other comments here, that there is a growing sensitivity to this type of gender stereotyping and an interest of seeing it change. Intelligence and inquisitiveness are precious attributes worth seeking after regardless of gender.

  • George

    Damon, thanks for explaining what the cover device is. You make a good point about the cover of the catalog being irrelevant when you need a piece of equipment, they have it.

    So the relevant issue would be, what was the point of the cover in the first place?

  • Katey

    I can’t agree more with the comments about how people are going to perceive the woman on the cover of this catalog: not as an intelligent capable woman but as a sex object.

    It seems like women are victims of a double-edged sword. If we stay quiet and accept this even if it does offend us (it certainly offended me), we are adding fuel to the fire. This covers allows people to reaffirm their underlying biases: that women look better lying in front of the equipment selling it, rather than trying to use it. If we do voice our concerns about the message that it might be sending, we are immediately accused of being overly sensitive angry feminist-extremists (to take a page out of Bush’s book).

    It’s sad that the loudest opinions were also from people who will never directly experience what it is like being a woman in such a male-dominated field.

  • Saurav

    I wonder if people read this article in the Washington Post: Goodbye to Girlhood which is related to the SEED article and evaluaes the effect of the sexualization of a female in the non-scientific community.

  • Damon

    True, if you are looking for or trying to find something more than is presented. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t believe for a minute that anyone was knowingly trying to denigrate or belittle anyone or make any type of statement. I might fall in that “just don’t get it” catagory too. But then again, I don’t have a cause….other than buying what they are offering.

    Looking at the catalog cover while I type here, I see an eye catching female next to a mechanical component. I don’t feel threatend or embarrassed by her appearance or by any words that are on the cover or by her lack of shoes. Nor am I compelled to buy anything because she is there. I do appreciate her appearance and find the picture nice. According to the earlier email, she is somehow involved with these parts. Given that, and the fact that she is not unattractive, maybe they thought it would make a good cover photo. I don’t have a problem with it.

  • Carl Brannen

    I’m sure I’d never have paid the slightest attention to the Edmund Scientific catalog if they hadn’t put that picture on the front. In that sense, getting the blogosphere to put the picture up all over the web was marketing genius.

  • Kasper Olsen

    Well, I guess you americans are quite scared about anything which can have sexual implications, in optics catalogs or in children books for that matter :-)

    These reactions are really in the same universality class — and out of proportions.

    Why don’t you react in the same way against pictures of violence in the media, pictures of death and despair, for example



  • Kasper Olsen

    Sorry, broken link. A random example — from the war in Iraq — is the following:


  • anonyma

    kasper: I am not american, and I share your view that americans seem much more disturbed by images of sex than by images of violence. However, as a woman scientist I was horribly offended by this ad. Not because it’s sexy, but because it fits in, and thus reinforces, a very long line of sad stereotypes: stereotypes that gave me several unpleasant teenager-years, and against which I am desperately trying to shelter my growing daughter.
    Sorry, there’s no way I can just laugh this off. I wouldn’t buy any product with a similar ad, and I would try to make sure my university doesn’t buy it either.

  • Kasper Olsen


    I can understand if your feelings have been hurt, but in the same vein, don’t you buy magazines with such pictures which I refer to? Don’t you ever (or did you ever) watch movies with violence as entertainment?


    PS: I can tell you that my girlfriend was not in any way disturbed by this picture (but maybe it is because she both has the brains AND is very good looking :-)

  • Arun

    Edmund Optics & EyeCandy.

    Anyway, you see, “you American” scientists are fighting against a culture in which marketing and good-looking women in various attire and postures are synonymous, so much so that most people can’t even see what is wrong. It isn’t going to be easy.

  • Z

    You have all totally missed the point: the girl in the photo is clearly only two inches high. You can see that from the size of the lens system beside her!

    They obviously had to find someone suitably sized to demonstrate the tiny scaled precision engineering, and she is the only person available. Therefore, it isn’t deliberately sexy. If they had an old guy who was only two inches tall, he could have posed for the photo.

  • dogu4

    I’d also like to point out that the expert lighting and photography/lithography that they used gives the potential customer the wrong impression of just what the product looks like. Image the dissappointment when the excited astronomer or other technical researcher opens the box and instead of the beautifully illuminated and expertly positioned instrument we see on the cover of the catalogue, we see instead a cold lifeless arrangements of cylinders with a range of different textures and reflections nestled, strangled, by polyethylene bags and imprisoned in a stultifying styrofoam tigercage. It’s a bitter kind of awreness that leads me to believe that the instrument on the catalogue cover doesn’t come with a little fem-bot who can take care of the aesthetics as well as be my little friend in the workshop. Damn, those alchemists of old had a wide assortment of familiars and homunculi to assist in conjuring up the devil…why can’t we? Terry Pratchett for 3rd Assistant Boiler Inspector of the Gods!

  • Hiranya

    I was pretty shocked by seeing this ad in Physics Today, and it brought back memories of my “Year In Industry” before university, where I was the only female in an office of engineers who had pin-up calendars prominently displayed on their walls. It was horribly uncomfortable to talk to them as equals knowing that they saw fit to display their objectification of women in the workplace.

    The people who are wondering what is the big deal – get a clue. Its not the fact that there is a sexy woman in the picture people are upset about, its the context. This is an advert conceived by someone who sees their buyer as exclusively male. They are using a woman’s body to *sell* their product – they can’t conceive of a woman *buying* it. If you are a female physicist already feeling marginalized, or a female student hoping to become a physicist one day, adverts like this take a hit on your morale – little by little, but it adds up. These things collectively say that this is a boys’ club, and you can’t belong.

    And to the people who posted that objections to the advert are motivated by jealousy and insecurity — seriously? You need to examine your assumptions that anyone objecting to this advert must be ugly. People are objecting because it directly hurts their workplace environment to have the mindset that lead to this advert propagated.

  • Annie

    Kasper — this isn’t really about sex. It’s about *gender,* and that’s not at all the same thing.

  • Douglas

    I suppose I am coming on one of those sophomoric moments when you discover that everything is relative and that the majority of human activity is meaningless. That being said, it seems to me painfully obvious that the ad is inherently neutral, and whether it portrays women “as objects” or “as scientists” or whether the person involved volunteered, or if it will have a net negative or positive effect on the psyches of male/female scientists… is immaterial. We are all here seeing in this ad what we see in in ourselves, or how we want to view ourselves. There is no other reason to explain the ad hominem arguments being thrown about here.

    That also being said, I would like to say that it is wonderful to be discussing this. It is a glaring sociological problem why women don’t flock to physics the way we would like them to, and it reflects anxieties we have about gender inequalities in our society that we pride ourselves on having eradicated. This is a thorny issue that will not be resolved over an inflammatory ad, but certainly something that should consider it.

    I guess this post is meant to level the playing field, and render this discussion a little more civilized. At the least, I hope that the readers and commentators here can take a step outside themselves and appreciate how much they bring into the discussion, and why that appreciation is important.

  • ST

    Thanks for all the posts criticizing this blatantly sexist catalog cover, folks. Having gone to a liberal Ivy league school I thought it was just me overreacting…

  • Richard E.

    However lame the ad. itself, my feeling was that the response to Marcy really put it over the top: by twisting his words to imply that Marcy thought that women who were plain of dress or appearanc, “Bill” seemed to be imagining that this cover would somehow encourage women to pursue technical careers. Which (I am willing to bet) was not what they were thinking when they designed it (especially with the “red hot” copy).

    If this *was* their intention then they have done a terrible job of it — especially as some actual, real women have responded to this thread to say that they DO find this sort of thing objectionable and it DOES have a material impact on women in science. Perhaps this clown should talk to a few women in science who do not also depend on him for a paycheck.

    “Gee, now that you mention it, it may not be that smart. We’re sorry and won’t do it again” would have been a good response. “It was post-modern irony: a self-satirizing tongue in cheek evocation of old fashioned advertisements where pretty women were always draped across the hood of cars. Surprised you smart professor-types didn’t spot it” would have been imaginative, if almost certainly untrue. But their idiotic response is simply contemptible.

  • Richard E.

    However lame the ad. itself, my feeling was that the response to Marcy really put it over the top: by twisting his words to imply that Marcy thought that women who were plain of dress or appearanc, “Bill” seemed to be imagining that this cover would somehow encourage women to pursue technical careers. Which (I am willing to bet) was not what they were thinking when they designed it (especially with the “red hot” copy).

    Sorry some sort of editing glitch here. ” imply that Marcy thought that ONLY women who were plain of dress or appearance COULD SUCCEED IN SCIENCE”

  • Haelfix

    The smartest woman I have ever met (and is a very good young physicist incidentally) talks and dresses like something out of ‘clueless’ and is quite attractive to boot.

    I thought hte whole point of the pc movement was to lose the stereotypes. If someone wants to dress like that, and sees empirical evidence that such feminine attire boosts the sale of a product at the company she works in. Then good for her, its her proffessional perogative.

    All the people complaining about it (b/c it promotes negative in their world view images) reminds me of something the crazy Christians might complain about. I find it so ironic how the ends can meet like that.

  • Sean

    I love it when people congratulate themselves for knowing attractive women.

    I would not have thought that the distinction between “blaming a woman for looking attractive” and “blaming a company for using overtly sexualized imagery to sell optical equipment” would have been all that subtle and hard to grasp. And yet, I am constantly surprised.

  • Jon

    OMG! Using women to sell stuff! Stop the presses! Quick, let’s burn all the catalogs with models next to the sale items! Get real.

    I mean its not like this is science porn. It’s a damn catalog of boring gear (and apparently the gear and girl are not to scale?). Personally, I’m all for adding beefcake to the next version, for the gay scientists if not the female scientists. How many models do you need to get a representative sample of the various scientist body types, male and female? One guy here suggested they should be doing real science in the photo instead of posing, as if anything about a photo shoot is real.

    Sheesh. Everybody who thinks this is bad, go out and hire a woman to do something beside pose. That would be a lot better than complaining about something as worthless as a stupid catalog photo.

  • Alex

    In terms of using ‘sexy images of people of any gender in appropriate contexts’, I often find myself as a ‘smart’ lady astronomer casually posing beside a telescope hand on thigh with a bit of cleavage and shoeless. It’s the only way I can get any work done!

    I too am suprised at how many people missed the point.

  • Haelfix

    Heh companies use models all the time to sell their stuff. Frankly its smart advertisement, as its a simple fact that it increases sales. The only reason this is newsworthy and has all the feminists up in a huff is b/c this time the model in question happens to work at the company. If you read the blogs about it, they are somehow blaming her for wanting to sell her product /boggle

    Its completely absurd and just goes to show people will whine about anything.

  • B

    There are plenty of things going wrong in capitalism, and this is a brilliant example. Companies hire a pro to come up with an ad that fulfils the purpose to cause attention, no more, no less. Now look at this post, and isn’t that exactly what they get? Does that help selling the product? I don’t think so. But to be honest, I belong to those people who have developed a complete blind spot for ads, even if they are 3×2 meter high, or hit me directly in the face. And if I take notice of one, you can rely on me to forget who made it. Ads that use photos of men or women for no other purpose than making a product ‘sexier’ cause people to look. But, hey, you don’t want people to look, you want them to buy the stupid product.

    That as a preface, imo the above ad isn’t worth getting upset about. The concern raised in the SEED article that sexed up women’s photos distort young girls self-perception is an important issue, but this ad hardly falls into the category of underweight, computer-retouched, artificial beauty. Okay, maybe it’s just because I’m European, but without this post I wouldn’t even have taken any notice of this.

    Yeah, I guess if a women gives a talk in a tight dress, a considerable part of the audience will be kind of distracted. Well, if there were more women in the audience, I guess, more people would pay attention to the talk.

  • Eric

    I’m continually amazed by how many dumbass people there are out there. I thought stupid comments were the domain only of youtube, but some commenters here have proven me wrong.

    The original post is simple and clear: Using women as sex objects to sell science products undermines the fight for equality for women in science. This is a fairly self-evident observation to anyone who has been in science, but somehow that results in:

    #10: Doesn’t realize that the “trade show manager and showperson” on the cover is merely a booth babe (see #7), not a scientist.

    #19 and #54: Justify positions via “I have beautiful friends, I’m beautiful, etc.” Reminds me how whenever people make racist comments, they defend themselves by saying “But I have lots of black friends, I know all about black people!”

    #30: See #32 for rebuttal.

    #33: Misses the point of the whole post, and is apparently insensitive to any social issues because they do not involve “who has what, when”. Eerily resembles the stereotypical socially ignorant scientist.

    #41, 42, 44: Any discussion on any topic is always a great segue to attack “you Americans”. After all, we Americans are ALL prudes who love violence and George Bush.

    #56: Thinks that anything less than science porn is appropriate. Presumably also thinks that anything less than slavery doesn’t constitute racism.

    Well, fortunately these responses were actually balanced out by some intelligent ones.

  • Arun
  • Arun
  • Arun


    “Two major differences in female role portrayals were noted:

    1. Some of the common stereotypical portrayals seem less prevalent in Indian ads. For example, unlike in British magazine ads, women in Indian magazine ads were more likely to be portrayed in “neutral/other” ways and less likely to be portrayed as sex objects. Women modelling for mobile phones, cars and two-wheelers, painkillers, and as protagonists carry neutral portrayals. Women were also less likely to be portrayed in “dependency” roles in Indian ads than in British ads. It is noteworthy that these results are similar to those found in two other Asian countries–Korea and Japan–where, again, females were less likely to be portrayed in very negative stereotypical ways than in western nations. As mentioned earlier, the religious and cultural differences between India and western nations may account for this finding.

    2. The polarizing trend found in the West, i.e., a tendency to portray women in dependency and housewife roles and in nontraditional activities, career-oriented, and authority figure roles (in British magazine ads), was not found for India by Das’ study. ‘Polarizing’ means strong opposites where one woman is shown driving all alone in a car with an expression of confidence on her face juxtaposed against the image of a woman sensually posing for a cosmetic product or spouting forth the advantages of a health drink for children. In India, the trend seems to be to portray women less often as housewives or concerned with looks, but not more often in nontraditional, career-oriented, or authority figure roles. Instead, there seems to be an increase in neutral portrayals of women, due, in part, to the dramatic increase in the number of ads for such products.”

  • Arun
  • Haelfix

    Im glad both Sean and Eric missed the point w.r.g to post 54. I don’t know exactly *how* you read into it the way they do, but indeed they do. I was merely pointing out that stereotypes are stupid and used an example of a smart person who doesn’t fit the feminist profile, nothing more. /boggle

    Anyway in this case the lefties appear to be promoting the premise that a smart woman cannot dress in a sexual or feminine manner b/c somehow that demeans the rest of them. I too am a European so perhaps I am missing something here, but frankly I see it as quite the opposite. I merely view it as a woman who has no qualms about her sexuality, and uses it to entice a certain audience for her own gain as well as that of her company. That to me is the very essence of empowering women. Not only does she use her god given looks, but she also breaks the stereotype that only dumb booth babes are given a position.

    Its a small, completely common matter, that as usual is amplified way out of proportion by silly inconsistent idealogy.

  • Annie

    Haelfix — the point (for me, at least) isn’t about what an individual woman chooses to do (as an employee or, specifically, as a model). The issue is that the optics company chose to use an exclusively *female* sexuality as its major selling point. It’s not that a woman can’t dress in a feminine manner. It’s that femininity, and sexuality, and barefootedness, have nothing to do with optics.

    The ad is one thing. But the letter Prof. Marcy received back, trying to claim that by NOT putting women in sexually suggestive poses on the cover of catalogs, we’re actually PREVENTING young women from entering the scientific and technical fields, is truly insulting to our intelligence. That letter may claim that a woman’s intellect is what really matters, but the printed matter displays the opposite attitude.

  • Kasper Olsen

    @ Annie: If it is not about sex (in relation to gender, naturally) then why do you feel offended? And if it is only about gender, then why do you feel disturbed that a female is being used in an optics catalog? Because she is female? Would it be better if it was a guy – attractive or not?


  • Haelfix

    Optics and a model have about as much in common as I don’t know, motorcycles and models. For one reason or another the latter is associated in popular culture, but the former isn’t. If outraged female motorcyclists complained on some other board, they would have logically the identical argument fundamentally.

    As for the letter itself, I suspect the author was just pointing out that perhaps we might be scaring females away b/c our field is viewed as too stiff and formal. I have no opinion on that matter whatseover.

  • Arun

    Haelfix, I’ve provided other examples, the one discussed here is somewhere in that continuum. I assume you find none of those examples troublesome? (because when you did, you’d understand why people find the Edmund optics example troublesome, even if you thought that the Edmund optics example was at the mild end of the range).

  • Jason

    The problem with the stereotyping in this ad is that the ad is clearly designed to target men. Yes, beautiful women are great for advertisement. But typically they are best at selling to men. As such, Edmund Optics is essentially making a statement that the astronomers to whom they want to sell are men. Yes, you can say this is nothing more than a statement of the status of astronomers as being primarily male.

    The problem is that the physics community in general has held a rather discriminatory attitude towards women for quite some time now. That needs to change. And a company selling scientific equipment stating in pictures that they are selling to men, well, that’s just reinforcing discrimination and making the field more hostile for women.

  • Simon DeDeo

    When I was scanning the comments I misread “Healfix” as “Healpix” and was very disappointed in the algorithm!

  • Hiranya

    Jason, thank you. I don’t know how many times the point you made so clearly needs to be repeated before some of these people commenting on here get it.

  • Peter Erwin

    Haelfix said (#65):
    Im glad both Sean and Eric missed the point w.r.g to post 54. I don’t know exactly *how* you read into it the way they do, but indeed they do. I was merely pointing out that stereotypes are stupid and used an example of a smart person who doesn’t fit the feminist profile, nothing more. /boggle

    It’s odd that in one post you suggest that stereotypes are stupid, and in another post (e.g., #58) point out that this kind of advertising is absolutely common in certain areas, but don’t make the connection. You’re right that this sort of ad is very common. It is, in point of fact, a stereotype (a rather tedious one).

    It’s a visual stereotype dating back to at least the 1930s (as evidenced by the WW2 airplane paintings LisaP linked to). It’s also a visual stereotype associated with, e.g., advertising cars at trade shows, which is what prompts people to refer to her as a “booth babe”. (You can see the stereotype at work in this very thread: attractive and attractively dressed young woman in a sensual pose next to a piece of high-tech equipment, no pretense that she’s actually using it = well, she must be a booth babe.)

    It’s also an implicit social stereotype, because it repeats the message that the connection between women and scientific/engineering technology is purely decorative. The reality is that when ads of this type have male models in them, they are shown as users of the equipment. They’re often stereotypes as well (e.g., wearing lab coats and maybe glasses to let you know they’re Real Scientists and Real Engineers), but the fact that they outnumber “technical” women in these ads, and the fact that they don’t appear in sexy, purely decorative roles, simply reinforces the stereotype.

    Anyway in this case the lefties appear to be promoting the premise that a smart woman cannot dress in a sexual or feminine manner b/c somehow that demeans the rest of them. I too am a European so perhaps I am missing something here, but frankly I see it as quite the opposite. I merely view it as a woman who has no qualms about her sexuality, and uses it to entice a certain audience for her own gain as well as that of her company. That to me is the very essence of empowering women. Not only does she use her god given looks, but she also breaks the stereotype that only dumb booth babes are given a position.

    Ignore what Bill Dover of Edmund says about the cover model — that’s not part of the ad. The catalog cover does not say, anywhere, “This is our really very smart and accomplished Trade Show Manager.” In the ad itself, there are no clues to her identity, profession, technical savvy, or intelligence. There’s no reason to conclude that she’s smart, because she’s not shown doing anything that might signify her intelligence. She’s not doing anything at all except posing in a stereotyped fashion. (The fact that she and the equipment are not to scale simply reinforces the implication that she has nothing to do with actually using it.)

  • Mark

    Beautiful cover.

  • Annie

    Kasper (67) — because this is yet another example of gender being *conflated* with sex. The ad is sexual not only because of the pose but because of the wording, the subtle implications (which other commenters have elaborated on better than I could), the gender of the model — in other words, a gender is being used to signify sex. Femininity is inherently sexual and inherently not scientific, logical, intellectual, whatever you want, in the type of worldview that is generally portrayed in marketing materials and across media. In general, the sexuality of advertisements is not nearly as damaging as the inherent bias in such advertisements, which equates the *possession* of female secondary sex characteristics with the *use* of them. The debate about “sexy” ads is sort of out of the range of what I’m trying to get across. It’s not prudery about sex that is getting people fed up. It’s the way that one gender is consistently being reduced to nothing but sexual potential.

    So what you’re saying in #67, but I would change the emphasis: It is disturbing that a female is being *used* to sell optics. Because “a” female is not being used — a stereotype of “female-ness” is. Remember that ads like this don’t happen in a vacuum. The folks at Edmund didn’t wake up one morning and realize that focusing on their best & brightest would be a great direction in which to take the campaign. Every single such image that is produced within the marketing world is produced in the *language* of marketing — and that pose is all about that language. Peter just described this very well. The pose and the wording in the ad are *designed* to be interpreted the way that we are all interpreting them. That’s why it’s a total straw man argument to claim that we would be fine with it if it were a male model. Why on Earth would it ever be a male model? That’s not part of the language. And it certainly won’t be unless and until major changes are made for women in science.

    Jason is right on: this ad perpetuates the idea that women do not belong in astronomy, they belong in a reclining position.

  • Peter Erwin

    A slight amendment/addendum to my previous post:
    I noted that stereotyped images like the Edmund catalog cover reinforce “the message that the connection between women and scientific/engineering technology is purely decorative.”

    Perhaps this something more specifically confined to physics, and maybe some areas of engineering and industry. For example, a cursory search of four recent issues of Nature suggests that makers of medical (research) technology may have moved on: there were no “booth babe” ads, and the lab-coated “researchers” in the ads were about half male, half female.

    I’ve occasionally thought that there was something oddly stodgy and backwards about ads in places like Physics Today, in that they have a kind of awkward, 1950s–1970s sensibility and style, mostly oblivious to more modern trends. (Look at the wording, layout, and typography of the Edmund catalog: aside from the year at the top and the web address at the bottom, what evidence is there that is isn’t a catalog from thirty years ago?) When it comes to things like graphic design and advertising copy, this is just kind of curious and (sadly) amusing; when it comes to stereotypical images like the Edmund catalog — and Dover’s cheerfully clueless response — it also suggests that, at the very least, companies like Edmunds are stuck in some kind of time warp.

  • Jon

    I take offense at my characterization:

    #56: Thinks that anything less than science porn is appropriate. Presumably also thinks that anything less than slavery doesn’t constitute racism.

    Science porn is appropriate, slavery is not. The Edmund catalog has a long history as science porn and has never enslaved anyone. Conflating these issues is disingenuous.

    Clearly, using the sultry model, regardless of her relationship with the product, instead of a guy in a suit, was a questionable choice by the editors of the catalog. However, if they consider any publicity to be good publicity, then they clearly chose the correct course of action. If not, then heads will presumably roll.

    All of this discussion really is about the fact that there are people out there treating people poorly; women, minorities, dogs, employees, comment writers, everyone. We’ve all encountered mean and petty people, and they are the people who deserve the ridicule that’s being thrown around more than those poor slobs at Edmund, who were merely trying to make their catalog look better.

  • a female grad student

    As a female grad student in astronomy I find this ad highly offensive. It is obviously directed towards male customers only. Does Edmund not even consider me a possible part of their customer base? This actually reminds me of the time that I went to the copy room to pick up a paper that I had just printed. A male faculty member (unknown to me) asked if I was “fixing the printer” and “could I make some xeroxes for him”. He had mistakenly assumed that I was a new member of the adminstrative staff instead of one of the new graduate students. These kind of stereotypes just remind me over and over again that a lot of people, deep in their hearts (or in some cases not so deep), don’t think that I belong in astronomy. Its scary to think that one day these same people are going to be reviewing my job applications.

  • The AstroDyke

    I highly recommend taking 5 minutes to read this clever, insightful photo essay on women’s poses in advertising.

    Especially recommended for those of you who don’t understand why many women and men find the Red Hot cover annoying, or at the least, embarassing for Edmund.

    Peter’s point (#76) is excellent– in Science & Nature, ads show serious scientists (male and female) intently using the advertised equipment, presumably to make great discoveries. Which is what you’re supposed to be thinking when you’re shopping for optics. Not, “Wow, garbanzos!”

  • B

    # 70 The problem with the stereotyping in this ad is that the ad is clearly designed to target men.

    Not true. If an ad’s photo is to be accompanied by a person (and it’s not a priory a product that’s designed only for one gender) women go better for both, men and women. I’m sorry I don’t have a reference at hand, but it’s known that women like to look at women better than men at men. So, even if the target group is 50/50, you’d pick a women. In lack of a reference, you’ll have to endure my opinion. I’d find a photo with a man lying in front of that camera totally wacky. Unless the photo’s main focus is on the person itself, I find woman just more pleasant to look at.

    Though some of the above comments indicate otherwise, I still find it hard to believe that the average female student who’s used to see far worse ads would be offended by seeing this photo. (Though the company should have made it more clear who the women is, I think.)

    But what’s actually more interesting is the question how that ad looks like on the desk of her male supervisor?

  • broken record

    #70: A barefoot woman lying sensuously next to phallic equipment, with the words “Red Hot” blaring next to it is aimed 50-50 at both men and women? You really think that?

  • Sean

    B, the guy who made that catalog cover was not thinking “What would maximize the pleasure of looking at the cover for men and women alike?” Trust me on this. He was thinking “Guys like hot chicks. Let’s put a hot chick on the cover of our catalog so that guys will pick it up.” It’s one more component of the message that the role of women is to look pretty (and barefoot!), not to take data.

  • Annie

    Plus, even if it were true that these ads are aimed at men and women 50/50:

    “I’d find a photo with a man lying in front of that camera totally wacky.”

    That doesn’t strike you as . . . wacky itself? Did you look at the link in #79? If WOMEN can be aimed at both men and women, but MEN can’t, that says something important.

  • s

    Look, if they’d featured a cute little fuzzy bunny, it would have been inappropriate. Harmless, but inappropriate. We would’ve cocked our heads in bewilderment but moved on.What Edmund’s did was use female sexuality to sell optics. Again, inappropriate. However, as many people in the field have stated, it is not harmless in context. Some of us have dealt with really crappy behavior and climates because we are female and that’s just crap. This just perpetuates that.

    I’m not sure if Sean read the all the CSWA (Comittee for the Status of Women in Astronomy) emails, but there was an aside of one of the male collegues expressing discomfort at the “booth babe” culture at various trade shows and confs. This isn’t isolated to us godamned feminists. Hell, CSWA exists because it isn’t an isolated problem.

    C’mon, people. Defend your peers. Think about them.

  • Arun

    Astrodyke, thanks for the link!

  • George

    Note to the folks at Edmund…

    Intelligence is an aphrodisiac with persistence.

  • Ijon Tichy

    Capitalism and sexism, deeply entangled in a mutually beneficial symbiosis, preying exclusively on human beings.

  • Female 2nd-yr Grad Student

    I just wanted to say thank-you to all the thoughtful comments that have been written on this page. Your eloquent rebuttals to the many “misguided” figures have turned this thread into something uplifting to read instead of just one more battle that I am tired of having to fight.

  • jackd

    My first thought on seeing the image was, “Why did Sean photoshop a hot babe onto the cover of an optics catalog”? The objections of sexism aside (although I do agree with them), it’s pretty damn poor composition.

  • ier

    @80. Yes, it might be true that women prefer other women in ads. I (female grad student) would also prefer an ad that shows a woman, if this woman is depicted as a capable, professional scientist actually using this equipment, I think this would be really inclusive and aimed at both women and men. But this is not what is done here, here they have a sexualised image of a woman, which for me is offensive and excludes me as a customer.
    Imagine an ad with a man using this equipment. maybe with a labcoat, depicted as a scientist. This would just be a normal, relativelly gender neutral ad. Now imagine the same ad with a good-looking guy, wearing only a deeply cut jeans, lying reclined and barefoot next to the equipment, in a suggestive pose below the title “red hot”. This would not so much appear to be aimed at hetero men, would it? Would you really feel like they want you as a customer?
    Why is it so surprising that women have the same feelings?

  • B


    ? With #80 I meant to say whoever came up with this ad was counting: men would like it, women wouldn’t mind. If there’s a person to be in that ad, better it’s a women. I’m not saying that was a very intelligent decision.

    She’s attractive, and she looks self-confident, well-dressed, and actually like a real women. Besides this I have to say, she looks rather bored and her smile is unconvincing. I just don’t find this photo offending, and as to the equipment – Well. Come on.

    @ Annie # 83

    No, it doesn’t strike me as wacky.

  • Allyson

    I made a poorly photoshopped Red Hot of David Duchovony, lounging in the same sort of way, wearing the same amount of clothing.

  • Allyson

    Oops. Bad link.

    Red Hot Mulder

  • Pingback: Productive Procrastination » Blog Archive » Edmund Scientific catalog causes controversy()

  • broken record

    #91: I highly recommend the links in #79 if you want to get some deeper understanding of why others (men and women) find this image offensive in the context its presented, and of your own very… illogical?… response that you would find a man lounging in a come-hither pose next to equipment wacky, but not when a woman is presented in such a way. I don’t mean to say something upsetting, but am merely asking you to evaluate if your response is rational, or whether it is based on a lifetime of cultural innoculation to a certain presentation of men vs women in the media.

    This advert is not worth waging WWIII over, but it matters to a lot of people that the attitude that lead to this advert becomes a thing of the past. Its not an isolated thing, and it drives women away from physics and makes the life of women that are tenacious enough to keep going that much more difficult. I would be delighted to know that you have never suffered from this attitude, but you have to understand that you would have been very lucky not to, and others have not been so lucky. And we are not going to keep quiet about it and let these things ride.

  • broken record

    PS: I have to say if one found “Red Hot Mulder” lounging next to equipment wacky and incongruous, but not so the anonymous “Trade Show Manager”, one would need to re-examine some very deep assumptions.

  • Annie

    #95 — Thank you for saying what I was trying to say much, much better than I was! I especially agree with the idea that this is just part of an overall attitude that would be better off as a thing of the past. It may seem unreasonable to be upset by a single ad, but we know that ads like this don’t just come into being all on their own.

    #80/91, I truly do have trouble understanding why a woman lying down in an advertisement is “pleasant” and a man (in the same pose, but also important in the same context) would be “wacky.” I mean, it’s not true women actually spend more time lying down than men do. It’s not true that women in our culture traditionally spend a chunk of time reclining while barefoot, while men don’t. Then why is it true in advertising? Even if one doesn’t want to say that it’s “offensive,” it is, to me, definitely wacky.

  • assman

    It does strike me as wacky. Have you ever looked at cosmopolitan. Its quite evident that even women enjoy seeing highly sexualized pictures of other women in their own magazines. Women are the “sexual” sex as feminists have said. But this isn’t just something men believe in, women believe in it too and women perpetuate it. And what is wrong with that. So what if women are associated with sex. Men are associated with violence and perversion. I don’t see what is inherently wrong with difference and with inequality. Also I don’t understand the idea of equality. NO TWO THINGS ARE EQUAL. Equality is a highly constrained, rigid and a very artificial human social construct. It is the worst idea humans have come up with and it has already resulted in the deaths of 100 million people. You would think that after that much death and destruction people would maybe begin to rethink the idea. The whole concept of equality is a stupid. It has never made sense. People like Sean just assume it makes sense. And fundamentally inequality is less arbitrary and is more “free” than equality since there are far more ways for two things to be unequal than there are for them to be equal. So what if women are the sexualized sex. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that. After all sex is fun and pleasurable. Work isn’t.

  • B

    hi broken record,

    I don’t mean to say something upsetting, but am merely asking you to evaluate if your response is rational, or whether it is based on a lifetime of cultural innoculation to a certain presentation of men vs women in the media.

    Of course my response it not rational, I’m just looking at a photo and tell you what I like or don’t like about it. Men just are not women, they don’t look like women, they don’t move like women, from a designer’s point of view, you use their photos differently then you’d use a woman’s photo. Besides genetic imprints that probably cause me to prefer men in ‘stronger’ poses and seriously looking, women are in various regards softer and more playful. This of course has also to do with culture and tradition, and of course this was also known to the-guy-who-made-the-ad, who probably didn’t ask for your rational response. Take a simpler issue, color of clothing in photos for ads. You tell me, you’d take the same palette for men as for women? Is it sexist to use pink for a women, because you wouldn’t for a men? If I had used a men’s photo for the ad, he’d have been standing next to the phallic equipment, probably wearing a dark suit and a light shirt without a tie. No jewellery.

    But the point I wanted to make is : do we need to have a problem with that? I just think we should embrace the differences, what’s that got to do with anybody being a good scientist?

    Besides this, here’s another perspective on Men don’t like to look at men 😉



  • D

    Yes, this is a discouraging ad. Yes it objectifies women. Yes it stereotypes blatantly. However, I look at this thread and for the most part all I can see is a bunch of overwrought scientists acting like smug elitists. How is this ad worse than using women to sell beer or cars or perfume or toaster ovens? Certainly we don’t see anything like this much of an outcry over any of those things.

    The implication seems to be that optical equipment, unlike those more mundane goods, is bought by Intelligent and Very Very Sensitive Scientists Like Us, and therefore ads should reflect the elevated nature of their target audience (Us!) by being suave, socially conscious and intellectually stimulating.

    What this ad shows is that you can market to scientists the same way you market to everyone else. As such, there is not that much reason to get this worked up over this ad, unless you also spend your days constantly apoplectic over Budweiser campaigns. Basically, we need to get over ourselves; we are not that special. We are a part of society, and shouldn’t pretend otherwise. People “so lofty they sound as if they shit marble” aren’t a step in that direction.

  • broken record

    #97: I agree that the context is everything. For example, I just happened to see an advert for beach holidays in Cyprus, where a gorgeous woman in a bikini is shown wading in the ocean in a tranquil, paradisical landscape. I don’t find it objectionable in the least, and it may in fact prompt me to go there on holiday, and be like the woman in the picture and experience the tranquility. The advert does not exclude men *or* women from seeing themselves as customers for the product being advertised. The context of the Red Hot advert on the other hand is definitely not conducive to a female seeing herself as a customer.

  • Kristin

    Why oh why did Edmund Optics have to play up the “sex” aspect when they could have made a more colorful catalog cover by photographing the new optical equipment against a backdrop of red chili peppers? They wouldn’t have had to change the copy, and it could have been a lot more whimsical besides. I suspect a lack of imagination over there.

  • broken record

    B: you are not answering the question that I am asking. I am not talking in abstract about differences between men and women. If the culture you grew up in causes you to see that advert and immediately think that it is aimed as you as a customer, that’s great for you. Not everyone sees it that way, and I pointed you to a link to help show you why they feel that way.

    D: Thanks so much for the lecture on why the world is so bad that its hopeless to try and change my small corner of it for the better, and how feeling that way means I need to get over myself. I am glad I have never and will never listen to people like you, because if I did, I wouldn’t have achieved anything that I have.

  • Annie

    D — I can’t spend all my time being apoplectic about Budweiser ads. I just can’t. The best I can do in the case of Budweiser and Cosmopolitan and perfume is to try to be true to myself, and make the best purchasing choices for myself and my little family that I feel I can. But some people *are* upset about the portrayal of women (and sex) in the media in general, and they are working to change things. We all have to choose our own battles.

    This, however, is my area. I am not a woman working for Budweiser, struggling to be thought of as a ‘real’ beer drinker, or a perfume model longing for a refreshing new pose. I am a member of the astronomical community. I am a potential customer of Edmund Optics. I am a person who has the potential to change things for women in astronomy, or to be a part of the change that I hope we’ll see as my generation ages into tenure. To say that I shouldn’t be saddened by a portrayal of an attitude that *actually has a detrimental effect on me,* personally, isn’t fair. And as always, the argument that, “We have no solutions to problems A, B, C and D, so why are you whining about X, Y and Z?” doesn’t really fly.

    I also think it’s worth pointing out that at least *some* people commenting here aren’t as upset about the ad as they are about the flat-out denial that the ad is using sex to sell.

    Are we a special community? Well, certainly, if you want to count the fact that our demographics have a really twisted relationship to the demographics of the population as a whole.

  • D

    broken record – if you had read my post without, um, frothing at the mouth, you might have noticed that I decried the extent of our response, not the nature or the content of it. My point was not “resistance is futile” or “abandon hope all ye who open technical catalogs” so much as:

    a. let’s not insist that scientific ads must, as a matter of principle, adhere to higher standards than refrigerator ads. (I have no quarrel with the notion that, as the primary market for optical lenses, we have more impact on that market than on the market for refrigerators.) Roughly speaking, we don’t *deserve* as a matter of entitlement better than people who aren’t scientists.

    b. don’t get so disproportionately worked up – this happens. Believe it or not, there actually are bigger problems, for women and otherwise, around. We sound like babies whining over lollipops.

  • D

    Annie – I think I mostly agree with your post. Certainly I don’t object at all to the idea that we scientists affect (and are affected by) this market more than most others. It is then quite fine, I think, to take special interest in this particular ad.

    Our differences are more in emphasis: MY problem with this thread is our blase adoption of a zero tolerance policy on the objectification of women in our ads while blithely ignoring (by comparison) problems orders of magnitude larger in commercial markets as a whole. We risk sounding like – and being – prissy, sheltered, Marie Antoinettes. I mean, seriously, if THIS is even one of the thousand worst ads one has ever seen, that one needs to watch more TV.

  • broken record

    D: I am sorry that you continue to insist on telling me how I should or should not feel. I don’t see refrigerator ads excluding me as a customer, and it matters to me that women get an equal chance at pursuing their love of physics, just like men.

    If there are bigger problems that you are itching to solve, why not go and attend to them? And let people like me choose their own battles to fight? You sound so arrogant and holier than thou, maybe you should phrase yourself differently if you don’t want people to froth at the mouth.

  • Annie

    D, you’re misinterpreting brokenrecord’s response. She was not trying to claim that we “deserve” better treatment. She is pointing out that because we are part of a much smaller and more intimate community than, say, the refrigerator market, we’re actually in a better position *to enact change.*

    A big part of the problem for women in physics/astronomy is a lack of discussion, across genders, of the various kinds of issues that a woman may run into that a man in the field would not. So…. how is a *comment thread* about an example of such issues an insane response? How is discussion of one’s responses to an ad a “disproportionate” response?

    And while we’re tellng other people what to do — don’t tell another person what is or is not “disproportionate.” Believe it or not, a person can deal with more than one problem at a time. I mean, unless you want to categorize that person as a “baby”; then I can see why the concept of multiple lines of thought would be ruled right out.

  • Annie

    D — I do see your point that this is not the worst thing happening to women. But… that doesn’t negate its inherent “badness,” at all.

    I think perhaps the difference between this particular ad and a refrigerator ad is what the definition of “zero tolerance” is. It’s very, very different in the two cases. How does one enact a “zero tolerance” policy regarding advertising *in general*? I think that’s a very, very difficult question.

    But how does one enact a “zero tolerance” policy for this specific ad? Well, by writing a letter (and then getting a condescending response), and discussing it *within the specific community.* I can make a (small) difference by referring a male colleague to this thread and saying, “I think you’ll find this interesting,” or by replying to someone in this thread in the hopes that they will be able to understand my position as a woman in astronomy just that much better. Because all of our colleagues have the potential to be aware of this detrimental attitude, and to then keep it in mind (and perhaps put it to use in their approach to female students and colleagues). That’s a very real possibility.

    We’re responding because we CAN. We’re responding because by doing so we may see a result. We’re responding because it is so, so very rare to *have a forum* in which to respond. I don’t know about all the other female scientists posting here, but Cosmic Variance is pretty much the only place where I can discuss these issues with men. We have clubs for women in physics, and we have general “women in science” talks and colloquia that we can attend. But there are not a lot of opportunities for open communication that actually includes the other gender. And thanks for that, Sean :). It makes Cosmic Variance a very special place.

  • D

    Obviously, in this instance, my particular battle happens to be scientists seeing themselves as being apart from and higher than the Great Unwashed Masses, which I think is a huge PR problem, besides of course being rather indecent. This sense of elevation is one I’ve repeatedly got from this thread. On no other account can I realistically envisage this much interest in an ad that in any other industry wouldn’t even be noticed as atypically sexual or demeaning.

    Yes, I think the response is disproportionate, and as far as I know it is just as okay for me to say so as it is for someone else to call the ad itself sexist. Neither claim has much do do with forcing people (like broken record) to do or not do anything at all; I scarcely see what thought control has to do with anything

  • John

    Well, Edmund has a long way to go to catch up with the (no joke) Ridgid Tool Company, I think, whose bi-annual calendar features bikini-clad models straddling very large pipe wrenches…

  • broken record

    D: maybe there is a failure of logic on my part – I can’t follow your reasoning at all. How does doing something to improve the lot of women in physics makes me someone who thinks themselves as above the “Unwashed Masses”? I am doing so because I *can* make a change in a way I can’t in a more global problem, and it doesn’t mean I can’t see or sympathise with the global injustice, or do what I can to help. There is no way that I can have even remotely the same impact in that global problem, however, that I can about this particular subset of problems.

    Where did you read anyone on this thread claiming that we scientists are elevated above the rest and that we have no interest in other social problems? Believe it or not, some of us can actually multi-task.

  • D

    Annie, as before I more or less agree. Except:

    I think perhaps the difference between this particular ad and a refrigerator ad is what the definition of “zero tolerance” is. It’s very, very different in the two cases. How does one enact a “zero tolerance” policy regarding advertising *in general*? I think that’s a very, very difficult question.

    To me, saying we should tolerate worse in refrigerator ads than in optical lens ads (because physicists buy telescopes) is precisely the problem I’ve been reacting to. On what, I ask, might we possibly ground such a notion? Is it because physicists buy telescopes while mere housewives and plumbers buy fridges? Obviously that is not what you’re saying, but I believe that’s what many reading that line who’re not physicists (male or female) are going to conclude. Indeed, I fail to see how one can justify that statement except by recourse to the “specialness” of physicists. Certainly no property intrinsic to telescopes and fridges applies (unlike, say, with beer and frat boys)

    It is fine (and morally obligatory), I think, to work for as welcoming and modern an environment for female physicists as possible. What is not acceptable, I think, is to act like physicists deserve the right to set lower thresholds for tolerable behavior than everyone else.

  • Annie

    D — if this comment thread were about another issue, would you say that people trying to fix a problem *that affects them personally* were putting themselves above the unwashed masses?

    Are parents who crusade for better understanding of the proper way to install child safety seats in cars putting themselves on a pedestal above the “unwashed masses” who ride bicycles or use public transportation? Are people concerned about hate crimes putting themselves above the people who have to deal with plain ol’ crime? If the ad was not an astronomically-minded ad portraying a woman in the technical field, but was rather an ad for some other product portraying women of color, and some women in that demographic were bothered by it, would they somehow be to blame for separating themselves from the rest of the population?

    I don’t think your logic works for any of these examples. I don’t understand why it works for me. I don’t understand why I am not allowed to be concerned about one problem simply because other problems exist.

    I understand that there are thousands of ads out there that demean me simply because I am a woman. Don’t worry, I do indeed watch television. But there aren’t a ton that actually portray women *in astronomy.* Why is it unfair for me to comment — on a blog, about astrophysics no less — about this one specific issue?

  • Annie

    D — in the specific comment you just responded to, I wasn’t trying to say that we should EMOTIONALLY tolerate more crap in fridge ads. I was pointing out that putting our lack of tolerance INTO ACTION is different in the two contexts.

    We’re not talking about the right (to feel), we’re talking about access (to act).

    I don’t work in advertising. I do work in a male dominated field. I am therefore better equipped to enact change through *my* field than through the *advertising* field.

    If I actually designed refrigerator ads, and was here saying, “Oh, no, my work is different, because the average folks deserve less than scientists do,” then your argument would hold water. Clearly I am not doing that. All I am doing is saying that Edmunds should design a better ad. I said nothing, at all, about what other companies should put in their own ads.

    We’re not saying we deserve better. We’re saying everyone deserves to be treated fairly, in all contexts. What we’re *do*ing is broaching discussion within our own community. We’re talking about one ad. A couple of others have been mentioned. How does that represent a discussion about how all other ads are find, but this one is different because it’s sciencey?

  • broken record

    Annie, perfectly put. And I too applaud Cosmic Variance for providing a venue for this discussion that is rare enough to be almost unique.

  • D

    Since we are dishing out analogies, here is one that I think is more representative of my views…well, it’s a story, but oh well.

    My college dining hall paid students on financial aid $8.50 an hour. Some students got together and wrote a letter of complaint pointing out that this wage was much lower than the wage for other similar jobs, all of which paid around ten bucks an hour. They were right of course. It WAS in fact an unfair pay difference. The problem with that letter – as several people pointed out – was that these people completely ignored the fact that working alongside them in this same dining hall were full-time employees being paid minimum wage to do roughly the same job. Tone matters, I’m saying.

    Also, I honestly do not know why you repeatedly inform me that this issue affects you personally. I realize this. As I have said repeatedly, my problem is not with women (and men) in astronomy being peculiarly interested in this ad. I do not know how much plainer I can make that statement, but try this – my very presence here indicates as much…I do not frequent comparable boards for every product and offensive ad.

  • Sean

    Annie and broken record, thanks for the kind words. And thanks for continuing the discussion; like most people, I can only go on for so long before other obligations intervene (and I get tired of beating my head against the wall).

    It seems perfectly obvious to me why scientists would want to talk about the climate within their own field, rather than prioritize the problems of the world and only talk about the worst one. In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone does this, in whatever field of endeavor they’re in themselves.

  • Arun

    About being better than the “great unwashed” – I work at a large multinational corporation that has standards about these things and they would not wittingly advertise the way Edmunds has (or I should say that if they did, they would be breaking corporate codes of conduct that we are required to review every year.) If some agency placed somehow such an ad. for them, there would be a lot of internal soul-searching. Would that make this corporation elitist, etc.?

  • Annie

    D — I think this must be another failure of communication. I see some ways in which the situation you describe is an analogy for this dialogue, but none that would logically lead to the conclusion, “Female scientists complaining about sexist advertisements from companies whose technical equipment they use are babies whining over lollipops.”

    And though you claim that you have “said repeatedly, [your] problem is not with women (and men) in astronomy being peculiarly interested in this ad,” you’re still concluding that by being particularly interested in this ad, we are acting like we are babies, like we are fundamentally better than other people faced with sexism, and like we are both “entitled” and “frothing at the mouth.” That sounds very much to me like there is no way for us to be both concerned with the attitude portrayed by this ad and up to your standard of decency.

  • broken record

    D says: Tone matters, I’m saying.
    I find this hilarious! Look at the tone of the series of comments you wrote first.

  • Annie

    Hey broken record, wanna be best friends?

  • broken record

    Annie: yes! If you care to chat offline about some of these issues sometime, I *think* Sean knows who I am, and can maybe put us in touch with eachother. I am done with this discussion – Ciao :)

  • George

    Among other things, this ad lacks imagination.

    Suppose instead of cheesycake, their ad campaign featured a headshot of a young scientist along with an exotic (well, to me) piece of hardware. For each catalog they could select to feature a young scientist who has made an interesting contribution to the field during the past year. As a matter of course whatever choice they made would be controversial, but at least it would be controversial in the right way.

    Who knows, appearing on the cover of the Edmund’s catalogue might become semi-prestigious (at least socially, for a moment). At the very least it would be celebrating the achievements of the scientific community which is the source of business.

    I’d bet that if they continued this approach over a significant period, the catalogues would become collectors items, and your mothers would probably be thrilled.

  • Annie

    Hey Sean, sorry to bug you . . . I always enter my email address in the “will not be published” line. I don’t know if y’all end up with this info, or if it’s at all easy for you to access, but I would be more than happy to have it passed on to broken record.

  • ier

    ohh, broken record and Annie, can I be friends with you too?
    I had too much stuff to do to be involved in this discussion (and thought it would be hitting my head against a wall anyways), but it would be really nice to talk to other people about things like that offline.

  • broken record

    Sean, please put me in touch with ier too :) Cheers.

  • Sean

    I feel like I’m Oprah or something. But I’m not giving away any cars!

  • Annie

    Thank you, Sean!

  • B

    @broken record

    B: you are not answering the question that I am asking. I am not talking in abstract about differences between men and women. If the culture you grew up in causes you to see that advert and immediately think that it is aimed as you as a customer, that’s great for you. Not everyone sees it that way, and I pointed you to a link to help show you why they feel that way.

    Well, you’ve asked if if ‘my response is rational’, I said no of course it is not. What I apparently unsuccessfully tried to communicate was what probably was the intention of the ad’s design. I’m not saying I would have done that (in fact, I wouldn’t cause I find it rather boring and uninspired). An ad that is designed to catch your eye hardly ever aims at your ‘rational’ thinking, that’s the whole problem, no? Rationally seen, why do you need anything in an ad except facts? I can put the question back to you and ask you if it’s rational to be offended by a photo with two women smiling at each other? If you weren’t talking about abstract differences between men and women, I was, and I just meant to throw into the discussion that this very likely has influenced the design. I kind of agree with some stuff (definitely not all) that D wrote about: it’s unsurprising that tactics that have been used for the rest of the society show up in academics – that’s what I meant with my remark about capitalism. Academics is not a decoupled system.

    I kind of understand if some of you say, well but this is where I work, and this is what I protect. I just wanted to add my opinion, that is: not offended. If you think there’s a majority of young women who are offended, well, I find it hard to believe, but what do I know about American girls?

    And I’m off coz I don’t think this is a major factor to get more women into physics, honestly.

    A nice weekend to all of you,


  • broken record

    B: I did not grow up in this culture. It took me a long while to realize just what problems American girls in physics face that I never had to deal with, because I was never made to feel growing up as that I was any different from boys when it came to pursuing my love of math and science. Well, they are. And the intent behind an advert may be very different from what you consider normal. If you live in this culture, you may come to feel that you cannot decouple from it either.

  • ier

    Did you look at the modified ad with David Duchovony, B? Do you feel this is an ad directed to you? Now imagine working in a field were you are the only guy, and somehow people make it constantly clear that you don’t belong there, whether they tell you directly or with more subtle things. And then you get an ad like that. Don’t you understand that this could possible increase the feeling that you don’t belong because it might not be directed at you?
    And please people, stop the “americans are so oversensitive and prudish” comments, I think it is very good to have discussions about these things and trying to make physics more inclusive.

  • Lord Sidious

    First of all, I was not at all shocked by the photo. Should I fell ashamed? Am I sick? Should I be put away?

    More seriously, I can understand that it might hurt some people but so do many other things. How do you think an American Muslim must feel when he sees that the American president swears with the hand on the bible? Your own blog seems to imply that religious people are dumb, so do you think they are hurt by that or not?

    If you’re all moral and pure, how is it OK to hurt some people and not others? I heard people urging you not to buy optics from this firm. How is that different from Muslim integrists urging fellow muslims not to buy Danish products?

    As I said, I can understand that some people might be hurt but I’m very concerned by where this political correctness might lead. Imagine that hundreds of groups begin asserting they rights to a world without a certain behaviour, without a certain word, etc. How should this work? Should we grant them all their wishes and if no, why not? What if the wishes are contradictory? What should we do then? So you see, it’s a complicated problem.

    I have heard numerous times voices calling for a better representativity of women in sciences. Should we also call for a better representativity of all other minorities? How about religious people, should they be represented and if no, why not? If they’re refused are they entitled to feel excluded?

    Anyway, I have never heard of voices raising for a better representativity of women in the window cleaning business. Why is that? Is it because the windows cleaners are stupid and science professors are smart? Should then the windows cleaners rebel against the way the society is looking at them? Is it fair that the society is looking at them like that?

    In the end, I would suggest you read this very short story (a couple a paragraphs) by Asimov and see what you think. I hope it will make you understand that your perspective of things is not necessarily the best there is. I hope you will be humbler after that…

  • Sidious Lord

    In the comment above I forgot to properly close a tag. Only the word very was supposed to be in boldface. It’s because there’s no preview available. Sorry!

  • Sean

    I’m afraid that’s right, Lord S. Finally someone understands what our blog is all about: convicting sick (but humble!) people such as yourself of thought crimes, so that we can lock them up and put them away, creating a politically correct paradise in which no harmful words are ever uttered.

    Except about religious people. And window cleaners. Morons, all of them!

  • head, meet brick wall

    Yes, what’s with the “oh, those Americans” type comments? Sure, if you’re living/working somewhere else where none of those problems exist, you can just ignore it and nothing would be different. But if you are working here, and have an attitude of dismissing problems just because they are problems of American girls, you are not going to get very far. Because you see, it’s still the American culture you are living in, set up in the same way that caused those girls that you dismissed problems in the first place. It’s not suddenly going to change for you because you are from Europe or whereever, although you may feel you are very enlightened about something those American girls aren’t.

  • Eric

    Annie, broken record, ier, et al: Thanks for fighting the good fight. I think you’ve thoroughly rebutted most arguments against, so I’ll save my head for other brick walls.

    There was one interesting (though inapplicable) point brought up by D or B about the condescension of scientists towards the “ignorant masses”. I don’t think it has much bearing on this particular discussion because I think most scientists here have argued against the objectification of women as an issue they personally care about.

    However, I do think an attitude of superiority wrt the general public exists and often harms the cause of science. I suppose it’s not a reliable measurement, but I’ve observed this from top physicists all the way down to lowly undergrads (and I’m probably not the only one). I can’t describe how many times I’ve seen scientists disparage topics and/or people not in science, and in particular, not in physics. Even the (mis)perception of such an attitude can discredit science in the eyes of the public, and can make it harder just to have reasonable discussions like these. Content isn’t everything; presentation matters.

  • Richard E.

    Anyway, I have never heard of voices raising for a better representativity of women in the window cleaning business. Why is that? Is it because the windows cleaners are stupid and science professors are smart? Should then the windows cleaners rebel against the way the society is looking at them? Is it fair that the society is looking at them like that?

    I don’t know about window cleaning, but there certainly are people and organizations that work hard to encourage women to work in well-paying blue collar jobs, where they are often under-represented. e.g.

    Possibly Lord Sidious just needs to look a little harder.

  • Torquemada

    Dear comic variable,
    I’m very happy to read that after all those centuries the spirit of our Holy Inquisition lives on .
    I am just as horrified as you are by the sight of that Luciferian optical creature.
    Writing about that evil witch is all very well, but when will you progressives, o my worthy followers, actually start to actually burn people?
    Yours impatiently,

  • Rob

    Here’s the email I sent EO, subject line “Sex Sells”:

    As a former National Marketing Director I know that sex sells. I know that attractive women are particularly effective at drawing traffic to conference and trade show booths.

    But catalogue covers and advertisements are not a booth at a trade show. Instead they are medium broadcast beyond the controlled confines of a limited-access environment, which impacts how the message is recieved.

    There is no longer any excuse for ignorance to the fact that the constant barrage of sexualized imagery of females negatively impacts girls. The message they receive, and you need to understand this, is that how they look on the outside is of greater value than who they are on the inside. That message needs to be taken out back and shot!

    Your cover and ad perpetuates that negative message, (notice you didn’t name the model or cite her accomplishments), making Edmunds Optics part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    I respectfully request that you choose to be part of the solution instead.

    Thanks for elevating the level of awareness on this issue.

  • MP-S

    I would take this question through a different angle. Why would any bright, young female (or male, by the way) (astro)physicist pay any attention to advertising adds? Should we be paying attention to adds, or should we rather decide critically which products we want to buy/consume on the basis of their intrinsic qualities and our personal interests? Just ignore the adds.

    If there is a real problem here, it is of a more general nature: why do we live in a society where advertising is a form of deceit rather than an objective form of information about the products in question?

    The add is, of course, silly and negative in this more general sense. But – fortunattely – I don’t believe that it is detrimental to young women joining the scientific community as professionals. Just think about cars and adds – women buy cars and drive them anyway.

  • broken record

    #144: You make good points. However it’s much easier to change advertising culture than change key concepts of capitalism. Car adverts are a good example – at least in this country, advertisers have cottoned onto the fact that women buy cars, and therefore they are not advertised just to heterosexual men anymore. The only recent car ad I remember which was blatantly using sex to sell was one with a nude Claudia Schiffer. But even she was showing *driving* the car, not draped as an accessory across it.

  • Sustainable Sean

    I’m all for using a little sex appeal to increase interest in sciene. Perhaps instead of having the model lounging in front of a blwon up version of the equiopment they could have actually had the model/employee holding in a little more realistic scenario…say standing up in a lab holding the equipment in the palm of her hand or something. To me it’s as much an example of tacky styling in the ad as it is poor taste. I’ll keep an eye out for the swimsuit edition and/or the sexiest men in science calendar.

  • Arun

    Just think about cars and adds – women buy cars and drive them anyway.

    It isn’t just driving away with the car. There is frequently sexism in the auto service department.

  • Obadiah E.

    I wonder what the complainers would say about the famed first image on the world wide web — a promo shot for Les Horribles Cernettes?

    Is this image also “overtly sexualized,” and thus (allegedly) liable to cause “tangible harm?”

    Or is there still room in science for a little self-parody and satire?

  • Allyson

    This complainer would let you know that the whistling sound you hear is the point, flying past your head.

    I’m not a scientist, so I have no idea what sort of room exists for satire, but I always have extra sarcasm to contribute when needed.

  • Thomas Larsson
  • Pingback: Role of Women in Science? at Nonoscience()

  • Pingback: Belated Carnival Post()

  • Lab Lemming

    Has anyone considered the possibility that this ad is simply an oblique statement that their telescopes are incapable of handling any eyepiece with a magnification other than three?

    While eye-rolling, this advert certainly shows such a product in better light than a line of text that says “XXX objectification only”.

  • Hiranya

    I just had a very positive phone conversation with Robert Edmund, the CEO of the company who put out this ad. He was very open to the criticism, and he understood what people were upset about, that putting out an advert targeting a male audience would continue to propagate stereotypes about gender in the technical fields. They will be changing their advertising strategy to portray women in a more professional light on their ad campaigns. They already have a new catalogue out which should arrive soon, and said that the change in their strategy should be evident there.

    He also recognised that women form a significant fraction of their customer base, and that they have alienated them with this campaign. He promised to change things in the future, and insisted that they recognise women scientists as valuable customers, and women optical engineers form 33% of their workforce with a technnical degree (and they value them highly also).

    He also said that he valued the feedback he got from the community, as without it they would have gone on making the same mistake. So sometimes, working to change things does bring about change for the better!

  • Sean

    That’s great news, Hiranya. Thanks for the update.

  • WOW WhataStir


    Insteresting group here! She has been on the cover numerous times over the last 4-5 years. She has been in their print ads for magazines multiple times (full body shot wearing jeans + yellow button down shirt). It appears the cover did exactly what ALL the other covers have NEVER done in Edmunds past (make people take notice). I’m betting they sell more product :) Which is the bottom line.

  • Norman Axelrod

    Edmund Scientific used to have a reputation as selling cheap products.

    I thought that it had been redeeming itself as a source of professional level equipment for serious professionals until I saw its tasteless selling of its products. Does the lovely lady’s qualities imply seriously better technical products? What kind of positive inference can I draw from your recent cover?

    Edmund apparently does not have a professional attitude that professionals can respect. There are obviously better sources of cheesecake on the Web – – – unless of course that Edmund continues to pursue its quest for the bottom.

    I have been buying from Edmund and suggesting it to others. I am, however, embarrassed to send folks to your cheesecake.

    Please do better.

    Dr. Norman N. Axelrod, President

    Norman N. Axelrod Associates

  • harold

    Oh my god. What an amazing find: People use sex appeal to sell things (even geeky optical things! ) I’m shocked and amazed.
    Most of the comments seem to be about people condescending to people who don’t hold their beliefs about what a horrible, terrible, ATROCIOUS thing the aforementioned ad was. AND trying to educate people about just WHY they are so wrong (stupid, misinformed, etc, depending on the poster).
    Folks, you have basically two choices here: a) would you want to live in a society where people are free to offend your delicate sensibilities with such an ad. or
    b) would you prefer to live in a society where everyone agrees with your point of view and there can be no dissent (because, after all, you ARE right about this, and it’s oh so stupid of others to disagree with you. AND if they do, they must be re-educated to the TRUE PATH).
    I choose a) obviously, and if people sometimes piss me off about how to advertise their products, I think I will live with that until the BIG RIP rather than go down the path to choosing b).
    Geez, it’s no wonder this country elected Shrub, twice! Us TRUE THINKERS make such easy targets of ourselves.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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