In today's modern professional world men can be doctors, investment bankers, and professors, while women, of course, can be nurses, secretaries, and sexy Halloween costume models—at least according to Google Image Search.
Why did we spend all day Googling? Yesterday, T.C. Scottek, a senior editor for The Verge, tweeted that an Image Search for "CEO" resulted in all male photos—save for, yes, CEO Barbie. Which made us curious: How were other professions gendered?
We conducted a similar search experiment using Google's incognito feature, which essentially allowed us to search as an anonymous, non-gendered person. The results, sadly, are exactly what we expected. Here's a play-by-play of what we found.
Half of new doctors in America are women, yet when you search the term, only three female doctors appear in the first 26 photos (and one appears twice). Also, check out the "clip art" option, which shows only men in the thumbnail—to find a woman, you must explicitly search "woman doctor clipart." Awesome.
When searching "cop," no women appear until the fourth row, and that woman is … wait for it … wait for it … a sexy Halloween cop! In fact, we don't get to see a real woman in law enforcement until the eighth row, which features a lady wearing a vest that says "sheriff." If you follow that image, it takes you to a Pinterest page titled "Female cop," which also includes donut earrings and a sexy woman showering.
How many female professors did you have in college? None, amirite? Kidding. According to the American Association of University Professors, women make up 42 percent of full-time faculty positions. Yet according to Google Image Search, professors IRL are white, male, or illustrated. In fact, the one human female shown in the first four rows isn't even a professor. The board behind her reads "5 + 1 = __". Pretty sure second grade is not a college course these days.
A recent report revealed that women now make up 52 percent of all management and professional positions. Well, Google Image Search scoffs at that number—it knows that when searching for "boss," you're really looking for a man. Check out this return:
I had hoped that Hollywood's gender inequality wouldn't also be reflected in Google's Image Search, but alas, it was. Only five women appear in the first 23 photos. One of whom was not a winner, but a host. On the bright side, the search thumbnail for "crying" yields plenty of female results, so there's that.
It's pretty well known that STEM fields need more women. Well, if little girls who dream of becoming engineers Google their chosen profession, they're not likely to see many female role models to emulate. Google Image Search returned all men in hard hats, save for two women.
This really needs no explanation. Everyone knows you can't trust women with investment decisions. For reals, though, in 2013 women made up 18.2 percent of executive/senior-level officials in companies involving "securities, commodity contracts and other financial investments and related activities" and 16.1 percent of executive/senior-level officials in companies that dealt with "investment banking and securities dealing," according to the non-profit Catalyst. Both those numbers are higher than zero.
Of course, when you think "doctor" you think "man"—but switch that search to "nurse," and it's ovary city. Google returned all female images, save for one ambiguously ethnic guy, because white men sure as hell aren't nurses (they're surgeons, duh).
Teacher is also an acceptable career for women. In fact, 75 percent of teachers from kindergarten through high school are female. So it makes sense that Google returned this:
Of course. And FYI, searching the word "assistant" didn't change the gendered results.
For one last experiment, we typed in "average woman" and "average man." The results suggest that, for women, we're all about comparing faces and body sizes—the images consist largely of women in their underwear. For men, however, life's more about just being a dude. The guys are almost all fully clothed and seem pretty content.
In case you're wondering, Google searches photos based on how images are named, labeled, and linked to, as well as the context of the page in which the image appears. So more than simply blaming the engine, we might take a hard look at who is choosing to represent these careers with these photos (ahem, the media, editors, websites, blogs) and the library of photos they have to choose from (stock images), which can be limiting.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.