Helen Hester

Helen Hester is Head of Film and Media at the University of West London. Her research interests include technofeminism, sexuality studies, and theories of social reproduction, and she is a member of the international feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks. She is the author of Beyond Explicit: Pornography and the Displacement of Sex (SUNY Press, 2014), the co-editor of the collections Fat Sex: New Directions in Theory and Activism (Ashgate, 2015) and Dea ex Machina(Merve, 2015), and series editor for Ashgate’s ‘Sexualities in Society’ book series.

    Technically Female: Women, Machines, and Hyperemployment

    by Helen Hester


    Femininity, Technologies, Work

    In an advert for Recognition Equipment in 1966, a young woman with a charming smile places an arm around her male colleague’s shoulder, and rests her head gently against him as he tries to read some very serious and important paperwork. The tagline declares, ‘Our optical reader can do anything your key punch operators do. (Well, almost.)’ It’s limitations? The copy informs us that the machine ‘can’t use the office for intimate tête-à-têtes’ or ‘be a social butterfly’. All it can do is its job, reading and computing data at the rate of ‘2400 typewritten characters a second’. Another, published a year later, and quite clearly a sequel to the first, uses the same tagline, this time accompanied by an image of a heavily pregnant blonde. Unlike this woman, we are told, Recognition Equipment’s office technologies ‘can’t take maternity leave. Or suffer from morning sickness. Or complain about being tired all the time.’ It should be clear to the viewer which of these things is more useful to have around the office.