Does telecoms have a penis problem?

In a male-dominated industry run through hierarchical masculine domination games, the feminine gets squeezed out. This stains the telecoms industry with a residual “penis problem”.

I tried being heterosexual. Cripes, I admire those of you who stick at it. Hard work, admirable effort. Bit too much for me, though. Anyhow, one of my many roles in life is to act as the “queer eye for the straight guy”.

It’s not just that I prevent crimes against aesthetics in my straight male colleagues’ PowerPoint decks, although that’s an essential work activity. I also bring a different perspective to many aspects of life. What’s ordinary for you is not necessarily normal for me.

As such, I am blessed to have quite a number of very smart professional lady friends with whom I have an absolutely platonic relationship. We naturally sometimes end up in meetings together. I cannot but help notice when attention gets put on me (and not her), and I get the credit for ideas (and not her), and the consequent kudos is given to me (and not her). The pattern is too repetitive to be accidental.

In the past I’ve opined on how women seem to be largely missing from network engineering, which is disconcerting as I’ve also two daughters. (I am demonstrably dogged even in the most misguided and hopeless of pursuits.) Events like Mobile World Congress shove “wimmin’s issues” off into a corner (physically and temporally), as if the rest of the event is a “bloke’s bazaar” of slightly dull grey networking boxes. Their winking LEDs are the most colourful thing on offer.

I am noticing a number of ways in which telecoms seems to exhibit a “penis problem”. It’s not that our beloved trouser friends are unwanted. Rather, they can get in the way of connecting to other chakras and organs. In particular, unstated anxiety about the relative size of one’s phallus can inhibit connecting with the heart and brain.

I am on many mailing lists and participate in many online and offline discussion forums. Over and over I see unconsciously insecure engineers engaged in massive displays of knowledge of trivial details of technical systems. They are playing a dominance game of “who knows more about not very much”. As a result, they are unable to absorb new knowledge that challenges their worldview, since it damages their sense of status and hierarchy.

In telecoms marketing, there is an absence of empathy for the everyday. It just isn’t tied into the relevant concerns of ordinary people and family life. Mothers don’t march for megabits. The products we offer are pretty feeble in their efforts to meet ordinary human needs. What we call a “family plan” is nothing of the sort; it has no concept of the roles and responsibilities people occupy. It’s just “1001 ways to package and resell a circuit”.

From a finance point of view, we see subscribers as like a conquest game for sleazy pick-up artists. It’s all about the satisfaction of having won against the other lustful love rivals, not about any form of long-term commitment or intimacy. The idea that you might co-create new things with your customers, in lieu of procreation opportunities, is unheard of.

When we look wider at the industry, there is a great deal of boasting about who has the most subscribers, the biggest network, or the fattest pipe. This bring a focus on quantity not quality; scale over subtlety, style and substance.

This is a serious problem, as the exclusion of femininity by a masculine-domination culture has real and unfortunate consequences. The obvious one is that half your customers are female, and their concerns and needs as, say, social carers are not being heard. Yet there are also less obvious issues that are of equal or more importance.

For instance, if you have an iPhone, pick it up. Note the roundedness of the corners, the chamfer of the icons, the rotund smoothness of the Lightning cable. Apple is signalling to your subliminal mind that this device has a yin-yang duality. It is nurturing, safe, welcoming. Contrast it with the spikey corners of Microsoft’s UIs that have been widely rejected by the public.

Paradigms affect profit: from a purely logical (masculine archetype) point of view, the Microsoft UI is probably “better”; yet from an emotional (feminine archetype) perspective it is immeasurably worse. These are archetypes, not gender-specific attributes. Just as sexual preference and fluidity vary, so can each of us connect to these archetypes with varying levels of ease. An “animus” and “anima” exist inside us all.

As we move towards a world of sensors and a sensory paradigm, and embed communications deeper into everyday life, the need for a more stable and mature approach can only grow. The “techno-logos” needs to be balanced with the “techno-pathos”. And that, my friends, requires us to have little less “techo-phallusy”.


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