Apple could have had its most feminist event ever—but it messed up

Baby steps.
Baby steps.
Image: Image via Apple
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Things might be changing in Silicon Valley.

On Sept 9, Apple put on a very big show in San Francisco. The event, which in the words of the company CEO Tim Cook, unveiled a series of “monster announcements” about product innovations, was also a chance to showcase the company’s evolving culture. And to the vigilant observer, several signs did indicate that Apple’s event may have indeed been the Silicon Valley equivalent of a feminist rally. At least, compared to the rest of the tech world’s outright sexism.

Fetus tracker, check

It only took two iterations of the Apple Watch to include a period tracker. When that happened, women celebrated—it’s nice to see one of your natural bodily functions acknowledged as Apple-worthy.

But the Cupertino company has now taken another step towards women physiology, which makes it two steps; the new Apple watch offers a fetal heartbeat monitoring system, so expectant mothers can track their child’s heartbeat, and share that information from home with their doctors.

Female presenters, check

There were not one, not two, but three women on stage.

Apple is giving much more space to women lately. With two women on stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this year, plus Christy Turlington Burns, who launched the Apple Watch, that makes six women in the company spotlight so far in 2015.

Before this year, only a total of five women had made it to Apple’s stage since 2007, making less than 10% of Apple presenters in that period women (between 2007 and 2014, there have been 57 men on stage.)

Pink iPhone, check

It’s the little things that count. Yes, the new iPhone comes in “rose gold.” That means pink with a golden tinge, which is a beautiful shade of pink. And pink is for girls, even techies know that! (It’s just an old-fashioned color/gender association, of course, but we’ll take what we can.)

Live photoshop of female model whose face is not quite perfect, check—oh wait…

To demonstrate how easily images can be manipulated on the new iPad Pro, app maker Adobe unfortunately thought it appropriate to add a bit of a smile to the portrait of a model. In Apple’s live demonstration, a young woman’s serious-looking expression was remade into a welcoming one.

Spectators in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium cheered as they watched it happen.

No matter how advanced we might be, it remains true that most people maintain a (sexist) aversion to women who don’t smile. An acronym, RBF (Resting Bitch Face), has even been coined to describe the human female’s naturally neutral expression, as if it were an unusual phenomenon.

For some time now, feminists have been asking that the rest of the world stop “telling women to smile” and just let them be. And while the tiny steps that Apple is taking to create a more inclusive culture and product line-up might have deserved a smile, maybe let’s hold it for when the company doesn’t demand that women grin at the tap of a finger.