simone-de-beauvoirs-106th-birthday-5503387349024768-hp Google’s doodle to mark Simone de Beauvoir’s 106th birthday

Doodles are the fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists’. Google, About doodles

Despite the several instances of the conjunction ‘and’ in the above sentence, it took Google a good thirteen years to be ‘ inclusive’ enough to feature the woman who probably had the greatest impact on  twentieth century feminist thought, the French writer Simone de Beauvoir (born on 9 January 1908).

That it took Google so long to feature Simone de Beauvoir is in itself highly indicative of the male bias of Google’s doodles, a fact which has been pointed out by several (women) commentators (see the links at the bottom of this page). The table below showing the percentages of doodles celebrating women’s birthdays is consistent with the figures published elsewhere.

Google doodles_why are only a few percent of the doodles celebrating women's birthdays_QMIt is also consistent with the two quick searches I have conducted using the doodle finder functionality with the key words ‘women’ and ‘female ’:

Google doodle search results women

Google doodle search results femaleOf course, to derive an accurate figure, I would have to be more systematic and go through all years starting from 2000 and then calculate the percentages myself, but I do not have the time to do so right now. I therefore have to rest on claims such as Shelby Knox’s, who, on 6 July 2010, wrote that

Of 109 innovators, artists, revolutionaries and creators designated important or interesting enough for a doodle, only 8 have been women. It took eight full years for the Google team to find a woman worthy of the honor, which finally went to French pilot Hélène Boucher in May of 2008. Her doodle could only be viewed on the Google France homepage. The first woman to receive a global doodle was Beatrix Potter, best known as the author of the Tale of Peter Rabbit series, and the second was Mary Cassatt, an American impressionist painter. The third, it seems, is Frida Kahlo. [Links to the doodles as well as the dates are my additions]

So why do Google’s doodles display such a male bias? Given that the USA have been so instrumental in bringing about the progress seen in the 20th century as regards women’s rights, this issue is a little puzzling to say the least. Could it be ascribed to the male bias which seems inherent in nerdy culture? It is hard to tell because I do not work at the Googleplex and I do not know much about Google (although enough to feel inclined to write this: ‘Google, hands off my private data, please’) and its employment policy as regards women. Anyhow, I would think that to have a few more graduates at Google with degrees in Women or Feminist studies would certainly help to correct this male bias when it comes to celebrating ‘the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists’.

In the meantime, we could take Google at their word and send them lists with names of women who deserve to be celebrated, for instance: Cleopatra, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Elisabeth the first, Catherine de Medici, Queen Victoria, Eleanor Roosevelt or even Margaret Thatcher (to limit the list to political figures from the West, but with each having been a pioneer in her own right):

The doodle team is always excited to hear ideas from users – they can email proposals@google.com with ideas for the next Google doodle. The team receives hundreds of requests every day so we unfortunately can’t respond to everyone. But rest assured that we’re reading them 🙂   [Google, About doodles, red is my emphasis]

If only to ensure that the current huge percentage (50% if we include Simone de Beauvoir’s 106th birthday doodle today) does not revert back to a percentage more in line with the historical average at Google. Who knows, it might have been a good resolution for 2014 on the part of the doodle team to have less of a male bias for their logos   😉

Google doodle until 7 January 2014

Postscript [10 January]: according to an article published in the British newspaper The Telegraph by Emma Barnett, the newspaper’s Women’s Editor (‘Creating a women’s Google Doodle was too frightening’):

The hard-core team solely responsible for drawing the doodles, as opposed to the additional handful of engineers who make the images interactive, is made up of around nine doodlers, three of which are women. [red is my emphasis, no pun intended on my part]

Interestingly, on the Swiss homepage of Google, there is today (10 January) another doodle celebrating the literary/musical achievements of a woman for her 217th birthday: Annette von Droste Hülshoff. So there has definitely been some progress in 2014 … so far!