Friday, August 20, 2010

Google Doodles omit the 19th amendment, and other women-focused anniversaries.

Google is pretty powerful. I spend approximately all of my waking hours under its watchful eye; it records my searches, my emails, my working documents, my Facebook alerts, my life, basically.

Sure, there are pieces of it I resist: Google Desktop will not leave me the hell alone no matter how many times I click "cancel", and I never got into that creepy Buzz thing. But it's always open, always there, and I'm very far from the only one. Google is the information station for most of the world, and it has a heavy role in shaping our view of the world.

One small way in which it wields its influence is through Google Doodles, the alternate logos on the search homepage that celebrate anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays of famous and influential individuals. And when it celebrates those individuals, they are overwhelmingly male. Shelby Knox wrote on this at Feministe earlier this summer:
Because we’ve lived with the myth that men created the world and everything good in it for long enough. As long as men get to designate who and what in history is important, young women will continue to learn that all their sex has contributed throughout all of history is their wombs. If we can’t see ourselves as the inventors, artists, revolutionaries and creators that came before, how the hell are we supposed to fashion ourselves into the modern versions? Schools certainly aren’t doing a very good job in this department and since it processes over a billion searches a day, Google plays an increasingly important role in how and what young people learn.
As you probably heard, there was a pretty big anniversary on Wednesday: the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women in the US the right to vote. This victory was not for all women, as many writers noted - many if not most black women could not vote. But it was certainly a landmark event in women's rights.

How did Google commemorate this landmark event?

The Google homepage. At the bottom is a small checkmark reading: 90th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

Now, perhaps this is not something that needs its own logo. I think it does, but that's just my value system.

But looking at the pattern of the anniversaries Google has commemorated, it's clear why they didn't consider it worthy of a logo.

Google has had 29 logos celebrating anniversaries of non-birth events - you can see the list I compiled in the comment section. The doodles that commemorate anniversaries and event are less specifically celebrating men than the birthdays that Shelby Knox deftly deconstructed above. But they are in almost every case celebrating accomplishments of men: lunar landings, telescopes, works of art and entertainment, architectural innovations.

I should note that many if not most of these anniversaries are not US-centered. But many are, and there's no reason not to celebrate a woman focused achievement with a US Doodle.

But still, while they're not all about the US, none are about celebrating an event or accomplishment identified with women. Nor are other stigmatized classes celebrated - these are also mostly focused on cis, heterosexual, upperclass, white accomplishments (I am not a history expert, so please correct me if I'm overreaching here).

There's no anniversary of the birth control pill, or of Stonewall, or of the Million Man March. Google focuses on celebrating events that are uncontroversial, that everyone can agree are important. And "everyone", as usual, means people of great privilege, and importance is measured by kyriarchal values.

Is this omission of a logo, by itself, a big deal? Not really. Is this, in and of itself, an indication of the HORRIBLE SEXISM OF GOOGLE OMG? No.

But taken in context of Google's history of highlighting male achievements, its larger kyriarchal point of view in choosing doodles, and its politics, its minimization of this very recent important landmark in women's rights is another indication of Google's disregard for women and other marginalized folks.


  1. All anniversary Google Doodles:

    Apr 25, 2003
    50th Anniversary of Understanding DNA - (Global)
    Dec 17, 2003
    100th Anniversary of Flight - (Global)
    Jul 20, 2005
    Anniversary of Lunar Landing - (Global)
    Oct 04, 2007
    Sputnik Anniversary - (Global)
    Jan 28, 2008
    50th Anniversary of the LEGO Brick - (Global)
    May 29, 2008
    Anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest - (Global)
    May 15, 2008
    Anniversary of the first film projection - (Spain)
    May 08, 2008
    60th Anniversary of Israeli Independence Day - (Israel)
    Jul 29, 2008
    50th Anniversary of Nasa - (US)
    Oct 22, 2008
    50th Anniversary of Deltawerken - (Netherlands)
    Oct 20, 2008
    25th Anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House - (Australia)
    Oct 04, 2008
    50th Anniversary of the Fifth French Republic - (France)
    Jun 06, 2009
    25th Anniversary of Tetris - (Selected Countries)
    Jun 02, 2009
    150th anniversary of Yokohama Port Opening - (Japan)
    May 31, 2009
    150th Anniversary of Big Ben - (UK)
    May 23, 2009
    60th anniversary of constitution of federal republic of Germany - (Germany)
    May 05, 2009
    250th Anniversary of Kew Gardens - (UK)
    Apr 01, 2009
    200th Anniversary of Gogol
    Aug 25, 2009
    400th Anniversary of Galileo's First Telescope - (Global)
    Jul 20, 2009
    40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing - (Selected Countries)
    Jul 07, 2009
    Anniversary of the publication of Pinocchio - (Italy)
    Jul 04, 2009
    Anniversary of the 'Miracle of Berne' - (Germany)
    Nov 22, 2009
    50th Anniversary of Sandmännchen - (Germany)
    Nov 09, 2009
    20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall - (Germany)
    Nov 04, 2009
    20th Anniversary of the Wallace and Gromit Characters - (Selected Global)
    Oct 29, 2009
    Asterix Comic's 50th Anniversary © 2009 Goscinny - Uderzo - (Selected Countries)
    May 21, 2010
    PAC-MAN's 30th Anniversary Doodle - PAC-MAN™ & ©1980 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. - Global
    Apr 24, 2010
    Hubble Space Telescope's 20th Anniversary - (Global)
    Aug 12, 2010
    71st Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz - (Selected Countries)

  2. It's also important to note that the US-centrism of the event isn't a factor, since Google has a different homepage for each country. The doodles we (in the US) have seen are not (all) the same as the ones that've been up on the homepage in other countries. So it would have been entirely possible to put up the doodle on Google US without alienating the rest of the world.


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