As the saying goes: when in doubt, Google it. In today’s age of powerful internet search engines, people often turn to Google when they have a question or just want to explore further a thought they’ve had. This all-powerful search engine’s autocomplete function has become the subject of the most recent ad campaign by UN Women, a branch of the United Nations dedicated to protecting women’s rights.
This campaign features the most popular search terms regarding women’s roles. After prompting Google with various terms like “women should,” “women shouldn’t,” “women need,” and “women cannot,” the search engine completes the phrases with sentences such as “women shouldn’t have rights,” “women need to be put in their place,” and “women cannot be trusted.”
Perhaps people were just Googling those search terms as a joke. More likely, however, these suggestions might reveal deep-rooted sexism. Although women have made great strides in the last hundred years, sexism and gender inequality are still a very prevalent part of our society. Only twenty percent of senators are female. Female candidates face criticism regarding their clothing and looks far more often than their male counterparts. As of 2013, women still hold only 4.2 percent of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. Women are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men.
Evidence of patriarchy’s continued existence is found in more than just statistics. Casual, everyday conversations can sometimes be just as striking, if not more striking than ads portraying common Google searches involving what women “cannot” be and “should not” do. More than once, while explaining why I was an advocate for women’s equality, I have become involved in an argument in which someone told me they believed women and men have different roles and that the primarily role of women should be child-rearing. These are twenty-first century conversations that I have more often than I would like.
Of course, progress has always required ample time, and advocates of gender equality have accomplished much over the past century; one hundred years ago, women in the United States couldn’t even vote. Maybe simply more time is required to reach perfect gender equality; however, no positive changes can occur if women (and men) are complacent.
Though the fact that this campaign by UN Women is needed is disappointing, supporters of women’s rights can take comfort in knowing they live in a world where activists such as Malala Yousafzai, Sheryl Sandberg, and Hilary Clinton are tirelessly working to overcome gender injustice. The real sign of progress, however, will be when there won’t be a need for people like them to stand up for gender equality, and when gender equality is the norm, not a distant goal. For now, ad campaigns like the one released by UN Women play an important role in highlighting inequality pervasive in our society, even in simple “Google it” searches. The campaign, most of all, shows that the time for change is now so hopefully, next time we “Google it,” we’ll see more about what women can do rather than what they cannot.