Porn star to give prize at computing conference

Even if you thought the world of computing was a little unbalanced, gender-wise, you may still find this a bit of a shock. An ex Playboy centrefold will be handing in the prize for best papers!

But check out the rest of Hannah Dee’s blog for some more heartening news about women in computing.

4 thoughts on “Porn star to give prize at computing conference

  1. I’m a bit disappointed in this post – especially it’s title. “Porn star” is hardly an accurate description for a model who posed for a Playboy centerfold in 1972.

    According to one webpage page: “Lena Soderberg (ne Sjööblom) was last reported living in her native Sweden, happily married with three kids and a job with the state liquor monopoly,” and another says, “Currently, Lenna lives near Stockholm and works for a government agency supervising handicapped employees archiving data using, appropriately, computers and scanners.”
    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~chuck/lennapg/
    http://www.ee.cityu.edu.hk/~lmpo/lenna/Lenna97.html

    And here are some pictures from a similar conference she attended in 1997:
    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~chuck/lennapg/lenna_visit.html

    While there is definitely a discussion to be had of sexism in a male-dominated industry here, surely this isn’t a fair characterization of Ms. Soderberg or her involvement with this event.

  2. First off, I agree with Derek regarding the sensationalistic nature of the post (especially the title). Its unfortunate for two reasons: First, for just being a bit unfair to Ms. Soderberg, as Derek notes. Second, it also threatens to obscure what is, in fact, a much more interesting, more complicated situation – one worth thinking about.

    It seems likely that Ms. Soderberg was invited to these events (both the 1997 one and the more recent one) primarily because a cropped, safe-for-work version of her 1972 Playboy centerfold became a standard test image for image processing software, beginning in 1973. In short, it seems that she is a minor celebrity in the computer industry not for her later work (e.g. with the handicapped, etc.), but because a particular image of her (presumably used without her, or Playboy’s, permission) became somewhat iconic within the field. I am speculating a bit here, but most of the posts I have found regarding these appearances have a pretty clear “Meet the real Lenna!” vibe to them (“Lenna” is the spelling used in the Playboy photos, and is the spelling that is used for the test image in question – “Lena” is the Swedish spelling of Ms. Soderberg’s name).

    [All of this is detailed in the links Derek provided – but I thought it worth emphasizing for those who might not click the links.]

    So the situation isn’t as simple (i.e. simply bad) as having a scantily clad porn star add some titillation to the awards presentation. But it also isn’t as simple (i.e. simply candycoated?) as merely featuring a former nude model who has risen above these unfortunate beginnings to become a pillar of the community. Insofar as her invitation to these events is connected to her objectification, idolization, and iconic status within the image-processing world, whatever is going on here seems more complicated and more worthy of critical attention than either extreme.

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