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January 24, 2014

Microsoft Apologizes for Tweet Suggesting Older Women are Computer Illiterate

While the topic of sexism in advertising isn’t a new one, the backlash has been a little louder lately. It seems each month, another blatantly ridiculous ad is under fire for depicting offensive gender roles and even gender-based violence (the fashion industry is particularly guilty of the latter…apparently nothing says “you need this handbag” better than an image of an oiled model on her knees wearing a dog collar.) And lest anyone think the sexism is confined to women, men haven’t escaped it, either. Every other television ad seems to depict Dad as a bumbling buffoon who can’t even figure out how to work the kitchen sink tap while the kids roll their eyes lamenting their bad luck at being fathered by a complete idiot.

And then, of course, there are commercials for Axe brand men’s shower products, which belong in a category of their own. The company’s ads continue to remind us that if young men use their products, they will instantly transform from nervous, twitching nerds into studs with washboard abs who have to beat off the hot, semi-nude women climbing in their bedroom windows because they now smell like the pineal gland of some small dead furry forest creature mixed with pine sap and motor oil.

So if sexism sells well in advertising (the industry seems to have concluded), let’s try ageism! Even better, let’s combine sexism and ageism! Microsoft knocked this theory out of the park recently with a Twitter-based ad campaign for its Windows Azure cloud computing platform. A tweet on the company’s @WindowsAzure Twitter account displayed a picture of a sixtyish woman with white hair and the tag line, "What do you do when your 68-year-old secretary needs Active Directory Multi-Factor Authentication? Ask Dear Azure."

Well, there it is. It’s so easy even an older woman can do it. Hey, Grandma! It’s in large type and uses small words, and even has a large, blinking button on the screen that reads, ‘Click here, you dim old broad!’

Understandably, the backlash was swift and laser-targeted. Many of the Tweets that followed, highlighted by Business Insider, were humorous: “What a hideous employer. Sexist, ageist *and* they force her to use Windows?” and “I would guess that the answer will be that she installs Linux on her laptop herself…”

The company apologized for the Tweet quickly. Microsoft’s James Arlen, who goes by the handle ‏@myrcurial, sent a reply Tweet that read, “Saying ‘I screwed up’ is much > than saying ‘It is unfortunate that you were offended,’” referring to the non-apology that is popular today among disgraced politicians and talk show hosts.

The ironic part is that it’s the second time this week that Microsoft has been in hot water for sexism. Earlier this week, Business Insider reported that the company’s BizSpark Twitter account promoted a new Russian online beauty contest called "MissWeb,” in which men vote for women based on their looks.

In the meantime, education professionals and policy makers sit around scratching their heads and wondering why women aren’t flocking into computing and technology professions. Maybe it’s the computer science professors’ lack of Axe body spray? 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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