Drones are for boys: Gender and popular surveillance culture

I am slated to teach Introduction to new media again (very happy about that). In this course I try to have a signature project for the students that is relevant to their life or the current socio- cultural, political, and historical context. Last time, all of my students were seniors so they did a “master of your own domain” project. This semester, I am planning on some how getting a video capable drone and having the students push the drone to its creative limits through making experimental digital shorts, with the backdrop of learning about the current political and legal, commercial interest etc. conversations around drones.

So… I sent an email to a few drone companies asking if they have any form of educational discount as I will more than likely end up having to purchase the drone myself for use in the classroom, especially if I can’t find an adequate discount. One company replied, not only not answering my question (they suggested a different model), but they started the email to me with “Dear Sir“.


It wasn’t an auto email. Someone replied and called me a sir. I think there are two reasons for this. Someone sees teaching fellow/professor and assumes male… (and I guess Jade is sort of unisex, but I’ve never met a man named Elizabeth) and drones seem to be for boys and men… specifically middle aged white men with a good amount of disposable income. Now, I am not saying they are the only ones who use drones for fun. However, I spent almost all of Saturday and half of Sunday watching people’s drone videos and tips, and comparisons, etc (I should probably be ashamed of the amount of hours I spent (seriously, it was more than 15)… and none of the people coming from the US did not fit that demographic. It was a bit shocking. I didn’t expect it to be so homogenous. So, I feel even more determined to have my class use a drone for the purpose of a creative intervention. The demographics of my University and the major means our courses tend to have more women than men. I want them to make videos and share them.

Boys grow up and get remote control toys like airplane and cars. I guess girls are supposed to get easy bake ovens and baby dolls. Boys grow into men and the toys are upgraded to drones. Girls become mothers and get the kitchen. That is what this is feeling like.
When girls are depicted as doing surveillance it is almost always to show they are crazy and unhinged. There are a few things where women get to be spies or thieves too with special gadgets, etc, but the popular trope of the snooping girlfriend or wife seems to be dominant and pretty well accepted. When are doing surveillance they are generally super cool spies, action heroes, military (or related career) men, or hobbyist with a bunch of disposable income and time. I was one of those little girls that loved cooking, but on a stove… and even more than cooking loved my chemistry set and my race track. I always wanted remote control vehicles instead of the barbies and baby dolls i would get. The barbies lost their heads, and the dolls were never touched. I longed to see commercials as a kid that showed that things like hotwheels were for me too so when I told my family and other kdis that I wanted boy toys it would be normal. This is part of the reason the lack of representation of girl droners out in the world populating the YouTubes was so… epically sad for me. That this seems to be so culturally ingrained, and from a young age makes me sad too. But it seems to be our popular surveillance culture. I desperately want drones to be for girls too though.

Anyway, if anyone out there in the silence of the internet has suggestions for affordable video capable drones, please send them. I’m thinking that all the companies will say no about educational discounts right now (and all of them might call me a sir), but… I will find a way to make this happen.

Also, if there are any amazing girl droners or research out there and on gender demographics and/or the culture of drone hobbyists (did a search and found nothing), that would be awesome too.

1 thought on “Drones are for boys: Gender and popular surveillance culture

  1. I am a geeky type 57 year old female and a bit late getting into the drone world however I am finding them fun and fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experience. I learned a new term: “droners”! 🙂

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