A Drone Feminist Manifesto

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have long been the domain of men, say for a few intrepid female souls and despite efforts by many in recent years, men still dominate the sciences. In response many women have made it a goal to get more females interested in pursuing careers in STEM and the term STEMinist has been coined to describe those who focus on encouraging young women and girls to pursue careers in STEM in an attempt to raise the profile of women who have been successful in this area as a way of motivating others. STEMinist sites can be found all over social media: on the web, on Twitter and Facebook. Persons who call themselves STEMinists believe that all groups should be represented equally in the fields in STEM.

The technology found in drones and involved in operating and flying them, falls squarely in the fields of STEM and just as in other areas, there are many more men than women who operate drones especially those who do it professionally. But just as in other areas pioneering women are not sitting back and accepting that as ‘just the way it is’. As the popularity of drones grows so does the resolve of the women involved in opening up the field to others. I call this phenomena, Drone feminism and I fully intend to be part of this movement.

In any area that is dominated by men there are women who are pioneers; women who make a space for others to follow. Amelia Earhart was one of those women. Apart from the feat for which she is best known, which was being the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart was also instrumental in forming an organisation for other female pilots called The Nighty-Nines. She also counselled female students in career choices and was a supporter of the Equal Rights movement.

Another example of a pioneering STEMinist was the famous physicist and chemist Marie Curie. Born into the male dominated world of the 1800s her life story is a narrative filled with firsts- first woman to win a Nobel Prize, first female professor at the University of Paris, first person to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. No one before her conducted the kind of studies on radioactivity that she did in fact she coined the term and ultimately gave her life because of it. Curie is the very definition of a STEMinist and pioneer.

Even in my own area of photography there have been those brave women who cleared a path for the rest of us to follow; who challenged the status quo and opened up opportunities that we could then take advantage of. One such pioneer is the documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. Weakened physically by a bout of polio at a young age, Dorothea swore she would become a photographer after high school and studied photography at Columbia University. In the early 1900s Lange decided to travel around the world, taking and selling photographs. Lange was to become known for her portraits which told the story and gave a human face to periods and events in the United States such as the Great Depression and the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. She became the first woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Her work Migrant Mother, hangs in the Library of Congress.

Other examples of female pioneers in Photography and photo journalism include Susan Meiselas who is known for her photos which documented the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua in the 1970s, and photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark captured among other things the demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the Woman’s Lib. Movement and who won three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the George Eastman House.

So now it is the turn of persons like us to carry on the legacy of those who went before and cleared the way. Aerial photography and filming is becoming more and more popular and more women are joining the ranks but it is still in it’s infancy and it is still dominated by men. There are many challenges for male and female drone journalists. It is a dangerous time for all journalists. While on the one hand news outlets are finally getting the memo that drone journalists can get them the images that take their news stories to the next level (no pun intended), the use of drones for news has opened up a whole complex puzzle of rights and aviation regulations that they aren’t quite equipped to solve. Add to that the issues of the safety of the drone operator, privacy laws and the legality of data protection and it becomes clear that the use of UAVs in journalism is a complicated issue.

I hope to work closely with the community of journalists and their subjects, with whom I have lived and worked most of my adult life, and now the technology and community around drones and the future of robotic enabled Internet tools often called the Internet of Things (IoT). Let us agree to make an effort to assure that today, not just tomorrow that for our daughters, sisters and mothers, we must create a new innovative, empowering industry that works to build on more inclusiveness and is more representative of society.. This is why I am proud to call myself a drone feminist.

By Gail Orenstein-A Drone of Her Own©