A Rant about Pioneer's Plaque

[Pioneer spacecraft plaque]

Do you think that they will think his arm is permanently attached in this position?
Laurie Anderson, "Say Hello"

Okay, this subject was probably beaten to death in the 1970s, but I missed it. It really bugs me, and I need to rant about it. It's about the plaque on the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. There's the location of Earth, and a hydrogen atom, and a silhouette of the spacecraft, and a man and a woman. The man has his right hand raised in greeting.

The man? The man? What about the woman? She's just standing there. Doesn't she rate enough to greet an alien civilization? Or is that solely a man's prerogative?

Ick! And what makes this worse is that the plaque was designed by Dr. Carl Sagan and Dr. Frank Drake. C'mon, I know it must have been in the 1960s, but even so, I expect much better from you, Carl. You did so much wonderful work. I'm sure you regretted this oversight later. It's even more frustrating when you consider that the peoples' proportions were averaged over the different races. All that effort to be equal, and the woman is still subordinate.

It really bothers me that this sexist image is the first ones that aliens might see.

Tell you what. Let's mount an expedition to go find the spacecraft and exchange the old plaque for one in which both people have hands raised in greeting. It's the least we can do. What do you say?

You can get more information on Pioneer 10 and 11 at NASA.


Okay, so I hadn't done all my research. According to Wikipedia, a similar image was included on Voyager's gold record, but with the female figure raising her hand. (Good for the Voyager team.) Also, the people were drawn by Linda Sagan. She probably wanted to offer a greeting (raised arm) yet not indicate that all people had one raised arm (the Laurie Anderson problem). She had to choose one to give the greeting, and chose the man. No matter how you slice it, either choice would have been sexist, but that's the way it had to have been. Okay, folks?

Remember, this is a rant (and an old one at that), and arguing with a rant wastes everyone's time. So don't bother.


Last updated 17 November 2004
All contents (except plaque image) ©1998-2004 Mark L. Irons

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