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Do Women Reject Computers?

2009 January 24
by Natasha

In Rosalind Gill and Keith Grint’s Introduction to The Gender-Technology Relation, the authors discuss Sherry Turkle’s paper. They summarize her writing as saying that women enact a gender role in disliking computers, that by “rejecting computers they are doing femininity” (11). This was a particularly interesting comment in light of the fact that I am a female computer science major. So, it doesn’t really seem that I’m rejecting computers at all; it appears I am embracing them (though I am being very open in interpreting the term computer here). Was I losing femininity by choosing this major? It didn’t really feel like it. But then again I go to an all women’s college. When you attend a computer science class here, it’s 90% women. When you go to the computer lab here (to do your homework, to do a joint project with other women, to discuss assignments, to discuss life), it’s 90% women. Also, since this is a women’s college, the computer science department here wants women in the field, and so they’re constantly thinking of ways to make the field attractive to women – by making computer science fun, real, and interactive, by giving intro students their own robot to program for the semester, and by encouraging collaboration and cooperation. I think the program here, though, is radically different from that at most colleges.

I was eating lunch this summer with seven of my fellow interns at ITA Software Inc., all of whom were male (there were female interns at the company, but that particular day I was eating only with guys), and I told them that my computer science classes consisted mainly of women. They laughed. They all had so few women in their computer science classes that they found it incongruous to imagine a CS classroom with a majority of women. Indeed, according to The New York Times article “What has Driven Women out of Computer Science?” (check the article out here for some facts on the status of women in the field), women comprised only 22 percent of computer science undergraduates receiving degrees in 2004-5. While I may be embracing computers, a lot of women in perhaps less female-receptive learning environments, are not.

It is unclear to me whether Turkle’s comments are in reference to computers themselves, computer science as a field, or technology in general. In light of that, I’d like to make another point which troubles my previous statement of “embracing computers”. I’ve always liked Math and problem-solving. I remember my best friend in fourth grade and I using those wooden unit cubes to learn long division and having a lot of fun. The aspect of creative problem-solving is what drew me to computer science, not computers. Also, as someone who loves nature and (in general) dislikes TV, I fit into the eco-feminists’ dogma viewing women as connected to the earth. So to be clear, it is the field of computer science that I personally am embracing, rather than computers themselves (these are in some ways quite disparate things).   If Turkle was indeed commenting that many women reject computer science, than I am among the minority and her comment holds.

If she is saying women reject computers and technology, then while she has a point it is an exaggeration. I remember my Dad fixing the washing machine, and my Mom refusing to use email. I remember many guys loving video games and many girls not being as enthused. I remember computer games being more neutral territory, though it seemed more guys became obsessed with them. But I also recall TV and movies – and don’t those count as technology too? – being in my perception equally beloved by males and females (on another note, though, there are a lot more famous male directors than female directors, and hence more males control the content produced using this technology). I remember, too, many of my high school female friends who used AIM every night, were impressive google-searchers, and used Word to type up their papers. So while technology may be “masculine culture”, I wouldn’t exactly say that women “reject computers”.

One Response
  1. Baibh Cathba permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Ah, but then there is also the issue of “soft” technology and “hard” technology. The same way that the social sciences are seen as “soft” and “not that difficult to do” by others is because it is often associated with women (see SOCIAL), whereas the “men’s tech” is seen as very difficult to perform. I think watching a movie is “easy” so not really “technology” as perceived in the general purview, whereas the production of movies, a generation of sorts, is seen as a masculine thing. Why else would there be so much mythology surrounding the power of the creations of men?

    In a continuation of the above, I think that as a woman who loves technology, it will be easier to get a job. This is what I often refer to as “the boob clause” where women being so sparse in the field (not that they are “tech adverse” but rather… “tech avoidant” because of cultural upbringing) are often singled out to be part of the “evening out” of the workforce. This indicates to the more closed minds (in a manner similar to affirmative action) that this means they are not “up for the job” and are being brought in because they own a pair of mammary glands (their own, not boobs from someone else). I think with all these factors, women are not “tech adverse”, but are often brought up to be. (And as you mentioned with women and nature, this is especially a point of interest as women are seen as nurturing and “giving”, whereas tech is rather harsh and “unnatural”)

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