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2009 January 25
by Shikha

I’m a senior Biology and Computer Science double major at Bryn Mawr. I was born in India, but I have grown up in 6 countries. I have spent most of my life in Europe and have constantly struggled to balance the Western values I learned at school and saw outside my home in general, and the Indian values I was taught and expected to follow by my parents. Surprisingly, however, my parents have never differentiated between my brother and I. We have always been allowed to do the same things. I say this is surprising because there is a big gender divide in Indian society. Even within my extended family, there are many things my female cousins are not allowed to do but my male cousins are.

I have always been fascinated by gadgets. I have never thought of technology as only appealing to or only for men. My parents have never been too technologically savvy, so after my brother left for college (I was still very young then), I was always the one who used (and often unsuccessfully attempted to fix) the family computer. It’s always just been something I’m interested in, just like some people are interested in baseball, for example.

I have, however, felt the divide outside of my home. Whenever someone (almost everyone not from the Bico) asks me what major I am, all is fine while I’m saying Biology, but as soon as I start saying Computer Science, they raise their eyebrows, and put on the “wow didn’t see that one coming” look on their face. It amused me in the beginning, but then it started to get annoying. Why don’t they have that look when a boy says he’s a CS major?

I have noticed that many women are almost scared to take a CS class, despite there being no fear of “i’ll be the only girl!” Sometimes when a friend is looking for another class, I recommend the introductory CS class and more often than not, the reaction is: oh no! i’ll never be able to do well in that class! it’s so hard! This reaction, mind you, is before they even know what CS is about. After I explain a little bit, they seem more comfortable with it, but still hesitant. So, if we are able to better articulate what CS (or technology in general) really is (and that it’s definitely not scary), would it be more appealing to women?

When I was young, I would sit with my mom sometimes as she was sewing and would want to sew something. If something went wrong with the sewing machine, my mom would almost always be able to fix it. I never thought much of it. It’s her machine, she works with it a lot, so she knows how to fix it. But recently when I was home, I realized that the sewing machine is a type of technology. If my mother can be so adept at it, why not at other things? Why do these skills seem natural and acceptable in society? Are there similar technologies that are…feminine?

There are many similar questions in my mind that I hope will be answered in this class. I look forward to many interesting discussions!

2 Responses
  1. January 26, 2009

    I think a lot about “feminine” technologies like washing machines and dishwashers. In theory, machines like these were made to make women’s work easier, but they have served in many ways to further tie her to the home. Many of the commercials for washing machines are aimed specifically at women. The one with Kelly Ripa really annoys me. Sewing machines, too, have led to things like sweatshops that exploit cheap female labor as opposed to computers that have brought about the advent of many high-paying jobs. It will be interesting to think about these issues further.

  2. Baibh Cathba permalink
    January 26, 2009

    OOH! and what about those “swifter” commercials where they make it sound like they’re “breaking up” with the old technology? What kind of gender role things are they teaching young women? That we should dump the “old tech”?

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