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It’s Not That Simple: The Gendering of Computers

It’s Not That Simple: The gendering of computers

I have been a die-hard supporter of the Microsoft computer franchise and all of its inbred babies since I was first given control of the household Dell as a child. I have grown up learning the intricacies and frustrations that go hand-in-hand with a computer that blue screens when upset, and makes angry noises in every other circumstance. Never did I consider my choice of computer as a way of gendering myself, or assigning myself to a stereotype that could color my social interactions for most of my adolescent life.

In her article about “automating gender,” Judith Halberstam writes that, “We recognize the apple computer symbol, I think, as a clever icon for the digitalization of the creation myth.” By drawing this parallel, she draws another: that Eve is also connected in with Apple’s symbol, a connection which irrevocably ties the female to the Macintosh brand of computers. Not that she presents this as a bad thing. Halberstam remarks, “…the apple and the female cyborg [Eve] symbolize a mass cultural computer technology,” which is an idea reminiscent of previous class discussions regarding a utopic relationship between gender and technology.

Female PC user

Female Mac user

The problem with this metaphor is not a problem with Halberstam’s argument, but rather with the entire culture regarding Macintosh and the stereotype of its users. If woman is linked with Mac, then as the Mac’s opponent, man is linked with the PC. Let us consider for a moment, the stereotypes of these two computing systems: the PC is technical, less user-friendly (apparently), comparatively less attractive, better at making spreadsheets, and consequently most work-related activities, and has more serious gaming abilities. The Mac is known for making excellent movies, having fantastic music players, being user-friendly, and aimed at the younger crowd. So what does that say about the genders associated with these computers?

There are two possible answers to this question. The first is the suggestion that the stereotyping of the computers reflects the stereotyping of genres, while the second suggests that by gendering the computer systems, we are actually forcing gender to conform to one of the given stereotypes. The second of these answers is more problematic in regards to furthering understanding and conversation between the genders and the computer users. If all PC users are convinced that Mac users “artsy” and the Mac users regard PC users as “workaholics,” then more hatred and distrust is likely to spread.

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How as a society do we break the stereotype of women as artists and men as office workers?

The most admirable attempt at using technology to gender one of these systems was the Macintosh 1984 advertisement run at the early onset of the attempted Mac take-over. It features a female athlete running into a big-brother-esque scene and hurling a sledge-hammer through a man’s face projected on the screen. The woman herself is striking, but not the typically sexual creature normally featured in advertisements.

Despite this early attempt, Macintosh inadvertently took the conflict between itself and its competitor into the realm of gender studies. Because of the woman portrayed as the minority, or the lone warrior, Mac furthered the idea that women were somehow disparate to men, and that there needed to be that divide present. Many theorists have argued that such does not have to be the case, but few can offer a solution that would resolve the question of how do we deal with gender separation?

Computers certainly are not yet the solution to this. Currently, forum wars rage over the relative successes and “betterness” of [Insert “PC/Mac/LINUX” here]. If we assign genders to operating systems, then are we encouraging the conflict, and impossibility of communication? Although, on the opposite side of the spectrum, it is difficult to theorize if the removal of gender in technology would be in any way less conflicted.

The problem faced by people in the computer industry is how to resolve the conflicts between not only the genders, but also between the creators of the computers the genders use. Forum talk alone is probably single-handedly responsible for most of the hate-mongering that goes on towards both Mac and PC, and also towards men and women. However, how does one go around shutting down the opinions of the entire internet? How can we possibly create an online society that is in any way harmonious? And if we truly can define our gender based on our computers, wouldn’t we want our computers to say what we think about ourselves?

Works Cited:

Booth, William. “Gender? It’s A Gray Area.” The Washington Post. Sept. 24, 2006.>

Friedman, Ted. “Apple’s 1984: The Introduction of the Macintosh

in the Cultural History of Personal Computers.” Duke. <>

Halberstam, Judith. “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Feminist Studies. College Park: 17.3 (1991): 439-450.

Zuska a.k.a. Suzanne E. Franks. “PC vs Mac: Race and Gender in Advertising.” <>. October 1, 2008.

One Response
  1. February 25, 2009

    I buy your argument that PC’s are “male” and Macs are “female” but you don’t seem to go very far with it. I wonder if one can find out how many mac users are women and how many are men and what would this say about the gendering of these two types of computers. My impression of these computers, based on going to many a technology conference, is that mac owners tend to be more creative, more open to possibilities, more likely to buck the system. Is that female? I think your argument could benefit from a thorough analysis of mac and pc ad campaigns and perhaps forums. Use those as sources to support an argument that these computers are gendered or not. Or maybe it’s just computer ownership in general that’s gendered male? Something to think about.

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