Archive for February, 2009

“Women and Technology”

Last week, when trying to prepare to present articles in class, I went to YouTube and did a search for “women and technology”. There were a couple of videos with that name that came up that were very degrading. Basically, they were depictions of women having trouble using a piece of technology. Here are a couple of examples (and I only post them here to show the ridiculousness…I do not endorse the blatant stereotype at all):

Yet, when I did the same search and changed “women” to “men”, there was not one single video of men having problems using technology.

I worked at a helpdesk for a large insurance firm for five years. I know for a fact that men struggle with technology:

  • I had one man call and tell me to reboot the mouse server because his mouse wasn’t working anymore. He was dead serious.
  • Another man insisted to me that his FAX machine could run on his DSL line.
  • It was a man who, after listening to our automated message stating that the network was down and we were working on the problem, told me “I know the message said the network is down, but I want to know why I can’t get email.
  • It was a man who kept referring to his docking station as a “black thingy”.
  • It was a man who asked me, in all seriousness, if I could see him through the monitor when I remoted into his computer.

Yes, many women called me and said just as ridiculous stuff. But, my point is, all men are not born with an innate ability to understand technology. In the same vein, all women are not born with this automatic inability to be able to use technology.

It’s time to remove these negative stereotypes about women and technology!


Memes and gender

This week and next week, I am not going to discuss an article from the readings in my Gender and Computing class, because I will be acting as “lead discussant” during class both weeks, and (per the syllabus) we are supposed to exclude those articles from our blog posts.

So, this week I want to discuss something I found interesting that’s kind of related. It definitely deals with gender, and a computer was involved!

I’m a regular user of the social networking site Facebook. Lately, there’s been a rash of memes, where people will post questions and answers in their “notes” and tag their friends. If you are tagged, you are supposed copy the meme, change the answers to be your own, post it in your own notes, and tag your own friends. Basically, the chain letter has taken another form.

Anyway, around Valentine’s Day, a friend posted two different sets of questions. One was supposed to be answered by men about their wives/girlfriends and the other was supposed to be answered by women about their husbands/boyfriends. The first thing I noticed about these lists was that some of the questions were different. (Thanks to this class I now have a much more gender-critical eye! LOL) I thought it was interesting, and asked why that was the case. Then, the following discussion between me, two females and two males ensued. (I’ve removed the names of the people involved, except myself, for their privacy.)

MALE 1 at 11:47pm February 13
YEah… uh… good luck with that. We’re men. We build things, we solve spatial problems. We kill spiders.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 11:50pm February 13
Maybe I should have sent them to the women, to send to the men. You guys might have had more um, motivation, to do it then. Oh well.

MALE 1 at 12:29am February 14
Too many questions, not enough beer and football. 🙂

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 1:25am February 14
Hey, you guys answered other Facebook notes. This is no different. Don’t let the lack of man points deter you from having fun and/or pleasing your woman. 🙂
Then again, maybe I made an error in judgement making this. No one has to do it after all.

A different FEMALE at 1:58am February 14
Good effort, [FEMALE who posted original sets of questions] 🙂 I would forward it to my husband…but I suspect I’d get a similar response as [MALE 1] gave!! (actually, I think I might print this out and use it for date night discussion instead, might be more productive that way…)

Jenny Hertel at 8:40am February 14
Why are the questions for the men different than for the women? Just curious. I’m intrigued why guys are expected to know the women’s dress size but women are asked about his fave sports team. Or, men are asked what women want to change about them but women are asked what the women do that they wish they wouldn’t do.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 1:08pm February 14
I am the one who changed them. I thought about leaving them all the same, but then, I thought this was better. Men are more apt to buy lingerie, dresses, sweaters, etc. as gifts than they are shoes. And they buy flowers (though I personally forbid anyone buying flowers for me.) A lot of women have a favorite sports team but a lot still don’t.
Many I changed just because I thought they were better, regardless of gender. For example: ones with separate parts (which includes the “wish you wouldn’t do”/”change”) because I thought there should be more detail when I answered the one about men. I thought extra-curriculars, hobbies and academic subjects say more about any person than collections and the name of a high school,
I do think men and women will always be different, even if society today leans towards ignoring or changing that fact. I would rather celebrate the differences, myself.

Jenny Hertel at 1:39pm February 14 at 3:18pm February 14
I agree that men and women will always be different. I think, tho, that the differences themselves are different for different people. Did you get that? LOL I just mean that the idea of what is masculine and what is feminine is socially constructed–what is masculine for one person may not be so for another.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 3:18pm February 14
your right, that is actually one of the reasons I changed it & left all sports out, because not everyone cares, including men. Kevin was like, ‘but I don’t really have a favorite team…” He said he’d pick the Colts if he had to pick.
Also I wanted to say that the differences between men and women are evident in the comments. Look how the men are refusing to even do the survey because it wouldn’t be masculine!

MALE 1 at 5:39pm February 14
Regarding the shoe question: I’d never buy a pair of shoes for someone without them there. Nobody has generic sized feet, and the odds of getting it right are nil to .000001.

Inherently this poll is sexist. You ask what a guy knows about his woman… to make it truly gender-neutral, you’d have to come up with gender-neutral questions. Personally, that would even be MORE boring.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 5:50pm February 14
I tried to improve on some of them, but I left a bunch alone. My this is causing controversy! Its just a little note.

MALE 1 at 5:52pm February 14
The main thing is, no guy wants to be grilled on his knowledge of his woman. It’s not something we like to play “guess what I know about”. WE know our women and know how to use that information (or how to find it out), but to divulge that information in public just isn’t done.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 5:57pm February 14
Most of these questions were on the original survey, including the political one. I REALLY don’t want people to know who I voted for, but I left it on there, as I answered it on the original it only seemed fair.
No one has to answer, or publicly post…

Jenny Hertel at 7:03pm February 14
I wouldn’t say it’s controversy…just discussion. Discussion is good 🙂

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 7:59pm February 14
The original survey for women to fill out should looked at as well. There were a lot of gender specific things in there and I am pretty sure it floated around Facebook for a long time with NO ONE commenting on that.

MALE 2 at 8:00pm February 14
Seems like questions that ask specifics about women are…what? Too demanding? While the questions of a similar depth for men are OK? Are men so simplistic that women are obliged to know their sundry details intimately, but men cannot?

I didn’t have a problem with any of the questions. But then, I would be able to answer all of them. Perhaps it’s not the questions but what thoughts they bring up that’s the problem.

And that’s not something anyone can control.

FEMALE who posted original sets of questions at 8:03pm February 14
Oh, Jenny, there are quiz books like this for people that are engaged. [name removed] and I did them and there is a pink one about the woman and a blue one about the man, and they have completely different questions in them.

Contextualizing Computer Science Education

I’m a little behind on my weekly post for my Gender and Computing class. This week’s topic was “Environmental and educational factors. Experiences of females and males in and out of computer science programs.”

One paper we read evaluated at an initiative by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim to increase the number of women enrolled in computer science programs that began in 1997. But, it’s not that particular study that struck me about this paper. Rather, I found a point in the author’s background research and interpretation of that research intriguing.

The author listed four ways to get more women to study computer science that she extrapolated from the results of many research studies. One of those ways is “Changing the Gendered Image of Computer Science”. One study which helped the formation of this method was conducted in 1998, and the authors stated that:

…changing the professional localization of computer courses, from being associated with technical and mathematical subjects to becoming broader and based on social subjects and arts, will increase the proportion of women studying computer science. This assumption is based on the observation that there are more women in computer science programmes that are situated in facilities other than mathematics and science [1].

This was one of those that “made me go hmmmmm….” I started thinking about IU. Here, there are four different technology-based programs: Computer Science (CS), Informatics (INFO), Library Information Science (SLIS), and Instructional Systems Technology (IST). (Don’t get me started on why there are 4 different programs that focus on almost the same thing…..)

I do not know much about IST, so I will not say anything about that. But, I do know that SLIS has more women than men in the program. CS has more men than women, and INFO is pretty even (I think…not positive, but I am an INFO student, and I know I see a lot of both men and women around the buildings and in my classes). So, that seems to confirm what the 1998 study was assuming–it’s the whole “Computer Science” label that puts women off. But, when it’s not labeled “CS”, they don’t seem to have a problem studying technology.

Another study mentioned was published in 1999 and proposed including “humanistic and socially oriented features within courses, as well as a greater emphasis on communication skills and technology assessment, and history of science and technology.” [1]

When I read that part, I thought, “Exactly!” From my own personal perspective and experience, this makes sense. I am able to comprehend something much more easily if I understand how it fits into the big picture and how it is used in the real world. Here’s an example:

When I was in third grade, we began to learn fractions. I really struggled with this concept in class, and I failed my first test. Whenever we failed a test, we had to take it home and have our parent(s) sign it. I was so ashamed at failing that when I handed the test to my mom with that big fat red “F” at the top, I was crying. She asked me what happened, and I told her that I had tried, I really did. I just didn’t understand how fractions worked. So, she took me into the kitchen and got out all of her measuring cups and some recipes. Then, she had me practice measuring out different items. Then, she had me half the amounts. In just one hour of me measuring flour and water, I learned more about fractions than I ever did in two weeks of classroom instruction. I think for me it was the real-world application and visual examples that helped me to “get it”.

So, I think that we need to take the focus off the words “Computer Science” and provide context for why things are done in technology field. For example, instead of making an ability to write in C++ an end goal, give students projects in which knowledge of C++ will help them achieve their end goal.

[1] Lagesen, V. A. (2007). The strength of numbers: Strategies to include women in computer science. Social Studies of Science, 37(1), 67-92.

Gender attitudes toward computers

Are females less interested than males in computers?

I’ve had a few discussions with some people about the topic of the gender computing gap, and more than once people have made statements like, “Women just aren’t interested in computers.” One friend equated the lack of women’s interest in working in IT with the lack of interest that women have in working as auto mechanics, as if such interests are biological.

Biology has nothing to do with it. This “interest”, or rather, lack thereof, is socially constructed.

One of the articles we read this week described a study in which they compared the actual abilities of men and women to use the Internet with the subjects’ perceived ability. The results were that there is no difference in the skills of either gender. But, women were more likely to see themselves as being deficient, even when they were not [1].

Why might that be? My personal theory is that women have grown up with a stereotype ingrained in their minds that girls aren’t as good as boys when it comes to using technology. After years and years of being told this (in direct and indirect ways), they come to believe it. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.

A different article we read this week backs me up on this. “The majority of boys in grade 5 are convinced that boys know more about computers than girls do” [2]. And you know that fifth grade boys are not going to be shy about this opinion. Fifth grade girls are going to hear all about that impression.

The authors explain further:

…the more positive the computer attitude of a student, the more interested he ore she will be in using computers and trying (new) ICT applications, resulting in an even more positive attitude toward computers. Because girls show lower intensity and lower self-efficacy in computer use than boys, these reciprocal relations may increase gender differences in computer attitudes in the long term. In other words, gender differences in computer attitudes may increase with age [2].

No, I don’t think women mean it when they say “I’m just not interested in working in IT.” Since the field was created by white men, and the value system is based on white male values, and the school curriculum for computer science was also created by white males, they most likely mean “I know where I’m not welcome.”

[1] Hargittai, E., & Shafer, S. (2006). Differences in actual and perceived online skills: The role of gender. Social Science Quarterly, 87(2), 432-448.

[2] Meelissen, M. R. M., & Drent, M. (2007). Gender differences in computer attitudes: Does the school matter? Computers in Human Behavior, 24(3), 969-985.

Can peer networking for women reverse the gender computer gap?

This post is another in the “series” I’m writing as a requirement for my Gender and Computing class. This week’s topic is “Gender on the Web: Visual representation and communication on the Web”.

Three of the articles we read were content analyses. One analyzed the home pages of adolescents, one focused on video logs from YouTube, and one looked at British blogs.

Some common finding in these three studies is that women tended to use the Internet more for social reasons, while men were more likely to be more interested in obtaining information. And, women tended to share personal information more than men while men were more likely to express opinions [2, 3, 4].

I am a member and officer of Indiana University’s Women in Informatics and Computing (WIC). And, as chance would have it, today, while I was reading and contemplating these papers about gender and web use, I received an email from the WIC listserv that contained a link to the following ComputerWorld Article: “Every IT woman needs a peer network: Here’s why”

After reading that, I immediately thought of another study I read recently. Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need female role models more than males need male role models. One possible reason for this is “Because, women face negative stereotypes regarding their competence in the workplace, they may derive particular benefit from the example of an outstanding woman who illustrates the possibility of overcoming gender barriers to achieve success.” [1]

In an earlier post, I wrote that I believed that the idea that technology is more masculine is socially constructed. However, as Molyneaux et. al pointed out, “socially constructed meanings are neither fixed nor unalterable” [2]. I think that we can use the facts that women prefer to socially interact online and they are willing to share information in conjunction with the fact that women need female role models as another method of reversing the gender computing gap.

And, that can be done through such peer networking, especially for those women who are working in IT already or who are studying an IT-related field. Such networking would allow women to socially interact (both online and offline) and share personal information with role models. I know that my own participation in WIC has really helped me to feel more confident in my computing abilities, and I believe that same benefit can be achieved by others in similar networks.

[1] Lockwood, P. (2006). Someone like me can be successful: Do college students need same-gendered role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly. 30(1), 36-46.

[2] Molyneaux, H., O’Donnell, S., Gibson, K., & Singer, J. (2008). Exploring the gender divide on YouTube: An analysis of the creation and reception of vlogs. American Communication Journal, 10(2), 1-14.

[3] Pedersen, S., & Macafee, C. (2007). Gender differences in British blogging. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4).

[4] Stern, S. R. (2004). Expressions of identity online: Prominent features and gender differences in adolescents’ WWW home pages. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(2), 218-243.