Archive for the ‘Gender and Computerization’ Category

Stand up and Speak Out!

I’m constantly scouring the ‘net for UX resources.  One of the tools I use is Twitter. Several UX practitioners tweet daily with links to UX-related articles, studies, and even humor.

Last night, one of the UX practitioners I follow tweeted a link to a JPG of “If Browsers were Women”.  (I am NOT going to post the link.  If you’re interested in seeing it, a quick google search will find it for you.  But, my posting it here will defeat the purpose of this post.)  This JPG consisted of images of buxom, scantily-dressed women and descriptions relating their physical appearance and bedroom skills to the features of different browsers.

I was appalled that someone tweeting in a professional manner would promote the sexual objectification of women. Of course, I am opposed to such objectification of any sex (which is why I also chose not to post a link to the response I found, “If Browsers were Men”).  And, I realize that blatant sexism and misogyny is pretty rampant on the ‘net. As a ‘net junkie, I see it every single day. But, to see that come through a resource that I consider professional was shocking to me.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was shocked.  About a month ago, I had the same feeling when I read this description of what happened during the keynote at the Flashbelt Flash developers’ conference. The field of technology is male-dominated and has its roots in the beliefs of white males.  Since misogyny is, sadly, a historical male value*, I should expect that that such sexism is going to rear its ugly head at some point.

(* NOTE:  I do not believe that all white males who work in technology hold sexist/misogynistic values, and I honestly believe that the majority of people I personally know who work in technology are fair-minded, decent humans. But, we cannot deny the history. See all of my previous posts on Gender and Computerization for more of my opinions on this topic.)

Anyway…after seeing that tweet, I immediately un-followed the poster, replied via tweet, and went to his website and sent him a message. The message I sent him via email turned out to be a little harsher than I would have liked–the danger of writing when you are caught up in the heat of the moment. But, I did try not to come off as some “feminazi bitch” (as I have been called before). I then came here to my blog and wrote a post about the sexual objectification of women.

Blogging is a way for me to make sense of what’s in my head, and I find it very useful when I’m especially emotional, whether happy or angry.  But, that emotion has a way of making me irrational.  See, I was convinced that, since many of my previous attempts to call out folks on sexism and misogyny had been met with being called a “feninazi bitch” that the same thing would happen in this instance.  So, I published the angry post without waiting for his response.

And, then I saw his email.  The person had responded rather quickly to my message. He sincerely apologized to me, deleted his tweet, and publicly apologized to his other followers.  He then thanked me for bringing it to his attention.  He had no intent of promoting the objectification of women. He just thought it was funny and wanted to inject some humor into his daily tweeting.

I immediately deleted my angry blog post (though some may have seen a link to it, as I couldn’t stop my auto-feed to twitter in time.  Sorry about any confusion that may have caused!), re-followed him, and emailed him back to thank him.

Now, arguing if it this JPG is funny or not is a completely different post.  I didn’t think so, and I believe that if you do, then you harbor sexist beliefs.  But, don’t we all harbor beliefs that, at some point later in life, we wish we hadn’t? That’s what I want this blog post to be about.

Example:  I was born and raised near the Mason-Dixon line.  Many of my family are extremely racist.  It was normal for me to hear black people be called the “N word”. I think that I may have at some point, believed some of the stereotypes about black people, simple because it was all I was ever told.  But, then I went out and faced the real world, and had my own experiences that made me begin to think that some of the things I used to believe just didn’t add up. And, quite a few times, it had to be pointed out to me that something I said or something I had done could be viewed as being racist by others.

It was only when I became aware of my words and actions when I could do something about them.

I think sexism is the same, in that regard. It used to be commonly accepted by the general public that women are the weaker sex, just as it used to be accepted that black people are inferior. But, as more people began to question these beliefs and stand up for black people, the less accepted those beliefs became. Of course, racism is still alive and well today, but it is nowhere near the level of the pre-Civil Rights era. I think (hope) sexism and misogyny can benefit from the same fate.

But, it’s going to take people like me, and like you, to (in the words of my favorite Star Trek captain) Make It So. Whenever we see cases of sexism and misogyny (as well as racism and homophobia…and many other injustices in this world), we need to stand up and speak out. Yeah, it’s likely that we’re going to get scorned.  But, it might just open someone’s eyes.

I just want to end this post with a heart-felt thank you to the person with whom I had this exchange yesterday. I thank him for his open-mindedness, responsiveness, professionalism, and for teaching me a lesson about making rash judgments.

Follow-up to “Women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t”

In March, I blogged about some ‘controversy’ regarding the fitness of Michelle Obama’s arms.

Yesterday, one of my favorite ‘news’ sources, The Onion, published a great article on the topic of said arms, so I thought I’d share it here.

Michelle Obama’s arms meet with Sri Lankan Refugees

My final “official” Gender and Computerization post

Over the past 16 weeks, I have been blogging about Gender and Computerization for a class assignment. When reviewing those blog postings as well as reflecting on my experience in the class as a whole, I’ve realized that I’ve taken a mostly-negative view.

In my defense, I have to say that’s not very hard to do, when you read about negative stereotypes, misogyny, and how men reap the benefits of technology more. I became angry after reading some of those things, and my posts reflected that.

But, in our last class discussion, the instructor asked everyone if they thought it was possible this technology gender gap could be closed. I found myself being optimistic in my reply. I’m not so sure that I think it will ever be closed, but I do think the gap is narrowing.

So, since this post will be my final “official” post for the class, I thought it might be nice to end on a positive note.

Today, I spent some time searching recent news stories on the subject, and I found several that give me more reason to be hopeful. These are just a few:

Chattanooga area schools have received funds to increase technology in the schools. The description of the directive for how the money was to be used specified that the goal was help students “cross the digital divide” regardless of many factors, including gender. The fact that they recognize gender is a component of the digital divide is encouraging.

A new study has found that “women are techier than perceived.” “…although men are confident about the latest gizmos, women are actually more astute when it comes to deciphering tech lingo and devices.” Publicity about studies like this can only help fight the negative stereotypes that women just don’t have technical abilities.

Use of ICTs by African women is rising. The article points out that challenges still remain regarding the benefits that they receive from the use, but more women adopting technology is a good first step in narrowing the gender gap in technology.

The salaries of women in employed in technological fields are now more comparable to men. The claim that the Dice VP makes, that the “gender gap in technology jobs is over”, is a bit pre-mature, I think. But, as the article points out near the bottom, once they “controlled for the confounding variables, gender was no longer a statistically significant factor. That is, all things being equal — years of experience, educational levels, and job title — salaries are statistically equal between men and women.”

So, I am cautiously hopeful. There are still a lot of strides that can – and should – be made. But, you’ve got to start somewhere! 🙂

**PS, this is my final ‘official’ post about this topic. But, taking this class has made me realize that – dare I say it – yes, I am a feminist. And, now that I’ve finally made that admission, I can no longer stand idly by and watch my gender not benefit in the same way as males from this technological revolution. So, I am sure that I will blog about this subject again sometime.

Men are overlooked online? What?!

Last week, a market research firm released a report that “examines what men do online”. Part of the description for this report states:

The Men Online report analyzes the demographics and behavior of this large, but often overlooked, segment of Internet users.

Often overlooked??? Are they serious?

This semester, we have read papers that look at the differences between how men and women blog, play video games, and comment on You Tube, to name just a few. How could those papers have been written if men were being overlooked? Those papers (and many more that exist currently) looked specifically at what men did in those various domains as well as what women did. The men were definitely being looked at, not overlooked.

Additionally, when you look at the history of the ‘net, you see that men were the creators and early users of the ‘net and that women were slower in adopting it. Therefore, all of the studies that were done on the early stages of the ‘net were based almost entirely on the actions of men.

It’s laughable that this marketing firm is trying to put a spin on data that clearly show women on the short end of the digital divide by calling men “overlooked”. But, it worries me, too, but only slightly.

My last blog post discussed the digital divide and how we can no longer measure it simply by the “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to the ‘net. Instead, we need to look at how the “haves” are or are not benefiting from that having. But, this report seems to still be looking only at the number of people who have access and makes the assumption that since more women are using the ‘net than men now, that the digital divide has reversed and men are on the short end now.

It makes me think of white people who get offended at the idea of a “Black History Month” and say that there should be a “White History Month” too. What they fail to acknowledge, though, is that the contributions of whites are already acknowledged by society. Black History Month is meant to remedy that inequity of representation. Saying men are “overlooked” internet users is just as illogical as calling for a white history month, because the contributions of men online are already well known.

I said the premise of this report bothers me, but only slightly. That’s because the group that put this report out is a market research firm, so it is not academic research. It was created and conducted with a specific end result in mind so that it could market to a specific audience. The almost-$700 price tag to even be able to view the full report pretty much knocks any credibility it has. I don’t think any academic research will take these results seriously.

The gender digital divide

This week’s topic is “Gender, globalization, the “digital divide,” and digital inequality.

The term “digital divide” has been used to describe inequalities in access to computers and the Internet between groups of people based on one or more social or cultural identifiers, like race or gender.

In 2001, Gorski noted that the number of women using the Internet surpassed the number of men. But, this should NOT be taken as a sign of the end of the gender digital divide:

…during the same year that women became over 50 percent of the online population, only 7 percent of all Bachelor’s-level engineering degrees were conferred to women and only 20 percent of all information technology professionals were women. So, while equality in access rates reflects an important step forward, it does not, by any useful measurement, signify the end of the sex digital divide. In fact, the glaring inequities that remain despite equality in Internet access illustrate the urgency for a deeper, broader understanding of the digital divide and a deeper, broader approach for eliminating it [2].

In other words, just because more women are using the Internet, doesn’t mean that they’re receiving the same benefits or opportunities that the men are.

In 2007, Liff and Shepherd took up Gorski’s call for a “deeper, broader understanding” in their paper An evolving gender divide?. They argued that:

…while the most obvious divide–the degree to which those using the Internet are demographically unrepresentative–may be closing, other more subtle divides are emerging. These relate to the quality of access, the ability to use the Internet effectively and the way Internet use affects access to goods and services [1].

Based on data collected from the Oxford Internet Survey, Liff and Shepherd concluded that the gender digital divide has evolved and does still exist, just in a different way. They concluded that even though the access to the Internet may be equal, inequalities still exist in the amount and type of use of that access, as well as the confidence level of such a use.

Liff and Shepherd’s findings support Gorski’s claims. It seems that the next step is for more researchers to take up Gorski’s call for a “deeper, broader approach for eliminating” this gender digital divide.

[1] Liff, S., & Shepherd, A. (2004). An evolving gender digital divide? Oxford Internet Institute, Internet Issue Brief, (2), 1-17.

[2] Gorski, P. (2001). Understanding the digital divide from a multicultural education framework. EdChange Multicultural Pavilion: Digital Divide & Edtech.

Cooper, J. (2006). The digital divide: The special case of gender. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 320-334.

Hargittai, E., & Hinnant, A. (2008). Digital inequality: Differences in young adults’ use of the internet. Communication Research, 35(5), 602-621.

Jackson, L. A., Zhao, Y., Kolenic III, A., Fitzgerald, H. E., Harold, R. & von Eye, A. (2008). Race, gender, and information technology use: The new digital divide. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(4), 437-442.

Video game design and gender

This week for my Gender and Computing class, we’re continuing the discussion about video games and virtual environments. The focus of the articles we read this week is the design of the games.

One of the articles was published in 1999, and the author did a study of the video game designers themselves. The descriptions that the author gave of the designers he studied was: “They tend to come from middle class (or higher) backgrounds and ten to be relatively educated. They are almost entirely white and more likely to be male than female.” [1]

While these designers didn’t have any demographic data on their users, they believed that the people who played the games they designed were “more likely to be male than female, somewhat more likely to be from the United States than other countries, and tends to be middle or upper class.” [1]

So, in other words, the designers believed the users were just like them and designed games for themselves.

I am graduating in May with a Masters in Human Computer Interaction Design, and the above example is the exact opposite of how I’ve learned to design. The focus of HCI/d is user-centered design.

Granted that article is 10 years old. And, the number of women who play video games has increased since then. “Forty-three percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (28 percent) than boys from ages 6 to 17 (21 percent).”

So, one would think that since the design programs of today focus on user-centered design, and users of video games are increasingly female, then perhaps the way things are done in video game design has changed over the past 10 years. But, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The people designing the games are still mostly male. Just a couple of weeks ago, Sony Online Entertainment announced a scholarship program aimed at getting more girls into video game design because there still aren’t very many women game designers.

And, the content of many video games are still male-oriented. I did an observation at a local arcade last week, and the subject of all the games I observed were either shooting or fighting, which are masculine topics. The list of best-selling video games are all mostly masculine themes.

So, it appears that the video game design industry hasn’t really changed that much at all over the past 10 years, even though their users have.

[1] McDonough, J. P. (1999). Designer selves: Construction of technologically mediated identity within graphical, multiuser virtual environments. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(10), 855-869.

Sexting, Mass Hysteria, and the Inadequacies of the US Criminal Justice System

In my Gender and Computing class, we’ve talked briefly about this new thing called “sexting”. It’s where teenage females take nude photos of themselves and send them via cellphone to people, usually their boyfriends at the time. And, as you’ve probably figured out, the boyfriend forwards the pics to all his buddies, who forward the pics to theirs, and so on.

One highly publicized story about sexting recently told the case of Jesse Logan who ended up committing suicide because she was teased by people at her school after a picture she sent a boyfriend was circulated.

As a result of that and other similar stories, a kind of mass hysteria erupted, and some girls who had sexted were threatened withprosecution for manufacturing and distributing child pornography.

But, that’s not the worst. Check out this insane example of the inadequacies of the US Criminal Justice System: ‘Sexting’ Hysteria Falsely Brands Educator as Child Pornographer

I’m floored by the actions of the prosecutor who went after Mr. Oei for no good reason, the boy’s mother who tried to cover up her own bad parenting by falsely alleging Mr. Oei had committed child abuse, and the principal who didn’t have the balls to stand up for his employee who was only doing what he was told.

One good thing has resulted from this outrageous abuse of the criminal justice system. It was announced today, that as a result, a judge has blocked prosecutions of girls who sexted.

Stories like the one about Mr. Oei’s plight reaffirm my distrust of the US Criminal Justice System and of the sex offender registry. It had to go all the way to the state supreme court before someone stood up for what is right. If that hadn’t happened, Mr. Oei would now be on the sex offender registry in Virginia. Mr. Oei’s large support system of church members, friends, and former students probably played a large part in his getting the case thrown out. If this could have happened to him, then how many people who don’t have a support system are currently on a sex offender registry that don’t deserve it?

I’m not advocating that something shouldn’t be done about sexting. Far from it. Sexting is degrading and encourages objectification, in addition to all the emotional turmoil it can cause girls.

But laws like these examples are not the way to solve this problem. Girls and boys need to be made aware of the possible consequences of their actions before they start sexting. Such education should definitely start at home. But, it should also extend into the schools and the media through public awareness campaigns. Such education has worked before with other issues, like littering.

But making more ridiculous laws and then trying to use those laws for personal and/or political gain will not provide a solution. They’ll only hurt innocent citizens as well as the credibility of the criminal justice system.