Monday, November 23, 2009

Techie Complaints...

While women sang, acted in dramas, and played music on radio, there were few women announcers in the early days of broadcasting. This was partly because so many stations were one-man bands where the announcer was also the engineer and manager, and partly because station owners thought men's deeper voices lent more authority to broadcasting (Nash, 2001, p. 45)

Jane Gray became one of the first female broadcasters in Canada. She began by reading poetry in 1924, but was discouraged by her husband, her priest and the radio station owner "who told her that women belonged at home, not on the air" (Nash, 2001, p. 45). By the 1920s- 1930s, she became the most prominent female broadcaster in Canada.

I like these reminders of how women and technology became separated throughout history. It helps me understand why, in spite of the gender equality awareness today, women still feel a world apart from technological processes. I know many women who love using gadgets, but could not be bothered with their inns and outs. Fair
enough, they don't care. As long as the tool works, as long as it serves its ends, everything's fine.

But it's not. A tool works in particular ways, for particular purposes, with particular methods. On a general level, not being interested - and not understanding these inns and outs - also means buying into what is already pre-established as a your role vis-a-vis that technology. And, if you choose not to use them (partly because you cannot buy into their pre-established purposes, routines and impositions upon you), you're out of the (social) loop.

Often times, what bothers me most is not being able to do stuff with my computer. I mean, real stuff. Of course, I use it. And I probably know a bit more than just writing a text or putting up a powerpoint presentation. But that's not the stuff I want to do: for instance, I'd really like to be able to write an avatar-creation soft that would allow us to customize avatars beyond gender stereotypes.

But just like early female radio voices, relegated to the status of melodic entertainment but not allowed to enter the serious arena of authoritative broadcasting (read news, politics... serious stuff...), with digital technologies women are often relegated to the status of users. Maybe producers of 'soft content' - blogs, social networking sites, uploading photos, sharing what the kid had for lunch with the extended network, checking the latest health news.

But when I think of software or hardware producers, all I can see in the back of my mind is a male-dominated world. I may be wrong. It may all be just a stereotype. But, just as the radio station owner who told Jane Gray that women belong at home and not on air expressed the prevailing reasoning of his time, my stereotypes feed from a world of imagery constructed by the social norms at play within my social environment. There may be lots of female soft/hardware developers out there, but we often do not think of them as legitimate players in the field. More likely, they're exceptions...Like Sandra Bullock in "The Net"...

Nash, K. (2001) The Swashbucklers. The Story of Canada's Battling Broadcasters. McClelland and Stuart Ltd.

Photo Credits
The US National Archives

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