Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The other side of looking at the ways ICTs contribute to violence against women is to focus on how women, and everyone else, might use ICTs to combat violence against women. But the connection between ICTs and women is problematic even before any potential dangers of those ICTs can be considered. The popularity of ICTs, especially chat rooms, messenger and text messaging, amongst teenage girls is now quite well documented, but there is a large portion of women who, for numerous reasons, no least that these forms of ICTs were not around when they were teenagers, feel excluded from participation. Marta raised the point about the lack of confidence women of our mothers’ generation (and above) show when confronted with a piece of technology. There are always exceptions, of course, but what she said about her own mother’s refusal to engage with ICTs reminded me very much of my own mother who, although she’s really going for it, and facing it as a challenge, and is now booking flights on-line and keeping in touch with me here via e-mail and Skype, it still takes her half an hour to write a small e-mail and rarely thinks first of looking on the internet for a piece of information when, for me, and many of my western contemporaries, it is always, without an exception, my first port-of-call. I still remember my mum’s first text message to me. It wrote: BP. I did entertain the idea that it was in fact a cryptic message (did she want Baked Potatoes for dinner – did the car need petrol??) until I had to concede that she’d pressed a load of buttons, couldn’t suss it out, and then accidentally sent it!

I believe that I was a teenager at just the right time. As I went into my final year in sixth form in 1997 the internet was just at its moment of kicking off dramatically as an ‘educational’ tool (I say ‘educational’ because it was so new to most of our teachers, who naively ((and rather sweetly!)) just assumed that the students would be using it for schoolwork – of course most of us spent all of our internet time on chat rooms!). And its newness – at least in a school and home context – and people’s naivity towards how they believed the Internet would be used by kids actually gave us an incredible amount of freedom, since child-locks and filters weren’t in use (although they got round to them pretty quickly…!). In fact, after speaking to women a few years younger than me, it seems as if that level of enthusiasm and active encouragement to use the internet tailed off depressingly quickly when the novelty wore off, and only picked up again a few years after that generation, when the (various forms of) messenger became a prime point of contact for teenage girls: I know that in the early naughties (1999-2003) I knew three girls between 12 and 15 years-of-age, and they were all surgically attached to the keyboard, typing at speeds I didn’t think humanly possible… But I get the impression that even between my age-group and theirs there is a gap, and if there can be a gap there, then there can be gaps all over the place – and my mum and Marta’s are definitely in one!

I found an article on the (American) National Center for Women in Information Technology website - www.ncwit.org/ - that gives both a substantial basis upon which the generalised statements about women lacking confidence in IT can be traced to, as well as being a fascinating insight into how gender stereotyping has been perpetuated throughout the generations: the most interesting statistical insight for gender biased employment generally was the one that revealed that when ‘blind’ auditions for US orchestras, taking place behind screens, the recruitment of women went up from 5 to 35%!! The article is here: www.slate.com/id/2154331/

Another aspect of the research documented in the article highlighted another, surely intrinsic, factor in the social conditioning of girls and boys; that of race: that Asian women did better in tests when reminded of the Asians-are-good-at-IT stereotype than they did when reminded, instead, that women-are-bad-at-IT stereotype, is incredible. Clearly it’s not only in gender that society and socialisation has a lot to answer for, and it shows how damaging insistence upon stereotypes can be, and just how dangerously self-perpetuating those stereotypes are…

And the most amusing anecdote from the piece, that just about says it all, was the comment made by an academic following a lecture given by the transsexual scientist, Ben Barres, this time as a man, that his work was “much better than his sister’s”: the kind of remark that, while I’m laughing at it, makes me want to cry!

technorati tags: takebackthetech

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