Women's Studies 30

My impression of the relationship between women and technology can best be explained by relating an incident that happened to me recently that caused me to think a great deal about my own relationship with technology. One of my jobs on campus is to project movies on the weekends. The projectors are notoriously unreliable and frequently malfunction. One evening this happened while I was projecting, and I had to stop the movie and fix it. After the movie was over, several acquaintances of mine came up to me and commented, not on how ridiculous it is that the projectors keep breaking, which is usually what people say, but on how impressed they were that I knew how to solve the problem.

The reason why I used this example was not because the person who made this comment was impressed that I knew how to project movies, but that I had known what to do when things went wrong. It is not that women in our society are perceived to not be able to utilize the products of technology, but it is an extraordinary circumstance for women to understand the technological process so that they can correct, improve and make these products.

My generation has grown up with a tremendous amount of confidence in our ability to use tools ranging from computers to the clocks on our VCR's to the child protective devices on bottles of medicine. Both men and women for the most part have the technical skills that when confronted with a new tool they can figure out how it works. But women who are problem-solvers in the realm of technology are still exceptions to the rule.

It has been my experience that this attitude varies from the world of academia to the real world. Though women hold viewer jobs than men in the "hard" sciences, today women are encouraged to take on the challenge of a career in science that only men were encouraged to take before. I personally am a member of the Association of Women in Science, a group that helps younger students in their careers, explores issues pertaining to women in science, and, most important, serves as a support system for women in science careers. No professor or mentor has ever given me the impression that I was at a disadvantage because of my gender.

The world outside of school houses and laboratories has been a much different place for me. I feel that I was blessed to have had a father who taught me to use and understand technology from an early age. He taught me things ranging from how to use the machine that was used to discover the moon of Pluto so that I could help him with his research to how to work the water shut-off valves in the house if there was ever a plumbing problem to how to better insulate the house in order to save energy. I have confidence in these areas, and I was very surprised when I first began encountering people who did not have that same confidence in me.

On the first day of class, Moriah McGrath mentioned the fact that when someone is in need of a screwdriver or pliers, the men on the hall are most likely to have them. It's not that every man you meet has a Leatherman in his bookbag, but it's not surprising if he does. It is unusual for a woman, though. This is unfortunate when you think about the issues of control that have consumed feminist thought for decades. It is great that things are changing so that both men and women are encouraged to and expected to learn calculus, computers, and chemistry. I think it will be even better when society tells women as well as men that when their toilet breaks or the movie projector malfunctions that it doesn't make them abnormal for trying to fix it themselves.

Amy Harrington

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last updated 9/20/98