Women's Studies 30

I often consider myself some sort of technophobe, I've even been known to make jokes about me being a Luddite. People put too much faith in technology, I think; they assume that "new" always equals "improved" and forget to examine the consequences of technologies to which they are introduced. Though I believe that this blind faith in technology is dangerous and can in fact perpetuate social inequality, many technologies are in fact integrated into my everyday life. There is significance to which technologies these are since my family's upper-middle class status has garnered me economic access to virtually all technologies and I have therefore been able to pick and choose which ones I use. I see discrepancies between my use of technology and that of my peers, which I think is influenced not just by the choices I actively make but by social systems like gender.

We have seen in our readings and discussed in class ways in which many historical "advances" have had negative effects on women (in terms of heightening the sexual division of labor, further isolating the domestic [female] sphere, etc.), and other marginalized groups, of course. As someone who has identified as a feminist for quite a while, I believe in fighting any system which has results like these. Some of my resistance to technology comes out of these beliefs. I try to avoid huge chain supermarkets and processed foods, putting stock in ideas of feminist vegetarianism and environmentalism. On some level, I do believe that decreasing involvement with the overly corporate and capitalist food distribution systems can help the plight of the women who often struggle under it. So while I have the economic ability to opt for one of those Oscar Mayer Lunchables packages at every meal, I will opt for locally-made food whenever possible. [Our Bodies, Ourselves has a nice discussion of these ideas, since I don't have much space to delve into them here.]

I make similar decisions in the field of transportation. Though I have my own car, I take public transportation whenever feasible. My companions on public transportation are often those who do not have the luxury of driving like I do. It is not surprising that my fellow passengers are often women of color (many of whom are young mothers transporting their children); when a municipality offers poor public transportation services, they are the people who suffer. Wealthier people can respond to this less-than-ideal service by providing their own transportation, while others are left with the fewer and fewer options decreasing ridership creates. Phenomena such as this are clearly at play in the current migration out of American cities. When those wealthier people (who have more political clout) make public transportation a priority instead of retreating into the technological moment which allows everyone in their families to have his/her own car, a broader array of residents (particularly women) can benefit.

Yet I write this paper in my dorm room, on my own laptop computer, with my own stereo playing in the background. On my desk are my own phone and answering machine. In my pocket with my car keys is a pager (albeit one provided by my employer). Checking my e-mail every ten minutes, I am clearly not rejecting these technologies. This despite the fact that my ability to use this word-processing program ensures that I am more able to get a job than many of the women I travel with on the train, who in many ways deserve or need a job more. How do I reconcile this with the feminism I addressed in the previous paragraphs? Some of it is my hedonism and the values of the social circles I travel in. Though vegetarianism and shopping at the natural food store have a certain cachet amongst my friends, it isn't considered especially glamorous to not have a stereo in your dorm room; feminist asceticism has yet to catch on at Haverford College. And while taking the train instead of driving doesn't inconvenience me much, not being able to listen to music while writing might be a little disappointing. It is important to me to realize these contradictions in my beliefs about technology, and to work toward reconciling them.

Since it's not necessarily constructive to develop a sense of middle class guilt over this, I try instead to struggle with ways I can use the technology in my life to better the state of women. Taking as an example my mention of my computing skills, I could teach what I know to women like those I described. I will actually be doing something like this at an internship this fall, where the organization has determined that learning about the Internet is a technology lesson greatly needed by its low-income HIV-positive clients. Though I haven't yet figured out any socially-just use of my stereo, I can think of positive ways to use all the other technologies I described. It is this process of evaluating positive and negative aspects which I consider central to my consideration of gender and technology.

Though this point doesn't flow perfectly from the last one, I also think it is crucial to mention that another important project in my engagement of gender and technology is assessing the gender gap in technology. In my life, I see this gap as the result of social factors - the inequality of gender systems. I have thought about this a lot during my college years, which I am spending surrounding myself with a clique of male friends. I share interests, particularly in independent music, with these men. Despite the fact that we have similar histories of sweaty teenage nights at punk rock concerts and the fact that I am of equal if not higher financial means than each of them, their involvement with musical technology dwarfs my own. While each of the boys owns at least a guitar, some other instrument, an amp, and a four-track recorder, I am practically afraid to touch anything I see in their practice space. My suitemate, another woman with interests in independent music, has expressed similar feelings, describing her brother's purchase of turntables when he got interested in DJ'ing. She and I concurred that we would never dream of just going out and buying something and then teaching ourselves how it worked; to us mastery seems essential before purchasing. Paradoxically, such mastery isn't possible without intimate involvement with the technology - this is what we think has held us back from becoming rock stars. However, not only aren't we rock stars, we're also don't know how to fix our own cars or rewire our stereos; actually, we haven't even been able to figure out how to turn down the volume on our answering machine. It's clear to us that boys have been given a lot more opportunity to try out these things.

It's important that we learn to figure them out on our own, because it's more than annoying that we often must rely on men to fix them for us. As part of this "assessing technology" that I've been talking about, we must realize what we haven't been taught because we're women. We also must demand of the men in our lives that they share their knowledge with us. And in evaluating the impact of our use of technology on others, we can share our knowledge and affect positive change. It is here that I realize that my Luddism isn't really the perfect philosophy for someone so entwined with technology as myself. Rather, I should embrace the technology I do understand and seek out that which I don't so as to evaluate its positive uses.

Moriah McSharry McGrath

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last updated 9/15/98