Women's Studies 30

Stephanie Herring

The manner in which women use technology are limitless, ranging from a housewife or engineer making dinner with a microwave oven to a PhD chemist using NMR techniques for research. All lives are arguably indistinguishably dependent on technology, but the effects and uses of that technology differ depending one one's circumstances. Technology has helped and hindered us all in unique ways not only based on our sex, but our history and our circumstances of present. Before I begin I must reiterate the obvious, which is that the effect of technology not only on women, but on the human species, is too profound to be dealt with in one dissertation. Any analysis will inherently be incomplete due to the nature of the topic, but this does not exclude the ability to make certain generalizations.

With this caveat in mind I will begin by discussing my personal experience with technology such that my own biases which effect the opinions represented here can be noted. The lack of any overt barriers in my personal experience as a developing scientist has biased me towards an optimistic view of women's potential in science and technology. I have never before even considered how my gender has effected my decision, or my potential success. In addition to being relatively immune up to this point from any form of discrimination, I have never considered how gender biases may effect my ability to be a scientist, both positively and negatively. I have been fortunate in that other than unavoidable societal constructs I have never felt overt discrimination or bias toward my gender that I was not able to simply laugh at and turn my back on. Also, my experience at Swarthmore's extremely liberal and accepting campus has also been one of complete support from both faculty and friends. Issues which have arisen have not been linked to my gender. Subsequently, I believe that as time progresses and one's intellect becomes too valuable a commodity to be biased by gender, women will become increasingly seen as the equals of men in their ability to participate in the academics of technology.

So why do I still believe that the issue of "Women and Technology still exists?" If time will heal the majority of the social injustice and discrimination? Firstly, the notion that some sort of gender utopia will eventually evolve is too fantastic to be treated seriously at this point in history. While equality will continue to increase, complete equality would mean that all social biases towards gender would also evaporate which is extremely inconceivable due to the inherent differences between men and women. So, I am not suggesting that society will be totally equal, but that cases of sexual discrimination will become more difficult to find with time. In order to determine the root of this discrimination and alleviate it the matter must be the topic of serious and productive discussion and debate. Secondly, and more importantly, their is an impact of women being involved in the development of technology and science, intellectually and socially. Including women in the academia of the techno world will also result in changes and developments that otherwise would not have occurred

The manner in which women will effect the development of technology is perhaps the most profound aspect of the relationship between women and technology. The innate and unavoidable social biases that are imposed on both genders subsequently means that each sex will have a perspective unique to their gender. As people select which technologies to develop, and which scientific questions will be asked and investigated, which avenue an individual chooses to explore will be gender biased. Women will be able to ask questions men may not have the context or perspective to consider, and vice versa. The presence of women in positions to make these choices will alter the course of technological development and, therefore, also impact the way our society operates. As we are so techno dependent it is nearly impossible for changes in technology not to impact the society as a whole. Men and women can each bring a unique and gender-specific perspective to scientific investigation and technological development. Historically technologically and scientifically related areas have been male dominated and, therefore, necessarily missing a perspective which only women can provide. The course of our advancement in these previously male dominated realms has great potential for change with the introduction of a consequential number of women.

In many realms, however, there has been an unfortunate consequence for women who have not pursued the new realm of possibilities that technology and social advances have provided

for women in our historically male dominated world. To be a housewife is no longer an acceptable position for many women. While that in itself is not negative, for women who have pursued higher levels of social achievement they tend to look down on other women who have "wasted" their lives as mothers and wives. The door has not simply been opened for women to advance in our society. With it has come a notion that to not walk through that door is somehow wrong. This is not a perspective I agree with. Being a mother and a wife has its own rewards which can be just as valuable to a human existence and should not be looked down upon. Women should have the choice and opportunity to be involved in whatever aspect of society they desire, but the choice they make should not be subject to criticism solely because they have not taken overt advantage of social changes.

The growing number of women in positions of control over technology demonstrates an amazing social shift which not only sees women as deserving to have access to science, but also that they have the intellectual commodities to be successful. It also illustrates the wonderful phenomena that women are now able to swing more freely between career choices and that gender roles are no longer as confining. What fascinates me is that this has not occurred for men. While women are experiencing freedom of movement into a higher tier of technological and scientific realms, men are not allowed by society due to our gender biases to move into female dominated areas. I have never been introduced to a single male secretary (although I am certain some exist, they are few in number). Males are still "janitors," while women are "housekeepers." For instance, in the dorms of Swarthmore College there are no male "housekeepers," yet both women and men work for physical plant. How many people hire male baby-sitters? While the advent of women in technology has released women from many social gender biases, men are still socially excluded from certain vocations. Will the future hold a greater balance in both directions, alleviating men and women from gender biases?

These are a select few of the issues the topic of women and technology raises. Implications with are both positive and negative have developed. In general, however, I believe we are moving towards the right direction, which is freeing women from social biases away from the academic pursuits of technology.

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last updated 9/8/98