Technology & Gendered Language

C Swift (
Sun, 17 May 1998 12:12:51 -0700

Donna Woodka < wrote:
Boys tear things apart and find out what
> makes them tick, while the girls are supposed to stay neat and not muss
> their clothes. Boys sit down at a computer and start playing while the
> girls wait for someone to tell them what to do with it because they're so

> socialized to follow directions all the time. We can't have these
> attitudes and have equity in a technological world. You can't "RTFM" and
> create something new that doesn't already exist in the world.

Donna is right on track and has just scratched the surface of all the
cultural influences that serve to discourage girls and women from
technological fields.
There is a lot of interesting research on gender and technology that I
discovered when doing some graduate research, including an excellent online
article entitled "I'm A Stranger Myself: A Consideration of Women in
Computing" by Janet Cottrell which can be found at
Her article includes the following statistics (which are now a bit out of
date, but still interesting).

"In the U.S. in recent years, women earned about half of all associate
degrees in computer science, more than one-third of the bachelor's degrees,
27% of master's degrees, and 13% of PhDs
(Spertus, Ellen 1991; Chronicle of Higher Education, August 1992). Yet
women account for only about
7% of computer science and engineering faculty, and only 3% of the tenured
professors in these fields are female (Spertus, 1991). In other words, 92%
of CS and engineering faculty -- and 97% of the
tenured faculty -- are male. And about one-third of the computer science
departments polled employ no women faculty at all."

This certainly seems to indicate a lack of role models. But several
sources also suggest that the language of technolgy may subtly discourage
girls from participating in computer use beginning very early. The
language of computers computer operating systems are based upon the rules
of the "command" and "control" --functions of military hierarchies -- a
language of power which may tend to make computers seem "foreign" to girls
who are socialized to follow directions -- to take orders, not give them.
Computer games also tend to be based on "seek and destroy" themes which is
not part of girls' socialization. It's similar to the criticism we've
heard on math word problems that are set up around male experiences not

Another very interesting article is "Gender and the Information Society: A
Socially Structured Silence" by Sue Curry Jansen. _Journal of
Communication_ (1989), v. 39 (3), pp. 196-215.

Carla Swift

new message to this message