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Women's Behaviour with Regard to Computer Associated Technologies like the Internet

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WOMEN'S BEHAVIOUR WITH REGARD TO COMPUTER ASSOCIATED TECHNOLOGIES LIKE THE INTERNET

Anu D'Souza

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

18 February 2008

INTRODUCTION

This is not an essay about the internet. Nor is it about technology, computers, computer science or computer games. This essay is about people, about women and men and their behaviour in the online space, and what determines and influences that behaviour. The behaviour of the genders in the online space cannot be looked at in isolation or as separate from real life. It is a result of the way women and men have been socialized in general and towards science/ technology and computers/ associated technologies in particular. This essay analyses the influences that result in the preferences and differences in the behaviour of the genders, in the online space, from a feminist perspective.

Research suggests that women view the internet as a place to extend, support and nurture relationships and communities. Men on the other hand tend to view the net as a destination for recreation (Fallows, D., 2005, p I-VI).

According to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project which analysed information from 2000 to 2005, both men and women value the internet for its efficiency. There is also no significant difference between men and women for many online activities such as getting travel information, or looking up a phone number. The report also says that men are more interested in technology than women, and they are also more tech savvy. Men value the internet for the breadth of experiences it offers; women value it for enriching their relationships, but they're more concerned about its risks. The report also found that men were more confident than women about dealing with computers and technologies than women. (Fallows, D., 2005: p V,VI, 39). This essay takes a step back and looks at the history of how women are socialized towards science, technology and computers and how that may impact on the behaviour of the genders in the online space.

Barriers to women's participation in computer associated technologies like the internet are examined including the lower confidence women might have as compared to boys owing to how the genders have been socialized towards computers. Also the history of how computers were first marketed as recreational machines for men and how the majority of video and console based games are still targeted primarily at boys and men, resulting in their being more confident with the technology than women. The lack of time, inclination and purchasing power to invest in recreational computing are also discussed as barriers to women being involved in the design of computer associated technologies.

The essay also looks at the masculine culture of the internet itself and how that may impact on the online behaviour of women.

Some would argue that boys and girls behave the way they do due to biological differences. But according to Cynthia Kraus, feminist biologists have challenged the belief that sex determines gender and that gender is in fact a social construction (Wyer, M., Barbercheck, M., Geisman, D., Ozturk, H.O., Wayne, M., 2001, p 255).

Bronwyn Davies shares this example of how boys and girls are socialized early on in lives to take up their gender identity as an incorrigible part of themselves and the differences in how girls and boys may react in a similar situation. She says she once gave a toy car to a three year old girl who unwrapped the present, looked at her quizzically and said, "It's really a boy's toy, but don't worry, I can handle it." at one and the same time reconstituting the gender order that she was attempting to break down, and taking care, as girls should, not to hurt her feelings too much at having her error pointed out. A similar gesture with a three year old boy, when she gave him a music box, simply resulted in a sulky refusal to interact with her or the music box- how can one, he may well have asked, interact with adults who refuse to co-operate with the establishment of one's correct gendered positioning (Davies, B. 1989, p 2)?

Gender can take on more significance in the online space where one could perhaps take on the persona of any gender but that has not been explored as part of this essay. It is important to mention here also that terms like men and women when used in the context of this essay are broad generalizations. I am conscious that not all men and women are the same. Also issues of access to computers and the internet are determined by other factors including race, class and gender. This essay makes general observations based on the experiences of average men and women in the Western world.

BACKGROUND

The internet is perhaps one of the more significant technologies of our times; one that is impacting multiple facets of our lives. Women today are increasingly surfing the internet and are in fact in exceeding the number of men online in some countries. Women even make the majority of online purchases (Margolis, J., Fisher, A., 2002, p 2). But while women may be users of the technology are they involved in the creation of these technologies? And is that important?

While the gap in usage is not so large the gender gap in creation of computer related technologies is quite evident. The statistics show that few women are involved in inventing, creating or designing computer technologies. Software and computer services have become male-dominated working environments. A survey of five EU member states in 1998 by statistical office Eurostat indicated that the proportion of women within the field is 31.0% in the UK, 21.4% in the Netherlands, 31.6% in Finland and 35% in Spain. The exception, the report said is Italy's software and computer services personnel, 48.1% of which are female (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ECZ/is_1998_Sept_17/ai_53012795)

A gender gap exists in jobs as well. A news report on the Business Week website says that in the US (http://www.businessweek.com/careers/content/jun2000/ca20000626_426.htm) about 72% of computer-systems analysts and scientists are male, according to the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among electrical and electronic engineers, 90% are male and in mechanical engineering, only 7% of the workforce is female. The

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