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This paper examines some of the issues surrounding gender and technologies, especially new communication technologies. To do this, it is first important to look at research that has focused on varying definitions and meanings of both gender and technology, and see how they have developed and mutually informed one another. From among the different approaches taken in this area, two will be examined closely, eco/radical feminism and liberal feminism. This paper will also consider theory regarding gender communication technologies, and case studies in this area. Additionally, issues of race and class, and their inclusion and exclusion from relevant literatures will be discussed. This conceptual base then leads into a more informed discussion of how technology is used to define women on the World Wide Web.
This paper will investigate one women's magazine that has begun publishing on the Web, in comparison with its print counterpart. This study will be a preliminary case study, examining both digital and print versions of Glamour magazine for 4 months, from December 1996- March 1997. Glamour magazine was chosen because it has a digital version, whereas many other women's magazines do not. Also, its digital version is substantial enough (having more than one or two articles/features) to provide a basis for study. Additionally, its content is presented as a conceptual/aesthetic unit on the Web, unlike other magazines (such as those collected through America On Line) that mainly seem to archive and present limited collections of past articles, without attention to design or style. Finally, women's magazines such as Glamour have a long history of strong advertiser control, limiting their content and potential. I will explore how such magazines negotiate the online world, where advertising is not as strong a presence, which may lead to less restrictions for content. This study looks at form and content, examining both how the technologies of the Web serve to construct gender, and also how the content of both print and digital versions construct the gender/technology relation, both about computer technologies, and about technology more broadly. I believe this study will be valuable because it will help continue to explore how changing technologies shape and change, and are themselves shaped and changed by gender.
Researchers looking at the relations between gender and technology often draw on earlier work by feminists examining science and its role in and for society (Wajcman 1993). Feminists writing in this area focused on one of two main points: the number of women in science and women's lack of access to science and science education; and the role of gender ideology in science (Roach 1995). The first question, oriented around `raising enrollment' of women in the sciences, does not question the underlying values or assumptions regarding science, and what counts as knowledge, proof, or even valid questions. Wajcman (1993) writes that "this approach locates the problem in women (their socialization, their aspirations and values) and does not ask the broader questions of whether and in what way science and its institutions could be reshaped to accommodate women" (23).
The second approach, Roach (1995) believes, raises the more interesting and valuable questions. This line of inquiry questions the objectivity and supposed neutrality of the field, and instead suggests that all knowledge is socially constructed. Wajcman (1993) attributes much of this questioning to the appearance of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1970. This book, she writes, takes as its central premise that "scientific knowledge, like all other forms of knowledge, is affected at the most profound level by the society in which it is developed" (24). However, even as more researchers began to question science, little was written problematizing the role of gender in constructing science. Feminists writing in this area have approached the problem with different assumptions, leading to widely diverging conclusions. Their approaches prefigure the approaches later feminists have taken in writing about gender and technology.
Definitions of Technology
When talking about technology, most writers refer to notions of process, artifact(s) and construction. However, I will argue that how various researchers choose to define technology has implications for how they view gender. Their definitions then explicitly or implicitly reveal their underlying assumptions, and shape their arguments regarding this relation.
One group of researchers tends to define technology merely as neutral. Technology in this view is neither good' nor bad.' Since there is no apparent value inscribed in technology, the issue becomes "the different ways in which men and women are positioned in relation to it" (Gill and Grint 1995, 6). This view is typically ascribed to liberal feminism. Here, gender is thought of as a system of representations, an ideology, which has been overlaid on real, unspoiled and equal human beings. Gender is seen as an accumulation of many small-scale deprivations, rather than in terms such as social structure (6).
For liberal feminists then, the solution lies in finding ways for women to `catch up' with men in access to education and careers in science and technology. Gill and Grint critique liberal feminism on various grounds. First, it does not subject technology to critical analysis, rather views it as "an independent factor affecting social relations without being affected by them" (7). Second, although liberal feminists critique gender roles, they "have been preoccupied with the changes which women will have to make, and have left masculinity unchallenged. The male is treated as the norm, and women are supposed to adopt masculine ways of relating to technology" (7, italics in original). Finally, Gill and Grint believe this position is theoretically underdeveloped, with its omission of issues of race and class being further evidence of its unsuitability for use.
In a move away from the view that technology is neutral, the ecofeminist and radical approach sees "technology as an example of the way in which men try to dominate and control both nature and women" (4). This position is rooted in a belief that links biology and sexual difference, often referred to as biological determinism. This stance also sees women as linked to nature (in opposition to men, who are linked with culture). Much work in this area examines military technology, and stresses the idea of women being more peaceful, egalitarian and non-hierarchical (Gill and Grint 1995; Roach 1995). Wajcman (1993) also argues:
Rejecting patriarchal science, this vision celebrates female values as virtues
and endorses the close relationship between women's bodies, women's
culture and the natural order. A feminist science, in other words, would be based
on women's values (27).
The most obvious critique of ecofeminism (and radical feminism) is the charge of essentialism. Both Gill and Grint (1995) and Wajcman (1993) believe this approach is faulty because of its assertion of an unchanging nature in men and women, also its reclaiming as `virtues' values that have been instrumental in the subordination of women. Wajcman (1993) writes that "rather than asserting some inner essence of womanhood as an ahistorical category, we need to recognize the ways in which both `masculinity' and …