Category Archives: gender

Celebrity Identities

Lately I’ve been thinking about how celebrities try to create their own identitities and the push-pull created between celebs and fans, celebs and the media, and a number of other actors and groups.  And as I start thinking, I realize that vocabulary will be an issue because I am thinking about actors and actresses, but also about actor-network theory, an entirely different definition. Eventually I guess I’ll need to check how others are distiguishing and if new terms have come into use. I am sooooo disconnected at the moment, academically speaking.  But for now, I know what I mean.

Here is a short narrative of my deciding to look at this. I find that I can now watch all but the last season on True Blood on one of our streaming services. We had stopped having cable a few years ago, so stopped watching anything on HBO, since until very recently, they stubbornly required a cable subscription.  We even more stubbornly refused to get one so… Anway, decided to catch up. Enjoyed it more than I remembered, and started to check other stuff various actors were doing because it’s summer and I finally have time for it. In researching that, I looked at lots of interviews, ComicCon panels, talk show spots, wikipedia entries, Twitter feeds, YouTube clips, fan sites, etc. As I was surveying, I was making mental comparisons to how this media landscape felt compared to the last time I was really engaged, which was at least five years ago.

So that’s all percolating in my head, and I noticed that Alexander Skarsgård is starring in the new Tarzan movie.  I will pause here and say that Tarzan, as a character, and his stories, hold a special place in my heart.  As a kid, I spent every summer in a rustic cabin in the Maine woods where I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, repeatedly.  Those books actually had a huge impact on my own identity formation, and also might be among the first to provoke my analyzing texts. I’ve always been frustrated at how far the movies have wandered from the books, and at how the modern treatments never get much beyond the origin story.

The Legend of Tarzan was released in early July and of course there is a surge of promo activities from the actors, but especially Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgård. Watching and reading all these guest spots and interviews, I was struck by many things, but I’ll talk about two here. First, most of the interviews cover a really narrow range of topics and if it became grindingly dull for me reading, I can’t imagine how the actors feel.  More on that in another post. Second, attitudes toward celebrities parallel attitudes toward women in some the worst ways imaginable.  In particular, many seem to feel that because actors and actresses are paid for a certain kind of public appearance, the audience then owns them. Or maybe better that they owe us.  That they owe us attention; they owe us every detail of their lives, no matter how intimate; they owe us always looking attractive according to our standard… I hope the parallels are clear.

Sometimes watching the interviews became really painful; I just wanted to cringe at some of the questions asked by interviewers, or by fans, when they had a chance.

So, to recap: the media and, sadly, fans often act like we are entitled to intimacy, attention, attractiveness and sexuality from actors. The focus on these detracts (I think) from discussions about story, craft, etc. Do we really need to hear more than once how someone bulked up or slimmed down? I don’t think so. Harping on these tired topics is at best lazy, and often feeds into rape culture in the assumption that other people are there only for our pleasure, and that we are entitled to touch them or be somehow intimate whenever we want, rather than when they choose (for example when they perform).

I’ll be getting back to this idea later, after pisting about some other stuff.


In Honor of Ada Lovelace

So today is Ada Lovelace day and many people are writing posts in her honor that say something about women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

For awhile I thought I would write on some particular historical figure, but after thinking over my own research on gender and technology, I’ve decided instead to write a bout women I know who are quietly doing their thing in these fields, without public recognition (so far).

Sher Doruff.  I wrote about Sher last summer and while she’s fairly well-known in the European art/culture community, I doubt most people think of her as working in Tech.  Yet she was one of the driving forces in KeyWorx, an open-source project at De Waag Society for Old and New Media.  KeyWorx was a tool for collaboration and interaction between artists/musicians that allowed them not only to work together in real time, but to actually take control of each other’s machines, allowing for some really cool performances.

Lee Atchison.  Lee has been involved with Sequential Tart since it was founded, and has designed our CMS from scratch.  She has been titled web designer, system administrator, and solutions architect at various jobs.  I think Lee is inspirational as an example of someone who just went out there and did her thing, in this case, programming and web design.

Melanie Martin and Megan Thomas.  These are two of my colleagues on Campus who both teach in the Computer Science department.  Both of them have have accomplished a lot in getting doctorates to begin with, but around here (a very conservative geographical area, with a strong patriarchal culture, historically) are especially great because their very existence can inspire young women to look beyond traditional roles and careers.

All of these women also embody ideals held by Ada Lovelace beyond their connections with science and technology.  Somewhere, I recall Lovelace said that you can be complete without having the care of another.  She didn’t just mean parenting, but teaching and mentoring aso count.  All of the women I mention here have done that, either explicitly, as teachers, or as mentors, or both, helping both men and women to learn more about technology and about how unlimited by gender it can be.

Nancy Mauro-Flude Youthful Veteran of Dutch New Media

Nancy Mauro-Flude
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

As mentioned earlier, I spoke with Nancy and Audrey together and this is Nancy’s half of that conversation, plus info from a few, brief, subsequent chats.

I had been thinking of Nancy as part of the new generation in the Dutch new media art scene, but in fact she’s been involved for 15 years though she only finished her MA at Piet Zwart in Spring 2007. Now on the one hand, maybe I am just ignorant, but also wonder why have I not heard of her before? I’m tempted to think this supports my contention that’s women’s participation is just not being documented. But in fact the scene is not very well documented overall. I will need to look at many examples before I can say for sure that one group of participants has been differently reported than another.

Anyway, Nancy has been on the scene for quite some time but in this conversation we mostly talked about the Genderchangers and differences between that environment and her experiences learning about tech in other venues. Nancy didn’t seem to feel she had encountered as much impatience over her lack of tech experience in academic programs, but she took it for granted that she’d had to prove herself to “the boys” in other tech groups, or just generally techie guys.

I find very surprising how little attention she seems to have garnered, because she has been doing interesting, technically ambitious work for quite some time, yet doesn’t seem to get what I would consider the attention she deserves. Particularly interesting to me are the projects that combine a performance, which is ephemeral, with creation of an artistic tool which may have many future uses. For example, one of her most recent projects is Bag Lady. Follow this link to a description/review by Mirko Schaefer.

I need to talk more with Nancy, and get the story of those 15 years.

Finishing up with Marianne

So I will get back to this at last and wrap things up from this interview a little more quickly so I can get to the next ones of the women, plus I still have Brenno and Florian to add, and I then have to actually do the interviews with Jaromil, Mirko, and maybe some others, not to mention follow ups with Hajo and Alex. Yeesh.

So, toward the end of the email part of the interview, I asked what Marianne thought about the the people involved with new media, whether it was or is a community.

No I don’t think in terms of community, more in terms of a scene, which I consider less coherent than a community. Very different people, hackers, journalists, organizers, artists, idiots, designers, querulants, activists, often fighting each other (as at the aftermath of the Digital City).

And the same question again–did she still find this range of people getting involved?

Actually I am not sure. It may be that I just don’t attend as much of the meetings and events as I did before, but I would say today there are less journalists involved and more students. And mor artists/dsigners – but that may be my perspective, since I have spent the last weeks with all these plans of e-culture institutions. What is clear anyway is that what was once a scene is now a social-cultural sector, the e-culture sector.

I think this has been a gradual change, but the changes in the Dutch funding structure seem as though they could potentially lead to a petrification of the e-culture sector because there will be so many more bureaucratic hurdles to get through in application for support that only very established professional groups will be able to manage it.

Finally I asked her what had led her back into academia to get her PhD.

That must have been somewhere in 2000, when I was finishing my book Leven op het Net – De sociale betekenis van virtuele gemeenschappen (in Dutch, title can be translated in: Life on the Net – The social meaning of virtual communities; though here the nice ambiguity of the Dutch word ‘leven’ which means both ‘life’ and ‘cosy noise’ is lost.)

Every time I was really inspired in writing and was starting to have real fun (when writing about the meaning of media, of space and spatial metaphors), the publisher said: No, that’s too complex for the intended audience for this book, don’t do that in this book, write a PhD if you want that kind of stuff… And so I finally did. First as a nomadic savage, without an appointment, later at Utrecht University, which also had connections to my supervisor in Rotterdam, the Dutch ‘cyberspace philosopher’ Jos de Mul.

When we met in person I followed up on the e-culture aspect, but unfortunately the whole discussion has to remain confidential. I need to speak with someone in charge if the sector who would have the authority to say I can reprint or repeat her replies without her getting into some kind of trouble!

But we did talk about other things, one being what the dept. looks like from her perspective which was interesting in the way it is similar or different from what I’ve heard from Erna, William, Mirko, and Nanna. Overall they all have good things to say, but for example, the extent to which they find it very collegial or just somewhat, leading the way, or keeping up–all these things depend on the other communities and academic groups they compare UU with, and on their own personal preferences. So someone who really pushes to publish and go to conferences and is always in the middle of the global academic debate on new media may feel the dept is ok, but just keeping up, or maybe out in front, but shouldn’t relax. While someone who is not so interested in that may feel it’s a bit of a pressure cooker already. Very subjective.

I’ll be following up with Marianne later, as with everyone, but that’s it for now. Time to get to my next victim, I mean interviewee… 😉

hopefully getting back on track

OK, so I ended up spending much longer on the East Coast than I originally planned for this summer, which means I had a really poor network connection–both slow and sporadic–and I didn’t have the books I needed to finish up various articles, reviews, and so on. Then I came home, and oh yeah, no day care. Sigh.

Now I might normally feel a bit bad that I am complaining about my kids being home, but anyone who has tried to write while small kids are in the area interrupting every 2 minutes (literally) will understand. Also, I had the dubious pleasure of having my mom and sisters insist to me for most of my visit in the east that working so much is hurting my children. This was especially ironic given my current research on women’s use of tech and participation in the new media scene in the Netherlands. I heard from several women there that they often encountered a sort of incredulity from other people at their not wanting to be home all the tie with their kids.

Incredulity is bad enough, but I wonder how many encounter what I have? Actual resistance from the people we might have expected to help us manage work and family. I now know that I can’t turn to my parents or sisters if I have another research trip or conference, because they don’t think I should be going anyway. My husband travels as much as I–he’s also an academic–but apparently “it’s different for men.” –So says my mom. It’s no mystery that women are still not equally represented in so many fields or at upper levels in fields where they are present if we are still being pressured and socialized this way.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled discussion.

Marianne van den Boomen part 2

So, more from Marianne… First her account of how she encountered the internet:

The Internet came into view in 1993, when I attended the famous Hacking at the End of the Universe camp (the HEU, as it is called) in a Dutch nowhere land polder, organized by the hacker-techno-anarchists of Hacktic (later called Xs4all, still my Internet provider, and I am proud that my e-mail adresses at Hacktic and xs4all are still working. I was there with my tent and laptop to write an article for De Groene about the hacker movement. Man, what fun did I have there! Hundreds of tents on a site, lectures, workshops and demonstrations in bigger tents, 300 public computers connected to the Internet, 1000 boys and 10 women/girls camping, talking, internetting, listening, laughing.

I notice that even then, there were far fewer women, but interestingly, Marianne felt the following way:

The amazing thing was that the atmosphere was really like what I knew of women’s festivals – I came right out of the women’s movement, and here there were boys and men all over the place, sharing their stuff and experiences, discussing how to get human right violations reports out of Gaza over weak telephone lines, how to get rid of the fascists on their bulletin board systems without betraying their principle of freedom of speech, talking about Gopher (the text menu based navigating system, no web yet) and newsgroups and mailinglists and FTP.

From here we talked further about gender stuff and Marianne had some interesting observations. I’m not sure a man who did not know how computers worked (who was not a nerd) would have felt any different than what Marianne describes below.

Mm, my prior experiences with computers did not really impress me. At school ‘computers’ were something unseen, a hobby of a few boys with the wrong clothes, who went studying math and physics. Classical nerds, and at that time ‘nerd’ was not associated with anything sexy or fun at all. When I studied psychology I had my first hands on experience with computers: mainframes behind glass…(the typewriters connected to the computer did not even have screens). I did not have a clue what I was doing and it did not interest me at all. … no, not my cup of tea. For that matter, just a classic women stance towards computers.

The first time I had an idea about computers was again at the research institute were I worked, actually before they bought the word processors. In the hall there was a piece of furniture I did not understand. It was a huge table, in which a kind of typewriter was built in. No one used it, it was just standing there. I asked other people what it was, no one knew, but one day the publisher visited the insititute, he saw the thing and he told me that it was a word processor, on which you could save and edit text. And that is was a shame that the institute did not know how to handle it. At that moment I got a glimpse, I had a idea what could be done with such a device, I have been involved in several feminist magazines as a volunteer, and some of these we had to typeset ourselves at the printing house. … Though there were ways to correct a letter or a word, you usually ruined the rhythm of the words and the sentence cause the font types were proportional, there was not enough space or too much space after deleting and then inserting a new letter. I realized that this problem would be solved with a word processor.

So in that sense my computing education is ‘classical feminine’: I did not see anything in computers as long as it was about calculation, but when it turned out to be about writing, language and typesetting I got it. Of course, this is a tricky stereoptype male=calculation, language=female, but it worked for me. I have to admit that I used this stereotypical argument in my book ‘Internet ABC voor vrouwen’ (Internet ABC for women, 1995) to convince women they had to get their hands on this stuff, because otherwise the Internet would remain a toy for boys. My message was basically: don’t be afraid, the Internet it is more about language and communication than it is about computing and technology. I am still a bit ashamed for that argument… But it worked.

I really question the way we use this stereotype of pragmatism versus play. Marianne and others have said they cared about tech once they saw it could help them do something they wanted to do, and they seem to think this is more how women think, while men use tech more often for playful reasons. But This distinction rests on what we define at “just for fun” or “for a serious purpose” and no one seems to question those categories.

Oh, I suddenly remember another ‘computing’ experience which was perhaps also crucial. Actually, I would not call it computing, but it definitely had to do with micro-electronics and chips. I was playing in a punk band, and in Amsterdam Michel Waisvisz from STEIM (institute for experimental electronic music) had designed a so called crackle box, a very primitive synthesizer which did not have a keyboard as interface, but turning keys and a metal plate on which you laid your fingers. The resistance (temperature, moist. movement) of your fingers was then translated by VOC’s (I don’t remember what it meant, voltage operating circuits or centers, I think – anyway, they were computer chips) into eh… sound, noise, great noise! But you never knew before what noise 🙂

To me, this sounds like just the kind of playful appreciation usually attributed to men.

I wanted to play a crackle box too! … I went to STEIM and they gave me the drawings, the schemes, and a list of stuff needed: transistors, VOC’s, and all kinds of other tiny little things you had to buy in a radio hobby shop. I had a friend who was deeply into electronics and soldering, and he taught me how to do this. I have ruined so many chips and two print plates by my unexperienced soldering! Eventually we never did a gig with the crackle box, it blew itself up all the time, and that was completely my fault since I changed the original design: I did not want to work with batteries but with a transformator and ordinary net current… Which was pretty stupid, since the thing worked by direct touch contact. I have had my portion of electroshocks…

I think for me the point was, both with the word processor and the crackle box: if I have an idea of what I want to accomplish, and if I have the idea that this can be done with a technology on which I can lay my hands on, which I can appropriate, adjust, tweak, then I am into technology. I am not a hacker, of course, but I always liked the old hacker’s slogan: hands-on! Because it is both literal and figural a matter of hands-on, both with the crackle box and the computer (which’ most important interface is the keyboard, and not the screen.) Strange enough such a basically pragmatic drive is not usual in women. I at least had no women friends who have the same fun in appropriating technology.

So Marianne seems to have really gotten into a kind of hardware hacking, or even circuit bending, which again is usually assumed to only be interesting to men. And she even describes this as atypical among women. I talked to her further via email about this, so I’ll get into that in the next post, as well as finally getting to the in-person interview! –and if you think this has been long (even though I edited out a lot) just wait a few entries until I get to my interview with Florian Cramer, which I managed to actually record. Or rather he did. 😉

Interview with Marianne van den Boomen

On the same day I interviewed Erna I went also to speak with Marianne van den Boomen, who is also working on a PhD at Utrecht University, in new media. Marianne has already been writing about technology for some time, so she has a very well-informed perspective. Before meeting in person we exchanged a series of emails, so I will start with some excerpts from that exchange.

I guess I have to make a distinction between new media and Internet, because I encountered these separately.

My first involvement with new media was in 1984. I was working as an editor of a magazine called Marge, a monthly magazine about social work, community work and social movements (feminist, gay, squatting etc). That year the research institute where we had our office had bought a word processing system (not even MS DOS, it was a dedicated Dutch word processing system, with huge 8 inch floppies, on which you could store I think 30 pages). The system was meant for just the secretaries, to type reports, but we, the three magazine editors, went with the secretaries on a course to learn it. We had the idea that with this we could publish the magazine without the expensive, bureaucratic and tiresome steps in between the editing and final printing (manual copy editing on typescripts, sending it by snail mail to the typesetter, getting strips back by snail mail, proofreading, sending it back again, doing the layout with the returned corrected strips, sending it back again, and then final proofreading – and always fights with the publisher about delivering to much typesetting work). So we started to do the typesetting by ourselves in-house – that indeed did save us money we had to pay to the publisher, and it was big fun, but of course it increased tremendously our working hours… First mistake 🙂

Nevertheless, I was completely in love with those word processing machines – magical typewriters, which enabled bypassing intermediary institutions by doing-it-yourself, hands-on (I still consider PCs that way). The same year I organized a conference and a special issue of the magazine about ‘The electronic social worker – Information technology and welfare’. The issue was about what would happen when computers would enter the field of social and community work. The issue and the conference addressed computer democracy, community building, client-registration systems, privacy issues, Orwell’s 1984, new labour relations, changes in quality of labour, social and cultural impact etc.

To write the general overview article I visited several clubs and institutions, among these an open day of the Utrecht School of Arts, which showed the latest stuff in the field of computer aided design and games. It was impressive, color screens, moving images (I had never seen that before), proud technophilic teachers giving demonstrations. But the most impressive moment was when three boys sneaked in (I guess 14-year old, clearly not the intended student target group, they had the wrong age, the wrong coats and the wrong Utrecht accent). They asked if they could show their stuff, because they had ‘some problems with sequencing’ they could not figure out. The teachers allowed them to put their cassettes in a computer, and at once all the other CAD-stuff in the room looked bleak and dull: this was the real stuff, very professional funny animations and games, including music. Homebrew! The embarrassed teachers immediately pulled the plug. The boys left, and I now regret forever that I did not talk to them. But that was the moment I realized: there must be a whole subculture out there, doing things with computers which will amaze the world…

Later at my work MS-DOS computers with WordPerfect and 5 1/4 inch floppies replaced the Océ proprietary system, and we started to use telephone modems to send the magazine completely laid out to the publisher. I started working as a copy editor at a weekly magazine, the Groene Amsterdammer, and because I had a little bit more knowledge about computer systems I also became the system manager (teaching the editorial team Windows and e-mail!), and now and then I wrote articles about computer culture, and later about the Internet.

Marianne really took time to reflect on what she thought when she first encountered computers, and I note that for her as well there is an idea that they can confer some kind of freedom; freedom from layers of control, freedom from the constraints of some other medium. Also, like Sher and Erna, Marianne had the experience of being the most knowledgeable in a community or workplace, and so sort of fell into the role of tech expert, and in her case actually gaining a title of system manager. I have a tone of material for this interview, so tomorrow I’ll post another entry but try to make it a little more of a digest.

Erna Kotkamp part 2

So I talked to Erna quite a bit about gender stuff, since she actually has worked in that area for some time and she has reflected pretty thoroughly on her own experiences and observations. For one thing, she finds that she does have to prove her technological expertise more often than male teachers, and when she observes the teachers she trains she sees the same thing. In a class on computer use, women teachers are still more likely to be asked “test” questions than men, which suggests that though men and women may use computers for daily tasks in the same ways, and may be aware that they use them in the same ways, when people talk or think about being “experienced with computers,” they tend to use a narrow definition that depends on actual programming or other creation, rather than just use, and that men are still perceived as being more competent.

Also, Erna made a really good point in saying that she defined her own level of experience differently in different settings. Among her colleagues in Gender Studies, who are not so focused on tech, Erna describes herself as very experienced, but among people who program a lot, she describes herself as less so. So I think we need to look more closely at what standard people are using when asked to either describe their own practice or to evaluate others.

She also made an interesting comment about relationships and careers; as I said in part 1 of the interview, she mentioned herself still feeling like she had to have serious reasons to use tech, not just enjoying the playful aspect and that this was part of an old, embedded gender stereotype. She also later said that it was easier for lesbians to escape that dynamic because between two women (and I assume his would hold for gay men) choosing to work or not did not instantly force you into some stance in relation to traditional roles. Oddly, in a completely different context, a gay friend of mine here in the US recently said the same. So that may be a real issue, but hard to get at since if self-reporting about tech use is unreliable, I would guess that self-reporting about partner’s attitudes or relationship issues connected to work with tech might be even less so! And I’d really prefer to avoid using tiny spy-cams.

Erna in particular found that ICTs were important to her because she doesn’t like F2F communication so much. She claimed that she simply would not talk to people or stay as connected to them without email, chat applications, and Skype. This went really counter to the assumption most people seemed to make that connecting, speaking, or performing live was always better.

Finally, continuing the theme of socializing, she felt that while New Media as a field was more cooperative than some, it was not very cohesive, compared to E-Learning, for example. What I start to notice is that the artists I speak with find it quite cooperative while the academics do not, which suggests again another case where people are using different baseline criteria. Really a great interview in the way it helps me to start seeing larger patterns and figuring out which questions I need to ask next.

Interview with Erna Kotkamp

Erna Kotkamp 2008
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

My next interview was with Erna Kotkamp, who is at U. Utrecht where she has been doing work on gender studies, and more lately on technology. Erna described her use of technology in a way that, so far, more closely resembles the “classic geek mode” than any of the other people with whom I spoke. She said she was most comfortable with a screw-driver in hand, tinkering with a computer’s guts. At the same time, even she was not completely comfortable saying she just found it fun, admitting any frivolous reasons for her use of tech. And she noted herself that it was interesting to find such an old gender old still affecting her so much.

Though Erna is not focusing explicitly on gender in her current research, which is on open-source software and e-learning, it was more explicitly part of this interview than in many, maybe because she notices that aspect in her work as a matter of course. She mentioned that 10 years ago, it was still common for people in humanities disciplines to feel comfortable ignoring tech or even announcing their ignorance of computers. At that time she was the “tech-y one” in Women’s Studies at U. Utrecht and was often called on to help others do things with computers, even to make PowerPoint slides. Now people are not so comfortable admitting techno-illiteracy, but Erna still feels some she knows need to be more savvy, and more importantly to recognize that knowing how to use tech and how to think critically about it are both essential basic skills now.

This conversation seemed to be be much more organic (that is to say non-linear and recursive) so this write-up will also be that way and also since I thought I was recording it and the device turned out to not work, I will probably have to come back and edit details later. 😛

Though Erna is the most inclined toward hardware hacking and of the women I’ve spoken with so far, one of the most proficient at coding, she seemed to get started sort of incidentally. Her family always was much more focused on arts and humanities kind of stuff, so neither she nor her brother were encouraged to do much with math, science, or tech. So though Erna feels her strengths lie in these later areas, she never really had much chance to develop them (or maybe even recognize them?) until by chance she took computer classes during her BA studies.

Anyway, Erna had quite a few insights into her own use of technology, the open-source scene, and the impact of gender…but that will be in the next post because in fact i have to go do family stuff myself right now!

Renee Turner part 2

Ok, slowly trying to catch up on these interviews… So, Renee is now working on an MA in fiction, and interestingly, she seems to share some of the same interests as Sher in thinking about writing or text as part of artistic practice. Right now she’s finishing her MA project which involves both fiction and non-fiction intertwined and she’s thinking about going on to a PhD in which she can explore narratives in electronic literary forms. Work she’s already done in De Geuzen reflect some of these interests, like the virtual seance with Guy Debord or some aspects of the Female Icons series.

Along with discussing these aesthetic and theoretical aspects, we talked a lot about how she used technology and what really affects women’s use. A couple of really interesting things emerged from this part of the interview. Because Renee has been a tutor at Piet Zwart this year, we were talking about that experience, in particular about women learning to program. Anyone who knows Florian Cramer (the director of the Media design MA program at Piet Zwart) knows of his preference for the command-line and has probably heard his reasoning on why graphical user interfaces are limiting to users. Since I know Renee is not a really avid coder, I asked her what her view on this was and how the students reacted.

(Since coding is almost always part of gender stereotypes around tech, this is a useful way to create an opportunity for gender to arise in the discussion without forcing it into the story artificially.)

Anyway, a couple of things came up. First, all of the students seemed to manage the coding without too much trouble (and the class is about 50/50 women and men). Second, at the same time, the students most likely to get into “tech as toy” thinking were men, but in such a small group, that doesn’t really show anything. Third, and most interesting, she thought the real reason women appeared to have a harder time learning to write code or use the command line has to do with the way their time is structured, especially if they are taking care of kids or other family.

Renee felt, and I can certainly confirm this from my own experience, that learning a programming language or to use the command line takes a kind of sustained attention over time that often women don’t have if they have families. She realized this after reading Martha Rosler’s work on how women read magazines (among other topics). Apparently women read magazines like Vogue because they can put them down and pick them up easily, and being interrupted is not too much of a problem. So her idea is that graphical user interfaces enable a similar ability to put down and pick up computer work. Her own experience has been that if she is trying to (or succeeds at) learning how to code something or do something via the command line, if she then has an interruption of several days (or of course longer) she loses her place and has to start over figuring out how she did it. I have found this as well, and when I later spoke with Erna Kotkamp and Audrey Sampson, they each independently mentioned similar experiences

I don’t think this indicates a difference between how men and women think, rather, anyone would probably have trouble if they were frequently interrupted and I think women are more prone to being interrupted or perhaps allowing themselves to be. Certainly anyone with children experiences this problem, and women are still more likely to be primary caregivers, especially when kids are very young (a time when one is lucky if one can squeeze out an hour of uninterrupted time from caretaking). But further, I suspect that women are less likely to insist on uninterrupted time because it may seem self-centered. –The persistence of this particular aspect of gendered socialization is still surprisingly strong and it showed up in most women’s reluctance to feel using tech for fun was even relevant to our discussion.

So when I ask how or why they use tech, most women only talk about reasons they feel are serious, worthwhile, important, etc. Though some may actually play with it in the same way men do, or use tech in the same way for the same reasons, they seem to perceive or at least describe their use very differently. This raises interesting challenges in how to best interpret my interviews if I want to make any general comment about women and tech/new media in the Netherlands.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some other important ideas–but maybe the ones that stick are most important. Yeah, that’s it… 😉 Well, I’ll check with Renee, but that’s it for now.