Technology and feminism

Is There Such a Thing as Feminist Technology?

Privileged society uses technology everyday. We wake up with an alarm set on our phones; we read news while traveling to work on our phones or tablets; our work is saved on computers and backed up on the Cloud. We can’t imagine life without emails, or jogging without music plugged in our ears. This holds true for most of us—the “haves” of the society. In this context, technology seems mundane, typical, and gender neutral. Nothing about using a phone or computer seems gendered. But if we trace our memories and recollect our experiences, many of us will realize that technology was first introduced to us and brought into our home by a man. It was brothers who were addicted to video games while sisters were taught how to bake cookies in the oven. Fathers had laptops to do accounts for work, whereas mothers used paper and pen to maintain a household’s expenditure record.

At the same time, women are encouraged to use household appliances because they helped women be more efficient at housework. Whether it is an electric stove, oven, vacuum cleaner, mixer, or other gadget, these types of technology are invariably associated with women’s labor. Thus, there are certain technologies that have been feminized—including reproductive technologies such as birth control or tampons. While some reproductive technologies can be liberating, they were invented by men, with the comfort of men—not women—in mind (Layne 2010). Thus, certain technologies have been specifically demarcated for women, which serve to further entrench gender stereotypes.

This gender stereotyping continues when women are warned against using technologies like computers and machines, which are either expensive or “complicated.” In fact, in rural societies in India, there is a common myth that a woman's touch will destroy technology. So, let’s ask ourselves again: is technology indeed gender neutral if it serves to reinforce gender stereotypes and puts men at a greater privilege than women?

We need feminist technology, because feminism also means equality.

Putting it in Context: Technology and Men

Gendered technology goes back to the Enlightenment, during which new inventions allowed for printing the written word, and men could now study the moon, stars, and galaxies. The history of this period is clearly male-biased; it speaks only of men and their contribution, completely ignoring and sidelining women’s significant achievements that were taking place at the same time in similar fields. In later years, technology came to be associated with traditional military weapons, factory machinery, and work tools, all relegated to the sphere of men (Wajcman 2009). So technologies of the past have certainly been gendered—but contemporary technology is no less so.


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