Conceptions
of gender
identity and
notions of
technological
competence
are co- constructed
and interdependent.

The next day, I was called into a formal meeting with representatives of the granting agency. I was in big trouble. I was a "public relations disaster." The agency was "considering taking the grant away." Wow! Never in my professional life had I heard of a grant explicitly withdrawn for reasons of PR value. Stunned, I stammered an explanation for my conduct pointing to the university's non-discrimination policy, and my obligation to "educate." Finally I found myself crying - big salty and very embarrassing tears. It proved a persuasive gender display. I was given a second chance. But for what?

Technologically Inept
The above experience manifests many of the major elements of women's relation to new technologies. Women live, paradoxically, in a state of intimate connection with the technologies of re/production and yet are represented as perennially inadequate: groping towards and never reaching competence, technophobic and Luddite. As Cynthia Cockburn, Carolyn Marvin, Ursula Franklin and other feminist sociologists of science have argued, conceptions of gender identity and notions of technological competence are co-constructed and inter-dependent. Boys and men are typically represented as embodying an unproblematic and agentic relation to tools. Femininity eschews tool use, and yet is enacted by the skilled use of domestic technologies: sewing machines, washing machines, vacuums. These tools are no less complex than cellular phones or computers and yet to be able to use them is to embody a gendered identity as technologically inept.

Women have always had access to technologies, whether reproductive, domestic, industrial, or educational. However, a historical overview of the relationships between women and technologies suggests three tentative conclusions, all of which provide acute cause for concern and systematic inquiry into issues of en/gendered in/equities (1):

  1. Women are usually involved in the development and/or early uses of technologies, then squeezed out as "expertise" coalesces around male expertise, and attendant social relations and practices are redistributed (2).

  2. The kinds of technologies made readily accessible to women (like the "Fabulous Mark Eden Bust Developer," the Wang Word Processor or the Dalkon Shield) tend to reify and produce gender effects-effects which consolidate already inequitable class and race positionings. "Power tools" (laptops, cellular phones, automobiles) are targeted to men (3).

  3. As well as consolidating inequitable divisions of labor, new technologies often increase the subjection of women to surveillance, chemical and physical damages, and other regulatory and extraordinarily destructive and demeaning practices.

Sexing the Texts of Educational Technologies
One strategy for unpacking the complex relations between gender, in/equity, and tools is to analyze critically the conceptualization of "gender" in contemporary discussions of "equity." For the purposes of the analysis presented here, we restrict ourselves to recent articles from the domain of education. First, we consider a "positivistic" conception of gender as equivalent with biological sex; second, a constructivist conception of gender as socially produced and sustained; third, a critical conception of gender as the ideological product of a repressively patriarchal hegemony; and fourth, a "postmodern" conception of gender as a non-cohesive, open-textured "pastiche" of characteristics, aptitudes and dispositions whose ongoing construction and reconstruction it is a central task of feminist praxis to enable and encourage.

We argue that accounts of equity and technologies reflect differently ordered sets of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and sexual difference, the purposes of schooling, and about the scope - and the limits of - technologies in the classroom. In selecting texts for this analysis, we chose those that are frequently cited and within which the author/s explicitly commit themselves to engaging seriously with the goal of creating equitable technological environments for female students and teachers.



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