Links: Women and Tech

January 30, 2013

I’m not quite sure how it happened but lately I’ve been reading some excellent articles about women, feminism and technology.

Credit is due to @KevinMarks and @diane1859 from whose tweets I picked up on some of these:

1. “Free as in sexist?” Free culture and the gender gap by Joseph Reagel.

I’m increasingly sceptical about words like “freedom” and “open”. George Orwell observed that “fascism” had become a meaningless word to be applied to anything that the speaker didn’t like. “Freedom” has similarly become a meaningless word to be applied to anything the speaker does like, as a way of shutting down debate. How can anyone object to “freedom”?

Reagel’s study is about how the culture and ideology of the “free” software movement can exclude women. It contains many wonderful quotes, good phrases and telling examples:

“…women reported they were not able to spend as much time on voluntary activities as men. This latter point relates to the “double shift” of female time and is aptly captured in the title of a chapter in Jelena Karanovi Cacute’s (2008) dissertation: “Free Software Is for Free Men” — taken from the wry observation of a female participant in the French FLOSS community who had numerous family obligations others did not”

2. Feminism Fizzles by Rachel Shteir from the Chronicle.

Shteir reviews recent books by women about women and compares them unfavourably with Betty Freidan’s feminist classic “The Feminine Mystique”. Quote:

“Compared with Friedan, many WOW seem shrunken or contorted in their arguments, distracted by trivia. Five years from now, will anyone take seriously The End of Men and The Richer Sex’s arguments that men are the new women, much less Vagina’s argument that men have to change the way they treat female genitalia?

As for Anne-Marie Slaughter’s argument that unless there is a radical rearranging of flextime and child care, women will be unable to have both children and high-achieving careers, I can say only that she will probably be known as the Marie Antoinette of her generation. Women who make far less money than she does and who have far fewer choices have been dealing with the difficulties of child care and inflexible work schedules for a very long time; that she is just discovering these problems speaks more of her sense of entitlement and the academic bubble in which she has lived than any plausible solutions she has managed to put forward.”

3. “Girl Geeks and Boy Kings” by Melissa Gira Grant from Dissent.

Gira Grant reviews and provides a compelling commentary on Katherine Losse’s 2012 book about Facebook The Boy Kings. Quote:

“The reason Facebook made it preferable or valuable to be online as the “real” you, Losse told me, is also the reason why she believes people use Facebook at all—it isn’t necessarily to just look at these women, but because “women use it. And it feels safe.” That is, it’s not just the promise of women and women to look at it; it’s woman as hostess, woman as civilizer, woman not just as object of value, but, through her presence, a producer of a more valuable Facebook. The trade-off, however, to building this “safe space” for women that women never asked for, is the cut Facebook earns from our time on it. This isn’t to say Facebook is pimping us for kicks; they’re just a boss.”

All these pieces are sharp, intelligent and clearly and cleanly written. Orwell would approve of the rigour of expression, although he might not approve of what’s being expressed.

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