She's Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff/women, Gender and Technology/cinderella or Cyberella? Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society

By Scott-Dixon, Krista | Herizons, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

She's Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff/women, Gender and Technology/cinderella or Cyberella? Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society


Scott-Dixon, Krista, Herizons


SHE'S SUCH A GEEK: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND OTHER NERDY STUFF

EDITED BY ANNALEE NEWITZ AND CHARLIE ANDERS

Seal Press

WOMEN, GENDER AND TECHNOLOGY

EDITED BY M.F. FOX, D. G. JOHNSON AND S.V. ROSSER

University of Illinois Press

CINDERELLA OR CYBERELLA? EMPOWERING WOMEN IN THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY.

EDITED BY NANCY HAFKIN AND SOPHIA HUYER

Kumarian Press

REVIEWS BY KRISTA SCOTT-DIXON

It's frosh week in Toronto. Sitting outside to catch the last of summer's rays, I hear the sound of raucous singing and cheering. I turn around to see a horde of purple-painted undergrads dive into the fountain at Nathan Phillips Square. They are wearing yellow hard hats and overalls, and thus immediately recognizable as first-year engineering students. Instinctively, I count the women. There are 10 in a crowd of about fifty. Not bad. Usually it's hard to find even one or two.

Now soaked, the students launch into the Lady Godiva's Hymn, a perennial favourite of many engineering schools, and one that I well remember learning from engineers at McMaster University in the early 1990s. The longer version, generally sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, contains verses such as:

A maiden and an engineer were

sitting in a park,

The engineer was busy doing

research after dark,

His scientific method was a

marvel to observe,

While his right hand wrote the

figures, his left hand traced the

curves.

Ah, plus ca change....

The problem of women's absence from scientific and technical studies, and from fields such as engineering, has preoccupied feminists for decades. The persistent numerically male-dominated, ideologically masculine and culturally macho nature of particular sci-tech fields, including engineering, physics and computer science, remains particularly puzzling in light of the fact that the majority of students graduating from university are now female. In Canada, women now make up over 60 percent of health, agricultural and biological sciences graduates. In addition, 43 percent of all workers in professional, scientific and technical occupations and 82 percent of health care workers are women.

Despite many biologically based explanations to the contrary, women can obviously hack the math and science. So where are the girl geeks? And why is technological culture still a boys' club? These are two questions addressed by three new books in the field of gender and technology.

One possible reason for the apparent absence of women is the way in which their technological work is typically measured. As the contributors to Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer's edited collection Cinderella or Cyberella? point out, despite the visibility given to Cyberellas-active participants in the design, implementation and use of information technologies-many women are Cinderellas in the "basement of the knowledge society," toiling as low-paid, lowstatus workers performing tasks such as assembling and disposing of electronics components.

As captured in Edward Burtynsky's iconic, large-scale photos of female factory workers, data entry clerks and scrap pickers in China, such jobs are tedious and often dangerous. Workers labour in close proximity to heavy metals, solvents and other chemicals emitted when components are constructed or destroyed. Assemblers and keyboarders suffer repetitive-motion injuries and eye strain. These types of occupations are often gendered female, and they are fundamental to the smooth operation of global electronics industries. They require women's intimate acquaintance with machines. In other words, women are "working with technology." What is at issue, however, is howthey are doing so, and why this contribution is largely invisible.

It's tempting to think that technology, on its own, can bring change. After all, most of us in Canada with access to the Internet have found our world expanded and enriched by this tool. …

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