Discourses in Gender and Technology: Taking a Feminist Gaze

Sheila French. Information Technology and Social Justice. Editor: Emma Rooksby & John Weckert. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing, 2007.


Globally, governments see new technologies as the enabler of economic success in the global knowledge economy. At the same time the United Kingdom, along with many other Western societies, is experiencing a gender divide in relation to the use, development and design of information and communication technologies (ICT). For some time it has been recognized that males dominate the use of technologies in all areas of British society (DFEE, 2001; Hellawell, 2001; Wilkinson, 2001) and that gender segregation in ICT occupations persists (EOC, 2004a). Only a few girls are taking up computing at an advanced level at school, and universities are experiencing a continued lack of interest in applications by women for computing degree programs (Alexander, 2001b; EOC, 2005). In 1996, 19% of computer science students were reported to be female. Today, there has been little improvement; females account for only 20% of computing graduates in Great Britain (EOC, 2005). In the workplace, women hardly feature in the innovation and production of technology and the computing industry is concerned about the lack of women in the sector. British industry continues to experience major skills shortages of technicians and ICT professionals (DFEE, 2001; EOC 2004b). This is contrary to images in the popular press of women—such as Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of lastminute.com—who are hailed as heroines of the dot.com industry. In reality men dominate e-commerce start-ups, and there is little involvement of women at the investment level of the industry (Hellawell, 2001). There are signs that women are not involved in the new economy and the new technologies, and “that men are firmly in the driving seat” (Wilkinson, 2001). This has not gone undetected, nor has it been ignored. Over a number of years the lack of women’s participation in science and technology has been addressed in various United Kingdom government policies and initiatives. However, neither the government nor industry has set specific targets in relation to women entering these male dominated industries (EOC, 2004). Gender segregation still prevails and women are still under-represented in the field of technology.

This chapter begins by looking at the emphasis that the United Kingdom government, along with others around the globe, place on the new technologies in relation to the global knowledge economy. The discussion moves on to look at why the current situation of gender segregation is thought to prevail. I present here a critical analysis of government policy and initiatives based on giving equal opportunities to women, most of which have so far largely failed to increase the participation of women. I then introduce feminist theory and discourse analysis to look at “discourses of technology.” Focusing on examples from two educational settings, I use the discussions of individuals’ experiences of technology, their process of engagement, or lack of engagement, with the technology. The aim is to demonstrate that issues of gender and technology are by no means simple. I suggest we should not just focus on giving women equal opportunities to access, training and education in technology, we should instead try to identify and understand more clearly how the dominant discourses around technology come to shape our understanding and identity with technology. It is this I suggest that needs deconstructing before we can address patterns of gender segregation.

ICT and the Global Knowledge Economy

Technology and innovation feature highly in future economies, and are seen by governments in the United Kingdom and around the globe to be an essential ingredient to becoming internationally competitive (Brooks & Mackinnon, 2001). Training the population in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is seen as a powerful enabler. The lack of access to ICTs does not only lead to exclusion from the new technologies but also to exclusion from the new knowledge economy (Castells, 2000). Training members of society to be computer literate is regarded as essential to participation in the current and future labor market. In government rhetoric about “education” there is a shift in emphasis from being purely concerned with the education of individuals, to a need to ensure the population has the essential skills that will assist with the nation’s wealth creation (Brooks & Mackinnon, 2001; Coffield, 1999). This raises issues about what type of knowledge and skills will be valued by society in the future. It suggests that those with the knowledge and ability to use the new technologies will be favored for their capacity to contribute to the knowledge economy. It suggests that those without the requisite information technology skills will fail to contribute to the economy and, therefore, could be excluded from future prosperity.

UK Government Policy and Initiatives

The UK government has recognised the gender divide and has proposed a number of initiatives to reverse what they refer to as “the challenge of women’s participation in ICT” (Alexander, 2001b). The aim is to give women access to information technology (IT) in education, the workplace and their social lives. Strategies are being funded to address socially excluded groups, which often include women, to enable them to acquire what are thought to be essential ICT skills for daily life in future economies (DTI, 2004). The aim is to improve the image of IT in education and work; this, it is suggested, will increase women’s participation. Girls will be encouraged to become more enthusiastic about today’s technologies, and it is hoped that they will gain confidence to compete with boys in what the government refers to as the male domination of ICT in the classroom. This is aimed at ensuring that all girls along with other socially excluded groups have the necessary ICT skills to work in and meet the skills demands of the new economy. Female role models will be used to improve the image of IT, to encourage young women to take ICT as a subject at school, and to enter careers related to technology. A change in business attitudes will be promoted in the computing sector to encourage flexible working conditions for parents. This approach is well-meaning, but there are a number of problems with it. Already there is evidence that these policies and initiatives are failing to make little difference.

Firstly this approach treats technology as an artifact that has no political or social values attached to it. This is clearly not the case, as social studies of science and technology have provided strong evidence that technology is not gender-neutral (Adam, 1998; Cockburn, 1985; Wajcman, 1991, 2000). In the home, male members of families still have more access to computers than women do (Richardson & French, 2001). Boys are very often given greater priority of access to computers at home by their parents than girls (Habib & Cornford, 2001; Na, 2001). In education it has been argued that there is a maleness surrounding technology, IT and computing subjects (Woodfield, 2000).

Secondly, there is an assumption that women, if the conditions are right, will want to be involved in the field of technology. However, evidence suggests quite the contrary; women may not want to be involved in computing (Clegg, 2001; Na, 2001). While women are quite able to “do computing,” for many the image of computing and IT is masculine; it is these gendered notions of what “is” technical which lead to girls becoming reticent about taking up computing and technology (Clegg & Trayhurn, 1999; Clegg, Mayfield, & Trayhurn, 1999). Therefore, suggestions that we can use role models to change the image of ICTs lead us to question where the role models will be found if the majority of women in our society remain uninterested in technology. These initiatives presume that given equality of access and the right workplace conditions, women will begin to participate. It suggests that women and men attach the same perceptions and social values to technology—an assumption I believe to be flawed. This approach is misguided in its treatment of technology. Taking this stance is likely to obscure many of the issues related to our social relationship with technology.

In the following discussion feminist theory and discourse analysis will be employed to help us understand the issues involved. We begin by unraveling the existing social and cultural practices, which have led to the current situation in the United Kingdom and other Western societies.

Taking a Feminist Gaze

Feminism comprises of one but many different theories and perspectives that have some common understandings and some differences. Feminism is complex, so defining it is controversial. Feminists agree that social and political theory has a history of being “written by men, for men and about men” (Theile, 1986), and that issues of women have been largely ignored or trivialised. Feminists critique any practice where there is an “assumption of male superiority and centrality” in which women’s subordination is taken as a given (Beasley, 1999). However, they do not necessarily agree about how we might bring about changes to any given situation.

Feminists collectively seek to explain women’s oppression and share a belief that women hold an unequal position in society; to use the theories to question the causes for this. The theories do not all suggest the same reasons for oppression or have the same ideals. In their different forms, feminisms collectively “prescribe strategies for women’s liberation” (Tong, 1997). The context in which I will use “discourse analysis” is taken from the critical tradition. Critical feminist work is ultimately political in that is seeks to understand the position of those who suffer most from dominance and inequality. Critical feminists are social critics. They outline their point of view, perspective and their aims, as in this chapter. Often they place their own subjectivity in the research rather than attempting to be neutral observers. The aim is to produce knowledge which might make a positive difference for women. In this case the question being asked is what factors or conditions sustain, legitimise and perhaps condone the current state of social inequality and injustice regarding women’s participation in technology.

Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis has evolved from a number of theories about how we should study language and text. The way in which I use it here broadly rests on the work of Michel Foucault (1978, 1981). The concept of “discourse” is taken in a quest to understand the relationship between language, social institutions, subjectivity and power. Discourse, as used in a linguistic context, is taken as a system of representation connected to writing or speech. In Foucault’s terms this is not just an analysis of “text” and the spoken word; it is also about how discourses, in his terms, create knowledge or meaning in our social world. Language, in his view, is not necessarily unique to the individual but is shaped by a range of social, political and economic practices. In a way, it places emphasis not only on what one says but also on what one does. Foucault, taking a constructionist theory of meaning and representation, argued that it is “discourse” that gives us meaning, which in turn creates knowledge values or norms in a particular field. There is a range of discourses in society, often overlapping, some of which are more dominant than others. They do not all carry equal weight or power. Foucault argues that the most dominant give meaning to the world and organise social institutions and processes. A dominant discourse in a historical period can then come to be constituted as the norm. Those who hold these beliefs, he argues, have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. This does not mean that individuals cannot contest the discourse, but it may mean that they are perhaps marginalised by what is considered to be the norm in that field. Meaning, therefore, depends on a person’s subjectivity. Subjectivity refers to the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of an individual (Weedon, 1997). In these terms, what we say and what we do are shaped by the discourses we inhabit and the norms and values associated with them. Experiences in the home and at school, such as expectations of the way girls and boys should behave as female or male, shape subjectivity. Therefore, if we look at the issues of women’s lack of participation in technology in terms of discourse, it is not only about issues relating to “technology,” “education,” or “careers.” It is also about the context and historical moment in which the discourse resides. In this case the context is also to do with the global knowledge economy and our relationship with technology at this time and the meanings such discourses produce.

To illustrate the complexities and put this work in a historical context I want to return briefly to government policy and initiatives to give an example of such discourses. The following demonstrates how knowledge and power are at work in discourses and how they come to make social meaning.

Consider the following statement made by the UK government, “ensure everyone has the requisite skills for the knowledge economy” (DFEE, 2001). As we read this statement we can see it is about giving the population opportunities to contribute in the workplace. However, it is also linked to the “knowledge economy.” As an educationalist reading this, I would suggest the education of individuals seems to have shifted from pure interest in an individual’s education to securing “economic wealth” for the nation (Brooks & Mackinnon, 2001). Therefore, if we look at the statement in terms of “discourse,” we could question if the statement is perhaps located in a discourse of what we might call “future economic wealth,” or in what Lucey, Melody and Walkerdine (2003) refer to as the discourse of “social capital.” The British government’s political position influences the meaning of this statement, as does my interpretation as an educationalist and feminist. As this discourse of “social capital” is constructed further and propagated by the government in policy and in the media, it becomes a dominant discourse in British society and has the power to shape our norms and values around the new economy.

My argument is that these discourses shape our beliefs and what becomes our “knowledge.” To understand women’s lack of participation, we need to look at norms and values associated with the field of computing and information technology before we can hope to make any difference to women’s lack of participation.

Discourses of Technology and Gender

It is important to define the context in which the terms “computing,” “IT,” and “ICT” are used in this discussion. Computing is a number of disparate and complex practices and technologies where the terms “computing,” “IT,” and “ICT” are used interchangeably. The term “ICT” is relatively new; my interpretation is that it refers more to the “user end” of the technology. The UK government appears to hold a similar interpretation, as the focus is on giving society the necessary “end user” skills for a future economy. In the following discussion, I will use the term “computing” which includes all of these definitions.

Clegg, Mayfield, and Trayhurn (1999) suggest there is not only one “form,” or way, of “doing computing,” and that, this being the case, there is likely to be more than one discourse of computing. They have identified two major discourses; what we can term the “hard end” discourse, dependent on formal methods and mathematical models, and the “soft” or “user end” discourse, in which technology assists or supports organisational systems. Therefore, the meaning of the term “technical” can be different, depending on the context, or frame of reference.

These discourses are reflected in the way we organise “computing,” for example, in education. A computing department in a UK university might place the emphasis of its computing courses on a “mathematical” model of computing (the hard end), whereas a department in a faculty of humanities or business may place more emphasis on the human and social dimensions and on the real world uses of computers (the user end). In many academic institutions there is a discourse that suggests that “to do” computing requires superior mental powers linked to those of the mathematician or scientist (Edwards, 1990). In academia, the more traditional view of formal mathematical methods can also be strongly associated with math and “technical machismo” (Mahony & Van Toen, 1990, p. 321). In the disciplines of math and science, there is also a long history of a masculine culture (Hughes, 2001). It has been argued that this association of mathematics and science with masculine culture has turned women away from the subjects. This association suggests a gendered discourse of computing in which women may not wish to participate because it conflicts with their gender identity (Clegg & Trayhurn, 1999). Whilst the field of computing is still defined in this way, it may discourage some, but it cannot solely be responsible for the lack of women’s participation, as women have increased their participation in other seemingly impenetrable “macho” occupations such as medicine. It is also important to note at this juncture that not “all” females are put off by male-dominated occupations; just as not “all” males favour male-dominated occupations only (Hughes, 2001). However, if we look at our lives through the dominant discourses that help us define our identities, we can see that those discourses discussed so far could maintain the status quo in the field of technology.

Through the following two examples, taken from two different case studies carried out in educational settings, I will demonstrate the pervasiveness of these discourses. Both examples are used here to uncover and illustrate the dominant discourses that operate, or serve to maintain how we perceive computing. Both of the studies used are small and are not, therefore, being used to “claim” anything. They are being used to demonstrate the power of discourse in determining what becomes the knowledge, or norm, and values, and, therefore, maintains the current position. The narratives that follow draw on free association techniques (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000), which means that the interviews were unstructured, allowing the individuals to tell their story. The aim was to take a reflective look at what had informed their experiences in relation to their gender identities and their relationship with technology. Using theories of the “gestalt” (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000), I look to the sum of the “whole,” rather than the individual “part”; consequently, the work does not just focus on the subjects’ relationship with technology but also on the influence of the other aspects of their lives and experiences. The students may have constructed their accounts to make sense of the world they inhabit through their subjectivity. I add my interpretation, which I acknowledge is influenced by my own subjectivity and experience (Walkerdine, 1997; Hollway & Jefferson, 2000).

For the first example I use excerpts from the narratives of four university students, two males and two females (aged 18-24) who were studying for a degree in information technology at a British university; this study was carried out in 2003.

The Narratives

First we will discuss Simon and Paul. In the following excerpt we can see evidence that for both of them their relationship with technology is embedded in their masculine identities and in several other overlapping discourses around how they played as children and as young adult males. This is not surprising, as there is evidence that the relationship between technology and gender begins in the home where males dominate many of the technologies including computers. When computers first entered the home they were targeted at boys and male hobbyists (Kirkup & Abbott, 1997; Wajcman, 1991). Simon and Paul were not exceptions to this targeting. They had been introduced to computers early in their lives and both of them still played computer games. Simon was proud of what he defined as his “technical skills” and how he had recently networked the computers in his home. Simon talked about computers as “something I’m serious at” and explained how, through “trial and error,” he had learnt to build computers.

For Paul the computer is an “object” of some significance in his life. He described how he was comfortable in an environment where there was a computer turned on and how he would leave it on in his bedroom whilst he was working, listening to music or doing other things—”You can click on it and it runs itself … I leave it on in the room and just go back to it.” During the narrative Paul appeared to “confess” to using computers in his leisure time—”It might sound geeky, but yeah, my friends are geeky … I sound like I am always playing games and stuff, but it’s only when I’m sitting in my room and stuff.” Paul appeared to know about the popular images of computing and did not seem to want to be associated with them.

Both Paul and Simon claimed expertise in computing; they said they were “confident,” “good at” computing. Like boys in other studies (Beynon, 1993), they claimed expertise in using computers. I suggest that in their narratives they place themselves in what I have described as the “hard” discourse of computing. For both Simon and Paul, using computers allows them to inhabit a discourse in which they are comfortable. This discourse is located, amongst other issues, in how they played as children, and the way they currently socialise with other males. This promotes personal confidence and a sense of ability with technology, which I suggest is worth preserving. Their interest, as they described it, is fundamental to their identity as males and not just an external interest or passing hobby.

As discussed earlier, boys still have more access to home computing than girls, and there is evidence that parents favour boys over girls in issues of access to computers. It is believed that it is this that has led to girls having less experience of computers than boys before they reach school.

Both Asiya and Karima, the other two students in the study, who are female, both located themselves at the “user end” or “soft end” of any computing discourse. They were very explicit about the “usefulness” of computers in the workplace; neither of them used computers in their leisure time. Both of them expressed how their interest in the computer was gained in their experience at school or at work. “With computers I don’t like the hardware, the technical side of it as much. I understand I need to know about it. I find the technical side difficult, it doesn’t interest me. I would rather be sitting at a PC designing a database than looking inside a PC” (Karima).

Their choice, as with the males, was based around feeling they were good at something. Asiya had found she was “good at using computers” in her secretarial position; she had found time in her position as a secretary to “open program files and discover the PC.” They used the same sort of terms as Simon and Paul—something they were very “interested in,” “good at”—and in Karima’s case she had studied IT at her secondary school and was very enthusiastic—”I absolutely loved it, loved it” (meaning as a subject at school).

Neither of them continued to play computer games or appeared to see much use for the computer outside their university work or in the workplace. They had both developed an interest in computers in their teens, later than Simon and Paul. Both females identified a “use” for computers, but did not perceive that using computers was part of their social activities. This is very much in contrast to Simon and Paul. Simon linked his interest in what he referred to as “building computers” directly to how he played as a boy. We can see in the following how Simon’s “interest” in computers is linked to his identity as a child—”It (computers) are generally like Lego … then it’s like slotting everything in … then it’s setting it up.”

This demonstrates how the gendered attitudes of how Simon played as a child and also gendered preferences for toys may have influenced his computer usage. Mead and Piaget have said that children develop a sense of “self” through their play and games (Crossley, 2000). Studies have found that girls and boys play differently and this has implications on the development of their self-identity as girls and boys (Gilligan, 1982). Children’s choices of toys are different. Males are associated with mechanical toys and construction toys such as Lego, which encourage technical confidence (Wajcman, 1991). Girls play with toys such as dolls and stuffed animals (Rheingold & Cook, 1975). All four students were introduced to computers through play, though the females lost interest as they matured. We know that most computer games are targeted at young males and it is likely that most computer games that are available are more popular with boys than girls (Griffiths, 1997). Karima explained she had “grown out of it” and Asiya stated, “I don’t really play, not in the last few years.” The females in this study were no longer motivated to use a computer to play games. Thus they rejected the computer as a toy, changing their view of it in adulthood to that of a useful tool. Computing is something both these female students have an interest in, but I suggest it is not strongly linked to their gendered identities.

What I have shown in this small example is that discourses around technology can extend into the home and other parts of our social lives, including in this case our gender identities as young children and young adults. How we play as children and what are acceptable interests for boys and girls in the home contribute to our gendered identities. All four students have been influenced by childhood and teenage experiences of using computers in the home. I have suggested that both of the male students located themselves in the “hard” end of computing, which in their case is intrinsically linked to them as males and bound up in their masculine identities. Both females were very interested in computers but located themselves in what could be described as the “soft end” or “user” discourse in computing. They could clearly see a use for technology in their lives, but the computer has little to do with their gender identity. The males and females in this study inhabit different discourses; we can identify these are open to interpretation and do not have clear borders.

In the next example, I want to demonstrate how these discourses are perpetuated in another area of education and how they can then influence decision-making of young women when it comes to choosing subjects, courses and careers. We know that educational experiences have the power to influence our perceptions of who we are. Research has identified that “education has a mammoth part to play in gendering social worlds, not only through what is taught but also through how it is,” and therefore perpetuates a society’s norms and values (Evans, 1994, p. 52). There is a great deal of research in the field of gender and education which expands on these issues.

In schools and colleges computing and the skills associated with it are still perceived in gendered terms. There are good reasons for this. Early school computers were usually bought and controlled by male teachers in the math and science subject areas. This perpetuated the “hard” discourse and further marginalised girls as the boys showed more interest. A reluctance of girls to embrace the computer was seen early on as a problem of girls’ confidence, rather than rooted within the way technology is perceived (Clegg, 2001). Today there are still only a few women lecturers and teachers in computing and IT at all levels of education in the UK, which may reinforce the idea that it is an area of study most suitable for males. This of course raises the question as to where the government will find their role models.

The following abstracts are taken from a study of 16-18 year old female students studying in two colleges of further education in an inner city area in Manchester, UK. This second study took place in 2004 (French & Saxon, 2006) and was initiated by a number of colleges. They were concerned about the lack of participation of women in their technology courses and the lack of progression of the young women to university and technology industries. The following demonstrates with a few examples how the discourses we have already discussed manifest themselves in this educational setting. Twenty-five female students between the ages of 16 and 18 were interviewed. The narratives demonstrate how the discourses around technology in this study influenced the students’ and teachers’ perceptions of what is a suitable subject for girls to study.

Even before joining their course these female students encountered a gendered discourse around the information technology courses they were interested in—”I couldn’t believe that people said IT was a lad’s (boy’s) course … There were a lot of girls being interviewed at the same time as me, but they didn’t come on the course” (Female, 16 years). She was referring to the course tutor’s remarks during her interview for the course. In light of the description of the course as a course for boys, it is not surprising that so few young women enrolled.

The girls were asked why they thought girls did not enroll in technology courses. There were many duplications of this type of remark; I include only three examples here.

“I think girls prefer hairdressing and girlie type courses.”

“Maybe they think it’s a boy’s thing.”

“A lot of girls think it’s too technical and that they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

We can see a gendered discourse prevails not only through the way the course tutor describes the courses but also around some girls’ perceptions of information technology courses. The EOC recently reported (Fuller, Beck, & Unwin, 2005) that there are still strong gendered perceptions of what are suitable careers for “boys” and “girls” in the UK. Girls are still over-represented in childcare fields, while males are over-represented in subjects related to engineering, motor vehicles and construction. This is despite the fact that as early as 1984, Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) (Henwood, 1996) was launched to encourage women to enter these careers. WISE influenced policy and practice as many small and large-scale initiatives were designed to encourage females to join science, engineering and technology courses. Henwood (1998) has criticised the WISE project for taking an equal opportunities approach based on women’s choice.

In this study, none of the 16-year-old female students said that they were interested in pursuing a career related to technology. Only the female students whose ages ranged from 17-18 years old stated that they were intending to pursue a career associated with their course and technology. There were only 11 females in the 17-18 year age group, out of a total cohort of 83 students; seven were interviewed; all of them were intending to take up a career in computing. It is unlikely that the choices of the younger students had anything to do with their academic achievement. In the UK girls have shown they have ability in the subject area. In 2001–2002 girls achieved 62% of passes at grade C or above in General Certificate of Education—Advanced level (GCE A level) computer studies, whereas the achievement rate for boys was 56% (EOC, 2003). Despite their success in the subject, young women continue to shun technology subjects at the higher levels. In 2004–2005 around half the number of total students in England who took GCE A level in ICT were female. There were 4,510 females compared to 8,370 males, which is an improvement on 2003–2004. However, the numbers of students taking computer studies are a stark reminder of the gender division in this subject area; a total of 5,336 males, but only 493 females took the GCE A level subject (DFES, 2005). It has been shown that there is a direct correlation between the number of women entering IT or computing degrees at university and those taking the subjects at school and college (Symonds, 2001). In this study, the courses these 17-18 year olds attend are also “feeders” into university degree courses. Whether they can “do” technology is not the issue, they just are not choosing it.

Female tutors and course leaders were in the minority in the two colleges who participated in this study. Several students commented about the male tutors—”The male programming tutor is a bit strange” (15 year old). Most of their personal tutors were male, and another student said “I would rather have a woman to talk to” (15 year old).

Working with male students presented “problems,” or “perceived” problems, some of which had consequences on the course choices as this comment identifies—”I could have gone straight onto the advanced course, but there were no other girls on the course that year. So I did an extra year on my previous course so that I would have some female company” (17 year old). This student’s perceptions had influenced career choice and academic progression. Young men were the dominant group on the IT courses she had studied. Most of the girls interviewed reported they did not like working with the boys. Other students were initially put off by boys, but got used to working with them. Some, as in that quote, had asked to stay in groups with other girls on the course. Having another female in the class made a difference—”If I didn’t have Julie in the class, I would have felt a bit intimidated” (16 year old).

One student had noticed that several girls had started the course with her but did not complete the course. It could be that the thought of a class of mostly male students was worse than the actual experience for some of the students. For some it clearly put them off the course; it meant them having to “fit in.” Some had compromised their career choices and, in other cases, it led them to leave the course before completion. Therefore the dominant number of males on the courses, and the gendered attitudes of the tutors, influenced their experiences.

From the narratives of the university students and the college students we can identify a dominant gendered discourse in computing which is linked to the use of technology in the home, as well as to education. In the previous examples we can see that this discourse is linked to gendered notions of how we view and experience technology. It is this I would argue, which needs deconstructing. I suggest that gendered perceptions of technology started early in life are further perpetuated as women mature. This discourse is pervasive, as it is not just isolated to the field of computing but extends into many other social spheres.

Clearly, if we want to change the current situation, we need to challenge this gendered discourse around technology. This is not easy because it is so pervasive. However, it is possible. We need to look very closely at our gendered identities and our relationship with technology and how, as parents, educators and government, we perpetuate these images. We need to challenge the current values and norms regarding technologies in our society.


I have shown evidence of a gendered digital divide with regard to technology in British society. I have discussed and criticised government policy. Throughout this discussion, feminism and discourse analysis have been used to unravel the issues and complexities concerning the lack of women’s participation in technology. Through the narratives of these two small studies I have identified gendered discourses around computing and technology. These gendered perceptions relate to our identity and our experiences with technology. These two case studies have shown how this discourse manifests itself in the home and is further perpetuated through our education and leads to choices in education and careers. I suggest we need to study this further to enable us to deconstruct this discourse before there is any possibility for change. Gender segregation in ICT is not just an issue of equality; it is also about tackling gendered attitudes and identities in relation to technology. Clearly, it is this we need to address before we can challenge gender segregation and gain women’s participation in the future development and use of technology.