14 Gender and Technology

Julie Frizzo-Barker

In this workbook, we’re approaching the idea of gender as fluid, dynamic, and relational. It is repeatedly constructed and socially performed through our everyday life practices. With that in mind, it’s useful to think about gender’s relationship to the material world around us. Technology is one fascinating case study for this exercise. To consider just one type, information and communication technologies (ICTs) like the Internet, social media, and mobile technologies ‘mediate’ almost every aspect of our daily lives from microsocial and interpersonal relationships to macrosocial institutions like education, work, health, and so on. So it’s worth considering the nature of technology in order to better understand the influential role it plays in shaping our reality. Although women have been active innovators and users of technology throughout history, our ideas of technology are steeped in stereotypes of dominant masculinity.

When we think of the technologies we use daily, like smartphones, we are most likely to think of them as gender-neutral, powerful tools that can be used either productively or harmfully. It seems perfectly logical to say, “technology doesn’t know or care about your gender, race, class, or religion,” right? But if we consider the fact that gendered people develop these technologies, we begin to see how their assumptions, interests, and blind spots can become part of the technologies themselves. Scholars who study this are interested in ‘the social construction of technology’ (SCOT). Through this lens, we can see technologies themselves as gendered artifacts, with different implications for people of all genders.

Whose gendered experiences are taken into account in the development of a new technology, and whose are neglected? For example, Apple’s first health app, which many use on their FitBit watches, was widely publicized at its launch in 2014 as the most robust, comprehensive health tracker of its kind. And yet it did not include a period tracker – an important consideration for more than half the global population who may want to track their menstrual health. This feature was added in new versions of the app the following year. Gendered biases in technology development can make the world less convenient, and statistically even more dangerous for women.

Now that we’ve considered some of the warning signs of gender-biased technologies, let’s think about some of the productive ways forward. What would a feminist technology look like? A technology can be considered feminist if its design or use, whether intended or unintended, improves the lives of women. It may have one or more of these characteristics: it contributes to gender equity, favours women’s uses and experiences, or brings about more equitable gendered social dynamics than those associated with a prior technology. Finally, it should be highlighted that ‘women’ are not a monolithic category of people. Therefore, whether and how a particular technology might improve the life of a woman needs to be considered on an individual basis, and from an intersectional perspective.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs): material artifacts used to communicate information, practices people engage in to communicate information, and the social arrangements that build up around them in this process
Social construction of technology (SCOT): the study of the ways that social dynamics such as gender, race, class, and (dis)ability can become baked into technologies
Feminist technology: a technology that improves the lives of women through its design or use, whether intended or unintended



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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Julie Frizzo-Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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