Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Gender and Technology

Anne Dalke's picture

Gender and Technology

A New Interdisciplinary Course in
Computer Science/English/
Film Studies/Gender & Sexuality 257

Bryn Mawr College

Anne Dalke and Laura Blankenship
Spring 2009, MW 2:30-4

Femborgs and History:
"The Mistress of Horology"

Aimee Mullins:
"Rubber Feet Girl"


“Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”
(Donna Harraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and
Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” 1985)

“We’re at a turning point. There’s an opportunity to remake the culture
around the machine.” (Sherry Turkle. “Men, Women and Computers,”
May 16, 1994)

This course will explore
• the historical role technology has played in the production of gender;
• the historical role gender has played in the evolution of various technologies;
• how the co-construction of gender and technology has been represented in a
range of on-line, filmic, fictional and critical media;
• what all of the above suggest for the technological engagement of everyone in today's world.

In our attempt to understand the varieties of ways in which we are all now implicated in the processes and outcomes of contemporary technology, we will begin with a dual historical examination, asking both how technologies have been used to construct gender, and how technology has been gendered over the course of time. We will then look in particular at women’s involvement in technological practices, at how initiating such involvement might mean altering such practices, and what role might women's colleges like Bryn Mawr might play in such transformations. We will end by investigating current practices and exploring future possibilities: how might we educate ourselves to be literate, skeptical, and intelligent consumers and interpreters of new media?

Analyzing both historical case studies and imaginative test cases, we will interpret the representation of gender and technology in a range of experiences, documentaries and non-fictional texts, as well as in fictions and feature films; we will select from the list below to assign approximately 50 pp. of reading or two hours of viewing for each class. We may sponsor visits from women who are working in intersex activism, labor organization, filmmaking, and computer programming.

We will also be contributing to the scholarship in this area. As a way of engaging the course material with current technology, students will be blogging twice weekly throughout the semester. There were also be a sequence of more formal writing assignments: three 4-page essays and a final 12-page paper, all posted on-line; a multimedia project (an iMovie, or one made with a cellphone) may be substituted for one of these assignments. Because we expect to enroll students from a variety of disciplines, we will encourage projects that make sense for, and will expand on and develop, the range of individual interests students will bring to the course.

Draft Syllabus of Possible Reading and Writing Assignments

Week One: What is Technology? What is Gender? What is the Relation between Them?

Day 1:

Introductions, Definitions, Explorations....

Day 2:
deLauretis, Teresa. “The Technology of Gender.” Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction. Indiana University, 1987. 1-30.
Grint, Keith and Rosalind Gill. “The Gender-Technology Relation: An Introduction.” The Gender-Technology Relation: Contemporary Theory and Research. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis, 1995. 1-28.

Contribute data to (or to challenge) these arguments:
bring in examples of ads, song lyrics, etc. in which
technology & gender represent each other

Day 3:
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women. Routledge, 1991. 149-182.
Halberstam, Judith. “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick Hopkins. Indiana University Press, 1998. 468-483.

Post/bring in logo of your imagined/utopian relationship of technology & gender

Arthur Robinson Williams,
"Jake, Pressing Chest"

“…we might then say, gender is not a property of bodies or something originally existent in human beings, but ‘the set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors, and social relations’ by the deployment of a ‘complex political technology’….The construction of gender goes on as busily today as it did in earlier times, say the Victorian era….the construction of gender is also effected by its deconstruction…by any discourse…that would discard it as ideological misrepresentation.” Teresa de Lauretis, “The Technology of Gender” (1987)

Part I: The Technologies of Gender: Making and Re-making Ourselves

Day 4: Sculpting the Female Body
Davis, Kathy, “Facing the Dilemma.” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick Hopkins. Indiana University Press, 1998. 286-305.

Bañales, Victoria. “The Face Value of Dreams”: Gender, Race, Class, and the Politics of Cosmetic Surgery.” Beyond the Frame: Women of color and Visual Representation. Ed. Neferti X.M. Tadiar and Angela Y. Davis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 131-152.

Sciolino, Elaine and Souad Mekhennet. “In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity.The New York Times. June 11, 2008.

Find more on-line examples…

Day 5: Intersex
Parens, Erik. “Thinking about Surgically Shaping Children.” Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics, and the Pursuit of Normality. Johns Hopkins, 2006. xiii-xxx.

Intersex Society of North America: A World Free of Shame, Secrecy and Unwanted Genital Surgery.

Day 6: Transgender
Hausman, Bernice. “Introduction: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender” and “Epilogue.” Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology and the Idea of Gender. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University, 1995. 1-19, 195-200.

Stone, Sandy. The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick Hopkins. Indiana University Press, 1998. 322-341.

Stryker, Susan. “King's Body, Queen's Member: State Sovereignty, Transsexual Surgery, and Self-Demand Amputation.” Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights.
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: Promoting the Ethical Use of Technology to Expand Human Capabilities.
Stanford University Law School, Stanford, California. May 26-28, 2006.

Williams, Arthur Robinson. “My Right Self.” 2008.

Trebay, Guy. "He's Pregnant, You're Speechless." The New York Times. June 22, 2008.

Day 7: Guest Visitors?
Growing Up Intersex, Going on Oprah
The Oprah Winfrey Show
Androgyn Insensitivity

Paper #1: 3-pp. posted on your blog, exploring ways in which technology
has been used to construct, de-construct and/or re-construct gender

“…one of the things I like about motoring is the sense it gives one
of lighting accidentally, like a voyager who touches another planet
with the tip of his toe, upon scenes which would have gone on,
with the tip of his toe, upon scenes which would have gone on,
have always gone on, will go onunrecorded, save for this chance
glimpse. Then it seems to me I am allowed to see the heart of the
world uncovered for a moment.” Entry for 21 Aug. 1927.
The Diary of Virginia Woolf.
Vol. 3. Ed. Anne O. Bell, 1980.










Part II. Engendering Technology: How Have We Used Machines?

Days 8-9: Panel of Presentations
Constructing Some Histories of Individually Gendered Technology Use

(some possibilities:)
Earhart, Amelia. The Fun of It: Random Records of My Own Flying, and of Women in Aviation. Brewer, Warren & Putnam, 1932.

Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence. London: Burnett, Books, 1983.

Kear, D.W. “The Computer and the Countess.” Datamation 19, 5 (1973): 60-63.

Ride, Sally (Swarthmore ’72) with Susan Okie. To Space and Back. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1986.

Stein, Gertrude. John H. Lienhard. “Gertrude Stein and Gears.” The Engines of Our Ingenuity. Retrieved April 26, 2008.

Weitekamp, Margaret. “The ‘Astronautrix’ and the ‘Magnificent Male’: Jerrie Cobb’s Quest to Be the First Woman in America’s Manned Space Program.” Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in the 1960s. Ed. Avital Bloch and Lauri Umansky. New York: New York University Press, 2005. 9-28.

Williams, Kathleen Broome. Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Days 10-11: Panel of Presentations, II
Constructing Some Histories of Collectively Gendered Technology Use

(some possibilities):
“Celebrating the Women Who Build Our City.” Non-Traditional Employment for Women. Retrieved April 26, 2008.

Cowan, Ruth Schwarz. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. New York: Basic, 1983.

Davies, Margery W. “Women Clerical Workers and the Typewriter: The Writing Machine.” Technology and Women’s Voices: Keeping in Touch. Ed. Cheris Kramarae. New York: Routledge, 1988. 29-40.

Martin, Michèle. "Hello Central?": Gender, Technology, and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991.

Oldenziel, Ruth. Making Technology Masculine: Men, Women and Modern Machines in America, 1870-1945. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999 (on the history of engineering-as-prototypical technology)

Otos, Sally and Ellen Levy. “Word Processing: This is Not a Final Draft.” The Technological Woman. Ed. Jan Zimmerman. Praeger, 1983.

Rakow, Lana. “Women and the Telephone: The Gendering of a Communications Technology.” Technology and Women’s Voices: Keeping in Touch. Ed. Cheris Kramarae. New York: Routledge, 1988. 207-228.

Shurkin, Joel. Engines of the Mind: From Abacus to Apple--The Men and Women who Created the Computer. New York: Washington Square Press, 1985.

Women and Transport Forum. “Women on the Move: How Public is Public Transport?” Technology and Women’s Voices: Keeping in Touch. Ed. Cheris Kramarae, New York: Routledge, 1988. 116-134.

Days 12-15: Panel of Presentations, III
Going Global: Women Using and Being Used By Technology

Gender, Science and Technology for Sustainable Development: A Web Ring. Accessed July 5, 2008.

Gender, Technology and Development:
an international, refereed facilitate the recognition, promotion and coordination of opinions concerning the extended and shifting boundaries of meaning in gender, feminism, equality, technology and science for non-Western societies and cultures.

Everts, Saskia. Gender and Technology: Empowering Women, Engendering Development. New York: Zed, 1998.

Oppel, Richard. "Female Suicide Bomber Kills 15 in Iraq." The New York Times. June 23, 2008.

Rubin, Alissa. "Despair Drives Suicide Attacks by Iraqi Women." The New York Times. July 5, 2008.

Sterling, Revi. Gender, Technology and Development: The AIR Project. Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. February 12, 2008.

Paper #2: 3-pp. posted on your blog, exploring ways in
which you see gender affecting technological practice

Fritz Lang,

“The sex of the automobile in the French language
has just been changed from feminine to masculine
by Jean Cocteau of the Academie Francaise at one
of the Academie's sessions on the 20th century
dictionary they are planning.” Janet Flanner,
Letter from Paris.The New Yorker,
November 8, 1958. 186.











Part III. The Politics of Looking at Gender and Technology:
Feminist Speculations on a History of Representation

We will select a pair of films or texts to read comparatively in small groups;
and a second pair to read together as a class.

(Possibilities include)

Cameron, James, dir. Aliens. 20th Century Fox , 1986. 154 minutes.

Forbes, Bryan, dir. The Stepford Wives. Palomar Pictures, 1974. 115 minutes.

Hershman-Leeson, Lynn, dir. Conceiving Ada. Hotwire Productions. 1997. 85 minutes.

James, Henry. "In the Cage." 1898; rpt. as Project Gutenberg eBook, 2005.

Kaplan, Jonathan, dir. Heart Like a Wheel. Twentieth Century-Fox. 1983. 113 minutes (about Shirley Muldowney, World Champion, National Hot Rod Association, 1977, 1980).

Lang, Fritz, dir. Metropolis. Universum Film. 1927. 153 minutes.

Lang, Walter, dir. Desk Set. Twentieth-Century Fox. 1957. 103 minutes.

Levin, Janna. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines. New York: Knopf, 2006.

"The Literature," "Lit [art] ure. The Work," The Literature, "The Progressive Dinner Party," and "Women and Technology." Riding the Meridian: 1, 2; 2, 2.

Melville, Herman. “The Tartarus of Maids.” 1855; rpt. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Retrieved April 28, 2008.

Oz, Frank. The Stepford Wives. Paramount, 2004. 93 minutes.

Phillips, Julie. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006.

Scott, Ridley, dir. Alien. Brandywine Productions, 1979. 117 minutes.

-----. Blade Runner. Warner, 1982. 117 minutes.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. 1818; repr. and ed. Maurice Hindle. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Tiptree, James. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. San Francisco: Tachyon, 2004.

Thomas, Sue. Correspondence. January 2000.

Wachowski Brothers, dir. The Matrix. Warner Brothers. 1999. 136 minutes.

Winterson, Jeanette. The PowerBook. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Wollen, Peter, dir. Friendship’s Death. British Film Institute. 1987. 78 minutes.

Paper #3: 3-pp. posted on your blog, exploring an imaginative
representation of intersections of gender and technology


David Hodges,
Reflections on a
Wired Woman

"the computer offers us both new models of mind
and a new medium on which to project our ideas
and fantasies.…we are able to step through the
looking glass. We are learning to live in virtual
worlds…But other people are there as well.”
Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in
the Age of the Internet (1995)

Part IV. Contemporary Engagements in Gender and Technology:
Blogging, Gaming, Programming and Remaking Our Identities....

Beavis, Catherine and Claire Charles. "Would the 'real' girl game please stand up? Gender, LAN cafes and the reformuation of the 'girl' gamer." Gender and Education 19, 6 (November 2007): 691-705.

BlogHer: The comunity for women who blog. You say it. We share it.

Rosser, Sue. “Using the Lenses of Feminist Theories of Focus on Women and Technology.” Women, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Mary Frank Fox, Deborah Johnson, and Sue Rosser. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. 13-46.

“Gender and Technology.” Nightline. ABC News. February 4, 2008.

Light, Jennifer. “Programming.” Gender and Technology: A Reader. Ed. Nina Lerman, Ruth Oldenziel and Arwen P. Mohun. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. 295-328.

Margolis, Jane and Allan Fisher. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. MIT Press, 2003.

Miller, Laura. “Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier.” Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information. Ed. James Brook and Iain A. Boal. City Lights, 1995. 49-58.

Niemeyer, Greg. Webcasts on Gender. Art 23: “Foundations of American Cyberculture.” University of California, Berkeley. Spring 2006.

Pearson, Kim. Professor Kim's News Notes. Eclectic Intellgence.

Stone, Roseanne Allacuquere. “Will the Real Body Please Stand Up? Boundary Stories About Virtual Cultures.” 1992; rpt. The Cybercultures Reader. Ed. David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy. New York: Routledge, 2000. 504-528.

Stross, Randall. "What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?" New York Times. November 15, 2008.

Turkle, Sherry. Introduction, "A Tale of Two Aesthetics," The Triumph of Tinkering" and "Identity Crisis." Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon and Schuster, 1995. 9-73, 255-269.

----- and Seymour Papert. “Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete.” Journal of Mathematical Behavior 11 (1992). 3-33.

Ullman, Ellen. Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents. City Lights, 1997.

-----. "Come In, CQ: the Body on the Wire." wired_women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Ed. Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise. Seal Press, 1996. 3-23.

Paper #4: 3 pp. posted on your blog, exploring your understanding
of contemporary engagements of gender and technology

Week 14: Wrap-Up and Final Presentations

Portfolio and 12-pp. final paper,
exploring some possible interventions into the intersection of gender and technology