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Every method of mass communication has been dominated by males. This began with the writing of books (religious faith as well as gender was important in the beginning). Women eventually took up the challenge and made great progress and in some areas, such as the novel, they even dominate the sector. The same thing happened in radio and television. However, men still dominate these forms of communication.

Despite this history, women have been slow to grasp the importance of the web as a battleground of ideas. The one exception to this is Dale Spender and I highly recommend her book on this subject: “Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace.”

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1...6341991-5164664

More and more people obtain their information from the web. A recent study suggested that in the near future it will be the main source of people’s political information. Who will be supplying this information? What is interesting about this is that the power structure of the web is different from other forms of mass communications. Books, newspapers, radio and television programmes, need large amounts of money to produce. So much so that these forms of communications are dominated by governments and multinational companies. They of course also play a major role in communication on the web. However, this is not a dominant role. In fact, it is an area they are having great difficulty getting control of. Women need to organize themselves in order to take part in the battle for ideas. Otherwise, our societies will become even more a reflection of the ideology of masculinity. In my opinion, a very unhealthy development.

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Tony,

thanks for the link to the girls and technology paper. I have passed it on to the IT teacher in the all girls' school I used to teach in.

John,

re men dominating the written communication fields - there's a whole argument you've omitted about why men were the first written communicators and how women were deliberately kept out of the field by the power of economics, and control due to biological imperatives. I'm sure you know it, but it needs to be noted. If the Brontes had been born even 50 years earlier, their father may have successfully prevented them from publishing by threatening poverty and social disgrace. Even now, I suspect there a lot of men who feel more comfortable about women writing novels , than philosophy or history.

Pehaps it's the technology side of IT communication that puts off some women. Nothing much to go wrong with a pencil or even a biro, but computers play up, you need to learn quite a lot of technical stuff to maximise their use, they crash, they need technical support. I find that many men see this as a bit of a challenge, while women see it as an aggravating annoyance.

Will that change with future generations?

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Despite this history, women have been slow to grasp the importance of the web as a battleground of ideas. The one exception to this is Dale Spender and I highly recommend her book on this subject: “Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace.”

Yes, worth looking at. I met Dale a few years ago at the University of Victoria, Canada. We were both giving guest lectures there.

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Good for Jaywalker for highlighting this area - we probably all have to take some responsibility for the number of women contributing to the Forum. Are sufficient women colleagues being asked to join the Forum? The women I work with tend to use the small amount of free time they have to follow different creative pursuits but this is not necessarily a comment on their computer literacy.

I think that lack of women contributors impacts significantly on sections such as Special Needs - seen traditionally as an area which employs mostly women. Are male colleagues seeing these topics in a broad enough context ? After all Educational Inclusion for example (posted 03.03.04) is an important issue which affects all teachers.

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Graham

In case others don't know it, Dale Spender is an Australian and a bit of an institution here. Some years ago she used to be a regular speaker at our women's union conferences. One year I had to pick her up at the airport and she didn't have time to go her hotel before speaking, so brought her suitcase with her. During her talk she suddenly remembered that she needed some papers from her case. She opened it in front of the audience, to reveal a beautiful array of purple and mauve underwear. At the gasp of surprise from those close by, she explained that she only ever wears purple, the suffragette's colour, underwear as her own personal gesture to womens' lib!! Thought you might like that little story!!!!

I have to say that I haven't read her most recent books, but I was getting a bit wary of her ideas a few years ago when she was advocating some pretty way out ideas about technology being the magic answer to education. I hope she's mellowed a bit since then.

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In case others don't know it, Dale Spender is an Australian and a bit of an institution here.

... and she had certainly retained her Australian accent when I met her. She was dressed in a purple trouser suit - what else?

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Guest Andrew Moore

Dale Spender's work is vitiated by a basic error of logic, that I found well articulated by Howard Jackson and Peter Stockwell in An Introduction to the Nature and Functions of Language. She claims that:

"The crux of our difficulties lies in being able to identify and transform the rules which govern our behaviour and which bring patriarchal order into existence. Yet the tools we have for doing this are part of that patriarchal order. While we can modify, we must none the less use the only language, the only classification scheme which is at our disposal. We must use it in a way that is acceptable and meaningful. But that very language and the conditions for its use in turn structure a patriarchal order."

But if this were true, then she would not be able, as she self-evidently is, to make criticisms of the kind that she does. The dominance theory that uses language as the battlefield for a war of the sexes is less plausible than the difference theory espoused by Deborah Tannen, which recognizes differences in language use, but does not try to vilify, or beat up, the men.

I dispute John's suggestion that women are slow to use the new technology - you are obviously going to the wrong places to find them. There are many contexts where it is more apt to ask "Where are the men?" Have a look, for example, at:

http://star-girl.org

http://star-girl.org/boards

http://www.neopets.com

Or, to see both sexes grasping the technology:

http://www.cool-reads.co.uk

http://www.bookcrossing.com

The most significant of these, I think, are Cool-Reads and Star Girl, both produced by young people in their leisure time. In the case of the Star Girl board we have hundreds of young women, world-wide, meeting to chat - well, there's a surprise. And no blokes in sight. There's no bar to them - the men have just been slow to adopt that part of the technology.

And when we get the student forum here, I can assure you (judging by my current e-mail sack), that the female users will outnumber the young men - in some subjects, anyway.

If you spend your time worrying about what women are not doing, then you may miss what they are doing. Which is appropriating the technology in ways that suit them, not me.

Edited by andrewmoore1955
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Andrew writes:

I dispute John's suggestion that women are slow to use the new technology - you are obviously going to the wrong places to find them.

I agree.

As the father of two (now adult) daughters, I often found myself at odds with their former headteacher and his prejudices. My elder daughter chose to do a CSE in Electronics in her third year of secondary school. She did very well in the first year of the course, showing that she understood the basic theory and producing some very neat coursework (circuit boards, etc). She was one of three girls in two sets of around 25 pupils each. In the second year of the course Electronics was timetabled against a one-year course in Typing (I am going back a few years) offered at the local tech college. My daughter's two female colleagues chose Typing, leaving my daughter as the only girl in the Electronics set. I took issue with the headteacher, asking why he had decided to timetable Typing (which would now be Keyboard Skills or something similar) against Electronics. It was clear from our conversation that he had identified Typing as a "girls' subject" and Electronics as a "boys' subject". Anyway, my daughter finished the Electronics course, got a good grade and found it useful as a background to what eventually became her career as a graphic designer and making extensive use of specialist CAD hardware and software.

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I'm well aware that young women are heavily involved in the kind of forums you mention - having taught in a very large all-girls' school which had good PC access, I know they are very involved in IT communication. My question was why aren't more women educators of a "mature age" actively involved in this particular forum. Knowing that younger women are elsewhere doesn't answer that question.

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Graham

You said;

It was clear from our conversation that he had identified Typing as a "girls' subject" and Electronics as a "boys' subject".

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the point you are trying to make, but wouldn't you have to agree that the Headteacher's decision to timetable these classes opposite one another would be eminently sensible as it would lead to very few conflicts? A more pragmatic approach to the horrors of timetabling would be difficult to find, surely?

Edited by Adrian Dingle
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I dispute John's suggestion that women are slow to use the new technology - you are obviously going to the wrong places to find them. There are many contexts where it is more apt to ask "Where are the men?" Have a look, for example, at:

http://star-girl.org

http://star-girl.org/boards

http://www.neopets.com

I am not sure what you are disagreeing with me about. As I pointed out this forum was “originally set up by members of the Association of Teacher Websites. The vast majority of our members are men.”

For those who doubt this statement the figures are as follows: The ATW has 101 members. Of these, only 18 are women. All ATW members have been notified of the existence of this Forum. Yet only 4 of the women have posted and none of these have become active members.

People apply to join the ATW in two main ways. I invite them when I come across them when reviewing their website in my weekly email newsletters Education on the Internet and Teaching History Online. I can assure I have invited every woman who runs a good educational website to join. The fact is that the vast majority of educational websites (at least 80%) are run by men.

The second way people join is by applying via the ATW website. Once again the vast majority who do this are males. I oversee the vetting process of accepting new members and I can assure you that members are not showing any sexual prejudice in their rejection of potential members.

The original question posed by Jay Walker concerned the lack of postings by women members of the forum. I am not sure how this question is answered by talking about if our daughters use the internet (my daughter does as well but that is not surprising given my own views on education). Nor is it particularly illuminating to list websites that women use. Recent research shows that women are more likely to use the internet then men. The important issue is the way they are using it. Overwhelmingly women are consumers of information on the web. On the whole, they are leaving the provision of content to men. That is something we should worry about.

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Dale Spender's work is vitiated by a basic error of logic, that I found well articulated by Howard Jackson and Peter Stockwell in An Introduction to the Nature and Functions of Language. She claims that:
"The crux of our difficulties lies in being able to identify and transform the rules which govern our behaviour and which bring patriarchal order into existence. Yet the tools we have for doing this are part of that patriarchal order. While we can modify, we must none the less use the only language, the only classification scheme which is at our disposal. We must use it in a way that is acceptable and meaningful. But that very language and the conditions for its use in turn structure a patriarchal order."

But if this were true, then she would not be able, as she self-evidently is, to make criticisms of the kind that she does.

This is like arguing that Karl Marx was being illogical when he wrote about the problems of false consciousness in a capitalist society. It would only make sense if Dale Spender argued that this process controlled the thoughts of all women. Like Marx, Spender is talking about the impact that society has on most people.

Here are a couple of quotes from Dale Spender’s book that should give you an idea of what she is actually arguing:

Looking back, we can see that in many ways, women were worse off after the print revolution than they had been in the manuscript era. (Women have often been worse off after a revolution. The French Revolution, for example, promised liberty and equality, but women were excluded from the fraternity and they lost out when it came to property and education.)

Given our history, it's not possible to assume that women will automatically share equally in any gains that come from the present information revolution. Women were excluded from the process of knowledge-making when the printing press was invented; and there's plenty of evidence today to suggest that women are again being kept out of the production of information as we move to the electronic networks.

An account of the way women have been prevented from being the knowledge-makers is eye-opening history, and should be taught to every one of today's students. But it is also a lesson in how, why, and at what cost to women and to society, females are set up as the second sex and as the subordinates.

In the post-print period, as today, women did not hold positions of power and influence over men in the Church. But during the Middle Ages there had been "women's places" where the Abbess or Mother Superior was in charge and where "women's values" could hold sway. Besides providing an alternative to marriage (and a refuge for women who wanted to be free from the bonds of family), these nunneries, abbeys and convents served as centres of women's traditional knowledge; skills in relation to plants, herbs, drugs and the natural world were often taught along with the sacred texts.

A few women, such as St Radegund of Poitiers, enjoyed a measure of fame and fortune throughout the scribal period. There was the German scholar Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1178), who has been described as "the most notable medieval woman author on medicine, natural history, and cosmology". The English contemplative nun Julian of Norwich (1342-C.1416) was held in high regard, as was the remarkable writer and philosopher Christine de Pizan, who, although not a nun, has been given the status of "France's first woman of letters".

It would not do to overestimate the significance of all this, but it's clear that these women did experience a degree of recognition and affirmation during the manuscript era. But any power or prestige they possessed was drastically reduced once print appeared. For a whole range of reasons, women suddenly found themselves completely cut off from the new medium - and from any positions of influence.

Note that Spender gives several examples of how women were able to overcome the dominant ideology. Nor does Spender fail to recognize the role men can play in the liberation of women. Spender is not slow to acknowledge the role being played by people like David Loader in this process.

This is what Spender has to say about women’s relationship with computers and the web.

The design of the cyberspace environment in the twenty-first century will not only be crucial to our quality of life in general, it will be fundamental to the distribution of wealth and power. From the software to the hardware, from the interface to the infrastructure, decisions are now routinely being made which will affect that future; and they are decisions which serve the interests and values of some social groups far more than others.

This is why Donald Carii quotes the appeal of renowned graphic designer, William Hilson: "Designers, particularly female designers, need to get directly involved in the experience of the NET... they need to get involved in large numbers if they intend ever to play a role in shaping the form or the content of the Metaverse in a significant way."

This is a response, in part, to the growing body of research which suggests that some girls don't like computers. Many of them don't like what computers represent: and they don't like the way they are required to use them. So calling for more women designers whose insights and contributions could provide a remedy, and make the platform more female friendly, is a reasonable place to start.

That girls do have a different attitude to computers per se (as well as different ideas about their place and purpose), is a premise which is becoming more widely appreciated.

Any business that is serious about designing infrastructure which matches people's ways of working (as distinct from forms which have to be imposed) would need to entice more women into its employ. But the recognition that the computer is not as attractive to women as it is to men gives rise to a general question - why is this?

Any explanation for the negative response to the computer on the part of girls has to be in the context of women's general relationship to science and technology. And it is not a good one. There is a vast amount of information which indicates that in the past women and technology have not got along very well. But this is not because of some simple anti-machine disposition on the part of women, as is sometimes suggested.

The reality is much more complex. Women have a lot to do with machines; they are often dependent on them, and they may feel very positive towards them. But the machines that are part of women's everyday reality are not usually regarded as "sexy technology"; indeed the washing machine, the microwave oven - even the typewriter - are sometimes not thought of as technology at all. But this apparent paradox, whereby women use machines but are held not to, can be readily explained by recourse to a fundamental feminist principle: that despite any evidence there may be of women's achievement, when women do it, it doesn't count…

It's almost as if men, by definition, own the prestigious machines, so that anything they take up (including a keyboard) becomes prized and esteemed, to the point where it soon becomes seen as a masculine activity. This would help to account for the three- to five-year-old boys who insisted that girls could not do computers, and the six- year-olds who argued that "girls could not play with computers because they needed to be tough". It says something about the power of the mind to construct meanings that defy the evidence if we can produce a society that comes to believe that it now takes "balls" to master a keyboard.

The issues of what technology is and the way it becomes gendered are complex and fascinating, and deserve continued attention. But running through the literature on this subject there is the constantly recurring theme of the role played by socialisation: the sexes are taught specific technological relationships as part of their gender identity.

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Adrian writes:

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the point you are trying to make, but wouldn't you have to agree that the Headteacher's decision to timetable these classes opposite one another would be eminently sensible as it would lead to very few conflicts? A more pragmatic approach to the horrors of timetabling would be difficult to find, surely?

Pragmatic? Hmmm... It was difficult enough to persuade girls to join the Electronics class in the first place. Timetabling Electronics against Typing just reduced the already small number of girls and reinforced old stereotypical values. Another local headteacher found that the after-school class in vehicle maintenance was over-subscribed, so his solution was to limit the class to boys. The result was a volcanic eruption from the parents of girls who had applied to join the class.

As the father of two daughters I constantly found myself in battle with the authorities who had more conservative values than my wife and I - but I am going back to the early 1980s.

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Surely....

(Graham)

Timetabling Electronics against Typing just reduced the already small number of girls and reinforced old stereotypical values....

didn't JUST do that, it also,

(Adrian)

would be eminently sensible as it would lead to very few conflicts?

The next question might be, "What is a higher priority, the Headteacher's responsibility to persuade girls to take the Electronics class and to break old stereotypical values, or, his responsibility to create a workable timetable with as few conflicts as possible?"

As far the other example goes, by openly discriminating by limiting the class to one gender, that Head was just asking for trouble.

Edited by Adrian Dingle
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Dear Jay.

I would like to correspond and debate or exchange opinions with you and other teachers (men and women) about didactics and education.

One difference between men and women in relation to the forum is certainly that men write very very long messages and at the end you loose the thread.

John in this aspect wins the first prize.

Dear Jay I wait for your starting message. Ciao

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