Feminist technologies are those technical innovations that empower and bridge the gap between genders. This might make you wonder, why should technology be feminist? Isn’t it already feminist? How can technology be patriarchal at all?
These are all questions that we need to explore in depth. Another important question to be asked in this context is – Have we incorporated patriarchal values inherited from our predecessors into the systems and technology that we create?
The gender gap in the physical world has been reflected in technology as well. This hitherto hidden face of modern patriarchy was exposed during the pandemic; especially when the vaccination drive began. Access to the internet and technological know-how became indispensable factors to ensure public health, and we observed that the number of women getting vaccinated were far less than the number of men.
In India, 17 per cent more men are vaccinated than women. The reason cited for this disparity is the necessity of men to get inoculated for work and travel. Apart from that, in India, only 14.9 per cent of women use the internet, which is a very skewed statistic considering the digitalised world we are living in. The situation is bleaker for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who are further excluded from the whole scenario.
Women and technology: Navigating gendered social constructs
The privileged society has women, men and all other genders using technology in the best ways possible. From daily alarms to weather forecasts and smart gadgets, technology is omnipresent. The gender disparity in technology widens as we move from the rich urban households to rural communities.
As economic, caste and social situations change, technology and gadgets become exclusive rights of men and women are at the mercy of their husband’s or father’s or any other male member’s permission to gain access to them. Feminism, though acknowledged as an equalising philosophy by many, is also seen as a threat to masculinity by many others.
As a consequence, there is a widespread belief that access to technology can motivate women to go ‘out of their way’. The sentiment behind this more accurately translates to – technology empowers women to disrupt patriarchal practices.
Technology is also mostly seen as a man’s domain, and women have internalised their distance with technology as inherent. Girls are earmarked as people who fear science and maths. The enrolment ratios of women in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses are very less in India.
Women often fail to understand that their inability to use technology is not because they are incapable of using it, but because they were not exposed to it like the men were. The stereotype of women not having the ‘knack’ to handle technology was constructed as part of a deliberate cultural effort to keep women away from being informed and empowered.
It is high time that we channelise the “I don’t know much about technology” apprehensions of women into a assistance, motivation and determination to learn more about it.
Selective familiarisation of women to technology
While there is a gross exclusion of women from technology at large, they are conveniently exposed to technologies that suit their traditional gender roles. We can see technology getting feminised here. For example, even women who do not know how to use a laptop or a mobile phone effortlessly use machines like grinder, mixers and washing machines.
These technologies have been improvised to fit into the minute details of women’s life. Period trackers and similar reproductive technologies are learnt by most women because they recognise these as essential and the others as difficult to familiarise.
Female technology, i.e technology like period tracking which caters to women and their needs is absolutely essential. But what we are critiquing here is how technology as a whole is gendered and woman are only pushed to use the technology that suits their traditional biological and familial roles.
Technology has clearly been gendered when we look at the deeper nuances of it although it appears to be neutral at the onset. Studies show that the bridging of this gender gap will increase the GDP of low and middle income countries by $700 billion within 5 years.
Gender gap in technology not only has effects on gender roles but also on economic relations. Class and capital are at cross roads with gender, which exposes the unpleasant reality of technological hierarchy.
What we see today is a tech world that is created by men, mostly for men without keeping other genders or intersectionalities in mind. The way we have developed technology is founded and driven by patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism. It is important to develop alternate ways of using technology.
There is no need to reinvent a new set of technological systems to make it inclusive, rather, what is required is to reorient the male centric nature of existing technology. If we can have washing machines and dishwashers that were introduced to empower women, there is absolutely no doubt that other technologies can be developed in a similar manner to bridge gendered conditioning and bring all genders at par with respect to use of technology.
Feminist technology is a concept which promotes inclusion in accessibility and useability of technology for all genders without any bias. It stresses on the need to be informed and responsive to the intricacies of various communities while developing systems as interlinked and pervasive as technology.
This is not a humungous task, provided we really understand its need and pursue it with societal and political will.
Featured Image Source: Digital Freedom Fund