symbolic legacy, the difficulties inherent in women's first encounter
with the machine, the absence of a playful relationship with it,
are all factors that make for different experiences and attitudes
of women and men towards learning. To summarise the arguments, men
are generally more disorderly and creative whereas women are more
methodical and systematic. These characteristics emerge at all levels
of the research and to seem to apply across the generations. These
different traits do not carry any inherent value. But because knowledge
is generally transmitted through men, male characteristics are presented
as superior. And in mixed gender learning contexts it will be the
men in the group who prevail. Here is a revealing passage taken
from the literature review, concerning the arbitrary attribution
of value such that women's skills and abilities end up being demoted.
A study carried out in 1991 by Willis showed that whereas
the women students worked systematically, following indications
and a manual, men were more inclined to play computer games.
The teachers and lecturers at the Perth conference where these
data were presented reached the unanimous conclusion that
boys engaged in the games because they had greater self-assurance
with regard to the computer. Girls on the other hand followed
instructions closely because they lacked a sense of familiarity
and confidence with regard to the technology.
Contrary to the
conclusions of the Perth conference, it is clear that these differences
correspond to distinct attitudes and strategies that are mainly
a result of the different processes of socialisation that boys and
girls undergo. Furthermore:
Spender describes a personal experiment she carried out at
a conference that took place one year later elsewhere in Australia.
She presented Willis' data but reversed the results. According
to this version, it was the girls who engaged in the games
and the boys who followed the manual instructions. The unanimous
interpretation was surprising. It was suggested that boys
pursued the set learning programme because they were aware
of the seriousness of the matter whereas the girls engaged
in game playing because their lack of understanding of the
medium resulted in insecurity and an unwillingness to take
the programme seriously. This revealing experiment offers
a warning about the assumptions that inform the interpretation
of facts. This is relevant to teaching as well as research.
Women-only courses, though important, cannot of themselves
tackle the problems outlined if the assumptions current among
teachers and within the family are not confronted and as long
as the unequal nature of gender relations is not addressed.