The image of the computer

Of course I have noticed differences between men and women in their approach to computers. Teaching on women-only courses at the Libera UniversitÓ delle Donne, I sometimes concentrated on the issue of attitudes towards the machine. And certainly, what came out were difficulties arising from to an attitude that attributed to the machine abilities and characteristics typical of the male world. I noticed a sort of hostility towards the computer, as if it symbolised a whole world or something denied. When women talk about computers, they often mention husbands, boyfriends, sons.

This statement, made by an instructor interviewed in the sociological research, makes clear that women's relationship with the machine can not be confined to the 'here and now'. Instead, it has its origins in a mental image that is usually reinforced by family and social relations. Again, the sociological report states:

According to our data, the cultural dimension is most important. For example, we know that an attitude of fear towards the machine prevails among adult women in the early stages of learning. This fear can become an insurmountable obstacle if it is not dealt with. It can be traced back to a cultural context in which computer competence has been symbolically defined as an 'off-limit' terrain, setting up the boundaries of a new situation of gender inequality. So any attempt by women to approach that terrain becomes saturated with a series of meanings that relate directly to issues of emancipation. For older women, computers can represent an to rediscover abilities that have been suppressed or denied in the particular cultural representations that define women and that are reinforced by their roles in the family and the domestic sphere. These issues appear less evident among younger women. This can be attributed to a more general familiarity with computers, as access from a very early age becomes widespread, even within the family, and given that the new information technology is destined to transform the cultural environment.


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