Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gender and Culture

One of the things we keep discussing during our meetings is the idea of gender versus culture. Many other studies considering the gender divide in computer science have always analyzed based on gender differences. By making a "pink" computer science, many people have claimed is the best way to solve the computer science problem.

Such presents the question of why we have decided to look at culture rather than gender. In truth, my belief stems from the understanding that gender is a product of culture. The not so well understood distinction between sex and gender grows out of the fact that sex is the set of biological differences. Gender on the other hand is the social construction of what makes men men and women women. I didn't feel I really understood the distinction myself until a couple years ago I read this piece by Kate Bornstein arguing that Wall-E is actually a lesbian love film.

When I had saw the film a couple weeks prior to the article I had left the movie, as I imagine many others did, assuming I just saw a male robot and a female robot love story. But what makes Wall-E a boy and Eve a girl? They don't have robo-genetalia. You can't calculate their hormone levels or whatever biological measure you believe separates men from women. How we see Wall-E and Eve are the superimposed impressions of what we expect from men and women.

As such, we can see gender as a construct but to see it as a real measure of how men and women behave we will only feed into and encourage stereotypes. Creating a "pink" computer science or a computer science targeting girls doesn't so much bridge a gender gap as it does reinforce gender constructs. By instead looking at culture, we can begin to ask more why questions. By looking at questions of culture we don't only bridge the gender gap but we diversify the computer science body. Any adjustments made when looking at culture will not only affect countless women, but countless men. By not narrowing ourselves to gender differences we can bridge other gaps along race and class lines.

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