At the Intersection of Feminism and Technology

Katie Szymanski:

“Think about your favorite childhood technology. In what ways was it created with certain bodies, identities, and genders in mind? How did this dictate its use?”

As I sit in lecture for Screen Arts 368, Dialogues in Feminism, Technology, and Culture, I reflect on the professor’s questions briefly. Honestly, it’s a toss up between a few different game consoles and my Walkman cassette player. I’d even go so far to say that Hit Clips changed my life. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, sifting through memories and Googling advertisements of 90s-esque electronic technology, that I started to make clearer, more obvious connections between lecture and my own life experiences as a female consumer.

I was about 9 or 10 years old when I received my first gaming device, which happened to be around the same time that my friends were playing with their own new gadgets. It came wrapped in sparkly, purple paper: a gift for my birthday. Unsurprisingly, the Game Boy Color tucked inside matched the hue of the flashy wrapping — light, translucent purple. Along with the GBC, I was given a variety (but not as varied, now that I look back on it) of games and a purse-like contraption. After only a few months, the strap was completely worn out — I carried this thing everywhere. During recess at school, I remember trading with others and stumbling upon, and experimenting with, all sorts of games. I found myself getting bored of Mary Kate and Ashley’s Pocket Planner, and there was only so much of Stuart Little: The Journey Home that I could take.

Fat Princess: Piece of Cake game

Looking back, I’m curious as to why my male classmates were playing Donkey Kong and Batman, while I was passing my time with Barbie’s Mall Adventures and Frogger (okay, that game was actually pretty awesome). Why was I automatically handed purple, while my male cousins boasted their bright red and highlighter yellows? These cultural expectations and gender-based assumptions are deeply embedded within our everyday lives, and so it’s commonplace to overlook and ignore the biases we all have, inherently based on gender. It isn’t until we’re reminded of these established norms, perhaps in a class discussion, that their prevalence becomes quite apparent, and that the problematic nature is revealed.

By no means am I upset that I was gifted a purple Game Boy, or angered by the fact that most advertisements (the very few that I could find) marketed to young female gamers showed products related to shopping and party planning. These established assumptions feed into larger societal presumptions of raising children amidst a gender binary system; to produce a child that is distinctly “male” or distinctly “female.” As a sort of rebel, I rocked my purple GBC and Rocket Power: Gettin’ Air. I didn’t mind baking an occasional cake with Mary Kate and Ashley, and sometimes I’d throw down with Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets.

The Game Boy may not have been initially marketed to, or practically intended for, young women (take the name Game Boy), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for females to join in this dominantly male-oriented space. To an extent, the fact that stereotypical, female-inspired games even existed while I was growing up speaks volumes of progress. The gaming sphere is shifting dramatically, but there is still work to be done in order to encourage everyone to engage with similar technologies, or any technology for that matter, in ways that are most comfortable and enjoyable, regardless of gender.

More recently, we are starting to see the rise and popularity of gender-less characters, in which flapping birds, candy crushing, numerical puzzles, and other inanimate object-based obstacles have taken over handheld gaming — thanks to the iPhone and Android. Our phones act as a universal console, allowing users to customize their gaming experience through the plethora of apps available for download. This is not to say that gender is eliminated in these newer games, or in mobile gaming entirely, but as consumers we are given a wider variety of options to chose how we will engage because the amount and variety of applications is ultimately endless. Yes, apps are still designed with a specific audience in mind, but we are seeing the rise in diversity and of selection. Unlike having to drag my mom to the store to pick out Game Boy options, new and free games are a tap away.

Under “Best New Games” on the Apple iTunes store, titles range from Angry Birds Transformers and NBA 2K15 to Fat Princess: Piece of Cake (which has feminists everywhere responding critically) and Bee Brilliant. Personally, I’ll just stick with Candy Crush for the time being. It might seem impossible to draw a clear, immediate connection between feminism and technology, at first glance. In fact, I was extremely interested in taking this class for that very same reason. So much of what we consider technological is simultaneously and fundamentally, hegemonically masculine. That itself speaks volumes. When does feminism come into all of this? How can we use feminism as a lens to critique and analyze our technology consumption, distribution, and interactions? Let’s see where a semester in Screen Arts 368 takes me.

The writer is a student at University of Michigan.
Reproduced from Huffington Post 


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