Connecting female faces to the computer screen. (Source:
Computer for All, Vol. 85 (1990): 17.)

Reflection on «Constructing gender and technology in advertising»

0. Introduction

The second post in this week, mainly affected by the rise of abusive phenomena towards women in Greece and elsewhere. They have generated a broader discussion regarding gender and how embedded gender roles are in our everyday life and practices.

To shed a different light in this discussion, we will try to reflect on a paper by Greek academics Tympas, Konsta, Lekkas, Karas, entitled «Constructing gender and technology in advertising» which is focusing the advertisement of computer, self-phones, and new technology to the market in the ’90s.

Find the paper here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9780470619926.ch9

I. Reflection

The authors analyze and work on the construction of gender roles in technology through technological product advertising. The article is interesting as it is studying Greek cases, which we have not seen until now, and because it recognizes the cultural framework for the depictions.

When an advertisement is depicting men using technology, they are creating an image for men controlling technology, they seem to:

  • to control the computer rather than to type,
  • to only use one hand, while the other hand is holding the phone,
  • to simply rest or not use their hands at all,
  • to touch their head in a manner that implied thoughtfulness.

In these depictions, the man is active, relaxed, comfortable, and connected to the computer — “knowing what he is doing”, with the ad's message seeming to be “[t]he computer works just like you”. The authors analyze the relationship of men and computers through its usage of peripheral devices and their attitudes:

Men and Phones: In computing advertisements, at least, the phone was a sort of Dictaphone through which men gave orders to women.

Woman ascending to the man ’ s space. (Source: Computer for All , Vol. 61 (1988): 12.)

The keyboard and the Mouse: Man is not fully committed to their computer work barely seen as typing on a keyboard and when using their mouse having at least one hand away (even holding a boat’s steering wheel in an ad).

In contrast, women were always shown facing the computer screen directly and most often typing with both hands -being subjected to the computer and their work, by being shown in closed and small working places!

The men–mouse versus women–keyboard associations created an advertising standard for the next years: we see the computer being a fun-to-use utility for men, and a mandate but a needed tool for women in order to achieve their needed productivity.

We see men controlling computers in big offices or open spaces and women working on them, in their typical office with the occasional flowers by their side. We see also the rise of a manual (women) — versus — mental (men) division of computing labor.

Mobile man with computer mouse. (Source: Computer for All, Vol. 203 (2001): 157.)

Screen Monitoring: The screen here is also important: it functions as a mirror of the surrounding environment: the women almost always are looking at the screen and are identified in a secretarial, clerk workplace. In a similar set-up, the men avoid looking at the screen — they rather glaze- to disassociate themselves with the work, to be perceived as designers-creators.

Educational ads: Schools for computer training created ads aiming at those lacking university education, and primarily replicated the women–keyboard association, showing female students with keyboards and male teachers standing and teaching them. When both the man and the woman were students, the woman clearly did the keyboarding work.

Chaplin makes routine assembly — line work into “ fun. ” (Source: Computer for All, Vol. 31 (1985): back cover.)

The Printer versus the Hard Drive: We additionally see the association and depiction of women with printers as the printer — output end of computing, and men are not related or depicted in printer ads. We can even see some sexual (sexist) depictions of women to advertise printers.

On the other hand, men were associated with hard drives, in stating self-obsessed masculine expressions such as: “There is only one way to construct a hard drive: my way, ” — trying to associate men with computing power in more “serious” looking environments.

Male computer designer in the director’s chair. (Source: Computer for All, Vol. 84 (1990): 183.)

Faces on Monitors: A theme of advertising was depicted (female) faces on the computer screen, especially when screens began to be sold separately. They depict women with “feminine” behaviors and characteristics according to gender roles, and again promoting the idea of women as consumers and promoters.

Connecting female faces to the computer screen. (Source: Computer for All, Vol. 85 (1990): 17.)

Through these examples, we see how a division of labor is constructed that is often ignored: women are performing the actual work and men are the controllers. Also, it shows how computers (and ads) construct gender roles we see some parts of the computer as feminine (with the inclusion of the female model) and others as masculine (with the exclusion of the female model). Characteristics and behaviors are attributed based on social gender.

“Size is decisive ”advises the model — gymnast. (Source: Computer for All, Vol. 151 (1996): 199.)

II. Comments

The papers form an interesting introduction to the concept of gender and technology, not only in terms of technicalities but also in the realm of social construction. Beyond the evident appearance of gender stereotypes in both papers, we also see the following similarities:

  1. women are treated as consumers and not creators of technology,
  2. we see that they are also the ones pulling the necessary technical work, in contrast to men that are associated with more “internal” elements such as craftsmanship,
  3. there is a strong sense of embodied technology and characteristics and a reproduction of control of bodies:
  4. women are associated with outputs and parts, men are seen as hard drives and engines.

These constructions result in women's labor and contribution being black-boxed in technosocial terms.

In such a way to pave the wave of invisible labor or to use an analogy, the second text with the ads targeting commercial use of computers for Greek SMEs reminded me of S. Bologna (The Tribe of Mols) analysis of the small factory, the marginal labor, and the “disseminated worker”.

As such we can find grounds for supporting a woman’s struggle to be represented, acknowledged, and to be able to shape the “work/technology of the feature”, not as an ethical point but as a necessity. As Bologna wrote of women movements:

“With women’s self-discovery and their claim to control their bodies, their own needs, and desires, their subjectivity, we see the beginnings of a new critique of alienated militancy — one of the key themes of the movement in the second phase — but also, and more fundamentally, the starting point for the general thematic of needs within the movement.”

In my belief, a feminist standpoint should be a scientific standpoint of gender role deconstruction, in order to have “a starting point for the general thematic of needs within the movement”.

Technology Manager and Researcher, Member of sociality.coop, MA Business Administration and Management, AUEB, MSc Science, Technology and Society, UoA