Book Review in Interfaces

By Dr. Xristine Faulkner
Business & Informatics, London South Bank University, United Kingdom
I'm usually very wary of books with "gender" in the title. As a socialist I think the priority is to put aside differences and concentrate on making the world better for everyone and the label "feminist" always makes me want to back away out of the door. So although I was happy to review this book I did wonder just a little if bits of it would make me uneasy.

What can I say? If like me the term "feminist" does not fill you with joy then actually this is a book for you. Mary bites the bullet and deals with the feminist issue straight away and she doesn't pretend it's a popular concept. She is all too aware that damage has been done to the task of working for equality for women by excluding anyone that wasn't a woman and that some people switch off when they hear the word "feminism." She knows that equality for women is something that men need as well; in fact it makes their lives better too and is not something for them to oppose or to fear. So, a feminist movement should include everyone, not just women fighting for equality but society fighting for the equality of everyone no matter who they are. Her argument here is very forceful and convincing; she is certain she is right and she argues with that conviction. But she is never strident and hectoring; she never comes across as a crusading evangelist unable to listen to counter arguments--her argument remains calm, cool and collected--and often she lets the facts speak for themselves.
The first section kicks off with her particular view of feminism. She clearly understands my desire to back away from certain types of feminism and she deals with that reaction bluntly by addressing all of the "myths" that surround the feminist cause and dispatching them. Her plan is to show that feminism is a response to a particular social system and that by shifting our world picture we not only deal with the inequalities caused by sexism but we deal with other issues too and make the world a place where everyone has the opportunity to take part without being brow beaten and ignored. She explains how dominator societies expect certain attitudes and cultivate certain ideas. It is these ideas and attitudes that create the atmosphere for sexism which not only subjugates women but actually also subjugates those men who can't conform to the requirements set out by a dominator society. Her picture of a society that warps both men and women is not a pretty one.
Chapter 2 deals with these issues in more depth looking how people are shaped into stereotypical roles by a dominator society. Finally, to end this first section, Mary considers the make-up of science which again from a dominator perspective develops into a field that rather than encouraging women, does completely the opposite. For Mary it is no wonder that women don't go into science because it is structured in such a way as to intend to preclude the inclusion of women. The real puzzle is as to why so many women do manage to ignore these strictures and make a life inside science and engineering.
Section 2 looks at social institutions within this dominator society. Mary takes the example of Wired to examine the role of Mass Media in supporting and engendering the dominator society. This leads naturally on to an examination of language and the male dominated IT culture. Chapter 6 looks at education and women's struggle for education and a place in science, maths and engineering. The section ends with a chapter on the global issues in IT and how the dominator society has meant that business has played a big part in some of the world's darkest moments.
Section 3 looks at how the world might be with a different social structure, that of partnership not domination. Mary looks at this new language of partnership and gives examples of how this might operate. She then takes each other social element in turn and shows the partnership equivalent of the dominator society. Hence, there are chapters on partnership technology, science and education; and partnership global IT businesses. The book concludes with ideas for future research, suggestions as to a way forward and her own personal reflection.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It is very carefully and meticulously researched. It is often moving, touching and thoughtful but Mary isn't all doom and gloom--she has the most delightful sense of humour which bubbles through. Like many of us she is aware of the foolishness of prejudice and the brake it puts on people so although she is angered by it at times the tone is more one of regret that humankind can do so much and yet hasn't learned even the most obvious and basic idea that actually everyone should be respected and cherished for who they are and by altering the way that we view each other we can make for a better, more economical society than we have at present. Our current one is not simply wasteful of talent and opportunity but deliberately so. We aren't talking an accidental leak of resources we are talking the deliberate turning on of a tap which is encouraged to pour away opportunities and talent by the second.
I think this book will be very useful as a resource for IT students interested in gender and economics and sociology students should find it useful too. I want my Social Technology students to consider it as it has very important things to say about how electronic communication operates for men and women. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in how society uses technology and how the very technologies themselves can be used to suppress the talent that in theory they are designed to engender.
All in all, a thought provoking book that avoids the heavy handed, high horse approach and instead sends you away to think about your own attitudes and prejudices. Mary treads an extraordinary line by combining rigorous research with personal reflection, experience and comment so while mustering the facts she leaves the reader with the sense that a chat is taking place over her kitchen table and a cup of tea. As I say, getting that intimacy whilst at the same time retaining the rigor of research is no mean feat; and the book itself is an excellent ambassador for partnership language.
--Issue 84, Autumn 2010