In Malaysia an education in computing is popular with girls and computing is considered a suitable career for women. In Norway, however only few girls choose computing as major subject. It is often said that a girl at a computer is like a fish out of water. The question that is often asked is: Is it the girls or the subject that there’s something wrong within the problem which must be addressed?, and must be changed? This has, at times become quite a politicised debate, Lagesen points out.
“A debate that has a tendency to make the topic of computing and girls into a question of either/or,” Lagesen says.
“In my thesis I have attempted to develop an understanding of gender and computing as intertwined with one another.”
Case in Malaysia
Malaysia is an example. There, women make up half the student body in computer subjects. In some subjects they are in the majority. The result of this is that computing is not seen as masculine or as most suitable for men. It is seen as more ambiguous, or multi-gendered.
Malaysian girls see the possibilities in computer technology. Additionally, it is important that computing is considered a suitable career path for women, says Lagesen. It is indoor work and is not physically demanding. This is seen as compatible with what it is to be a woman is supposed to be.
Moreover, it is important that education leads to well-paid work and so contributes to financial independence and security, Lagesen points out.
Parents and other family members are a major influence on what girls choose to do. It is interesting to note that many of the female students studying computing would like an academic career. Such a career provides flexible work and therefore it is easily integrated with family responsibilities. At the university in Malaysia, where Lagesen did her research, half of the computer science students were girls. Women also made up the majority of academic staff within computing subjects.
“Within the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology all four department directors are women and the deacon is also a woman,” Lagesen says.
In Norway, the impression is that subjects in computing are more suited to men than to women. In Malaysia the fact that computing does not have the same masculine gender symbology connected to it challenges our thinking about computing as masculine. To look upon computer technology as masculine is just one of several interpretations.
“My thesis shows how both gender and computer technology are complex, dynamic and flexible constructions,”
“Gender is ambiguous, but also heterogeneous in the sense that technology is involved in the modern production of gender. We have to stop reproducing an opposition between femininity and technology.” concludes Lagesen.
The thesis was submitted to the Department of Interdisciplinary Culture Studies at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) at Trondheim, Norway. Vivian Anette Lagesen is now employed in the same department as a post-doctoral researcher.
Gender and ICT are windows to understand the management of knowledge and equal opportunity in Information community. These studies are a part of a larger project that will study male and female IT workers in various types of IT companies in Malaysia, Norway and California. Their work will include investigating the production of knowledge, the work culture and balancing the demands of a work life and a family life in these three different cultural contexts.