Virtual and Actual Realities:
A Feminist EnvironmentalistAnalysis of the Computer Industry.
The use of computer technology is strongly woven into the fabric of life in
North America, Europe, and increasingly the developing world; some of us can
hardly fathom doing without computers to conduct business or personal affairs.
While the density of use differs by region, in many parts of the world, money
flows, health care, business operations, transport, communications, and entertainment
are dependent on information technologies. Within this reality, we must be reminded
that information technologies are gendered products of social relations and
subtly structure and shape social existence (Latour 1993, Haraway 1995). Work
and every day life have come to be dependent on information technology to the
parallel extent that human societies are dependent on nature.
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Women are involved with computers in different ways: as workers in global assembly
line factories, or in data entering or other office work, as well as users and
consumers. Higher up in the power hierarchies, such as design and management,
the presence of women rapidly declines. Though some women have managed to break
the glass ceiling such as the female CEO of Hewlett Packard, the actions of
the few high-ranking female CEOs suggest the persistence of male bias in the
control and design of new technologies (Rothschild 1983, Haraway 1995). On the
other hand, there is also a positive side to computer technology, new spaces
and uses are opened up which provide women who have access to new empowering
resources. Given the role of information technologies in economic globalization,
the relationship between women, the environment, and information technologies
is a strategic research site to investigate changes in gender relations.
Mapping the relationship between women, the environment and information technologies
demonstrates that information technologies have changed gender relations and
the position of women involved with production and consumption of computers.
Based on secondary data, this paper uses a lifecycle approach to look at the
production side and consumption side of personal computers from cradle to grave.
The paper describes the impact of each stage in the life cycle on women and
the environment. The analysis is not entirely comprehensive, but seeks to highlight
different aspects of each stage of the process and seeks to provide a broad
understanding of the impact of computers on women and the environment.
Section one will discuss ecofeminism and feminist environmental theories to
consider the interlinkages between nature and women. Section two will analyze
the production of computers from a feminist and environmentalist perspective
and finally section three will analyze women as users and consumers of computers
and the impact on the environment of computer usage. The life of a computer
is imbued with power relations. Revealing the ways in which these power relations
are played out can help us to see points for resistance and transformation of
the present reality within global high tech computer capitalism.