I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.

This is cross-posted at Restructure!

I demonstrated an aptitude for computers when I was a young girl, but I didn’t have home Internet access until I graduated from high school. I blame the Patriarchy, partly.

By the time I was in high school, I was usually the only person in my classes who didn’t have any Internet access, while most of my peers had high-speed access. When my peers communicated with each other through e-mail and chat, I was shut out of the social conversation and didn’t understand the “technical” terms they were using. I understood the creative potential of being able to communicate with computer users all over the world. I knew that Internet access would allow me to communicate with others without my social anxiety getting in the way. However, my father was hard-set against the idea of “the Internet”.

For five years, I was part of a persistent family campaign to convince my father that we should get Internet access. He thought that the Internet was a software program that was just a “fad” and would go out of style. Back then, the mainstream media was even more confused than now about what “the Internet” was. The news sensationalized stories about online predators luring young girls through “the Internet” to rape them. The implied moral of these news stories was that the Internet was dangerous and full of sexual predators.

My father did not work in an office then, so he heard more about “the Internet” through his coworkers. One male coworker basically explained to my father that The Internet Is For Porn. My father came home and told us that he was never going to let us have Internet access, because girls especially should be protected from exposure to pornography.

Like rape-prevention advice that instructs women to confine ourselves inside our houses to avoid rape, my father believed that it was his duty to protect his daughter’s safety and purity by preventing her from having Internet access. Like other sexist double standards, he thought the possibility of girls being exposed to pornography was worse than the possibility of boys being exposed to it, even when boys are more likely to exploit it, because our culture requires that girls be mentally and physically virginal.

When I was in high school, I discovered that I had a natural talent for programming, because I finished programming assignments in a few minutes, while it was normal for my classmates take the whole period, take their work home, and/or come into the computer lab after hours. In high school, I indulged in my childhood wish to design computer games by creating a 2D fan RPG using a game engine, which I downloaded at a relative’s place through my mom’s machinations, since my mom was pro-Internet and used the Internet at work. I liked programming and software, and I knew I would learn so much more if I just had Internet access. However, I felt oppressed. I felt I was prevented from learning, because I was a girl, and my father was sexist.

The summer before university, I finally had Internet access at home, so I learned HTML. During the five years of campaigning for Internet access, I dreamt of making a website, and it was only when I finally had access that I could.

I’m bitter that I was such an Internet noob in my first year of university, that I spammed other students I wanted to befriend with useless e-mail chain letters. I’m bitter that I still didn’t understand the intricacies of using a web browser, that a fellow student from a CS course had to tell me that I could right-click on a link and choose “Save As…”. I’m bitter that I probably made women in CS look bad. My programming assignments in my intro programming course were still perfect, but people usually don’t understand that someone can be an Internet noob who knows how to code. It’s not that I was technically incompetent because of female brain hard-wiring. It’s that I was technically incompetent because of sexism; because of the patriarchal structure of my household where my father’s opinion overrides the majority vote; and because my father is a special kind of luddite.

Male geeks often say that the geek community is a meritocracy, and that there are no barriers to girls learning technology except for our choices (or our brains), but I faced extra hurdles because of my gender. Not everyone has the same access to technology, because technology does not exist in the ether; it has physical and social components that grant and deny access. I was privileged, because I had a shared family computer before most of my peers. I was also disadvantaged, because I was a girl.

7 thoughts on “I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.

  1. sigflup

    Gah!! This makes me angry. When you’re a kid and people discourage you, even from things that you have talent for, just because of your gender it’s one of the most hurtful things in the world. Way to go dad, start putting up that barrier at the earliest age possible. Thank you for your blog post about it.

  2. Eivind

    A strong story, and I can well understand your anger at your fathers actions, and the system that gave him those sexist opinions. I notice the same thing, though my kids are younger. My son gets electronic experiment-sets, while my twin girls get pink doll-clothes. I try my best to counter it, both by getting the girls more technical toys, and by encouraging them to try out what they WANT to try, rather than let themselves be limited by the tiny world so many expect girls to want to live in.

    It makes me angry too. And it starts before the kid can say ‘mama’, I’ve seen mothers verbally slap down sons aged 8 months for playing with “girl stuff” (waiting room at the docs), and try asking anyone running a baby-clothes-shop who gets more clothing, girls aged 6 months, or boys aged 6 months. (answer: for a girl, mothers generally by $120 worth of clothes for every $100 they would spend on a boy)

  3. lala

    Some years back I wrote a paper on childrens’ access to technology and I still have some of the research.

    Parents give boys priority over girls in granting them access to computer use, buying them technology, ane encouraging them to experiment with computers. Children and Their Changing Media Environment. by Sonia Livingstone and Moira Bovil. (eds.) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (2001).

    Girls feel alienated and turned off from video games due to minimally dressed hypersexualized characters. Girls and Gaming: Gender and Video Game Marketing. (2000) Children Now.

    The above is significant because the number one root of boys’ interest in computing and programming is video games. Berger, Rose Marie and Jodi Hochstedler (2002). Reality Bytes, Sojourners, 31 (3), May-June, p.11.

    According to a UNESCO study, more than twice as many boys under 18 have a computer of their own than girls. One of the leading reasons that parents give for purchasing internet access is that there is a male teenager in the household. This is interesting because when schools provide access to computers, girls and boys use them equally and in the same manner. The gender gap is in no way reflective of a gendered difference in desire to use technology. Feilitzen, Cecilia and Ulla Carlsson (eds.) (2000). Children in the New Media Landscape. Göteborg, Sweden: The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

    This research is all nearly ten years old, so it doesn’t tell us about children and teenagers today. It does, however, tell us plenty about the background of people who are in the job market today and points out some of the privileges that men have over women in the field of IT.

    As for me, I actually did have a PC in my home but it was my dad’s and I was not allowed to touch it, much as I was fascinated by it. I was 22 when I got my first computer. I’m so jealous of the men I meet who have been programming since they were 5. I am familiar with the shame you felt. I remember my boyfriend teaching me to drag with the right mouse button and feeling so stupid.

  4. Nonny

    There’s also the inherent privileged expectation that young people just entering university will be familiar with computers and the Internet, because they should have had access to these as children and teenagers. That’s really not always the case, and so people who are just learning computers at age 18 or 19 because they never had access before, for whatever reason, get treated like they’re stupid. It’s incredibly anger-inducing.

    I’m upset at the way your dad treated you, too. It sounds like there still would have been issues over computers and the Internet even if you were a boy, but because you were a girl, that just gave him even more reason to “protect” you from its “evils”. How screwed up is that? My dad is plenty sexist in his own way, but even he thought enough of me that I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my safety. Sigh.

  5. namae nanka

    and my father didn’t get me a computer because boys only play video games on it.

  6. Emily

    What about attributing it to porn? I think one major reason why so many young males are so attracted to the internet is the access to porn. My brother had an extra reason than me to hang around the computer and when I went to college, I noticed that all the guys had so much more experience with handling computers because of all the porn.

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