In a post titled ‘Men Explain Technology To Me’, Audrey Watters unpacks the statistics and challenges that face women working in edtech. Whether it be the predominance of white males running the internet, an inherent culture of ‘mansplaining’, the culture of violence and abuse or the sheer numbers of women actually not working within the big edtech companies, Watter’s paints a picture of oppression.
Although gender and oppression is nothing new, it is the extremities of Watter’s account which brings the issue to the fore. In addition, Watter’s emphasises that these challenges are in no ways just an ‘edtech’ issue. Here is a few examples which help elaborate this:
- Julia Gillard says women going into politics should expect rape threats
- 25 books that will stick with you and blow your mind (only one of which was a female author)
- John Hattie tops Australia’s most powerful in education in 2016 (only one female)
- Academia is quietly and systematically keeping its women from succeeding
The question I was left with was how do I respond? In particular to the wider inequities at play within education. Too often we read things online or hear things at a conference and, for whatever reason, fail to properly follow up.
My initial step was to reflect on my own habits. I started with my 200 odd blogs in my RSS Feed. After downloading the OPML file, I put them into a spreadsheet and proceeded to categorise them.
flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license
In addition, Tom Woodward pointed me to an app that analyses your Twitter:
flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license
The story told by both is that I am as much a part of the problem. However, it also made me wonder about the biases that were within such applications. I then started exploring what could be done to change this situation. Some possibilities include:
- Supporting Female Educators: The first idea I thought of doing was calling out the great work done by women. Whether it be follow Friday (#FF) or any other means of sharing. This is an area that I have been called out on before for not doing enough. There are plenty of examples listicles, such as Peter DeWitt’s 18 Women All K-12 Educators Should Know, Naomi Barnes’ Women in Science, Sue Crowley’s 100 Female Education Authors or David Wees’ Female Educational Theorists. Problem I have with this approach is that lists quickly become about who is not included as much as who is.
- Developing Safer Technology: One of the issues that Watters raises in her post is the structure of the technology and its influence on our interactions. One suggestion she makes is reimagining commenting. Building on the IndieWeb movement, Watters suggests that comments should be housed on a ‘domain of our own’ and then linked to the source post. Another technical solution is the blocking of known serial harassers on platforms such as Twitter using something like the BlockBot.
- Equitable Diet: What is shared online is not always equal. An answer to rebalancing my biases when it comes to blogs, articles and books is to more actively read female writers. This has included putting out the call on Twitter for new blogs to add to Feedly. I also consciously seek out female authors, especially when I do not have a particular focus.
- Equitable Representation: Inequity is often perpetuated at conferences and professional development sessions when one male after another gets up to present. It is therefore heartening to attend conferences like Digicon where it would seem that there is a conscious decision to have an equal amount of men and women when it comes to keynotes. Beyond this, I think that it is important to encourage women to present when and where applicable, especially when it is only confidence holding them back.
- Be More Mindful: The most important thing though is actually being aware that there is an imbalance at all. This is as much to recognise the bias at play, not to somehow magically stand outside of it. A part of this is being informed where possible.
With this all said and done, it feels naive to talk about solutions as if it is so clear cut. I fear being tokenistic, something Maha Bali makes point of in her post on marginality. I also worry about only focusing on one form of inequality, when as Watters points out, there are many, especially when it comes to edtech. I wonder if the real solution is actually being silent? Or in our lives actions and experiences? Maybe this post is simply adding to the problem and is itself a case of mansplaining? It is for this reason that this post has taken considerable time to write.
Coming back to technology, Greg Thompson talks about how technology has the power to make us. The question that I wonder is what sort of ‘us’ is it making. As always, comments welcome.
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Is Gender an Elephant in the (Education) Room? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
thank you for this post, Aaron. Very thoughtful & much to think about.
Least of our probs “especially when it is only confidence holding them back” @mrkrndvs @Sue_Cowley @DrNomyn @stringer_andrea @PeterMDeWitt
dunno if u saw this (more intersectionality) chronicle.com/blogs/profhack…
but thank u. First step is recognizing the problem and deciding to act 1/2
first step in acting as an ally is to listen well 2/2
IMV the Internet is simply a reflection of all society’s gender politics
Ancient Elephant but if we keep pointing it out small steps made, so thks
also, did you check your engagement stats, not just who you follow?
in regards to blogs? Twitter? Both? I don’t think I did. Where wld I do that?
also cld’ve have looked at my WordPress comments too
I dunno…is there a way you can work out who you talk to most on twitter? Gender divide isn’t always simple as male female though
Reading things with criticality looking for the patriarchy even in women’s stuff pointing it out
no I started to realise that. Seems a part of the challenge, maybe. Some @ handles are orgs too, others simply ambiguous maybe.
you are probably more balanced than you think
Important reflective post from @mrkrndvs.
Your blog made me reflect & edit mine. Thanks Aaron. andreastringer.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/women-…
I’d hate to think anyone followed me just because I’m female… !
Do you think there’s gender inequity in education in the Australian context?
I think that there is a gender inequity within some elements of education Edna. However, I am more than glad to be wrong. The more parts of my post are read back to me, the stranger it feels. Do you think that I have overplayed the situation?
Great insightful post, Aaron. I’m pleased you spoke up, rather than remain silent. We women need men to notice, speak up, and take action. If only women point out the inequities, then men take no notice. Thank you for taking a stand.
Fair play to you Aaron:) Did you see what Anil Dash did and what difference it made? https://medium.com/the-web-we-make/the-year-i-didnt-retweet-men-79403a7eade1#.v3d7aedxr
Thanks Francis for the link. I am wondering about some smaller actions. Has me thinking again.
great post. I have similar questions: if all leadership ‘gurus’, keynotes, role models are white males, how does that shape us?
Education seems to be the opposite to many workplaces.
Ive been the only male in a number of schools. All my principals and APs until now have been women.
Sexism is rife in the staff room. ‘Oh you’re a male’, ‘Oh you’re guaranteed a job’, ‘We need you to unclog the toilet’, ‘MC this event’, ‘Move this furniture’…
To be honest, my first job was at a primary school with no males. I wonder if primary and secondary are different?
Really? I have had numerous female scientists & engineers speak to my students
Got called out for being a part of an all male panel recently. I hated it. What can you do though?
There will always be pushback when challenging any status quo. Yes, and including gender stereotypes.
Greg, thank you for your thoughts on Doug Belshaw’s microcast discussing the IndieWeb. I really liked your point about the egalitarian web.
Like you, I have not found a home in the fediverse and am happier in my own castle, or car as Alan Levine and Jim Groom put it.
I am not sure if the ‘IndieWeb‘ is the answer, however for now I will hold on tightly and let go lightly. As Angus Hervey states:
As a white male, I do find Belshaw’s point about power an interesting one. However, I am not convinced that the Fediverse solves that. Happy to be convinced otherwise.
To be far, I am happy with doing what I am doing at the moment at the very least as a model of how things could be. My philosophical position comes via Jean-Paul Sartre: