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.
In addition, Tom Woodward pointed me to an app that analyses your Twitter:
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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