From an augmented perspective, technologies both reflect and affect social structures and hierarchical relations. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that theorists of science and technology have long recognized how technologies are gendered. This goes beyond probing technologies of female reproduction, or masculine tools of object manipulation. This pervades even those seemingly gender neutral technological objects, and the ways in which we talk about, use, and make sense of them.
Awhile back, I talked about the gendering of Siri. I argued that the female voice, coupled with her designation as a “personal assistant” created an environment ripe for highly sexist/sexualized personification of the iphone application, and iphones themselves. Far from Haraway’s utopic de-categorization, this melding of mechanical and organic solidified gendered meanings and strengthened interactional gender inequalities.
With this understanding, I still couldn’t contain my exasperated eye-roll when, after hooking up television in my home for the first time in almost a decade, I saw this (video after the jump):
(click to play)
Windows released this advertisement for the Windows 8 Surface tablet over the summer. It has been successful enough to continue airing regularly for several months. This success speaks volumes. It indicates that the gendered meanings inscribed through the commercial are ones with which viewers are a) comfortable and b) moved by to purchase the product.
So let us take a minute and deconstruct what this comfortable and moving 31- second advertisement does. The narrative trope is simple: two women/girls flaunting their features in hopes of selection within a competitive marketplace. The Windows 8 tablet boasts the following advantages: it is penetrable, easy to display, easy to use, easy to manipulate, and cheap to own. Or, said differently, she is penetrable, easy to display, easy to manipulate, easy to use, and cheap to own.
The closing line, in which the ipad pathetically asks: “Do you still think I’m pretty?” shifts the gendered allusions into a fully anthropomorphized culmination. The ipad, undesirable in her waning capacity to be penetrated, used, manipulated, displayed, and owned, relies on the shallowness of good looks. “Don’t leave me,” she implicitly begs, “you can still use me, too.”
This punch line only works within a culture that simultaneously evaluates women on their appearance, while ridiculing those who rely on attractiveness to obtain desired ends. And the desired ends are, of course, to be desirable.
The meanings imbued in eveyrday technological objects not only reflect existing gender relations, but reinforce the very structures in which these relations make sense. These are the very structures that facilitate “art” projects like the “100+ Boob Grab” that PJ Rey (@PJrey) talked about last week. These are the very structures in which all women Cyborgologists are Othered within a key public intellectual debate, as pointed out by Whitney Erin Boesel (@weboesel). These are the very structures in which “Strong is the New Skinny” passes for feminism. The logical conclusion of gendering technologies is the construction of technological objects that both reflect and perpetuate existing, problematic, structural and cultural realities. The asexual tablets, through their sexualized and gendered inscriptions, become engines of continued cultural and material power relations.
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