2nd Post for Gender & Technological Change Class: Technology & Power

Yesterday in class we discussed how technologies inhere particular power relationships through assuming certain gendered patterns of use, design, development, and deployment. Although we focused on the “male birth control pill” it was clear that the issues we were discussing about what makes a particular technology “male” or “female” were more complex.

We also talked about how this idea of the “maleness” or “femaleness” of a technology might have broader reach: the reason that the “male birth control pill” was seen as such was because the technology assumed a set of gender relations in which male users would have the power to control contraception. These ideas about what makes a technology more for men, or more for women, carry over into other usage cases, but in ways that are often subtle and harder to see. The idea of gendering technologies as a shorthand for describing the gendered power relationships they contain (at least in the eyes of the public) has broader reach, and impacts our understanding of more technologies than those that are just for contraception.

In a post of no more than 500 words and no fewer than 300, I would like you to discuss another technology that assumes–or has “designed-in”–a particular set of gendered power relationships. Explain your answer in relation to the concepts we’ve covered so far in class, and be sure to think about the idea of heterogenous engineering and the different meanings of “testing” when you’re thinking about what constitutes a “designed-in” set of relationships. (In other words, design doesn’t necessarily begin and end in the lab.) Your answer will need to be attentive to cultural and historical context; the gendered assumptions and power relations that you’re locating aren’t going to be universal or static. Take some time to think about other technologies we’ve discussed in class if you’re unsure of how to answer this.

Comments are due by 11am Friday as noted on your syllabus. I’ll approve the best comments later that day. Please return to the blog to take a look at your classmates’ responses and comment on 1 or 2 of them before class on Tuesday.


  1. Carla

    Another technology that has the gendered relationships “designed-in” is the research on and treatment for osteoporosis. This was once commonly seen as only largely affecting post-menopausal women, thus the medical community largely focused on researching treatments in women. Upon visiting the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s (NOF) website—which has an extensive list of up-to-date FDA-approved medications—listed eight medications available for use by women, but only four approved for use by men. The development of diagnosis procedures has also been very gendered; a bone density scan in women reads differently than it does in men due to common differences among the male and female skeletal anatomies. This phenomenon of the intrinsic gender assumptions of the disease and thus development of treatment and tests mirrors that regarding cardiovascular disease about a decade ago. Much of this focus away from men relates to women’s sharp decline in bone mass during and after menopause due to reduction in sex hormone production (namely estrogen). Previously, it was assumed that because men did not have an equivalent sudden drop in androgens, they were not susceptible to the massive bone loss. However, there is more discussion among medical professionals and in the media about andropause and age-related hypogonadism in men, a similar reduction in sex hormones but not as sudden as that of female menopause.

    Initially, clinical testing of osteoporosis treatments were aimed at women because they are the most likely to suffer injury from osteoporosis. Because men have greater peak bone density on average than women, they were assumed to not be at risk for bone breakage due to reduced bone mass (osteoporosis or osteopenia). However, the “informal” testing of this lack of technology by men of the masses has proved otherwise—according to NOF, one in four men over the age of fifty will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The NOF lists in its research priorities to investigate the “prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in men,” as, they admit, there is quite a large gap in research between the knowledge about postmenopausal Caucasian women’s experiences of osteoporosis and minorities, men, and younger populations. A simple Google search will return plenty of results about the prevalence of the disease in men by health publications, daily living publications, even support groups for men with osteoporosis. There have also been recent media releases and ads by pharmaceutical companies discussing treatment for “Low T” (i.e. andropause). One of the goals to treating this condition is maintaining bone strength. Researchers are returning to labs to test drugs and diagnostics on men, not just women, and the public is interested in what is available for the treatment of andropause and, relatedly, decreasing bone density in men (otherwise it would not be so well-marketed). Thus, heterogeneous engineering is taking place within the osteoporosis world!

    • AnthonyL

      I’d say that there’s a huge volume of stereotypes surrounding men and the doctor. If women are the more fragile sex, then obviously men don’t fall down- and if they did why would they break anything?

      Even the discussion of ‘andropause’ must be covered by the moniker ‘Low T’ to distance it from menopause and make it firmly masculine so that it’s okay for a man’s man to go to the doctor to seek treatment for it.

    • Cruz

      Yes, I always tend to think as osteoporosis as disease mostly affecting females. Interestingly enough I know of two different men who have this condition and I know of no women.

  2. Kevin

    Makeup. Although makeup is mainly marketed to female audiences, it is becoming nearly impossible to avoid the fact that there is a growing base of male makeup users. Makeup has been trending upwards since it was industrially marketed to large populations of people.Today, in the 21st Century, make up usage ranges widely-from TV personalities and movie stars to young girls and to young, up and coming, models. One of the major forms of propaganda for makeup companies has been to publish in magazines read by mainly by females as well as television commercials featuring women as the central object in the ad; this leads to a public view that women are “allowed” to wear makeup while male usage is frowned upon. How can makeup, which is not a gender specific product, be allowed to be used by only one gender? It seems that with male movie stars, there’s an unspoken contract between the people behind the camera and those in front of the television. This silent contract states that it is accepted for those in public appearances to wear makeup, however, especially with older males, regular men and even young men cannot even dare to think about wearing any of it because it degrades them as males. These older generation men that are “set in their ways” would not even allow thinking about any possibility of eventually having an equally viewed gender.

    Even though makeup is invented and produced by large, industrial companies, the labs that develop these products have a very important role in whether makeup will continue to be seen as a female only product or enlarge its base user by developing wider ranges of “male only” makeup. Another very, very large player in trying to equalize the gender based of makeup use is the advertising industry. Here, makeup is mainly marketed to women. There is, however, male makeup advertising. This advertising usually falls in the form of male perfumes or colognes, and hair products; never any makeup, yet all of the commercials that show male appearances all have makeup on. These differences in the design of makeup do not allow for genders to be seen as equal. In other words, makeup, as a technology, seems to driving the lines between male and female perceptions further apart Even though makeup is invented and produced by large, industrial companies, the labs that develop these products have a very important role in whether makeup will continue to be seen as a female only product or enlarge its base user by developing wider ranges of “male only” makeup.

    Another very, very large player in trying to equalize gender based on makeup use is the advertising industry. Here, makeup is mainly marketed to females, however, male advertising usually only falls in the form of male perfumes or colognes, and hair products; never any makeup, yet all of the commercials that show male appearances all have makeup on. These differences in the design of makeup do not allow for genders to be seen as equal. In other words, makeup, as a technology, seems to driving the lines between male and female perceptions further apart.

    • Marie Hicks

      Nice post, Kevin. You’re right, makeup targeted at men is the fastest growing segment of the cosmetics industry now: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/23/business/la-fi-man-makeup-20120623. And you raise an interesting point about how even though it’s long been assumed that makeup is for women, makeup is also simultaneously used to highlight and enforce gendered differences. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the class thinks about your final question: whether makeup is actually heightening differences between men and women that some (many?) people may think of as innate.

      • Miguel

        I thought this was interesting never would of guess. Looking up more on this topic and some advertisements I see that makeup is opening up to males

    • AnthonyL

      It’s interesting how makeup is becoming gendered and then ungendered again. It’s my understanding that the use of rouge to enhance the redness of females lips and cheeks (simulating sexual arousal) has existed since at least the Egyptians (who – male and female – also used to wear a slow melting waxy perfumed substance on their heads to cover up body odors, IIRC).

      To this day, European judges and lawyers still wear “court dress.” Only in the 19th century did the aristocracy give up wearing ceruse- a white lead-based face paint.

  3. Cruz

    Another technology that, I believe, has a gendered powered relationship is video games and its industry. The video game industry has a tendency to design and promote their games towards a male audience. This could be a reason why 80% of teen males and only 20% of female teens play video games 1. I found it interesting why female teens wouldn’t want to join in on playing video games. A reason could possibly be that teen girls pick up on the marketing of games and possibly feel that they need to stay away from this “male” activity. Our culture has promoted video games and video game culture as a male technology. This also enforces that males are the primary force in developing and marketing games. By having the video game market heavily focused on males, it has a trickle down effect as to who will be the next generation of video game developer. As a result the video game industry is heavily dominant with male developers and programmers. One could argue that by playing video games as a child it has the ability to groom the male adult to become part of the male dominated video game industry. Thus, furthering the domination of this seemingly male technology.

    When relating this technology back to a concept we’ve covered in class I tend to think of the Ben Barres article. In that article Barres explains that by leaving out females from the science industry it was limiting the growth of STEM+ fields. It’s interesting to think if possibly the game industry is doing the same. I could also relate this idea back to article that focused on the social construction of technology (The Industrial Revolution in the Home). In this article it states that the housewife was a mid 20th century invention. When thinking back to early video game advertising it was always marketed toward male children. Therefore the social construction of video games has always catered to a male audience purposely ostracizing female children. It is interesting to consider what changes could occur if the game industry wasn’t male dominated. Would the culture of video games be less male-identified and could there be a gender-neutral video game culture instead?


    • Marie Hicks

      Nice post, Cruz. Actually, current estimates are that close to 50% of all gamers are women–some studies even say women are the majority of gamers now (it depends on how you slice it–what games are included in the study and whether “majority” is represented by players or hours played). See the latest report from the Entertainment Software Association for more: http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp

      You’re absolutely right though that videogames are more often marketed towards men or assumed to be a “boy’s” technology. The recent incidents involving Anita Sarkeesian and Jennifer Helper are examples of how this stereotype has a lot of power to influence people, especially online.

  4. Matthews

    A gendered technology that I found was the “Easy-Bake Oven” designed by Hasbro.

    This technological toy that has changed with the times as far as the cooking/kitchen scenery has changed in society. From its first model in the 60’s to represent a conventional oven that just bakes, to a real miniaturized oven that has its original oven to bake but also works as a stove-top, to its now newer model which is a microwave oven that is also portable.

    But regardless of its specifications over time, it has generally been a toy directed towards girls and women. From television commercials to the packaging on the box, there are always girls and women on the face of this technology. But does this mean that males don’t use this technology? As a matter of fact that has not stopped parents from buying their male children this technology. In fact most male children like the “Easy-Bake Oven” because they also like to cook. Also this technology has actually won many awards because of the general idea of the toy.

    But even so boys are still discouraged from using this technology even though there are world known men that are professional chefs. The colors of this toy are of a “feminine orientation”. The colors of the current model are purple and pink. So now does the color get chosen because of the majority of users being girls, or is it an arbitrary choice that serves to further differentiate genders?

    That question will now be put to the test by Hasbro, since a 13-year ago girl decided to go online and make a petition for Hasbro to make a “Gender Neutral Easy-Bake Oven”. This model will be the same as the current model, just that now the colors of the “gender neutral” model will be black and grey.

    So I guess we will see if there is an increase in sale of the newer “Gender Neutral Easy-Bake Oven” based on the color of this technology.

    • Marie Hicks

      Nice post–I edited it a bit to make it easier to read/understand. Hopefully this did not change your meaning. It is interesting to see how the color of the Easy-Bake Oven has evolved over time. When it came out in the 1960s, I believe it was green, then by the 1980s, it was beige and brown. It was only recently that its color scheme was “girled up” and made pink and purple. But, as you note, even before this color change, the advertising for the product was always targeted at girls. It just goes to show how gendered symbols and signals change over time: what was used to signal a “girl’s toy” in the 1980s or 1960s is different from what is used to signal a “girl’s toy” in 2013.
      Easy bake c. 1960s
      Easy Bake c. 1970s
      Easy Bake c. 1980s

  5. AnthonyL

    Lego is one of the world’s most recognized toy brands. As a child I know I amassed an enormous number of plastic blocks. Several years ago after experiencing great success with sets that were traditionally considered male gendered (robots, ninjas, aliens, off-road trucks, etc), Lego decided to market directly to girls. With the introduction of the Friends line in 2012, the debate about the gender of Legos became a watershed. It was argued (accurately) that Legos had not been specifically gendered before that time. The original primary color blocks were about as gender neutral is they could get. 1980’s vintage ads for Legos even presented girls as Lego builders. However, during multi-year cultural analysis in Germany, Korea, the U.K., and the United States Lego discovered a number of surprising things. Among them, that boys and girls played with Legos in different ways. The line that was born from this research was Lego Friends. The figures which are unique to the line are taller and “curvier” than the traditional yellow jug head (which was found to be unpopular with girls). The color palate is more pastel. This entire exercise was infuriating to some because it made girl Legos different.

    This I think is a bit of a false distinction. The existing blocks had become male gendered either through strengthening stereotypes about building & constructing or through the memes that Lego used to present the sets (robots, ninjas, aliens, off-road trucks, etc). Girls were led to believe that playing with Legos was “a boy thing.” (Bloomberg) This march toward becoming male gendered is itself representative of heterogeneous engineering in that the perception of Legos as masculine was making Legos invoke more masculine stereotypes or vice versa.

    Since the relationship was already established, would it have been sufficient to offer the existing blocks in sets that were considered more female gendered? Huffington Post refers to the Lego Friends section of the Lego store as a “pink ghetto”–while true, it gets the girls into the store. Lego Friends could be the gateway toy to breaking down the existing stereotype before the brand becomes exclusively the boy’s domain. If the Lego Friends line can get more girls to play with Legos, then it will be possible to reverse the gender stereotypes that have surrounded them. While this may be unpopular with some due to its clearly “designed-in” gender stereotypes it is breaking the existing stereotypes down. It seems to be axiomatic then that when girls “can” play with Legos, girls can play with Legos. It will remain to see whether this strategy is effective, but the Friends line has experienced commercial success. Lego has sold “twice as many sets as expected.” (Guardian)

    The last outstanding question then, is the same as the first: is the danger posed by reinforcing certain gender stereotypes greater than the benefit of breaking others down?


    • Carla

      This is an incredibly interesting question you have posed, Anthony! I think my issue with this line of LEGOS is that there are a very limited number of scenarios that are designed for them, most of which are leisurely activities like a “hot tub den” or “kitty house.” I think this is very limiting and may be contradictory to the neurological/educational benefits of creation, creativity, and imagination promoted by the LEGO brand. Perhaps this is a gateway to getting girls more interested in these toys, but I am not sure it is worth it to limit the idea of being a girl and building like a girl to cafés and pet salons rather than the endless opportunities and combinations available for the standard line of LEGOS. Why not make a “girlier” line that is exactly identical to the standard “Bricks and More” group with the more attractive figurines substituted for the jugheads and pastel blocks? Sure, it would still be flawed, but I think it could address the concept that “LEGOS are for boys” without limiting the building options.

    • Cruz

      Interesting response Anthony! I had also thought about Lego as well for this blog post. Interesting that they were categorically classified as gender neutral. Throughout my childhood I consistently played with Legos and never once wished I had pink Legos. Interestingly enough the advertisers of Lego’s thought there should be. What were the different ways boys and girls played with Legos? I’m curious!

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>