Equal Bytes? The Feminisation of Technophobia in the 1980s
In 1983, author and scientist Isaac Asimov predicted that, ‘one of the most significant uses for computers [would be], that of finally raising the role of women in the world to full equality with that of men.’ Asimov’s utopian spirit was characteristic of the early 1980s as computers were becoming increasingly present in the everyday. The discourse was however inherently dichotomous, with dystopic visions about technological progression and anxieties over changing social behaviours that could disrupt traditional divisions of sex, class, and race.
Scientists, academics and journalists became increasingly interested in the social effects of new computing technology, identifying women as exhibiting characteristics of computer-induced anxiety that were termed ominously ‘technophobia’. Through an analysis of computer hardware, software, advertising, media representation and the realities of women’s engagement with computers in the 1980s, this thesis examines and challenges the myth that constructed technophobia as feminine, relocating nuanced expressions of gender in the mechanisms that mediated computers into the everyday.
During the research process, it became apparent that women were increasingly questioning their association with technology-induced anxiety, most notably through the formation of women’s computer groups. By exposing multi-layers of interaction and communication this examination of women’s relationship to computing can be moved beyond the binaries of previous discourse. Through an examination of the practices of women using computer technology, computers can be seen to have empowered women and promoted positive change through the establishment of circuits, connections, networks and exchanges – material and immaterial digital encounters.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2015
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Modern & Contemporary
- BA Fashion and Dress History, University of Brighton, 2012
- Curatorial assistant, Brighton Museum, Brighton, 2010–13; Archivist, Bexley Heritage Trust, 2013