By Judith Astelarra, emeritus professor, Department of Sociology, Autonomous University of Barcelona.
I must say that when I was invited to participate in this debate several months ago I did not like the question. Now I think that it was a provocative question that lead to very interesting answers. However, I still have doubts about the question because I feel that if what we want is to analyze the absence of women in the sector of technology, do we need to play this provocative game of making a transvestite of Steve Jobs?
Steve Jobs was an outstanding creator, everybody has agreed on that. Traditionally the creators in any field, had been considered beings who had an exceptional individual talent that was emphasized in its work. However, individual genius can only be put into practise and recognized in social and cultural contexts. It is society that allows the creative talent to be developed and, what is equally important, is responsible for the recognition of the value of the creation. Gender is part of this social context related to creation, but there are other factors as well.
«We can look at the women that are now in these fields, even if they are a minority, to see if they make a difference»
Most of the answers to the question about Steve Job have spoken about how the gendered dimension of society and culture, characterized by inequality for women, have been an impediment for women’s incorporation in the technological field in terms of creation, production and recognition (the “icon”).
Others answers have stressed the individual characteristics of technological creation be it men or women. Only a few have dealt with Steve Jobs as a creator and tried to relate it to gender. In this sense, I liked very much the analysis made by Gillian Marcelle. In describing Steve Jobs as a woman most of the answers either spoke generally of the situation of women, or plainly admitted that they did not know whether it would make such a difference. Henry Jenkins spoke about Bill Gates, what was very interesting because here we deal with two men, in the same field and time, who shared gender but were different.
All these answers could have been just the same if Steve Jobs had not been in the question and all we were dealing was with the issue of women and technological creations. What makes me uneasy about it is that, even if it is not the intention, the proposal of replacing Steve Jobs by a woman leads to a sort of confrontation between men and women.
«Finding places in which both genders can collaborate is also part of the feminist proposal of creating new realities»
I have been a feminist from the late 1960 and early 1970 when I was doing my PhD at Cornell University. When we started, women’s inequality was not even a social, cultural and political issue. We needed to be loud and confrontation was part of it. But now, the situation is different. Obviously inequality still exists and we need lobbies and political movement to deal with it. But the problem is now recognized and there are women now in the fields from where they were excluded. We can evaluate what we have done to correct inequality and look for new things to do. But, we can also look at the women that are now in these fields, even if they are a minority like in the technological field, to see if they make a difference. Not just give hypotheses of “what if” that cannot have rigorous answers.
I liked very much the answers that stated the need of social innovation in technology, no matter what the person’s gender is. I think that finding places in which both genders can collaborate is also part of the feminist proposal of creating new realities. Here we can play the game “what if”, not changing the past but looking at the future, because in this case imagination can be used. Starting from the problems that the TIC have today and the new lines that should be developed in the future, we can think of a woman (even if imaginary) that can play the role that men like Steve Jobs played in the past. We would not be using a man as a reference, we would be using women’s experiences and realities today. An endeavor that can be shared between this new outstanding woman and the men of her time. A pluralist proposal that does not discriminate anybody.
But in spite of my doubts with the question I really think that the debate has been very interesting.