Gender and CMC Research

In “Tinkering with Technological Skill: An Examination of the Gendered Uses of Technologies,” Ann Brady Aschauer (1999) describes a study she did of eight women technical communicators. These women had all graduated from the same Master’s degree program. Aschauer observed them for four years, both in school and as they entered the workplace. She looked for rhetorical problem-solving techniques that these women used as they used technological tools. She found that the technological tools the women used, in these cases, was not serving a gender hierarchy, but the ways the men sometimes viewed the women Aschauer observed—as “educated secretaries”—were influenced by the men’s view of the women as separate from engineering projects. That is, the women were sometimes not considered integral parts of projects because they did not know the right tools. The women, however, through rhetorical problem-solving, were able to establish themselves as important parts of their organizations. Aschauer argues that “[t]echnophobic and manic critiques of rhetorical problem-solving technologies are seriously limited as long as we fail to consult those using them” (20). While Aschauer’s study is informative, it does not give examples of rhetorical problem-solving technologies and situations in which women used them to upset gender hierarchies.

Rebecca Rickly (1999) studies discussions in four classes on INTERCHANGE, a synchronous electronic discussion network. Using textual analysis, primarily word counts, Rickly found that as a whole, students participate in electronic discussions more than traditional oral discussions, but that students who tested male in the Bem Sex Role Inventory participated more in the electronic environment than the students who tested female. Rickly argues for using the BSRI instead of testing on the basis of biological sex because “[t]he field, as a whole seems to embrace social construction; we need to look beyond standard measures of biological sex, then, to measures of socially constructed gender if we are to gain an accurate view into what occurs in the classroom” (p. 138). In “Why Do Women Feel Ignored? Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Classroom Interactions,” Joanna Wolfe (1999) conducted a similar study on INTERCHANGE. Unlike Rickly, Wolfe only examines groups of students, not students’ interactions with each other and the instructor. Wolfe analyzed quantity (word count) and response patterns. She found that women asked more questions and tended to post more messages agreeing with other students. Women, according to Wolfe, respond more to conversational support and connection with others in the community than do men, who have more of a tolerance for adversarial interactions. In the next issue of Computers and Composition, Pamela Takayoshi’s article “Complicated Women: Examining Methodologies for Understanding the Uses of Technology” appeared. Takayoshi (2000) points out the common use of positive and negative classroom narratives as a “primary research methodology” in computers and composition scholarship (p. 127). She encourages other scholars to use various methods and to do more studies of only women users. Narratives, when they are used, should be “a heuristic for further investigation” (p. 132). She recommends more critical feminist research practices; for example, examining the power relationship between researcher and researched and what women and teachers can do to be agents of change.

In 2001, Michelle Comstock’s article “Grrrl Zine Networks: Re-Composing Spaces of Authority, Gender, and Culture” was published in JAC. In it, she argues that girls and women find empowerment in creating these zines, which Comstock situates as “within the context of grassroots, countercultural publication” (p. 384). Comstock looks at the content of the zines: grrrls most often write about society and their place in it. This includes mostly body narratives—stories of self-image, eating disorders, and abuse. A zine is the author’s own site in community with other sites; it is also nonacademic writing. Weblogs also are generally defined in this way. For this reason, I consider Comstock’s work an appropriate segue into my study of gender in blogging practices.