Why am I writing about my experiences as a woman in edtech? Because sharing our personal stories helps to promote awareness and understanding of the complex topic of gender. In a society where women are constructed to be passive, polite, decorative objects to be desired by heterosexual men, women confront a unique experience when taking the leap to contribute our thoughts, critiques, ideas, and creations in the open web. I acknowledge that these are my own reflections and I do not suggest that there is a singular “woman’s” experience that I represent here.
Over the years, I have felt tensions upon jumping into the active, public space of participation, which I am informed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, is not where I belong. I am aware of the self-talk that surfaces as I begin to type a blog post (especially a post like this one). As critical as I am about gender issues, this self-talk is persistent. As fortunate as I am to have a family and community that encourages me to pursue my voice and follow my passion, that self-talk continues to try to silence me and situate me into a more passive role. Where does it come from? And why is it so important to shut it down?
It comes from the destructive messages about women that I hear every day in popular music. It comes from the inferior roles that I see women stitched into on television and in the movies. It comes from seeing the wrinkles increase on my own face when I look in the mirror and, in turn, see nothing but 20 something year-old hot babes delivering the news on television alongside aging, overweight men.
Over time, women internalize these messages and, painfully so, actively participate in their construction. I have a vivid memory of seeing a young mother answer her mobile phone in a grocery store after hearing her ring tone, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?,” a song performed by pole-dancing, lingerie-wearing women, to which her toddler daughter bounced back and forth to the catchy beat. Little girls’ clothing has become hyper-sexualized, toys for girls (which are all pink and mostly glittery, just to make it clear it’s for a girl) drip with the message “it’s your looks that matter,” and as I scan my children’s Instagram feeds, I see the posing that more and more young girls enact in selfies. I also painfully aware of the 3.6 million videos that are retrieved (mostly of adolescent girls) when I search for the phrase “Am I pretty?” on YouTube.
I was born in 1971, the year Ms. Magazine was launched. When I was young, there was no such thing as a MILF and having a baby was not tied to a race to drop the baby weight, as it is today. And when I was seven, my birthday wish was to become Wonder Woman, not a member of the Real Housewives cast. I did not have a mother or know anyone who did that regularly visited a “med spa” to spend thousands of dollars a year to diminish the natural effects of age on her body. When I was a kid, cosmetic surgery was something celebrities participated in. Today, there are children’s books written to normalize the concept of plastic surgery for moms — all in the name of “beauty.”
The social construction of gender informs the way many women feel about themselves and impacts their sense of belonging in professional spaces, as well. It also informs the choices made about who is important, who should be listened to, and who should be followed. Over the years, as I have reviewed the keynote presenters showcased at higher education conferences, I have sensed that this is not a realm in which women are valued equally. As I view the “top” EdTech bloggers, I see men outnumbering women 3:1.
For about four years, I taught an online faculty development course for @ONE titled “Building Online Community with Social Media.” I taught the class two to three times per year and it maxed at 20 participants. Regularly, I had no more than 2-3 men enroll in each class. As I reflect on this experience, I grow concerned about the gap between the gender of higher ed practitioners leveraging emerging technologies to transform pedagogy and those who speak out about how to make it happen.
A few years ago when I took the leap to start hosting live Google+ Hangouts on Air, the message was communicated to me, as well. There I was, facilitating the sharing of ideas and participating in active dialogue. After one of my first Hangouts on Air (which, by the way, stream live to YouTube), I was excited to see that there had been comments made to the YouTube video feed during the live conversation. When I visited the video page, I found comments that were made about my own body. I felt violated. I felt outraged. I felt disgusted. I quickly trained myself to manage the situation – instead of withdrawing from these conversations, I trained myself to disable the comments on the YouTube page as I delivered a Hangout on Air. I did this for about a year before it dawned upon me that this is precisely one of the obscure barriers that prevent women from participating in edtech conversations.
What I find inspirational are organizations like EdTech Women, dedicated to creating networks for women to connect with other women in a supportive community; conferences like SxSW, which make an explicit effort to value and integrate diversity into their dialogue; contributions that acknowledge gender issues in edtech, like Rafranz Davis’s The Missing Voices in EdTech, Rebecca Hogue’s post after #ET4Online in 2014 and Maha Bali’s post, #NoMomLeftBehind, which opened a dialogue about the topic of including childcare at edtech conferences; and men like Michael Berman who regularly practice inclusivity in their work and John Farquhar for asking how improve things.
And while I agree with Jesse Irwin that EdTech Women events should not contribute to the turning women into decorations…
I do believe we all need to support the cultivation of conversations about this topic and to facilitate the development of communities that inspire, support, and encourage the work of women in edtech.