Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence

  Virtual and Actual Realities: A Feminist Environmentalist Analysis of the Computer Industry.


vFull Report ENG (.pdf) 374KB

More Information

Additional copies of this publication are available.
Please mail a cheque or money order for $10.00 in
Canadian funds to:
Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence
56 The Promenade
Winnipeg, MB
R3B 3H9

The research and publication of this study were funded by the Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE). The PWHCE is financially supported by the Women's Health Contribution Program, Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis, Health Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the PWHCE or the official policy of Health Canada.

To view or print a PDF file, you need the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you may download at no charge from the Adobe web site. (Acrobat is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.)
M. McCracken

Project Summary

The use of computer technology is strongly woven into the fabric of life in North America, Europe, and increasingly the developing world; some of us can hardly fathom doing without computers to conduct business or personal affairs. While the density of use differs by region, in many parts of the world, money flows, health care, business operations, transport, communications, and entertainment are dependent on information technologies. Within this reality, we must be reminded that information technologies are gendered products of social relations and subtly structure and shape social existence (Latour 1993, Haraway 1995). Work and every day life have come to be dependent on information technology to the parallel extent that human societies are dependent on nature.

Women are involved with computers in different ways: as workers in global assembly line factories, or in data entering or other office work, as well as users and consumers. Higher up in the power hierarchies, such as design and management, the presence of women rapidly declines. Though some women have managed to break the glass ceiling such as the female CEO of Hewlett Packard, the actions of the few high-ranking female CEOs suggest the persistence of male bias in the control and design of new technologies (Rothschild 1983, Haraway 1995). On the other hand, there is also a positive side to computer technology, new spaces and uses are opened up which provide women who have access to new empowering resources. Given the role of information technologies in economic globalization, the relationship between women, the environment, and information technologies is a strategic research site to investigate changes in gender relations.

Mapping the relationship between women, the environment and information technologies demonstrates that information technologies have changed gender relations and the position of women involved with production and consumption of computers. Based on secondary data, this paper uses a lifecycle approach to look at the production side and consumption side of personal computers from cradle to grave. The paper describes the impact of each stage in the life cycle on women and the environment. The analysis is not entirely comprehensive, but seeks to highlight different aspects of each stage of the process and seeks to provide a broad understanding of the impact of computers on women and the environment.

Section one will discuss ecofeminism and feminist environmental theories to consider the interlinkages between nature and women. Section two will analyze the production of computers from a feminist and environmentalist perspective and finally section three will analyze women as users and consumers of computers and the impact on the environment of computer usage. The life of a computer is imbued with power relations. Revealing the ways in which these power relations are played out can help us to see points for resistance and transformation of the present reality within global high tech computer capitalism.

Back to top of page