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A Digital World Sans Gender Dichotomy

By Radwa Munir

In this 21st century, from the time of birth to fulfilling Maslow’s hierarchy of needs till human body reaches the closed cascade, the branches of technology are so deeply rooted that even a moment without it is quite unimaginable. Human life is evolved around technology to an extent that it has warped the customary society. As technology mirrors the society that creates it, access to technologies and effective use of it is affected by intersecting spectrums of exclusion including gender, ethnicity, age, social-class, geography and disability. The digital revolution is transforming how humanity lives, works and relates with one another. But there is also an underlying risk that this revolution will carve stark inequalities in terms of who benefits and whose voice is heard.

Gender Complexities of Technologies and Bridging the Digital Divide

As the famous TV presenter and writer Charlie Brooker thought, “If technology is a drug and it does feel like a drug, then what precisely are the side-effects?” It is mentionable that gender bias and digital divide is one of the deep-rooted issues of modern-day technology. It precedes over a few tipping points:

  • Software- Explicit and implicit gender biases embedded in digital services and products have been researched in recent years, particularly in the area of software development. Examples of built-in bias in software and products, making it unappealing or impractical for certain category of users are_ LinkedIn’s search engine (until a correction in 2016) asked users, when they searched for female names, that whether the users wanted to type a male name instead i.e. Stephanie? Did you mean Stephen? According to a research article by Stanney (2020), inter-pupillary distance contributed to motion sickness among women as Virtual Reality headsets were simply not designed for female physiology.

  • Content- Gender gaps in the use of digital technologies especially mobile phones have qualitative dimensions. A research paper by Bailey and Steeves (2015) mentions, the self-presentation behaviours, such as, posting ‘selfies’ with young women facing an expectation that they will maintain an online presence displaying ‘appropriate femininity’.

The digital divide is much more complicated than any neat binary comparison between male and female. By the use of digital technologies women can alleviate burdens and help with basic tasks e.g. shopping for goods or services and banking online. Yet there arises the complexity of inequalities, as in, supposedly, a middle-class woman living in a big city is very much likely to have a mobile phone than a man who lives in a rural isolated location below the poverty line. Here, the notion that underpins the SDG agenda to ‘Leave-No-One-Behind’ is relevant.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) and digital platforms in form of Protest

In 2020, humanitarian organization Plan International carried out surveys based on online experiences from around the world hearing from 14000 girls and young women from across 31 countries. The results indicated that 58% had experienced online harassment, with half saying that they faced more harassment online than in the streets. While reports highlight that girls are being targeted online just for being young and female. It adds that, it gets worse for women who are outspoken, disabled, black or identify as LGBTQ+. Yet while digital platforms offer space for the alienated to meet, connect, convert and recruit into violent and reactionary movements. It also offers space to fight such violence. Feminists use it to protest against misogyny, abuse and violence. Campaigns including #metoo have challenged sexual harassment, enabling girls to identify and call out abuse seeking strength from the ‘power with’ generated through online communities. #MyDressMyChoice and #IWillGoOut are also the examples of locally-rooted campaigns. Focusing on the #IWillGoOut Campaign, Divya Titus’s article tells the story that how social media became a gateway for activism by young feminists in the India Tech Hub of Bengaluru, in response to mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in the city. This activism ran in the same time period as international activism around the election of Donald Trump as US President was running parallel yet distinct, drawing its inspiration, energy and identity from a history of Indian feminist movement – building around both political and economic rights.

A Genderless World in Essence of Digitalization

To paint sun shining in a clear sky sans rainbow or clouds, the question arises, ‘Can a world really exist as individuals beyond gender?’ In response to this question, poet and professor, Ashwani Kumar [Dean, School of Development Studies, TATA Institute of Social Science TISS, Mumbai] says_ “The idea of gender as a binary of male and female represents a ‘caste system or hierarchy’ with two positions: masculinity above femininity. Aristotle regarded the female as being ‘afflicted with natural defectiveness’, and Italian philosopher St Thomas Aquinas saw woman as ‘imperfect man’ and a ‘misbegotten male’. In contrast to this socially regressive concept of gender binary, people now recognise a new range of gender identities.”

Being genderless is gradually becoming a new normal in the realm of art, literature and fashion. ‘Pink’ a lingerie and apparel line by Victoria’s Secret has added male mannequins and a small assortment of gender-neutral products to its outlet in Chicago. In the words of Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace, “there is a generation that doesn’t care about gender.” In such a generation, apart from outreach of social media and digital technologies, other platforms are needed for spreading awareness _ a holistic approach in educational institutions, more initiatives in companies and other business arenas, free legal aid, art and film media.

The talk of a genderless world in essence of digitalization would etch a conclusion as beautiful as the words of Lyndon B. Johnson (former US President) –

“If future generation are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.”

By Radwa Munir

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