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Gender Inequality and Internet
Gender Inequality concerns are also plaguing the world of new technologies the same way they have been haunting us in other areas. It is widely believed that women are less frequent users of the Internet and new related technologies as compared to men, which is creating a widening gender gap. The research in this area proves that this concern is not exactly baseless but a change has been noticed in this trend from mind 1990s to 2003.
During the time when Internet was still in its infancy, men were not only more frequent users, they would actually dominate the field with women still lurking in the dark since they knew little about the technology and even less about its potential impact. Women as active users of the Internet and email as found by Nielsen/NetRatings Study of 2001 but the frequency and intensity of their usage remains low compared to male users (Ono, 2002). It has also been found that men and women use Internet for different purposes with women focusing on communication while men showing more interest in browsing and searching. The statistics revealed by Nielsen/NetRatings Study of 2001 prove that women have become eager and active users of the Internet but the intensity and the purpose of their usage differs.
In May, an estimated 53.33 million women actively used the Internet compared to 49.83 million men. Women spent an average of nearly 9 hours a day online, where men spent about 10 1/2 hours online. Men viewed 31% more pages than women. Since May of last year, both sexes increased their time spent on the Internet by about 30 minutes a day, and over 11 million more women and 9 million more men jumped on the Internet. (cited in Roach, 2001)
However with the increase in Internet usage for both men and women, a strange new problem has surfaced which makes gender inequality in the cyberspace a serious issue. Women have become victim of Internet pornography as tens of hundreds of sites reveals them in degrading fashion thereby making gender inequality a more intense and pervasive issue. It is important here to take into account available figures of Internet usage among men and women, which reveals that since men are more frequent users, they dominate the cyberspace and can use it for whatever purpose they feel right. Various researches and studies have given differing figures but they all agree that women are still less frequent users compared to men and are less likely to access Internet from various locations. Women usually access Internet from workplace or academic locations while men enjoy multiple points of access making them more frequent and more intense users. In one of the surveys conducted in 1995, it was found that women used Internet mostly from workplace and it is amazing that things have not changed much in last eight years. In this American Internet User Survey (1995), which is no longer available on the Internet but is cited in various journals and books, it was found that:
....women are more likely than men to use the Internet exclusively from work or academic locations, while men are more likely to use the Internet from multiple locations, including after-hours use from home. Behind this finding is the related finding that men are significantly more willing than women to actually personally pay for Internet access. Thus, men are more than twice as likely as women to access the Internet from home.
Amazingly the same trend exists even after eight highly progressive years in which women have mostly been able to overcome or minimize the gender gap in many areas. While more women access Internet today than they used to in mid-1990s, their access points are still the same and due to this, men are heavier and more intense users. A recent report by U.S. Department of Commerce, Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide states that, "Both sexes use the Internet more at home than elsewhere. Males generally access the Internet by about three percentage points more, regardless of location, and equal 34.3% in total access." The gender-wise access points and percentage has been shown in a chart which is given below:
Source of Data:
US Department of Commerce
One research claims that there exist no significant difference in the frequency of male- female usage but agree that men and women use Internet differently. (Ervin et al., 2001) Men are more frequent users of pornographic sites and they are more interested in such activities online and thus even in this modern age, technology is being used to degrade women and to create gender inequalities. Lisa R. Hoffman (1999) states:
" ... The Internet is used to spread pornographic images of violence toward women. ..Sexism in cyberspace manifests itself in multiple ways. The fact that the Internet was originally designed by the DOD and was male-dominated from its inception means that the few activities that take place were structured primarily by men. Not surprisingly, most Internet subscribers are men, resulting in a male-dominated cyber-culture."
In a similar vein, Julian Dibbell, talked about the cyber culture and focused on the concept of virtual rape in his book, My Tiny Life, Crime and Passion in the Virtual world. The author explains that new technologies and applications are designed to use women as objections and men take pleasure in dominating women even if it is in the virtual world. As a new member of the virtual world, the author realized that the life online is very similar to its offline version with the difference that men had greater freedom online. This freedom has led to development of cyber games and societies where men are free to use women in whatever fashion they wish and this is how the concept of virtual rape emerged which is a clear indication of gender inequality online.
There are many social and psychological factors responsible for under-representation of women on the Internet. Those researchers who agree that women are less frequent users of the Internet and thus enjoy a relatively small presence in the cyberspace feel that social, sociological and some psychological factors are responsible for this. Schofield's 1995 research on gender-based differences in perceptions and educational inclination found that unlike men who are interested in computers and new technology, most women lack the same enthusiasm. He interviewed several school teachers about introduction of computer science and found:
A number of male teachers also reported doing things such as building computers for fun or deciding to teach computer science out of a deep-enough fascination with the subject to lead them to switch fields, although it required a major investment of time and effort. Not a single female teacher we interviewed spoke of the kind of fascination with the computer that a number of their male peers evidenced. Rather, those who responded positively to them tended to speak about their actual or potential usefulness. (Schofield, 161)
Women are not only more computer-phobic and thus less interested in new information technologies than men, they also encounter various social pressures that give them less spare time to access Internet compared to men. Kramer (1991) writes that unlike men who are usually occupied with work alone and thus find more time for Internet, women are required "to come home from paid jobs to dinner, dishes, cranky children, and tired husbands; to work all week and spend much of the weekend doing laundry and cleaning the house" ( Kramer 1991).
It is also believed that Internet is incapable of bridging the wide gender gap that exists in the field computing because the technology is basically male-centric.(Miller 1995). It is also believed that under-representation of women on the Internet is due to their lack of participation the development of this technology ( Jansen 1989). Nielsen Media (1996) feel that the gender gap will have serious ramifications in the long run and some of these are already obvious. In this study back in 1996, a direct correlation was found between Internet usage and professional achievement. It was noticed that twenty five percent of users who knew Internet technologies were earning more than $80,000 and 50% enjoyed higher positions in organizations.
Some critics maintain that gender inequality on the Internet is inevitable since this medium favors a class-structured economy (Dawson and Foster 1996; Kleiner 1995).
From the above discussion, literature review and research findings, it is clear that there exists a significant gender gap where Internet usage is concerned. However contrary to popular belief, men do not enjoy a greater presence or numerical domination rather the gap exists in the way Internet is used and the frequency and intensity with which it is accessed. The under-representation of women is due to lack of active presence for a longer duration on the Internet. Since men are more interested in technologies and actively participate in development of technological innovations, they are generally quicker to adopt new technology and less computer-anxious. Women on the other hand, display lower…[continue]
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