Gender, ethics and information te...
Alison Adam Gender, Ethics and Information Technology
Gender, Ethics and Information Technology
Also by Alison Adam ARTIFICIAL KNOWING: Gender and the Thinking Machine VIRTUAL GENDER: Technology, Consumption and Identity WOMEN IN COMPUTING
Gender, Ethics and Information Technology Alison Adam
© Alison Adam 2005 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. The author has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published in 2005 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 Companies and representatives throughout the world. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave Macmillan division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. Macmillan® is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union and other countries. ISBN-13: 978–1–4039–1506–1 ISBN-10: 1–4039–1506–7 This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Adam, Alison. Gender, ethics and information technology / Alison Adam. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1–4039–1506–7 1. Women—Effect of technological innovations on. 2. Information technology—Moral and ethical aspects. 3. Computer crimes. 4. Feminist theory. I. Title. HQ1233.G452 2005 174’.9004’082—dc22 2004059128 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 14 13 12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham and Eastbourne.
v Contents Acknowledgements vi 1 Gender and Information and Communications Technologies – It’s not for Girls! 1 2 Feminist Political and Legal Theory: The Public/Private Dichotomy 17 3 Feminist Ethics: Ethics in a Different Voice 37 4 The Rise of Computer Ethics: From Professionalism to Legislative Failures 56 5 Gender and Computer Ethics – Contemporary Approaches and Contemporary Problems 78 6 Internet Dating, Cyberstalking and Internet Pornography: Gender and the Gaze 102 7 Hacking into Hacking: Gender and the Hacker Phenomenon 128 8 Someone to Watch Over Me – Gender, Technologies, Privacy and Surveillance 147 9 Epilogue: Feminist Cyberethics? 171 Bibliography 177 Index 188
Acknowledgements I would like to thank the many colleagues and friends who have supported me throughout the writing of this book, particularly colleagues from the ISOS research group at the University of Salford, and especially Ben Light, Elaine Ferneley, Frances Bell, Helen Richardson, Debra Howcroft and Nathalie Audren for keeping me cheerful. I am indebted to the ‘invisible college’ of international gender and technology researchers and the computer ethics community, especially those involved in CEPE conferences where I have presented some of the ideas from this book. Particular thanks are due to Paul Spedding, Marja Vehviläinen and the two anonymous reviewers for reading and commenting on drafts of this book. Naturally, any errors and omissions are entirely down to me. Without the love and support of my family these projects are just not possible. Thank you to Craig, Nicol and Sibyl for once more tolerating the mad woman in the attic. Earlier versions of some of the ideas in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 appeared in Adam (2001a, 2001b, 2002) and in Adam and Ofori-Amanfo (2000). An earlier version of Chapter 7 was presented at the CEPE 2003 conference. vi
1 Gender and Information and Communications Technologies – It’s not for Girls! 1 Introduction: setting the scene This book is about the intersection of two areas first, gender and information and communications technologies (ICTs) and second, com- puter ethics. It is born from my long-standing interest in gender and computer technologies, a more recent research and teaching interest in the discipline which is often known as ‘computer ethics’ and my con- cern that research on computer ethics problems should be brought to a wider audience beyond the academy and information technology (IT) profession, as so many of the issues involved have a substantial bearing on aspects of our everyday lives, lived with ICTs. The rationale for this book derives from my claim that many ethics topics relating to information technologies, such as hacking, software and electronic funds crime, online harassment and cyberstalking, Internet pornography, computer-mediated communications, privacy and online community and democracy, have a gender dimension which, to date, has rarely been explored, and, where it has been tackled, has generally not been subject to thorough theoretical analysis. Indeed a web search of any news website (such as the BBC) for legal and ethi- cal violations on the Internet throws up items such as sales of Internet twins, hackers, Internet sales of vital organs, Internet paedophiles, and so on. I argue that these are all concerns that cry out for extended gender analyses against the backcloth of appropriate feminist theory. I believe that there are (at least) four major reasons why such analy- ses are not yet forthcoming. First, computer ethics, the academic disci- pline that has formed round legal and ethical concerns over behaviour
on the Internet, tends to be relatively traditional in theoretical terms. This is described in Chapter 4. Second, on the other hand, writers from within the rapidly growing domain of feminist ethics, and related areas, rarely explore computer ethics issues. Third, academic science and tech- nology studies have spent the last three decades working hard to achieve epistemological neutrality. Effectively their project involves treating ‘true’ and ‘false’ knowledge in the same way in terms of explaining how that knowledge came about. Epistemological neutrality has tended to extend to ethical neutrality, so research in science and technology stud- ies of the last two or more decades often appears to be avoiding politi- cal comment. Only recently have we seen a ‘turn to the ethical’ with renewed interest not only in biomedical issues, as in cloning and genet- ically modified (GM) foods, but also computer and engineering related concerns such as systems failures and Internet security. Finally, although research on gender and technology thrives, mainstream feminism tends to shy away from dealing with technology and science. The latter point offers a further reason as to why the well-established literatures of fem- inist ethics, legal studies and politics do not permeate into studies of science and technology as much as they should do. Taken together, all these elements suggest that there are a number of feminist, and other, disciplines dealing with potentially related subject matter, but which currently tend to pull in different directions. These would benefit from a more integrated approach in terms of their treat- ments of ethical issues in cyberspace. Nevertheless, the situation I char- acterize should not necessarily be seen as a ‘problem’ consisting of entirely negative aspects. Instead, such tensions offer all sorts of excit- ing possibilities for creating interesting synergies and novel directions. Indeed a gendered analysis of ethical issues involved in ICTs might be one way of bringing together the various disciplines which I describe above and which have hitherto developed largely separately. Ideally, we may hope to foster a two-way transfer of ideas from feminist ethics to computer ethics and vice versa. Importantly we need a transfer of ideas out from both areas to reach the forum of wider public debate. I suspect that many people working in the field of computing doubt that gender issues and feminist analyses have much to do with their subject, however, once one’s consciousness is raised, questions of gender can be seen everywhere in computing. When I was a student in the 1970s I had not developed much of a political consciousness, but this soon changed when I entered the world of work in the data processing depart- ment of a large chemical company. It was 1977 and a far cry from the world of today’s ICTs. Large mainframe computers, batch processing and 2 Gender, Ethics and Information Technology
decks of cards were the norm. Indeed, I once dropped a deck of cards and, like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, I just could not get the deck back together again, at least not in its original order. Perhaps I should have taken more notice of the burgeoning women’s movement developing in the mid-1970s but I did not. However, it was commonplace remarks like the following, which turned me into a fem- inist almost, overnight. One day, whilst I was working at a computer screen, two male colleagues stood a short distance away, but well within my earshot, discussing who would be a suitable candidate for a new, and fairly senior post, which was being created in the data processing depart- ment. They identified a male colleague, in his forties, who was not generally noted for being particularly able or effective. However, he had a certain gravitas, which often attaches to middle-aged men in the workplace. Let us call him Fred Smith. ‘For this new post we need some- one like Fred Smith. It’s not for little girls.’ ‘No’, agreed his colleague, pointedly, ‘it’s not for little girls’. This exchange demonstrates a number of interesting things. First, there is the whole way that language is used to keep women junior and the pejorative way that the term ‘girl’ is used. Think of ‘big girl’s blouses’ and ‘throwing like a girl’. My teenage son tells me that the term ‘girl’ can be used as an insult to both females and males. In the UK a chocolate bar, apparently aimed at the truck-driving market has as its advertising slogan ‘It’s not for girls.’ This is accompanied by a logo of a figure of a woman in a skirt (the kind of symbol one often sees on the doors of public toilets) holding a handbag. This figure is enclosed in a roundel with a diagonal red stripe on top thus making it akin to a ‘no entry’ traffic sign and underlining the chocolate bar’s relationship with the haulage industry. My erstwhile colleagues might as well have attached this logo to the office door of this new post. This serves to reinforce the way that women often feel marginalized, excluded and belittled in working life. It could be argued that my ‘little girls’ experience was part of the cut and thrust of corporate industry of a bygone era. I hope that remarks such as the one I report are no longer made. I also believe that I could just as well have overheard the same remark in the marketing or finance depart- ment as the data processing department so it is not peculiar to the IT industry. Nevertheless, my experiences of working in the computing industry and teaching and researching computing in universities has convinced me of a strong and complex link between gender and computing technologies. A few definitions might be useful at this stage. I use the terms IT, ICT and computing more or less interchangeably in this work. Definitions It’s not for Girls! 3
seem fairly fluid. Information technology is an older expression than ICT – the latter term includes networked technologies such as the Internet – but many people now seem to use IT to include networked technologies too. Similarly the term ‘computing’ is often used more or less synonymously with IT and ICT. Information technology and ICT are broader terms under which we might include fax machines, tele- phones, and so on. Information Technology is often, although not always, taught alongside business subjects. Information systems (IS) is the wider domain which considers the use of ICTs in social and organi- zational settings. Again IS as an academic subject often resides in busi- ness and management schools. Computer science is the academic discipline which includes more theoretical consideration of hardware and software and we usually find it within science, engineering or tech- nology faculties. Software engineering, a close relation of computer sci- ence, deals more particularly with the ‘engineering’ of software systems. Computer ethics is probably the most common name for the discipline which has formed around ethical issues relating of ICTs, however we also find a number of terms used more or less synonymously, including Internet ethics, information ethics and cyberethics. Over the last ten or so years, university courses on computing, soft- ware engineering and information systems have generally begun to include a module on ethical and professional issues. As Chapter 4 describes, much of the rationale for this new curriculum development derives from the pressure from professional bodies (e.g. the Association for Computing Machinery in the USA, the British Computer Society in the UK) to include the subject of ‘professionalism’, which often falls within the purview of computer ethics, for accreditation purposes, in university computing curricula. When I began to teach computer ethics courses a number of years ago, I was not particularly surprised to find how little contemporary com- puter ethics scholarship intersected with the growing body of research on women in computing and how little gender questions found expres- sion in computer ethics. After all, I had lived for a long time within a computing discipline where gender was a very marginal issue at best. At the time I was constructing my first computer ethics course, I was also completing a book on gender and artificial intelligence (AI) (Adam 1998). I had found the, by then, fairly substantial corpus of work on feminist philosophy, and feminist epistemology in particular, a rich hunting ground for theoretical constructs for that particular work. I had already come across feminist approaches to law in some of the AI proj- ects with which I was involved. I began to read around the subjects of 4 Gender, Ethics and Information Technology
feminist ethics and feminist politics. Although I had not really expected to find significant overlap between feminist ethics and computer ethics, it was striking just how little feminist ethics had permeated computer ethics, particularly so even in studies of differences in men’s and women’s decision making in relation to computer ethics, where there is minimal reference to feminist ethics research. It was also notable that computer ethics tended to be fairly conservative theoretically. My gen- der and AI study involved bringing feminist theory to bear on a critique of AI. I have approached the current project in an analogous study where my aim is to bring feminism to a study of computer ethics, to make a richer analysis of a number of computer ethics problems. Although I have always found computer ethics conferences and jour- nals to be hospitable places in which to air ideas about gender and com- puter ethics, I am sure that many colleagues working in computer ethics will not regard gender as something which has a central place in their research repertoire. I certainly do not wish to claim that the approach, which I advocate here, is the only way to tackle computer ethics. Instead, I hope that it can be complementary to other, more mainstream approaches. However, if my claims are convincing, namely that a fur- ther dimension may be added to our explanations of a number of com- puter ethics problems through a gender analysis, and also that some computer ethics problems defy explanation unless understood in gen- dered terms, then I am hopeful that more mainstream approaches towards computer ethics will begin to take heed of feminist approaches. Apart from anything else, I believe that feminist ethics currently provides the most fertile soil for new, and potentially radical, critical ethical ideas. It also seems to me vitally important that we find ways of bringing feminist scholarship to a mainstream audience otherwise feminist writ- ers will remain, forever, talking to themselves. Imagine another logo. This time we will have a ‘toilet door’ man and he is holding an appro- priately recognizable symbol of masculinity, let’s say an electric drill. He is enclosed in a red roundel with a diagonal red strip across. The accom- panying logo reads: ‘Feminism. It’s not for boys!’ This is not a logo I would like. In this study, at least, I hope to show that feminism is for boys as much as it is for girls. What do I mean by gender? To talk of gender is to talk about masculinity and femininity and the ways in which some things in our social worlds are taken to be masculine It’s not for Girls! 5
and some things feminine. Gender is not the same thing as sex although I do recognize that different languages define things in different ways and that the definitions of sex and gender from other languages, quite literally, will not necessarily translate into English. Haraway (1991) notes that, while English distinguishes between sex and gender, German does not. The German word, Geschlecht, is not the same as the English ‘sex’ or ‘gender’. Nevertheless, in English, ‘sex’ is usually taken to refer to biological attributes while ‘gender’ refers to cultural attributes which are related to biological attributes, though by no means unequivocally. These definitions are, themselves, not universally agreed. First, biologi- cal sex is by no means uncontroversial. There are individuals whose genes and sexual organs may classify them as one sex while they may know that they are the other. An individual who changes sex may know very strongly, for instance that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body, or, that he is a man trapped in a woman’s body. Hence, although gender is clearly related to sex, it cannot be mapped neatly onto a biological concept of sex. Once we start to attribute femi- nine and masculine characteristics and suppose that they are biologically uncontroversial we sail into dangerous waters. For instance, take the notion that men are aggressive and women are passive. How much is that a biological feature or a cultural feature? Why is it that some behaviour is seen as assertive in men, but the same behaviour in women is seen as aggressive? There are all sorts of stereotypes of masculinity and feminin- ity which must be unpacked and examined indeed some of these stereo- types are present, unchallenged in the statistical studies of gender and computer ethics I discuss in Chapter 5. It seems impossible, and some- what pointless, to draw the line between what is cultural and what is biological. Where to draw the line is historically and culturally contin- gent. Even within one culture we would never agree where it should be drawn. If a line is drawn, we have the spectre of essentialism, or the belief that there are essential, fixed, biological male and female characteristics. Essentialism is conceptually dangerous as it allows all sorts of stereotypes of gendered behaviour and attributes to remain unchallenged. For the purposes of the present study, I argue that it is fruitful to treat gender as a fundamental way of classifying and ordering our social worlds. To talk of gender, then, does not (just) mean purported differ- ences between men and women it extends to considerations of the gen- dering of skills, work, crime, democracy, knowledge, ethics and, indeed, all of social life. There are some interesting features of the concept of gender. One could be forgiven for thinking that gender is something that women 6 Gender, Ethics and Information Technology
have but men do not. A visit to the ‘Gender’ section of one’s local academic bookstore will reveal many more books about women than men. As Faulkner (2000) argues, gender seems to stick more to women than to men. We talk of football and women’s football, not men’s foot- ball and women’s football. We talk of golf and ladies’ golf, not men’s golf and women’s golf. We talk of working mothers, rarely of working fathers. We hear the term, ‘career woman’ but never the term, ‘career man’. We live in a society where men and masculine are the norm and where that norm is not often challenged. This is why ‘gender’ is usually taken to mean women. In studies of gender and technology, and particularly gender and com- puting or IT, initially, much work focused on the proportion of men and women in the subject indeed there is still a strong interest in women’s poor representation in the industry especially at senior levels. I do not deny that women’s under-representation continues to be important but it is clearly not all there is to the story of gender and ICTs. Indeed, focus- ing too sharply on numbers often tends to carry along with it an assumption that getting equal numbers of men and women into a dis- cipline is all that is needed for equality to prevail. This is the classic lib- eral position of which I am so critical all the way through this book. If we have strong theoretical analyses of gender then we can move beyond considerations of presence and absence of women (as discussed in Chapter 4), towards better analyses and explanations of central com- puter ethics topics such as hacking, online harassment and cyberstalk- ing, pornography and privacy. Such analyses are generally not available within our current computer ethics theoretical repertoire. What do I mean by feminism? The problem, then, is where to look for developed theoretical positions against which such gender analyses may be made. Feminism is not the only place but I argue that it is much the best place to look. Studies that purport to find gender differences but betray no curiosity as to why there might be differences are unsatisfactory. I am continually surprised that studies can be undertaken on gender without the authors betray- ing curiosity as to why things might be different for men and women. Even if differences were all that there was to say about gender one would still look for reasons for difference. I have already suggested that trying to explain in terms of gender stereotypes begs too many questions. There are biologically based theories such as sociobiology (Wilson 1975 Dawkins 1976) which tries to explain social behaviour in terms of It’s not for Girls! 7
evolutionary biology, including gendered behaviour, purporting to find many behaviours ‘natural’ in evolutionary terms. A notable critic, Rose (1994) points to the way that sociobiology and the new political right is something of a ‘love match’. Especially in the USA, sociobiology was used by IQ advocates in arguments about race and class to justify cut- ting welfare benefits to poor, often black, women and their children. Sociobiological arguments are forms of ‘biology as destiny’ approaches and have often been used to justify white male domination over female and black subordination. Sociobiology has been used to justify some stereotypical forms of male behaviour such as promiscuity and rape and so, not surprisingly, it has been criticized by feminists (Rose 1994). Even if one were to try to dissociate sociobiology from its alliance with the extreme political right, it is still problematic in throwing explanations of behaviour into ‘nature’ and ‘natural’. Once more we have the issue of essentialism, nothing is therefore up for explanation or alteration, it is just ‘natural’ and cannot be changed. So there is no hope of a political force for change from sociobiology, indeed quite the opposite as it keeps us firmly in our existing places. Feminism seems to offer the only body of theory that challenges the existing canon, theorizes the inequalities between men and women that exist in so many walks of life, and offers political possibilities for change. Indeed, it is its political dimension, offering the potential for change, which makes it so appealing. Understandably, many feminist authors see their project in terms of improving women’s estate. I believe that feminist ideas have the power to transform men’s and women’s lives for the better and that it is a tragedy for all of us that there is a groundswell of belief that the battles are won, that apparently we live in a post- feminist world, and that we no longer require the transformative power of feminism. In challenging this belief I follow the extraordinary work of Oakley although I cannot put the case nearly as eloquently as she does. Oakley argues that every aspect of our lives is dominated by male/ female power structures and gender inequality has seriously thrown our society out of balance. She argues that the following ideas are closely and dangerously linked: ‘women’s continuing marginality as a minority group feminism’s “failure” to transform society masculinist power structures violence towards people and the material and social envi- ronment and various ideological systems, including psychoanalysis, the worship of economic growth and sociobiology, which provide an intel- lectual rationale for the current state of affairs’ (Oakley 2002, p. 2). Oakley is quite clear that there is no central control room where men conspire their domination over women. Indeed she argues that women 8 Gender, Ethics and Information Technology