Conference report for The Scholar and The Feminist X, 1983

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Barnard College Columbia University

606 West 120th Street New York, New York 10027

The Women’s Center



This year's tenth annual Scholar and Feminist conference, sponsored by the Barnard College Women's Center, was held on Saturday, April 23, 1983. The conference was attended by about 400 people and included not only the usual representation of feminist scholars

and activists, but in addition, scientists, business people and labor organizers. Although delighted by the additional diversity, we were somewhat concerned that there were fewer minority women

at this conference than some other conferences in the past.

This year's theme, the question of technology, was proposed by the academic coordinator in her invitation to the feminist community inside and outside Barnard to join the planning comittee. This final committee was predominantly composed of Barnard faculty, administration and staff people with the addition of a few New York area feminists working in the field of technology. The difficulty of addressing the issue of technology must be emphasized. Many would assume this a safe and easy, even 'technical' topic, until they begin to grapple with it. As we discovered in our pre-conference planning meetings, the question of technology raises emotional as well as academic and strategic questions.

The committee began by trying to examine technology as a social process and product. We tried to understand the specific relation

of women to the new technology, as producers and users of new technology. We tried to assess the impact of new technology on the way day—to-day life is conducted - its impact on housework, market work, free time, social space and entertainment as well as more

global issues of pollution and labor exploitation. We debated

how to understand the gendered nature of technology. We realized technological change is already part of our lives, but tried to

find some empowering strategy toward what many see as a 'fait accompli'. The more we read and discussed, the more we realized that the feminist movement itself has not confronted its ambivalance about the questions raised by technological change, even as we realize that it is one

of the most important questions women face. It covers all aspects of our lives and shapes our futures. Thematically, this conference, as many before, was on the "cutting edge..."


Following opening remarks from Ellen Futter, Bettina Berch introduced the three morning speakers: Judith McGaw, Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly and Donna Haraway. Judith McGaw, teacher in the history of science program at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke first.

In her talk, "Man, Machine and Myth: A Feminist Historical Perspective on Technology," she exposed several key myths about technological history that she felt women had to address: the myth of the inventor, the myth of the labor saving machine and the myth that machines deprived workers of their skills. After exploring these myths and explaining their strategic importance, she called for more research as an antidote to such misleading mythologies.

Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly, researcher at San Diego State University, spoke next. Her talk, "Advanced Technology, International Development and Women's Employment,“ focussed on the contemporary global situation of women workers and the new technology. With examples drawn from

her recent Mexican research, she made analogies between those third world women currently producing new technology, and first world women formerly employed in electronics factories, but now underemployed. Fernandez depicted the exploitation of the young women assembling

the new technology and at the same time made connections with parallel situations in the first world, such as runaway shops and "urban enterprise zone' projects. She spoke with vigor and force and was quite effective.

Donna Haraway, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz, spoke on "New Machines, New Bodies, New Communities: Political Dilemmas for a Cyborg Feminist." She emphasized the wide range of effects of the new changes in technology, in particular the impact on our concepts of time, space, and even on the way we distinguish boundaries between humans and machines. Urging feminists to give up old notions of public vs private space, and old definitions of gender and gender interests, she urged the development of concepts that would speak to these new worlds. Her talk was imaginative, eclectic and exciting. All in all, the morning speakers each gave very different kinds of presentations which were extremely complementary. They were effective in opening up the question of technology in broad terms, suggesting to listeners the range of issues technology includes and thereby setting the stage for afternoon workshop discussions.

In the afternoon there were fourteen workshops on a wide range of issues, from "Feminist Utopian Fiction" to "Workplace Automation: Studying Technological Discrimination." Two workshops, "Video-

tape: A Women's Development Tool" and "Women's Trauma? Women's Friend? Personal and Political Implications of the Microcomputer," focussed on ways recent technological developments can be used to enhance educational opportunities and the struggle for equality for women. Other workshops addressed the impact of”new technology on women's work, including "The Definition and Redefinition of Skill," “Organizing‘the New Workplace," and "Minority Women in the Workforce

and Technological Change." The new reproductive technology and the new weapons technology were examined in workshops, "The Engineering

of Reproduction" and "Women and Weapons Technology" respectively. Alternative approaches to high technology were presented in several workshops: "The Electronic Cottage: Can We Bring the Power Home?"

"The Power to Create, The Power to Resist: Ecological Feminism and Technology," and "Can We Make Science More Feminist?" Interestingly, the numbers of participants were evenly distributed among the work- shops. bworkshops made more use this year of audio-visual equipment -- several slide projectors, video-equipment and, in one case, a personal computer. During the lunch session a short video presentation by "Women Against High Technology" was shown on the upper level of McIntosh Center.

Following the workshops, Marge Piercy, a well-known feminist writer, gave a reading of poems from her latest book, Stone, Paper, Knife

as well as selections from earlier collections. Her poems reinforced some basic themes of the conference -— the technological threat of destruction of the planet, the need for women to fight back, praise of the natural.

A wrap up meeting=was held to evaluate the conference. While finding it overall a success, we had to recognizex that our ability to cover all aspects of the question was still limited. The tone and focus of the conference probably seemed too formal, too "tech" to attract. feminists from the arts community or from the "creative opposition" to high technology. We were fortunate to have the video workshop and the video presentation from "Women Against High'Technology,"

but the inclusion of more of these creative diverse approaches to the question of technology would have been stimulating. It would also have been a better conference if outreach to minority women had been stronger, as technology is a question that affects us all in different ways. There are still too many women who suspect that the question of technology is too technical or arcane to involve them.

The coherence of this conference was a strong point. This was due to the planning/coordination of the morning panel and relationship to the workshop offerings. These theoretical relations were strengthened

by the high degree of personal interactions among conference presenters. In particular, the pre-conference meeting Friday night was extremely useful, since it allowed the speakers, workshop leaders, and planning comittee members to exchange ideas and explore connections. The groundwork for the next day's synthesis atmosphere was thus established.

Given the recent publication of two anthologies on women and technology (from Praeger and Pergamon) it would not seem particularly useful to publish these proceedings in yet another scholarly anthology. Thus, the conference coordinator seeks the approval of the Women's Center to operate independently, perhaps with other conference participants,

in some different kind of publication, without Women's Center funding

or support.

With respect to our actual conference procedures, there might be some usefulness in restructuring the planning process. A planning committee with an equal mix of in—college representation and interested parties from the greater feminist comunity would insure intellectual richness and comitment, and provide links for diverse outreach. Although an academic coordinator will probably determine the theme beforehand, the "study-group type" planning committee

may be a necessary and effective way to counterbalance and prevent overdetermination of the conference content and structure by the coordinator.

Bettina Berch

Academic Coordinator

The Scholar and Feminist X "The Question of Technology" June 1, 1983