Technology: An Equalizer for Women
lives at home and work have been altered more in the last
150 years than during any similar period in human history,
and most of the change is due to advances in technology. It's
hard to determine the most significant turning point. Readily
available electricity? Indoor plumbing? Nylon stockings? Reliable
birth control? Permanent press finishes for clothing?
Perhaps the most important advance for women in the American
workplace started more than a century ago with the typewriter,
but it certainly will be information technology that continues
the transformation of women's work in the early decades of
Whatever the reason, most jobs now require intelligence and
technical skill — brains rather than brawn. It doesn't require
a "man's strength" to work in a factory when robots
do all the heavy lifting, and these days, jobs are becoming
scarce in manufacturing as the Industrial Age gives way to
the Information Age. By 2006, the United States Department
of Commerce predicts that almost half of the jobs available
will produce or use information technology, products and services.
There was a widespread technological boom in the U.S. as the
19th Century became the 20th. The telephone, telegraph and
railroads fueled rapid expansion and prosperity. Electricity
replaced more uncertain forms of artificial light, allowing
longer workdays. Use of the typewriter meant people no longer
had to decipher handwriting. Here was a device, much faster
than a pen, that could turn out fifty words per minute. For
the first time, women were welcomed as office workers-their
manual dexterity was considered perfectly suited to the typing
Meanwhile, back on the home front, new appliances were appearing
on the market, giving the homemaker new options for household
tasks. Stoves were now gas or electric, and didn't need all-day
stoking. Washing machines and electric irons sped up clothing
care. The first automobiles were considered too difficult
for women to operate. They had to be hand-cranked to start,
and, as there were few mechanics, one had to know how to repair
one's own driving machine. By the 1930s, no one claimed cars
were for men only.
something so commonplace today as the telephone freed women
in ways never before imagined. Here was instant connection
to the outside world for the homebound — and a service requiring
a woman's hand at the switchboard. Today, cell phones make
it easier for a woman simultaneously to work and monitor what
is going on at home.
Starting in the 1950s, an entirely new industry was established
led by the large "mainframe" computer companies
such as IBM, RCA, Honeywell, and Univac. These companies opened
a host of new jobs producing, maintaining, and servicing computer
systems. Computer programmers, keypunch operators, computer
service technicians, and computer sales personnel were soon
in demand by the tens of thousands-good jobs to support a
Yet in less than fifty years, only a relative handful of the
jobs created in that initial wave of computerization still
exist, held by workers servicing older systems still in operation.
In their wake have come millions of still-newer jobs in an
ever-widening variety of computer applications created to
capitalize on the capacities of hardware and software systems.
One's gender matters considerably less than one's skill and
ability in utilizing the new technology.
The computer and information technology revolutions have changed
virtually every industry in the economy. Consider the ubiquitous
barcode. These seemingly insignificant lines mean more than
just the simple expedient that groceries can be checked out
faster and with greater accuracy than ever before. Clerks
no longer have to recognize what they sell. From grocery stores
to automobile parts departments, workers no longer need familiarity
with the product.
TRANSFORMING U.S. ECONOMY
The rapid computerization and networking of American
businesses, industries, and homes has been called
a "microprocessor revolution." That revolution
is fundamentally transforming the way-and the speed
with which-people think, connect, collaborate, design
and build, locate resources, manipulate tools, conduct
research, analyze and forecast, reach markets, present
themselves and their wares, move and track products,
make transactions-in short, do business. --
futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the
21st Century (United States Department of Labor)
technological revolution has also launched entirely new industries,
such as biotechnology. Literally hundreds of new companies
have emerged in areas unheard of a decade ago. Advances in
virology, cancer research, and neurology are being made as
a direct result of advances in computational and information
systems. These advances mean a longer lifespan for women,
and coupled with advances in birth control, mean more time
in the workforce.
Over the century, mass-production occupations have been steadily
replaced by office-worker and service-provider occupations.
Indeed, virtually all of the jobs that were lost in goods
production and distribution since 1969 have been offset by
office jobs. Rather than industrial machinery, these workers'
tools are telephones, fax machines, and personal computers-tools
that are not gender-specific.
the rapid introduction of mobile phones, laptops, e-mail,
and the Internet, the traditional time and space requirements
of office workers are no longer the rigid constraints of the
past. Women, whose responsibilities often include caring for
others, value the increased use of flextime and "flexispace"
made possible by these "flexible" technological
advances. Varied work schedules and working at home options
are on the rise, reducing commuting time and creating more
hard to imagine the contemporary woman running her life (or
her household) without the many technological advances of
the last century. Disposable diapers. VCRs and tape recorders.
Velcro used instead of shoelaces on toddlers' shoes. Underwire
bras. Teflon and other nonstick surfaces on cooking pans.
Microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers and freezers. Incubators
for premature babies. Gore-Tex clothing. Sanitary napkins
and tampons. Post-It notes. Duct tape. Sewing machines and
sergers. Pantyhose. Television. Zip-lock bags. Antibiotics
and vaccines. Hair dyes and permanent waves. I'm sure every
woman can add to this list of essentials.
them, a woman's place was, by necessity, in the home. With
them, a woman's place is wherever she wants it to be.
us your thoughts about this story