Cracking the Gender Code: Who Rules the Wired World?

Melanie Stewart Miller

Cracking the Gender Code: Who Rules the Wired World? is an accessible and lucid feminist analysis of Western discursive practices and representations of digital technology. It is the first, full-length, Canadian feminist analysis of digital technology with gender and race central to its assessment. Through a content analysis of Wired magazine, Stewart Millar employs what she calls a "feminist politics of anticipation" (p. 67). She argues that analyzing gender and race discourses within specific socio-economic contexts allows us to "anticipate" and hence, "critically respond to the emerging digital culture before it becomes widely accepted" (p. 67). While it is not clear how the politics of anticipation differs from feminist politics generally, few Canadian feminist scholars are examining digital technology at all (Balka, 1997; Benston, 1989; Menzies, 1996; Shade, 1993). Those who address technology focus either on reproductive technologies (Brodribb, 1988; Eichler, 1996) or on how technological changes generally affect women's unpaid and paid work (Armstrong, Armstrong, Choiniere, & Mykhalovskiy, 1997; Luxton, 1983). Moreover, the current feminist scholarship that exists on digital technology is polarized. Either feminists valorize digital technology and speak of its liberatory potential (Plant, 1997; Spender, 1995) or they demonize digital technology as part of our ecological demise (Biehl, 1991; Shiva, 1997). Stewart Millar brings these positions together by arguing that digital culture offers us possibilities and it affects the environment. Hence, Cracking the Gender Code: Who Rules the Wired World? is an important text because it fills some gaps, but also because it attempts to find a meeting place between these two antithetical positions. This text would be particularly useful in an undergraduate course which focuses on technology. To address some of the technical and theoretical dimensions of her arguments, she provides a useful glossary of terms.

Divided into seven chapters, Stewart Millar explores the development and implications of digital technology in a North American context with specific references to Canada. The first two chapters develop her theoretical position and contextualize digital technology. Chapter three justifies her selection and characterization of Wired. The next two chapters reveal how Wired eliminates any forms of difference and in particular how it aligns itself with white masculinity. Chapter 6 exposes the myths of digital technology. And the last chapter discusses the ways in which we can challenge and intervene in digital culture.

Wired magazine first appeared in January 1993. It represented itself as the magazine about "the most powerful people on the planet today--the Digital Generation" (p. 71). Since its debut, it has won numerous industry awards and as of June 1997 had almost 350,000 paid subscribers. After Wired's first edition in January 1993, they profiled their readers. They were "young" (75% under 41), "smart" (46% had done postgraduate work), "power users" (51% used multiple platforms), and their median household incomes were at $85,000 (Wired, February 1993). The profile did not mention what Stewart Millar makes obvious; that the "digital generation" are mostly white males who perpetuate and reproduce stereotypical meanings and practices of white, Western masculinity. She characterizes this representation as the "hypermacho man."

To support this construction, Stewart Millar's careful reading of Wired magazine from 1993 to 1998 "command[s] the attention of a visual culture, create[s] the visual representations necessary to construct the digital generation as an exclusive group [and] promote[s] and reflect[s] an emerging digital technology that includes a particular set of gender and race constructions" (p. 91). She then identifies six myths that Wired develops and endorses to produce "hypermacho man." These include a religious and deterministic view of technology, the construction of cyberspace as a separate and unadulterated place, the unprecedented pace of technological development, the location of information in the free market economy, Western imperialism, and, finally, the need to consume to keep on the foreground of digital developments. The overall effect of these myths and representations make digital technology inevitable, beneficial, and its critics dismissive and retrograde.

Overall, I am glad this Canadian feminist text on digital technology will shape the questions and solutions we pursue. Stewart Millar's characterization of the digital generation and its "hypermacho man" reveal the pernicious and insidious ways that whiteness and masculinity continue their hegemony, shaping the ways in which we view digital technology. While Stewart Millar addresses the need to forefront the citizen in these practices, more scholars need to develop this area (Brodie, 1997; Crow & Longford, in press; Druckrey, 1994). Moreover, while she attends to the racialized dimensions of digital technology, she needs to make analyses of "whiteness" more explicit. While she demonstrates how digital culture reinforces racialized categories, this is often done only in relation to the "other." Finally, while she argues that analyzing gender discourse in specific socio-economic contexts provides us with a feminist politics of anticipation, it is not clear to me how these analyses are anticipatory. Despite these concerns, Stewart Millar's expositions provide feminist and other social-justice-seeking groups with the knowledge, protection, and tools to make digital technology work for us instead of against us.


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