Why Women Secretly Hate Computers

or “Waiting for the Computer Therapist”

by Marianne Raynaud

For most women computers fall into the same category as cars. We need them and we depend on them for numerous tasks, but we have no idea whatsoever how they work. As a result, we often feel “paralyzed”, as soon as something about them doesn’t work. We feel this paralysis because we know that we cannot handle the problem ourselves and our options are very limited. We must rely either on a hotline (heaven forbid the thought of waiting hours on end for a one-line piece of advice!) or even worse on a “male” technician, who can be a friend, companion, colleague, partner, husband or even child. Although I have been working with computers for 20 years now, I have yet to find a woman, who will come over and see what is happening to my computer and actually be able to straighten out the problem.

Girls are not brought up knowing how to "fix" machines

Most men, on the other hand, have been brought up with the notion of “tinkering” with objects. In the past, it used to be a motor scooter or a second-hand car. The object of their passion today is often a computer. That is why mothers have come to rely on their 14-year-old sons to “play around” with the computer, pressing on different keys until it finally works. When these moms ask their sons or husbands for that matter what was wrong once the problem is fixed, they always get the same answer, “I can’t really say, but I did some reconfiguration, and it should work for you now.” And it does… until the next breakdown occurs... soon thereafter.

Why women feel nervous in courses dealing with "Information Technology”

I have attended numerous courses on using the computer i.e. writing PowerPoint presentations or creating multimedia language learning programs with “Information Technology”. Although I hate to admit it, during these sessions I have personally had at times a feeling of suffocation to the point of almost fainting or even feeling I was on the verge of vomiting. Looking around me I could read in the faces of other women attending the course with me these same signs of extreme discomfort. And here we were not talking about “repairing” a computer, but only about a few so-called “simple” applications. On leaving the course most women would say (softly amongst themselves) that it was an interesting experience but not really relevant to their needs. In actual fact the problem was that the “experts” giving these courses were unable to explain in a simple, straightforward way the workings of the computer. Their presentations were void of any understandable metaphors and full of obscure terms they could hardly ever explain. That is where the feeling suffocation comes from. The participants—I mean us, the learners—couldn’t understand the “language” the so-called experts were speaking.

Women don’t allow themselves to have “temporary” breakdowns

In spite of the ever-shrinking gender difference in a world where more and more women are working outside of their homes and holding higher positions with greater responsibility, a woman’s life does not seem to allow hours of “tinkering” with a computer. When the professional day has come to an end (and that may be very late), there is the grocery shopping to do, the children to tend to, the meals to prepare and the inevitable housework. Women know how to carry out these tasks. They are very proficient at them. They always come home with bags full of food, the children take baths and get into their pajamas, the dinner is served, and then it is off to bed. The house is, of course, a pleasant environment for the man to come home to. There are no “temporary” breakdowns, simply because breakdowns are not allowed!

Women are continually solving everyday problems

Imagine a woman sitting on a sofa in the middle of huge mess saying the stores were “temporarily” out of food, there is no hot water or any water at all for that matter, the stove seems to be caput and needs “reconfiguration”, and the automatic house-cleaning robot is on the blink. Could you envisage a woman sitting still and waiting for the hotline to answer and solve all these problems? No, never. That is out of the question because women will always find other practical solutions so that the “show can go on”. No, nothing can go wrong. On the other hand, things are totally different when a woman confronts a computer.

For women computers can be a real nightmare

Why can’t women use the same practical sense concerning computers? Women today are intelligent and highly educated. Yet these same intelligent and highly educated women admit their complete ignorance when it comes to tinkering with a computer. Even an extremely competent female math professor at my university said to me the other day, “I don’t know how to set up the Internet connection, but my husband will do it for me.” And recently I went to see my family doctor and noticed she had a brand new computer. I congratulated her on it only to hear that she had been forced to upgrade her facility to use ADSL together with the new official doctor’s software and that the experience of changing over had been “hellish”, a “real nightmare”. I mentioned my own dire experience of having to change computers because mine suddenly broke down on me, and she sympathized wholeheartedly. "Computer depression does exist", she seemed to be saying.

Near panic attacks

Moreover, I have to admit that when i started learning to use a computer I had moments of near panic attacks. I would be writing an email and suddenly the text just disappeared. As I pressed in desperation on different keys to make the text return, I could feel the cold sweat all over my body and my breathing would quicken. All this because of a damn computer! The problem was that I always dreaded losing what I had written. And when this did occur my husband would inevitably say as the true researcher he was, "What did YOU do to make this happen?" Frankly speaking, I had no idea whatsoever why something had happened. That is why it happened—simply because I had no control over the machine. Once a friend of mine, again a male researcher said to me, "I will tell you something that will change your life forever, and you will always be grateful to me!" I waited full of skepticism until he explained, "If something goes wrong, just press on alt + Z or Apple + Z and you will go back to the screen you had before you made the mistake". It is true that I am perenially grateful to him and often I recall his face when I press on the keys as he had explained and my text—my wonderful that I almost lost—reappears before my eyes..

Why women aren’t interested in tinkering with machines

There are numerous reasons for these rampant reactions when we will totally at loss in front of a computer. First women don’t like to be slaves to machines. Women are still to this day more involved in the “emotional” aspects of life and use machines as objects designed for a purpose and not as objects of adoration. A woman very rarely has a “love affair” with her car and certainly not with her computer. Though I must admit Apple computers are becoming so beautiful that you almost feel like caressing them! Secondly, women have a more developed sense of time. Things have to be done within a certain time frame. You just can’t stop everything to spend hours figuring out how a machine works.

The dilemma of instruction manuals

Moreover, most women don’t like to read manuals. They like to be shown how things work, how things should be done. That is where the whole computer industry is lagging behind (and other industries too may I add). Why don’t they put out videos giving hands-on instruction as to what should be done? For that matter why don’t computer makers bring out readable manuals explaining step-by-step what is to be done with big pictures? Instead, we are supposed to be reading the small type on the screen while the baby is crying in the room next door. They will say that we can zoom in on the text and make it bigger, but remember the baby is screaming its head off and we are on the verge of total paralysis.

The obvious downside of computers

Bluntly saying that “women secretly hate computers” is not an understatement. Family life has been altered by the advent of the computer. Besides the stress of frequent temporary breakdowns, we have the obsession with video games that are becoming more and more violent plus the lurking dangers that are kids are exposed to through prevalent Internet pornography. Furthermore, there are the chat and “more than just chat” sites that husbands become addicted to. People no longer read books or even talk. They log into their favorite sites where using fictitious names they can express outrageous opinions just for fun. You can become a totally different person on “Second Life”. Or you can tell the whole world about what you like the most on "MySpace" or "Facebook". Today you can even tell the whole world about what you dislike the most on a platform specializing in what you "hate"! So as you see the downside of computers can be quite alarming. At times you wish you were back in the good old days, but you realize you have to be realistic. Computers are here to stay.

A future profession: “the computer therapist”

I am not saying that women find no advantages with computers. That is not true. Writing e-mails, communicating instantaneously through Messenger, telephoning all over the world for free with Skype, checking the spelling of reports we have to hand in, looking for information, planning trips, buying plane tickets or making other purchases on the Web is both time-saving and stimulating. You can check on a recipe, find out how to get rid of a stain or buy furniture online. But women must learn to deal with the downside of a machine that can be more stubborn than the most badly behaved child. I believe that there is a new profession ahead for the future: “the computer therapist” dealing in group therapy. People, or let’s say, women, would be hooked up from home via a video-conferencing system, and the therapist would deal directly with the problems that women have to face when trying to cope with a computer. Furthermore, at school tots should learn how to cope in case of an emergency. There are fire drills in schools, why not have “computer failure drills” to lower the level of panic attacks, if such a problem occurs. And these school programs should be especially adapted to girls.

The solution: more uniform non-gender oriented education

You will tell me that times are changing and that young women today are becoming more proficient with computers. Well, I really hope so; though I do strongly believe that there is still a great gender gap and that women will always be a step behind when it comes to technology. Remember we still have problems with our cars. The SOLUTION (because I think there is one): DISPENSE THE SAME TEACHING TO BOTH GIRLS AND BOYS from the most tender age all along the learning cycle through high school. Why have courses for boy students and courses for girl students, as is the case at many professional high schools in France? Boys will learn to be mechanics or electricians and girls will learn to be secretaries or nurses. Why segregate the students at all? There should not be any social, race or gender discrimination in schools. Telling girls that they are “less suited” for studies in information technology is a form of indirect discrimination, a blatant form of gender discrimination.

A radical change for women in the future

In conclusion allow me to say that although it is true that many women secretly hate computers (especially those women who have had to learn everything on their own), this could change; and a radical change would make a world of difference for every woman concerned. It is not a matter of life or death, but still, it is a matter of mental health. It would also be a way to reduce the gender gap in order to make a happier world. Women “in love with computers” or at least “no longer afraid of them” would undoubtedly be able to come up with applications that would improve education and communication among people everywhere. So where are the “friendly” and “communications skilled” computer experts with high “EQs*” that will make all this happen? Where are the female computer experts that will mentor us, understand us and not make fun of our fears?

*EQ = Emotional Quotient

Marianne Raynaud is a former English professor at INPG, a French engineering school in Grenoble, France. graduating more than 1,500 engineers yearly. Marianne Raynaud is now retired and currently offering examples of her work on a website called “QualityTime-ESL.com”. She recently published “QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book”. Designed for teachers of English all over the world this electronic resource book in a download offers advice, effective teaching materials and examples of student work (even films produced by students). There is also a documentary “Scenes from an ESL Classroom” showing students working in class using Marianne Raynaud’s methods. The book in a zip file, as well as the film, are distributed through Marianne Raynaud’s web site www.QualityTime-esl.com.

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