Cultural transfers ensure that people know how to behave ‘normally’. Intentionally and unintentionally, people adopt the cultural norms and values of their environment, a process that is known as socialisation (Wilterdink and van Heerikhuizen 1993). In this regard, norms also exist about those who are (allowed to be) technically skilled and those who are not. A brief examination of recent Dutch history provides ample illustrations of the general opinion that women and technology do not go together.|
Following the discovery of natural gas supplies in the Netherlands, politicians decided in the 1960s that the Dutch population should switch to natural gas. This required all electrical hobs in the country to be converted to gas hobs, at the expense of gas companies. These companies wanted to exclude women from the technical aspects involved in the conversion process as much as possible. For example, the municipal gas company in Hilversum warned housewives via a circular containing statements such as the following: ‘The fitter will be in charge of disconnecting and connecting the gas equipment. HENCE, DO NOT DO THIS YOURSELF’ and ‘Do not bother the FITTER with UNNECESSARY questions’ (Oldenziel et al. 2001).
Following World War II, hundreds of Vrouwen Advies Commissies (‘Women’s Advice Committees’) were established, which currently still provide advice in matters relating to the structural design involved in house construction. At the time, the prevalent opinion within the construction industry was that the women in these committees should have their voices heard on the basis of their experience as housewives, rather than on the basis of any potential technical experience they may have had. The only way in which various women on these committees could continue to play a role within the construction industry, was by presenting themselves as housewives and by expressing their opinions on the basis of their expertise as housewives. Although the Women’s Advice Committees were required to have technical expertise, and which they did, in order to be seen as serious discussants, they felt that a public display of their technical expertise would not go down well with their adversaries (Oldenziel et al. 2001).
Even now, Dutch girls still have a tendency to hide their technical expertise. This is particularly true during their adolescence, where girls may view their performance in technical and exact science subjects as incompatible with their feminine identity (Eck and van Volman 1999). As a result, girls will often present themselves as non-experts where computers are concerned, whereas boys generally tend to present themselves as experts, independent of any actual computer skills. International studies also point to patterns of acquired helplessness: girls’ expectations of success are lower, they often deride their own capabilities and they give up earlier than boys when they encounter difficulties (Eck and van Volman 1999).