The the technological examples to illustrate how these

The “mutual shaping” approach of Judy Wajcman is a recent theory
raising within last two decades. It integrates some assumptions from Donna
Haraway’s “cyborg feminism” which could be seen as a metaphor to move beyond
the traditional feminist limitation, as well as the Actor-Network Theory (ANT)
which combines social determinism and technological determinism indicating the
technology and society both shape and influence each other (Quan-Haase, 2013).

The “mutual shaping” approach focuses on exploring the
relationship between the technology and gender. It not only acknowledges the multi-aspect factors have influence on both technology and gender, but
also realises their interactional relationship. The technology here is unlike
the traditional one, and it should be viewed as “both a source and consequence
of gender relations” (Wajcman, 2010, p.143). It is a social technological network
changing continually which suggests the gender relation and technology are both
unstable and contextual.

This essay will be based on a feminist perspective, and mainly focus on
Judy Wajcman’s theories and interpretations to examine how the technological
change influence on gender power relations, and vice versa. The framework of
this essay will firstly introduce the main arguments and points of the “mutual
shaping” approach, then use the technological examples to illustrate how these
theories and concepts are conducted in real cases, therefore to help better
understand this approach, final compare and contrast the “mutual shaping”
approach with previous feminist exclusive and inclusive narratives to examine
its advancements.


Different from the previous Action-Network Theory (ANT) whose central
point is the shaping/shaped relations among technological objects and gender
interests or identities, the “mutual shaping” approach highlights the
innovation (technological change) which could be viewed as sociotechnical
networks including “artefacts, people, organisations, cultural meanings and
knowledge” (Wajcman, 2010, p. 149).

The “mutual shaping” approach presents a simultaneously interacted and reciprocated
relationship in technology and gender. To be more specific, it could be
explained as the “gender relations can be thought of as materialised in
technology (a material level), and masculinity and femininity in turn acquire
their meaning and character through their enrolment and embeddedness in working
machines (a semiotic level)” (Wajcman, 2010, p. 149).

It can set up an arena to explore the problems
such as gender equality and female liberation because female is now arguably more
visible on technological design, content and use. Though gender stereotypes
might be embedded in techno-science, its relationship is mutably unfixed. It is
an unavoidable trend to live under the technological culture. However, the
“mutual shaping” approach avoids people being trapped in the inherent characteristic
of technological determinism meaning the technology determines the development
of the social construction and cultural values, and rethinks and redefine the exclusive
groups in the technological domains (Wajcman, 2010).

Gill (2005) also appraises several important features of the “mutual
shaping” approach. Firstly, it no longer obsesses on the positive or negative
change or result of the technology, rather than pay more attention to examine
the social relations embedded in it. It suggests the awareness of engaging in a
techno-science environment is awake. Secondly, the “mutual shaping” approach is
not considered under a singular position, but put one’s identities, such as
gender, class and sexuality, in a socio-technical network. It is likely to work
out more panoramic viewpoints.


For deeply discussing and analysing the
“mutual shaping” approach, I will use two examples, namely the microwave and
Aramis (a vehicle) respectively, to demonstrate how the gender power relations
and the technological change reciprocal or interactive with each other. Though
the “mutual shaping” approach is critiqued to engage less with the “high
science” and “‘sexy’ world of biotechnology” (Gill, 2005, p. 101), the domestic
and routine examples could be though as a concern with ignored female field,
and it will be more understandable in detailed discussion of technological
design, reconfiguration and use.

Faulkner’s (2001) terms – “gender in
technology” and “gender of technology” will be applied in interpreting the
Wajcman’s (2010, p. 143) proposition of “technology as both a source and
consequence of gender relations”. “Gender in
technology” links with the designer’s and producer’s perception of gender,
whereas the “gender of technology” refers to the capable of translating the
cultural gendered symbolism to technology. Lagesen (2015) argues the latter
could be understood as “a technology is perceived as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’
depending upon who ‘normally’ uses it”. It is reasonable because divides the
analysed angles into the technological designers and the users could make it possible
to set two genders apart, then it is more convenient to explore their gender
relations to reveal the changed trajectory of the techno-scientific products. I
will discuss them from a feminist perspective, and examine the influence of
female degree of involvement.

Cockburn’s and Ormrod’s (1993) example
of the microwave shows the gender relations change the techno-scientific reconfiguration
and consumption. The “gender in technology” here relies on designer’s original
intention to sell the microwave to the male who is single and with limited
cooking skills. The microwave’s market positioning is “brown goods”, such as computers,
televisions and radios et al., which require the users have the expert and clever
knowledge to cope with it. However, the “gender of technology” discourages this
imagination. It is because the microwave is supposed to put in the kitchen
which is regarded as a domestic area. The social and cultural construction of
sexual division of labour believes it is a female domain because kitchen is a place
to show the cooking skills which implicit the familial care responsibility. According
to these, the designers adjust their strategies and turn the microwave to a
“white goods”, such as refrigerator, air conditioner and washing machine, which
are durable and easy-handling. In this process, the symbolic meaning of the
technoscience is constantly negotiated and reinvented within the
social-scientific position. Wajcman (2004, p. 47) argues that the female did
enter and affect the technological innovation, nonetheless their more professional
technical skills are underestimated because of female social division just
requires them to show the capable of “cooking with femininity”.

Latour’s (1988) Aramis car analysis could
be used as a negative example to indicate the influence of the female role’s
absence for the technological design. The Aramis is a public transportation
which is constructed like a train. It is constituted by small carriages, and
could combine together for passengers’ common destination, as well as separate
for their different paths. The producer and his assistant are both heterosexual
male, even the Aramis itself is anthropopathic set as “he”. The absent female
role in the designing process could show a hegemonic masculinity which socially
endorsed that the important projects and organizations are male’s business. The
car itself “symbolizes for them individual freedom, self-realization, sexual
prowess and control” (Wajcman, 2004, p. 44). The aspects that female lay
emphasis on are overlooked. For example, from a female identity of a mother,
she may consider whether there is enough space to put the baby carriages. The
small cabins of Aramis could also be a hidden danger that might suffer from the
sexual harassment and male violence. However, the Aramis is used as a public vehicle
whose target audiences are tended to be unsexed, so it is important to take
both gender concerns into consideration. The Aramis example illustrates that
the innovation network’s success not only needs the interaction relations
between the technology and gender, but also relatively balanced concerns of the
elements involved in this network. Therefore, it is necessary for “mutual
shaping” approach to enrol other exclusive groups’ benefits to get completion.


The “mutual shaping” approach is not generated without the foundation,
and its interconnection with earlier work will be helpful to understand its
formation and development. In this sector, I will examine the previous exclusive
and inclusive narratives refer to the gender relation (especially in female)
and technology to evidence the advancement of the “mutual shaping” approach.

As to the exclusive narrative of the
technology and female, it mostly came from the industry age. The core argument
of exclusive narrative would be the technology itself (signifier) is represented
as a masculine project (signified) to have power over the nature and female
(Lagesen, 2015). As to the historical construction, the traditional technology
focuses on the work and war, such as machine and military weapons, which are
though of the male activities. However, the daily technology aspect which refer
to female is ignored which underestimates the female role in technological area
(Wajcman, 2010). The later elite culture exacerbates this inequality because it
creates a new professional identity. The profile of the elite is mostly the working-class
white male, therefore it intensifies the association between the technology and
male (Wajcman, 2010). As to the social and cultural construction, the
patriarchy is embedded in male and female biological sexual differences
(Firestone, 1970). The female’s reproduction, such as pregnancy, childbirth and
child-rearing, could be a form of patriarchal exploitation of female bodies. Female
has limited access to the education of the scientific and technical at first, whereas
by the time they could, they tend to not choice them because these filed seems
like an alien masculine culture. It influences the gender division of the job
market as well. For example, in the UK, “fewer than one in five information
technology, electronics and communications (ITEC) professional and managers are
female, and this figure is even lower in IT strategy and software development
roles” (cite in Wajcman, 2010, p. 145; Evans et al., 2007).

The above exclusive narrative views
female as a pessimistic victim of the patriarchy, and believes the masculine
power embedded deeply in the technology. Wajcman (2010) suggests the solution
could be the female abandon some female identity and turn it into a male
version, while the male do not need to make the homologous reaction. It
actually pushes the female in an adverse passive position, and aggravates the
problem of gender inequality. Compared with the “mutual shaping” approach, the
exclusive narrative does not view the gender in a multiple and dynamic


As to the inclusive narrative, it is
mainly discussed within the dawn of digital age. The inclusive narrative could
link to Plant’s (1996) cyber feminism theory. The main argument is that the new
technology overturns the previous masculine identity, as well as creates the
subjectivity of the innovation. The digital technology here obscures the
boundaries between human and machine, male and female. It redesigns a relation
for female and machine which suggests the female liberation, and endows female
an active role. It usually communicates via the form of textual exchange which
could create a new, decentred and alternatives self (Wajcman, 2010).

However, the blurring boundaries and hiding
behind the cyber world might be problematic. The Daily Mail (2017) reports the British
schools’ cyber-bullying has increased by 40% compared with the situation last
year. The proliferation of technology, especially in social media, such as
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, makes kids have more communicating channels.
However, their savvier with technology could also easily get them a fake online
profile and identity to commit cyber-bullying. For example, in 2008, an
American 13-year-old girl called Megan Meier committed suicide because she
suffered from her online boyfriend’s humiliation. However, “he” does not exist
at all because “he” is a female friend of Megan Meier’s mother who want to revenge
for their daughters’ broken friendships. The United States promulgated the
Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act (2009) for this. The cyber creates an anonymous
public space, whereas the netizens usually do not need to take responsibility
for their judgments. The alternative selves here turn into defective protected
tools which damage the cyber rules.

The Actor-Network Theory (ANT) also involves
in the inclusive narrative. It is “praised for its conception of technology as
a moving, relational process, its view of society as a doing rather than being”
(Gill, 2005, p. 98). The ANT believes the embedded relation happens only during
the productive process, and it focuses on an obvious conflict. Gill (2005)
argues these characteristics will make it overlook other wider exclusions which
may have effect on the development of technology.

Wajcman (2004) claims that the ANT is
strongly affected by Foucauldian power which are represented as capacity and
effectiveness. However, it could be an acquiescence the masculine power is
still embedded within the technology, merely in a more invisible and tricky
way. The example could still be seen on the recent technology – Sophia, the
social humanoid robot. It is factory set as a female image. The reason could be
that the robot usually applies in the service industry which is assumed as a
female domain. The current technological demography still heavily occupies by
male. So, the female appearance may have more sexual appeal to these
heterosexual male employees, and makes their work more enjoyable. Sophia’s capable
to show more than 62 facial expressions also conform to the social construction
of female in terms of emotional support. The last but not least point is,
though the technology facilitates people’s routine, there are still underlying menace
with the concerns that the technology develops beyond human’s control.
Therefore, it is understandable why most artificial intelligences (AI) are born
to be “female”, because it could “diminish the treat that intelligent machines
might pose to their human creators” (Wajcman, 2004, p. 116).

Compared with the previous exclusive narrative, the inclusive narrative
could be understood as “a reaction to earlier, pessimistic feminist approaches
that stressed the inherently masculine and patriarchal nature of technoscience”
(cited in Gill, 2005, p. 99; Wajcman, 2004). It
could also be argued that these two inclusive narratives attempt to establish a
gender-blind social technological circumstance. The cyber feminism’s blurring
boundary of male and female, and the ANT’s focal point of society’s “doing”
could be the evidence. However, the “mutual shaping” approach avoids these
blind spots, while combine their advantages, such as realising female’s
subjectivity and analysing under a social-technological context, to turn the
gender-blind to the gender-aware. It is significant in exploring the female
power relation in technology.


In conclusion, the “mutual shaping” approach is a way of exploring the
relations between the technology and gender. The innovation is its focal point
which can be understood as a social network or a circumstance to gather the
elements of the relationships. It is important in feminist study because it not
only rethink the female exclusive groups in technology, but also focuses on the
change of the embedded social technological relations. There are two examples
for further analysing the “mutual shaping” approach. The microwave example
shows the gender relations shape the technological reconfiguration. The Amaris
indicates the female absence in designing process is likely to lead the
technological failure. Two previous major narratives of female and technology
are used. The exclusive narrative contains the discourse of embedded masculine
power in technology, and it shows pessimistic and passive feminist views. While
in inclusive narrative, it emphasises the female empowerment, and the feminist
opinions turn to be more optimistic. Based on these narratives, the “mutual
shaping” approach absorbs their advantages and abandons their disadvantages to modify
itself more suitable under the contemporary context. However, the “mutual shaping”
approach should be treated within a dialectical insight because the social
relations will change through time.