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The gap in numbers between men and women in the 3D printing industry is pretty wide. The reasons behind this gap and the means to address it are far from easy-to-create, black and white solutions. So, some have tried to turn those solutions pink, but it’s not clear that this is as good of an idea as it might initially sound. In a well written editorial, Katie Dupere strikes at the core of the problem:

“The idea of pinkifying…[is]…used to draw in women…but pinkifying tech isn’t just limited to color-coding. It’s a problem deeper than that – one that supports the idea of coding as inherently uninteresting to girls, requiring extra girly elements to ‘sell it.'”

011e88ef4a8328e08be9d913808b8290_XLMany initiatives to involve more girls in the tech industry have taken the approach of trying to create avenues to do ‘girly’ things through technology with the idea that these more feminine creations will attract more females. Certainly, there is no reason why high tech shouldn’t be able to produce bracelets as well as model cars or both baseball figurines and dolls. These aren’t the profound products of things such as 3D printing but instead only an introduction to the superficial products that can be created. The deep learning necessary to push the boundaries requires more than a focus on specifically gender targeted products to a fundamental reworking of the way in which girls are brought up outside of the culture of making.

3dThis doesn’t, however, require ignoring masculinity and femininity. Instead, we should begin by detaching them from sex characteristics. All of these calls for gender diversity within the tech sector are really only calls for more participation by the female sex. If we talk about gender diversity but then note that only 18% of those graduating with computer science degrees are women, we are really discussing two different topics. It may seem like a subtle distinction, but in fact it is an essential starting point. We need to first recognize that while sex is biology, gender is not. Gender identity is crafted and the issue we are really dealing with is that the identity of femininity is often constructed in such a way that by the time its enactors are old enough to think about things like coding, they have already missed years of steeping in the environment of the budding maker.

What I mean by this is that some children are in the garage helping to make repairs or build shelves and others aren’t invited. It’s not an intentional exclusion, sometimes, but it breeds a foreignness in the concept of creating and the older a person gets, the more difficult it is to make that leap. This creates a double edged dilemma for boys who wish to preserve their masculinity have stronger support to force themselves to learn to make even if they are not interested while discouraging those who feel feminine from pursuing making.

n-GIRLS-WHO-CODE-628x314Going feminine in 3D printing is a good thing, masculinity and femininity should be equally at home with 3D print’s creations. Disconnecting those constructed ideas from the biological manifestations of sex is necessary, however, in order to prevent the development of a rigidly stultifying ‘pink track’ that indicates girls are best understood as behaving in one particular way. Instead of confining participation to a pink ghetto, diversification requires the clearing of all paths. The solution to inequality in gendered participation in tech is not to create a series of token gestures but instead to encourage the growth of an enactment of femininity that embraces high tech. The moment that gender identity is no longer intimately tied up in the performance of an activity, unequal participation based on sex becomes a much clearer issue to address…if it remains an issue at all.

Neither segregation nor denial of differences will pave this path, instead we may just have to pick up the road altogether and move it elsewhere. What are your thoughts on this topic of gender and technology? Discuss in the 3D Printing and Gender forum over at 3DPB.com.

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