Gender, age and technology: a feminist analysis of older women learning the Internet

Ashcroft, Lorna Stephanie (2005). Gender, age and technology: a feminist analysis of older women learning the Internet. EdD thesis The Open University.



This report explores the perceptions of retired women who have chosen to learn to use the Internet from a professional tutor. This qualitative study interprets these perceptions using a grounded approach within the perspective of feminist epistemology. The focus on retired women informs theory on a group of lifelong learners who have not been widely studied within either educational research or feminism. Where there has been feminist research into gender and technology the imperatives have related to the public domains of compulsory education or workplace training.

Using three research questions, this research enquires into what motivates older women learners to challenge the stereotype of the young, male Internet user, whether they find the course that they have chosen to be suitable for their requirements and what, if any, difference they perceive the skill will make to their lives. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews with students and tutors and supplemented by background information from college staff and fliers. My own research diary supported a reflexive approach and biographical details of the respondents added context to the central enquiries.

Several themes emerged from the data which related the concepts of age and gender to this particular aspect of technological education. This diverse group of middle class women revealed varied motivations for using the Internet, reflecting a common determination to avoid the social exclusion which they felt would be the fate of technologically illiterate elderly people in the twenty-first century. Their experience of learning foregrounds lack of self confidence, learning computer terminology and physical health issues as problems of age as well as gender. It was difficult to establish impact in 'a short-term study, but the criterion of a quality of life model was useful as a tool for analysis of the personal and social effects of being able to use the Internet.

This research has shown that retired women are willing and able to challenge age and gender stereotypes in order to use contemporary information and communication technology if they see it as relevant to their lives. Overall, the most significant conclusion was that this method of communication, while still unfamiliar, has been recognized by older women as a means to maintain their gendered identities into old age and has implications for the empowerment of other previously silent groups through the medium of the Internet.

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