Thursday, February 11, 2016

Makerspaces and Gender

Earlier this week I did a post about makerspaces, asking my wise and worldly readers who had worked with or seen them for any tips they could offer.  And folks came through with some great points about staffing, cleaning, qualifications for using, intellectual property, and more.

But several also came back with a concern about gender that I have to admit hadn’t occurred to me.

Although different readers expressed it differently, the basic idea was that it’s easy for makerspaces to became male-dominated.  Boys With Toys will create an atmosphere that will drive away most women, and thereby reinscribe the sexism in tech that has been well-documented elsewhere.  An idea born of good intentions would inadvertently reinforce the negative messages that women and girls get about working with technology.

That’s not the goal at all.  The idea is to create a space where people who have been excluded would have access to the means to develop ideas and see them to fruition.  In that sense, a makerspace is simply the latest iteration of the community college mission of access.  But achieving that goal may require more conscious attention than I had initially thought.  

So, assuming that there’s a spot on the Venn diagram between the “makerspace” circle and the “gender fairness” circle, has anyone found relatively effective ways to get there?  I don’t expect complete immunity from the issues of the larger world, but if we can make them sufficiently irrelevant that people of all sorts feel comfortable being there and tinkering, I’ll call it good.  Creativity crosses genders, races, and all sorts of other barriers; I want it to feel at home here.

Thanks to the readers who made the initial point, and thanks to anyone who offers a useful remedy.