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Girls talk tech: Exploring Singaporean girls’ perceptions of technology



Singapore is a highly mediatized society where the government has avidly promoted the adoption of information and communication technologies (ICTs). It has the world's highest broadband Internet penetration rate, at 99.9 percent (W. Tan) and mobile phone subscriptions stand at over 5.9 million (Infocomm Development Authority), exceeding the country's population of 4.6 million (Statistics Singapore). Studies of computer and Internet usage amongst Singaporean youths have found little evidence of a digital access divide, much less one which is drawn along gender lines (Jung, Kim, Lin, and Cheong; Lim and Hang; Tang and Ang). Similarly, there is little evidence of differences in home computer usage amongst Singaporean males and females (Teo “Attitudes”). Indeed, a study assessing computer skills in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore found that of the three countries, Singapore experienced the least gender inequality vis-à-vis computer skills (Ono). Compared to their male counterparts, Singaporean women can type better and are equally experienced in computer usage. Against such a backdrop, how do Singaporean girls perceive ICTs, such as mobile phones, digital cameras, video game consoles, computers and the Internet? To what extent, if at all, are their perceptions of such consumer technologies gendered? Before delving deeper into this issue, this chapter will review extant literature on technology and gender, and the role of media representations in influencing gendered perceptions of technology, paying special attention to studies of magazine content. The chapter continues with an explanation of the research methodology before undertaking a thematic analysis of the findings.
This is the postprint version of: Lim, S. S. & Ooi, J. (2011). Girls talk tech: Exploring Singaporean girls’ perceptions of technology. In M. C.
Kearney (Ed.) Mediated Girlhood: New Explorations of Girls' Media Culture (pp. 243-260). New York: Peter Lang.
Girls Talk Tech: Exploring Singaporean Girls’ Perceptions and Uses of Information and
Communication Technologies
Sun Sun Lim and Jemima Ooi
Singapore is a highly mediatized society where the government has avidly promoted the
adoption of information and communication technologies (ICTs). It has the world’s highest
broadband Internet penetration rate, at 99.9 percent (W. Tan) and mobile phone subscriptions
stand at over 5.9 million (Infocomm Development Authority), exceeding the country’s
population of 4.6 million (Statistics Singapore). Within Singapore schools, ICT use is
incorporated into 30 percent of curriculum time through its use in instruction, online learning
portals and interactive educational games (Koh). The vast majority of schools are state-run,
coming under the purview of the Ministry of Education, which promotes ICT use in schools by
providing network infrastructure, hardware, and curricular support. Math and science are heavily
emphasised in Singapore’s national curriculum, and female university enrollment in such
disciplines as computing and engineering does not lag behind male enrollment as compared to
other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. (Galpin).
To support the growing adoption of information technology (IT) in Singapore’s rapidly
modernizing economy, the government has sought to incorporate IT training into schools, from
primary to tertiary levels. Computing facilities are comprehensive, with the ratio of pupils to
computers at 6.6:1 in primary schools and 5:1 for secondary and pre-university schools
respectively (Ministry of Education). Teachers are also encouraged to actively use ICTs as a
teaching and learning tool by involving students in more participatory and collaborative media
environments, such as video production, Second Life, blogs, and wikis. While IT is already
heavily utilized in Singapore schools, the plan is to further deploy IT through digital textbooks,
multimedia field trips, and 3D interactive educational games with simulations (Infocomm
Development Authority).
Studies of computer and Internet usage amongst Singaporean youths have found little
evidence of a digital access divide, much less one which is drawn along gender lines (Jung, Kim,
Lin, and Cheong; Lim and Hang; Tang and Ang). Similarly, there is little evidence of differences
in home computer usage amongst Singaporean males and females (Teo “Attitudes”). Indeed, a
study assessing computer skills in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore found that of the three
countries, Singapore experienced the least gender inequality vis-à-vis computer skills (Ono).
Compared to their male counterparts, Singaporean women can type better and are equally
experienced in computer usage. Against such a backdrop, how do Singaporean girls perceive
ICTs, such as mobile phones, digital cameras, video game consoles, computers and the Internet?
To what extent, if at all, are their perceptions of such consumer technologies gendered? Before
delving deeper into this issue, this chapter will review extant literature on technology and gender,
and the role of media representations in influencing gendered perceptions of technology, paying
special attention to studies of magazine content. The chapter continues with an explanation of the
research methodology before undertaking a thematic analysis of the findings.
Technology and Gender
Feminist scholars have long argued that technological prowess is too closely intertwined
with dominant conceptions of masculinity. As Cynthia Cockburn asserts, “[F]emininity is
incompatible with technological competence; [for] to feel technically competent is to feel manly”
(12). For males, this association not only deepens entrenched views of technology as an
extension of the self (Faulkner), but also regards female involvement in technology use as an
emasculatory intrusion, to the point that “women often feel as welcome as a system crash”
(Kantrowitz 50). For females, “if technical competence is an integral part of masculine gender
identity, why should women be expected to aspire to it?” (Wajcman 22). Yet, as technology
becomes a societal mainstay and its adoption is widespread amongst both males and females,
many observers in the 2000s increasingly consider gender a peripheral issue in understanding
technology trends (Selwyn 526).
Neil Selwyn asserts that this disregard for gender vis-à-vis technology is misplaced
because studies of technology use demonstrate the influence of gender on individuals’ attitudes
towards or engagement with technology. An early study of students’ use of pseudonyms in
online discussions had found that many female students believed that a male pseudonym lent
them greater credibility (Pagnucci and Mauriello). Disquietingly, females’ personal perceptions
of their own computer efficacy levels have also been found to be gender-biased. A survey of
Iranian college students’ attitudes towards computers found that while women more strongly
perceived gender equality in computer-related competencies, paradoxically, they expressed low
confidence in their personal ability to work with computers (Shashaani and Khalili). Similarly, a
study of undergraduates in the United States found that while there were no significant gender
differences in the use of ICTs, females did not regard themselves as competent users of digital
technology (Madigan, Goodfellow, and Stone). Scholars argue that such gendered attitudes
towards technology have negative societal ramifications in the form of low female participation
in technical specializations and the consequent production of technological innovations that are
not sufficiently empathetic to women’s concerns or lifestyles. Indeed, it has been observed that
females tend to disparage technology-intensive industries as being low in social engagement
(Gannon) and “nerdy” (O’Keefe).
The negative perceptions that females hold of technology have been attributed to the
absence of role models, as well as to media portrayals (Kirkup; Thomas and Allen). It has been
argued that media representations operate as socializing agents, whether intentionally or not,
molding reality through the portrayal of oversimplified stereotypes and the simultaneous denial
of other narratives through their selectivity (Gannon; Shade; Van Oost). Studies of the
developmental experiences of girls contend that media content influences cultural conceptions of
what it means to be a girl. These studies have centred on magazines, television programs, movies,
and, increasingly, Internet content (Mazzarella, “Introduction”). Given the scope of the present
study, extant research on the influence of magazine representations on girls is of particular
pertinence. Besides focusing on the influence of magazine representations on girls’ weight or
body image (Cusumano and Thompson; Utter, Neumark-Sztainer, Wall, and Story), personal
hygiene (Merskin; Carrington and Bennett), self-esteem (Durkin and Paxton) and relationships
(Mazzeralla, “The ‘Superbowl’ of All Dates”), academic attention has increasingly focused on
the influence of magazine representations on girls’ perceptions of technology.
Academics investigating this field have noted a reduction in “overtly sexist texts,” but
maintain that hegemonic discourses remain (Johnson, Rowan, and Lynch 1). It has been noted
that while females are granted access to technological products through advertisements, they are
paradoxically being forced into stereotypical notions of exaggerated incompetence (Gannon). In
this regard, analyses of magazine representations of women’s use of ICTs have found some
salient commonalities across countries and magazine genres. In a study of home computer
magazines published in New Zealand and Australia during 2003 and 2004, Nicola Johnson,
Leonie Rowan, and Julianne Lynch concluded that women were predominantly “positioned as
incapable and impotent users of computers” (1). In the same vein, Eva Turner and Fiona
Hovenden’s British study found that computing advertisements depict female users as passive
and construct computers as machines which possess the very skills that women lack. Apart from
the prevalence of such biased representations, other studies have found the omission of particular
representations to be salient. For example, Nicola Döring and Sandra Pöschl’s content analysis
of mobile communication systems advertisements in German magazines noted that while
females were featured, it was never in the context of technology use. The depiction of girls’
computer use was also completely absent from popular teen girl magazines, as observed in
Catherine Lang and Toby Hede’s study of American teen magazines. Similarly, Mary Celeste
Kearney’s study of Sassy, an American teen girl magazine popular in the 1990s noted the rarity
of articles that encouraged girls to embark on careers in cultural production. According to
Candace White and Katherine Kinnick, these absences and exclusions communicate subtexts by
implying that females do not belong in the technological domain.
Another discernible thread in representations of women’s ICT use is the emphasis on
particular dimensions of technology and technology use. Notably, women and girls are scripted
to be more preoccupied with the appearance rather than the functions of technological products.
Susanne Gannon’s study of laptop advertisements in Australia detected a distinct absence of
technical specifications in advertisements targeted at female audiences, with references to
product functionality being couched in aesthetically and emotionally appealing terms.
Technology is also depicted as a tool for social engagement and to fulfill social roles. Rachel
Campbell’s study of North American teen magazines found that technology advertisements
promote their products and services as keys to popularity and as integral tools for managing
inter-personal relationships. These are just some dominant themes with which technology is
framed for girls.
Research Questions
Within the Singapore setting, research on gendered perceptions of technology, such as computers
and the Internet, is growing (e.g., Teo “Attitudes”; Teo and Lim “Factors”; Teo and Lim
“Gender”) but still limited, thus offering opportunities for further sustained investigation.
Although an earlier study by Thompson Teo and Vivien Lim (“Gender”) found that Singaporean
males heavily dominated Internet usage, this gender disparity has since been bridged as a
consequence of rapid diffusion of the Internet through the Singapore population. A more recent
study by Timothy Teo (“Attitudes”) found that post-secondary students’ attitudes towards
computers varied not by gender but by home computer ownership, attributing the “gender
equality” in such attitudes to the increased use of computers in schools. Notably, too, although
the study found that gender differences in computer attitudes were not significant, the mean
score for overall computer attitude was higher for males than for females. This study seeks to
supplement the predominantly quantitative findings on the subject through a qualitative
exploration of Singaporean girls’ usage of and attitudes to ICTs and how these may be shaped by
media representations. Specifically, it seeks to understand how they use ICTs in their daily lives
and how they perceive ICTs. In addition, it also investigates how, if at all, their perceptions of
ICTs are gendered, as well as how they perceive gendered media representations of technology.
Data for the study was collected through five focus group discussions conducted in July 2009.
These discussions were held at meeting rooms in a large local university. During the discussions,
participants were asked to share their experiences of their use of ICTs, including but not limited
to mobile phones, computers, and game consoles, as well as services such as email, instant
messaging, blogging, text messaging, and mobile phone games. Participants were also asked to
talk about technological products and services that they aspired to own or use. Finally, they were
shown articles and advertisements from teen magazines that relate to ICT devices and services
and were asked for their views on these materials. More details about the magazine articles and
advertisements are provided in the “Materials” section below.
Participants’ Profile
The focus group participants were recruited via an email advertisement that was
forwarded to author Ooi’s circle of contacts as she is active in youth social outreach activities in
Singapore and thus has an extensive network of youth contacts. Recipients of the email were also
encouraged to forward it to friends and contacts that met the criteria for the required sample. A
quota sampling method was utilized to gather a more representative sample based on the
educational level of young female Singaporeans aged between 15-23 years. Discussion groups
were conducted for students of three different age categories: two groups of upper secondary
students aged 15-16; two groups of junior college/polytechnic students aged 17-18; and one
group of university students aged 19-23. Each of the five discussion groups comprised six
participants, resulting in a total of 30 participants.
Apart from the discussion questions, the participants were also presented with a range of
visual stimuli, including magazine advertisements and articles that feature technology products
and services. In recent years, Singapore has seen a shift from advertising on traditional platforms,
such as television and newspapers, to that of magazines and social media (L. Tan; Audit Bureau
of Circulations Singapore). This phenomenon is especially evident among younger audiences.
Magazines are increasingly becoming the medium of choice for marketing because they allow
advertisers access to a well-defined target audience and are also particularly popular amongst
adolescent females (Al-Olayan and Karande; Evans et al.). In light of these trends, this study
collected one year’s supply of four of Singapore’s leading youth-oriented magazines: Lime,
Seventeen, Teenage, and teens. Seventeen, the only published title in the country dedicated to
female teens aged 13 years to those in their early 20s, has a circulation of 40,000 per issue and a
readership of 62,000 according to the 2008 Nielsen Media Index (Singapore Press Holdings).
teens and Teenage, the next most popular titles amongst female adolescents, enjoyed a
circulation of 33,500 and 28,180 per issue respectively in 2008 (Audit Bureau of Circulations
Singapore). All issues of each magazine published from January to December 2008 were
collected, resulting in 48 issues in total. In an effort to understand the aspirational dimensions of
ICT ownership amongst focus group participants, as well as their familiarity with ICTs as a
consumer product, the other visual stimulus employed in the focus groups was a “shopping list”
which featured photographs of different technological products of varying brands, prices, and
functionalities. The shopping list contained a total of twenty-four products, three each from the
following categories: smartphones, portable video game players, video game players,
netbooks/mini PCs, laptop computers, MP3 players, mobile phones, and digital cameras.
Participants were asked to indicate which three gadgets they would most like to own.
Institutional review was sought and granted for this study. Parental consent was obtained
for participants aged eighteen and below, and all participants were provided with a Participant
Information Sheet that informed them of their rights as participants in this project. To make the
discussion setting more comfortable for the young female participants, and thereby facilitate
discussion, author Ooi conducted the focus group discussions as she is closer in age to the
participants than author Lim is. Given Ooi’s experience in working with youths in various social
outreach activities, she can also relate well to young Singaporean females. All the discussions
were conducted in English as it is the dominant language used at work and in schools in
Singapore. Hence English was the first language for all participants. Apart from the discussions,
the participants were also requested to fill in a brief survey form that solicited information on
their demographic profiles and experience with using technology. At the end of each discussion,
participants were each given a book voucher as a token of appreciation. The discussions were
audio recorded with each session lasting about two hours and generating, on average, transcripts
of at least 100 pages.
Data Analysis
Transcripts were first analyzed using the “meaning condensation” approach (Kvale)
where large amounts of interview text were first compressed into brief statements representing
the various themes raised during the interviews. Interrelations between the various themes were
mapped out manually with pen and paper and reorganized so that some themes were gazetted as
meta-themes and others, sub-themes. These themes were then used to classify the text by
appending them to the margins of the transcripts. Different portions of text labelled with the
same themes were then grouped together using Microsoft Word so that trends and divergences
could be noted and analyzed.
The findings will be discussed according to the three meta-themes that emerged from our
analysis: technology incorporation, gendered attitudes towards technology, and media
representations of technology.
Technology Incorporation
The findings suggest that the girls in this study have actively incorporated ICTs into their
lives, and from a very early age. All of them had been using the computer since they were in
primary (elementary) school, and almost all of them have owned personal mobile phones since
early secondary (high) school. Without exception, all the girls had access to home computers, if
not their own, then one that was shared with parents and siblings. This finding is consistent with
the high computer and mobile phone ownership rates in Singapore, as was explained earlier. The
three products which participants most often cited as being indispensable were the television,
mobile phone, and computer. The girls watched television on an almost daily basis, for
entertainment and to keep up with the news. As for the mobile phone, they used it to send text
messages, make phone calls, take photos, listen to music, and play games. Their favorite uses of
the computer and Internet included instant messaging, email, surfing for information, checking
their Facebook and Friendster accounts, and watching online videos. They also used MP3
players to listen to music and to watch movies while commuting or during their downtime. The
digital camera was another popular device, frequently used to photograph friends and interesting
experiences before posting them onto personal blogs or Facebook accounts, with many
participants using the term “camwhoring” to describe this activity. For personal devices such as
laptop computers, mobile phones and MP3 players, the brands which the girls favoured included
Apple, Canon, Creative, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. In addition, they
played computer games on the Internet as well as dedicated game machines, such as the
Nintendo Wii and Microsoft XBox.
In light of their active use of technology, participants spoke about technology as
autonomous and efficacious adopters, rather than as individuals who merely used devices that
had been foisted upon them. Hence, they had clear conceptions of what they demanded of the
technology products that they currently used, and what they expected of technology that they
aspired to own. They were also cognizant of how they wanted these products to support their
lifestyles and to meet their information, communication and entertainment needs:
Marina (15, secondary school student): . . . the iPhone, like I want an all-in-one kind of
gadget, so I don’t have to carry many things, which is very troublesome. Like on the
MRT [subway], you must carry your MP3 player to listen to music. And then if you want
to use your phone for something else, you have to take out two gadgets and then when the
bus is jerky, you’re like, “Oh no!”
. . .
Violet (19, junior college student): Everyone loves Wi-Fi. I remember the past few times
when I switched (to new) phones my friends would always ask me “Has your phone got
Wi-Fi? How many mega-pixels is the camera?” So these features are quite important. It’s
very convenient to surf the net on your phone because even laptops are quite bulky to
carry around as compared to your phone, and at the same time people always like to
Bluetooth photos to each other,
like after you take so many photos with your handphone
camera, obviously you would want to share them.
Participants’ knowledge of consumer technology was good, often even extensive, and
they were also au fait with current technology trends. Their familiarity with technology products
was not limited to a mere awareness of the image and cachet of particular brands but also
extended to the technical capabilities and specifications of particular products. Notably, when
presented with the “shopping list” of technology products, which included only the names and
photographs of gadgets, one participant protested emphatically: “You never gave us the specs
[technical specifications]! Specs are important!” (Mui Leng, 21, university student). Indeed,
participants often spoke with authority on the technology products and were able to comment on
the products’ functionality, appearance and image amongst their peers, as exemplified by the
following quotes:
Moderator: OK! Besides all the gadgets you’ve chosen here, what other gadgets are
considered must-haves by you and your friends?
Agnes (15, secondary school student): The iPod Classic.
Moderator: Is that considered a must-have?
Tricia (15, secondary school student): I think iPod in general. The [iPod] Classic’s
memory space is so big.
Agnes: iPod Classic is like 120GB! It’s really worth it. Like the iPhone is only like 8 GB?
16 GB?
Tricia: Yeah! Actually I wanted the Classic instead of the iTouch ‘cause of the (memory)
space, but I don’t know what I need so much space for. It’s just the number! 120! Haha.
Agnes: I would upload movies into it and then I can watch movies on the (subway) train
and all. How cool is that?
. . .
Shueh Ling (18, junior college student): [T]he special thing about the Nintendo Wii is the
“action thing,” right? Like your whole body moves? It’s like the newest thing in the
market. XBox360 & PS3 have very good graphics but they’re still controller games,
really like one player RPGs [Role Playing Games]. They’re quite boring whereas like the
Nintendo Wii, you get to exercise, you can keep fit and you can bond with your family
and lose weight, too.
These quotations typify views exchanged across the different focus groups. Participants were
never reticent but were often very enthusiastic about discussing different technology products
and their affordances. The familiarity and confidence with which these girls spoke of technology
products indicated that technology was an essential part of their lives, seen as neither foreign nor
extraneous, but which offered them considerable practical, functional, and symbolic advantages.
Apart from the clear functional benefits that technology afforded the participants for
information and communication, the findings suggest that the nature and extent of the
participants’ technology appropriation was also shaped by social norms shared amongst
themselves and their peers. Significantly, technology was widely perceived to serve a critical
role in facilitating and enhancing social interaction. To this end, the participants utilized a wide
variety of products and services, from games machines to digital cameras to social networking
Winnie (15, secondary school student): I find that it’s [online gaming’s] also a way to
socialize, like other than shopping or chatting. You can talk in the game and on the game
so it’s also social. You can also de-stress.
. . .
Stella (18, junior college student): I guess it’s the way it works now. Like with everything
now, like, Facebook . . . everything, it’s easier, so much easier to upload all your photos
and it’s becoming a part of life . . . it’s almost like SMS-ing [Short Message Service, i.e.,
texting]. As in you just take the photos and then the next day you upload it. So I guess it
becomes like a so-called essential. Also it’s a function that we need nowadays for social
With the growing salience of such social norms influencing the use of media in social interaction,
the girls found it difficult to resist particular types and/or specific uses of technology. Hence, the
infusion of Singaporean teen girl culture with these gadgets and services serve to entrench the
position of technology in their daily lives, encouraging and perhaps even compelling adoption
and usage.
Gendered Attitudes Towards Technology
As evidenced by the high levels of incorporation of information and communication
technologies into the lives of our research participants, Singaporean girls do not regard
technology as superfluous or as belonging to the exclusive realm of males. In this regard, the
overall level of technology adoption within Singapore and the country’s gender parity in this
respect contribute to a significant presence of female role models in the technology realm. Given
that the participants’ mothers were often themselves avid technology adopters, they did not have
to look far for these role models. The findings demonstrate that the participants’ knowledge of
and attitudes towards technology have been shaped by observing friends and family members:
Moderator: Which product would you most like to have?
Terry (15, secondary school student): Blackberry Bold . . . ‘cause the first time I saw it, I
was like really “wow” and still am. Blackberrys are really user-friendly and the emailing
functions are very fast. My mom looks very classy when she holds it.
Moderator: So you want to be like your mom?
Terry: Haha! Yeah . . .
. . .
Aleena (22, university student): I would agree that the Blackberry is very masculine, but
then I have quite a few female relatives who use the Blackberry, and they’re very high-
flying executives.
Participants who perceive gender parity in technology adoption in Singapore appear to be
influenced by the overall perception of gender equality in the country.
Dora (21, university student): In Japan, they have the male chauvinist idea that guys all
like engineering and technology stuff, whereas in Singapore, OK, it’s true that guys tend
to prefer technology stuff as well. But there are a lot of girls here who also like
technology stuff. It’s because of the society that we’ve been brought up in. In Japan, girls
are meant to be very submissive to men . . . Whereas in Singapore, I don’t think girls
think that guys are any more superior or more intelligent, and that hence all the
technology should belong to them. That’s why I think it’s more even and split in
While they do not feel that technology is the preserve of Singaporean males, a majority of the
participants agreed that males tend to be more adept at technology. Notably, they attribute male
superiority in technology not to inherent ability but to males’ greater exposure to technology—a
result of their paucity of interests and limited avenues for societal endorsement. The following
extracts from the discussions with the secondary school and university students respectively,
drew broad agreement from all participants:
Winnie (15, secondary school student): Guys only have one thing to be interested in. And
that’s technology. [Everyone laughs.] OK, maybe not, there’s sports also, but like they’re
always into it?
Jessie (15, secondary school student): Yeah they always seem so intrigued by it they
never seem bored . . .
Moderator: So you guys think the majority of the males are more competent in
technology because they are more interested? Are there any other reasons?
Rosie (15, secondary school student): Like we said before, girls, we have more things to
do like shopping. For guys it’s more limited, they only have a few things they can do.
. . .
Mui Leng (21, university student): I feel it’s a social thing. When girls want to fit in, and
want to be cool, what do they do? They wear branded clothes; they carry branded bags.
But for guys right, what do they do?
Ling Hwee (22, university student): Technology stuff.
Mui Leng: Yeah, they carry branded gadgets. So for guys, I feel that there is no other way
that they can show they are cool other than having good gadgets and be very technology
Nonetheless, irrespective of how the participants rationalized the cause of male superiority in all
things technological, it is important to note that the majority of participants do believe that males
are more technologically adept than females.
Gendered conceptions of technology also manifested themselves in the form of
participants’ perceptions of which technological products and services were more suitable and
appealing for males and which for females. In this case, the participants attribute the gendering
of technology to companies’ strategies to cater to the needs of different market segments, and the
participants also reveal their conventional notions of what is deemed masculine and feminine:
Moderator: Why do you think Sony Playstation is associated with guys?
Sherry (19, junior college student): More because of the games.
Violet (19, junior college student): Most of the games are catered to guys.
Sherry: Very violent.
Chai Leng (19, junior college student): Violence and gore.
Sherry: And all the girls are very sexy and everything, so all the guys would be like
Violet: Yeah girls with boobs bigger than their faces. [Everyone laughs.]
. . .
Gerry (22, university student): It’s also how they market the product and how they design
the product. Like I feel Apple is very smart, they do it in a unisex way. If you look at the
Blackberry, it feels very masculine . . . maybe the Sony Playstation also looks quite
masculine. But other things, for example we were talking about the Nokia Le Amours
phone, it’s like it’s catered to women. I don’t think men would ever get it. Even the
design looks so girlish.
These quotes exemplify a common thread running through the discussion groups, where the
participants recognize when technological products are gendered by marketers, but do not
necessarily resist such tactics. Instead, many participants welcome the feminization of
technology, for example, in the form of brightly coloured devices with feminine motifs, or game
players, such as the Nintendo Wii, which offer “cute” and non-violent games, like Cooking
Mama. An awareness and appreciation for the gender scripting of technology by marketers and
product designers (Shade; van Oost) in fact constitutes an important facet of consumer
discernment which some of our participants do appear to possess.
Media Representations of Technology
The study also delved into the participants’ perceptions of media representations of
technology by paying special attention to its appearance in teen magazine content. Unlike Lang
and Hede’s study of teen girl magazines, which found no depiction of computer use, the four
Singaporean magazines which we analyzed each had a special section dedicated to reviews of
ICT products and servicesLime (Tech), Seventeen (Gizmos), teens (Tech), and Teenage (Tech).
The magazines featured a wide range of technological devices in both advertising and editorial
content, reflecting the importance of technology in the lives of young Singaporeans.
To understand how gendered media representations of technology are received and
perceived by young Singaporean females, we showed our participants advertisements and
editorial content from teen magazines which adopted highly feminized approaches to framing
and presenting technological products, in line with the findings from Gannon. For example, the
participants were shown an advertisement of a digital camera that had the tagline “Cute is me,”
and was illustrated with cartoon sketches depicting a young woman who is checking her
appearance, having tea with her friends, thinking of her secret crush, and trying on fashion items
which she covets, with the digital camera as her reliable companion in all her exploits. The
advertisement drew a mixed response with almost half the participants finding its advertising
slant girlish and appealing. However, participants in the remaining half were extremely averse to
the crude depiction of females and saw it as reductionist and patronizing, as exemplified by the
following quotes:
Sally (15, secondary school student): I don’t like the way they portray girls. It’s very
irritating. [Everyone laughs.] It’s like saying they’re all so girly and it’s just
disgusting! . . . it’s more like insulting us you know!
. . .
Chai Leng (19, junior college student): Er . . . It’s OK, but it looks a bit plastic. It makes
girls look very fake. Like all the things they draw here are all very superficial aspects of
life, like cosmetics and lingerie and boyfriends, shoes. . .
. . .
Dora (21, university student): I HATE these advertisements because they stereotype
At the same time, participants who liked the advertisement felt that it would have no bearing on
their decision to buy the product, claiming that they would still base their decisions on the
products’ specifications, capabilities, and price.
Participants were also shown a review of a Samsung mobile phone, which stated: “The
thing which stands out most with this cool phone is the mirrored surface. If you ever need to
touch-up your lip gloss, or re-powder your nose, this is the handiest gadget to have around . . .
The review then went on to pay equal attention to the phone’s functions. Participants were also
equivocal about this review. While some of them felt that the reference to the phone serving as a
mirror was relevant to females, others found the review presumptuous and deficient in not
providing more comprehensive technical specifications:
Maria (15, secondary school student): I won’t buy it. ‘Cause it’s [the review’s] only
focusing on it being a mirror! If it’s a handphone, it should be talking about the functions
itself. Why do they only want to keep emphasizing that it can be a mirror for girls and
Two other highly feminized representations of technology elicited similarly ambivalent reactions.
One advertisement depicted a set of headphones as a “Deliciously sweet” dessert by placing it
alongside a fluffy creamcake, pastel-coloured macaroons and strawberries, with no mention of
the price or technical specifications whatsoever. Another was a product review which lamented
that the pink LG E200 notebook “uses the less powerful Pentium Dual-Core processor” but
mollified readers by concluding that the laptop “is so pretty, it’s a slight we’re willing to
overlook.” While many participants admitted that as consumers, the form and appearance of
technological products was not irrelevant to them, they took issue with representations that
assume that aesthetics are the be-all and end-all for technological products that are targeted at
Overall the findings suggest that although the target audience of such media
representations may consider feminized frames an affront and therefore resist them, it is also
likely that some consumers will find them appealing and identify with them. This finding
resonates with earlier observations that females have complex relationships with gendered media
and marketing representations (Andrews and Talbot; Carter; Nava) wherein they find themselves
negotiating between defying and acquiescing to these dominant discourses.
This study has sought to understand young Singaporean females’ perceptions of
technology. The findings suggest that the girls have incorporated ICTs into their lives from a
very early age and find such gadgets as the computer and mobile phone indispensable. The girls
come across as confident and avid users of functional software as well as entertainment and
social networking services, and are au fait with current technology trends. They also have clear
and well-defined notions of which technology products suit their lifestyles and which they are
prepared to forego. Notably, while some of them believe that males are more adept at technology,
they attribute this male superiority not to their inherent ability but to their having few other
interests and diversions. Be that as it may, gendered conceptions of technological prowess persist,
with the majority of our participants believing that males are more skilled and sophisticated in
their technology adoption. This finding resonates with Selywn’s assertion that gender has hardly
faded from the picture despite the widespread diffusion of technology. Indeed, while our
participants maintained a healthy level of circumspection about gendered media representations
of technology, and the gendering of technology by developers and marketers, they also seemed
all too willing to subscribe to the notions perpetuated by such gendering practices. Despite the
fact that adoption of and access to technology in Singapore is broadly gender-neutral, the
persistence of such gendered perceptions of technology does not bode well for the future
trajectory of technology adoption and innovation in the country. Instead, as Singapore intensifies
its efforts to develop into an information-based economy, it is critical that Singaporean females
see themselves as being equally empowered and efficacious vis-à-vis the use of information and
communication technologies.
The majority of electronic devices sold in Singapore comes equipped with Bluetooth
technology, which enables electronic devices to communicate wirelessly with one another,
thus enabling users to send audio, visual, or textual information from one device to another
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... A similar finding was drawn from research on the media use of juvenile delinquents in Singapore, which found that a group of delinquent teens who were incarcer- This has been studied in Singapore, where scholars say that this instantaneous capture and students in indonesia, which has one of the world's most active social media populations. -Photo by intel free Press dissemination of peer encounters has allowed young people to construct shared memories that serve to enhance their sense of group identity (Lim & Ooi, 2011). Although online peer culture is situated within and shaped by offline culture, the dynamics of the online environment can influence the nature of peer interaction and alter the basis of peer culture. ...
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YAN FANG provides a snapshot of the research on young people’s media use in Asia.
... The rising ubiquity of smartphones with locationbased services and always-on, always-available Internet access in some countries has also introduced a culture of documenting face-to-face peer interactions and sharing amongst the peer group. Singaporean teen girls, for example, take camera phone photographs during outings with friends and share them on-the-spot via Bluetooth or Facebook for their friends to view and access (Lim & Ooi, 2011). Through this instantaneous capture and dissemination of peer encounters, these young people construct shared memories that serve to enhance their sense of group identity. ...
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