Portrayals of Information and Communication Technology on World Wide Web Sites for Girls

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Abstract

This study reports a content analysis of 35 World Wide Web sites that included in their mission the goal of engaging girls with information and communication technology (ICT). It finds that sites emphasize cultural and economic uses of ICT, doing little to foster civic applications that could empower girls as citizens of the information age. The study also finds that sites foster a narrow range of ICT proficiencies, focusing mostly on areas such as communication, in which girls have already achieved parity with boys. An examination of the role models portrayed in ICT occupations indicates that the sites show females mainly in elite technology jobs, reversing stereotypical mass media depictions of females in low-status roles in relation to ICT. Employing an original index of ICT knowledge and skills, the study finds that the sites that scored highest both on fostering comprehensive knowledge and skills as well as featuring civic content were general interest Web communities. Ownership (for-profit or not-for-profit) of sites was less important than editorial control: Sites that offered girls a place to contribute their own content were more likely to offer civic material and a broader range of ICT knowledge and skills. We conclude with recommendations for Web site designers to rethink their design strategies and their rationales for closing the gender gap in computing.

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