July 1996

Gender and Computer Networking

by Gérard Martin

an.i.mus n [L, spirit, mind, courage, anger] (1816) 1: basic attitude or governing spirit: disposition, intention 2: a usu. prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will 3: an inner masculine part of the female personality in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung n [NL, fr. L, soul] (1923): an individual's true inner self that in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung reflects archetypal ideals of conduct; also: an inner feminine part of the male personality

--Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

In Louisiana, Grand Coteau's Academy of the Sacred Heart does not so much sit on a hill as bury itself inside of gently rolling cow pastures crisscrossing several rows and groves of magnificent oak trees. Year around foliage provides lush shade in summer and, for the most part, breaks the cold humid winds of a bayou deluge winter. Though southwestern Louisiana is a comfortable place during most days of the year, as Hurricane Andrew once threatened to demonstrate, this area does have its moments.

The customarily peaceful grounds of this one hundred and seventy-five year-old school for young girls is not oblivious to the blowing winds of change. While providing sanctuary from some of the externally boorish elements of the world's influence and persuasion, the scholastic ethos largely succeeds in sidestepping provincialism. Like all Academies of the Sacred Heart, this all-girl school participates with other all-girl schools in a world-wide network of Sacred Heart educational institutions aspiring to follow the vision forged by Saint Madelaine Sophie Barat, foundress in 1800 of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Drawn to the contemplative life, but at the same time wishing to remain responsive to the needs of the world at large, she founded a community in Paris that believed that by educating women, their empowerment could bring about social change and remake the world into a better place.

There is always a tension between acting and being acted upon; affecting and being affected. Technology promises an equal amount of both. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, while at first we shape, we are then in turn shaped. Historically, the tradition of a Sacred Heart education served to prepare young women for their assumed future roles as mothers and moral educators of children. In the communities for which these women served, this was considered good Republican Motherhood. For the homes in which these women belonged, this same tradition strengthened a Cult of Domesticity, or the ideal of women as pillars of virtue and morality.

The strong educational quality of the Sacred Heart schools laid other foundations as well. Changing the world for the better was also viewed by the academy's educators to mean preparing women for participation in areas traditionally more predominately the domain of men. In modern times, no single category better encapsulates the male sphere of influence than that of science and technology. No other domain of pursuit carries simultaneously the power to both promote and threaten all manifestations of motherhood and domesticity cum family values--extending to encompass even life itself. Should it have been so surprising that the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana would elect to create an Internet-based "Science" Lab Program?

In the early autumn of 1995, world-wide computer networking became a reality for the Academy at Grand Coteau. In addition to a handful of gateway dial-on-demand connections, a local area network of nine Macintosh workstations was connected to an Internet router capable of more permanently linking the school to its Internet provider by modem and telephone line. The World Wide Web quickly became the browser paradigm of choice. Internet-wide search engines like InfoSeek Guide and Webcrawler fell into place as the de facto means of searching hypertext, and the prevailing metaphor of online utility became that of a library.

In the course of implementing an Internet program for the academy, -- three major questions arose; the first spawning the second, which in turn spawned the third. [TOC]


Gérard Martin can be reached at In preparation for the 1995-96 academic school year, Gérard Martin was educational technology grant co-investigator for the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana where both his daughters will be attending school next year. Martin chronicles technology and its epistemological impact on education and the diffusion of knowledge.

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