Summary of “Women & Children First”

    In Laura Miller’s “Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier,” she contests a Newsweek article from May 1994, titled “Men, Women and Computers.” The article suggests that women require “special protection” because their minds are “weak, fragile and unsuited to the rough and tumble of public discourse” (Clark 122). The general notion at work here is that, unlike men, women are vulnerable, essentially helpless people who are susceptible to being manipulated or hurt. Miller dismisses this as nothing but a “pernicious gender stereotype” (122).

    In a community dominated by strong men, Miller says, women feel “about as welcome as a system crash … [the article was] awful, poorly researched, unsubstantiated drivel” (116). Miller maintains that people frequently treat the Internet not as a computer-generated world but as a physical one. In reality, she contests, the Internet is a jumble of information, along with confused, impersonal pseudo-relationships between people who have never met. Once little more than a means for the global exchange of information, the Internet has been transformed into a place where people get into potentially dangerous situations with others.

    While Miller does talk about the misuse and misinterpretations of the Internet, her comments mainly are in reference to online relationships, and how racism figures prominently in many of them. She cites the Newsweek article as one of many examples that unfairly stereotype women as people who are not capable of defending themselves. The cause of Miller’s dissatisfaction is not just the article, not even is it the habit of people defending others, but rather that people seem to take “extra precautions” to defend women, as if they were inferiors. In fact, Miller says that the so-called protection of women is based “on the idea that women are inherently weak and incapable of self-defense and that men are innately predatory” (119).

    Essentially what is happening, Miller states, is that if people are going to protect one another against abusive behavior, then women had better start being treated as just as capable of protecting themselves as men are. She furthers this discussion by bringing up the treatment of children, which she regards as a different matter. Since children are young, she says, they have yet to experience the real world and thus do not yet have the capacity to survive on their own. Miller stands firmly by this viewpoint not to treat children as inadequate or inferior, but to prevent them from being hurt, as they are innocent and not yet able to confront those who would oppress them.

    Laura Miller reminds people that women are people too, and ought to be treated as such. Children are people as well, albeit people who don’t yet know all there is to know. Equal rights, Miller urges, are vital to a successful, peaceful world. The Internet is a massive, ever-growing wealth of information, but when personal relationships enter the picture, people should realize that abuse may well come of them [the relationships]. There is not a problem with defending others, as long as everyone is defended equally. Miller closes with the hope that the treatment of people as hollow “gender aliens” (122) can be ended. If people are treated as human beings in reality, they ought to be treated as such in virtual reality, as well.