(Un)dressing the interface: Exposing the foundational hci metaphor 'computer is woman'


Two fundamental (and oftentimes opposing) metaphors have directed much of HCI design: HCI is communication and HCI is direct manipulation. Beneath these HCI metaphors, however, is the unspoken metaphor of Computer is woman. In this paper we expose this foundational metaphor. We begin by identifying the origin of computer is woman in the early history of computing. Drawing upon postmodern feminist theory, we then explore how this metaphor has resulted in the feminization of HCI is communication and second person interfaces. We show how images of femininity proliferate, becoming the projected images of male fantasies and ideals of womanhood. In becoming these idealized images, the interface is revealed as man in female drag. Finally, not only do we undress the interface to uncover how HCI is communication wraps the computer's difference from human being within the more basic metaphor of computer is woman, but we also disclose dangers that can arise when this metaphor goes unacknowledged and unexamined.

Keywords. TechnoFeminism; Feminization; Turing Test; HCI Metaphors; Agent Abuse; Feminist HCI.

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