It’s difficult to recall an internal memo gone viral that has sparked as much commentary as James Damore’s statement on gender and engineering at Google. This post is not about that memo, although the volume of commentary on it did prompt the thoughts that follow. Nor is this post about workplace diversity, at least not directly. Instead, like many other “Tool Without a Handle” posts, it is about metaphor.
In particular, I wanted to test whether, in preferring the metaphor of “a tool you use” as distinct from “a place you go,” I’d unduly limited my thinking to an “androcentric” view of networked information technologies. In other words, is “tool” a masculine metaphor, implying a gendered orientation towards my preferred approach to thinking about technology?
I conclude the answer is “no,” in part because metaphor differs from gender, and in part because metaphor is a feature of language, while gender is a feature of persons. Moreover, I identify a general objection to dichotomizing and to gender metaphors.