Museums and the Web 2005

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

Gender Issues and Museum Web Sites

Clara Baiget, Spain, Isabel Bernal,, Spain, Sue Black, Nadia Blinova, Jonathan P. Bowen, Ann Borda, Teresa Numerico, London South Bank University, United Kingdom, Stefania Boiano, InvisibleStudio, Italy, Wera Grahn, University of Linköping, Sweden, Eleanor Lisney, France


We consider the provision of museum Web sites with respect to gender issues from a number of different perspectives. Design issues for Web access, the use of technology such as Web logs by women, together with some more specialist interests such as on-line gaming are covered. The differences in various cultures are also considered. In particular, the situation in a selection of Spanish, Italian and Russian language museum Web sites is presented. We include a small survey of potential visitors who are members of the British Computer Society BCSWomen specialist group. It is hoped that the discussion here and in the forum itself could feed into a larger study in this area to see how museums can minimize any gender discrimination on their Web sites, increasing accessibility in the process.

"Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition."
         - Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

Keywords: female issues, gender studies, museum Web sites, on-line gaming, Web design, women's rights, Web

1. Introduction

Jonathan Bowen

"Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult."
         - Charlotte Whitton (1896-1975) Canada Month, June 1963

In this paper we present a number of position statements designed to encourage discussion on the topic of the use of museum Web sites by females and presentation on museum Web sites, in the context of gender issues, around the world. The diverse sections give individual viewpoints and can be read individually if desired. In particular, the various authors are expert in a number of different languages, helping to give a hopefully more global viewpoint of some of the issues discussed.

Education and Usage

Gender issues are an important consideration for museums in general (Glaser & Zenetou, 1994), especially with respect to educational matters (Stanton, 1996). Different attitudes and approaches to learning influence the effectiveness of educational material, both within a real museum and on its Web site. The use of computers and networks for learning is increasingly prevalent as an educational aid.

A study of 11 year old children in the context of Web-based science lessons (Leong, & Hawamdeh, 1999) found that boys used computers more regularly that girls (e.g., for games) and also used the Web more. However, it also showed that girls preferred Web-based lessons to traditional class-based lessons compared to boys and that they favored working in pairs more that singly. Compared to girls, boys disliked reading from the screen since that had more difficulty with longer pieces of text.

Nachmias et al. (2001) found significant gender differences in a study of 384 junior high and high school students in Israel. Boys were more extensive ICT (Information and Communication Technology) users than girls in general. They spent about 9.4 hours per week using computers compared to around 5.6 hours for girls. The difference was most dramatic at home (6.7 vs. 3.5 hours) whereas school usage was more similar (1.4 vs. 1.3 hours), presumably because this was largely directed use. On the other hand, a study by Shany & Nachmias (2001) of 110 eighth and ninth graders (14-15 year olds) on a three-month virtual classroom course, also based in Israel, did not find any particular correlation between gender and various uses of ICT (e.g., bulletin boards, forums, email, Web searches, etc.) with respect to thinking styles in an educational context.

Nielson (2002) reports that there are bigger differences between boys and girls with respect to Web site usability than there are for men and women in general. In his study he found that 40% of boy complained about verbose Web pages compared to 8% of girls. On the other hand, girls criticized the lack of instructions much more (76% vs. 33% for boys). Boys spent more time alone on the computer, whereas girls spent more time with a parent. However he notes that age differences aremore important than gender difference when considering Web design usability. When it comes to the digital divide, age, education and income are the key factors, compared with race/ethnicity/gender, which are statistically insignificant, with less that 5% effect in change of rate of access (Nie & Erbring, 2000). Males used the Internet around 1.2 additional hours per week compared to females, not a huge difference. Gender differences were found to be more significant for those not working outside the home.

Traditionally men are more attracted to direct use of computers, but for more indirect use through other media, the gender balance is more even (Dierking & Falk, 1998). However the subject matter being presented also has a bearing, with evidence that in the case of fine art, females are more prevalent users, even when technology is used. In the area of on-line museums, Bowen et al. (1998) in a more general survey at a around the same time noted that an early survey of virtual museum visitors recorded 46% as being women compared to only 22% of high-use Internet/Web users being female. Thus, the gender balance of museum technology users may be better than the general case (Bernier, 2002). There is also a bias towards older users visiting museum Web sites compared to the norm on the Internet.

Chadwick & Boverie (1999) considered the gender gap in the number of men versus women who completed their museum Web site visitor survey to be worthy of further study. Around 62% of those who completed the questionnaire were male and only 38% were female. They questioned whether men are more likely to complete an on-line survey.

Theresa Quinn (Assistant Professor, Director of BFA with Emphasis in Art Education Program, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA) worked on a dissertation project, finished in 2001, and an associated Web site ( including a survey on those working in museums, including women, people of color, gays/lesbians and others (as self-defined).

A more recent survey of on-line discussion forum usage (e.g., electronic mailing lists, Web forums, newsgroups, etc.) by museum professionals has been undertaken by Bernier & Bowen (2004). This reports that 65% of the 153 respondents were female, not so surprising given the predominance of women in museum-related jobs, at least at the less well paid end. There are more male museum managers and IT workers, but education-related posts are largely occupied by women. Collections managers and researchers are more evenly divided by gender: 55% of ICOM (International Council of Museums) members in the UK are female; in Canada, 79% of heritage workers are women; and in the USA, 84% of archivists and librarians are female. The typical first-time on-line museum discussion forum user was a US 25-44 year old female, mainly from education-related areas, wishing to obtain information. Women over 60 were more likely to be using on-line museum forums to ask questions in their area of expertise. Men were most likely to be 45-59 years old, seeking information and sharing knowledge. Daily users were typically 25-34 year old females.

Web Sites

Searching for a combination of "women" and "museum" or "museums" on the Google search engine (e.g., gives a number of links to directories and individual sites concerning women and museums. Here is a selection of directories found:

Searching for "museum" rather than "museums" gives more individual Web sites, especially in the US. For example:

In addition, see an exhibition from the US National Library of Medicine ( Beeler & Schlesier (2004) demonstrated this on-line exhibit entitled The Changing Face of Medicine at the Museums and the Web conference. It presents the influence of women in the field of medicine, including QuickTime videos of some of the women involved, with captioning to aid accessibility.

All the above directories and individual Web sites were sent to a group of women (BCSWomen, with an interest in computing) for comments in a small survey. The results are reported in Section 4.

The following further resources may be of interest in the more general context of gender issues and cultural Web sites:

Situation in Different Countries

"As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world."
         - Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

The situation with respect to on-line resources concerning museums and gender issues varies widely across the world. There are a significant number of resources in the USA (e.g., see above). A search for "women" on the Virtual Library museums pages (VLmp, offers the following additional entries, many in Canada, perhaps partly due to the excellent indexing of Canadian museums by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN,

  • Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead (, St. George, Ontario, Canada; birthplace of the founder of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada.
  • Canadian Military Heritage Museum (, Brantford, Ontario, Canada; established to honor the men and women of Brantford.
  • Erland Lee Museum (, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; 1897 birthplace of the Women's Institutes, the world's first rural women's organization, a national historic site of Canada since 2003.
  • Ukrainian Museum of Canada (, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; museum of the Ukrainian Women's Association.
  • Frauenmuseum (, Hittisau, Germany; women and society (in German).
  • Sungshin Women's University Museum (, Seoul, Korea (in Korean).
  • The Gulf: Men, Women, Jinns (, Russia; a hundred graphic poems by Dr. Peter Voskressensky.
  • Bronté Parsonage Museum (, Haworth, West Yorkshire, UK. The home of the early 19th century women novelists, the Bronté sisters.
The following additional museum Web sites may also be of interest:

The level of commitment to gender issues in the museum field is very different around the world, and this is reflected in the Web site information that is available on-line. There is also the problem of different languages for material available on-line. In later sections, we consider Spanish-speaking and Italian museum Web sites in more depth. But these at least use the same alphabet as English-language Web sites. In the case of Russia, for example, the Cyrillic alphabet adds an extra level of difficulty in finding information on-line.

A search was conducted for combinations of "женщины" ("women" or "females") and "музей" ("museum") or "музеи" ("museums"), as well as a number of other gender-related terms in Russian. There is at least a Russian-language version of Google, for example (, as well as other specialized Russian search engines. In addition, the Russian section of the Virtual Library museums pages ( was scanned, only resulted in the on-line exhibit "The Gulf: Men, Women, Jinns" as mentioned above. The Музеи России Russian museum portal ( was even more unforthcoming with search results.

The Anna Akhatova Museum at Fountain House (a.k.a. Sheremetev Palace), St. Petersburg has a simple Web site ( with some English and Russian pages on the early 20th century poet. Guelman.Ru (, a commercial art gallery, includes some relevant resources in Russian such as an on-line "women museum" ( For the prurient, an extreme part of Rasputin's anatomy can be found in a Moscow News article on-line (! A short article on Russian women's art is available on the Web site for the Moscow equivalent of Time Out magazine (

More generally, there is a Moscow Center for Gender Studies with an English-language Web site ( There are also some links to on-line Russian feminist resources ( However, it is disappointing that there is a lack of relevant material from Russian Web sites. Nothing could be found from Russian museum Web sites on the role of women following the Russian Revolution, for example.

In summary, the level of Web site provision is quite varied around the world, and much more could be done on-line, particularly since it is a relatively cheap way of communicating information. It is hoped that this paper at least gives a snapshot of the situation at present and encourages museum personnel to improve Web site provision in relation to gender-related matters in the future.


In the rest of this paper, we present a number of individual viewpoints of issues relating to women and museums. In each case, a number of open questions are posed at the end, aimed at stimulating debate, both at the associated professional forum session and for the future.

Stefania Boiano, in Section 2, considers aspects of Web design with respect to gender for women, including a survey of a small number of sample Web sites. Eleanor Lisney discusses the use of technology by and for women in museum-related applications, including in particular the use of Web logs, in Section 3. In Section 4, Sue Black, Chair of the British Computer Society BCSWomen Specialist Group, reports on a simple survey undertaken through an email request to the group to view a selection of relevant museum Web sites and on-line directory sites, as listed earlier. Clara Baiget and Isabel Bernal, in Section 5, give a very comprehensive survey of Spanish-speaking Web sites in Spain and Latin America, with many links to on-line resources. In Section 6, Teresa Numerico gives a similar but shorter view of the situation in Italy. Wera Grahn provides a very specific case study for a Swedish museum in Section 7, based on work for her PhD thesis.

Finally, Ann Borda looks to the possible future and presents an overview of on-line gaming, especially with respect to museum Web sites, and the gender issues that are involved, in Section 8.

Perhaps surprisingly, women are very active on-line gamers. The 2004 Museums and the Web "Best of the Web" award overall winner ( was the Smithsonian Institution National Zoo Conservation Central Web site (, including an excellent educational and amusing Design a Panda Habitat interactive that is appealing to both genders (AAUW, 2000). Of course this is an outstanding example, and museums still have a lot to do with a limited budget to catch up with the likes of Disney (

We welcome feedback on the ideas presented here and hope that the situation will be improved as a result in due course.

2. Feminine Design Stereotypes

Stefania Boiano

What is a feminine design element? The problem with feminine as a word is that it does not have a lot of consistent meaning. We have various ideas about what it means to be feminine (soft, nurturing, enduring, devouring) and they are contradictory with each other. But we mean something specific when we talk about design being feminine. It could be a pale color palette and swishy fonts. It could be floral patterning. It could be more curved, and available in a wider range of colors (Cage, 1999; Feisner, 2001). It could be hot pink and Scripty and Venus-symbolic.

Some examples of feminine design include:

We could say that feminine is frequently ornamented, not necessarily floral (though there are many extreme examples of that), and is rarely spare and minimal. It favors the figural and human over the abstract. Pastels are definitely a theme, but dramatic or extensive use of any colors might be construed as feminine. Let us assume we have agreed on this definition of feminine as far as design is concerned.

There are aspects of feminine design, then, that diminish usability on the Web.

Our eyes read certain fonts better, for instance, and Scripty fonts are not among them.

Color, used in excess, can become a distraction for the eyes (not to mention issues of colorblindness and contrast for various people). The same is true of graphics.

Feminine design, misapplied, is as hard to deal with as any other form of bad design; perhaps more so. But why should that in and of itself result in dismissal of content presented in (good or bad) a feminine visual style?

Maybe it is because feminine styles in general are considered less reasoned, less rational, and less intelligent. Western society values rationalism. While we can now, for the most part, accept that women are not inferiorily soft, emotional and instinctive, we still seem to think that emotion and instinct are negative. It comes into play with debate style as well as design on the Web. And, because we frequently confuse the feminine with the female, the masculine with the male, it often results in women being dismissed and excluded (

Webdesigner's questions regarding gender in designing a museum Web site

In designing a museum Web site there are two things to be considered:

(a) The net audience: According to a survey of on-line? women conducted by (, Harris Interactive, and Procter & Gamble, 70% of women cannot imagine life without Web access (

"Women have created an on-line revolution that has closed the Web's gender gap, and have become the dominant force on the Internet today," said Gina Garrubbo, executive VP of "Women make the majority of on-line health-care decisions, retail purchases, and financial choices for the household."

And from Flash Commerce, an ecommerce news Web site (

"It's a Woman's World Wide Web", the report from Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications found that explosive growth in Internet usage among teenage girls and steady growth among women of 55-and-over has pulled women slightly ahead of men in on-line use. According to the study, which surveyed 55,000 Internet users during 2000-2002, 50.4% of current Web users are women and 49.6% are men.

(b) The museum Web site audience: The goal of a museum is to spread information, culture and heritage to everybody in the easiest and most accessible way. This implies that museums with a "feminine" content and aimed at women should also speak to male audiences. The museum Web site should attract all the possible audience, without making any difference between men and women, culture, age, etc.

With the issues from (a) and (b) above in mind, before starting to design a museum Web site the Web designer should consider:

  1. Which is the museum and Web site's audience? (Age, sex, culture, language, ...)
  2. How to design the Web site to attract the right audience
  3. Should the museum Web site design "cater" to a specific gender?
  4. What and which sites appeal to males? What and which sites appeal to females?
  5. Is the museum Web site better off with gender neutrality?
  6. Should the Web site attract more women? Why?
  7. If yes, how can you attract more women to your Web site?
  8. Which kind of reaction can women have to the color palette used in the Web site?
  9. How do women from different countries/cultures react to the color palette used?
  10. Can I design a museum Web site that conveys "feminine"? Is this meaning intrinsically linked to a specific design, or is it projected later on using marketing? Or is it both, and in which balance then?
  11. Could it be that the subject is more of an issue in the USA than it is in Europe?

Some Museum Web Site Examples

Screen Shot: Museo della Donna

Fig. 1: The home page of the Museo della Donna (

Title: Museo della Donna
Country: Italy
Language: Italian / German
Content: short presentation about the museum and the association
Design: color: white, lilac, purple
font: graphic: decorative / default: sans-serif
logo shape/images: woman
Comment: In the very first seconds of a visit the user is not very attracted by the design. Purple/lilac color so largely used, also as background of the text, makes the page heavy and distracts the reading. Swishy font used for the menu makes the legibility quite hard. Women images are not very significant. In general the design is badly correlated to femine stereotypes. The risk is to loose both men and women audience.

Screen Shot: Museo del Tessuto

Fig. 2: The home page of the Museo del Tessuto (

Title: Museo del Tessuto
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Content: general information, events, activities
Design: color: gray, sand, neutral
font: graphic: minimal, sans-serif / default: sans-serif
logo shape/images: museum
Comment: Thanks to a geometrical layout and sand color nuances, the visitor perceives immediately a sense of order, clarity, simplicity, neutrality. For its content the Web site could be addressed more to the women than men, but the design, although not particularly captive, is so natural and neutral that avoids any kind of audience discrimination?

Screen Shot: National Women's History Museum

Fig. 3: The home page of the National Women's History Museum (

Title: National Women's History Museum
Country: USA
Language: English
Content: general information, events, activities, store, cyber museum
Design: color: pale blue, purple, white, sand
font: graphic: sans-serif / default: Times
logo shape/images: women
Comment: Not particularly addressed to a specific female audience, the design in general presents a visual noise and an unbalanced layout: too much space in some areas, too many different font sizes and colors. The designer has not used feminine stereotypes, and has not addressed the Web site to the women. But perhaps, considering the bad use of font, space, colors and images, it has not even reached all the possible audience, of either gender.

Screen Shot: National Museum of Women in the Arts

Fig. 4: The home page of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (

Title: National Museum of Women in the Arts
Country: USA
Language: English
Content: general information, exhibitions, activities, collection, library, shop.
Design: color: blue, white, sand
font: graphic: sans-serif / default: Arial
logo shape/images: museum
Comment: The blue color, perfect for a worldwide audience, gives immediately the Web site a professional aspect. There are no female stereotypes. The layout is clean and balanced. The colors are simple and not distracting. The design in general is fair, pleasant and legible.

Screen Shot: International Museum of Women

Fig. 5: The home page of the International Museum of Women (

Title: International Museum of Women
Country: USA
Language: English
Content: general information, events, exhibitions, resources
Design: color: blue, white
font: sans-serif
logo shape: circle and triangle
images: museum
Comment: The first thing the visitor's eye see is the logo that combines two shapes: circle and triangle. Two shapes communicating dynamism and energy that is a right balance between rational and irrational, soft and sharp; in the middle between male and female imagery. The blue color also helps to address this Web site to a worldwide audience.

Screen Shot: Fashion and Textile Museum

Fig. 6: The Home Page of the Fashion and Textile Museum (

Title: Fashion and Textile Museum
Country: UK
Language: English
Content: general information, events, exhibitions, shop
Design: color: orange, fuchsia, white
font: sans-serif
logo shape/images: museum
Comment: The combination of fuchsia and orange brings the visitor to think that something for women will be inside. Although the fonts are sans-serif and the layout geometrical and symmetric, either female or male visitors continue thinking that the museum is aimed to women. In fact, orange and fuchsia are the main colors of the façade and of the "Pink Hall" of the physical museum. By following these colors also on-line, the designer has accepted the risk that the Web site is intended for one genre only.


The following further Web sites were used in research for this section and may be of interest:

3. Technology and the Voice of Women in Museums

Eleanor Lisney

According to Intel Corporation's Women, Technology and Lifestyle on-linesurvey of American adults, released recently on 8 December 2004, women are catching up with men in the way they embrace technology ( In the light of this, I would like to consider the question of whether there is much evidence that women are using the cutting edge of technology such as video installations and Web sites/virtual reality to allow a new form of memory and expression, away from past political and historical constraints, helping them to open up and afford them new opportunities, to be players in present-day history.

Tim Berners-Lee in the first chapter of his book (Berners-Lee, 1999) states that:

"The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected with anything. It is a vision that provides us with new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound ourselves. It leaves the entirety of our previous ways of working as just one tool among many. It leaves our previous fears for the future as one set among many. And it brings the workings of society closer to the workings of our minds."

At present, it is apparent that historical artifacts and archives tend to be dominated by those who had power, mostly male. Women for a long time were not much visible in monuments, and their historical voices were not much heard, nor were they accessible to the general public. When we make a conscious effort at gathering the strands of the daily network of information that is in our immediate environment, we see how women havereally shaken off the fetters of this hierarchical classification systems (especially true as in museums, the guardians of heritage and preservation) and brought Tim Berners-Lee's vision of bringing "the workings of society closer to the workings of our minds" (Berners-Lee, 1999).

Women and Technology in Museums

Japan celebrates the evolution of the working woman at the Working Women Museum ( The exhibits explore new possibilities for creating better lives using computer simulation games, videos and computers. In the IEEE Virtual Museum (, it is recognized that the history of engineering and technology has largely omitted women. To quote:

"After all, there are few women technologists or scientists whose names resonate like those of men such as Faraday or Edison. This is largely because, historically, women have had limited access to education, especially in fields such as science and engineering. In addition to the lack of access to schools and workplaces, women were generally assumed to have no mechanical abilities or even interest in technical fields."

The exhibit Powering the Electrical Revolution: Women and Technology talks about how women were often central in what is frequently the key point in the history of a technology - the time when an invention moves from the laboratory into practical use.

Women Web Logs on Women's Issues

In the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web, we can examine the proliferation and significance of Web logs (Blood, 2002) for women. We can compare the mushrooming effect of Web logs with the similarity of that time in the 19th century when women started to write. Publication is no longer an elite activity, restricted to the chosen few, and women can now afford to write about whatever they wish without fear of trivialization and censorship. Technological innovations have altered structures and the behaviour of society towards manifestations of creativity in publications. We only need to look at something like ms.musings, Ms. Magazine's daily blog on women, media and culture (

In women's Web logs, we see how women use technology to negotiate with present day notions of gender, identity, and female selfhood. Having a voice in the form of a publication is empowerment. And this holds true in particular for women who would be marginalized, such as those of the ethnic minorities and those who choose to express their alternative sides in sexuality or politics. Some examples:

From India, Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat (

"But I wish to share with you my experiences of my long career as a broadcaster in India, my studies of history, and  excerpts from ancient Indian literature. I am sure that this is the world's most low tech blog, written on paper (example), typed by a third person (mostly my daughter-in-law), and proof-read on paper."

From Singapore, The Sarong Party Girl (

"I make money by modeling. Unfortunately, being an SPG (Singapore Girl) only means I get to enjoy a lot of the finer things in life that I wouldn't otherwise, as a student, and it no way entails me to extra cash. So I'm trying to make it as a fetish model. That means I get provocative pictures of myself taken and get paid for it; which I personally think is quite a reasonable deal."

From the UK, Emma's Baby Diary (

"Emma, a disabled woman, keeps a Web log on BBCs Ouch Web site during the lead up to her baby's birth and beyond. Her impairments mean that she is having a closely monitored pregnancy."

Web logs are an example of how women use technology to serve them in giving them voice. I hope that these voices are archived for future reference just in the way that oral histories are to complement the public history resources. Imagining Ourselves ( from the International Museum of Women ( intends to draw upon the thoughts of young women worldwide to show what, according to them, is unique about this new international generation, not only increasing interconnectedness across national boundaries, but also increasing women's unprecedented access to educational and economic opportunities. Their project intends to create a powerful public platform in which dynamic young women leaders and creative thinkers articulate their view of the world today and the world they are joyfully working to create. That might be a bit optimistic as women are still badly paid and exploited as workers. For instance, Chinese workers (mainly women from poor provinces) are reported to be on strike at a factory in Southern China run by Uniden, a Japanese manufacturer that supplies Walmart with mobile phones. They use a Web log to publicize their cause (

Women and Multimedia and Digital Culture

In Paris, at the Sorbonne recently, on 29 November 2004, the Revues en ligne sur l'art et la culture numérique was hosted by Xavier Perrot and others:

Is it a coincidence that all three were women? And even moving beyond the hypertextual form of empowerment, connection and support that the Web can be for women, some women have also used technology to enable them to use the public space that the more modern museums can now afford, providing a diversity of voices. Take as a recent example at the Tate Modern (London, UK), Fiona Tan, who is celebrated for her film and video installations which explore the nature of archives and the truth claims of ethnography, and which also reflect on the nature of place and time ( See also Future Face ( at the Science Museum, London, which was curated by Sandra Kemp, Director of Research at the Royal College of Art; this integrates art, science and medicine.

We advance even further when we witness Tomie Hahn as Pikapika (


Fig. 7: Pikapika

Pikapika is a character influenced by Anime and Manga (, Japanese pop animation and comics. Pikapika embodies movements from bunraku (Japanese puppet theater), a movement vocabulary. Tomie studied while learning nihon buyo (Japanese traditional dance), pieces derived from the puppet theater. Pikapika dons a new wireless interactive dance system (SSpeaPer) created by Curtis Bahn. SSpeaPer ( naturally locates and "spacializes" the electronic sounds to emanate from the speakers mounted on her body. As Pikapika moves, her gestural information is sent by radio to an interactive computer music system. The sounds are then broadcast back to her body, creating a new sort of audio alias for her character; a sonic mask. Women are using technology to articulate body language.

Women, Virtual Reality and Public Space

Women such as Martha Norkunas (University of Texas at Austin, USA) dare to modify public space, mingling virtual reality and interposing it into a real place such as the city of Austin in Texas in her vision to create a women-centered landscape. She wants to create a Web site in which Austin is populated by monuments and artifacts that relate to women and their work. This Web site seeks to commemorate women through imagining a city filled with recognition of their contributions to the city by naming landmarks, statues and parks, thereby raising awareness and exploring what would constitute an ideal city in terms of architecture, public space and social/political life. Norkunas (2002) writes:

"Women in the city are powerful, but it is a different kind of power that is not represented on public lands ... Women's ability, through narrative, to remember the past is itself a form of power ... They give shape to the major institutions in the city, family, economy, society and culture, but were constrained from the movement in private space in broadest sense of that term: the physical space of the city and the space of public leadership, acknowledgement, and valor."

Screen Shot: Austin Women's Commemorative Project

Fig. 8: Austin Women's Commemorative Project


In conclusion, we have looked at how women use technology to empower themselves away from the social, economical and cultural constraints. In the museum field, technology affords women the space such as in the Austin Women's Commemorative Project, as well as in multimedia and digital culture in general. The questions posed are many. How can women really be seen to contribute their unique voices to museums using technology to empower them in the museum forum and in the public space? Are women using technology to boost themselves out of the traditional value systems of what should be monuments and memory? Are women using Web logs to proactively create new representations of their lives and histories, the archives of the future?

4. BCSWomen Perspective on Women and Museum Web Sites

Sue Black

BCSWomen ( is a virtual group comprising approximately 450 women, forming a Specialist Group of the British Computer Society, and all working in the IT field. There are similar groups of women in the computing field throughout the world (Black et al., 2005). The group was set up in 2001 to encourage and support women working in IT as they sometimes find themselves isolated within the workplace. Many of these women are specialists in diverse and interesting areas of IT: development, system deployment, network administration, project management, people management, etc. Other women have less specialized roles and fill vital positions, such as the facilitation of communication between the IT specialists and those concerned with the management of the business. Members are based mainly in the UK, with some international members from all around the world.

Members of BCSWomen were asked open-ended questions related to their opinions on museum Websites related to gender, and their responses were grouped according to topic and summarized. Gender-related museum Web sites can have a very important role in documenting and recording the past; the benefit is not only that the lives/stories/histories of women are recorded for posterity, but also that they can be a great inspiration for our generation and for future generations. The main issues that came through from responses were concerning what we look for in a Web site and what helps us to engage with a Web site. Feedback from the BCSWomen group could help Web site designers to improve their design and content from an expert user/gendered point of view.

Brief Survey of Web Sites

A list of suggested Web sites relating to women and museums, including both specific sites and directories of sites, mainly gleaned from Google, and listed in Section 1 above, was sent to the BCSWomen mailing list and comments were requested. Overall sites that BCSWomen liked were:

  • The International Museum of Women (, San Francisco, USA. This site was liked because:
  • International - like that - would delve deeper - a good feel?
  • Appeals to me, good potential?
  • good detail on the museum resources?
  • Five women's museums to know ( Good because it is well spaced out and gives a short detailed account of what the site contains. Bad because it only contains five museum links.
  • I quite like this approach, as it feels more like a personal recommendation - not just a listing
  • DMOZ open directory ( Good because it lists quite a few museums and has some description of what they are. Bad because the combination of the font used and the fact that there are no spaces between entries makes it unfriendly to browse.
  • The most complete listing it seemed, my favourite
  • A special mention needs to be given to the Museum for Menstrual Health ( It was either liked or loathed; there was no in-between. There is a lot of content on this site, much of it very interesting, but the interface is awful. It is obvious that a lot of care has been taken in developing the Web site and for that reason it is a great site, but it could be so much better.


The main conclusions from the group on the women-related sites considered in this study were that content is more important than the look, feel and navigability of a Web site, but of course potential users may be put off by a poorly designed site. It may be that expert users are less likely to be put off than novice users as they have more confidence. So the main criterion for a good site is good content, but that is not all that needs to be considered. Here is our list of top ten factors that influence expert female Internet users in choosing a good Web site:

  1. Quality: If the content of your site is not good then expert users will still probably use your site but you are probably losing some potential users through having a poor interface
  2. Quantity: Make sure that you have enough information; content needs not just to be interesting:there needs to be a reasonable amount of it on the site.
  3. Style: Check out what turns users on and off when it comes to the style of a Web site. Colors, fonts and layout are all very important and if you get it wrong you may be halving your potential audience or worse.
  4. Personal touch: Provide the user with some information that will give them the feeling that the creator of the site actually cared whether the user enjoyed using the site.
  5. Engage: Use photos and real life stories to help women engage with the situation/person being described on the site.
  6. Encourage and inspire: Describe how challenges were overcome to help users relate to the women being described and feel that they can achieve too. Use case studies to empower women; for example, reading about women astronauts may inspire women to a similar career, or maybe just to feel good knowing that there are women astronauts out there.

The above criteria may apply to directory sites, but there are other criteria that need to be taken into account specifically for directory sites:

  1. Advice: It is not enough to just list other sites; directory sites need a bit of added value to be good. Make sure that there is some evaluative content to guide the user as to whether the linked site is worthwhile visiting.
  2. Space: Make sure that there is enough space on the site between listed links; no space for a site with ten links is reasonable, but for forty links is awful to view.
  3. Leveling: Do not put too much information at a high level; a straightforward listing of links to other sites is not enough, but do not go to the extreme opposite and include lots of information at the directory level.
  4. Links: Ensure that the information on the directory page actually has links to other sites and is not just a list of, for example, names of people that then have to be found using a search engine.

Overall it seems that this is a relatively new area for Web site development as most of the sites looked at by BCSWomen seemed quite amateur: nothing like corporate sites which have been upgraded several times since their inception ten or fifteen years ago. Also all of the sites we looked at were based in the USA, with only two mentioning the rest of the world in any real way. BCSWomen have recently been involved in surveying projects that support, encourage and inspire women working in IT around the world (Black et al., 2005). To get a maximum of quality hits on a site, maybe the focus should be to have a more international flavor, but of course this depends on the purpose of the Web site so will not always be appropriate. Having said that, it is really great that these sites exist; we hope many more women-related museum Web sites will be built in the future.

The Internet is a very powerful tool for (among other things) us to learn from and connect with each other. So putting lots of information about women on-lineto educate, encourage and inspire other women is a very worthy task. To quote B.B. King (born 1925):

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you."

Whether it be finding out about females in the military, female astronauts or female cowgirls, Web sites if well designed and produced can really make a difference in women's lives. So the top ten factors identified by BCSWomen and described above are important. Quality and quantity of material, user-friendly style and adding that personal touch may seem like technology-related issues and therefore not critically important in women's lives, but they are part of being able to reach women and change their lives for the better through their empowerment, helping women to educate, inspire and empower themselves and then in turn to do the same for other women. Is this not an issue of critical importance for our generation and future generations of both women and men? So the key question is: how do we make sure that as many women are educated, inspired and empowered as possible?

5. Spanish-Speaking Museum And Archive Web Sites

Clara Baiget and Isabel Bernal

Museums and archives can be seen as physical controlled environments in which primary source artifacts are displayed and/or viewed. A realistic virtual environment needs to reflect both the needs of the user and the existing familiar physical environment, essential in providing a sensory and functional on-line? experience. The sensory experience involves the clean, simple aesthetics of the almost spiritual museum/archive environment, as well as sharp graphical/textual presentation of artifacts. The functional experience entails structural organization and retrieval. These factors both determine and are determined by accessibility.


The nature of most of the Spanish-speaking world encourages a certain degree of accessibility (Bowen, 2004) on both a cultural and a technological level. Assuming the target audience of these sites extends beyond field specialists to the untaught majority, transparent and simple usability and terminology are essential for the Web illiterate lowest common denominator.

Physical disability: Alongside educational inability lies the challenge of physical disability. This needs to be catered for by means of using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); ALT tagged images; minimal scripting, omission of Microsoft Flash (unless disability specified), frames or nested tables (confuses blind software). Coincidentally these issues also contribute to another barrier to accessibility: bandwidth.

Bandwidth: The use of DIV markup and CSS greatly reduces file sizes, so greatly improves the Web experience. The plethora of imagery, lack of ALT tags, deluge of needless code, pointless levels of navigation, hard to find JavaScript navigation and framesets are fairly representative of many of the Spanish speaking archive/museum sites.

An example is the Spanish government's Ministerio de Cultura site ( where to start with, to find the archive search the user needs to drill through five levels of navigation in order to reach it. Once found, the search intelligently offers a text or a map based country selection, but then the popup map which appears contains 140 images (plus rollover images, totaling 280 at 2Kbytes each!) and 2,739 lines of code. In comparison, the alternative could be a 12KB GIF image with accompanying image maps (totaling 40 lines of code); this is thoughtlessly excessive and ignorant to the needs of the Spanish speaking world, especially considering that the majority has very low bandwidth capabilities.

Internationalization: Otherwise known as "i18n" (18 is the number of letters between I and n in the word!), internationalization elaborates on the previously meticulous idea of localization. Whereas this involved creating duplicate pages and sites for different languages, cultures and conventions (textbox sizes, formats, fonts, colors associated with various concepts dependent on the culture, etc.), products should be designed to accommodate these variables easily. In the case of the Web, CSS can achieve most of this by simply using different stylesheets.

Promoted by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) and through several non-profit making initiatives (, internationalization can be attained by the creation of thorough language, interface and documentation standards and templates, stylesheets, efficient update processes and workflow for Web content, culturally acceptable graphics (handling text translation effectively) and much more. After all, not all information sources on the Spanish speaking world are in Spanish!

The State of the Art

In spite of the currently mushrooming number of small innovative and ground-breaking museums inspired by new and original themes, most of them either lack a Web site or have a rather inoperative one. This is a barrier not only to education and awareness, but also to the increased growth and prosperity of the museum or archive and its theme.

In fact, very often only the most renowned museums and state collections together with newly born contemporary art and sciences museums have developed full Web sites. Just a handful of them excel in terms of accessibility, user-friendly content and design, and multilingualism issues (see the next section for examples of this).

The 20th century has represented a great advance within the realm of gender issues in the western world, although it has not yet reached maturity. In Europe the first gender movements and the creation of institutions to give support to women started in the 1930s. Although the first institution for women in Europe was founded in Barcelona, Spain, in 1906 (Escola de la Dona), in the rest of the country there were no initiatives until the 1980s, and these developed during the 1990s. Institutions for women were established, as well as gender studies, in order to disseminate equality programs. Since then, gender has been a very commonly studied topic and as a consequence there has been a documental explosion. In consequence libraries in this field were founded to help add some order, and eventually the Spanish libraries and information centers founded a professional association: Asociación de Centros de Documentación y Bibliotecas de Mujeres 'María Moliner' (

Concerning gender issues in Spanish-speaking museums, all in all there has been an increasing interest in addressing women/gender themes and concerns, mainly by organizing conferences, courses, and temporary exhibits that deal with matters linked to women. However, this gender approach is still in its infancy as it has not become a defining ingredient in museums, since neither their interests nor the specialized bibliography has paid much attention to it. Museums' Web sites reflect this reality in practice.


In Latin America and Spain we can find museums and galleries devoted to children (e.g., in Argentina,, ethnic peoples (e.g., in Peru, costumes (e.g., in Spain,, gold (e.g., in Colombia,, or in Costa Rica,, perfumes (e.g., in Spain,, Sciences and Technology (e.g., in Colombia,, electricity (e.g., in Peru,, glass (e.g., in Mexico,, shoes (e.g., in Spain,, memory (e.g., in Argentina,, textiles (e.g., in Peru, or in Spain,, Amazonian indigenous thought (e.g., in Peru,, the wind (e.g., in Argentina,, the desert (e.g., in Mexico,, the end of the world (e.g., in Argentina, popular arts and traditions (e.g., in Peru and the like.

Multilingualism issues: In Argentina, the Latin American Contemporary Art Museum (; in Spain the Telecommunications Museum (, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation (, and the Arts & Sciences Museum (; in Chile the Anthropology Museum P. Sebastian Englert (; in Mexico the National Museum of Anthropology (, or many Peruvian museums found at the list provided by the Central Reserve Bank Museum Web site (

Actually, many large museums continue to organize their collections and exhibits according to classical chronological and geographical criteria - for instance, the Chilean Museum of Indigenous Art ( in Chile, the Museum Popol Vuh in Guatemala (,or the National Museum of Archaeology in Spain ( - with a clear male bias, which is expressed not only in their choice of themes and artists but also in their approach. By way of illustration, as to the Spanish case scenario, gender issues are not addressed specifically by any museums, and at first glance there is not a single reference or track of gender-related issues whatsoever on the Web sites of some of the most renowned museums, either: The Prado (, ARTIUM (, IVAM (, Guggenheim Museum (, MNAC (, MNCARS (, MACBA (, Thyssen Museum (, to name but a few. The same thing could be said about large Latin American museums, like the Arts Museum ( and the Central Reserve Bank Museum in Peru (, the National Museum in Colombia (, the National Museum in Bolivia (, or the National Museum of Arts in Mexico (

What is more, whenever any gender-related aspect has been incorporated, old fashioned and classical standards, biases and perspectives have prevailed; that is to say, currently temporary exhibits and museum activities that present the woman as a virgin, a saint, a vamp, a goddess, a witch, a nymph or as the obsession of master painters are still legion. For example, the Botero Museum in Colombia houses a collection especially devoted to paintings of women by men (; the Picasso Malaga Museum in Spain ( also contains a rich collection of paintings of women; the Julio Romero de Torres Museum again in Spain ( is totally comprised of his paintings of women, and the Prado Museum organized a temporary exhibition on Goya and women in 2001. This approach, however interesting and valuable, may contribute to neglecting a rich variety of types of women within a historical or modern framework and to perpetuating certain female stereotypes.

This fact is all the more telling as far as History, Anthropology and Fine Arts Museums are concerned, as women's roles, significance and social representation have been clearly relegated to second place, hence giving the impression of a collective memory and cultural legacy made by and for men alone. Moreover, this state of the art may surprise if we take into account that the overwhelming majority of History, Anthropology, Archaeology and Ethnographic Museums present their collections by following thematic criteria which have been historically linked to women very closely, without making any references to them whatsoever or in a rather poor fashion. Thus, it is quite widespread to combine mere chronological or geographical criteria with those which focus on social organizations, pottery, economic relations, costumes, decorative arts, pottery, jewelry, family structures, folklore, technology, textiles, values, religion and magic, iconography, physical anthropology, food, weapons, medicine, and so on.

In this sense, the National History Museum in Chile ( has undertaken a remarkable thematic enhancement by tackling issues such as minorities, mixed racial groups, estates, tenancy, formal education, and family structures. Besides, some Anthropology and Ethnographic and indigenous museums in Latin America merit a mention when considering their efforts in creating more inclusive collections. In fact, not only do they pay much attention to the rich indigenous background of their societies, but they also have recognized the historical and social contribution of women, albeit indirectly and poorly most of the times; by way of illustration, see the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico (, Museum of Archaeology, and the Anthropology and History in Peru (

As to the situation in Chile, the National Libraries, Archives and Museums Organization (Directorio de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos, is responsible for several virtual projects on different themes related to Chilean History and Arts, among which the Chilean Memory Project and the Chilean Plastic Artists outstand due to their efforts in including some gender issues and concerns. Hence, the Chilean Memory Project ( houses a well developed and interesting Web site whose thematic index refers directly and indirectly to gender issues by means of terms such as family and fashion, or by studying remarkable historic female figures, such as the so-called Soldier Nun (Monja Alférez). All these terms are highlighted with a variety of photos, documents, bibliography, chronology, images and links. Also, as part of the Memory Project, we can find the monographic section devoted to the Journal of the Chilean Women Liberation Movement's La Mujer Nueva (,1935-1941), which gives a thorough account of the Chilean feminist movement in the 1930s. For its part, the Chilean Visual Artists Project ( is an initiative by the National Fine Arts Museum ( that aims to give a voice to more than 1,000 Chilean visual artists from the colonial period through nowadays.

Last but not least, in Mexico the on-line bibliographic bulletin Between Myth and Passion: Creative Women in the XXth Century Mexico from the Miguel Lerdo de Tejada Library has gender-driven guidelines (, too.

On the other hand, if we turn to art museums, the under-representation of women artists and gender issues is remarkable once again. Actually, this matter is all the more interesting as when surfing around many of these museums Web sites, let alone their main page, it is difficult to find masterpieces by women artists, references to them or even women-related artworks by men. More concretely, women artists have more frequently received extra attention in contemporary art museums, preferably in the shape of temporary exhibitions: for instance, the MEIAC in Spain (, the Andrs Blaisten Museum in Mexico (,the Contemporary Art Museum ( and the Virtual Art Museum in Chile (, the Virtual Museum of Aesthetics in Colombia (, the Internet Contemporary Art Museum in Bolivia ( and the Latin American Contemporary Art Museum in Argentina ( all include women artists' profiles and their achievements on their Web s.

As mentioned above, the main interest in gender and woman-related themes still is reflected through temporary exhibits, courses and conferences to such a degree that lectures and exhibitions on the representation and the role of women in the arts abound everywhere; by way of illustration, from December 2004 to March 2005, the Malaga Contemporary Art Center ( recently organized the Arts Women Program, exclusively composed of women curators, arts experts, critics and professors in an attempt to analyze the work of women artists in the international arena from theoretical and practical standpoints. The Joan Miró Foundation in Spain ( has just opened the temporary exhibition on Women: The Metamorphosis of Modernity, being composed of more than a hundred works by international contemporary women and men artists; equally, the traveling exhibit in Lima called Divine and Human: the Woman in Historic Peru and Mexico ( has recently opened and runs until April 2005.

Nevertheless, despite the value of such initiatives in the short run, their relevance and significance in the long run remain questionable vis-à-vis museums' planning and interests as they are made in an ad hoc way, temporarily, as if gender issues did not merit a more long-lasting representation and awareness within museums' legacy. What is more, temporary exhibits make little impact on museums Web sites as not much room is left for them; as a result, gender-related issues, together with works by women artists, not only enjoy little relevance from the museums' collections and activities standpoint, but they often go rather unrecognized Web-wise when organized. For instance, the Palace Museum of Fine Arts in Mexico ( has recently prepared a temporary exhibit on Frida Kahlo, yet background on it is scant and information is not accompanied by any image of her work/life or by a virtual tour; the same conclusion can be drawn from the temporary exhibit on Archaeology and Gender made by the National History Museum in Chile ( On the other hand, the virtual visit possible for the temporary exhibit on the works by the designer Pertegaz (, available linked from the Reina Sofia Museum Web site (, provide a wonderful exception.

It is equally worthwhile mentioning the total absence of regular museum activities that either address specific gender issues or are especially made for a female audience. We have not found a single Web site that announces any kind of pedagogic activity for or by women, even though the vast majority of museum Web sites include information about courses, interactive activities, conferences, etc., for specific groups and communities like children, teenagers, students, the elderly, the disabled, the blind, families, teachers and so on.

Types of Archive Sites

There are very few examples of solid, useful, professional archive Web sites in Spanish; the majority consist of a simple informative page which does not reflect the content of the paper archive. Most archive sites can be put into five categories, although the majority are merely informational:


Basic Web sites provide essential information on their archive, such as opening hours, contact details, postal address, directions, access conditions (e.g., Archivo del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores,, services offered, documents available, catalogue, inventories and classification used, availability of the documents per sections, history of the archive (e.g., Archivo General de la Nación, Mexican National Archive,, general information on archives, reference works (e.g., Centro Virtual Cervantes,, cultural activities (e.g., DIBAM, Chilean Institution of promotion of libraries, archives and museums, etc.

Some include more detailed data about the content of the archive, with thorough descriptions accompanied by pictures; e.g., see the Archivo General de la Naciòn, the Peruvian National Archive providing information on their paper archives (

Lists of archives

Many Web sites consist of an index of archives, some listed by topic (Spanish Ecclesiastical Archives,, format (Red Latino Americana de Archivos Sonoros, South American sound archives,, funded by an institution (Spanish government's Ministerio de Cultura archives,, by area - e.g., the Europe-wide Áncora: Directorio de Archivos y Recursos Archivìsticos Europeos (, Archiespa, an index of Spanish archive related sites (, Os arquivos de Galicia, regional information from Galicia, Spain (, etc.

Periodical publications

A great number of periodical publications store and make their volumes available on-lineand refer to them as archives, such as newspapers (e.g., for El Nuevo Herald, a USA Spanish language newspaper, see archives under, journals (Archivos de Zootecnia,, non-paper publications (La Nación, Some of these are free and offer full text (Archivos Argentinos de Pediatría,, others are commercial (Archivos Españoles de Urología, Normally these "archives" use the site to advertise their publication and also to provide the authors' guidelines (Archivos del Instituto de Cardiología de México, Mexican archives on cardiology, With this type of site it is common for all of them to provide an effective search engine to be able to search and browse the publications (Archivos de Bronconeumologia, a good example of a thorough search engine,

On-line topical archives

Independently of the format of the archives' content, whether it is volumes of a journal made available on-line, or merely resources, the majority of archives are on a specific topic. A high number are historical (the Ministerio de Cultura's site, hosts several sites: Archivo General de Simancas, Archivo General de la Guerra Civil Española, etc.), political (Marxists Internet Archive - Spanish section,, on medicine (Archivos del Instituto de Cardiología de México, Mexican archives on cardiology,, film (Archivo Difilm, Argentine Film Archive,, religious (Ecclesiastics Spanish Archives,, among others.

Misuse of the term "archive"

There are a number of Web sites that claim to be Archives but are actually tenuously related to archives; for example, archiving software (Archivo 3000, integrated archival management system,

Some Specific Gender Initiatives

By contrast, whereas gender issues are rather neglected by national history, art, ethnographic, archaeological and sciences museums, some small museums and galleries have emerged over the years dealing with the life and achievements of specific women. Such museums are devoted to famous women like writers, political figures, saints, queens or artists, namely, the Museum of Emilia Pardo Bazàn, Rosalìa de Castro, Queen Catholic Museum and the Saint Teresa de Jesùs Museum in Spain (all without Web sites); in Argentina, the Evita Museum ( contains a rich collection of Evita's costumes, personal and family objects and graphic material, while the Evita House Museum ( shows the place where she was born and spent her childhood, and is coupled with a collection of photos from her entire life and of political discourses. In Chile we can mention the Gabriela Mistral Museum ( and now the Cardoen Foundation is responsible for the creation of the Violeta Parra Museum, due to open soon ( Mexico, the Frida Kahlo House Museum is only accessible through a very simple Web, and last but not least the Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz House Museum does not have a Web site.

Finally, there are a few ongoing initiatives in some Latin American countries with the purpose of creating museums on women and women's history. Among them, the Women's Museum project in Mexico, under the auspices of the FEMU (Mexican University women's Federation), was proposed recently and intends to become a cultural center for the promotion of human rights for women. In order to do this, the project foresees the creation of a permanent Mexican Women's Museum in Mexico City, enriched with a library on diverse gender issues, and with a wide array of multidisciplinary activities including theatre, dance, cinema, concerts, conferences and courses. Its Web site is currently under construction ( On the other hand, the idea of creating a Peruvian Woman Museum by the Association Museum of the Memory of the Peruvian Woman has been in the air for the last decade without being implemented yet; the above mentioned Divine and Human: the Woman in Historic Peru and Mexico exhibition has been a preliminary and polemic step towards it ( Again in Peru, there are mentions of two gender-related Web sites that do not work any more ( and

For its part, the Museum of Stones in Venezuela is an open air museum of ecological art that pays homage to women by approaching nature with the five human senses; during their visit, men have to go accompanied by at least one woman (

To end, we mention the Spanish virtual project E-Vírgenes as an example of how women-related issues can be addressed in a subversive way through the use of new technologies ( This recent experiment is composed of two complementary digital projections that recreate the archetypes of both the European and Pan-American Evas. By using new technologies, they attempt to establish parallels between textiles (seen as memories, codes of peoples) and software; textiles mills and wheels (representing the underpinning tradition of old women) and hardware; dots and laces (the basics of their alphabet) and pixels; and finally, religiosity (embodied in prayers) and wetware.

Suggestions and Recommendations

  • On the whole, museum programs and exhibits intend to contribute to positive social, economic and political change. This task is all the more clear when talking about gender issues as beyond artistic, social and technological considerations, it should be an ethical requirement to give a voice to women's communities in all kinds of cultural institutions. Nowadays, primarily male artists are featured in museums, whereas the names, works and views of most women artists go unrecognized. The same could be said about women's achievements in general or women's collectives in particular.
    In a way, this short overview of the relative absence of gender issues in Spanish speaking museum collections and activities and their Web site sheds much light on how these societies (in our case, Latin American and Spanish ones) tackle female matters. Moreover, results are not surprising given that feminist movements and political actions in favor of women's empowerment and recognition are a quite new phenomenon in all these countries; by the same token, the recent growing interest in the indigenous background aspects of Latin American societies directly responds to social needs, interests and pressures. Discrimination in gender issues in museums should be attacked by showing the role of women in society, both historically and currently (for instance, in the fields of politics, history, work, education, government, sexuality, science, arts, literature, family, business, law, social and community service, war, sports, and media).
  • Thus, in the pursuit of these objectives museums should broaden their thematic interests; link the exhibition of existing topics to women's contributions, and enrich their material legacy by turning to largely neglected women-related items such as specific artifacts and technology, graphics, literary and artistic works, crafts, writings, houses, iconography, and so on. For these, some progress has already been made as many museums collections revolve around a handful of topics which have a close relation to women; History and arts museums often organize their collections and material heritage into several thematic divisions such as landscape, city life, portraits, religion, textiles, pottery, jewelry, costumes, rural economy, family nurture, music, folklore, physical anthropology, metals, decorative arts, and organic material, for instance. Regardless of clear women's roles in all these, mention of gender is scarce.
  • This commitment poses many questions as to how women's identity and their roles in the community have been shaped; that is to say, in order to address this matter, one has to keep in mind many questions.Should it be a stereotypical or an evolving identity? How do women look at themselves? How do different cultures and societal models define and value women? How are womanhood and femininity understood? Is there a gender or woman-friendly way of designing Web sites? To what degree can the Internet become a subversive tool in the museum environment? How many women work as museum Web designers, managers and curators? A surprising fact here is that the overriding presence of professional women in this field in both Latin America and Spain has not eased the incorporation of gender-oriented concerns in museums planning and presentations.
  • Apart from museum courses, conferences, workshops, etc., devoted to women-related issues, museums should diversify efforts leading to a full incorporation of gender concerns on their agenda; for instance, by proposing interactive activities aimed at the female public or about gender-related themes. Temporary exhibits that deal with gender issues should be accessible on the Web, and permanent collections concerning women's matters should be encouraged.

For some Spanish-language papers on women in computing and libraries, see elsewhere (Cachero, 1999; Fraile, 2000); Sanchis Perez & Latorre Zacares, 1999).


The following additional sources were used in researching this section, which may be of interest to readers:

6. Museums and Women in Italy

Teresa Numerico

The presence of the Italian museums on the Web is not very significant at the moment. In fact, according to research recently published based on museums in Emila Romagna (a region that can be considered one of the most developed areas in Italy, both from the socio-cultural and from the economic point of view) only 80 of the 390 museums of the area have a Web site (Carlini, 2003). This means that four-fifths of the museums in a culturally rich area do not have any presence on-line. This gives a flavor of the poor situation of on-line activities of cultural heritage institutions.

According to another very recent survey (Bollo, 2004) on the visitors to museums in Lombardia (another rich region in the north of Italy), there are more women (52.2%) than men (47.8%) that visit. This shows that women are in general more sensitive to cultural offerings in general and to museums in particular. These results confirm results of various other surveys on Italian museum audiences that register a prevalence of women with percentages that vary between 55% and 65% (Solima, 2000; Solima & Bollo, 2002).

It is also clear that the culturally refined and highly educated (70% have a university degree) users of Italian museums tend to be disappointed by the communication offered on-line and off-line by museums (Bollo, 2004). If we consider the on-line offerings of museums or exhibitions explicitly dedicated to women, we can understand the reasons for the disappointment very easily. The available on-line content is not only very poor in term of usability (not to mention issues related to accessibility that are not taken into any account), but also very traditional with regard to the vision and image of women in society. The woman is represented following the oldest stereotypes of mother and housewife, concerned mainly with her beauty and fashion styles. There is no space given for the history of the battle for equal opportunities and the struggle for female rights that started around the beginning of the century.

A unique interesting example of a museum dedicated to female artists is the Museo Internazionale della Donna nell'Arte (Mida, In this museum's Web site (the real museum is based in Scontrone, Abruzzo) it is possible to find information about women artists and some samples of their work. The Web site is not particularly rich in content; it is more a companion providing information support for the physical museum, but it is attractive and elegant from the graphical point of view and it reflects attention to women as culture producers and art makers, not only confined to their family roles.

Another Italian museum dedicated to women is the Museo della Donna (, based in Merano, Alto Adige, also discussed earlier in the section on Feminine design stereotypes. This Web site shows the content of the museum, concentrated on a historical account of the condition of women, covering topics like the ideal of feminine beauty, women as slaves, the roles of the women in private life, women and jobs. The idea of the museum is to create and keep documents on women organized by women but accessible to all sorts of audiences, in order to provide a contribution to the study of women's conditions through the construction and the enrichment of a physical place like a museum. The on-line content is conceived mainly as an informative tool for the offline initiatives provided in the physical exhibition space.

Another museum about women whose presence is only mentioned on-line is the Museo della Donna e del Bambino (, located in Mazzano, Brescia, Lombardia. This museum is only mentioned in the general Web site for the city of Brescia ( It is dedicated to women and their small children, giving a very traditional perspective of the concerns of a woman, like dresses, family and house. The Web information is only to inform potential visitors of the area that there is this museum; it is not maintained by the museum directly.

The on-line presence of Italian museum offerings dedicated expressly to women is almost all described here. From this survey, it is very clear that it would be really worthwhile to undertake some initiatives to increase the awareness of women about their history, their heritage and their role in the development of Italian society from cultural, social and economic perspectives. The self-consciousness acquisition process of women is only at an early starting point in Italy, at least on-line. What, if anything, should we do to accelerate the process of increasing on-line material?

7. The Artifact of the Month

Wera Grahn

As a part of my dissertation I have examined the privileged meaning (Hall, 1997:228) of gender in some objects displayed at the Web site of the Nordiska Museet (, the leading museum of cultural history in Sweden. On their site they have an on-line exhibition called The Artifact of the Month. This is a phenomenon where the museum each month, and sometimes every other month since 1998, selects one or several objects characteristic of the museum's collection.

I have analyzed how these artifacts are related to the concepts of femininity and masculinity and in what ways they give them substance (Grahn, 2003).The main result is that the notions convey a very stereotyped version of what it can mean to be a woman or a man. This means reducing people to a few, simple, essential characteristics which are represented as fixed by Nature (Hall, 1997:257). The hierarchy of binary-ordered values of modernity seems to be at work (Hooper-Greenhill, 1992 & 2000; Bennett, 1995; Pearce, 1997; Arcadius, 1997a & b; Ek-Nilsson 1999; Ravin 2000)

The on-line exhibition is particularly interesting because it forms a narrative which is not accidental, as one of a few occasional exhibitions easily could be. It conveys a long time line that has been built up by many different employees during several years. The narratives put forward form a pattern or, put in another way, form gender scripts (Berg & Lie, 1993; Oudshoorn, 1995 & 1996; Oost, 1995 & 2000; Hubak 1996; Oudshoorn et al., 2002).

Men that were linked to The Artifact of the Month were mostly represented as active subjects. Generally they were represented as successful professionals:businessmen, inventors, skilful craftsmen, authors or officers. They were widely traveled, sometimes with adventure in view, and many had experienced hardship. Words like success, prosperity, experienced, exact, innovation, distributed all over the world, direct hit, great demand, rapid sale accompany the texts of the artifacts. For the most part, men are given surnames as well as first names. Titles and dates of birth and death in most cases follow the descriptions. Likewise, the specific place they were connected to is named. Biographies of several men can be found. These artifacts are also frequently explained in a wider context, with signification sometimes for a specific area and sometimes for society as a whole.

Women, on the other hand, are represented as comparatively passive, and they get a leading part in the private space at home where they among other things embroider and play with a doll with the name Mamma (i.e., Mother). If the women ever did paid labor, we hardly ever get to know about it. The only example of women working that is mentioned is modesties. Though they were only being busy with this, not working as most of the men are. Women were almost always only given first names and no last name. But we constantly get to know if they were married or not, information rarely mentioned about the men. Women's relation and even non-relation to children are also given prime attention. That never happens to men. Several women were described as interested in fashion and textiles of different kinds; that seems to be the favorite object to connect to women. On more than one occasion women were presented as victims: an orphan living at an orphanage, a survivor of the holocaust or a homeless woman. Most of the women only get a first name. Date of birth and death is not as frequent given as for the men. Women are not linked as often to a specific geographic location, and their lives do not get the same detailed biographic attention. Their stories are hardly ever connected to the development of a specific local area or with the society as a whole.

In short, men are represented as active, autonomous subjects conquering the big world outside, while women are represented as passive objects in the little world at home or as victims lacking a home.

But it is not only the content given to the concepts of femininity and masculinity that creates and reinforces the images of women as subordinate and men as superior. The number of objects assigned to each group is also of importance. For the period examined, from the start in October 1998 until October 2001, thirteen objects were linked to narratives in which men played the principal part. The text of five other artifacts also centered on men, although the items were traditionally surrounded by female connotations. Three of the objects might possibly be described as neutral in relation to gender; neither men nor women were being named in these texts and no direct linkages were made to a male or female sphere. In total, only seven artifacts could be found where women got to play a principal part. In percentage terms, this means men were given the main attention in 64% of the cases, and woman only in 25% of cases.

This seems to be somewhat strange as the main part of the museum's collection consists of objects associated with a traditionally female sphere (Berg, 1996; Hammarlund-Larsson 1998:208f). This is something that the museum has not preferred to emphasize in The Artifact of the Month. On the contrary most of the objects have been linked to men and masculinity. That is where the main focus is. A relation with a man seems to be the predominant norm for the chosen items.

At a first glance, and if the artifacts are seen one by one, this rigid matrix might not be noticed. But with a closer look, it all becomes manifest. A gender script exists that rules the discourse of the museum. The problem is that gender relations in the past have actually never been that conventional. The materials in many collections of most museums show this, as well as the growing mass of studies produced by scholars of Women's Studies all over the world.

In a striking manner, the grand narrative of modernity seems to be articulated over and over again. The illusion of the museum as a part of the modern project is being reinforced. And it is constantly reproducing and legitimating asymmetrical relations between men and women. This is what makes the modern narrative profoundly problematic.

This story unfortunately seems not to be an isolated Swedish phenomenon. Internationally the same pattern appears to apply. Work by Haraway (1989), Porter (1987 & 1995), Losnedahl (1993), Glaser & Zenetou (1994) and Oudhoorn et al. (2002) should especially be mentioned among many others. But how widely spread is the knowledge, the awareness and the will to change this gender bias in representations among museum staff? Can Web exhibitions be an important medium to change these stories? If so, how can this be done?

8. Gender and On-line Gaming

Ann Borda

On-line (also known as Web-based) games are generally available through a Web-only interface or by download. A common form of on-line game is a Java-based applet played through a Web browser. The most popular sites for Web-based and downloadable games include Electronic Arts', a division of (, Real's Real One Arcade (, (, Yahoo! Games ( and Microsoft's The Zone ( All of these sites have similar traffic patterns, averaging several million unique users a month.

Due to the accessibility and popularity of these games, the size of the on-line games audience is growing rapidly as more mainstream users are buying computers and going on-line. In addition, the introduction of on-line-enabled consoles continues to add millions of on-line game players, and this has inevitably changed the overall demographics of the market. New games enter the on-line arena daily at thousands of sites worldwide, with the South Koreans particularly noted for leading a game culture of developers (and players!) as well as leading in the upcoming mobile content market (for example, see:

In terms of 'types' of players, the mass-market on-line game players are the largest segment of on-line gamers. This segment is defined as users who primarily play free on-line games such as word, puzzle games (e.g., Cubis, Collapse, and Mahjong Solitaire), card, board, casino (not gambling) and games based on TV game shows (e.g., The Price is Right, Jeopardy, The Weakest Link, etc.).

There are a number of sites that regularly provide statistics related to the gaming market and which measure the 'pulse' of the gaming scene, mostly in the US, but with summary figures for countries worldwide. Among these sites are PC Data On-line (, NPD Techworld (, comScore Media Metrix (, and the Entertainment Software Association ( Between them, they reported figures of an estimated 31 million casual PC on-line game players in 2002, and that number now has grown to a conservative average of 55 million in 2004.

Women in Gaming Surveys

Concurrent with these figures, in recent years there has a been a noted rise in women taking up what has been perceived as a male domain, namely the playing of on-line and computer games (Ray, 2003). Two national surveys in the USA have further consolidated this position. The Entertainment Software Association survey (1) tallied that half of all Americans play computer and video games, with women making up the second largest group of gamers. Summary findings are as follows:

  • Men aged 18 and older: 38%
  • Women aged 18 and older: 26%
  • Boys aged 6 to 17: 21%
  • Girls aged 6 to 17: 12%

In the comprehensive AOL Games' Casual Games Report, conducted by Digital Marketing Services (DMS), it was revealed that of those who play games on the Web, women over 40 in the USA play most often and spend the greatest number of hours per week doing so, beating out both men and teens. Despite the fact that men spend more time on the Internet each week than women (23.2 vs. 21.6 hours), female game-players over 40 spend the most hours per week playing on-line games (9.1 hours or 41% of their on-line time vs. 6.1 hours or 26% of their on-line time for men). These women were also more likely to play on-line games daily than men or teens of either gender.

The survey summarizes that female gamers' top reasons for playing on-line games were for enjoyment or to relieve stress, whereas male game players were far more likely than women (35% vs. 29%) to enjoy the competition factor of Internet gaming. Additionally, more men than women said that they play to increase their skill levels such as in massive multiplayer on-line games (MMOGs).

The type of games that men and women play differs as well. More male players prefer casino, arcade, sports games and other types of competitive on-line entertainment than females. Women players, however, have a much stronger preference for word and puzzle games.

A smaller segmented survey of College students in the USA is not dissimilar in its findings. According to the Pew College Students Gaming survey (Jones, 2003), among the sample surveyed of college students, women reported playing computer games the most (32%), followed by Internet games (15%), and men reported playing video games the most (53%).

Women and Gaming Communities

It is not surprising in view of these survey findings that there is a synergistic rise in the establishment of Web sites dedicated to women gamers and their interests. Sites such as WomenGamers.Com ( and GameGirlAdvance ( are but a few that support an expanding community. GameGirlAdvance is a Web log (Blood, 2002) and on-line journal that brings alternative perspectives to videogame culture with a focus on girls and women. presents the largest women's gaming portal on the Internet and has even opened a game consulting division that "expands the $6.3 billion market opportunity of the interactive entertainment industry by specifically addressing the needs of a currently untapped and eager market segment - women."

The female state of play in the gaming arena is reflected by Taylor (2003), where the issue of gender and computer games is explored by examining the growing population of women in Massive Multiplayer On-line Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) environments ( the numbers of women playing these games do not outnumber the numbers of men, officials at the three major MMORPGs (Asheron's Call, Ultima On-line and EverQuest) counted women players at 20-30% at the time of a 2001 study (Laber, 2001).

Taylor (2003) further investigates what are traditionally seen as masculine spaces and seeks to understand the variety of reasons women might participate (Bryce & Rutter, 2003). Through ethnographic and interview data, the themes of social interaction, mastery and status, team participation, and exploration are considered as compelling activities female gamers are engaging in, in on-line environments.

Gaming and Education

The long-standing relationship between education and gaming should not be ignored in this context. This encompasses the gender interaction that has generated studies by social and behavioral psychologists, and not least the examination of sex roles in software games (Cassell & Jenkins, 1998). Of similar relevance to this discussion is growth in studies that have investigated the use of video games to draw girls into computer and ICT learning (Gorriz & Medina, 2000), and the study of girls playing video and on-line games and the subsequent design and educational considerations of such games (Huff & Cooper, 1987; Kafai, 1996).

In the UK, there is a national initiative led by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta, in the establishment of a Computer Games in Education (CGE) project to investigate the potential of integrating elements of game design and technology into software for education ( Becta has already commissioned a number of investigative reports about the use of games to support wider learning aims (; for instance, The Sims was used with Key Stage 3 (11-14 year olds) and Key Stage 4 (14-19 year olds) pupils (mainly boys) in a special school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. The game was primarily intended to support elements of the ICT curriculum; however, it also provided a platform for collaborative work and positive discussions about relationships (

Computer and video games development itself can be traced back more than 40 years to early experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. Within the UK Higher Education institutions alone, a growing number of courses, and modules within courses, concern games programming, design, and related disciplines (Kirriemiur, 2003). A report by the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) uncovered strong links between many academic games courses and research groups, and local games development companies (DTI, 2001).

Web sites like WomenGamers.Com and that for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA, are targeted at the professional game developer community and affiliated organizations. IGDA, in particular, has a cross-disciplinary membership, encompassing international members in academic departments and software companies, as well as individual developers and subject professionals.

Gaming and Museum Web Sites

Whereas there is a general lack of gender studies in regard to the specific use of museum Web sites (2), the on-line environment has democratized much of what has been tagged with gender bias in a physical environment, like the area of game play as described above. Museums have also recognized games as a means of drawing in children and adults, regardless of gender, for learning and engagement. Exhibition designers regularly incorporate games in galleries and exhibitions, and these are often repurposed for the Web.

A non-scientific survey conducted by the author of museums listed on the Virtual Library of Museum pages (VLmp) directory (3), suggests that there is a fair take-up of on-line games (4) as both educational and entertaining features/resources on museum Web sites (approx. 60% of those surveyed incorporated an on-line game; about 25% have dedicated sections to games and activities). Such games are mainly targeting children, and their focus is primarily to aid in the illustration of certain processes or facts, and/or to provide context to objects and collections.

Significantly, the general popularity of on-line games, as figures have shown, is perhaps reflected in the presence of several museum portal sites on interactives and games. The Smithsonian has a children's portal ( almost all dedicated to game activities around thematic collections and exhibitions of the constituent Smithsonian museums, like the National Museum of American History. The Virtual Museum of Canada has similarly created a games-only section based around the collections of its national consortium of museums (, and the 24 Hour Museum ( in the UK has a children's Web site ( containing games and activities linked to museums and gallery resources.

There are also individual examples which immerse the older viewer (teens and adults) in a game world; for example, based around the physical museum itself. A particular case in point is the Shooting Gallery devised by Stephen Manthorp, Special Projects Manager of Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford (UK). Manthorp headed an audience development initiative to increase awareness of the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery ( among young people.

Manthorp's Shooting Gallery project set out to turn Cartwright Hall into a background arena or "map" for the popular on-line computer game Unreal Tournament (, one of the world's most popular on-line and single player video games. Unreal Tournament comes with a wide range of professionally designed maps. However, the PC version of Unreal Tournament includes a free software tool, UnrealEd, which purchasers can use to create their own maps. Subsequently, Manthorp commissioned game developers to create a map using this tool, and the result became a success story in profiling the Gallery among both young male and female gamers and potential visitors to the physical (and virtual!) site (Heal, 2004; Manthorp, 2004).

In a comparable initiative, the WeeGee building in Tapiola in Finland is in a state of reconstruction to house three museums, as well as the home of Cartes (The Computer Arts Centre in Espoo). Designed by Aarno Ruusuvuori in the 1960s, the building is a former printing works and a hallmark of Finnish Industrial Architecture and Constructivism. During the course of the building renovation (to be completed in 2005), a team developed Virtual WeeGee, a 3D model of the WeeGee building, and an interactive game based on Max Payne, a popular Finnish computer game. Two architecture students undertook the visualization and a Cartes curatorial member of staff assisted in the script and in collecting old photographs from archives on the history of WeeGee and Espoo. The resulting project is an on-line game of intrigue and includes a ghost story based on the diary of a former worker in the printing works (see project Web site,

Importantly, the use of on-line games in museums can do more than engage individuals; it has the potential to build communities (Beler et al., 2004), much like in the MMORPG environments. This is touched upon in a recent article in the Museums Journal (Holland & Flagg, 2004). Here the authors comment on the premise that the museum context provides structures that help visitors to make connections between objects. However, according to the authors, museums do not take full advantage of context in relation to the building of communities of learners.

The article draws on the concept of the multi-user virtual learning environment where the learning is situated in a virtual context and many people (both genders) can simultaneously experience, interact with, and contribute to, the virtual world and its visitors. An example of such a virtual environment is River City, a fictional 1880s American city which utilizes museum artifacts in a fictional context based on fact, and where the interactive setting resembles a computer game (

Indeed, museums are in a good position to recognize and exploit more fully the influence and value of on-line games. It can already be seen that games can readily engage and motivate users/learners - a fact possibly borne out by the number of museums utilizing games on their Web sites. However, the Internet, with its many offerings, is a competitive environment that requires museums to have a unique, leading and authoritative on-line presence. This might be in part achieved by a considered understanding of the gaming market and what is attracting large segments of on-line users, a statistically wide and rich community that goes across genders, age groups and geography.

Finally, it is essential to exchange 'real' experiences in this area by the museum community itself and to ask questions which may more expertly address the deployment and development of on-line games for their respective audiences. A set of questions to prompt further discussion and debate in the course of this forum is provided below (5). For further reading, see (6).


(1) Source: Peter D. Hart Research Associates randomly surveyed 806 adults nationwide. They reported 1,048 computer or video-game players. This survey, done on behalf of the Entertainment Software Association, reported a plus or minus 3.5% margin of error (reprinted in See also ESA (2003).

(2) This multi-author paper and forum will aim to address the lack of representation and to contribute to a body of knowledge through several synergistic and thematic areas, comprising research and observation.

(3) The author randomly selected museums representing three continents: Europe, Australasia and North America to a total of 42 from the Virtual Library museums pages (

(4) An on-line game, as defined by the author, encompassed puzzles, word games and interactives that involved some level of skill or dexterity.

(5) Forum questions:

  • Should gender be a focus for museums when considering the inclusion of on-line games on their Web sites? Does it matter?
  • Have any museums noted a change in demographics or audience reach (e.g., gender/culture/age) to their site as a result of incorporating on-line games?
  • Do any museums have experience of added value by including games on their Web sites?
  • Are any museums creating dedicated games-related pages as a result of their experience?
  • Have any museums decided not to include games on their sites? Why?
  • Do museums have any successes/failures to share in the development and/or use of on-line game?

(6) The following additional sources were used in researching this section and may be of interest: Culp & Honey (2002); Funk & Buchman (1996); Greenfield (1994); Groppe (2001); Inkpen et al. (1994); Ivory & Wilkerson (2002); Miller et al. (1996); Okagaki & Frensch (1996); Pinckard (2003); Roberts et al. (1999); Robinson-Stavely & Cooper (1990); Schott & Horrel (2000); Sherry et al. (2003); Subrahmanyam & Greenfield (1998); Thomas & Walkerdine (2000); Vered (1998); Woodard & Gridina (2000). See also an on-linelist of relevant references (

9. Conclusion

"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."
         - Gloria Steinem (born 1934)

This eclectic forum is designed to consider open questions with regard to gender issues and museum Web sites. In the paper, as well as a general introduction, we have considered design issues and the use of technology such as Web logs by women. We have also considered the situation in a number of countries, with an informal survey of UK women, together with an overview of Web sites in Spanish-speaking countries, Italy, and also a single case study of a Swedish museum. Finally, we have looked more to the future with the area of on-line gaming. A significant number of references are also included for supplementary reading.

It is hoped that the discussion in this forum could lead to further work in considering the issues for this area. For example, a much more formal survey could be undertaken. Anyone with an interest in this field is welcome to contact any of the authors to continue the discussion!


Thank you to Roxane Bernier, Université de Montréal, Canada (, our virtual muse, for advice. Nadia Blinova undertook research into Russian museum-related Web sites. The Leverhulme Trust, UK (, the Università di Salerno, Italy ( and Museophile Limited, UK ( all provided additional financial support to help with attendance of authors.


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Cite as:

Bowen, J. P., et al., Gender Issues and Museum WebSites, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at