January 31, 2017

January 31, 2017

“There is nothing inevitable in the way technologies evolve.”

Hawthorn and Klein say that “cyberfeminism […] is a developing philosophy and in order for it to progress it is essential that the past is not forgotten.  The rhetoric of feminists past work must be converted into a digital form so that it will be better available to cyberfeminists.  I do not mean to say that the information cyberfeminists tap into are only digital in origin but it becomes easy to find oneself defined by their tools.  Here, I refer back to Gladwell’s argument about face-to-face activism: participants are defined by their causes and their tools.  The world wide web makes activism appear easy because of its power as a networking tool but real personal community networks are only taken at face value as a conservative method because they lack the glamor of today’s technology.  This glamor has the potential to blind us to the tools that favor its production and thereby bind us to particular methods.  It is as if technology gaslights us into believing that the old activism and all the methods that fostered it are out of date and don’t work.

Hawthorn and Klein ask what may be the most important question about the world wide web, a question that feminists have asked about every other apparatus that the dominant ideology has presented them with as a tool to dismantle the master’s house with[1] Who is governing? Digital feminism, despite its ability to reach a wide cross-section of people, may be creating an artificial authenticity because as a replication of human interactions it can only span half the distance between reality and non-reality; the remaining distance must be traversed by rhetoric and the subject, both of which are laden with apperceptions about what is “real” according to ideology.  When Stephen Crane’s characters Maggie and Pete go to the theater, Maggie sees the stage performance as “transcendental realism” as if somewhere out in that wide world she has never been able to experience for herself the performance exists authentically.  The theater is analogous to the millions of people who log onto the internet every day; they “substitute a plurality of copies for a unique experience” participating in what Walter Benjamin calls a “simultaneous contemplation” that distracts us from everyday provincial life just the theater distracted Maggie and Pete from their pitiful existence in the Barrows. But it is done so at many levels.  Pete distracts Maggie with the theater to achieve his own ends, but the larger apparatus of the theater also distracts Pete from achieving a larger one – the subjugation of a populace.

It is imperative that we remember who developed the internet and think critically of its motives.  Those “coevolutionary possibilities … between women and technology” that seemed to blossom in the 1990’s is as romantic a notion as the love affair between Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.  Released in 1942, Casablanca was a production not only of Warner Brothers, but the United States government as a propaganda effort to bolster support for another war with Germany.  The feminist movement is not a propaganda movement per se, but it can appear that way and since “any information loaded on the internet is public property and can be used or misused by anyone” no one, especially the feminists, forget the potential they have to destroy themselves.

The center quilting point of Judy Wajcman’s opinion on technofeminism is that technology is a function of human social interaction.  So is ideology.  If technology can be seen as a means to achieve ideals, then it is imperative that where those ideals are coming from be examined critically.  Just because something is an ideal in a particular context does not guarantee it power.  Mainstream ideals occupy the apex spot in the hierarchy because they are those of the dominant hegemony.  If the internet is to be “seen as beyond the control of any one group […and…] open to women for their own social and political purposes” one has to disregard its existence within an ideological apparatus that is highly gendered.  That it is just as likely to be used as “a means to evade social regulation, entrench political control, and concentrate economic power is a far more logical agenda, though the tactics of those in power are more often subversive rather than overt. That the world wide web’s purpose is to encourage unity and equality is ostensible. This would overturn the authority of the ruling hegemony.

Here I find it important to refer back to digital rhetoric.  If “technology is both a source and consequence of gender relations” the rhetoric that describes and performs it is a de facto source and consequence of gender relations as well.  Thus one might suppose that the ability to place “emphasis on the contingency and heterogeneity of technological change” in order to facilitate social change lies in the rhetorical tools and methods used.



[1] Audre Lorde


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