Let the Big Frog Eat You.

March 20, 2017

I recently wrote a piece concerning the affirmative action policies of the University of Texas at Austin and whether the policy was congruent with the compelling interest of the nation.  Robert Putman cited his own study about the Community Benchmark Survey.  This study looked at inter-racial relations in newly integrated communities, and he found that initial contact between diverse populations “triggered both lower inter-racial trust and trust in people of the respondent’s own race”, but that over time the “creation of a more inclusive social identity” will be achieved.  He uses the United States army as an example, affirmative action and anti-discrimination policies have created an environment where soldiers have “closer inter-racial friendships than [those of] the average American citizen” and the feminist movement should take notes. It is only through talk that the rhetoric of the past is negated into the rhetoric of the future.  Jane Addams tells a story about an argument she once heard in support of segregation when a little frog was introduced to a big frog the big frog ate it.  On the face of it, it appears that it is in the best interest of little frogs to keep their distance, for their own safety – WOC feminists should avoid walking through the gates of academic feminism at all costs or they are sure to be devoured and forgotten.  But the allegory of the frog is not as simple as all that, “that [is] exactly what we want[] – to be swallowed and digested, to disappear into the bulk of the people”, we want to become one.  If the rule is that “intentions never matter” becomes the new status quo then we will simply stop talking, or worse, keep talking past each other.

Trigger warnings are dangerous no matter who authorizes them; they create a zero-sum game where there are too many losers and society as a collective can’t win.  By refusing to forgive those who wound with privilege we magnifying anger and weaponize it.  As Audre Lorde said, “we can articulate them with precision” if we have the courage to do so by, “listening to the content of what is being said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves” it doesn’t have to kill us.  This requires a willingness to understand, on both sides, not trigger warnings that make it too easy to hide from a difficult statement or word – even when it is associated with trauma.  The only way to overcome trauma is to face it, not all at once with bravado and adrenaline but humbly and with patience.  We cannot turn from anger, we have every right to be angry, feminism is scary sometimes and that fear is what is making us fight back, but we cannot tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools – authorization or denunciation.  We must become Quixote poets, who “can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been”, using twitter, tumbler, blogs, every digital platform out there, and stop creating historians who write about history “not as it should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting from the truth” by authorizing some and denouncing others.  Digital media is a key to the city the gatekeepers stand guard over.  Walk right in and let it digest you, become part of the movement.

“What it’s Like”

March 14, 2017

In 1998 Everlast released the song “What it’s like” off his Whitey Ford Sings the Blues album.  The song wasn’t a die-hard chart topper like Next, Brandy and Monica, or Shania Twain but the song was picked up by radio stations that didn’t typically play the music Everlast was known for, Hip-hoppy rap with a touch of the blues.  It addresses homelessness, abortion, violence, drugs, and poverty but above all the fallibility of the human being.

I’ve seen a rich man beg I’ve seen a good man sin
I’ve seen a tough man cry
I’ve seen a loser win and a sad man grin
I heard an honest man lie
I’ve seen the good side of bad and the downside of up
And everything between
I licked the silver spoon drank from the golden cup
And smoked the finest green
I stroked the fattest dimes at least a couple of times
Before I broke their heart
You know where it ends, yo, it usually depends on where you start 

The song is a poignant social commentary on how we make assumptions about others based on our position in life.

So often in life, we find ourselves in an argument where we are simply talking past each other even though we are talking about the same thing.  Consider the word clouds from LaTonya L. Sawyer’s piece “All in Together Girls…”, the top five keywords, by grouping, were Beyonce, feminist, feminism, black, and women in all three.  But for academic feminists notice the word “just”; for homegrown feminists notice the word “being”; for middle feminists notice the word “about”.  Each group was coming from a different position.  Maybe just was about justice but it’s easy to assume that being is about just that being a black woman and living feminism from your perspective and maybe the word about characterizes an argument that is trying to reconcile the differences between two very different vantage points through understanding.

Of course what is most important in all of this is that a discussion can be had about a discussion that could not have been had been it not for the online medium.  So many conflicting voices would have never been heard (even if they weren’t always listened to) if blogs didn’t exist.   Some feminists saw Beyonce as a “bottom bitch” while others saw her as a “free and fully realized woman” and they are both right…but they are also both wrong.  Beyonce is sharing something with the American public in the same way that mommy bloggers are: experiences.  The album and the blogs share the same themes “finding community and looking for economic power” and simply categorizing them as doing one or the other alienates those that are looking for one or the other and those that are looking for both.  Online expression as blogs, Tumblr threads, or music are part of the “evolution of community” is it safe to categorize views that we don’t explicitly agree with as sub-standard? “We live in an era in which people distrust institutions, but there is an increasing trust of each other,” says Elisa Camahort Page and this begs an important question about academic feminism.  Is it becoming an institution?  When Alana Jones went searching the internet for personal connection and found none she realized she had to make those connections herself.  She created a place where her “intersecting identities” could be acknowledged by “challenging privilege and exploring and centering” her identity.  Does academic feminism do that, and if that is the goal, is it doing it well?

Blogs are amazingly characterized by Andi Schwartz as “participation in counterdiscourse” that does not require the safe places or trigger warnings that prevent people from expanding their consciousness because they do not censor the “normative” which is a nice social word for the institutionalized standards of ideology.  Ideals are wonderful concepts but they are not standards, they are too abstract and impossible to realize since they are always in flux.  The first definition of the word “queer” is something strange or odd; I prefer the synonym curious. When Schwarz says that “queer lives depend on the existence of queer space” they are not just talking about femmes or anyone else in the LGBTQ community – to see it that way is reading past their words – they are talking about anyone that is not strictly normative and when you really think about it from the perspective of human fallibility and individuality, that is all of us.

February 28, 2017

 

In order for feminists to gain the authority to speak the discourse of society, the “patriarchal structure” of it must be subverted says, Liz Lane.  So feminists X+1, that is we speak outside of “the expected social codes” with X being the discourse and 1 being the tapestry and the result is that we achieve the same as our male counterparts, but we must expend more energy to do so (goodness knows weaving an entire tapestry is harder on the fingers than typing up an article.)  This extra energy may seem inconsequential in bits, but its “omnipresence” in the online world becomes an invisible energy – a radio wave – that as it grows builds a power that has the power to mold ideology.  Attacks can only be “hurled at an assumed body” for so long.  The body, as a physical signifier of difference, is an easy target, but the attacks themselves will become invalid as feminist rhetoric proves not only that it can be heard, but it has a voice all its own that is not beholden to Plato or Socrates – that cannot be refuted simply because it is feminine; its truth comes from power, something even Plato or Socrates could not ignore.  The “central rhetorical tactics” of hashtags possess a power that transcends identity.  There is a degree of human commonality in the condensation of thought to 140 characters that cuts through all the bullshit by smashing the restrictions of grammar and classical rhetoric, releasing simple truths.

The same is being done with the selfie.  By eliminating the cultural norms around portraits of the self, people are constructing a version of themselves that is less tainted by broad cultural norms.  They are self-discovery and the communication of that self-discovery.  Selfies allow us to be seen as we want to be seen, not as dictated by the dominant hegemony.  Being shamed into hiding our versions of our own beautiful selves becomes as refutable as the idea that these images take up too much space, that space is only defined by the illusionary values of those in power, and the more of that space we fill with the smashed restrictions self-image, the more space we know is out there.  John Adams said this of human nature:

there is a key to the human heart; to the history of human life and manners; and to the rise and fall of empires. To feel ourselves unheeded, chills the most pleasing hope, damps the most fond desire, checks the most agreeable wish, [and] disappoints the most ardent expectations…

So just as when the man in the carriage tells the beggar his funds would go much further if he were to sell or kill his dog, you should respond to the shamer telling you to stop taking your own picture that when no one else loves you, you can still love yourself like the homeless man’s mastiff loves him – unconditionally, without judgement.  Everyone who “posts a selfie” is “getting something out of it”, recognition and in a world where dominant forces try to ignore you, you can fight back, subversively with self-recognition to other self-recognizers… and revel in it.

Part of Me is Still a Racist.

 

“The permanence of domination cannot succeed without the complicity of the whole group: the work of denial, which is the source of social alchemy, is, like magic, a collective undertaking”

Pierre Bourdieu illuminates the paradox that plagues feminism, as well as all struggles for equality, that the only really unity in populations calling for equality is their complicity in pretending racism isn’t really an issue.

I have a friend from Brazil. She is funny, smart, brave, and beautiful too.  We both have children and despite some language barriers communicate well.  But I have always noticed there is something about on relationship that is stunted.  I now realize it is probably me.   My friends and I all converged at one of our houses for a kid birthday and I ignored her. I still don’t really understand it; it is because I grew up in the most homogeneously white community in the Mid-coast and I am physically uncomfortable even though I am intellectually and logically okay? By the end of the party we were laughing and playing pin the tail on the donkey but I still felt ashamed – more so after these readings. I never knew that a racism existed in me separate from my ideology (Fernandez).

These practices are so ambiguous that it doesn’t even seem necessary to address them which is probably why the administrators on Suicide Girls figured a blanket “affirmative action” statement would be enough to absolve them of racial practices.  By doing this they accept little, if any, responsibility for their participation in the diversity of the site and leave it up to those who are not white to do something about it.  This got me thinking about the West Asian child Fernandez observed on the playground.  Those “complementary […] behaviors involving self-control, defiance, submissiveness, and denial” play a part in the perpetuation of embodied racism.  How does this relate to the disproportionate number of incarcerated African Americans?  Blatant racism plays a part but when “nonverbal communication is recognized by law, the police, and the military in assessing the credibility of individuals […]” how might those complementary behaviors imply guilt when there is none?  And, if “internet technology is so pervasively coded as ‘masculine’” how can it be assumed that the complementary behaviors of whiteness are excluded from that masculinity when white, male, and privilege are the dominant class.  Please don’t misconstrue my words.  I speak about ideology through ideology and it is very difficult to suspend those “rules of behavior that are customarily observed with other members of the same group” I am white after all, and though racism is not my intent, my habits may say otherwise.  It is so quiet, but still, my ears are ringing.

But there is hope knowing that “habits are open to transformation as their performativity implies continuous improvisation” so I will – as my friend says – “fake it until I make it” until it’s no longer an act but a new embodied behavior.

February 7, 2017

 

In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Egeus says of his daughter, Hermia, “As she is mine, I may dispose of her” either to marry Demetrius against her will or to be put to death.  Hermia may also choose to become a nun if the other two options don’t suit her taste.  “To you,” says Theseus, “your father should be as a god –/ One that composed your beauties, yea, and one/ To whom you are but a form in wax/ By him imprinted, and within his power/ To leave the figure or disfigure it” because, in the minds of these powerful men, women are a product of their reproduction alone (the invisible mother was no more than an incubator for his sperm).  What has changed since the times of Greece and Shakespeare?  Science has discovered that reproduction is not as simple or patriarchal as those days but the forces of masculine dominance over the female body pervade.  Consider the feminine cyber-body images pictured and described in Devoss’s piece; they are owned by ideological perceptions of what is ideally feminine, even to the point of lacking the necessary physical characteristics that imply autonomy.  Even in cyber arenas where gender can be modified those ‘men who chose female characters […] with a 38-24-34 figure” echo the presumptions of Egeus and Theseus.

Haraway’s cyborg is none of this.  She is not a woman striving for perfection, as Haley Mlotek says and not necessarily feminine at all; it is a hybrid.  Haraway says that “Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within”, after all, a moral majority does not necessarily constitute good morals.  Blasphemy is, according to the OED, Profane speaking of God or sacred things; impious irreverence or against anything held ‘sacred’.  The boundary between what is human and what is an animal is considered sacred in many ways – bestiality for instance – which is why we can mock hybrid caricatures like a jackalope, but why do we not hold the boundaries between man and machine to the same standard?  I do not have a definitive answer to this, but I suspect is has something to do with the way technology has become a new religion of sorts and just as the old religion did, it reinforces masculine-centric values and ideals.  Still the cyborg – according to Haraway’s definition “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” – because its social aspect poses a real threat to traditional social norms.  Western norms developed out of a unified social understanding that we are fallen and that the fall was precipitated by the vulnerability of woman to temptation, therefore it was necessary to restrict her to prevent calamity.  But the machine is science, not religion and has no memory of a fallen past because there isn’t one to remember.  Knowing how the potential power of the cyborg is being funneled into standard cultural practices is the best way to subvert that process and start writing a new history.

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.

https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/01/20/culturejam/

http://ourdailycrime.com/the-glamour-of-gaslighting/

[1] Audre Lorde

Rachel Collamore 1/23/17

Kate Ronald says that “walking denotes first hand, practical experience […] it means connecting that practice to theory” which begs the question: Is digital feminism walking the walk, or just talking the talk?  I am inclined to believe it is a bit of both. When we engage in digital feminism how do we qualify the experience?  Is it first-hand?  In the sense that it is being experienced in a moment, by an individual – even though the information is digitized – it is, sort of, but it is necessary to put that individual in context.  They are looking at a screen and though there is interaction, Malcolm Gladwell’s piece hits the nail on the head. Though he praises the social media aspect of digital activism’s ability to create diverse networks as “our greatest source of new ideas and information” he draws a bold line between the relatively low personal investment of online campaigns and the on the ground, face-to-face activism that creates real change.  Digital activism captures a Polaroid moment.  Polaroid images are far from digital, yet they are an instantaneous moment captured in a semi-permanent media and the moment you catch two seconds later could be profoundly different.  Polaroid images are also wonderful.  Just after the birth of my first child, my aunt took a Polaroid shot of myself, my infant son, and my now ex-husband to bring to my grandfather who was very ill, four hospitals away in Portland.  Little did we know my grandfather would die the next day and if it hadn’t been for that Polaroid camera, he would have never seen his great-grandson.  But the fact is, he never held his great-grandson and while I am grateful for that blurry image, developed before my very eyes, it is blue on black considering the connection that could have been made face to face.  The rhetoric that we use in a digital community and the rhetoric we use inside of an encompassing community “of shared interest” (Ronald) considered in the terms Ali Darwish uses to characterized text in Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, (textual, contextual, cultural, temporal, intentionally and inter-textually) both rely on the reciprocal relationship that is developed between reader and author.  The community of teacher/scholars that Ronald refers to cannot exist on texts alone. Sharing, reading, and responding to digital information, theories, and practices are only half of the process of real change, connection is the other.

Rosa Parks was not a woman who was simply fed up with having to stand on the bus who, encouraged by an article in the paper, decided it was time to take up the civil rights movement.  She was chosen; her seat had been reserved for her.  She came prepared that day, she had been groomed for the ordeal and more importantly, she had a concrete, personal connection to the people who were there to support her. “It strikes me that feminist rhetoricians almost always […talk and walk…] by necessity,” says Ronald and digital feminist rhetoricians are no exception.  The digital realm may encourage community by name and follower but it cannot replace the more powerful physical and emotion connections of face-to-face communities.