Becoming an agent of change

19 August 2014

Are feminists bored with online activism? Cyber feminists’ minor politics and affirmative political approach often presents us with dynamic, thematic and changeable maps of affinities, of political kinship, and there is a strong potential in the crafting of such unities. However, there are more than just a few obstacles that feminists in the virtual communities have to deal with. “But their engagements continue,” states Lamia Kosovic in this article written for GenderIT.org. “Cyber feminism today is more about cartography, where maps can always be mapped differently. And our task is to become active agents in the production of changes in order to bring intrusions capable of dismantling this organism and its conceptual ties,” she incites.

In an age of virtuality, we are almost already post human. We are assemblages of carbon-based organic and silicon-based electronic constituents; hybrids, whose multifaceted nature with its diverse intensities can conform to neither a unified identity nor the conventional forms of subjectivity and production. Our aim has been to profoundly disintegrate a territory marked by the production of master-code that for too long kept our desires entrapped in the economy of the Same (1).

Cyber feminism, digital feminism, feminist online activism, etc., are just few among other terms referring to fem political activities in the virtual reality, our processual dynamics within the virtual environment. For many years now, cyber feminists have contributed to highlighting of rhizomatic structures, nonlinearity, ruptures, and disruption that has been infusing the debate about techno-culture with hope for access and transformation. Activism that feminists online have been producing has been about uncovering the patriarchal weapons of control and policing the bodies of people and of knowledge. It has been about cracking, albeit partial, the master-code and liberating our desires while weaving the nets of solidarity. Faithfully following our embodied encounters with sensible reality, cyber feminists have promoted the activism that has been about “lived social and bodily realities, in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Haraway, 1991:154). With their political filters, we have been able to see the world in hues of green, ultraviolet and red. And while inevitably, we have come to witness the profound restructuring of social performance, institutions, concepts, and the amalgamation and blurring of boundaries between human and machine, masculine and feminine, public and private, the self and the Other – all of which have had a great potential to dismantle disembodied objectivity of humanism and its projects of domination and colonization, we have also witnessed the great struggle of corporations, international organizations and national governments to control the structure, content and flow of information and preserve the aforementioned projects.

Today, we continue to experience extreme brutality, genocide, slather and hatred; the times and spaces we live in are dangerous. It is becoming hard to account for the changes that are unfolding, thus urgency to respond to such rapidly changing conditions that contemporary subjects experience is perhaps greater than ever. Leaving intact the continuing dominance of the logics of identity, despite the proliferation of academic texts within the intellectual landscape that urge us to re-consider out relationships with ourselves, human others, and the world we live in, and despite the artistic endeavors and activism that force us to connect in thinking and acting differently, is at least frightening. Underneath the cyborgian subjectivity and fascination with manipulating and re-configuration of body parts, the subjectivity taken outside from the skin and projected onto the social networks provided by once imagined revolutionary internet, we again find the rational, Cartesian subject. Cyber feminists minor politics and affirmative political approach often presents us with dynamic, thematic and changeable maps; maps of affinities, of political kinship. Affinity politics, as Donna Haraway would call it, rather than identity politics. There is a strong potential in these maps, in crafting such unities. I trust that cyber feminists are not privileged to abandon the digital ship. They, however, do pause and question their virtual activist engagements altogether, because they have been a part of this structural power struggle that “doesn’t translate well an activist message,” as one cyber feminist activist interviewed for this article said (2).

As Stephen Pfolh wrote in The Cybernetic Delirium, command, control and communication – the three main actors of cybernetics “are rooted in the repeated sacrifice of other ways of being in and communicating about the worlds ‘we’ are in.”Virtual reality along with the cybernetic discourses has always had difficulties escaping the premises of Western metaphysics, and more virtual we become, that is, more time we spend “connected,” more we get to see the translation of the economy of the same onto the grids of our networks. Thus, an important task for cyber feminists today would be constantly revising, rethinking, and repositioning our movements on the virtual grids, because escaping velocity of change is definitely not an option.

Few years ago I wrote about mutations, metamorphoses and transformations as the empowering processes of our everyday life. Then I acknowledged that the brutality of power-relations, as we know it, had not stayed immune to these processes of transformations; it got empowered by them. Since then, this empowerment has become extreme. In writing about the society of control in his Two Regime of Madness, Gilles Deleuze writes: “You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control” (322). Digital highways are multiplying. Concepts such as metamorphoses and mutations are no longer products of science fiction. They have not been in years. These are concepts that have had a great significance for the educational, governmental and scientific institutions, and their intimate partners – the corporations. These processes are tied to biochemical industries where they get further transformed in order to enter the market and contribute to the increase of capital. A familiar story, already elaborated by Ingeborg Reichlein Re-making Eden, where she writes: “the research findings become more immediately available on the stock market rather than in the relevant scholarly journal” (p.247).

As an academic lecturer myself, I find this utterly problematic, because it link directly to one important question of appropriation of these empowering processes of metamorphoses, and that is the question of the growing social divide between the wealthy minority that can afford the end products of metamorphoses and the west majority of people who cannot extend their lives by appropriating them. Feminist online activism has brought up this question in past, and have been dealing with this question and many others as well, while parallel to that engaging with the processes of clogging the master machine of structural patriarchal dominance that extended onto the grids of digital environments.

There are more than just a few obstacles that feminists in the virtual communities have to deal with, but their engagements continue. One of these obstacles ties to the persisting rhetoric’s of disembodiment, which has not escaped the field of digital culture despite numerous of theoretical, cultural and philosophical texts problematizing the distinction between the virtual and the real. One interviewed cyber feminist said: “As we heard too many times: ‘It’s just internet. It’s not REAL.’ But for me, this phenomenon is really recognizable as something we confront in ‘real lives’ also. It’s called systematic oppression. We feminists are trying to avoid it” (3).

Also, cyber feminists continue their engagements with virtual communities regardless of the fact that there has been a persistent effort to sustain the hierarchy in the virtual world and to maintain control over “disorganized” nature; perseverance to maintain the economy of the Same along with the projects of capitalism, militarism, colonialism and patriarchal supremacy. Feminists have been aware that while the information technology revolution was transforming almost every aspect of society, girls and women were largely out of the loop (4).

Few years ago, Looui and Flanagan argued that cyber feminism had not achieved its liberatory potential because of all the cultural and societal issues surrounding the information tech field (2007:181). And just few days ago, on Aug 14 2014, Dave Smith confirmed the already familiar narrative by acknowledging for the Business Insider that women hold only ‘between 10-20% of the tech-related jobs at tech companies’. Apparently, within the past 11 years, we have not seen much of gender alterations when it comes to designing and creating new technology. The information technology business seems to remain the boys’ club business. However, we know that changes are processual, and that cyber feminism today is more about cartography, digital mapping where maps can always be mapped differently. And our task is not to react to the brutality of power-relations and its boosted immune system, but to become active agents in the production of changes in order to bring intrusions capable of dismantling this organism and its conceptual ties that hold “brutality” in place as a pacemaker that regulates its beating. After all we love to be connected.

References:

Deleuze, Gilles. Two Regimes of Madness.Semiotext(e), 2007.

Haraway, J. Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Looui, Suyin, and Mary Flanagan. 2007. “Rethinking the F word: A review of activist art on the Internet.” NWSA Journal 19.1, pp. 181-200.

Margolis and Fisher. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003.

Pfohl, Stephen. “The Cybernetic Delirium of Norbert Wiener.”Ctheory.net. No. a044 30 January 1997. Ed. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker. 10 January 2006. http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=86

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Footnotes

(1) Luce Irigaray. This Sex Which is not One. Cornell University Publishing, 1985.
(2) Jadranka Ćuzulan, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
(3) Cyber feminist from Serbia.
(4) Margolis and Fisher. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003.

 

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