In the Gender and Internet Governance Exchange (gigX) workshop last month, we, participants from different countries — Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, were asked to arrange these words on a “ladder of hierarchy”.
- Married man
- Unmarried man
- Married woman, unmarried woman
- Disabled woman
- Disabled man
- Transman, transwoman, HIV+ man, HIV+ woman, gay man, lesbian woman
- Sex worker
- Unmarried man
- Married woman
- Unmarried woman
- Disabled woman
- Gay man, lesbian woman, married man, disabled woman
- Trans man, trans woman
- HIV+ woman
- HIV+ man, sex worker
The first “ladder” belonged to one group, while the second ladder belonged to my group. Despite our cultural differences, it seemed as though we all agreed on one thing – whether married or unmarried – men are always on top.
Male or female, white or black, straight or lesbian, remember that these things matter. Our society positions us according to our race, class, education, ability, age, language, and of course, gender and sexuality. I remember one of the speakers saying: “These intersectionalities determine where we stand as a citizens. And thus, it determines our access to rights”. She also said that when it comes to online spaces and internet governance, you don’t go there as a blank person. These things stick with you.
For example, one might come across arguments on Facebook or Twitter, where things start to heat up, instead of using reason to support one’s argument, one side might end up saying: “Shut up! You don’t even have a degree. How can people believe what you say?” or “Shut up! We are not listening to you. You are just a woman!” That’s how intersectionality can play a role in your online life.
Besides broadly speaking about intersectionality, I would like to zoom in a little to a specific social attribute — gender. Let us talk about gender and link it to an internet issue.
Hmm…how about the issue of internet access?
Imagine you are a woman walking into an internet café to check your email (for some people, having internet at home is too costly), what would it be like? “It is full of guys watching porn, playing online games while the air is filled with offensive language.” “In my country they’d even get up and look at your screen”, says a friend of mine from Pakistan. Imagine being a woman and walking into such an environment. Would you be comfortable surfing the net?
It seems as though the designing of spaces like this doesn’t take into account the issue of gender. Thus it prevents many women from accessing the internet. We can see that access is not just a matter of economics. It has to take into account these issues. See? Gender matters.
Now let’s talk about the “hot issue” — privacy.
When the topic of privacy comes up, you may have heard feminists speaking about women being treated as digital goods. They say, every day companies are collecting data about women’s behavior and they use the collected data to sell products to these women later. Feminists will cite the case of “Target girl”. Target, a superstore, sent a coupon for pregnant women to a young girl, after calculating the data of her spending behavior. When her dad found out, he stormed angrily to the store manager, only to find out that the store was right: his daughter was pregnant.
Listening to the case of Target, you may think: hey, but wouldn’t it be the same— men or women, we are all digital goods?
“Well, let’s think about it this way, instead of a girl being pregnant, imagine that “the Target girl” was a boy who made a girl pregnant, would the context change?”
The first question was mine. The speaker replied to my question with another question that slapped me in the face. I began to recall the ladder of hierarchy, wondering what the American ladder (Target is a US-based store) would be like, where American women stand in this.
After spending time thinking about it, one statement was very clear in my mind. It is – Yes, gender matters.
Image by Aaron Hockley used with permission under CreativeCommons license.