As I sit at the Internet Governance School in perhaps the lushest hotel I have ever stayed in, I am struck with the somewhat unwelcome (but certainly not unfamiliar) feeling of being way out of my depth. I have always paid lip service to this whole “exposing myself to new experiences, new ideas” thing. After all, that’s how we grow, isn’t it? It’s exciting! Fun! Awesome! It’s how we learn. It’s how we sharpen our analysis against the whetstone of other people’s ideas, thoughts, approaches—the more contrarian and different from our own, the better. Because we all know that bubbles are dangerous and staying in them can often encourage a hardline fundamentalist way of thinking that is unhelpful at best and downright insufferable at the worst.
The actual experience of it, I am rediscovering, is a little less poetic.
Mostly because the list of things I don’t understand is longer than all the things I do (or believe I do). I have filled three pages with acronyms alone — TCP/IP, NRO, IGF, ICANN, IETF, IEP, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC… There are concepts I am struggling to unravel, as though the presenters were speaking in Martian or Wookieespeak — and I love Star Wars so all of this should be right up my alley. These concepts are haunting me so thoroughly that I had a dream featuring where I was chased by a pink rabbit that kept yelling “multi-stakeholderism” at me. I’m still not sure what a DNS is and am inclined to just go with Do Not Start (with me right now).
I reach peak panic mode and shoot a frantic message to Jan: “how do I even begin to articulate a radical feminist politics in a space like this?” Jan responds, ever helpful, “That’s exactly why you’re here.” Thanks, Jan.
It is easier said than done in some respects, but I guess the best way to do it is to ask questions — five for now but there are more. Some of these have been answered by better minds than me, some are questions that feminists and communicators and activists and techies and thinkers and philosophers have been grappling with for a while. They don’t have to be answered now or maybe even ever, but thinking about them might challenge me and other people and that is important.
When do we talk about power and how it plays out in discussion about the /internet/on the internet?
How do we talk about all of those controversial, messy, terrifying things and the Internet? Sexism, misogyny, violence, sex and sexuality, rights? The question was posed to the panelists yesterday and the answer we got: be respectful, gain trust, carve out the space and then maybe broach the issues — but in a strategic way. In other words, don’t roll up in there with your feminist guns blazing and expect anyone to listen to you. I get that, I do, it is the complicated song-and-dance feminists have to play in many spaces but I would still like to understand the how in these particular spaces. (Or maybe the how do you do this without pulling your hair out?)
How do we talk about governance, about users and their rights, about access and penetration (I can’t be the only one snickering a bit at the language here, right?) — without talking about people. Somehow, it is so easy in discussions about economic bottom lines and GDPs and multi-stakeholders with their multiple stakes to forget about the people. The Internet is exciting, for sure, but it is not existing in a vacuum and we, the people who are using it, aren not handy paper cut-outs to be brought out for handy stats.
How do we meet each other in the middle? Respect where we are each coming from BUT also challenge each other? I am never going to be a fan of talking about “development” without problematizing the neoliberal assumptions that underpin dominant paradigms. I can not talk about the internet as being a neutral when it is a space that has been by turns empowering, comforting, violating and alienating to me as a queer, black woman. I can’t pretend that it is just a fun tool when this tool exists in a world where 1 in 3 Zimbabwean women is going to experience sexual violence at least once in her lifetime — and that violence is translating itself into online spaces in increasingly insidious ways, without being addressed or even spoken about as a misogynist violation.
Lastly, but not least, will anyone spot me for the latest pocket version of the Ever-Expanding and Handy Techie Internet-Speak Compendium of Acronyms and Other Strange Words? This feminist would greatly appreciate it.
Source: African School on Internet Governance