Cyberfeminism: Engaging or Escaping the Body?

So this thing we call the internet

from Google Images

amazing, no?

It connects us in ways people never dreamed possible.  Some of us (80s and 90s and millennium babies) have grown up alongside internet development like it was a natural tool to gain and obtain in elementary school, like reading and writing and memorizing our times tables.

from TradeTang.com

Many other babies of decades’ past, like my dad who once typed up his college term papers on a type writer, have experienced these advancements in the world wide web like spectacles in the sky, igniting change and wonder and awe….

from Google Images

Wowzahs!  That’s cool.

Only it’s more than cool: it’s revolutionary, it’s transformative.  The internet bridges those large, spacial gaps imposed by earth, wind and fire – well, you know, geography, national-state politics and all that jazz.  Furthermore, limitations of time have become less and less problematic as technology improves its speed.  I remember having to limit myself to only 20 minutes on the family computer back in 2000, because otherwise the phone line was being occupied and no one could get through if they needed to call our land line.  The dial-up bar would…take…for…ever…to…finally…load…only…to…spazz…out….AND THEN IT’S LIKE, FORGET IT!

But now many (if not most) of us engage with the internet in order to engage with each other (i.e. facebook, twitter, wordpress (hey!)), or sources of knowledge (i.e. academic journals, magazine articles, the score of the Yankee game, the possibilities to know who was that actor in that movie with the giant octopus?)  Well now, thanks to Brother Google, you can know exactly who your friend meant when he was referring to Lorenzo Lamas in Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which just happens to be one of the greatest B-movies of all time.  But that’s besides the point.

There’s also this widely known thing we call feminism.  And it’s interesting to trace feminist’s engagement with and/or against the internet as a tool for spreading ideas about gender equity, as well as where that gender axis intersects such social identity markers as race, ethnicity, disability, religion, education, sexuality, sex, income, and so on…and also as a [safe] space in which authentic voices can speak and be heard digitally.

We occupy different social locations, which are heavily influenced by both our historical and physical locations, meaning where we live and what historical factors influence our lived socioeconomic and political conditions.  Many scholars refer to such spaces as the global north and the global south, which have previously fallen under the false dichotomies of the First and Third Worlds or also as the West and the rest, or East, or non-West.  These terms tend to denote certain ethnocentricities that aught to be avoided by feminist sociologists, anthropologists, and the like.  So feminist blogs and feminist forums derive from both these spheres which academia has divided according to social, political and economic factors.  And the result?  Girls and self identified women engaging with and/or escaping from the body – which was eloquently articulated by Professor Daniels in her article on, “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender and Embodiment,” as well as in class last Thursday.

Some examples of engagement with the body include those who aim to somehow control or transform the body, like the public forum on [so-called-western] genital modification, discussing the options of self-chosen labiaplasty, and/or the highly controversial pro-ana (i.e. pro-anorexic) blogs.  These websites function as ‘safe space‘ in which ideas could be exchanged anonymously without the social condemnation of physical stares and/or restraint [in the material world].  Contrarily, websites functioning as tools by which girls and self identified women (and feminists of all genders) effectively escape their bodies – which might otherwise serve as traps [in some areas of the global south] – include such internet publications as those written by Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone; the internet is conceived of as a revolutionary space for transhumanism (i.e. using technology to surpass human limitations), granting the opportunity to congregate freely from embodiment.

My goal is not to postulate yet another [false] dichotomy of those occupying the global north aim to engage the body – that body being one which they can autonomously [re]configure to so-called-Western expectations of the ideal form – whereas those occupying the global south aim to escape the body – that body acting as a trap in which women lack political freedom to engage in [physical] public debate [of the material world].  But, without conveying contradictory notions of the politically incorrect, could those cyborg dis/engagements really be that consistent with social, physical and historical location?

I suspect the answer to such complicated questions lie somewhere in that imbricated reality of 2012, which Prof. Daniels defined last week as that digital-material overlap of the internet age.  Let us also never forget the producing end of internet parts, in which many wo/men do not share in the consumption of internet technology so much as they occupy an assembly line – further complicating that picture with which we theorize the costs and gains of the internet.

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One thought on “Cyberfeminism: Engaging or Escaping the Body?

  1. Wouldn’t it be fun and interesting to consider cyberfeminisms alongside the ‘zines of the 90s (we still have ‘zines, but mostly we have blogs) and the pamphlets of the early 20th century? The work of Goldman and Wells, and Duke U. has a ‘zine collection of all of this fabulousness. But the internet is not some vast, free territory: it costs money, it’s controlled, and there’s always wizards behind the curtain.Identities still matter — in an almost fetishized way, we have to think about constructing one. (Suddenly, we’re rather conscious of having an identity!) It just feels democratic to those of us who already have a ticket.

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