♀︎ What Does it Mean to Be a Woman Online?
An exploration of woman-centered digital projects.
We started off the week celebrating International Women’s Day. So it felt apt to dedicate this week’s newsletter to highlighting some of the projects women have committed to in rewriting history, reconsidering technological advancements, and reimagining a word without gender bias.
Below is a sampling of projects that excavate what it means to be a woman online, exploring the nuances between cyberfeminism and transfeminist values, and writing from a more intersectional place.
As one of the most visited websites in the world, Wikipedia has a gender representation problem: less than 18% of English language biographies are about women and 90% of its content contributors are men. So not only is the content about women not getting made, not enough women are writing as experts or contributing to pages. The content gender gap within Wikipedia is a form of systemic bias. The volunteer project Women Do News wants to change that imbalance and works to add new entries about women journalists through collaborative edit-a-thons. Co-founder Angilee Shah told The Cohort that Women Do News not only wants to get more representation for women, but also give them credit for doing the work. “It is to get more women journalists into the history books,” says Shah. “It is to get more women journalists that little Wikipedia box that comes with search results, that confers upon them an agreed sense of significance.”
The Oracle for Transfeminist Technologies
Joana Varon of the Brazilian-based organization Coding Rights and Sasha Costanza-Chock of MIT Codesign Studio collaborated to create a deck of cards to enable collective brainstorming through the tenets of design justice. The project was inspired by a speculative feminist writing workshop from Cooptecniques in Barcelona. To envision and design for transfeminist technologies is to consider a future outside of consumerism, misogyny, racism, ableism, gender binaries, and ultimately heteropatriarchal society. The Oracle is meant to evoke new ways of seeing and designing into the future. The project page reads, “Throughout history, human beings have used a wide variety of divination procedures — such as tarot decks — as technologies to reshape our destinies. The oracle will help us foresee a future where technologies are designed by people who are too often excluded from or targeted by technology.”
In 2020, Pollicy published a report about the online experiences of women across Africa. They wanted to understand how online gender-based violence manifests across the continent and how African tech companies respond to acts of violence. The study found that 28% percent of the women they interviewed had experienced some form of online harassment. Violence against women and girls results in health problems and intensifies women’s digital exclusion. Neema Iyer writes, “There is an urgent need for digital security resources to be adapted to local contexts and languages, as well as to be mainstreamed in educational curricula.
Since 2013, Legacy Russell has been building on the concept of Glitch Feminism as a manifesto to question the space between living bodies and data bodies. In programming, a glitch is often considered a jumbled error yet to Russell it is a “fissure between gender, technology and the body it creates.” Russell began a series of writings commissioned by Rhizome that became a book published by Verso reflecting on Blackness and anti-Blackness, mixing memoir with critical theory and investigating the work of artists who are programming systems of race, gender, and sexuality in virtual places. Today, there is a collective scholarship surrounding Glitch Feminism as a “socio-techno” construct of gender and sexuality. Russell writes, “Glitch Feminism embraces the causality of ‘error,’ and turns the gloomy implication of glitching on its ear by acknowledging that an error in a social system that has already been disturbed by economic, racial, social, sexual, and cultural stratification and the imperialist wrecking-ball of globalization—processes that continue to enact violence on all bodies—may not, in fact, be an error at all.” Russell continues the conversation on Twitter through the hashtag #glitchfeminism.
As an early 1990s feminist and postmodernist, Donna Haraway authored many foundational essays and books that questioned science and feminism. In 1985, she published A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century in the Socialist Review. The cyborg eschews rigid boundaries between species, especially notions of human, animal, and machine. Haraway urged feminists to push past the limitation of traditional gender, feminism, and politics and move into a space of hybridity, blurring the lines between human and animal, natural and artificial, machine and the physical. She writes, “It is an effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender.”
Claire L. Evans published the book Broad Band in 2018, mapping out a new history of technology made up of women pioneers who penetrated the mostly male domain of computer science. Evans explores these women’s working lives, from the female mental laborers of the mid-20th century, to the cyberfeminists of the late 1990s. One example is Radia Perlman, who invented a protocol for moving information that is now fundamental to the way computers are networked. Evans writes, “Her work might be invisible to the everyday user, but it’s invisible in the way that laws are invisible or the rules of traffic in a busy city are invisible: It directs the flow of information at a layer beyond our conscious awareness.”
Zebras Unite is a cooperative movement creating a community, culture and economy. The four female founders Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Aniyia Williams and Astrid Scholz write yearly manifestos to declare their focus for the year. This year’s dispatch, titled “Labor & Delivery” calls for centering the experience and intuition of mothers and women to building startups. The Zebras believe that the most urgent human rights project of our time is reimagining the world of business, especially in founding new technologies. The Zebras call themselves doulas for the new economy, working to bring a more human approach to birthing something to life. They write, “Like childbirth, there’s no one right way to build a business. We need more guides — doulas — to help us along the path that feels right for each of us.”
The Cyberfeminism Index is an online collection of resources for techno-critical works from 1990–2020 facilitated and gathered by Mindy Seu. Seu is building an open-source archive of hackers, digital rights activists, and Do It With Others (DIWO) organizations, that reflect the global nature of the cyberfeminist movement. Seu writes, “The history of feminism is dominated by Western attitudes, which makes it complicated and exclusionary. The reason I have chosen to use the term is because the combination of ‘cyber’ and ‘feminism’ allows novices to quickly connote its meaning and speaks to its lineage and evolution.” The index was commissioned by Rhizome and premiered at the New Museum as an online exhibition. You can contribute to the archive here.
Special thanks to Caroline Sinders for her input on the topic.
Do you have a favorite woman-centered project we should know about or one that was instrumental to your own development? We want to know.
California bill would eliminate "boys" and "girls" toy sections in stores. (CBS)
After facing abuse and threats online, Indonesian activist Dhyta Caturani is working to overcome gender discrimination on tech platforms. (Rest of World)
The Internet wasn’t designed to cultivate trust or vulnerability, but China’s feminists have figured out how to use it for just that. (Rest of World)
Caroline Sinders, Vandinika Shukla, and Elyse Voegeli published a report about online harassment and female journalists titled, “Trust through Trickery”. (Common Place)
Quote of the Week
“The Internet has taken us back to the 1890s: Once again, we have a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful people whose obligations are to themselves, and perhaps to their shareholders, but not to the greater good. But Americans didn’t accept this reality in the 1890s, and we don’t need to accept it now. We are a democracy; we can change the rules again. This is not just a matter of taking down content or even of removing a president’s Twitter account—decisions that should be determined by a public process, not a lone company’s discretion. We must alter the design and structure of online spaces so that citizens, businesses, and political actors have better incentives, more choices, and more rights.”
Celebrating women every day,
The New_ Public team
Civic Signals is a partnership between the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, and the National Conference on Citizenship, and was incubated by New America.