technofeminism

(RE)GENERATIONS AND INTERSECTIONAL FUTURES

introduction by the guest editors
Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Angela Haas, and Jackie Rhodes


Contemporary Impetus

Twelve days after Trump’s inauguration, we brainstormed this double-special issue on intersectional technofeminisms. Although we knew the civic and disciplinary kairos was right for honoring our rich technofeminist roots and calling for more intersectional technofeminist work in scholarly and public spheres, we could not have predicted the intersectional feminist digital activist moments that emerged since. Among the most notable is the viral #metoo hashtag movement, ignited 11 years after Tarana Burke’s community activist “me too” campaign, which provides sexual assault survivors a platform for sharing stories of surviving sexual violence.

Twenty-seven years after Anita Hill’s testimony about Judge Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment, we witnessed Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault of her. Both Thomas and Kavanaugh’s “job interviews” resulted in predominantly cishet white male senators awarding (or, perhaps, rewarding) cishet male judges who lied under oath (and had multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against them) lifetime appointments on the U.S. Supreme Court. Many senators excused rape culture in the process of justifying their votes to confirm. Trump tweeted that he doubted Dr. Ford’s credibility, stating that if it “was as bad as she says” that she would have “immediately” reported it to local law enforcement. Within 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of survivors of sexual violence responded—using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport—with reasons they waited or never reported perpetrators. Other recent viral hashtag movements that have provided a platform for supporting intersectional feminism include #IndigenousWomenRise, #InternationalWomensDay, #WomenInSTEM, #MarriageEquality, #FamiliesBelongTogether, #CiteBlackWomen, #NoDAPL, #LoveIsLove, #CripTheVote, #caravanamigrantes, and so many more.

Clearly, the many engaged and active folx within the public sphere have determined the time is right to take to digital platforms to organize and resist systemic and systematic oppression against women and non-binary people and our intersectional identities, bodies, and rights. This move is reminiscent of the early days of the World Wide Web when feminists harnessed its potential to build online communities and organizations. For example, in the early 1990s the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Feminist Majority Foundation developed and launched websites to support the 15% of Internet users who identified as women by providing e-spaces for grassroots activism (Richards & Schnall, 2003). In 1995, Marianne Schnall (2014) and a few other women launched Feminist.com “to offer people around the world access to information about human rights, women’s issues, health, anti-violence resources, grassroots activism, women’s businesses, and pretty much anything that could possibly support a world where men and women are allied, empowered and equal.”


Historical Anchoring

These and other gendered, contested, and politicized online spaces was both engaged by and further inspired early technofeminist work in rhetoric and writing studies. Specifically, cyberfeminists of the 1990s were invested in building “safe” online spaces for women and studying the relationships between online and face-to-face interactions with and representations of women (Hawisher & P. Sullivan, 1998; L. Sullivan, 1997; L. Sullivan, 1999).  In the “Gender and Electronic Discourse” special issue of Kairos, Kristine Blair and Pamela Takayoshi (1997) posed a hallmark cyberfeminist question: “does the Web make it any more possible for women to find virtual landscapes for re-inventing and re-representing themselves, or have the more traditional mass cultural representations simply found a new home in a new medium?”

More broadly, technofeminists doing intellectual work in rhetoric and writing were interested in troubling the persistent myth that technology is neutral and objective; suggesting ways in which feminist methodologies and methods might shift in digital spaces; researching and writing about gender biases in STEM; exploring feminist approaches to (teaching) writing with computers; and interrogating relationships between gender and technology—often specifically computers—among other issues (Jessup, 1991; LeCourt & Barnes, 1999; Selfe & Selfe, 1994). Technofeminist scholarship in rhetoric and writing in the 1990s demonstrated that technology—and making meaning with/in, through, and around it—is always already political, value-laden, and subjective. Technofeminist scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s surfaced, highlighted, and explored cases of digital oppression, resistance, transgression, and empowerment, thus clearing a path for current technofeminists in computers and writing studies to better understand and negotiate the power dynamics at play with redressing access biases and reimagining more just technology design and pedagogy.


Technofeminist Contents

The contributors to this special issue extend conversations in technofeminism, digital rhetorics, and computers and writing, with an increased attention to intersectionality. Critical race theorist and professor of law Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) coined the term intersectionality, which she initially defined in “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” as a framework for redressing single categorical axis analyses that tend to limit “inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privileged members of the group” (p. 140), thus resulting in the marginalization of Black women’s experiences in feminist theories and anti-racist and anti-sexist policies that fail to account for the interactions between race, gender, class, and subordination. Crenshaw explained that race discrimination tends to focus its attention on the experiences of the gender- and/or class-privileged—and sex discrimination focuses on race- and class-privileged women. Crenshaw (2017) recently further defined intersectionality as a tool for advocates and communities to use in studying “where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” She explained, “it’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there”; she instead asks researchers, scholars, and activists to make apparent “what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

This is precisely what Julie Collins Bates, Francis Macarthy, and Sarah Warren-Riley argue in their webtext: Make intersectionality more explicit in our current technofeminist rhetorical analyses of digital embodiment and access. Specifically, they ask that we pay attention to how access—or lack thereof—to power and agency influences the transformative potential of digital technologies for those marginalized by race, socioeconomic status, gender, citizenship, age, and disability, and they provide micro case studies of intersectional technofeminist approaches to multimodal activism and augmented reality.

Laura Tetrault highlights the transformative potential that an intersectional rhetorical approach to The Women’s March offers technofeminist rhetoricians for more deeply considering questions of intersectionality—and, thus, becoming more accountable—in the study of feminist digital activism. She also provides ways for “privileged allies to enact greater rhetorical awareness when studying technofeminist activist rhetorics across differences.”

Bridget Gelms and Dustin Edwards offer a technofeminist framework for investigating the rhetorics of digital platforms in ways that critically analyze the social inequalities, labor, material infrastructures, networks of support and activism, and lived experiences afforded and constrained therein. Further, they ask productive questions that open additional spaces for better understanding and redressing how networks of power and oppression work in scholarly, classroom, community, civic, and public spaces.

One of these technofeminist spaces is profiled across Alexandra Hidalgo’s, Hannah Countryman’s, and Jessica Kukla’s video stories about curating agnès films, a digital publication that seeks to support a community of women interested in filmmaking. As technofemists, the all-woman agnès films team aims to mentor and amplify the work of feminist filmmakers, and their webtext provides examples of what this looks like in process and as practice.

Needless to say, technofeminist critique should lead to productive technofeminist intervention and design. Trish Fancher shares her technofeminist rhetoric of design that brings together her multiple selves into a single space. By rendering “our gendered, racialized, nationalized, aging, strong, broken, and unique bodies visible in our designs,” Fancher demonstrates that technofeminist design resists and transgresses hegemonic design standards by affording its users a way to make more apparent our intersectional identities and multiple communities, inspirations, and commitments.

Paul Muhlhauser and Maggy Self explore how find/replace and swipe are related technologies that offer avenues for technofeminist thinking and design. Playing with find/replace and swipe functionality, Muhlhauser and Self reveal how the discovery, substitution, and selection sociotechnical features of these technologies have the potential to expand our understandings of technofeminist ethics and equitable design.

Rounding out this special issue are, first, a multivocal, intergenerational conversation about technofeminism, and, second, a list of digital technofeminist resources crowdsourced during the production of these special issues of Computers and Composition and Computers and Composition Online. In September 2017, the three of us hosted an online conversation about the pasts, presents, and futures of intersectional technofeminisms with technofeminist scholars Megan Adams, Kris Blair, Lanette Cadle, Radhika Gajjala, Gail Hawisher, Donna LeCourt, Lisa Nakamura, Cindy Selfe, Barbi Smyser-Fauble, and Pam Takayoshi. Our dialogue was shaped by these guiding questions, as well as follow-up questions inspired along the way:

  1. What initially drew you to feminist work with/around/on technology?
  2. What are one or two things that you’ve seen change in the past 25 years regarding technofeminism? What’s one thing you wish had changed that hasn’t?
  3. What are one or two things you’d like to call upon the current and next generation of technofeminist scholars to pursue, do, ask, etc.?
  4. What are your hopes for the future and legacy of your own technofeminist work?

The final piece in this issue is collaborative webtext of technofeminist resources—materials, models, citations, projects, etc.—that contributors think exemplify, enact, or anchor intersectional technofeminism, including webtexts, web sites, videos, lectures, blogs, teaching resources and citations of books, articles, and book chapters.


Technofeminist Futures

Together, contributors to this special issue take advantage of this multimodal digital space to demonstrate the current and critical import of intersectional technofeminist disciplinary inquiry and collectively provide a digital and visual repertoire of intersectional technofeminist design. We can all strive to be more intersectional in our activist and rhetorical work. And we can take a cue from current hashtag movements that have transformed toward increased inclusivity and more diverse gender justice, such as non-binary and trans users and allies revising #BelieveWomen to #BelieveSurvivors and indigenous, Latinx, Chicanx, and allied social media users adding #ShermanAlexie and #JunotDiaz to #metoo and #TimesUp. To do so, we must consider spheres of influence in which we can bring more intersectional awareness and on which digital platforms make the most rhetorical sense for us to use our privilege to do so. We hope that this issue—and its sister Computers and Composition print special issue—has cleared a path for computers and writing scholars to more vigorously and explicitly engage with intersectional feminisms in our scholarship, curriculum design, pedagogy, and community and activist work and be acutely accountable to the diverse intersectional identities of those involved or otherwise impacted by this work.

References

Blair, Kristine, & Takayoshi, Pam. (1997). Navigating the image of woman online. Kairos, 2(2). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/2.2/binder2.html?coverweb/invited/kb.html

Columbia Law School. (2017, June 8). Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality, more than two decades later. Retrieved from http://www.law.columbia.edu/news/2017/06/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1(8), 139-167.

Hawisher, Gail E., & Sullivan, Patricia. (1998). Women on the networks: Searching for e-spaces of their own. In Susan C. Jarratt & Lynn Worsham (Eds.), Feminism and composition studies: In other words (pp. 172–197). New York: MLA.

Jessup, Emily. (1991). Feminism and computers in composition instruction. In Gail E. Hawisher & Cynthia L. Selfe (Eds.), Evolving perspectives on computers and composition studies (pp. 336–355). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

LeCourt, Donna, & Barnes, Luann. (1999). Writing multiplicity: Hypertext and feminist textual politics. Computers and Composition, 16(1), 55–72.

Richards, Amy & Schnall, Marianne. (2003). Cyberfeminism: Networking on the Net. In Robin Morgan (ed.), Sisterhood is forever: The women's anthology for a new millennium (pp. 517-525). New York: Washington Square Press.

Selfe, Cynthia, & Selfe, Richard. (1994). The politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones. College Composition and Communication, 45, 480–504.

Sullivan, Laura L. (1997). Cyberbabes: (Self-) representation of women and the male virtual gaze. Computers and Composition, 14, 189–204.

Sullivan, Laura L. (1999). Wired women writing: Towards a feminist theorization of hypertext. Computers and Composition, 16(1), 25–54.

Schnall, Marianne. (2014). “Welcome to Feminist.com: A note from founder & Executive Director Marianne Schnall.” Feminist.com. Retrieved from https://feminist.com/about/