TechnoFeminisms: A Conversation About Pasts, Presents, and Futures

Learning from the Past in the Context of Intersectional Feminisms

Jackie: It seems to be that feminism is much more dirty word now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, that we’re tainted somehow, that we’re trying to do something that’s not right. To what extent do we identify what we do as feminist. Do we do that overtly? I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to get legitimacy in the academy by talking about technology, and only secondarily as a feminist.

Lisa: Feminism has gone from being an intellectual method or a set of cultural histories or a school of thought to now being seen as an ideology or personal opinion. And the students often are disturbed when they hear us use that because they think we’re talking about some kind of highly subjective set of beliefs which are not necessarily scholarly. So even though French post-structuralists really repelled a lot of people in the 1980s and 1990s, they did give warrant for feminist theory as theory. And so I often think feminism needs to reclaim some of its theoretical standing even though the notion of rigor goes so far against so many of our students of color in the sense that it does tend to call for skills they may not want.

Cindy: Theoretical and practical standing. Pragmatic standing.

Angela: That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to introduce students to a variety of feminisms. Many of my students have such a narrow understanding. Most of them have not read Audre Lorde, they have not read Judith Butler, they haven’t read bell hooks, they haven’t read the foundations that many of us would assume that they would know. But for students here at Illinois State University, predominantly working-class, a lot of first generation students, they don’t have that. And when they do, it’s the co-opted version of feminism that they understand instead of thinking about the diversity. I always give them at least 10 different feminisms to choose from and to understand some of the distinctions between them so that they don’t think of only “Nazi feminism” as though that’s a real thing or “Kardashian feminism” as though that’s a real thing. So indigenous feminisms and black feminisms and other feminisms are very important so that also students who are minority students or minoritized students can also see themselves in feminism.

Lanette: Academia loves to put things in niches and permanently plaster it into place. And if you think of feminism as a singular place that exists locked in time, well that’s just incredibly limiting. And technology has a similar problem in that. People say, “Well, I took a class in technology so I’m done now. I took a class in feminism, so I’m done now.” But really, we’re talking about huge, overwhelming life views that permeate everything. Everything.

Barbi: I do think that that’s a problem both in academia as well as the public. There’s a sort of tokenism that says, “Okay, we’re going to endorse this aspect of feminism or address this issue.” But not only are we continuing to silo each one as a separate category, we’re still emphasizing categories and not emphasizing that broader, general feminist work that is being done.
There’s so many issues going on that I feel like I’m posting to build awareness for DACA or for Black Lives Matter or for this movement and that movement, healthcare. Because everything is happening all at once but all of that is trying to do more feminist work as an activist to make sure that all bodies are represented. But it’s an interesting issue when you think academically we’re still doing the silo effect in our syllabi by saying, “We have this unit on this. And then we’re going to jump to this unit. And then we’re going to jump to that unit.” So in a sense we’re saying separate, but the issues are not.

Radhika: One of the things I’ve begun to notice in the last couple years is at the Master’s and the PhD levels I’m getting a lot of international students, women students, who are actually coming to graduate degrees because of digital feminism. They are very outspoken about the gender and technology issues and about creating a public place. So even though, for instance, and I know Kris knows this, I’m in a department where they’ll still call me the “token feminist” or the “feminist bitch,” the students come and they say, “Okay, we’re here to study social movements and digital activism but we’re feminists.” And that’s just the last couple years. I find that really heartening.

I’m getting a lot of international students, women students, who are actually coming to graduate degrees because of digital feminism. They are very outspoken about the gender and technology issues and about creating a public place.

Dànielle:  In terms of situating ourselves and our work in a larger community landscape beyond academia, leadership has been an undercurrent here, that we’re not just engaging our students to go out in the world as feminists but we’re ideally engaging our students to go out in the world as feminist leaders. And we talked a little bit about those of us who are holding institutional positions and able to engage that leadership. The connections across the theoretical and the practical, I think that’s been a fascinating thread. And this emphasis on feminisms and the plurality of the concept.

Pam: This may sound self-serving and I hope that it does not, but we’ve been talking a lot about and joking about our age and how long we’ve been in the field and such. I do think there is a lot of research from the 1980s and the 1990s that unfortunately is still really relevant about identity and technologies. We’re looking forward more than we’re looking backward. And so I hope that this special issue will spark that interest for people in going back to the questions that we were raising, that we were not answering, that did not get answered because people would go off in different directions or what have you. But I think a lot of those questions are even more relevant in a post-Trump world than before.

Dànielle:  That was really the fuel for these special issues, I think was Angela and Jackie and I talking about how exciting but incredibly unnerving it is to reread the work from the late 1980s and the 1990s and realize how these questions and these issues resonate so deeply still today.

Kris: One of the things we need to do is to step back and interrogate our, whether we call them technofeminist methods, value systems, even terminology and concepts.

Lanette: I think that besides activism we need to create nourishing spaces for ourselves so that we don’t burn out, and for the next generation, for the generations to come, so that they will know that we exist and that they exist.

...we need to create nourishing spaces for ourselves so that we don’t burn out, and for the next generation, for the generations to come...

Radhika:   One of the things I’m facing, and I’m not in an English department, I’m in media and communication department, is that people call it social media and social movements. They call it digital activism. But they take away the aspect of feminism from it and increasingly that’s how what we’ve done. And going back to what Pam was saying about the work from the 1980s and the 1990s, the work that we’ve done gets subsumed under that or erased by that.

Megan: I keep hearing this thread of intergenerational storytelling and relationships and I think, to start with your question, Radhika, would be to think about the ways that we build relationships inside and outside of the academy, and make them visible in our publications. But this work can be very emotionally draining and hard. I worry about privacy issues. I’m not going to put something online or maybe feel comfortable talking on email lists. But at the same time I feel like as I move on I would hope to make those things more visible, these issues, so that feminists like you said 20, 30 years from now aren’t fighting these same battles that I think we all do experience. It’s a combination of really relationship building inside and outside of our classrooms, and then keeping that both public and then private. I think that dimension is another aspect of something that’s important to consider.