TechnoFeminisms: A Conversation About Pasts, Presents, and Futures

Making a Field: Work in the 1980s and 1990s

Gail: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we were trying just to get some sort of a field established and we didn’t even know what we were doing. By the 1990s we could say that feminism and composition was becoming a field, with Gesa Kirsch and her research and Lynn Worsham and Susan Jarratt’s MLA book on feminism and composition (Jarratt & Worsham, 1998). So in the 1990s we could really turn somewhat to feminist issues, even though it remained almost impossible to get a lot of that published.

Cindy: That’s why the activism came on so heavy in the 1990s, for exactly the reason Gail said. Once we were in the profession, we looked around to say, “How the hell do we get published? How do we find people who can support us? How do we edit collections? How do we get voices of women out there?” And so the 1990s was that building phase of journals. We did that in the 1980s, too. Journals, edited collections, series, editorships that featured women, for women, by women.

Cindy: I don’t think we were specifically thinking about technological activism; we were just saying, “We have to get published. We have to get tenure.” But when you guys came aboard, you started engaging identity politics and feminist politics and the kinds of political activism, I think, that has given us a big boost forward, a jump forward with technology. Not just technology for technology’s sake, but technology because of the kinds of things it allows you to do in this world from a feminist perspective.

Angela: Cindy, that is activist work. You all cleared a path. You did institutional activism, disciplinary activism, and you’re always lifting as you climb. Even in retirement you’re still doing this, both you and Gail. And so I would argue not to set up a false binary. You two are activists. You have cleared a path for all of us to be here doing this work.

You all cleared a path. You did institutional activism, disciplinary activism, and you’re always lifting as you climb.

Kris: I think the other thing, in response to Cindy, too, is ways in which some of our methods, whether we may have initially labeled them as feminist, are inherently so. To go back to Gail and Cindy’s work, their emphasis on literacy narratives and how that naturally lends itself to a technofeminist emphasis on lived experience and how powerful that is—in scholarship and in the classroom. I think some people like to think that the classroom should be an apolitical space, which, as Jim Berlin used to say, makes it even more political. We have to continue to look at the ways in which women in particular, women or girls, do or don’t have  access to particular types of technologies, or the ways in which that access is mediated by some of those cultural assumptions of what men do with technology and what women do or are done to by technology and the way it positions them as objects as opposed to subjects. This is both theoretical and pedagogical work. And really, that legacy is at once interdisciplinary, but it’s also discipline-specific to us.

Gail: You know where we really haven’t played a role where we need to play more of a role is with some of the university presses. We have not been editors in that realm and that has hurt. I think SIU Press has had series edited by two women, Shirley Logan and Cheryl Glenn. We have had very few editors that would help us along. Bedford/St. Martin’s is one exception where we did have feminist support for getting work published and shared.

Cindy: Well, I would argue that Michael Spooner’s a feminist editor; he helps some feminists get out there and get their voices heard. Cheryl Ball and Kairos has helped get women’s voices out.

Donna: I also think it’s important to start thinking about how to change what counts as publishing academically, not just to get us into more traditional venues. When I think of the future, we’re thinking of a more transnational and global feminism than we were in the 1990s. We have to start thinking about our own publishing as being activist and out there in the public, and not just academic. But the issue then is how you get such work to count within academia. The kind of activism that we are talking about is much about changing the academy, but I feel like if we really are going to move forward our technofeminism needs to be outside of the academy and we need to start looking more and intervening more.

Barbi: That’s where I think all these points with the activism come full circle. As we’re engaging these publishing venues it’s not just academic publishing routes that need to be included in all of this as well as making our own work intersectional. We also need to reach out across disciplines to do some work with individuals in different academic siloes, whether it’s sociology or information technology, computer sciences, those areas.

Gail: Can I just add something that comes from the book, Computers and the Teaching of Writing in America in Higher Education, that Cindy and I with Charlie Moran and Paul LeBlanc did? One of the blurbs on the back comes from Joe Amato. Here’s what he says. “It would be difficult not to take note of the key role played by women in the emergence and continuing development of this field. Quite simply, this text marks the coming of age of a technically oriented academic community in which women’s roles have been crucial.” And this was 1994.

Donna: We need to take leadership roles as feminists on our campuses. When I was in charge of the Digital Humanities here a couple years ago we made a push and went through every college and every dean and got them to approve digital tenure standards. We’re on committees for open source materials in the classroom. I think we can do some of this as classroom teachers, but we need to think broadly about change on our campuses, too, and to take particularly those of post-tenure. We’ve got the time and maybe not the energy, but at least we’ve got the voice that allows us to do that kind of stuff now.

We need to take leadership roles as feminists on our campuses.

Cindy: I was a department chair and worked with a female department chair, and Donna. And I think those positions are key to making the digital work that we do helping see that it’s valued.

Jackie: But do we see it as feminist work? Because I think very often the technology is more visible than the feminist standpoint.

Cindy:  I think it’s feminist. I definitely think that women I’ve worked with, Kris, Donna, Valerie, Lee, they have all spoken about their work as feminist labor. The work in connection with technology.