Cyberfeminism & Digital Civic Engagement
Although popular articles may still debate whether or not Pinterest is beneficial to feminism, I suggest that Pinterest is a space in which cyberfeminism can flourish in multiple forms. As Pinterest users gather to debate political issues like women's rights as well as the purpose of the site and what can be posted or composed there, cyberfeminism (whether their rhetorical activities are recognized as such or not) plays an important role in this space. I argue that cyberfeminism may be occurring in spaces where we might not initially recognize it as such, including sites like Pinterest. Returning to Amy Odell (2012) and Amelia McDonnell-Parry's (2012) disagreement, I want to reemphasize McDonnell-Parry's (and Tekobbe's ) point that all online activities can be feminist.
Christine Tulley (2009) wrote, "cyberfeminism can be loosely defined as 'a multilayered movement dedicated ... to thinking about gender, gender roles and their representation in the computer world'" (p. 110). Cyberfeminism can take many forms—from activist movements in online spaces to more mundane explorations of the relationship between gender and technology. Mary Hocks (2009) noted that "as an area of rhetorical study, cyberfeminism offers researchers and students opportunities to develop activist rhetorics about ... gender and other identities, and cultural practices" (p. 235). Whether viewed as a movement or a theoretical orientation, cyberfeminism becomes a way to understand the complexities of gender in online spaces.
But how are acts of cyberfeminism defined and recognized in online spaces? Christa Downer, Morgan Gresham, Roxanne Kirkwood, and Sandi Reynolds (2009) developed a nuanced approach to defining what counts as cyberfeminism. Developing a rhetorical and feminist account of pro-ana websites, often composed and maintained by young women and teenaged girls, Downer et al. explored an "unsettling" case study of cyberfeminism (p. 86). Working with the premise that "identity construction is vital to feminist action," Downer et al. argued that the rhetorical practices of the women who run these pro-ana sites must be engaged as a form of cyberfeminism, as these women are endeavoring to create a space for themselves and their voices as they work to define their identities (p. 89). As David Harper (2012) wrote, Pinterest is a "performance space that encourages self-representation" through pins and pinboards; the "self-representation" within Pinterest suggests that Pinterest can be a space for engaging feminist issues of identity and rhetoric (para. 3).
In order to develop a capacious understanding of possible identity categories and rhetorical activism, "it is important that we as feminist scholars and researchers discuss these multiple site positions that foreground the experience of many young women, especially if we hope to offer alternative identity categories" (Downer et al., 2009, p. 89). Downer et al. make another point that highlights their nuanced understanding of cyberfeminism, writing that "the teenage girls who develop pro-ana websites are cyberfeminists, whether we want them to be or not" (p. 88). The scholars' nuanced approach to cyberfeminism is important to understanding how a broad range of rhetorical activities in online spaces can contribute to cyberfeminist causes, not matter how seemingly mundane or unremarkable. Moreover, Downer et al.'s work illustrates that what counts as cyberfeminism won't always be the sort of rhetorical engagements and ideas that two parties will agree is socially acceptable; instead, cyberfeminism can spark disagreements and challenge conventional ideas and beliefs. Accordingly, cyberfeminist rhetorical engagements are important and worthy of the attention of researchers and teachers.
Although the activities and interactions on Pinterest may be rather mundane, I see them as forms of digital civic engagement, those that engage self-representation, identity, and gender. Interacting and engaging with Pinterest, particularly when situated as a gendered rhetorical space, can be viewed as a form of cyberfeminism. Nancy K. Baym (2009) suggested that "cyberfeminist practices should demonstrate 'personal concerns for the everyday'" (p. 130). Thus, "this means that cyberfeminist spaces are those in which the personal is honored" (p. 130). Or, one might say, cyberfeminist spaces are those in which the personal becomes political—meaningful, significant, and worthy of attention.
When applied to a space like Pinterest and other social media sites, the concept of cyberfeminism is potentially useful as it accounts for the range of experiences and uses of this site by women and/or feminist users. Female-identifying users are creating and composing their identities through discursive activities on Pinterest, from engaging in comment-thread debates to selecting and posting recipes to pin on their pinboards. A full range of rhetorical and feminist activities are represented on the site, and situating these activities within the framework of cyberfeminism can help to define the significance of such everyday rhetorical activities.