Navigating the Image of Woman Online
Kristine Blair and Pamela Takayoshi
Feminist film and media theorists have long grappled with the image of women in popular culture, critiquing print, television, and film images that construct women as object rather than as subject. These concerns of image are equally realized in the World Wide Web, given its status as the newest technology of both literacy and representation. But because the Web is such a recent technological development, these arguments have not been as fully articulated, an indicator that print publication process cannot often keep up with the changes in online literacies. While the production, distribution, and consumption of the female image has taken place primarily in cultural sites such as magazines, movies, and television, the Web is yet another cultural site where users are bombarded with representations of women based more on an essentialist definition of "woman" than the lives of real women from varying cultural backgrounds. The response by materialist feminism to this cultural power brokering, as Monique Wittig (1992) articulates it, is to dissociate the lived experience of women from the myth of "woman" disseminated by mass media and other discourses (p. 25). As web sites for and about women develop, however, feminists must consider the extent to which images of women online are both different from or similar to images of women in traditional media. To what extent does the Web extend the possibilities for and constraints upon empowerment that women have found on electronic networks, both synchronous and asynchronous? Indeed, 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?
Note: This commentary is an excerpt from the introduction to our co-edited collection, Feminist Cyberscapes: Essays on Gender in Electronic Spaces, currently under contract to Ablex press as part of the series New Directions in Computers and Composition Studies.
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