Cyberfeminism 2.0

image of Blackmon with Layne, Rhodes, Rickly, YanceyFrom left to right: Samantha Blackmon and Alex Layne; Jacqueline Rhodes; Rebecca Rickly; Kathleen Blake Yancey


book cover of Gajjala and Oh's book


Mariana's Literacy Narrative

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The edited collection by Radhika Gajjala and Yeon Ju Oh, Cyberfeminism 2.0 (2010), challenges grand gender and technology narratives by providing rigorous research on women’s critical uses of digital spaces. Indeed, junior and established scholars engage in collegial analysis of digital spaces and women's uses, offering multiple and diverse answers to “What it means to be a cyberfeminist now" (p. 1). Although the authors analyze women’s use of contemporary digital spaces (e.g., Web 2.0), the authors do not deny the ways in which women have always been critical users and producers of technology. This book is of relevance to teacher–scholars in that it highlights important computers and writing scholarship on the influence of technology on identity, gender, and literate practices. As Mariana Growhoski explains in her literacy narrative, Kris Blair’s pedagogy, mentorship, and scholarship in gender and technology studies greatly influenced Mariana’s teaching and research interests in techno- and cyber-feminisms. Mariana approached the Gajjala and Oh collection with the hopes of expanding her understanding of women and girls’ literate practices for empowerment and social justice. Luckily, Mariana’s readerly expectations were met by the authors' scholarly contributions to the collection.

The first section, "Rethinking the Discourse on Empowerment," begins with to chapters by Marina Levina and Jesse Daniel discussing the "commodification of feminism" by institutional and corporate powers looking to "sell women back their own experiences" (Daniel, 2012, p. 53). While Levina focused on the use of digital spaces where women share and track health-related goals, Daniel examined the public digital literacy practice of blogging and blogging conferences, exposing how such has afforded some women (i.e., White, heterosexual, mothers) a means of turning a profit. Also examining blogging, but not for direct financial compensation, Lauren Angelone analyzed the discourse used on the About pages of four doctoral students' blogs and one well-known professor who kept a blog as a doctoral student. Angelone focused her research on the implications blogging has for education. Not surprisingly, she made the case that blogging develops critical media literacy skills. Computers and writing scholar–teachers are no strangers to the importance of blogging as a critical literacy for their students and themselves. In fact, Lanette Cadle (2014) recently justified “Why [she] Still Blog[s]”; nodding to the symbiotic relationship blogging has on one’s identity and agency, Cadle’s work, like that of Angelone and Daniel, show us the shared concerns between computers and writing and cyberfeminism.

Another similarity between cyberfeminist and computers and writing scholarship is the importance of Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture (2006). Indeed, a number of scholars including Debra Journet (2010) and Brian Ray (2013) have identified how fans react to popular media through literate acts. Likewise, Rosalind Sibielksi and Holly Kruse's chapters center on the technological labor practices of young girl fans who create content to support or remix popular culture texts. Whereas Sibielski examined the literate practice of a 12-year old girl who appropriated the video game Sims 2 to make videos of the first book in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, Kruse analyzed music videos created by young girl fans of racemare Zenyatta. Agreeing with Sibielski, Kruse argued that these practices, "do not explicitly challenge hegemonic institutions" (p. 114). Sibeliski claimed that in girls' studies rarely do girls create transformative media. However, this does not mean that such work does not have value in and of itself. In fact, Browyn T. Williams (2014), who has made a career advocating for popular culture and the teaching of writing, validated students’ use of popular media as a means for teaching “genre conventions and expectations” in the teaching of writing (p. 114). Williams, Sibielski, and Kruse provided important arguments for seeing the value in our female students’ digital literacy preferences and practices.

In the second section called “Technology, Gender, and Agency,” two authors attend to women, art, and technology while the remaining three authors take up the relationship between gender and gaming. Debbi James focused on the art of film production and the use of digital spaces for sharing film and media. Likewise, Jennifer Way shared her archival project "Women Art Technology," which collects the oral history narratives of women using technology in the visual arts. Both authors interrogate gendered assumptions that are embedded within the arts and technology of their inquiry.

Also committed to illuminating values surrounding gender norms and technological use, Erica Kubik, Jessica Beyer, and Genesis Downey focus on video gaming. More specifically, Kubik challenged value-laden language practices used in gaming culture that create a gendered dichotomy, where man is the “hardcore and legitimate gamer” and woman is the “casual and illegitimate gamer.” By examining the use of both terms, Kubik’s chapter provides an important foundation for Beyer and Downey’s chapters on women’s use of Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) by noting how these gendered terms for gamers—though complete logical fallacies—nevertheless function as gatekeepers to turn away women gamers. Building off Kubik’s claims, Beyer’s examination of World of Warcraft (WoW) revealed that women have opted out of public playing spaces, creating guilds in which they play only with individuals of shared values, whom they often know. Subsequently, this allows women to avoid sexually harassing messages from male gamers. Similarly, Downey's chapter confirmed and extended Beyer's claims about women’s use of guilds on MMORPGs. By analyzing two teen girls' use of guilds in Dungeons and Dragons Online (a social networking site for gamers); Downey claimed that guilds should be synonymous with cyberfeminism in order to increase girl gamers’ agency.

All five authors in the third and final section of the collection, "In Search of Feminist Space Online," interrogate online spaces. A general theme of the research shared in this section is a reminder of the affordances and constraints of any and every online space. Authors Danna Persis Murray and Becky Walker attended to how the use of online discourse subsequently impacts discourse offline. Alternatively, the chapters by Yeon Ju Oh, Natalia Rybas, and Koen Leurs focused on the power dynamics (affordances and constraints) in social networking sites. However, all five chapters in this section inquire about how power dynamics that exist online reflect or complicate power dynamics offline.

Murray performed a comparative discourse analysis of two weight management websites: Weight Watchers and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified University (E.U.). Murray’s focus on the E.U. webmistresses discourse reminds us firstly that discourse is a product of our ideology and both discourse and ideology are socially and culturally situated; and secondly that technology is often used to “spread values” (p. 226). Likewise, Walker examined the debate between fans in two online forums about scenes of same-sex partner violence on the television series The L Word, which ran on the Showtime network from 2004–2009. Given the results of her analysis, Walker advanced the exigence for “a new paradigm: to describe same sex violence” that acknowledges the reality of this issue on screen and off (p. 241).

Oh examines the Korean, cyberfeminist webzine and social networking service Unnine to reveal the ways in which power is exercised by users in cyberspace and how those activities reflect dynamics of power and gender relations offline. Though Oh focused on “the negative realit[ies] of cyberyspace,” she also highlights the steps Unnine created to privilege women’s perspectives and voices (p. 258). In Rybas’s “auto(cyber)ethnographic participation” in the group “Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding is not Obscene,” readers witness the ways in which identity and technology become interdependent and subsequently how this interdependent relationship is inherently gendered. Closing the section and collection, Leurs’s chapter compellingly argued for a broadening of cyberfeminist analysis to include and acknowledge how “immigrant youth and youth born into the diaspora begin to use the Internet to manifest themselves online and connect with others” (pp. 286–287). By examining online social networking sites, instant messaging, and online discussion boards, Leur revealed the ways in which young immigrants must attend to the multiplicity of their identities on and offline. Much like co-authors Patrick Berry, Gail Hawisher, and Cynthia Selfe (2012) in Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times, Leurs argued that these young digital users find themselves straddling locations, borders, and communities. Furthermore, Leurs’ work could be seen as extending the argument of computers and writing scholars Kristin Arola (2010) and Jen Almjeld (2014) who have revealed the constraints of template-driven spaces on identity representation in digital spaces, in that Leurs (2012) revealed the ways in which immigrant youth “do not fit some of the White, masculine, and Western normative templates of the Internet” (p. 299). Subsequently Leurs reminded us to investigate, as Arola and Almjeld have, what aspects of our identities do we lose or gain when we interact online.

Cyberfeminism 2.0 provides a thorough, dynamic, and inclusive understanding of women and minorities’ critical uses of digital spaces. Though Gajjala and Oh’s (2012) collection is more inclusive to diversity than Abbate (2012) and Sandberg (2013), a notable limitation of the collection is attention to the critical, digital work by disabled users. Indeed, none of the works reviewed here attend to issues of usability, accessibility, or assistive technologies for disabled users—this gap may cause readers confusion, given the collection’s promise to inform us of “what it means to be a cyberfeminist now” (Gajjala & Oh, 2012, p. 1). Despite this limitation, the collection as a whole, illuminates important interdisciplinary concerns between cyberfeminists, computers and writing, and technical communication while reminding us of the multiple and dynamic concerns women and minorities face as critical users and producers of technology.

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