Nowhere and Everywhere: The Place of Feminism on YouTube
October 1, 2010
I gave a talk last week at Berkeley’s Gender Consortium that points towards the (non)place, and yet somehow real focus and locus, of my future work: the nowheres and everywheres of feminism in on-line, user-generated, social networked spaces of web 2.0 and its scholarship and pedagogy. I will be speaking on issues related at the Women in View: SexMoneyMedia conference in October in Vancouver, and then again, in a course I will be offering at USC’s Critical Studies program this Spring while on sabbatical.
This new project comes on the tail of the YouTube video-book, (Learning from YouTube, to be published very soon with MIT (contract signed at last!) taking some personal account, in a sordid if necessary form of feminist self-criticism, for the absence, or hide-n-seek nature, of feminism in my current project. Namely: what is the nature of work by a feminist scholar that is neither about a “feminist” topic (YouTube) nor set in a feminist space (the internet)? Especially given that I usually intentionally work in more marginal spaces of shared commitment, community, and criticism, my new project will seek to understand what might be the feminist implications of my not-overtly, hardly-even feminist project as a way of thinking more generally about the no-places of feminism on-line.
In the talk, I looked self-critically at how the “cyber-closet of on-line feminism” defined my work on this project and on the web much as the closet had functioned for gays and lesbians before me: as a structuring absence, always knowable in its felt presence, a hidden frame through which to see newly. I looked at the many ways and places that feminism was implicit in my work: largely working as a set of underlying if unnamed methods, theories, and operating procedures that assumed a political, communal, ethical, and personal stance that often foregrounded the knowledge, experience, and skills of women, family, and home, yet without ever calling this out. Unnaming and not saying as ways of being seen by new audiences, as tickets of entry to new places, and as permission to speak more globally about democratic media, corporate culture, and radical self-expression.
I also looked at the places where my feminism was explicit: flags unfurled for my mainstream users to avoid miscommunication and misdirection and not to unduly raise techno expectations. Yes, I would be talking about war, gender, sexuality, race, transgender, and all those other identity- and left-based issues usually eschewed in the squeaky clean, apolitical spaces of the on-line. Interestingly, while I found that “predictably, a feminist methodology including reflexivity and collaboration, an action orientation and activist stance, and an affective focus on the everyday is demonstrated across the work,” I also saw that often when I began to work explicitly on a feminist topic, person, question, or thematic, I would nevertheless veer to the implicit, or general, or global, making larger points about form, structure, ownership, organizing. Somehow, on-line, on YouTube, I couldn’t quite keep my sites clear on women and feminism, even when I tried.
I concluded that I hope to study these nowheres and everywheres of feminism in on-line user-generated spaces. How feminist methods and tendencies define the space for all: practices defined by reflexivity, the affective, the everyday, and self-growth, expression and healing. And yet, the internet’s no-frame of corporate control excludes, de-nudes the possibilities for interaction and action given that it can never be that safe space so necessary for building community.
With thanks to B. Ruby Rich’s “In the Name of Feminist Filmmaking,” an earlier naming project that called forth these terms for her times and media—Validative, Correspondence, Reconstructive, Medusan, Corrective Realism, and Projectile—I name my own names towards future studies:
ARCHITECTURAL or ARCHAIC feminism occurs at deep and structural levels
UN-NAMED Feminism: That in so doing sees itself newly
MORPHING feminism transforms to encapsulate other beliefs in feminism’s name
FRAMING feminism umbrellas the social justice work of trans, anti-war, anti-racism and other activisms
ASSERTIVE or INSERTIVE feminism names its relevance in places where it wasn’t deemed important
COMMON-CULTURAL feminism assumes feminism as the shared space of production
ACCESS feminism doesn’t just speak to feminists; and also speaks to feminists by opening access to unusual places
TECHNO feminism that engages in collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression on-line
ASSUMPTIONAL or PRESUMPTIVE feminism always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak