Enjoying a much-deserved drink with highly-Twitterate Jesse Daniels after a few days of talk, workshops, and video dialogues in Ann Arbor about Feminist Digital Pedagogy, we were discussing the changing culture of blogging, and other social media forms in relation to our own ever-changing digital metronomes. Which is a fancy way to say here what I said there: “I always used to blog about conferences, but now it feels like it takes T.o..o….l…o…n….g…t..o..b..l..o..g..; the work is t…o…o…h…a…r..d. What’s the deal with this quickening?”

Digital_ScreenNow, I won’t go into the long and short of that conversation held with several other bigwigs of the digerati—Andre Brock, Carrie Rentschler, Laura Wexler—but only begin there (and not at the panel) for two reasons (which were, in fact, big ideas covered at the panel):

  • work in critical, feminist digital studies is about theorizing and practicing our own experience in real time with others (this was one of Rentschler’s points at the Michigan workshop: our feminist digital pedagogy is occurring wherever we meet, online and off, and not just, or perhaps hardly ever, in the classroom) so as to be activist and present and critical together (she mentioned discussion and actions about “Rape Culture” online, and nowhere near “academic feminism,” as one kind of place for professors to look; meanwhile, Laura Wexler reminded us that much of what we need to know, we’ve already done, which is to say the process is also archival and cyclical; see Maria Cotera’s amazing DH project, “Chicana Por Mi Raza: Uncovering the Hidden History of Chicana Feminism (1965-1985), also discussed at the workshop)
  • because, of course, we have long known we had to perform our feminist praxis in sites in and out of the academy, in multiple formats and to different audiences. And now we might all agree that a new part of our feminist digital pedagogy is also to divvy up the temporal spectrum, and each take some responsibility to hold down the short or medium and even, yes, long form, making sure we are present in the immediate, gratifying flows of Twitter as well as guaranteeing that we are lying safe for the long run on paper in a library.

Crank (or should I say crunk) it back a day, and move the (my) body to Rutgers, and similar conversations were happening, under the same title, only in a different room, and to a similar but unique crowd (online and off: see Adeline Koh’s Storify version).

Feminist Digital PedagogiesNow, you might ask, why two conferences, two cities, three days? What is this telling us about this metronome and its unique piano-home? A conference, as you all know, is a kind of medium speed but fully-placed venture: long talks, all day in one room, some need for a coffee and pee break, but the sustaining, necessary gratification of f2f: we must be present to each other … sometimes.

As was true just a year or two ago, when the fembot collective and the femtechnet one found ourselves forming in distinct places, for varied (feminist, digital) ends, but at the same time, and then worked together to divvy up some of that HUGE map-of-affective-labor, this current synchronicity marks a pulse we can all be nourished and energized by across our differences. Rutgers and Michigan held these sister conferences because they want to up their digital games. That’s because over just the past few years a large enough number of us have organized in a lot of places, temporalities, and forms, so as to create visibility, community, and output, so as to make it crystal clear what was always true: that there’s a new and old game in many time-frames and in a world of places; miss it to your own loss.

“If I write race, I write it slant. I write it scat. I write it slipshod. I write it in the same manner I live it. Letting my work embody contradiction and delight. I love rumors about black men. I love the attention on the street in daylight.” Reginald Dwayne Betts

My friend, the esteemed poet Claudia Rankine, was recently making art and conversation about gender and race in America at a tony literary event in Washington DC. As can often be the case in lived spaces and live rooms, things turned rather ugly when unstated norms were breached and some people behaved badly while others erased themselves and the invited artists left feeling bashed or at best unheard. The controversial event quickly entered the blogisphere and there, of course, all bets were off: things turned uglier still, dignified people were more brutal, no holds were barred. Not one to be silenced Claudia (with John Lucas) created Learning To Not Know, a website holding original essays responding to her Open Letter Call for writing about “creative imagination, creative writing and race.”

“It’s grimly funny that the voices least sanctioned to speak come from the bodies most on display. There’s such power in looking–in being the one who looks and not the one who runs, slithers, dances, glides. The power of looking is magnified by speaking to what one has seen or felt or thought.” Danielle Pafunda

This beautiful, considered, simple website is evidence of our power to use the internet to produce productive dialogue and imaginative communities just as the racism and sexism that defined the very air of the room and the ground of the blogisphere evidences how quickly we can lose control of the spaces we choose to inhabit. Claudia’s story, and the countless others that reverberate on her page (like those of Pafunda and Betts quoted above) reverberate with the issues of safety, anxiety, self-authoring and violence I have been discussing here in regards to what we might want from online spaces. We are reminded that most online spaces mirror (and often multiply) the cruel norms of power organizing much of the world we inhabit; and yet we also remember our carefully crafted ghettos, our lovely homes, our classrooms and art, the very many intentional places we make and control, where we have and share power, and from these places we can become emboldened to use digital tools to build similar and new places online that function within our past rules, norms, and architecture while imagining the expanding possibilities allowed for access and interaction on the Internet. See this reduced list authored by the The Crunk Feminist Collective for the rules of our game (and read the long form on their site of course):

  • Know your history.
  • Positions—Know Yours/Take One.
  • Contextualize and Situate.
  • Avoid the pitfalls of presentism.
  • Embrace ambivalence. – Reject false binaries.
  • Envision the possibilities. – Rather than merely deconstructing, Hip Hop scholars and feminists scholars alike, must ask “what kind of world are we creating or do we aim to create?”
  • Wield Technology.—Technological literacy is critical for scholarship, creativity and social movements.
  • Lived Realities Still Matter.
  • Recognize the Power of the Collective.—Collective organizing draws on the best creative, political and scholarly traditions of both Hip Hop and Feminism

I had the honor to give a keynote address at this international symposium, sponsored by Women in View, an association of  Canadian media professionals. An astoundingly diverse and powerful group of women–with high-ranking representatives from industry, finance, unions, the national government, technology, academia, the arts, and non-profits–joined for two days, with the primary goal of making sense of (and providing action items towards changing) the shockingly regressive rates of women’s participation in, and representation through, media. While it would be too long for this venue to cover everything of value that occurred in these jam packed days, I wanted to highlight three key points, and end by looking at the work of three women from whom I learned greatly.

1) O Canada!

It was dismaying to realize how profoundly neo-liberalism has soaked our consciousness and practices in the US by watching the Canadians unselfconsciously (if angrily) engage together via discourses of justice, equity, and a government and society (still a tiny bit) responsible for such claims. The fact that women were in the room from the agencies that fund, show, make, and legislate around a (still a tiny bit) state-supported system, and that they were listening and actually a part of the dialogue, is something I can not imagine in the US where we have become complacent to the idea that market trends trump all conversations around real-world legislation and practices within dominant systems of representation.

2) Stereotypes and Statistics:

As a media artist and humanities scholar, my work has not largely focused upon stereotypes or statistics, and I wanted to learn from intelligent women who were using these questions and methods to drive their work: the emphasis of this conference. The several studies that were shared were shocking: women’s participation in the media as marked by numbers of workers, dollars spent, or images of women on screen have fallen precipitously, and are in ratios that display an illegitimate reflection of women’s power in both other fields and daily life. While this data is deeply compelling, it fails to recognize women and girls’ equally compelling presence on the internet (thus my invited talk), the fact and real power of the hundred-plus female professionals in the room, and at least thirty years of feminist theoretical work in media and cultural studies that has built upon an analysis of how many, to try to understand the systems, structures, and conditions of representation that under-gird numbers. This is to say that while seeing more women on and behind the screen is certainly an admirable and understandable beginning, and an ongoing necessity, what women do when they get there is even more complicated, given that they are bound by corporate, narrative, psychoanalytic, aesthetic, social, and labor codes (to name a few) that must also be understood and changed to make any representation truly meaningful and empowering. Another way to say this is that “negative images” or even low numbers (especially those made by critical, angry women attempting to understand and give thought to their own imperfection, criticism, contradictions and oppression within a daunting and complicated world) are often more illuminating and empowering than “positive” or popular ones.

3) The Personal is the Political:

A brief anecdote: I ate lunch with four or five women, all, it turned out with their own children who are teenagers (I have pre-teens), some of whom made video games, one of whom worked on privacy legislation regarding digital content, and of course, me, I work on YouTube. Off-line, over lunch, we talked like very literate, even expert Moms who nevertheless worry and self-criticize about how to monitor, talk to, and empower our very active media girls (one scholar monitors Facebook with an alter-ego, another never looks). I can not emphasize how moving, and important it was for me to be in a room with women who wanted to let their personal problems and experience add to, nuance, and even contradict the professional and even political work we also do. It is my experience that this sustaining, productive magic happens when feminists are in rooms together, which they are most often not in our post-feminist world. The personal feeds my analysis, power, and anger and joins me with others, so experiencing; it is not a place I want to be at all times (thus I go to work), but it is one from which I move and think and grow. As women get more and more ensconced in the professions, we must self-consciously create and insist upon places from which we can also be fed by our personal experiences which are always productive towards our actions, analyses, demands, and work. This is our unique legacy and gift.

4) Three Women Who Moved Me (of course I learned from them all)

The first day’s keynote speaker, Rosalind Gill, from the London School of Economics, elegantly and flawlessly mobilized statistical and ethnographic analysis to fuel her cultural critical project on “retro-sexism,” one bent upon understanding the paradox of women’s achievement and same time worsening employment and representational conditions, in particular, the unspeakability of sexism in the cool, bohemian environments of new media. Bonnie Klein, and others from Canada’s National Film Board’s feminist Studio D, reminded us of the pros of a government mandated space, rooted in a living social movement, and its ideas, arts, and actions, and moored to the constant discovery engendered by a feminist inflected, actively supported, and highly participatory, self-critical, voice-inspiring system.

Finally, Jutta Treviranus, from OCAD University, inspired me to think about how innovation occurs at and for the margins, that “disability” happens to everyone when environments don’t match their needs, and that technology allows us to imagine a better world of “mass personalization” where “one size fits one.” Her work on the unpopular gave me intellectual and design ammunition in relation to my more experiential and intuitive analyses of popularity on YouTube.

My current work seeks to theorize, imagine, and construct on-line feminist spaces that are as feeding as was SexMoneyMedia in its artful and intentional corralling of expertise, power, affect, politics, art, diversity, and goal-driven world-changing.