Blog Post

Feminism, Technology, and the (Racialized) Body: Thoughts and Notes on #FemTechNet Day 1.1

2-3:30pm Feminism, Technology and the Body

Speakers: Alondra Nelson (@alondra) and Jessie Daniels (@JessieNYC) mediated by Lisa Nakamura (@lnakamur) and Sidonie Smith

http://events.umich.edu/event/15903-1196488/view/month

 

The discussion on Feminism, Technology and the Body began in my favorite room on the Michigan campus, Space 2435. While I have described the space many times before, my newly found pension for thick description makes it nessessary for me to reiterate some of those once drawn observations. The room is incredibly bright, not only due to floor to ceiling lighting on one side of the room but the decor lends an almost pop-art aesthetic to the space. At the front of the room the panelists and moderators sit low to the floor in red suede (or perhaps velvet?) 1970’s style lounge arm chairs. In those chairs, from left to right (audience view) sits Jessie Daniels (CUNY Urban Public Health and Society), Lisa Nakamura (U Michigan American Culture), Alondra Nelson (Columbia Sociology and Gender Studies; Institute of Women and Gender), and Sidonie Smith (U Michigan Director Institute of the Humanities; English/Women’s Studies), all gearing up for the discussion on Feminism, Technology and the Body. The room is packed and there is an air of congeniality. Hugs and smiles and greetings are exchanged all around. Errant microphone feedback signals the beginning of discussion.

 

Now that the scene is set, to the actual conference proceedings. Lisa Nakamura’s welcome addresses some of the issues with online or distance learning. From her perspective, the recordings from this conference can be used to generate and learn strategies to effectively utilize the digital in education while still keeping the key component: the professors. Following this welcome (and more errant microphone feedback). So, here are some quick notes and as usual I will follow with my initial thoughts:

Question 1: How does the topic of the body intersect with the topics of technology and feminism?

Alondra: Having more female bodies in technology does not necessarily end oppression

  • Afrofuturism and pushing back against the view of Black women as the detriment of technological progress

Jessie Daniels: The role that technology plays on the bodies of women of color;

  • Haraway’s cyborg view of the body and Sadie Plant view of gender in 0”s and 1”s

Lisa: “Social Media being overly focused on the body” ie the selfie

  • The disappearance of the racialized body in online spaces in the post-racial era  

Sidonie: Self quantification as policing the body for the state

  • Jessie Daniels on government surveillance  

Question 2: What are the future topics for discussion in regards to the intersection of feminism, technology, and the body?

In conjunction with the topics of the day:

  • The intersection of activism and articulation (negotiating theory and praxis as academics)

  • Women in technology industries

  • Racism and Oppression in online spaces

  • Black Twitter

  • Social Media

  • Healthcare (Illness, Public Health, etc)

  • The Government

  • Mobile technology (minority use of mobile devices, “If You can’t slap him, snap him!” campaign in New York)

Buzzwords and Theorists:

  • The body (within feminist studies, media studies, critical studies)

  • bell hooks

  • Donna Haraway

  • Self-quantification

In thinking about all of these topics I felt it was most appropriate to think about the intersection of feminism, technology, and the body, especially the future of these topics, through the lens of my own work. As a student examining Black web series, especially Black web series created for and by Black Women, I find technology to have limitations and possibilities. In many ways, the technology of television is a limited space for representation and content creation for people of color, especially when taking into account the power structures inherent in producing television that relates to a large mainstream audience. At the same time, digital technology and specifically online video sharing sites such as YouTube have been emancipatory spaces for content creators of colors who wish to reach a niche audience by offering empowering and relatable images through their protagonists (i.e. Awkward Black Girl, Black and Sexy TV, etc). Drawing on Franz Fanon and the view of the Black body as marked with implicit racial distinctions that amount to encoded stereotypes that cannot be escaped, I find it important for web series to present these bodies as racially distinct but with codes that are open to interpretation i.e. postmodern.

With Black web series, while the Black women are apparently Black women, there is a certain level of ambiguity to the connection between the racialized body and the presentation of that self. For me this is an incredibly feminist view, to be given the freedom to fully embody the distinctions of the self based on race and gender while also having the freedom to exhibit both conventional or non-conventional enactments of that self, in this case a Black feminine self. As Jaqueline Bobo once stated, Black women as content creators producers versions of Black womanhood that usually do not exist within the mainstream of society. At the same time, the proliferation of these unusual (sometimes “Awkward”) portrayals of Black womanhood in online spaces seeks to normalize the humanity and freedom to choose that should be a normal part of human beingness. With my work on Black web series and my interests in natural hair I’m sure that I will continue to negotiate how technology influences the presentation of the body and the ways in which feminist theory can inform and analyze those presentations. Now to the next presentation!

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