Parenting and feminist motherhood blogs discuss issues surrounding approaches to childhood safety. The questions were first raised at American Family (USA) and the questions were answered many times by commenters, but transferred to other blogs as well; Raising WEG (USA), Penguin Unearthed (AU), In A Strange Land (AU) and Blue Milk (AU). I tracked this discussion back from Blue Milk.

There was a lot of talk about the disturbing existence of the video game RapeLay, particularly in comparison to questions about game violence generally. Belle Waring at John and Belle Have a Blog asks why the game is so much more disturbing than games that simulate murder. Lisa Kansas at PunkAssBlog argued that in violent games, killing people is at least partly a means to another end, and basically indiscriminate, whereas the whole objective of Rapelay is to rape, and that the violence targets women and girls in particular. The Curvature (USA) argued that:

  • Genuine and logical criticism of the game, I think, isn’t about it causing an actual number of rapes, but about it supporting and expanding the conditions that already exist, virtually around the world, that allow rape to be committed.

This is not specifically an Australian discussion, but Nadya Suleman and her fertility doctor Michael Kamrava were also a topic of discussion in many feminist/political blogs. A Little Pregnant (USA) linked to an LA Times article that reported that the same doctor had transferred 7 embryos to another woman leading to her life being endangered by carrying quads. In the comments many expressed concern that the situation gave the practice of normal, responsible IVF a bad name, and feared that it would cause a dangerous backlash for infertile women who want the choice of using it. Several other USAn bloggers identified misogynistic / controlling overtones of the furor surrounding Suleman (The Kugelmass Episodes, The Angry Black Woman, Sybil Vane at Bitch Ph.D).

Continuing the theme of motherhood and medicine, in a guest post on Hoyden About Town, Ruzawench reports irresponsibility on the part of her health practitioner, when she was prescribed amphetamines for weight loss while still breastfeeding. Lauredhel also posted Antibreastfeeding Bingo. She also posted an analysis of the Maternity Services Review, on a weekend when it was in the news, questioning

  • Why is a government report designed to stimulate rational national reform backing away from “sensitive” issues? Could it be that it’s not actually there to stimulate reform at all?

And noting

  • that the issues of non-consensual intervention, violence and birthrape at the hands of birthing practitioners is not mentioned. “Consent” is absent. The only violence present is domestic violence. Women’s experiences are erased. And the only women with “culture” are Indigenous women.

This follows on from TigTog’s post on the same subject, which questions the methodology of the review, in that it doesn’t discuss socioeconomic and other factors effecting the difference between private and public care. Both posts question the mainstream media’s response to the Review.

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Week 27 Update

16Feb09

Before I go on with my usual update I wanted to say hi to anyone who finds this blog via trackbacks or pingbacks when I link to blogs. I am a phd student in the early stages of studying the network of feminist blogs in Australia.  Basically I am looking at the role of online blogging communities in the feminist movement in Australia. How do they/we/you contribute to the discourse on women’s rights in this country? What significance do they/we/you hold for the writers of blogs and other participants in the debates? How closely integrated are they/we/you with international networks of feminist blogs? I am looking at these questions in the context of the academic fields of social movement studies and cyberculture studies. My research into this blogging community has significance not only for these fields but also for the future of Australian feminism. If you have any questions about my research or what I am doing then feel free to ask me. I welcome input from anyone with an interest or stake in the topic.

It’s been a while between updates, I know. That’s mostly because I’ve been writing various things, trying to get a feel for where I’m up to with my topic. Overall that’s going pretty well, and I’ve had a couple of breakthroughs in my thinking and have found a couple of potential/likely core texts. One of those is Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics, the other is Margaretta Jolly’s In Love and Struggle, particularly the section on email. Now I’m back in a voracious reading phase, and thus I will be doing some more public reflection. Last week I re-read Challenging Codes by Alberto Melucci – from cover to cover this time – and found it infinitely more rewarding than I did on first reading.

I’m officially at the 6 month mark! I am not sure whether to feel great about that or absolutely freaked out. It feels like no time at all has passed since I started all this.

I also submitted my abstract to the IR 10.0 Conference, which was surprisingly nervewracking for a simple web form. I need to not stress out so much!

Also this week I’m starting discourse analysis properly, keeping track of conversations and information exchanges on specific topics around the feminist blogosphere, rather than simply reading randomly. I will probably also start doing more IssueCrawler maps to show how relationships between blogs form.

Last week I also started a PhD twitter. Although in general I am not really a fan of the microblogging phenomenon, it is a painless way to keep track of what I am doing day-to-day without writing big long updates.

Another thing I read, somewhat randomly, since I’d only borrowed the book for my partner to read and then forgotten to give it to him, was an essay by Slavoj Zizek; “Is it Possible to Traverse the Fantasy in Cyberspace?” which has an interesting perspective on the possibility of truly subversive, transgressive, transformative discursive acts in cyberspace. This is in contrast to the common sense idea that acts online are only virtual acts with no consequences for the real world.

Quote: “There is, of course, a long tradition of conceiving art as a mode or practice of writing auguring what ‘one cannot speak about’ – that is, the utopian potential ‘repressed’ by the existing socio-symbolic network of prohibitions. there is also a long tradition of using writing as a means to communicate a declaration of love too intimate and/or too painful to be directly asserted in a face-to-face speech-act.”

In a related, romantic aside (appropriate for Valentine’s Day) I’ve also been reading Jeanette Winterson’s The PowerBook, ostensibly in search of epigraphs, and getting entirely carried away. I always feel about 16 when reading Winterson, maybe because I was gifted my first novel of hers by my first love (who I met on the Internet!) at that age.  Swoon/spew. Here’s a couple of those potential epigraphs.

“It’s night. I’m sitting at my screen. There’s an e-mail for me. I unwrap it. It says- Freedom, just for one night.

“I know about disguise. I disguise myself from predators. I disguise myself from circumstance. The camouflages I use are elaborate, but I know what they are. Even my body is in disguise today.

But what if my body is the disguise? What if skin, bone, liver, veins, are the things I use to hide myself? I have put them on and I can’t take them off. Does that trap or free me?”

“The screen was dimming. The air was heavy. You and I, separated by distance, intimate of thought, waited. What were we waiting for – fingers resting lightly on the board like a couple of tableturners?”

“‘A stranger is a safe place. You can tell a stranger anything.'”

“This is a virtual world. This is a world inventing itself. Daily, new landmasses form and then submerge. New continents of thought break off from the mainland. Some benefit from a trade wind, some sink without trace. Others are like Atlantis – fabulous, talked about, but never found.”


Network map

21Dec08
Network map

Network map

I don’t know how well you can see it here (click to see it properly), but I made this map using the pretty snazzy issuecrawler.net program. This was basically just a test run to see what kind of results I’d get. I used around 10 links of identified Australian feminist blogs to start off with, and did a social network map at 2 levels of iteration with co-link analysis (in other words sites had to link to each other to be considered part of the core of the network). It also provides a few other levels of rankings and analysis, including actor rankings (by inlinkings).

Notice the US sites and more general politics-centred Australian blogs are kind of off to one side with a few exceptions, even if they have high actor rankings.


First of all, some very good news is that I finally have a flat to move into – in Petersham – and can soon stop working out of my mother’s spare room! We (my partner K and I) will be moving in next weekend and the flat is big enough for me to set up a little home office in the sunroom (which faces west so it might live up to its name a little too well this Summer) and store some books and maybe grow some plants.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a proper home. It was about 20 months ago that we moved out of our place in Marrickville, although there were a couple of temporary homes in the Nove Mesto or New Town district of Prague and then the New Town/Stockbridge area of Edinburgh, neither of which were particularly new and both of which were extremely lovely – it is a shame we won’t be continuing this theme and living in Newtown, Sydney! But Petersham will have to do. It has the distinct advantage of having Portuguese custard tarts in abundance.

Other good news is that I have started writing more seriously – I have embarked upon my literature review / paper / research proposal.

Here are some more links on the theme of gender and the internet:

Fifty Two Acts: 52 Weeks, 52 Acts of Cyberfeminist Creativity

CyberAnthropology

Digital Youth Research

The EyeSlit-Crypt

Hysteria and Cyberspace

Blog This!

List of Resources by the Centre for Women and Information Technology

Cyberculture, identity, and gender resources

Cyberjanes and Cyberjitters

Gender and Electronic Discourse

*The* Link Portal on Gender in the Blogosphere @ CultureCat

Pew Internet Studies: Tracking Online Life: How Women Use the Internet to Cultivate Relationships with Family and Friends


I plan to make this a regular feature, as I am constantly adding random things of interest to my Bookmarks without much thought about what I can do with them – so I may as well keep track of them and share them to boot!

The wonderful thing about online research is that it’s such a dynamic field and there are so many people doing things independently, making online projects and collectives and the academics are more open to publicising their work through blogs etc. making a potential online community of academics all over the world. I am really enjoying the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) email list, simply as a way to get inspired by all the interesting things people are researching. In fact I joined the Association yesterday on a whim (damn Paypal! You don’t even need to get out your wallet!).

Academic Blogs

PhD Blog – Malene Charlotte Larsen

Collectivate.net – Trebor Scholz

Klastrup’s Cataclysms 2.0

Nancy Baym

Being in the world-wide-web

Snurblog

Webbing Cyberfeminist Practice – Inactive but I’d like to get my hands on the book!

Academic Resources

Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON)

PhD – First Thoughts to Finished Writing

Livejournal Academic Research Bibliography – collated by Alice Marwick

Other

Mashable.com

TakeBacktheTech.com

More to come!


Week 8: Metaphors of feminism: “Waves” and “Backlash”

This week I have been looking at the concept of backlash and of a hostile environment for a social movement in order to understand how to recognise this. I have also been exploring the metaphors that are used in the description of contemporary feminism, in particular the concepts of the “third wave” and “backlash”. Some writers see these two developments in contemporary feminism as somehow linked.

Ednie Kaeh Garrison (2004), in particular, feels that third wave feminism has arisen at least partly because of the way feminism has been framed by the mainstream media over the last few decades. In her essay in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, she discusses the way this happens: “Feminism […] gets constructed as the enemy, conveniently providing a figure (a ‘straw woman/feminist’) for traditional ideologues and ‘average’ women to target”. This happens because “backlash deterrence produces and commodifies the categories of ‘the feminist’ and ‘real women/femininity’ as opposing perspectives and competing factions”. In other words the suggestion is that third wave feminists identify as different from second wave feminism mainly because second wave feminism has been reframed by the media as something that it wasn’t, and/or because the notion of “real women” is simply problematic. As a result third wave feminism itself plays into the backlash rhetoric – young women are alienated from radical feminism because they don’t want to be associated with the non-feminine – they want to assert their “real woman”hood even though the opposition is itself illusory (Garrison 2004, 31).

However, Garrison (2004) sees the situation as more positive than it would seem at first, in that third wave feminists are, in reality, using the same ideas for the same causes and have far more in common with second wave feminists than they might admit. Even so, she concludes that;

One of the greatest challenges for third wave feminists engaging with the media, moving into media institutions and/or producing alternate media cultures that register outside the mainstream may be to reconstruct the ways the popular consciousness of feminism is conceived and articulated. Coming to feminist political consciousness today involves weeding through disjointed, conflicting, and apparently contradictory conversations.

Garrison and others are critical of the wave metaphor, even though it may be “comforting” (Garrison 2005, 238), it is a metaphor which to some extent encourages complacency and a “wait and see” approach. Ocean waves “infer a movement that carries us along, we get caught up in the action and movement, and come to see later that we have been part of some massive influx and reflux” (Garrison 2005, 243-244). In this way the metaphor removes agency and makes social movements seem like events that occur spontaneously and independently from people and the concerted efforts of activists.

As an aside, I would like to explore in social movement theory the various ideas and images that have been used to explain the patterns of protest to see how each is useful for explaining the ebbs and flows of activism. It is actually quite difficult to avoid metaphors! Even the word “backlash” is a metaphor (Cudd 2002). Backlash itself comes from a machinery metaphor, a reaction (back) of a machine to being pushed (forward) too quickly. I suppose this gives the person pushing the machine metaphorical agency, but the machine can’t help itself – it’s simply physics!

Some see the idea of waves as divisive or misleading, and there is controversy about what qualifies as a wave. Henry (2005) argues that feminists shouldn’t divide themselves by generation – that difference is possible within a united cause, and that a united cause is necessary for change:

Second wave feminists have taught us the difficulties in working with other women on shared political goals; these are the lessons inherited by the third wave, the feminism that we grow up with “in the water.” While a nostalgic longing may continue to exist for that clear and unifying agenda of the past – even if that vision of the past is itself a fiction – some third wave feminists have begun to insist that we need to work toward a communal vision of feminism in the present, one that acknowledges differences among women while simultaneously arguing for a shared political commitment.

Such a nostalgic vision of the past “reflects a falsely held belief that all of the meaningful struggles are over, that all of the battles have been won” (Springer 2005) and this idea needs to be rejected before people will be motivated to act and create change.

On the other hand, Elaine Showalter, in an interview with Gillis and Munford (2004) is sceptical of third wave feminism’s potential for actual social change: “Third wave feminism implies a movement, a wave suggests movement, whereas I am very dubious about the existence of a new feminist movement. I think of the wave as more temporal than revolutionary”.

The idea of discrete waves is also problematic for social movement theorists like Rupp and Taylor (2005) who have uncovered the phenomenon of “abeyance” between the waves. They “called into question the then prevailing orthodoxy that the U.S. women’s movement mobilized through two intense waves of protest and virtually died in the interim years” (Rupp and Taylor 2005).

Returning to the concept of backlash:

It has been suggested to me that “backlash” connotes a mean-spirited, punitive attitude on the part of the backlasher. Faludi suggests this when she introduces the term, defining backlash to feminism as “hostility to female independence,” and “fear and loathing of feminism.” While I think that backlash can certainly come about through such attitudes, it can also come about as a result of completely unorganized, unconscious, perhaps even institutionalized, resistance to change. (Cudd 2002, 10)

Backlash can serve to send a movement into abeyance, although these two terms are not synonymous. As Showalter (in Gillis and Munford 2004) puts it “Feminism can go on independently of a women’s movement”, and this is essentially the difference between the terms “feminism” and “the women’s movement”. Feminism is the ideology, the belief system that says women deserve better, and the women’s movement is the active community that enables social change to occur and social conditions to improve for women, and this can’t happen in a hostile social environment which is resistant to change.

Week 9: Feminism and backlash in cyberspace

A completely isolated, unique, anomalous event could not be an instance of backlash in my sense. This is because a single event could not be an event of oppression absent any social structures of constraint. But the existence of a mean-spirited attitude, an intention to deny social progress, means that the event is not really an isolated, anomalous event. For there must be other events, however diffuse and disorganized, that lead to the crystallization of the attitude toward the social group. (Cudd 2002, 11)

Above is Ann E. Cudd’s description of what backlash looks like. Immediately when I read this I thought about the sometimes very anti-feminist attitudes of people I have met online and IRL. I thought about the strange reactions people have had when I tell them I am writing my thesis on online feminist communities.

For example, I met this guy at a party a couple of weeks ago, and I was introduced as “Frances who is doing a PhD on online feminist communities”. Before I had even opened my mouth the guy had launched into a big spiel about “Oh God” and “Why on earth was I doing that?” and “Gender is irrelevant in online communities!” and “Feminists have got it wrong!” and proceeded to tell me why feminism had got it wrong. When he finally stopped speaking I pointed out that he had made a lot of assumptions about me purely from the word “feminist” in my research topic. The conversation actually reminded me of the shouting-down kind of debate that goes on in online discussion groups all the time, which is often highly gendered. I thought about what he had said about the irrelevance of gender online, and thought back to my IRC days, about all the ops being guys with few exceptions, and the fact that the first thing anyone was asked when they entered a chatroom was “asl?” (“Age, Sex, Location?”)

The internet was believed by some proponents to be something that would dissolve gender boundaries and create a new free social world (Gillis 2004). People were to become cyborgs, anonymous cyberbodies without fear of prejudice. According to Gillis (2004) there are three versions of this thesis:

(1) the consumer relationship has reduced the relevance of the demographic complication of sex; (2) we regard any form of technology as eliding sex; and (3) with the repudiation of the ‘body’ in cyberspace, the phenomenological equation of ‘body equals woman’ is erased. This thesis goes untested and masquerades as demonstrative ‘new’ sex by virtue of the kinds of thinking that feed into it.

But she asks: “Why are we so keen to believe that the Internet appears to provide a space in which feminist politics and praxis can take place outside the patriarchal hegemony? Empirical studies have demonstrated that although the potential for gender-fucking whilst online is tempting, it remains largely science fiction.” (Gillis 2004).

In the absence of bodies, in fact, “network users exaggerate societal notions of femininity and masculinity in an attempt to gender themselves” (Gillis 2004, 190). Thus we should not make the mistake that the internet is a safe place for feminism to be tested, as cyberfeminism has claimed. In fact, some people’s experiences and research into the realities of the internet show that the opposite can be true. Camp (1995) says that in her experiences online, “all the groups formed for women quickly become swamps of men’s bile”.

As Judy Anderson (1995, 124) explains:

Women need a place to discuss our issues. Many open forums whose focus is women’s issues suffer from a common problem. Discussions are frequently dominated by disagreements between men and women about what the issues are rather than how to deal with them. This is not a problem with all men, but is a problem with almost all such open forums.

Worse still, some online forums that deal with feminist ideas can become actively hostile to women participants. Brail (1996, 144) recounts her experience with online harassment as a result of her defence of feminist ideas in an online newsgroup:

In spite of having been online for years, I had never really participated in Usenet before and had no idea how much anti-female sentiment was running, seemingly unchecked, on many Usenet forums. When I saw the treatment this women was getting in response to her request to discuss Riot Grrls, I was not only appalled, but also incredibly angry.

She believes that online harassment and overtly gendered behaviour is, contrary to expectations, making it more difficult for women to feel comfortable in these online environments (Brail 1996). Perhaps it is the relatively anonymous environment which makes some men feel more comfortable expressing sexist ideas and suppressing feminist debate, as in the case of the disorganised invasion of the alt.feminism newsgroup by a group of mostly male participants.

In spite of the ability for women’s communities to become corrupted in this way online, the Internet has a lot of potential for women’s groups. In Wired Women (Cherny & Weise [eds] 1996) online women’s groups can be very important for the writers of the chapters, but these groups often have more tightly controlled participation, such as telephone screening before admission, and a women-only membership policy. In the mid-90s when this book was written, blogging communities had not yet developed, and blogs themselves had not become the phenomenon they are today.

I feel that there may also be something about the structure of blogging communities which allows them to work effectively as online communities for feminist ideas without the possibilities for invasion that newsgroups and chatrooms have had in the past. Firstly, each blog is owned or co-owned by one single author or several co-authors whose ideology is aligned. Secondly, the blog is open to debate and discussion, but the nature of blogs and the control that blog owners have over this debate and discussion (e.g. by screening comments, keeping tabs on IP addresses, and so on) discourages harassing comments, or flames designed to shut down the debate that is going on with an abusive line of argument. Harassment can still, of course, occur, but the owner of the blog has a lot more control over whether the blog is a safe and useful place for other feminist bloggers and other site visitors to participate in.

Anderson, J.
Not for the Faint of Heart: Contemplations on Usenet
Cherny, L. & Weise, E. R. (ed.)
Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace
Seattle: Seal Press, 1996, pp. 126-138
Brail, S.
The Price of Admission: Harassment and Free Speech in the Wild, Wild West
Cherny, L. & Weise, E. R. (ed.)
Chapter Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace
Seattle: Seal Press, 1996, pp. 141-167
Camp, L.J.
We Are Geeks, and We Are Not Guys: The Systers Mailing List
Cherny, L. & Weise, E. R. (ed.)
Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace
Seattle: Seal Press, 1996, pp. 114-125
Cudd, A.E.
Analyzing Backlash to Progressive Social Movements
Superson, A. M. & Cudd, A. E. (ed.)
Theorizing Backlash: Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002, pp. 3-16
Garrison, E.K.
Are We on a Wavelength Yet? On Feminist Oceanography, Radios, and Third Wave Feminism
Reger, J. (ed.)
Chapter Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement
New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. 237-256
Garrison, E.K.
Contests for the Meaning of Third Wave Feminism: Feminism and Popular Consciousness
Gillis, S., Howie, G. & Munford, R. (ed.)
Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, pp. 24-36
Gillis, S.
Neither Cyborg Nor Goddess: The (Im)Possibilities of Cyberfeminism
Gillis, S., Howie, G. & Munford, R. (ed.)
Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, pp. 185-196
Gillis, S. & Munford, R.
Interview With Elaine Showalter
Gillis, S., Howie, G. & Munford, R. (ed.)
Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, pp. 60-71
Henry, A.
Solitary Sisterhood: Individualism Meets Collectivity in Feminism’s Third Wave
Reger, J. (ed.)
Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement
New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. 81-96
Rupp, L.J. & Taylor, V.
Foreword
Reger, J. (ed.)
Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement
New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi-xiv
Springer, K.
Strongblackwomen and black feminism: a next generation?
Reger, J. (ed.)
Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement
New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. 3-21

IR.10 Internet: Critical
The 10th annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers

7-11 October 2009
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Venue: Milwaukee Hilton City Center

Themes:
critical moments, elements, practices
critical theories, methods, constructs
critical voices, histories, texts
critical networks, junctures, spaces
critical technologies, artifacts, failures
critical ethics, interventions, alternatives

Programming:
Susanna Paasonen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University
of Helsinki

Local Committee:
Elizabeth Buchanan and Michael Zimmer, UW-Milwaukee; Steve Jones , UI-
Chicago

Sponsors:
School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
UWM Center for Information Policy Research
University of Illinois-Chicago, Department of Communication