And I want to explore another one of those cyber-terms,
One could begin with a definition, by saying what cyberfeminism
is. This is not easy however and there are a number of reasons
for the difficulties. First, there are as many different definitions
of cyberfeminism as there are women who call themselves cyberfeminists,
and at least as many from woman who would not!
I think it is also difficult because it is not always a label
of which people are highly conscious -- if you asked someone at
Studio XX if she were a cyberfeminist, she'd likely look up from
her computer, or stop speaking into her microphone, or put down
her digital camera and say, "uh yeah ... I guess so .. um, what
do you mean by cyberfeminist?"
Finally, I think another reason why the term is so hard to define
is because cyberfeminism, like and unlike many other cyber-hyphenated
terms, is and is not, that ... that is, hyphenated. Let me clarify.
Cyberfeminism as a written word is not usually hyphenated, it
is written without a hyphen -- thus, it is not just two things
linked together. Cyberfeminism, while drawing upon both of its
component parts, in its non-hyphenation, its fusion, encourages
something else, a mutation, something more than an amalgam, perhaps
something more accurately described as a hybrid.
So, how to explore this hybrid. First, I do want to break the
term into its component parts, cyber and feminism, to ask what
does cyberfeminism draw from each of these, and then, I want to
put the pieces back together again, and explore the possible mutations
that result from their coupling.
Cyber, itself, is a complex notion, not a word in itself, but
these days, certainly more than mere prefix. The cyber half of
cyber terms is often read as a reference to cybernetics, or the
science of control and communication attributed to "founding father",
Nordered, or about how it is gendered, cyberfeminism does draw
heavily upon the long legacy of feminist research attempting to
intervene in the relations of technology. Despite the claims of
many of the techno-gurus who hang out in Wired Magazine, that
gender, race, age, class are irrelevant in cyberspace, that there
are no more hierarchies around gender and other identities in
computer-mediated communications and places -- feminists intervening
in the relations of information technology argue that however
you define it, gender does matter!
(if for no other reason, perhaps, than so many are working so
hard to erase it!).
I offer one example of the discourse of some of the proponents
In the winter 1996 issue of Virtual City, the self-proclaimed
"newsweek of cyberculture", a freelance writer tells us about
how gender didn't matter when he decided to log onto some bulletin
boards and chat rooms as a woman.
It's not the practice of logging on as a woman or anything else
that I want to bring to your attention, but rather how he frames
and writes about the experience.
Logging on as Ms.Terious, Jesse writes of his experience:
"When I first logged on as Ms.Terious, women asked me questions
that in previous visits, had been asked of other new females:
`What size pantyhose do you wear?' and `What's a French manicure?'.
Once I provided the answers -- and threw in a quick put down of
men who log on using women's names -- I was handed a cup of cyber-
coffee and welcomed in".
First of all, Jesse is assuming that all of the "women" he encountered
were really embodied women. Second, it is interesting the questions
he focuses on as a test of being a "real woman" -- frankly if
anyone knows what a French Manicure is, please let me know! Finally,
note that to cement his identity as a woman, he notes proudly
that he threw in a quick put down of men (translation: all women/feminists
are men- haters).
But Jesse doesn't stop there.
"Minutes later I had one of the most powerful revelations of
my life: I didn't need to do anything special to become a believable
woman, I just had to be intelligent, open, attentive and empathetic
-- gender differences really didn't matter."
So, in response to this sort of discourse, and in response to
huge disparities in practices around technology, feminist research
and practic has asked and continues to ask a number of meaningful
questions which ground research, political organization, practice
interventions, creative participation, lobbying and which overlap
with, and have contributed to, the shaping of cyberfeminism.
How do we talk about cyberspace?
what language do we use? what do terms like democracy, disembodiment,
etc. mean? who gets to be a driver on the information highway?
What participates in the actual technology of cyberspace?
a recent study in Quebec shows that in the Montreal area, only
30% of users are women, and that in other areas of Quebec, the
numbers are closer to 19%. who can afford to participate, in terms
of finances, knowledge, time? what are the local and global implications
of a primarily English-language medium?
As important as who participates, is what are the patterns of
It's not just important that we increase the number of women participating
in these technologies, but that their participation (or not) be
an informed decision, that they have the tools to do what they
would like with the technology, that they are not limited in how
they use the technology.
Who participates in producing and consuming the culture of cyberspace?
For example, the profile of a Wired reader (white, male, two degrees
at least one from an ivy league institution, and an income of
over $85,000 US/year).
What are the representations of gender both within and outside
What products have grown up around this medium? How is it being
Who owns the medium? Who controls it? Even if no one owns it,
it is always interesting to ask, who is making money from it?
Finally, an important questions that somehow only seems to be
asked by feminists, is how are women using this medium?
In short, I think that feminism brings a lot to cyberfeminism,
but again, I would pose a few questions to feminism:
- feminism does bring with it the traditional assumption that
technology is gendered, but cyberfeminism expressly puts into
question notions of gender ...
Does feminism need to rethink traditional notions of gender
categories in light of some of the practices, discourses, around
- at the same time that feminist analyses of technologies have
attempted to embrace a wide understanding of technology, why the
focus on the computer as the predominant information technology?
For example, if cyber technologies are information technologies,
then what about bio-technologies? Kathleen Woodward asks why biotechnology
has not received the same critical attention as media technologies.
She poses the questions: What role does gender play in technocriticism
grounded in biotechnology, how do these narratives figure the
What about other information/digital technologies, that are
often, themselves, hybrid technologies?
- Finally, who gets to be a feminist?
There remain hierarchies, uniforms, "theoretical language clubs"
within feminism that still need to be addressed. How to bring
together diversely situated women to address issues of common
There are again, many more questions that could be asked, but
I want to move on again, to consider cyberfeminism, as drawing
upon strengths and likely some weaknesses from both cyber and
feminism, and combining, mutating into something which is not
merely the sum of its parts.
Cyberfeminism -- the hybrid
When I began to think about the hybrid cyberfeminism, I came
back for inspiration to one of my favourite formulations of technology,
by anthropologist, Arturo Escobar. He suggests: "... any technology
represents a cultural invention, in the sense that it brings forth
a world; it emerges out of particular cultural conditions and
in turn helps to create new ones" (Escobar, 1994: 211).
I guess I like to think that cyberfeminism is beginning to explore
and more importantly, beginning to create new worlds, in part
through, and in conversation with, digital technologies.
As an experiment, I recently typed the word "cyberfeminism"
into the article index at the Concordia University library (both
with and without the hyphen). Only one article came up. It was
an article by Jill Marsden, entitled " Virtual Sexes, Feminist
Futures: The Philosophy of Cyberfeminism". In addition to the
fact that the article was just yet another reread of Donna Haraway's
seminal 1985 essay "A Manifesto for Cyborgs", I guess what I found
caused most concern was the label of "philosophy" being applied
to cyberfeminism ... is cyberfeminism a philosophy?
I can only answer for myself, but I guess what draws me to cyberfeminism
is that I think it does not seek to be a philosophy. Rather than
a philosophy, it seems to me that cyberfeminism is an attitude.
I don't say that to be flip, but rather to suggest that cyberfeminism,
rather than being a doctrinaire set of rules, politics, epistemology,
and so on, is more a conglomeration of practices, an orientation,
a process of continual exploration, an open space with very few
rules, seeking very few rules. Perhaps something that can't, or
shouldn't even be defined in the abstract.
Rather than trying to theorize cyberfeminism in a vacuum, or
in a purely epistemological context, I find it helpful to look
at example of something that I consider to be cyberfeminist, on
the assumption that I may not be able to define one, but I can
point to one! The example is Studio XX, with which many of you
are familiar (and if not, please continue to explore this web
site!). Rather than trying to define cyberfeminism, mostly because
I don't really know what I would have achieved even if I were
able to do so, all I can do is suggest a set of concepts, ideas,
ways of being which, for me, begin to describe, rather than define,
what cyberfeminism is.
Some of those notions which I see as descriptors of cyberfeminist
practice, and which I offer for your consideration include:
hybridity - of technologies, concepts, people, traditional categories
pleasure - in combination, in activity, in thought, and in play
creativity - exploring new way to create, to produce, facilitated
by, but not bound to, the technology itself
irony - a way of attempting to see in more than two or even
three dimensions, to break out of binaries of good technology/bad
technology, good feminist/bad feminist; a sens of play not only
in activity, but in thought
space and spaciality - making space, exploring spaciality, disrupting
affinity - rather than more bounded notions of community; affinity
as contingent but purposeful groupings
bodies - be they disembodied, virtual, re-embodied, hungry,
sore, etc. cyberfeminism puts on the table different potentials
for embodying practices and practices of embodiment
contingency or perhaps more accurately fluidity - of boundaries,
of people, of ideas
humour - most importantly, a sense of humour about self (and
if we have learned anything at XX it is to value the ability to
laugh at a situation and at oneself).
That is not to say that cyberfeminism isn't a politics, isn't
feminist, isn't cyber, but it is to say that it is a politics
which is not about being a politics, a politics which can wink.
That said, I have some questions for cyberfeminism as well.
- what happens when there is a conflict within and between the
two halves of cyber and feminism?
- can you be a cyberfeminist without embracing the technology?
without embracing feminism?
- coming back to the quote with which I began, is cyberfeminism
just another sexy hyphenated way to describe feminist practices
that have been going on for many years?
- how can we keep cyberfeminism from being just another cyber-commodity?
I guess I should also ask, do we want to?
- what does cyberfeminism gain, and perhaps lose, in embracing
and making part of itself the speed, the change, the rhythm, of
larger cyberculture, and the technologies themselves?
Perhaps I'll conclude with a belated word on my questions. Throughout
this piece you may have noticed that they are not necessarily
consistent, some of them contract, some may be banal, others perplexing.
That is because they are truly questions; I'm not posing these
questions, secretly knowing or thinking that I know the answers.
I don't. These are my questions about cyberfeminism, my hopes
for cyberfeminism. I hope at the very least they have provoked
some thoughts and perhaps some questions in you about that interesting