Friday, November 7, 2003

In search of difference

Each year I have to teach my students the difference between critique and criticism - a fine line for some, but academically quite different. Right now, I am interested in a quick-and-dirty critique - in, for lack of a better term, deconstructing a particular web site with which I've become rather fascinated. What this means is that I am not interested in discussing (re: criticising) the individual authors, their personalities or their intentions (as if I could know those anyway). But in doing so, neither do I mean to suggest an objective critique - those who read this site should know I do not believe in objective knowledge.

So why the disclaimer? Well, I want to write about a site that has explicitly positioned itself as interested in women's lived experiences - and anytime we start talking about women as a category, it opens up all sorts of weirdness, and I want to make my position clear. But more specifically I want to write about what comes to mind when I read posts from this site.

I'm talking about "a celebration of women's contributions to computing; a place to spotlight women's contributions as well point out new opportunities and challenges for women in the computing field."

Personally, I self-identify as feminist and was most marked by my riot-grrl phase (this also points to my age and girlhood inspirations). But I also like this Rebecca West quote: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." All of which is to say that I am interested in women's experiences, and am happy to read more women's voices on technology.

Given my firm conviction that there is no-such-thing as (the essential) WOMAN, I shouldn't be surprised that I don't recognise myself - and all sorts of other women - in this weblog. What I mean is that, despite the explicit claim to represent many voices, I don't see much difference on this site. In other words, the site content strikes me as pretty straight, white and upper-middle class.

Now before anyone freaks out, let me say that being straight, white and upper-middle class isn't bad - in fact, I'm pretty straight, white and upper-middle class myself. But I also believe that "whiteness" is as much a constructed category as any other dealing with sex or race or other imagined homogeneities. I mean, seriously, what scientist would still say there is such a thing as race if we're talking genetics? We are clearly a planet of mongrels and hybrids!

[In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison asked "What Africanism became for, and how it functioned in, the literary imagination is of paramount interest because it may be possible to discover, through a closer look at literary 'blackness,' the nature--even the cause--of literary 'whiteness.' What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as 'American'?" More provocative academics ask Who Invented White People? or claim that treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.]

But getting back to misbehaving - where are the women of colour? Where is the discussion of "digital divides" in terms of globalisation, internationalism or ethnicity? Where can I read about the experiences of women in tech who deal not only with matters of gender but also ethnicity, politics and economics? And I don't just mean lip-service ... for well over a decade, bell hooks has been absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking white academics to task on postmodern politics of difference.

And discussions of difference shouldn't end with ethnicity and class. Where can I read non-heterosexual voices? In her 1990 book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler challenged us to reimagine compulsory heterosexual feminism, and yet lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual voices still remain marginalised. I would also like to hear how sexualities feature in the lives of women in tech, since queer perspectives on technology are far and few between.

But of course, it isn't reasonable for to be all these things - and I'm not saying that I think they should. What I am saying is that the web site content so far - and many, but not all, of the reader comments - is remarkably homogenous. In other words, I most often sense one voice in many shades, not many voices. I want these other voices to speak up - and I question the capacity of a forum like misbehaving to encourage these discussions. But then again, I also question the capacity of any site seeking to represent "women."

I'd love to hear your thoughts...


Post a Comment

<< Home

CC Copyright 2001-2009 by Anne Galloway. Some rights reserved. Powered by Blogger and hosted by Dreamhost.