Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment Author(s): Jessie Daniels Source: Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol. 37, No.

1/2, Technologies (Spring - Summer, 2009), pp. 101-124 Published by: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27655141 . Accessed: 18/09/2013 20:31
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YBE R FEM RETHINKING C INISM (S): AND EMBODIMENT RACE, GENDER,
JESSIE DANIELS
"If you
HollaBackNYC up with streets phones genious everyday and to use subways, snap of photos technology

can't

slap him,
harassment

snap him,"
men

is the tag line for the website
The themselves their them array site's creators, fed on New York's cell in of

(http://www.hollabacknyc.com). by exposing to use and upload of an

encourage

women

Internet-enabled to the site. This expression

of harassers

is emblematic

of new

feminist practices called "cyberfeminism." Among cyberfeminists (Orgad 2005; Plant 1997; Pod?as 2000), some have suggested that Internet technolo
gies can be an effective medium for resisting repressive gender regimes and

enacting equality,while others have called into question such claims (Gajjala
2003). tial of Central Internet to such claims and counterclaims about the subversive poten as technologies cyborgs is theorizing 2002, that constructs 32), as when women of color writes about

quintessential

(Fernandez

Haraway

the "cyborg women making chips inAsia and spiral dancing in Santa Rita" (1985, 7). In this essay, I offer an overview of cyberfeminist theories and
practices. research, man/machine Drawing I review on a wide array claims tourism, of theoretical about and literature and potential within a empirical of hu global cyberfeminist identity the subversive disembodiment

cyborgs,

networked economy alongside analyses that highlight the lived experience
and actual Internet practices that of girls the and self-identified shifts gender women.1 and While some of contend Internet racial regimes

cyberfeminists

power through the human/machine hybridity of cyborgs (Haraway 1985), identity tourism (Nakamura 2002;Turkle 1997), and the escape from em bodiment
experience reveals ways lives

(Hansen 2006; Nouraie-Simone
and that actual they Internet use the practices Internet ways

2005b),
of girls and

I argue that the lived
self-identified their material, women corporeal hierarchies

to transform resist

in a number and

of complex

that both

and

reinforce

of gender

race.

?

[WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly 37: 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 2009 by Jessie Daniels. All rights reserved.

2009)]

101

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102

EMI NISM ERF RETHINKING CYB (S)

drawing on academic disciplines, I also focus rather deliberately on the theoretically informed empirical investigations by sociologists into While
Internet practices. Saskia Sassen's work addresses the embeddedness of the

digital in the physical, material world, and she catalogs theways that digital
technologies proactive "enable endeavors women in multiple to engage different in new realms, forms of contestation and in from political to economic"

(2002, 368). In contrast,Lon Kendall (1996,1998, 2000, 2002), in her richly nuanced ethnography of the gendered dynamics in themultiuser domain (MUD)
subvert

BlueSky,
white,

argues that digital technologies
masculine cultures and

reproduce rather than
hierarchies of power.

heterosexual,

In a 1997 article "Changing the Subject," Jodi O'Brien writes eloquently about the strict policing of gender identity online and the limitations of use of identity tourism. And Victoria Pitts's (2004) research about women's
the Internet on breast cancer forums offers an important corrective to the

discourse about disembodiment popular in cyberfeministwriting. My focus is based at least partly on familiarity; I am a sociologist by background and
training, pirical so it is the field research in which about I am most Internet conversant. is also Focusing on em strat practices an effective

sociological

egy for informing theoretical claims about the subversive potential of digital
technologies. challenge Finally, my to those who focus claim on sociological research ismeant to serve as a to want to transform as well as inform society

yet have little engagement in the cyberfield.

AND AND "ZEROES ONES": BEYOND CYBERFEMINISM(S) GENDER, RACE,
Cyberfeminism a clearly of is neither political debates, a single agenda. and theory Rather, nor a feminist movement refers with to a articulated theories, "cyberfeminism" the relationship

range

practices

about

between

gender and digital culture (Flanagan and Booth
more accurate to refer to the plural,

2002, 12), so it is perhaps
Within and among

"cyberfeminism(s)."

cyberfeminism(s) there are a number of distinct theoretical and political
stances in relation to Internet technology and gender as well as a notice

able ambivalence about a unified feminist political project (Chatterjee 2002,
199). terized and Further, by a some Utopian distinguish vision between the "old" woman about cyberfeminism, corrupting "confronting charac patriarchy, the top of a postcorporeal which is more

a "new"

cyberfeminism,

down from the bottom-up"
Thus, any attempt results common to write in a narrative ground

(Fernandez, Wilding,
about that cyberfeminism is inaccurately these variants

and Wright
as if it were

2003, 22-23).
a monolith what is the However,

inevitably provides

totalizing.

among

of cyberfeminism(s)

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DANIELS

103

sustained

focus

on

gender

and

digital

technologies

and

on

cyberfeminist

practices (Flanagan and Booth 2002, 12; Chatterjee Wilding, and Wright 2003, 9-13).
Cyberfeminist various Internet practices technologies involve by experimentation self-identified

2002, 199; Fernandez,
and with do

engagement across several

women

mains,

including work (Scott-Dixon 2004; Shih 2006), domestic life (Na 2001; Ribak 2001; Singh 2003), 2001), (Harcourt 2000), feminist political organizing (Everett Pollock 2000), art (Fernandez, Wilding, and Wright

(Clegg civic engagement 2007; Sutton and

education

2003), and play (Bury 2005; Cassell and Jenkins 2000; Flanagan 2002; Kendall 1996).While there isno consistent feminist political project associated with cyberfeminist
within a culture in which Internet technology is so pervasively

practices,

coded
least

as "masculine"
potentially

(Adam 2004; Kendall
in such practices

2000),

there is something at
Wilding, and

transgressive

(Fernandez,

Wright
versive ... use

2003).
Gill takes exception when in affluent to the notion she describes northern that there is anything sub in these "women's countries ... familiar for e-mail,

Rosalind

practices

depressingly primarily

of the Internet

home shopping and the acquisition of health information" (2005,99; see also
Herring 2004). Indeed, ("the the commercialization for women") of the co-opts Internet rhetoric at sites such as iVillage.com Internet the of feminism

for profit (Royal 2005), as does much of the health information online (Pitts women in the global North have it is true thatmany affluent 2004).While
"depressingly sweeping ways women Sue Rosser, different feminist familiar" generalization are using in her lenses, practices suggests digital expansive concludes when a lack it comes of to the Internet, about the their technology uses this sort of awareness to innovative lives.2 through "aspects

technologies review

re-engineer

of information

that although

cyberfeminism

of differentfeminist theories," it lacks a sufficientlycoherent framework to be characterized as anything but a "developing feminist theory" (Rosser 2005, 19).3Other scholarswriting about cyberfeminism(s) are less concerned with
the lack of a coherent set of framework theories, and, debates indeed, and revel in the "sporadic, and tactical, Flanagan contradictory practices" (Booth

2002, 12) that constitute cyberfeminism(s).Yet it is exceedingly rarewithin
both cyberfeminist practices and critiques of them to see any reference to

the intersection of gender and race (Fernandez, Wilding, and Wright 2003, instead both the and the that 21); practices critiques suggest "gender" is a unified category and, by implication, that digital technologies mean the
same thing to all women across differences of race, class, sexuality.

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104

NISM ERF EMI RETHINKING CYB (S)

In her book Zeroes andOnes, Sadie Plant is exuberant about the potential
of Internet izes technologies as a to transform liberating place the lives of women. because, Plant as she conceptual sees it, the cyberspace for women

inherently textual nature of the Internet lends itself to "the female" (1997,
23). Her the basic ders digital title refers to the binary language and ones code of zeroes and ones that constitutes ren that the programming as "female" is feminine, that computers as phallic and use. Plant "male," a world symbolically predicting in which

zeroes future

distributed,

nonlinear,

"zeroes"

are displacing the phallic order of the "ones" (Gill 2005, 99). Plant is perhaps the leading figure in popularizing the ideas of cyberfeminism beyond the essen academyWhile Plant has been justifiably criticized for reinscribing tialistnotions of gender (Wilding 1998),Wajcman (2004) writes that Plant's
about the potential against of gender previous to equality in cyberspace of must be un as of as a reaction masculine. and "ones" with conceptualizations essentializing room Plant's gender, technology binary how gen of the

optimism derstood inherently "zeroes" der

In addition leaves "race." no

Plant's

conceptual

for understanding is characteristic

intersects

In this way,

writing

field, as there is relatively little discussion of the intersections of gender with
"race," variables engage except to be both in cases added where on and volume, to race "race" "gender." it is both is included Thus, when in a long list of additional explicitly cyberfeminists and instructive. Practices, Fernandez,

gender edited

conspicuous

In their

Domain

Errors!

Cyberfeminist

Wilding,
clusionary of white

and Wright
aspects women

highlight cyberfeminist practices that eschew the ex
forms of of feminism, color out, are and they remind us "the lives mutually reliant" writing (2003, often culturally the "damaging 25). Yet, an

of earlier and women

as Fernandez "educated, cated

and Wilding white,

point

cyberfeminist

assumes sophisti

upper-middle-class, which ironically

English-speaking, ends up replicating

readership,"

uni

versalism of'old-style feminism'" (Fernandez and Wilding
the "damaging do we make universalism" of claims for two the of some forms subversive I potential of the

2003, 21). Given
what, then, Internet? for the view that

of cyberfeminism,

In the following

sections,

explore

the evidence

the Internet is a technology that facilitates gender and racial equality. First, I
focus on questions Then, related I turn by to political economy about examples their bodies. "identity and internetworked tourism" girls and the global allure are feminism. to debates

of disembodiment using the Internet

contrasting

of the way

and women

to transform

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DANIELS

105

AND "A LIBERATING OFONE'SOWN':POLITICAL ECONOMY TERRITORY

FEMINISM INTERNETWORKED GLOBAL
economy its reliance for the required on the to mass exploited potential

A central debate within cyberfeminism has to do with the tension between
the political Internet other, and claims produce labor, of on the infrastructure hand, and, of on the the the one same

subversive

those

technologies.

Easily themost Her
and the subversive of scholars

influential figure in cyberfeminism isDonna Haraway. part human and part machine (1985), conceptualization of the cyborg,
potential who of a cyborg to gender future, and are of particular through interest to a come technology poststruc

number

turalism and cyberpunk fiction (Balsamo 1996; Flanagan and Booth 2002; DeVoss 2000; Flanagan 2002; Sunden 2001;Wolmark 1999). In contrast to
this promised of women future, of color critics have pointed to the problematic as construction quintessential working in technology manufacturing

cyborgs (Flanagan and Booth 2002; 12).The low-skilled work inmicrochip production and global call centers has not eased "the oppression of Third
World women, . . . [it] has merely perpetuated their oppression in a new

workplace" (Flanagan and Booth 2002,13; see also Eisenstein 1998). Ra dhika Gajjala raises the central question about the possibility of "subaltern
cyberfeminism produced who from below," given this economic of men context: "If cyberspace the world claims is at the expense even able to of millions enjoy and women how all over can we

are not

its conveniences,

make

that [these technologies] are changing theworld for the better?" (2003, 49).
This and juxtaposition global economic cyberculture both. of subversive inequality, on Internet technologies, is one on that few the one hand, writ it is the other, Yet, following gender, scholars

ing about crucial evidence

acknowledge. In the

in rethinking section, and race.

cyberfeminism, up the

to examine about

I take

empirical

political

economy,

POLITICAL ECONOMY
To take a global perspective, it is clear that those in industrialized nations
likely to own computers and have Internet access than are those are more

in developing societies (Norris 2001).The
litical economy is that women remain

material reality of the global po
global citizens; the digi

the poorest

tal era has not shifted this in significantways
aggregate-level of participation country-specific online, often data at faster show rates

(Eisenstein 1998). However,
have (Sassen increasing 2002, rates 376). It

that women than men

women is not surprising that

lag behind men globally in computer use and

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106

BE R F EMI NISM CY RETHINKING (S)

Internet

access,

given

that

these

are

so

clearly

linked

to economic

resources

(Bimber 2000; Leggon 2006; Norris 2001).What
women's net place at the bottom is rapidly of the global increasing.

is intriguing is that despite
hierarchy, their Inter

economic

participation

In theUnited
apparent been race "digital the effect (Norris

States, the empirical research indicates thatmost of the
divide" in computer (or socioeconomic States, ownership status) the and more rate of Internet than access, has and has of gender access

of class In

2001).

the United

Internet

converged formen
remain panic some women small

and women who
differences and between

are white
and African

(Leggon 2006, 100).There
of usage between His women and men;

in access

kinds

and men

American

these differences,however, are negligible (Leggon 2006,100) Yet
convergence and negligible differences across gender and

despite the
intel

race, public

lectuals such as Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anthony Walton do not hesitate to assert thatBlack culture is "the problem" when it comes to the digital divide (Wright 2002, 2005). Discourse
ures "women" or "Blacks and Hispanics"

of "the digital divide" that config
or "the poor" living in the global

South as information "have-nots" is a disabling rhetoric (Everett 2004,1280)
that fails to recognize Asians, the agency and Latinos, technological contributions whites of Afri (Wright can Americans, Chicanos, and working-class

What we need is a more multidimensional 2002, 57).
access that allows for individual agency.

view of inequality of

Conceptualizing
nomic women's by pointing want so 49). oppression agency out or with that

digital technologies exclusively in terms of either eco
lack of access regard the very to the people is overdetermined Internet. who in these as Gajjala are new and does not allow for recognizes this agency

excluded technologies

from mainstream on the new their own revolution" technolo

society terms (2003,

to include can

themselves see

that "they For many

themselves including

protagonists

of

women,

themselves

in these

gies means

including themselves in internetworked global feminism.

INTERNETWORKED FEMINISM GLOBAL
Within
feminism indifference,

the context of a global political economy, internetworked global
can and does bypass national national economic states, local opposition, mass a whole media new and major actors, thus opening

terrain for activism that addresses gender and racial inequality (Sassen 2002; Earl and Schussman 2003; Everett 2004; Kahn and Kellner 2004; Langman 2005; Sutton and Pollock 2000).

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DANIELS

107

For women

of

color

who

want

to connect

globally

across

diasporas?

what Chela
cyberfeminist

Sandoval refers to as "U.S. thirdworld feminism" (2000)?the
practice of online organizing and discursive space takes on

added significance.Gajjala's
ras online sis with is a case years in point. of hands-on

(2003, 2004) writing about South Asian diaspo
Her practice work combines critical, such theoretical as SAWnet, analy the building e-spaces,

women-only
agendas ing women over, are to existing

South Asian Listserv. Gajjala
"produce subversive environments and

points out that if cyberfeminist
or they to succeed are in chang to so that empowering the world are situ

countercultures

technological of

and men it is important

lesser material to examine how

socio-cultural and

privilege communities

individuals

ated" within
who on have been the basis

the global political economy
systematically race and excluded of gender, the political

(2003, 54). For women
civic organizing online

of color
of African

from mainstream

engagement

American women both in theUnited
Woman writes: March "The provides sistahs their own of another the march and

States and globally around the Million
of cyberfeminism. the value their brand As Anna Everett of new technologies which

example recognized to

to further

agendas

promote

of activism,

did not require choosing which race oppression" (2004, 1283).
In a similar vein, Michelle

liberation struggle to fight first,gender or
notes the cyberfeminist practice of

Wright

online communities designed
as SistahSpace

specifically by and for Black women,
exhorts other

such

(http://www.Sistahspace.com).Wright

women

of color to engage with the "Internet beyond Web surfing and checking e-mail" (2005, 57). The kinds of cyberfeminist practices suggested by Gaj
jala, Everett, and Wright are more overtly political than other cyberfeminist

practices and are part of what Sandoval
technology of power.

(2000) refers to as an oppositional

Many women
view Internet

in and out of global feminist political organizations
as a crucial medium for movement toward gen

technology

der equality (Cherny and Weise 1996; Harcourt 1999, 2000, 2004; Purweal 2004; Merithew 2004; Jacobs 2004).Wendy Harcourt, anAustralian feminist
researcher with the Society for International Development, a nongovern

mental
view.

and the author of Women@ organization (NGO) based in Rome in Internet:CreatingNew Cultures Cyberspace, is a leading proponent of this
She summarizes that embedded the this stance when she writes that there is "convincing space that for evidence Internet is a tool reality for creating can be an a communicative empowering

when

in a political

mechanism

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108

RETHINKING CYBERFEMINISM(S)

women"
up and

(1999, 219).The
"used" by women

notion that the Internet is a "tool" to be picked
for "empowerment" is a metaphor that is em

ployed repeatedly in the literature about global feminist organizations and
the Internet. The evidence to which Harcourt refers is written primarily

that focus on gender equality in their local by women working inNGOs regions and globally, a focus some have referred to as "glocality" (1999).The mobilization of global awareness and opposition to the repressiveTaliban regime by theRevolutionary Association ofWomen ofAfghanistan (http://
is just one example of the effective use of the Internet by

www.rawa.org)

a global feminist organization
from Mexico, in their efforts where to cross a number national

(Kensinger 2003). Another
of feminist frontiers NGOs have to establish a system

example comes
the Internet sup of global

used

port and exchange in pursuit of amore gender-equitable society (Merithew 2004). And global feminist networks begun in South Asia have fostered a
challenge to gender-specific abortion, or "son selection," as some refer to the

practice of terminating pregnancies in which the fetus is female (Purweal 2004). Lauren Langman (2005) refers to these kinds of global social move
ments organized and online as internetworked writing facilitates social movements, from within transnational them, make feminist or ISMs.These a strong case and organizations, that information the women technology

networks

indicate ameasure of success for global feminism (Jacobs 2004). Sassen enu
merates presence range of dozens in and local of women's use of the organizations Internet and has online and argues that women's a whole are key the potential domains to transform where women

conditions

institutional

actors (2002,379). Many individual women
perience the Internet

outside any formal political organization ex
space" for resisting the gender oppression

as a "safe

that they encounter in their day-to-day lives offline. In her edited volume On ShiftingGround: Muslim Women in theGlobal Era, Fereshteh Nouraie Simone
tion

(2005a)

includes essays about the importance of global informa
for women description young place living in and resisting repressive gender regimes. of the importance women, a of the Internet is a liberating is notewor territory identity

technology

Nouraie-Simone's thy: "For of one's educated own?a

Iranian to resist

cyberspace imposed

traditionally

subordinate

while providing a break from pervasive Islamic restrictions in public physical
space. The in cyberspace feminism, virtual nature of the Internet?the into politics, structure ongoing and the of interconnection on process issues of of self that draws and participants gender discourses textual

patriarchy,

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DANIELS

109

expression without
new possibilities Here, own" as

the prohibition or limitation of physical space?offers
agency and empowerment" Woolf's (2005b, 61-62). of one's her the evokes Virginia for feminist "liberating call for a "room when own." she

for women's

Nouraie-Simone a prerequisite online as a

consciousness territory of one's

describes than

experience

Rather

"tool"
when term

imagery invoked by so many
describing "cyberspace" information to suggest that

of the global feminist organizations
Nouraie-Simone to a "place and chooses to resist," where gender politics." the she For

technology, she goes

participates

in discussions

of "feminism,

patriarchy,

her, cyberspace makes global feminism possible in her life offline on an inti
mate, immediate, and personal level.

the evidence presented here about the political economy and global feminist organizations and individuals using Internet technologies in While
ways ecdotal, sive? that resist oppressive it does offer some regimes insight of gender into and sexuality Is the is admittedly Internet is the is no an the questions, of embeddedness, here. As Sassen space; notes, rather, subver Internet "purely is always

If so, for whom?

Sassen's

concept is useful

that there

as embedded digital" or

in materiality, exclusively

"virtual"

electronic

the digital

"embedded"
attention women. center place tions For

in the material
effects working the women the

(2002, 367-68). Melanie
of digital in a technologies factory potential in global Internet

Millar
on diverse in China future

(1998) calls
groups or of a call

to the uneven

microchip

in India, rooted outside

Internet

is not

a subversive For women the

but

a work organiza

in economic the affluent

necessity. global

feminist

North,

is a "tool"

to be

used

for addressing gender inequality in local regions and leveraging connections
to feminists space" in other away regions. from a For Nouraie-Simone, repressive gender regime the Internet is a "safe to occupy in the offline world.

Each has different relations to digital technologies, and these are embed
ded in present-tense, material, embodied lives rather than imagined cyborg futures.

AND THE DISEMBODIMENT ALLURE OFIDENTITY TOURISM
After the cyborg, the two ideas that hold themost allure for cyberfeminists
interested in the subversive potential of the Internet are identity tourism

and disembodiment. Lisa Nakamura
"identity try on for tourism" size to describe "the the descriptors

in her book Cybertypes coins the term
process by which applied members of one of another group race to persons

generally

or gender" (2002, 8).The

allure of changing identities online has been part

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no

EMI NISM RETHINKING CYB ERF (S)

of the sociological writing about the Internet since Sherry Turkle's Life on
the Screen. Turkle contends that assuming alternate identities online can have

positive psychological and social effectsby loosening repressive boundaries Westfall 2000;Whitley 1997).The idea that racial oppres (1997,12; see also sion is linked to embodied visibility is one about which African Ameri
can sociologists and other scholars have written eloquently, going back to

WE.B.Du
ly and the the social

Bois

(Du Bois 1903/1995;Tal
press accounts as well as in this passage of visibility in what

2001).This
as the scholarly Hansen:

idea appears frequent
literature "The on "race" of ex suspension the

in mainstream Internet, category of race

from Mark in online

environments a fundamental according said to subject

transforms way: to visible everyone by

perience

is, potentially of racial

suspending traits, online to what I

the automatic environments

ascription can,

signifiers sense, be

in a certain

shall call a 'zero degree' of racial difference" (2006, 141).
However, ence online an asTurkle is only changing and others identities suggest. within online may not be as subversive an experi Jodi O'Brien very narrow notes that gender-switching and that there gender "gender switch (read is

acceptable with

boundaries is conducted"

"earnestness occurs

which (1999,

gender-policing 82).4 O'Brien it is intended long as there

when earnest

switching policing" ing

interprets as play or

the

to mean

that when as

performance, that a "natural"

identities

is tolerated

is agreement

referent remains "intact, embodied and immutable" physical/biological) (O'Brien 1999, 82). Switching identities online seems much less prevalent than the kinds of online experiences thatPitts describes in her research on
women new with forms breast cancer who via seek sites and find real community and create (Pitts of knowledge such asWomen.corn's BreastFest

2004,55).
Additional going out online online and research to "switch" spaces into actual online or racial practices identities, identities and at via suggests people along that rather actively axes have than seek

gender and

that affirm For

solidify young their 2005),

social girls

of race, access through sites

gender, to the

sexuality.

example, form

teens who least social

Internet

increasingly

identities, often

in part, networking

their

online

interactions

(Mazzarella

such asMySpace
identities online

or Facebook
through

(boyd 2004); people
MiGente,

of color affirm racial
andAsianAvenue.com

BlackPlanet.com,

(Byrne 2007; Lee and Wong
bisexual, and transgender)

2003); and self-identifiedQLBT
go online to "learn to be

(queer, lesbian,
queer" (Bryson

women

2004, 251) by using sites such asQueerSisters

(Nip 2004; see also Alexander

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DANIELS m

2002). switch ing

In

large measure, and racial and

the notion identities, race rather

of "identity functions than this

tourism,"

in which device a

people for think

gender

as a heuristic activity being

about

gender

commonplace

online practice.What then of the cyberfeminist claim of dispensing with a as embodiment path to gender (and racial) equality?
Nouraie-Simone sive while living under writes a that part of why she finds regime the Internet in Iran so subver repressive sex/gender is the chance

to escape embodiment: "The absence of the physical body in electronic space
and the anonymity as this offers have a liberating effect for on repressed social of freely she con as well from or identity, 'chosen nects 'electronic technology' " identities' 61?62; (2005b, from to s gender becomes emphasis 'a tool added). the design

In this passage, of the body

liberation

oppression chosen

to the

absence

as to the ability Nouraie-Simone ethnic that identities, she goes gender

adopt writing

"freely

identities."While includes that in this on "issues

it is not "switching" same passage

clear gender

if her unlikely, out part

practice given "discourse"

it seems

she writes patriar

online

to seek as

of feminism, (2005b,

chy, and

politics,"

of her

"self-expression"

61-62).The

impact of digital technologies on self-identifiedwomen's
in materiality women with and breast embodiment. cancer Pitts is instructive on are not necessarily interested

lives is grounded
this point: in "Online or gender-play

too interested in leaving the body behind them.Their public narratives do not 'hide' the body, and they generally do not abandon gender, beauty and
conventional aspects of femininity.... sickness and In detailing treatment, some of the more women's unpleasant bodies as bodily they are they present

really lived" (2004, 55).
Instead study bodily seek selves of going out online to escape where illness, embodiment, they can the women explore recovery, and and in Pitts reaffirm loss. Pitts the s re s Internet spaces of

in the presence

surgery,

search is useful for considering the impact of the Internet on self-identified
women's nologies change, lives and illustrates to create the ways meaning women for engage to with Internet or at tech least in order the material themselves lives and improve,

conditions

of their

their bodies.

The putative invisibility online and the "decoupling identity from any race analogical relation to the visible body" (Hansen 2006, 145) to escape
and gender visibility rests on an assumption of an exclusively text-based

online world
nologies, such

that belies the reality of digital video and photographic
as webcams (and image-sharing sites, among them Flickr

tech
and

YouTube), which make

images of bodies a quotidian part of the gendered,

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112

ERFEMIN RETHINKING CYB ISM (S)

and racialized, online world
of disembodiment, "definitions cyberspace body, of situation,

(White 2003). Rather
must and be considered are both

than a libertarian utopia
an environment contested and in which are influ

identity

enced by power relations" (Pitts 2004, 53-54).The
for many en and cyberfeminists girls' engagement within alongside with the valorization Internet The technologies use of

allure of disembodiment
of self-identified suggests Internet an wom inherent to

contradiction

cyberfeminism.

technologies

(re)shape bodies by the seemingly disparate communities of "pro-ana" girls
discussed below and transgendered women illustrates this contradiction.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EMBODIMENT: CONTINUING AND"TRANNY" HORMONE LISTSERVS "PRO-ANA" WEBSITES
Cyberfeminists vert gender and have heralded the allure of disembodiment cyberfeminists, as a way such to sub gender oppression. Some as Braidot

ti (2002), Plant
and with However, nologies celebrate Internet the

(1997), andWilding
potential of a new in ways women there is and technologies

and CA
wave that girls'

Ensemble
new

(1998), recognize
that engage for women. Internet in such tech prac

of feminist chart

practices ground with feminist

foregrounding suggests that

engagement innately

something

tices. Wilding
valorization critique

and other cyberfeminists (Everett 2004) have warned
of women's cyberpractices In the following without section, an accompanying two I offer

that the
feminist that

is problematic.

examples

illustrate both the continuing significance of embodiment online and the
problematic space of uniformly regarding all women's engagement with cyber as feminist.

PRO-ANA WEBSITES
The emergence of pro-ana, a shortened term for "pro-anorexia," sites sug

gests that some (mostly young, predominantly white) women form online communities in order to offer each other nonjudgmental support in finding
strategies as anorexia and tactics for disordered or bulimia.These eating young behaviors, women most both often resist and diagnosed embrace nervosa

such diagnoses for their behavior
2005; Mulveen and Hepworth,

(Dias 2003; Fox,Ward,
As a young woman

and O'Rourke
quoted in re

2006).

search by Fox, Ward, and O'Rourke put it,"Personally, I feel that ifa person is starving themselves or throwing up *solely* because of the desire to look
like kate moss, don't have all devon the aoki (hehe to be . . . my considered favorite model), gisele, etc . . . they as criteria anorexic. Anorexia is defined

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DANIELS

113

a mental

disease

. . . the ability

to

play mind-games

with

yourself

relating

to

anything food or exercise" (2005, 955).
This redefinition of anorexia as "the ability to play mind-games" around

food or exercise refigures the usually disabling rhetoric of eating disorders
into one of strength and "ability" mention famous women that does not include woman's are seek everyone "favorite part out turn of who model" the cul is "starving is revealing tural products ration" net (954).The themselves."The here because of this young models engaged and

celebrities

that young young their bodily with

in pro-ana communities and away

for "thinspi to the Inter

girls of the pro-ana rituals of diet, peers

to support

exercise, and

purging from

in the relative of

"safety"

of being

their pro-ana

the judgments

others (mostly parents) (Dias 2003; Fox,Ward,
strom rituals 2001).Young associated women with who identify this community provide

and O'Rourke
report that with

2005; Wal
the bodily a sense of

as pro-ana

participants

"control over" their bodies Walstrom
YouTube,

2001). And

2005; (Dias 2003; Fox,Ward, and O'Rourke these of increasingly, images "thinspiration" appear on
site, as well one are as on thinks personal of these websites practices, Internet (Daniels the young technologies

the video-sharing

and Meleo-Erwin girls involved with

2008). Whatever pro-ana sites

engaging

with

inways that are both motivated by and confirm (extremely thin) embodi
ment.While about avoid their those own participating embodiment, but rather in pro-ana the fact to engage sites may is that with they others appear are not about to be going their ambivalent online bodies to via

corporeality

text and image inways that make

them feel in control of those bodies.

"TRANNY" HORMONE LISTSERVS
A second illustration of the way the Internet can be a site for bodily websites, such trans as Gen such as formation derSanity Christine with such is that of community-based (http://www.gendersanity.com), Beatty'sWebHome and websites Care how of transgendered and

personal

webpages,

(http://www.glamazon.net).These established by trans or trans-friendly

sites, along physicians, provide gendered in ways. of

Listservs

as TransGender about

(http://www.transgendercare.com), the body women, in specifically such as Anita,

formation The

to transform

experience

transgendered

whose

pastiche

Internet technologies enables her gender transition (Bryson 2004, 246), is
noteworthy whether information they in this context. Many nonheteronormative bisexual, important or transgender, for or also queer women, global identify technology as lesbian, as an regard

medium

resisting

repressive

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114

EMI NISM ERF RETHINKING CYB (S)

regimes of gender and sexuality (Alexander 2002; Bryson 2004; Chatterjee 2002; Heinz, Gu, and Zender 2002). Combining themetaphors of "tool"
and "place," Mary of of the Bryson, Internet, that in her writes: are study "Internet of Australian tools and QLBT women's ex serve of QLBT that a periences variety women, communities the lives

functions

relevant with

to, and other

scaffold, queer

including safe"

. . . interaction (2004, 249). Like

women the women

in a space

is relatively study

Nouraie-Simone,

in Bryson's serves to set

experience

life online

as a safe space,

an observation

that

up an oppositional
safe.The with Internet gender identity

relationship to life offline ("real" life) as space that is not
provides and QLBT practices, women as well with opportunities context to experiment which as a cultural within

to learn how
2004, 249).

to be queer
the

through participation
of Anita,

in a subculture (Bryson
in Bryson's research,

Indeed,

experience

included

illustrates this point:
Anita: I've was along looking from Gaining the gotten mainly those up a lot of an information from sharing I've the thing, used tranny and hormone a few other list. It lists

information

lines. With reports of where

the web, surgeons, they'd

transgendered of that surgery, stuff up

sites for information on the Net. a fair

photos posted

surgeons information

about

hormones

is important.

I have

bit of experience
erature.

in biochemistry and can read the scientific lit

Mary: Anita:

do you access that information? I can get into theMedLine database and that kind of thing. If I want information about any ofthat stuff, theNet is the firstplace How
I go. It's not always easy to find good information though, espe

cially ifyou are looking for knowledge that is community-based. And ifyou are going to read themedical articles, you really need to know the jargon and be able to read between the lines. (2004,

246)
Here, Anita describes her use of the Internet to navigate the biom?dical

sex/gender establishment (Butler 2004; Epstein 2003). She reports getting
information from an e-mail Listserv, pursuing further information on par

ticular surgeons, looking for digital photographic
and reading the peer-reviewed medical literature

evidence of theirwork,
culled from the database

MedLine.

Both her technique for finding information and her assessment

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DANIELS

115

of what
(Green net

she finds demonstrate an example of sophisticated digital fluency
2005, 2006). Anita's including bricolage search issues; strategy engines; combines web-based Listservs; in using a a number databases; and of Inter websites digital pho

technologies, with of

dealing tography

transgender surgical is not

community-based Anita's to be goal another

outcomes. to pretend

patchwork instead,

of digital her aim

technologies

gender

online;

is to find help in transforming her body offlineinways that align with her
own sources nuanced sense to of gender navigate complex identity. gender Anita's piecing suggests of digital together that we of diverse need a much gender, Internet more and transition

and

understanding

technologies,

feminist politics.
Anita's escape experience or indicates temporarily that rather than using the online, technology she and to other embodiment "switch" identities

self-identifiedwomen
nologies line not but to more to

(and men)
"the absence

are actively engaging with digital tech
their bodies offline. Anita goes on does) her to of the body" and (as Nouraie-Simone that allow

permanently

transform

experience the

to access

information,

resources,

technologies

transformher body into a (differently)gendered body that aligns with her
identity. And nology, of the in ways that are women, analogous and men, reliable to the pro-ana use digital about girls' images gender use of the tech part transgendered strategy in as a crucial transition.

gathering

information

RACIALIZED EMBODIMENT ONLINE/OFFLINE
The pointed to by cyberfeminists is understand able, given the significance of racialized embodiment (Du Bois 1903/1995; Fernandez 2003; Tal 2001) for understanding the lived experience of racism. allure of disembodiment in
online online. In the study of pro-ana (2005), analysis in 8th 115 know the authors online do communities not take up by Fox, Ward, racial identity references I was life and O'Rourke as a point of worlds is not often remarked upon in the literature about gender

Yet racialized embodiment and theways this offline reality is embedded

curiously one never was

even when grade. I had [T]here I was

of the participants been really

explicitly but in my

it: "It

started

overweight, going a on

average?about . .. mostly, crisis. I didn't I'm ad

at 5'3. who

just

too much having

maybe

I was

really

early mid-life

opted, and my whole family iswhite, while I'm Asian. I had/have a lot of issues circling around feelings of abandonment which I partially translated
into 'no one loves me . . .not even my real parents' type stuff" (957).

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116

RETHINKING CYBERFEMIN?SM(S)

The young girl quoted here indicates that her racial identity,and the discordant racial identity of her (adopted) family, is a contributing factor in
her desire to be involved with pro-ana practices.Yet the authors do not ad

This is a lost opportunity for an analysis that dress the issue of racial identity.
would further illuminate the connection between gender, race, and online

identityby speaking to the compelling research that exists involving gender, "race," and disordered eating (Lovejoy 2001;Thompson 1992).
In though contrast, in her Bryson her acknowledges sample of QLBT the racial dynamics includes at work only even research women one wom

an of color. The white participants in her study rarely identified racism as
a problem of online communities, whereas "the discursive construction of

racial identity online was a persistent problem for theAboriginal participant
whose Net experiences were frequently characterized by marginalization, si

lencing and enforced segregation" (2004, 246). The marginalization, silenc ing, and enforced segregation that theAboriginal woman in Bryson's study
faces in online spaces across is characteristic of difference. of what Kendall's many experience on in online the online communities lines

ethnography

community BlueSky
inclusive, ness tinue and certainly on is predicated to have or

is informative on thispoint. While
not social "racist" structure to include them greater yet the to (or "sexist") in which or not "white to include 2000,

BlueSky

is relatively
men con gender, s text sexual

in any overt way, middle-class people 272).

the inclusive

the power race marks facilitates and race,

whose BlueSky of gender,

sexuality only

as other" inclusiveness

(Kendall across

nature

differences men

orientation, "limits the

predominance 'others' who can

of white fit

simultaneously into a culture

inclusiveness

themselves

by and for those white men"
that the QLBT young Unlike women girls in find either that many of whiteness.

(272). BlueSky, like the queer online spaces
study seek are racism out and the pro-ana on an spaces predicated of white

Bryson's

empowering, the cyber

assumption online

supremacists

(Daniels 2009) or thewhite, masculine
neoconfederates on Dixie-Net

desire for community expressed by
2000), the whiteness that Ken

(McPherson

dall describes in BlueSky is very much likewhiteness in the offlineworld: an unmarked category that is taken for granted in daily life. Race matters in
cyberspace precisely because "computer networks are social networks"

(Wellman 2001) and those who
edge, mura, offline, experiences, and Rodman counters and values 2000, 5). The

spend time online bring their own knowl
them when fact assertion that they log on (Kolko, as Naka it does race matters online,

with

the oft-repeated

that cyberspace

is a disembodied

realmwhere gendered and racialized bodies can be leftbehind.

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DANIELS

117

These ties, shed In both Internet in ways of seeing or

two light

examples, on gender,

the pro-ana race, and the

and

transgendered potential engage control

online of

communi the Internet. with bodies Instead of the

subversive

instances, technologies that both cyberspace even a

self-identified to manage, resist and

girls

and women and

in practices

transform,

their physical and the race.

reinforce

hierarchies to

of gender

as a

place place

in which with no

experience

absence of

body,

text-only

visible

representation

the body,

these girls and self-identifiedwomen use digital technologies inways that simultaneously bring the body "online" (through digital photos uploaded to theweb) and take the digital "offline" (through information gleaned online selves).Here, digital technologies embedded in allow life for the transformation of corporeal and material lives in everyday
ways that both resist and reinforce structures of gender and race.

to transform their embodied

CONCLUSION
This review of differentforms of cyberfeminism(s) suggests a reality inwhich
the Internet to the is embedded illustrative in material, example corporeal lives the in complex the ways. To return that opened essay, cyberfeminists

who

are engaged with technologies inways that in the digital era.Mobile and embodiment highlight race, gender, phone created HollaBackNYC
even in the technologies, current political economy, are widely affordable

and extremely popular globally (Rheingold 2006).The tag line "If you can't slap him, snap him," suggests both the resistance of internetworked global
feminism and a strategy of resistance that is simultaneously embedded in

daily life,digital technologies, and embodiment.
laback" means to oppose an embodied notion

In this instance, to "hol
(men exposing

of harassment

their genitals) with an embodied, and embedded, form of resistance (taking digital photos of those exposed bodies). However, given that the resisters
pictured on the site are exclusively white and predominantly female, we

must ask whether HollaBackNYC
reinforcing areas. and tices, and the culture of surveillance Internet subways at the race. While some cyberfeminists are

and its many imitators are disrupting or
focused who such a on are minority harassed and men on in urban city streets prac

technologies a mechanism same time that

offer women for resisting they

gendered

racialized

reinforce

established

hierarchies

of gender

wildly

enthusiastic

about

the

subversive

potential of a cyborg future, identity tourism, and disembodiment that is offered by digital technologies, evidence from cyberfeminist practices and
empirical research on what people are actually doing online points to a

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118

RETHINKING CYBERFEMINISM(S)

more pressive For an the

complicated workplace

reality.

For

some,

the

Internet

economy

reproduces political

op

hierarchies

that are

rooted

in a global

economy. and

others,

the Internet to be offers sex/gender Internet selves,

represents protagonists space"

a "tool" in their and a way and

for global own to not

feminist

organizing For but

opportunity Internet

revolution. just survive,

still others, also are resist, engag their com

a "safe

repressive ing with embodied

regimes.

Girls in ways

self-identified that enable Girls them involved

women

technologies not escape

to transform in pro-ana

embodiment.

munities deploy Internet technologies that include text and images in order to control theirbodies inways that are both disturbing for others and deeply
meaningful for them. Self-identified queer and transgendered women en

gage with digital technologies in order to transform theirbodies, not to play at switching gender identities online.
Scholar-activists gender domination who have wish also been to challenge slow to seize the status quo of racial and the opportunity of engaged

public discourse offered by the Internet.Risman
ologists net not to find means such an an to transform Yet, as well curiously, their content or offers have opportunity. presence do not most college for

(2004) urges feminist soci
society, and the Inter do academic or the

as inform

sociologists

Internet

beyond create

university-sponsored Internet, and they do

faculty not

webpage,

they in online

participate

communities

social with

networks. the Internet

I echo

Michelle email"

Wright's

call for scholar-activists

to engage

"beyond

(Wright 2005, 57). It is critically important for those of us who hope that our work can and should speak to audiences beyond the academy to follow the lead of critical cyberfeminists and "hollaback" by engaging the Internet
as a discursive space and a site of political struggle.

JESSIE is an associate professor of sociology atMercy College inNew DANIELS York City. She has anMA and a PhD in sociology from theUniversity of
Texas at Austin and has taught at colleges and universities around the United

States. She is the author of White Lies (Routledge, 1997) and Cyber Racism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), both dealing with race and forms ofmedia.
Currently, she is at work on research projects about digital technologies,

race, and gender, including a study of feminist bloggers and an analysis of the
representation of bodies onYouTube.

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DANIELS

119

NOTES
1. Throughout both recognize and "women" may this essay I use the term "self-identified of difference and woman" and its plural who to and or the problematic female universalizing of queer in the terms "woman" women may

to signal the inclusion GenX in some

transgendered

not have biologically entries online . . .Through

anatomy. blogger Kristie Helms form or another since I've gotten divorced, writes: "I've been posting 25. 1996 when gotten I was. Oh.

2. For example, U.S.-based journal-type Various places. discovered

all ofthat, . . moved .

annulled,

changed/ met

sexual orientation,

from Manhattan

to Brooklyn

to Boston,

three life-long best friends over the Internet, . . .bought a house and had . . .urn ... six . . . gotten a book published, one essay published, one piece of erotica published jobs, (twice), bought three cars, sold two of them, stopped talking tomy mother, started talking to my mother, had my father tell me I'm going to hell and just generally keep finding Gill may regard these June 2007). While myself periodically" (personal communication, an I think that such elements as "depressingly assessment, like history that is familiar," events of concerned with the only powerful political leaders, invalidates the substance of what constitutes women's 3. Rosser along with lives. participation of technology in the information through technology workforce radi femi the reviews women's and "use"

"design"

the lenses of liberal feminism, feminism, and postcolonial in this literature iswell

cal feminism, "African American nism. Offering 4. O'Brien (2001) a review here.

and Racial/Ethnic" to all the nuances

that speaks

beyond

scope of my project

does not explicitly

address

switching

of racial identities, but in KaliTal's to "racial passing," about which

review of Nakamura,Tal

likens this phenomenon extensively.

African American

scholars have written

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