On the one hand this week’s material on Intersectional Feminist Technology has made me question many, if not all, of the institutions and platforms I currently participate in. The myriad of problems our nation started with this year seem to multiply everyday. Acts of destruction, hate, and greed only seem to breed additional vile deeds. I hear about tragedies that could have been prevented if our institutions had made the right (moral, decent, just) decisions to begin with (there are simply too many to list here), but needless to say paranoia has truly creeped into my everyday thoughts. On the other hand, this week’s readings have opened my eyes to many feminist technologies developed by activists, students, teachers, artists, bloggers, etc. to help organizations and communities overcome systematic and institutional norms and effectively induce change.
If your still not paranoid or have a taste for gaudy gold symbols of oppression, like number 45, you can purchase wallpaper designed by Ai Weiwei, such as Golden Age for $600 a roll (please allow two weeks for delivery). Golden Age features interlocking gold motifs of handcuffs, security cameras, and a symbol of a bird that can easily be recognized as the Twitter icon. Golden Age is just one of the many artworks that Ai has produced in response to government surveillance and censorship after he was arrested in Beijing and imprisoned for 81 days on charges of “economic crimes” after knowingly being censored and spied on since 2009. In Golden Age Ai has brought the reality of surveillance inside the home—a space that’s beginning to be less and less private with the proliferation of social media, Google Earth, cameras, smartphones, and devices like Alexa by Amazon. Like wallpaper, security cameras are becoming more difficult to spot. Here, Ai is commenting on the connection between surveillance and force, as well as the overwhelming presence of security cameras and their ability to blend into the surroundings.
In the introduction to her book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (2015) Simon Browne discusses the term “sousveillance” that was coined by Steve Mann. Mann defines the act of sousveillance as a tactic deployed by the oppressed to illustrate instances of injustice and hypocrisy. Sousveillance is not performed by institutions of power, but instead is implemented by a person who is not in a traditional position of power. For example, sousveillance occurs when someone records police brutality on their phone and publishes it on the web. Browne builds off of Mann’s recognition of sousveillance and coins the term “dark sousveillance,” which is a method of sousveillance used to avoid the surveillance of white supremacists, “a way to situate the tactics employed to render one’s self out of sight, and strategies used in the ﬂight to freedom from slavery as nec-essarily ones of undersight.”¹ In this case Browne’s goal is to illustrate how strategies have also been developed to make the visible invisible in the slavery and post-slavery era.
Feminist technologies are created to help people see into the periphery; to in act change and challenge common misconceptions/attitudes towards victims of sexual harassment and women of color. Popular technology is skillfully co-opted by many in the fight for visibility and equality. Platforms like HarassMap and #BlackLivesMatter not only offer help to those in need, but also champion their cause by highlighting how social relations and systems of power are structured to oppress and discriminate.The creators of HarassMap appropriate new technologies to create a map of instances of sexual harassment in Egypt. When learning about the success of HarassMap I couldn’t help but connect it to the Rape Crisis Movement that was formed in the 1970s to foster awareness, aid, and prevention strategies to women in the United States.
In May of 1977 the Woman’s Building at CalArts, the Studio Watts Workshop , and the City of Los Angeles teamed up to sponsor a rape awareness campaign called Three Weeks in May. Among the many demonstrations, workshops, and events that took place at CalArts women artists, such as Suzanne Lacy participated by creating installations that visualized rape data. For example, Maps (1977) is a visual artwork illustrating reported instances of rape that occurred in Los Angeles during the three-week period. On the map Lacy stamped the word “rape” where women had been sexually assaulted. Lacy updated Map each day and by the end of the project she had created a visual record of the instances of sexual violence that had been reported—police-sourced data. This piece was accompanied by four guerrilla performances where Lacy and four others visited sites of where instances of rape occurred. Here they “activated” sidewalks nearby tracing the figure of a woman’s body, “and adding the words, ‘a woman was raped near hear,’ the date of the assault, and a flower.”²
Chelsea Young’s analysis of harassMap “HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt” (2014) is a useful resource when assessing the “benefits” and “limitations” of these efforts. More than thirty years after the Three Weeks in May project HarassMap, established in 2010, takes these ideas to new heights. Unlike Lacy’s Map, HarassMap creates a continuous space for these issues, which not functions as a safe place for victims to report, but also works to prevent future incidents of sexual harassment from occurring. Crowdsourced data (instead of police-sourced data) is collected via their website, email, SMS, and social media #harassmap, #endsh. We can consider this a type of crowdsourcing and reporting as sousveillance. After being swept up in all of the benefits of crowdsourced data, it was fascinating to learn about the problem of “false positives.” Young discusses the possibility of these maps creating “false positives” meaning that the absence of evidence/data for sexual harassment in areas might not truly reflect the safe-ness of the site. It’s important to consider that these maps could falsely classify areas as safe because of issues regarding access to the tech required to report. Does this mean we need to create a new map indicating where people have this type of tech? Wouldn’t such a map just be more surveillance?
It’s great to learn about all of the immediate benefits of feminist technologies, but at this point I quickly want to point to related issue brought up by Satiya Umoja Noble, in her article “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology” (2016). Noble stresses the ecological impact of digital technologies, such as e-waste that is dumped in Ghana, not to mention the tons of obsolete tech that contains hazardous materials that are routinely deposited in landfills each year.³ I don’t think societies are going to give up their smartphones now that we have them, but shouldn’t these organizations also be fighting for strict regulations/legislation outlining how these products are made, disposed, and made of? After going over this week’s material, I’m not convinced that surveillance, and to a lesser degree sousveillance, allows us to get closer to the truth—allowing us to see with a “naked eye.” Instead, technologies, like surveillance, spawn misconceptions; functioning like a new pair of glasses that blind the wearer to related issues. Because of the scope of these organizations and projects it’s crucial that they work together.
¹Simone Brown, “Introduction” Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2015), 1-29.
²Vivian Green Fryd, “Ending the Silence” Doin’ It In Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building (Otis College of Art and Design, 2011), 159-183.
³Safiya Umoja Noble (2016) “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies” in The Scholar and Feminist Online (Issue 13.3 – 14.1).
Chelsea Young (March 2014) “HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt.”
*Ideas for group project: I’m not sure if we agreed that this project would start with a manifesto (published online/spoken). Then we could further develop ideas put forth in the manifesto to create different media projects based on our collective strengths. This might involve some of the other feminist technologies we have discussed in class, like a hashtag, #syllabus, handbook, etc. We could also try to connect with the Women, Gender and Sexual Equality Center on campus, perhaps get our project put on one of the event calendars. Is it possible to connect with other specific organizations? Can we map out how organizations are not separate entities, but have common goals? How are organizations working together now? How are these patriarchal systems of syntax, funding, access keeping organizations from working together? If we decide to undertake research on a topic that is going to shed light on a feminist issue (such as the absence of women in tech history) how can we work with other organizations to get a good understanding of the big picture and how other issues are related?