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Microsoft word - removingviolence.doc
Piebiak, Jill Coms 646 19 June 2013 Dr. Yasmin Jiwani
Home is supposed to be safe. It is where I was assigned to be and was supposed to
be protected. However, when I log on to the Internet, I see that the space is not
safe anymore (Ju Oh 2012; 246).
The process of building www.removingviolence.com has become a personal journey for
me. Through the process of conceptualizing and constructing the site I was able to touch
on many of the facets of what I believe cyberfeminism seeks to address. The site
acknowledges a relationship between the real and virtual self though screen shots from a
personal smart phone. It responds to the racist and sexist content, created by an unknown
author and shared on Facebook, by removing it from the social network using anonymity
to my advantage. Each image on the site links to other sites of feminist activism creating
a safer space online and a network of feminist projects. Finally, the site speaks to the
structural violence embedded in language and seeks to address the lose-lose situation
women are put in when confronted with sexist jokes. Ultimately, the site challenges users
to think about the images they share in their own social networks as well as the ones they
see posted and pass by without second thought.
The use of the smart phone was intentional in that it has become a part of my
daily routine or habit. My life and my self have expanded Online through mobile apps
such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine. The phone has become a part of me, an
extension, the connecting link between my virtual and real self. As Balsamo argues
technology has created the cyborg, the hybrid that is neither just technical nor organic,
reconstructing the theoretical understanding of the body to also exist in the virtual
(Hawthorn 1999; 215). Yet, as Haraway asks, “If I’m a cyborg rather than a goddess will
patriarchy go away?” (Klein 1999; 186) This extension is problematic even though our
phones and virtual selves have the potential to be libratory; the virtual reality we have
become apart of is just another patriarchal construction. These applications do however,
offer an escape from our body and the ability to define our character in any way we so
choose (Sofia 1995; 158 in Hawthorn 1999; 225).
Cyberfeminism seeks to address these problems in the structure and content of the
cyberworld. In their early formation, cyberfeminists used the Internet and information
communication technologies to mobilize on the ground as well worked together to
provide an academic and activist critique of all aspects of the cyberworld (Everett 2004;
1278-1279). Cyberfeminism acknowledges the power differential between men and
women in digital discourse and seeks to empower women to make the Internet a place of
liberation (Hawthorn and Klein 1999; 2-3). Though it can be a place of potential and a
site of subversive content it is marked by a military history and codes dominated by the
male programmers. The content of www.removingviolence.com is just another example
of how the Internet is another place for patriarchy to exert control over and objectify
women (Judy Wajcman 2004; 3-4). Though the Internet is a different place than it was in
1997 (when cyberfeminism emerged) the site uses their technique of linking feminist
sites together, thereby creating a network and a space for critique of the sexist and racist
The most profound and unexpected realization in the making of this site was
placing myself in the male dominated sphere of CSS coding. Wacjman argues that while
the Internet may be appealing because it offers escape from the corporeal body – this
does not address the gendered distribution and ability to access the coding behind the
virtual world (2004; 115). Scrolling through blog after blog, looking for code to make an
image disappear upon a mouse click allowed me to reflect on the male dominated tech
world. What I noticed was that most of the blogs that helped me make the site assumed
that I would have the knowledge of an apt programmer. The potential of the Internet only
exists in the effort of women to challenge this world that is dominated by the young,
white male, ‘computer nerd’ and create sites that speaks against it (Wajcman 2004; 12).
Using the code, learning how to manipulate the code, and creating a positive site, I
hopefully have challenged this institution of power.
The anonymity provided by the Internet played two important roles in this project.
First, the website is a response to jokes and content shared by an unknown author that
frees the sharers from any culpability. Similar to cloaked websites Daniels writes about,
these jokes conceal the identity of the author using strategies to appear more legitimate in
order to promote a particular agenda (Daniels 2009; 661). They rely on the users’
technical illiteracy to not seek out the original author thus shielding the creators of the
content from any scrutiny (Daniels 2009; 672). Though the people who share the jokes
themselves are not anonymous on Facebook, it is assumed that they did not actually
create the joke or image themselves. The sharer is less responsible for their actions
because they are not the one who actually made it.
By removing the images from Facebook and congregating them together so they
had more impact; I saved myself from criticism and debate that might be sparked had I
critiqued each image that appeared on my newsfeed. This is not because I wanted to
avoid productive discussion but because productive discussion and debate rarely happens
in a Facebook feed. The biggest reason I longed for a safe haven is because of what
Bemiller and Zimmer Schneider called a lose-lose situation that is created when women
are confronted with sexist humour. Lose in the sense that if they laugh they are
complacent in the misogyny that is taking place and lose in the sense that if they do not
laugh or if they rebut the joke they lose their social capital by becoming a ‘spoiled sport’
(Bemiller and Zimmer Schneider 2010; 462). Had I chosen to explain how each image
was a “form of power used to oppress and subordinate entire groups of people,” I would
have subjected myself to an endless barrage of comments in my face each morning as I
checked my phone in the safe haven of my bedroom (Bemiller and Zimmer Schneider
2010; 463). This site let me, for the most part, avoid intense debates with my Facebook
‘friends’ and gave me the opportunity to do more than just roll my eyes at the images I
All of these images are representations of different intersections of power that
highlight the importance of analysis from a site of intersection rather than one site of
oppression. Violence, as Hill Collins argues, is the intersecting link between race, gender,
social class, and nationality (1998; 919). In particular, the intersection of gender and
sexuality is most prevalent on the website as it seeks to highlight oppressive gendered
and heteronormative online discourses. When asked why the site was not called
“removing sexism” it gave me the opportunity to explain that it is more than sexism at
play on the site. It is a representation of the structural violence I encounter daily. As Hill
Collins suggests, language is a form of violence that seeps through every part of society,
these pictures are not just offensive – they are violent (1998; 923). When groups continue
to use such language to oppress the other and people do not speak out against it, the
violence is perpetuated and accepted (Bemiller and Zimmer Schneider 2010; 924.).
The site has been distributed slowly through Twitter and Facebook sharing it with
prominent women’s organizations and friends. The hope would be that users will be
inspired to create their own cyberfeminist sites or share more screen shots with me to add
to the content. Social media could be a place to empower young women to work against
heternormative and gender biases as it provides a discursive power for women to
construct their identity and challenge definitions of womanhood. It is a place where they
can tell their own story in their own words (Bailey 2012; 92-93). Yet instead, gender
norms continue to police women’s places in Online spaces and reward stereotypical
displays of womanhood (Bailey 2012; 108). Perhaps through building sites such as these,
and sharing them with each other on social media networks we begin to can speak to the
ideals of the early cyberfeminist movement.
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