The Feminization of Cyberspace
by Doctress Neutopia
Organization: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 1994 23:05:58 GMT
During the final year of my doctoral work I discovered the new world of Cyberspace. Having been involved in utopian thought for more than fifteen years, inventing my own utopia from the ideas of such futurists and architects as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Starhawk, Eiane Eisler, Paolo Soleri, Buckminster Fuller, etc, which I call Neutopia, I find the world of virtual reality is the perfect place for my Neutopian imagination be to born into reality. The central nervous system of Neutopia is the evolving Global Brain which we are now seeing come about through information technologies and the world of Cyberspace.
Cyberspace is changing the very nature of text. Electronic text takes us into the age of non-text which means writing has become solely an electronic experience requiring no paper form. Printed matter is no longer necessary in the world of Cyberspace. In this world today, the power of ideas, and to some degree one's writing style and skills is the persuader. In the ideal sense, Cyberspace becomes a place for the autonomous individual, a place where the integrity of the Self is the determining factor of social prestige. With the elimination of printed matter and the decentralized nature of email, a new relationship between authoress/author and audience is opening up. Editors who have had the centralized control over the printed word are no longer the all powerful controller of literature since in Cyberspace the unknown poetess can post a message along side a literary giant. Because of the democratizing aspects of the Usenet open forum, the matter in which one gains social status is also changing. In Cyberspace, literary merit is achieved through the depth and sincerity of one's message. In other words, the old hierarchal structures of language and the old gatekeepers of ideas are being broken down as you read these words.
Nevertheless, Cyberspace is no paradise on Earth. Quite the contrary! I don't believe I am being an extremist to say that there is a war against the feminist voice occurring in Cyberspace. The Net term for such activity, which most of the postings of the discussion groups reflect, is called "flaming." For me, the flames symbolize the "Burning Times" when civilization was moving from the Medieval Ages into the Renaissance and the rise the market economy. It was during this rebirth of classical thought when thousands of innocent women healers and religious leaders were being burned as heretics.
A biologist friend has also pointed out to me that in his laboratory "flaming" means to sterilized a test tube from bacteria. In that sense, I feel that the "flaming" of my posts have been an attempt by some people to cleanse the Net from my non-conformist "disease". After all, the Gaia Religion which I have been researching is about the role bacteria play in regulating life and love!
Entering into the Computer Age, we find ourselves in another social transition. The technological possibilities for revolutionary change on a world-wide level are now available to us. That is, if feminist ideology can come to the forefront of the dialogue. Now, of course, as in the "real" world, the patriarchal religion of Capitalism is the dominant thought. Anyone who opposes this thought are "flamed" for their "inappropriate behavior". On many occasions, I have been "flamed" for my alternative Neutopian Vision, not by one individual, but by various Usenet and Listserve groups.
For example, I am subscribed to a Listserve called Leri@pyramid.com. This group has about 200 people who are subscribed. There are two kinds of people on the myriad of Listserves, the Writers and the Lurkers. Lurkers are people who compose the reading audience who occasionally voice an opinion, but for the most part, they are silent observers. Of the writers, the majority are white upperly-mobile middle-class young men who are computer literate. Many of them are from the scientific class who are busy creating the Technocracy. When I began to point out the blatant sexist language and attitudes on Leri, I was "flamed" by members of this so called "virtual love commune."
We are seeing here a rise of a new form of tribalism. If the tribal leaders (the Patriarchal Writers) sense a voice which might be threatening to the tribal harmony of the old-boys network, then the group attempts to eliminate that voice in opposition. Unfortunately, for the most part, the educational system has not taught these young men to analyze and understand the reason why the feminist voice is annoying to their Establishment prevailing thought. Consequently, the Net has become but another sophisticated toy for rich minded college kids to entertain each other as the rest of the world starves to death and the global ecology collapses.
There was much discussion which arose on Listserve Leri as to what to do about me. Several writers declared my vision to be a "case of insanity." They even were discussing whether it was a case of biological or psychological aberration. Others suggested that I needed to go to the self-help section of a book store and find a book which would help me fit into the society. Others felt my "unhappy and depressed" character was a result of "inner confusion" and that if I changed myself [conform to their way of thinking], then I would be "liberated from oppression". Still others believed that I would be saved if I found my way back to Christ or began to practice Buddhist meditation or yoga.
Finally, it was decided that the best thing they could do with my heresy was to follow the example of the Shaker Community. The worst punishment the Shakers did to a dissenting personality was to shun them and so this was what Listserve Leri proceeded to do to me. Other technicians proposed to bar me by setting up the technology called "kill filters" so that my email messages would not even appear on their screens.
There is also a IRC #leri channel where I began to go to explain my philosophy to the students in Real Time. When the conversation began to become controversial and conflicting ideas were pecking, the boys and the girls who think like boys, would type in an /ignore all neutopia messages so that I was blocked from the public dialogue. Another tactic of censorship in IRC is the /kick ban which several of the boys threaten to set up so that I would not be kicked off the channel if I tried to enter it. So much for democracy on the Net!
During the holidays, Leri was going to hold a "fleshmeet" in New Mexico which all the members of the Leri Listserve were invited to so that people could meet one another in the living flesh. However, when I expressed interested in attending the party, the hostess said that if I came "she would have me shot." Then she wrote me a personal email with a one line message to the effect of "The Patriarchy Wins." I was experiencing social ostracism for my feminist beliefs and it was a very loney and painful experience.
But the worst treatment of all occurred on a sister list of Leri called Aleph@pyramid.com when the archivist said that he was deleting my posts from the archives. This action was so malicious because I know this is what has happened to feminist thought throughout recorded history. Women who resist the patriarchy are eliminated from the collective memory. I recall a past life when I was being burned at the stake and the governmental/religious officials laughed at me as my flesh burned. Before I fell unconscious from the smoke, the sinister officials took out my manuscripts which they had confiscated and threw them in the fire. The messages of my life burned along with my body...my soul forgotten....my work unacknowledged...my poetic love verse destroyed.
The point is that there is a serious ideological war in progress in this underworld of Cyberspace, a place which also controls the nuclear weapons of the world through the Computer Empire. This war is the same war which women have been struggling against for thousands of years. As the millennium changes, so too is it time to end this war which is draining our vital resources that are needed to save the Biosphere from total destruction. It is time that women be acknowledged as the natural sovereigns of the species so that we will be in a position to use our knowledge and wisdom we have in creating a world where all our benevolent dreams find a way to self-actualize.
My mission is to encourage Feminists to play an active role in the future of Cyberspace. Here is a window of opportunity open for us to play our role essential in forming the future social architecture of Cyberspace. If we, Feminists, do not act now and recruit other like minded Earthlings to take up the cause of the "Global Feminization of Cyberspace," then we will be caught in the same trap that we are in today. It is time for us to demand a new world where everyone has access to the global resources...a world where everybody's spiritual and physical needs are met. Only then will the Net become a vehicle of global emancipation and a home of the Neutopian thinker.