Gender and the Internet. More specific, women and the Internet. Even more specific, feminism and the Internet. Being born in 1979, I will probably never see the rise of a more significant medium than the Internet. Being a man, I am asked to consider the impact of gender, women, and feminism on this medium. I have a difficult time being indifferent.
What strikes me are the hopes and disillusionment. Like the settlement of the West to the suburbs (I’m reading Erma Bombeck’s hilarious The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank), optimism guides our explorations. Disillusionment quickly follows. To the extent the Internet has been a frontier, the pattern has been followed.
In this case, what strikes me is the disappointment of the early feminist “explorers” of the Internet. The belief that the Internet could “level the playing field” was the cherished promise of the Internet. Now we are left with “the younger, less highly-educated women who use the Internet today (in contrast to the more highly-educated early adopters) may fail to perceive gender disparity in online social and commercial arrangements” (Herring). It sounds like the classic case of the idealized elitist dream crumbling.
What’s going on? The answer can not escape Herring’s question statement: “The answer depends in part, of course, on how one defines ‘equality’.” Equality always has and always will be a bitter question for the academic and to a lesser extent the broader society. I honestly have no clue what it would mean for me to be on par with “man.” Yes, I played football, am an excellent shot with a rifle, some would consider me to be a bit forthright, and I could go on. If this is a “man,” I laugh. How do you define “equality” in relation to this stereotype?
I recognize that gender constructs exist and serve a role. As an infantry soldier, I hope I never here my wife yell “Bright red blood makes the grass grow green!” no matter how poetic it may sound. Academic “equality” is a narrow concept. Men pay a price for aggression—jail time, deaths in combat, physical injuries, “attention deficit disorder” and more. Yes, a sense of dominance comes with being “aggressive” but a toll comes as well. How this “averages out” in the gender equality debate—I have no idea.
How does this play out on the Internet? I consider this a secondary question. The primary question is and will remain for the near-term, how are men and women, boys and girls doing compared to each other? Forget medium, watch the trends, I expect by the time I’m on my deathbed, I will see women being more influential than men within the United States.
The Internet is a medium. The Internet despite its early acclaim is probably no better equipped to address gender issues than any other medium. If anything, I expect the legacy of the Internet to be in consolidating our sense of space (not gender).
What then is the difference between past and present? Aggression is taboo and technology is becoming mainstream. The educational opportunities for women are expanding (relative to men). For my 87 year old Grandma to earn a college degree while my Grandpa did not was exceptional, today for a woman to do the same is ordinary. For my Mom to earn a college degree while my Dad did not was against the odds, today the odds are a wash.
While the temptation of every researcher is to hit the “jackpot,” the articulation of the Internet as a medium and women’s increasing stature as being a gradual rise is probably the best way of understanding the relation of gender, women, and feminism to the Internet. The Internet as medium is the salvation for few but the determined work of generations of women (and some men) is of much greater reason for celebration. Let us not lose track of this as we move forward in our digitized medium.
oh, and for my favorite feminist song about the Internet, the lyrics from Le Tigre's "Get Off the Internet"...
It feels so 80's
Or early 90's
to be political
where are my friends?
Get off the internet!
(I'll meet you in the street)
Get off the internet!
(destroy the right wing)
This is repetitive
But nothing has changed
Am I crazy?
Where are my friends?
time for me to get off the Internet...