Archive for July, 2012

In this blog I will be discussing the article titled Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other written by Radhika Gajjala, Yahui Zhang, and Phyllis Dako-Gyeke. This paper examines the discourses of women’s freedom online as the authors try to illustrate how lexicons of women’s empowerment online are put in an ideological fashion that are in turn harmful in actuality. The authors focus on three differently situated discursive formations to examine the degree in which these lexicons of empowerment occur. One formation examined was websites around female genital mutilation (FGM) in online activism, another was the Americans for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) website, and lastly, the third case was based on work offline and trying to create strategies for online marketing. The authors explained that in each case, the possibilities of articulation are in fact prevented by the discourses that apparently aim to empower individuals. What seemed to be a reoccurring phenomenon in each case was the ways in which such discourses formed this notion and distinction of ‘the West and the Other,’ putting the West in a superior light than those whom were deemed the ‘Other.’

Websites and social networks that create lexicons of supposed women’s empowerment are problematic regardless of whether or not they target groups of lesser economic advantage worldwide as users and as audience. This is because individuals who have little access to computers may be ineffective and unsophisticated in their responses and discussions online where the overall result is not participatory; this maintains a hierarchy that privileges those who designed and produced the content.  Therefore, the individuals that such content is targeted towards-the subaltern Other- are not able to effectively participate, leaving the more privileged to dominate and direct such online environments which may not include accurate representations of such individuals. This results in a monolithic, homogenizing imagery of Third World poverty. A very important factor to keep in mind is that many of these ‘powerless’ Others who such online environments are apparently created for are not even able to access a computer let alone communicate on it, therefore, due to their lack of presence online, individuals who may not even completely understand or grasp their personal experiences are left representing these individuals. I find this to be rather alarming as the focus changes from women’s empowerment to Western women looking like caring saviors that are superior to the South whom need enlightenment and ‘saving.’  A significant point that the authors made in the article was that as long as ‘technology’ is only clearly positioned in a linear narrative of development that is based in colonial discourses about the supposed nontechnological Other, and as long as markets are embedded in such technological narratives, it will be rather challenging to redirect production and consumption in ways to empower these nonvisible populations that liberal feminist websites are apparently helping.

Phyllis Dako-Gyeke analyzes the practice of female genital mutilaton (FGM), which has become a very visible arena in globalized women’s health activism. She explains that the subject of FGM is crucial as it highlights the involvement of the Western world in affairs of the non-Western world in many ways. She argued that starting from the nineteenth century, FGM discourses have constructed the third world woman’s experience as involving female violence and oppression; this in turn called for colonial White man mediation as well as warranted the mediatory role of the Western feminist and third world oppressed ‘Other’ liberated through liberal feminism. The use of new media forms can be rather powerful and in itself oppressive to the woman that it attempts to ‘save.’  Globalized discourses display FGM as the ‘third world’ woman’s issue. Dako-Gyeke specifically looked at two websites that focused on FGM and analyzed how FGM was problematized on these sites by observing some of the terminology that was connected to the practice. Words such as ‘health damage,’ ‘infections,’ and ‘health risks’ were used on the sites as FGM was defined as a health problem. However, as Walley had explained, the attention to such health problems tends to create a divergence and distinction between a ‘rational West and an overly traditional rest.’ The websites also used diagrams to show the parts of female genitalia being removed during the practice which in turn instills fear and grasps the attention of Euro-American audiences.  The practice of FGM has also been associated with victimization and perpetrators as feminist advocates are quick to state that women perform FGM due to their powerlessness in traditional male dominated societies, ‘where women practice FGM to please men.’

A term that I found to be rather significant in the article was the ‘colonial flaw.’ Non-Western feminists argued that despite the diversity, most FGM discourses maintain voices that carry legacies of colonial representations of the ‘third world.’ I think that it is very important to acknowledge that the person or people speaking are rather significant in determining the significance or accuracy of the issue or topic at hand. Concerns about who speaks caused third world women to question the authenticity of the speaking voices as well as oppose the power dynamics characterizing it. Is it fair for individuals outside of culture or experience to represent other individuals who do not even get a chance to represent themselves? Is it okay for such individuals to represent third world women’s experiences, experiences they have not personally faced? Would they even be accurate, and does this help or hurt these individuals in reality? I feel like the views on such online sites may in turn become more ‘Westernized’ than really representative and effective and in turn alienate the people that were supposed to be made visible. The Western gaze is a very important phenomenon that should be acknowledged. There should definitely be a space created within the use of technologies where the third world woman who is underprivileged can use the internet to represent herself rather than having others speak for her. Although highly educated third world women seek to help the underprivileged third world women, they are definitely not representative of such individuals. Yahui Zhang examined the online space called Americans For UNFPA. She is a woman of colour from China but was trained in a privileged environment. She feels that Chinese women and many women outside of the framework of the West have bodies that do not belong to them. Touching on the issue of representation, she finds that the issue is exploited by liberal feminists in an attempt to speak for these women.  She explains that when the website is intertwined with discourses of liberal feminism it reinforces colonial discourses of the oppressed third world woman, a female Other who either needs to be ‘liberated’ through acts of techno-mediation and liberal feminist handouts or has been saved through liberal feminists’ generous acts of consumption and donation. Radhika Gajjala has worked with NGO fieldworkers to understand the process of marketing handloom products in order to ensure continued sustainable livelihoods for weavers in rural South India, she wants to understand how rural women are not empowered through Internet technologies. What I took from this section of the article was the fact that when the suggestion of handloom weavers and indigenous craft communities could benefit from ‘new’ technologies, the ways in which this is possible is through discourses that construct the third world Other as exotic and in need. Therefore, the civilized and rational Western beings are there to save and help such individuals through their ‘generous’ donations. Rather than such items being commodities being sold for the market and so on, this idea of these third world women in need of liberation and development comes to mind and the West ends up being seen as helpful saviors for such ‘backward, uncivilized’ Others.

The notion that internet technologies can set these women free and empower them has been reoccurring however, in each case the civilized West seems to come out on top and be viewed as these helpful, dominant, and gracious beings that will save the uneducated Others from their lifestyles and cultures. Even when ‘saving the others’ is their main concern it becomes rather contradictory as it brings the attention onto the West as they are constructed in a positive and caring light, leaving these ‘deprived women’ with no chance to represent themselves or have agency. The issues at hand are actually put to the side and more attention is directed towards the West or liberal feminists that direct or create these online spaces. In each case, the possibilities for expression end up being constrained by the medium created to empower. In addition to the questions mentioned above, I question whether or not the issues brought up by the West on these women’s bodies acknowledge the interlocking relationships between class, ethnicity and race as each person has their own individual and personal experience. The West in my opinion seems to have grouped the experiences of the ‘Other’ in a fixed and generalized manner which I find to be inaccurate, what do you think? I also encourage everyone to read this particular article as it covered a lot of information and was rather interesting and helpful in understanding the power dynamics that may develop through online discourses. Below I have attached a link that I found to be rather helpful and interesting that discusses orientalism which explains how we as individuals of western society tend to have preconceived notions of people of the Middle East in particular, regardless of whether or not we have actually been there or experienced this type of behavior. I found that this particular video relates to the article in that discourses and representations sent out by the West play a powerful role in shaping how we view the world and other individuals. After viewing this video, how affected to you think you are by discourses present in the media whether it is online or through other sources?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwCOSkXR_Cw

-Mundeep Dhaliwal

In Lopez’s article of “The Radical Act of ‘Mommy Blogging’: Redefining Motherhood through the Blogosphere”, the title pretty much says it all. Lopez argued to redefine the term “mommy blogging” because it is marginalized through the media with certain expectations of how we view a mother should be. The idea of motherhood is socially constructed where mothers are expected to be perfect. Women that blog about their children and family were called mommy bloggers, although not taken as seriously as the other women bloggers who write about politics, technologies, and current events. The mommy bloggers generally shared their experiences, stories and advices to other moms, creating a supportive online community. These women feel acceptance and support from other bloggers/readers that share the similar interests/stories. Readers become attached to the bloggers because it is written in a non-intimidating way. People respond to “real” stories because they feel they can relate to it.

When women began participating in the blogosphere, it was a challenge to the discourses surrounding women being in the private sphere (home life) and men dominating the public sphere (politics, economics, etc). When women entered the blogosphere are challenging the idea that women should only be in the private sphere. They are participating in the public sphere in their own ways, through blogging. Some women bloggers even reinforce the idea that mommy blogging is not good enough. They differentiate themselves from being categorized as mommy bloggers. When women cannot even collectively support each other in different roles, it only weakens our efforts to become equals to our male counterparts. Subject topics should not be limited to only “public” topics. By bringing the “private” subjects to light, we open up the possibilities of creating awareness for issues in the home.

The term mommy bloggers tend to be demeaning, the idea that women only talk about their family and children and are oblivious to the world outside of their home. It is a misconception because some of these mothers are also working as well as raising their family. The role of the mom is always seen to be a caregiver and solely only that. Historically, mothers who perform other responsibilities (such as work) were judged to be a terrible mother because they are not focusing 100% of their attention and efforts on their family. Should mommy bloggers be subjected to discourses that limit them to only concentrate on their family? Are mothers not capable of discussing politics and world events? I believe they are definitely capable of doing so, except they choose not to. Just because someone wants to talk about their family does not mean they are any less educated or uninterested about the world events. The internet allows women to expand their interests beyond just the public topics such as politics and economics. By feminizing the “public” sphere, we are challenging the idea of women and men belonging to separate spheres. In order to move forward in our quest for equality, a mommy blogger should be treated as an equal to the man who blogs about the recent political scandal.

I’ve attached a link showing how women felt about being called a mommy blogger. Feel free to respond/comment on the subject.

http://www.blogher.com/what-do-you-think-term-mommyblogger

~ Tien (Tina) Vuu

“The Radical Act of ‘mommy blogging’: redefining motherhood through the blogosphere” is an article written by Lori Kido Lopez who examines the position of a ‘mommy blogger.’ Within her article, Lopez discusses the ways in which women are patronized and criticized for blogging about their everyday lives and experiences. In particular, Lopez focuses on a debate that occurred during the 2005 BlogHer Conference in San Jose, California. During this conference statements were made that inferred that ‘mommy bloggers’ – or women who blog about their children, husbands, and life as a mom, were being criticized and condescended for their work. As a result, blogger Alice Bradley reacted by stating that mommy blogging is in fact radical which spurred a lot of controversy for the next conference in 2006.

Throughout her article, Lopez expands on this idea of mommy bloggers as women who are capable of creating radical changes. She does so by discussing the impact mommy bloggers have on the blogosphere, as they make up for 36% of women and 16% of men who focus on family type experiences out of 133 million existing blogs. Lopez also discusses the ways mommy bloggers are portrayed as powerful consumers within society that advertisers seek in order to advertise their products. These women are acknowledged as being so influential by advertisers, that they are able to make livings off of their blogs just by advertising certain products mothers may find helpful. Lopez also distinguishes how mommy bloggers create change as they produce powerful communities which enable women to reach out and support one another through relatable experiences.

Overall, I believe Lopez’s work challenges the social discourse within our society today in two ways. To begin, dominant discourse insinuates that the cyber world is male dominated in terms of who uses it and who produces it. However, Lopez indicates that male and female bloggers are essentially equally present within online blogging. In particular, Lopez challenges the “public/private dichotomy” in which motherhood is seen as part of the private/domestic sphere, while the public sphere is male inhabited, consists of the working world, politics, economics, law and women desire to be a part of this sphere. However, women including mommy bloggers challenge this public/private dichotomy as they make their personal matters into political ones by blogging online for the world to read and relate to, essentially contributing to the public sphere. These women are challenging social discourse that suggests that women are not a part of the internet and often seen as invisible.

Another way in which mommy bloggers challenge social discourse is through the material they blog about. Lopez states that mommy bloggers “challenge and reinterpret representations of motherhood.” Ultimately, these women challenge the everyday social discourse that mothers have to fit an ideal role – Lopez uses authors Douglas and Michaels (2004) term of “new momism.” This is the concept that women remain the best primary caretaker and must devote their entire physical, emotional and intellectual being, 24/7 to their children. Mommy bloggers bring out the realities of being a mother, “creating a different picture of motherhood to what we see in mainstream media,” thus challenging the dominant discourse within society.

Personally, I love and encourage the ways these women challenge the representations of motherhood. While writing this analysis I visited some mommy blogs and was intrigued by what I saw. These blogs contain stories of everyday, real mothers who endure the stress, difficulties and happiness that is experienced by most mothers. They break down the false fairy tale image that is supposed to be motherhood, and replace it with real struggles that other mothers would relate to, and probably won’t feel as bad about after knowing they’re not the only ones who feel this way. In particular, I visited Motherhood, WTF? whose personal message outwardly states “I’ve learned that motherhood is a series of shocks and disappointments, disgusting things under my fingernails, horrifying smells and constant irritation. I’m the mom who will make you feel better about your parenting.” I found this mother’s blog extremely interesting and continued reading through various posts.

Ultimately, after reading this post, I ask readers: do you think mommy bloggers are radical activists and are capable of radical change? Would you take pride in being called a ‘mommy blogger,’ or do you find it condescending?
In answering that question I found a blog that helped me, take a look:

http://www.baby-mac.com/2012/04/radical-act.html

– Amber Kandola

Superficiality is created in different realms of media, especially for those notorious photos shoots for fashion models. It is all around us and affecting real people’s psychology one way or another, and can be a factor that leads to anorexia or bulimia. However, with growing health concerns of young girls and women, who go through certain eating disorders, have become the interlopers of the “normal” world. Yes, the media portrayal of anorexia nervosa is negative, in which to even talk about anorexia, or to see an emaciated model walking down the catwalk or have a photo spread in a magazine is condemned by many of the public. Reading Michele Polak’s article, “I Think We Must be Normal…There are Too Many of Us for This to be Abnormal!!!”, I realized that pro-ana sites could be approached in a different way, not just the negative way. Yes their lifestyles may be wrong to us, but we treat people with these conditions as just girls and women with eating disorders – not just girls or women. Isn’t that what they are though? Instead of supporting them, we try to cure them right away.


In April 2008, France took the lead in passing a bill that bans the starting up of pro-ana and pro-mia websites. If the French government catches anyone creating these types of websites, they will subsequently be fined € 30 000, which is the equivalent to $37 000 here in Canada. In correspondence to Polak’s article, the banning of these websites discourages these girls and women to “create identity[ies], form community, and even encourage recovery among others.” Polak focuses on the building of identities through these websites and not on the medical aspects of their conditions. By eliminating these communities online, girls/women all over the globe and experiencing this condition, will not have the ability to discuss and to support each other. Instead, the French government and other governments who have followed their lead have further alienated these girls/women from everyone. They are forced to keep silent in the real world and the virtual world. Without having that sense of community, they may create even more harm than good for themselves. As Polak states, “within pro-ana, personal interaction concerning dialogue around recovery can occur without censorship or chastisement or being labeled as a bad girl or a sick woman.” I agree with what she has to say about censorship, in regards to these pro-ana/mia communities.

The idea of the internet is supposed to be a space where anyone can flock to, to be able to express their own opinions and concerns. Girls and women, especially, are the people who need this private, yet public space to create a community with others, in order to tackle the problems of the real world. Is it possible that by banning these websites we further deter their recovery?

Polak mentions Reid-Walsh and Mitchell’s argument that the online space is seen as a “virtual bedroom culture,” which they take from Harris’s idea that bedroom is a private space for girls to grow into women. As a space that harbours freedom of expression, it should possible for these girls/women to share their experiences of eating disorders and when they become ready, to share their experiences of recovery and healing. Therefore, maybe the government or the bodies that police the internet for this type of material should look more into what they’re shutting down, instead of judging the title of the website. Not all pro-ana/mia websites promote these lifestyles, some are just support groups. How can we make recovery possible for these girls/women, if we don’t focus on the word and the action of support? Moreso, I think it is crucial to also focus on the root of the problem: the media and the fashion industry who display these picture perfect bodies, which some girls/women attempt recreate in a self-harming way. Designers such as Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld have embraced the skinny and condemned the fat models, stating that “no one wants to see a round face on the cat walk”. These industries are notoriously guilty for promoting the perfect body image. Is there a way of reforming these industries to deter girls from anorexia? In a perfect world: yes. But in this world, there will always be agents that manipulate the minds of young women. However, I think that by accepting them and their forms of communication, their road to recovery might be a little shorter than when we condemn their lifestyle.

The link below is a perfect example of a recovery and support website that is pro-ana/mia and demonstrates  what Polak talks about in her article:

http://www.prettythin.com/

 

Viel T.

Tara Conley’s article, The Pinterest Problem, describes Pinterest and its new high status as a social media platform that basically allows millions to communicate ideas and inspirations, pinspirations if you will, through the sharing of visual images.

The issue brought up is that while bringing awareness to a spectrum of global, national, and/or societal matters that are good for people to learn about, users also tend to ‘re-pin’, which is another word for sharing on the site, images and slogans to motivate women to lose weight and embrace fitness…often times, using looking good in an outfit as one’s inspiration or looking “hot as f***” naked. Having said that, there are also many images that promote and encourage women (who make up majority of the website’s users) to embrace their bodies, remember what is important in life, etc. and it is not always so superficial.

Conley’s article asks what we can do to make Pinterest work for us to benefit civil activism work, rather than just fun outfits or easy recipes. Honestly, the way Pinterest works is people share what they like. Each pin is just one image and if a user is drawn to it enough that he/she wants to look into it more, then they are taken to a source with more information. It’s fairly simple in that, if the main message or image is not impactful enough, the user will simply move on to the next pin. So, if we want to use Pinterest in a more socially helpful way, it really comes down to the impact brought on by the pins. The more repins an image gets, the more people see it and the awareness spreads based on how many people spread it. Another option would be for, perhaps, a blog to be dedicated to whatever his/her social cause of interest is, and then use Pinterest to raise awareness for it.

At the end of the day, we have to realise that Pinterest is another social networking platform. When it comes to social platforms, people are more interested in things that are of less importance than civil causes like outfits they want but don’t have or workouts they want to do but probably won’t. Of course, it is a frivolous website that definitely promotes consumerism and the superficial side in all of us, but it can be a very helpful site too. Linking people to sites with 101 quick meals may not be the top of the civil society’s to-do list, but it could help a parent with 4 kids on the go. Pinterest makes the internet more accessible, I think in a more cooperative way, and I think that’s important too.

Civil causes definitely deserve a place in Pinterest and are definitely present but not as popular and shared as they could be. In modern social media, your ads have to be hard-hitting and fast! Causes can work their marketing teams to produce harsh but emotionally impactful images to raise awareness and “pinspire” users to share these ideas and causes to everyone.

We have to remember when criticising Pinterest, that it is not the site that is encouraging all of these, sometimes offensive, images or slogans (like the Kate Moss “Skinny” poster). It is the users, which means it is our own society that we should be critiquing, and that is a bigger issue in itself.

A question I would raise is: Is Pinterest healthier, in that it encourages people to express who they are and what they like without feeling embarrassed? Or, is it socially unhealthy in that it almost keeps women (majority of the users) at a socially superficial, and stereotypically feminine – tips for decorating the home, ideas for your future wedding, outfits for any given occasion, recipes to keep your children content and healthy – level?

Here is a link to some activism pinspiration shared on Pinterest! Yes, posts like these are not as popular as the cute outfits and the good hair tips, but they do exist and maybe soon, more and more Pinterest users will share more and more posts like these.

http://pinterest.com/search/?q=activism

 

– Karyn D.

http://www.oprah.com/blogs/index.html

I chose the article “There’s O place like Home: searching for community on Oprah.com to address this week topic on “Women’s and girl’s social networks, communities and friendships: Commercial and Alternative spaces”.  The main argument in the article is about  how spaces for community are constructed on Oprah.com and how women’s participation online plays an important role in that construction of  virtual communities. Oprah’s show has really influenced many women’s lives since past decade. Many women seek to this show for knowledge in topics like spirituality, relationships, social issues, celebrity’s lives, health issues, social work and much more. Oprah Winfrey’s company created the Oprah.com website to provide resources and interactive content relating to her shows, magazines, book club, and public charity.  Oprah.com first started in 1997 and the popularity continued to grow as more women started to use the Internet because the content of the website is gendered and is highly targeted to women. The chat rooms on the website allow immediate feedback and responses in short time. Some members disclose their personal information which they might have been feeling less comfortable in the physical presence of others. Moreover, some people felt more comfortable and expected more support from the peers of online community on cyberspace rather than sharing with their friends and family in real life. The women, who posted messages around the time when this article was written in 2002, were among the minority of the population who had access to the internet either through home or through their work website. The participation of women in online community looks into women’s issues, promote equality and give voice to those who were invisible and inaudible. Oprah.com is an example of commodification and the way in which cyberspace is used to market things for economic profit. Website is full of pop-up advertisements which are of women’s interest and that captivates their attention.

If we look at the Oprah’s website now ten years after this article was written, there are major changes in the website. The structure of website has changed and there are new categories like “Life Lift Oprah Blog” which starts everyday with “Life lift quote of the day” and people share their stories about things or people who have changed or influenced their life.  The Blog has given opportunity to the website users to write their view and raise their voice in a better way as compared to chat rooms. Because in chat rooms, only people who were online had access to say their opinions but now anyone can come to this blog and express their feelings whenever they want. Recent studies show that Oprah.com has more than 70 million page views and more than six million users per month, and receives approximately 20,000 e-mails each week. The users of the website have increased dramatically since the time when this website started. The reason behind is that a lot of women have access to the internet now as compared to ten years ago. Women are showing active participation in blogging. Now the question arises that Oprah.com has become so popular over past decades whether because of women’s increasing participation in internet has increased in terms of commodification or the website is really providing agency and virtual community to people in larger extent as compared to last ten years?

Read more:

http://www.oprah.com/blogs/index.html

-Simran

What does it mean to be queer? This is a term a lot of individuals do not understand and will never associate with. UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center defines ‘Queer’ as a political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid.  Susan Driver in her text Performing Communities Online questions and discusses the way queer youth are self scavengers and attributes this concept to their strong desire for self-representation in the popular sexual orientation. She argues that this leads them through a wide range of media avenues and form of representation. Also, Driver notes that the use of the Internet by youths is not only for the sole purpose of communication, but also to “try out, play with, and perform their identities and desires,” (170). It would seem that in today’s world, certain minority groups and in this instance queer individuals, find a medium of expressing themselves in communities they would not be judged in.

Driver’s thoughts on how queer youths need a semblance of family outside of their physical community resonated deeply with me for the following reasons:

  1. Suicide: The high suicide rates that are tied with the feelings of marginalization and rejection from family and community
  2. Anonymity: An avenue for protecting their identities because the cyber world allows for anonymity to a large extent
  3. Networking: The ability to change the understanding of certain terms like “Queer” for instance.

In as much as the idea of an online community is effective for certain individuals to express themselves, and ultimately gain the confidence to go into the real world, I disagree that cyberspace is the best form. Anonymity in Cyberspace allows to a great extent for racism, anti-Semitism and the use of derogatory terms. I deeply feel that even as the world has evolved and is fully aware and trying to accommodate different ideas, the cyber world has still not evolved in that aspect. Yes, the technology has but the mind set as not.  This is where Driver and my thoughts part ways. I feel she fails to mention the other side of these amazing forums queer youths engage in. From death threats, to hackers, and sexual harassment, the cyber world is not all that safe now. Is it? I do not believe the best place for a young boy or girl to find out one’s sexual preference is online. When did we move from parents and friends supporting one another? The moment we believe that the cyber world is the solution, that is the moment everything afterwards is flawed. Yes the Internet is a great way to meet people and share ideas but it is also the same way to meet unpleasant people and get killed.

The ambiguity of cyberspaces has often set loose new levels of chauvinist discourse, cyber sexual harassment, case in point Anita Sarkeesian, and other problems.  As much as it helps certain individuals, I honestly believe that a world that has still not been understood by experts is not the world I would want to share my issues with. A world were the government does not try to address cyber bullying is not a world for a young individual who is trying to ‘come out’. Susan Driver, who in my opinion is an in-depth analyst of queer girls and how they relate to popular traditions in modern times, delves into the cyber world being the protector of queer youths in coming out and gaining confidence in many aspects of their lives. However is the cyber world the best place to discuss being queer?  That will depend on the answers to the following questions; when will the world be ready to accept queer people and give each individual the peace they deserve? When will harassment stop from weak-minded people that hide behind synapses of the web? Until these questions are resolved favorably, the answer is No.

Moyo A.