Networked Technologies as Sites and Means of Nonviolence

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 McGill University laurelhart@gmail.com
  • 2 McGill University pamela.lamb@mcgill.ca
  • 3 University of Tokyo jcader@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

Effectively engaging with technologies of nonviolence for girls and young women requires attention to systemic, symbolic, and everyday forms of violence online and offline, as well as to how power is broadly manifest. We draw from three different interdisciplinary perspectives and critical reflections to consider networked technologies and online communities in relation to nonviolence. We explore mentorship and subversive education through novel, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, identity politics on Facebook in a reflective study of digital citizenship for queer girl visibility, and online grassroots community solutions in considering the social potential of online forums and solutions for online harassment. Our varied perspectives encounter contradictions, such as the need for access to and protection from diverse online communities, as a necessary consideration for developing policy and creating networked and community-based technologies of nonviolence. We conclude with five recommendations in a call to action.

How might online communities and networked technologies foster nonviolence for girls and young women? Which technologies might generate greater accessibility to knowledge, and communities of support, in order to help girls and young women overcome and avoid violence? What benefits and risks do they entail? Anita Thaler’s “technofeminist perspective [is] that technology neither offers an easy fix to discrimination, nor can it be seen as the source of it, as both gender and technology are fluid and shape each other mutually” (2014: 1; emphasis in original). This article combines three interdisciplinary perspectives on the problems and possibilities of network technologies and online communities as sites and modes of nonviolence for women and girls. We consider this emerging area of girlhood and networked technologies of nonviolence in order to generate an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that might inform and inspire future research.

We address various forms of violence and nonviolence in networked technologies and online communities. Our understanding of violence and related nonviolent responses concurs with that of Amanda Kidd, who calls for an extended approach to understanding “the multifaceted dynamics of violence.” According to Kidd, systemic violence, symbolic violence, and everyday or direct violence (for example, sexual and domestic) are intertwined. We consider girls and technologies with this spectrum of violence in mind, since, as Kidd notes, it is the banal forms of violence and “the profound harm done by everyday practices that embed power relations and create the conditions under which direct physical forms of gender violence become possible” (2016: 43). Technologies of nonviolence in this context are those technologies that are developed for, or applied toward, reducing systemic, symbolic, and everyday direct violence through nonviolent means.

This article takes the form of a conference panel, with the objective of generating new knowledge by juxtaposing and comparing different perspectives. Our interdisciplinary backgrounds include fine arts and education (Hart), women’s studies and education (Lamb), and social movements and political science (Cader). By comparing our reflections, we illuminate the complexities, incongruences, problematics, and potentialities of engaging networked technologies and online communities as sites of nonviolence for women and girls. We recognize that to “talk about violence in terms of wider manifestations of power relations presents a fundamental challenge to common sense and legalistic notions of violence, which may also shape academic assumptions” (Kidd 2016: 42). We engage with a range of networked communication technologies from various standpoints from which we consider the imagined, the personal, and the political. Hart explores the imaginary future of a science-fiction novel wherein a girl uses networked educational technology to escape violence, and she compares features of the device with today’s technologies. Lamb speaks from an intersectional feminist perspective in considering social media as a site from which to challenge social norms while acknowledging how digital spaces can enable both divisive and educational conversations. The significance of networked online relationships and community spaces to girls is revisited in Cader’s consideration of young women’s access to online forums. Drawing from his background in internet-based social movements, Cader examines the misogyny and cyberviolence that infiltrate potential wellsprings of activism online. At the juncture of these three views, we identify key concepts framing networked and community-based technologies as sites of nonviolence for women and girls, make recommendations for information and communication technology (ICT) literacy and digital community development, and point to future research possibilities.

While digital networking tools enable new possibilities for knowledge acquisition and civic action, as well as facilitating new social connections, the numerous threats and concerns include the reinforcement of worldviews caused by content-filtering algorithms (Pariser 2011), surveillance, and cyberviolence. In order for girls and young women to achieve the benefits of an approach based on technologies of nonviolence, active tools and supports must be introduced through education, mentorship, and/or through assistive technologies designed for safely accessing content and communities. Our reflections emphasize the complex and nuanced relationships and affordances enabled by technologies, as well as how individuals often determine their use for better or worse.

Laurel Hart Imagines Networked Technologies as Sites of Educationally Based Nonviolence for Girls

As a teenager growing up in the burgeoning era of the internet in the 1990s, I have experienced its promises of knowledge and relational networks, as well as its perils of deception and unhindered access. My long-standing fascination with online communities and the realities they facilitate led to my researching and co-creating a collaborative social media photography collective for women (Hart 2016). Elsewhere, with Claudia Mitchell, I propose three categories of technologies applied towards nonviolence: “knowledge networks for education knowledge sharing and alternative media” (Hart and Mitchell 2013: 140), networks for safety, and forms of technologies employed for nonviolence. I reconsider these categories using Neal Stephenson’s (1995) cyberpunk thriller, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (hereinafter, The Diamond Age) as the basis for an imaginative exploration of technology-mediated education that incorporates personalized mobile devices with subversive agendas, multimedia content, and mentorship that might facilitate nonviolence for girls. The Diamond Age inspired numerous studies, from research on children’s tablet-based self-learning in rural Ethiopia (Chang et al. 2014), to the design of a “narrative system [that] guides learning [and] provides personalized instruction” (Ananian et al. 2012: 1). Let us join Stephenson, beginning in the imagination where most technological activist initiatives begin—where a dream to free a young woman from social oppression takes form in a device called “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” (hereinafter, the primer).

In the future world of The Diamond Age, nanotechnology and atomic manipulation are commonplace and resources are abundant. However, extreme class difference is perpetuated by corporate dominance and clan control of resources. The extreme effects of globalization and the digital divide have led, for some, to unhindered access to education, technology, and cultural strength, and for others to geographically bound lives of material and technological dependence. An aristocratic nanotechnology engineer who belongs to the socially regimented neo-Victorian society develops a utopian educational technology designed to help his patron’s daughter cultivate a freethinking mind. This personalized booklike device is intended to guide the girl user to think freely and realize a complete education that includes an infinite array of skills needed to thrive.

Unexpectedly, a stolen copy of the primer falls into the hands of four-year-old Nell, an impoverished girl whose home environment includes gender-based violence from her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Nell’s surroundings lack the resources and knowledge needed for her well-being; she cannot build healthy relationships and overcome the violence that is a central feature of her life. The Primer transforms her life by providing her with the knowledge (subversive and expansive), the relational connectedness, and the social understanding that she needs.

In your Primer you have a resource that will make you highly educated, but it will never make you intelligent. That comes from life. Your life up to this point has given you all the experience you need to be intelligent, but you have to think about those experiences… . If you do think about them, you will become not merely educated but intelligent.

(Stephenson 1995: 352)

The Primer assesses and responds to Nell’s life, creating a virtually mediated educational reality for her. The characters in the primer’s principal fairy tale become her community, filling vital roles and providing guidance. In addition to creating stories that teach young Nell social lessons and self-protection skills, the primer connects with a real life woman—a remote voice actor—who narrates the multimedia characters, following the primer’s script. Despite being a physically distant paid human support figure within a networked learning technology, this woman becomes a witness and the nurturing soul of the characters. Her voice resonates with emotion and sincere care for Nell; she becomes Nell’s first nurturing woman figure.

Assessing Characteristics of the Primer and Present Educational Tools and Technologies

The Primer includes a blend of a real caring person, as mentioned, and virtual community members that produce knowledgeable and relational responses for Nell. It accomplishes this by analyzing the girl’s environment and needs, drawing on vast banks of digital knowledge and delivering applicable information on demand through an artificial intelligence capable of generating characters with personalities. Parallels can be seen in existing technologies and those in development such as Siri, Google search (incorporating user metadata), artificial intelligence, information aggregation on social media platforms (for example, Facebook), and children’s storybook and gaming applications.

In the primer and in contemporary technologies, characteristics of nonviolence such as intimacy; mobile technologies that serve as multimodal sensors, quality receivers, and transmedia communication tools; and user data gathering are visible (Hart and Mitchell 2015). The Primer also approaches nonviolence through oral and visual arts, storytelling, and computer programming, the latter granting girls control over the digital mechanisms upon which their technologically-mediated society operates. The primer incorporates illustrated, multimedia, and animation components, drama and actors (performance), gameplay, imagined scenarios and female role models. Similar contemporary technologies that enable media exchange, relationality, and “virtual co-presence” (Ito and Okabe 2005: 1) are Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr.

Sites of Learning: Girls, Mobile Making, and Subversive Education in Online Communities

Beginning with a consideration of social media sites, we can make one step toward networked, subversive girl-responsive learning technologies and communities by identifying and supporting girls’ and women’s collaborative media, artful multimedia, and networked online knowledge production. Existing practices can be supported through mentorship and educational guidance toward the goals of establishing alternative and/or subversive young women’s networked knowledge communities. Successful examples of social media communities supporting alternative women’s media, knowledge sharing, and nonviolence abound, as Vicki Burns and Asia Eaton (2016) and Himanee Gupta-Carlson (2010) make clear.

Anastasia Kitsantas and Nada Dabbagh (2011) regard social media and online environments that draw on collaborative content development as self-regulated or personal learning environments. There are, however, two alternative perspectives on girls’ social media production and participation online. The first is that of agency and empowerment, while the second concentrates on social pressures contributing to girls’ self-objectification and performance (Dobson 2013; Wang 2009). Rosalind Gill (2012) describes the latter as the sexualization of culture. Yin-han Wang’s (2009: 182) study of Taiwanese girls on social media exemplifies this:

[Girls] play an active role in their identity work and media engagements … as agents shaping and being shaped by social surroundings … [However], it is important to note that the “discovery” and acknowledgement of girls’ agentic role in cultural production are by no means equivalent to resistance or subversion, and that articulating subjectivity by engaging in the subject position of media producer is only the first step toward empowerment.

Such observations illustrate the present urgency of radical media, media literacy campaigns, media democratization, and “media activism in the face of blockages of public expression [that] emerge from many quarters [including] institutionalized racist and patriarchal codes, and other hegemonic codes that appear natural and sensible” (Downing 2000: v). While frequently problematic for women and girls, spaces for alternative media production and sharing are also vital to their resistance to systemic oppression and its associated violence. Creating and distributing media among members of an attentive community may be key to social media serving as a means of active nonviolence. Educational and critical or activist components may be needed to help facilitate this, be it through self-learning, online community inquiry, formal organizations like NGOs for women and girls, and/or ICT-engaged formalized schooling. Both contemplating the complexities inherent in online communications and “how women leaders can survive in a complex social media and social network world become matters of acute importance to educators, leaders and researchers alike” (Erçetin and Bisaso 2016: 127).

Since the primer may well be mirrored by the contemporary smartphone, perhaps similar functionality can be manifest in girls’ media creation coupled with approachable multimedia infused learning and subversive educational elements. Herein lies a potential role for activists, educators, and young women to serve as mentors in facilitating social media spaces and tools so they can serve as technologies of nonviolence for girls and young women.

Pamela Lamb Considers Activating Alliances with Girls and Young Women through Dance and Digital Citizenship

As a young woman in college in the early 2000s, I remember what a transformative experience it was when I first read about Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1991) theory of intersectionality that offered a critical lens through which to view my everyday experiences, and illuminated why I felt invisible in some spaces and hypervisible in others. While I faced marginalization and discrimination as a young queer woman, I was also privileged as a white, middle-class college student. Discourse communities, such as those created by queer girls and young women on social media, are leading important discussions about such complex subject positions. Mentoring organizations developed to foster girls and young women’s empowerment and leadership, such as Girls Action Foundation in Canada and Youth Mentoring Action Network in the United States, can now share critical teaching resources like Crenshaw’s (2016) TED Talk, “The Urgency of Intersectionality,” through their digital networks. Such online tools function as technologies of nonviolence in myriad ways, expanding the possibilities for social justice education and advocacy.

In Queer Girls and Popular Culture, Susan Driver integrates feminist and queer theories to highlight the under-theorized figure of queer girls and to effectively queer girlhood studies. Driver remarks that queer girls are particularly adept at “experiencing the pleasures of popular media while retaining a shrewd skeptical ambivalence” and that they “read, resist, and make media cultures” (2011: 11, 17). When used ethically, social media can be a generative tool for social justice and ally work by fostering interactions between girls and young women of different social, cultural, and political backgrounds who might not otherwise converse in real-life settings. In this discussion, I reflect on the effectiveness of digital discourses to complicate simple narratives of identity and difference, and ponder their material implications in the lives of queer girls and young women.

A conversation transpired on Facebook in 2016 that situated my interests in technologies of nonviolence (Bock 2012; Hart and Mitchell 2015) and left me pondering the possibilities and limitations of digital citizenship and visibility for queer girls. Facebook has been examined from many perspectives: D. E. Wittkower (2010) theorizes how Facebook influences moral discourse in relation to how, and to whom, we present ourselves. Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska investigate how people coevolve with media technologies, and Facebook’s “potentiality to generate unprecedented connections and unexpected events” (2012: 167). Similarly, Driver notes that queer girls use social media as creative spaces of self-representation. Yet Eli Pariser (2011) warns that algorithmic analyses of our online activities ultimately control the content presented to us, and these tailoring technologies keep us in a unique information universe. Facebook’s ever evolving algorithms are a speculative if sophisticated science. How might Facebook groups, with their diverse membership, expand self-referential bubbles and challenge normative ideologies? How may queer girls and young women attuned to the sociopolitical dimensions of their offline communities make space to articulate their experiences with those same communities online?

I participate in two distinct but variably intermingling tango-dancing communities: one that is promoted for LGBTQ people and allies, and another that is predominantly straight (as implied through its heteronormative discourse). Each community has its own dedicated Facebook group page. In my growing concern about the negative political affirmations proliferating on my Facebook newsfeed since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016, I thought about the status quo notifications from the larger tango group permeating the political updates. When a male tango organizer posts, “Women, if you want more men at the milongas (tango events) then you need to do more to nurture men,” my reading is not neutral. This gendered, if awkwardly ambiguous, statement says nothing of the heteropatriarchal cultural norms that dissuade many men from dancing. Indeed, social dance communities are sites where gender roles are marked by heteronormativity and where LGBTQ people may face forms of discrimination and erasure.

Queer tango encourages role changes between leader and follower, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. In this past year, many young women from the larger tango community have been attending the queer tango events in their efforts and amusement in learning to lead. Because of this increasingly diverse participation in queer tango, a teacher recently posted an advertisement for his queer tango classes on the larger tango group page, stating: “Queer Tango classes—all are welcome to attend.” Many online conversations ensued in various public threads attached to the event posting, with much of the opposition to queer tango coming from young women. In one example, a young woman questioned the difference between queer tango and so-called normal tango, and suggested changing the name of the classes to “de-gendered” or “equal opportunity” tango. While I acknowledge the social construction and discursive power of gender, I am not sure that her comment was a call for deconstruction.

Intervening in online public debates is tricky: while an appreciable form of digital citizenship, there is an immediacy and sometimes anonymity to the medium that enables ethical slippages when civil discourse turns to the offensive. In this case, the interlocutors were identified by name and profile picture, which did not deter them from making their discriminatory remarks public. Another young woman inquired, “What is the essence of what is being promoted?” and then opined, “I find it really strange that we are adding sexuality into dancing.” I can only presume that normal tango is heteronormative tango, where heterosexuality is assumed as the norm, thus invisible to those invested in the dominant heterosexual culture. Herein I am reminded of Crenshaw’s (1991) theory of intersectionality in which she identifies a destructive dynamic within identity politics of silencing or making invisible intragroup differences.

Redolent of Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (2014), an older man expounded on why there is “perfect reason” to question the “essence” of queer tango. Then this comment from another young woman:

I don’t have a problem with a milonga organized for people with a same-sex attraction. But just like a milonga organized for heterosexuals, personally I have no interest in participating in an activity where sexual attraction is a criterion. I dance for the pleasure of moving with the music, being in the embrace of a respectful partner, a silent dialogue created by the imagination.

I paused on her mention of “a milonga organized for heterosexuals.” Although her point was surely not to imply segregation, the invisibility of LGBTQ participants at these events is implicit. Despite the microaggressions of erasure, I can relate to her pleasure in the dance: for me it is very much in the possibility of connecting across social difference and beyond the limits of discourse that tango delights and astonishes. Erin Manning (2007) describes this experience in tango as transcendence.

How, then, do we ethically intervene in mediated conversations when digital discourses have material consequences such as diversifying or restricting community membership? Is it possible to productively reveal prejudices, foster understanding across differences, and generate new alliances between girls and young women through social media? One of the co-founders of the queer tango group tactfully intervened in the public conversation on Facebook.

When we refer to an event as queer tango, we are prioritizing creating a safe and welcoming space for members of the extended LGBTQ community—including heterosexual tango dancers who embrace both roles. The distinction between queer tango and open role tango is about identity, not sex.

Following her intervention, several allies joined the conversation, adding much power to de-escalating the divisive rhetoric in a way, I think, that only allies can. Indeed, the existence of strong community leaders and allies who work diligently to build and sustain safe and welcoming physical spaces contribute greatly to the efficacy of technologies of nonviolence in digital spaces.

Feminist and queer theories have often diverged on issues concerning gender and sexuality (see Merck et al. 1998). How may we reimagine girlhood studies to consider questions of social difference and social construction in the lives of queer girls? Furthermore, while pundits predict that actions of dissent and protest may dramatically change with rising exclusionary right-wing populism, I think of critical race feminist Angela Davis’s vital question: “How can we come together in a unity that is not simplistic and oppressive, but complex and emancipatory?” (2012: 6). Using Facebook as a technology of nonviolence to build alliances across differences, girls are actively intervening in the profound discontent generated by oppressive social and political conditions.

Joshua Cader Explores Misogynistic Cyberviolence, Grassroots Arms over Surveillance Shields, and the Future of Social Movements

I study social movements emanating from internet communities that do not explicitly identify as political. A notable contradiction in such communities is that while there is a collective sense of the need for action against systemic oppression, the same community characteristics that propel change—such as anonymity—also allow for aggressive behaviors to be directed toward identified outsiders who are often girls and young women. How, then, might this contradiction be resolved? How might greater degrees of community belonging for girls and young women be brought about? What possibilities exist for recognizing the benefits of relative anonymity (and thus freedom from surveillance) while also enabling girls to be safely involved in these complex spaces? In line with Jessica Taft (2010) and Caroline Caron (2011), who express the need to recognize that girls can be armed as full political actors rather than being merely defended, I identify a need to guard against a protectionist approach to girlhood. Girls should not lack for tools and their ability to wield them should be taken seriously.

As a disembodied zone, the internet was once thought to hold the potential to transcend gender. However, before the internet became mainstream, those who lived large parts of their lives on what they thought of as the Internet constituted a mere subculture. More than 20 years on, the internet is, at least for those with regular access, embedded in everyday life. In such an environment, niches—and thus the seeds of resistance to issue-related concerns—more easily coalesce (Beyer 2014). This facilitates the shift from message board chatter to political impact. In recent years, however, the internet’s loss of status as a pseudo-sovereign zone and its colonization of so-called real life makes disconnecting as realistic as becoming a hermit. Thus, a counterpart of these cultural flows bubbles up from many of the same online pools—cyberviolence, the targeting of individuals for harassment—particularly girls and young women.

The problem, therefore, lies in the often gendered toxicity of these potential pools of resistance and innovation, and, in turn, in how to allay cyberviolence without massive surveillance or other measures that may decrease the possibility, however now remote, of bringing forth the humane and fair civilization of the mind of the 1990s imagination (Barlow 1996). I propose that the way through involves recognizing girls who are facing gendered cyberviolence as more than merely latent actors who require protection from above in order to allow them to emerge someday intact as citizens. Rather, the emphasis must be on creating the conditions for girls to arm themselves—with knowledge and technical tools—to take what is best from chaotic online environments and be heard within and above the din. They need not to be enabled to demand public voice but rather build the capacity and tools to simply claim it.

Recognizing agency as empowering also increases the possibility for solutions to systemic violence that may arise from counterculture quarters that have nonchalant offense as community ethos and cohesion builder (Beyer 2014)—a characteristic that results in their being hives of cyberviolence against identified outsiders. Paradoxically, internet subcultures are both engines for social innovation and callous persecutors of individuals.

Further complicating matters, innovative social alternatives developed within online community-based social movements are not likely to reach the mainstream without respectable interpreters for the unenculturated mass audience. Identifying innovative solutions for social change requires an appreciation of the punk desire to shock the bourgeois, thereby enabling the mining of online communities for potential new thinking and ways of life. One method might involve using tools, both mental (for example, discernment) and technological (such as browser extensions), to enable girls and young women to more easily explore valuable community content while avoiding the needlessly disgusting. The ideal would be protection against cyberviolence while equally protecting anonymity’s potential for sustained but fruitful confrontation—an agonistic rejuvenation of democracy. Pending the realization of the impossible ideal, a balance must be struck between alleviating the distress to individuals caused by cyberviolence (including both psychological and resulting physical damage) and resisting the popular desire for a quick fix in state or concerted corporate intervention. This requires consideration of the potentially socially transformative benefits of the more difficult and painful to administer medicine of one-to-one encounters online. Many existing initiatives privilege this path, thereby arming girls and young women with the technical knowledge to thrive in chaotic online environments. For example, Wikipedia’s (2017) Art+Feminism’s workshops encouraging female editorship, and tailor-made cybersecurity guides (Kelley 2017; Take Back the Tech 2017).

New forms of social mobilization may require such a complex path. Social mobilization is not merely organized on internet forums—political mobilization can also emerge from internet communities as an organic outgrowth of the community itself. An example of the former can be seen in the Arab Spring when Facebook groups hosted an existing movement, and the platform was largely incidental. Real or perceived technical affordances (Norman 1999) of the platform (and their limitations) are a nuisance. Their use is simply due to network effects—a large user base. In the latter example of mobilization emerging from community, rather than the platform being simply a tool, the community itself organizes towards a political end.

Considering that the mobilization of communities inhabiting specific online spaces has begun to evolve beyond freedom of information concerns—such as copyright and surveillance—toward a successful full spectrum platform, a particular disjuncture should be addressed. Does collective antisocial behavior as subcultural marker help group cohesion, and thus effective mobilization, to the point of overcoming whatever obstacle is introduced by the disgust of larger offline society? And, in considering the benefits of girls’ and young women’s involvement within such communities toward goals of systemic nonviolence, can these technomasculine, antisocial cultures be effectively sidestepped through the use of technological tools by girls and young women who would otherwise find themselves outsiders subject to individualized misogynist violence? Conceivably, content filtering by girls and young women on an individual basis, rather than waiting for the community as a whole to discard toxic cultural components, may serve as an interim means for enabling participation while preserving community belonging, even when that community cohesion comes as a result of a collective bathing in filth—which has been found to be a key mobilization fuel (Beyer 2014). It is possible to both deplore such a brand of cohesion when it yields harassment of undeserving targets (Massanari 2015) and to praise it when the adversary (such as a corrupt government) seems well chosen (Beyer 2014). The mob yields both individual harassment and dismantling of hierarchical power structures and, thus, both danger and hope for girls and young women.

There is great potential in anonymity for discussion among dissimilar individuals; rare genuine encounters are thereby enabled. However, large segments of target mobilization populations—those that, in standard social movements, could be drawn toward street protest or letter writing, for example—are effectively shut out by the generally technomasculine agonistic style of anonymous forums. This impoverishes the online community and shifts conversation to either moderated issue-specific forums, where one will encounter only those already interested in particular issues, or corporate platforms, where offense is algorithmically airbrushed out to increase time-on-site. I propose that a better way forward would be to promote both the use of technical tools for filtering content and general literacy concerning the social and antisocial characteristics of online communities. The former in large part requires the latter—a certain amount of discipline and enculturation to know what one should expect to be filtering in the first place. As Tim Jordan has noted, the key is moving beyond calls for somebody to think of the children, whether a corporation or government, without “devolving responsibility to those being abused” (Shepherd et al. 2015: 6). This can be done by building tools (such as browser extensions) that can be either enmeshed or used for various purposes, and are open source so as to be rebuilt by those with technical proficiency for those without. Such tools might provide an alternative to the individual having to simply leave social—and antisocial—networking sites (the latter being those with cohesion building shock built in). In this way, an activism built on genuine encounters can develop—one in which paths not already trodden are more likely to be taken.

Toward a New Framework of Networked Technologies and Online Communities as Sites and Means of Nonviolence for Girls

Online sites are as much a part of daily life for many girls and young women as physical ones. The problems of gender-based violence and possibilities for nonviolence are ever present. From personal to political, past to present, and the future imaginary, we acknowledge the coexisting conflicting reality of networked technologies enabling both “online harassment and online solidarity” (Thaler 2014: 1). Combining our interdisciplinary perspectives, we have identified possibilities for technologies of nonviolence specific to networked technologies and online communities.

First, we recognize that new educational and media possibilities, technological tools, and approaches continue to be developed and interrogated as a means of realizing nonviolence for young women and girls. Hart’s and Lamb’s pieces recognize social media as a means toward alternative community building, identity development, and the establishing of educational sites supporting nonviolence for girls and young women. These examples highlight the power of relationships formed between and among girls and women in online communities for mentorship and the addressing of difficult topics through ICTs. Concerns, such as corporately run platforms, filtering algorithms (Pariser 2011) and surveillance of user activity, remain.

Second, our pieces harmonize in recognizing the necessity of equipping girls and young women with digital literacy and educational tools to defend their rights and face threats through nonviolent action online and offline. Cader proposes that in online forums, educational and technological tools (like custom filters) should be developed to support girls’ engagement, rather than advocating top-down control. Lamb’s and Cader’s pieces both highlight the educational potential of genuine encounters among dissimilar individuals. Taken together, our inquiries share a vision of tech-savvy girls with access to empowering tools, guidance, and the agency to engage in networked technologies in order to establish communities and personal supports, and to develop the vast knowledge required to face and overcome varied forms of violence.

Collectively, we encourage supporters of girls and young women to develop technological tools for community building and engagement that can provide access to multiple platforms and alternative communities with less government and/or corporate control. For this work to remain relevant and useful, the development of tools, educational content, and communities should be done by and with girls. We call for continued research into mentorship, and the production of highly accessible educational and media content to assist girls in accessing diverse online communities and protect them from interpersonal and systemic violence, online and offline. Institutions and educational professionals should work with girls to identify how social media spaces support girls in overcoming violence. We acknowledge that participatory research and fieldwork is necessary to understand the practices of girls engaged with niche online forums and the nonviolent techniques girls use to engage these communities. Additionally, educational and support technologies need to be co-developed and tested. Further research is needed to better understand the roles played by online communities toward nonviolence and, in particular, how nonviolent communities for girls are built, sustained, moderated, and supported.

The possibilities for generating such tools and supports as well as new ways to engage with and understand existing features of ICTs toward purposes of nonviolence are plentiful. Examples include generating resources and mentorship for developing girl-centric critical online communities, making filtering tools to improve girls’ access to online forums, encouraging girls’ subversive media production and distribution, and educating girls in technological capacities such as coding, through which they can understand and build technologies for their needs and cultures. By incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives, we can better understand how technologies are used, experienced, and imagined, enabling us to develop new tools, research objectives, and educational initiatives to advance networked technologies and online communities toward nonviolence for women and girls.

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  • Gill, Rosalind. 2012. “Media, Empowerment and the ‘Sexualization of Culture’ Debates.” Sex Roles 66 (11–12): 736745.

  • Gupta-Carlson, Himanee. 2010. “Planet B-Girl: Community Building and Feminism in Hip-Hop.” New Political Science 32 (4): 515529.

  • Hart, Laurel Marie. 2016. “Her Mind’s Eye: Women’s Visions of Urban Life Explored in a Place-Based Social Mobile Photography Community Online and On the Ground.” PhD diss., Concordia University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hart, Laurel, and Claudia Mitchell. 2015. “From Spaces of Gender-based Violence to Sites of Networked Resistance: Reimagining Social Media Technologies.” Perspectives in Education 33 (4): 135150.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kelley, Noah. 2017. “A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity.” https://hackblossom.org/cybersecurity (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Kember, Sarah, and Joanna Zylinska. 2012. Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Kidd, Amanda. 2016. “Networks of Violence in the Production of Young Women’s Trajectories and Subjectivities.” Feminist Review 112 (1): 4159.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kitsantas, Anastasia, and Nada Dabbagh. 2011. “The Role of Web 2.0 Technologies in Self–Regulated Learning.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 126: 99106.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ito, Mizuko, and Daisuke Okabe. 2005. “Technosocial Situations: Emergent Structurings of Mobile Email Use.” Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life 20 (6): 257273.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Manning, Erin. 2007. Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Massanari, Adrienne. 2015. “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures.” New Media and Society 19 (3): 118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Merck, Mandy, Naomi Segal, and Elizabeth Wright. 1998. Coming Out of Feminism? Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Norman, Donald A. 1999. “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6 (3): 5863.

  • Pariser, Eli. 2011. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin.

  • Shepherd, Tamara, Alison Harvey, Tim Jordan, Sam Srauy, and Kate Miltner. 2015. “Histories of Hating.” Social Media and Society 1 (2): 110.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solnit, Rebecca. 2014. Men Explain Things to Me. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

  • Stephenson, Neal. 1995. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Bantam Dell.

  • Taft, Jessica K. 2010. “Girlhood in Action: Contemporary US Girls’ Organizations and the Public Sphere.” Girlhood Studies 3 (2): 1129.

  • Take Back the Tech. 2017. “Safety Toolkit.” https://www.takebackthetech.net/be-safe/safety-toolkit (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Thaler, Anita. 2014. “Online Harassment and Online Solidarity: A Technofeminist Perspective.” Paper presented at 13th Annual IAS-STS Conference on Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies, Graz, 5–6 May.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, Yin-han. 2009. “‘Posing into Being’: An Exploratory Study of Taiwanese Girls Self-Portraiture Online.” In Communicative Approaches to Politics and Ethics in Europe: The Intellectual Work of the 2009 ECREA European Media and Communication Doctoral Summer School, ed. Nico Carpentier, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Richard Kilborn, Tobias Olsson, Hannu Nieminen, Ebba Sundin, and Kaarle Nordenstreng, 179192. Tartu: Tartu University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wikipedia. 2017. Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Wittkower, D. E. 2010. “A Reply to Facebook Critics.” In Facebook and Philosophy, ed. D. E. Wittkower, xxii. Chicago: Open Court.

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Contributor Notes

Laurel Hart is an SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University with a background in fine arts and education. Her work explores how technology is applied toward social justice, creative production, cultural transformation, and well-being. E-mail: laurelhart@gmail.com

Pamela Lamb is a SSHRC-funded doctoral student in education at McGill University. She is interested in how girls and women from marginalized communities are challenging normative perceptions and social inequality through art and narrative. E-mail: pamela.lamb@mcgill.ca

Joshua Cader is a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. He is interested in the evolution of internet-generated social movements and their impact on international relations. E-mail: jcader@gmail.com

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Ananian, C. Scott, Chris J. Ball, and Michael Stone. 2012. “Growing up with Nell: A Narrative Interface for Literacy.” In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children: Bremen, UNK, Germany—June 12–15, 2012, 228231. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2307096.2307132.

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  • Barlow, John Perry. 1996. “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” http://www.tetraetila.com/declaration.pdf (accessed 12 June 2017).

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  • Beyer, Jessica L. 2014. Expect Us: Online Communities and Political Mobilization. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Bock, Joseph G. 2012. The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention. Cambridge: MIT Press.

  • Burns, Vicki, and Asia A. Eaton. 2016. “How Girls Are Using Social Network Sites and Online Communities to Combat Sexism.” In The Young Are Making Their World: Essays on the Power of Youth Culture, ed. Yuya Kiuchi and Francisco A. Villarruel, 2045. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

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  • Chang, Angela, Lidet Tilahun, and Cynthia Breazeal. 2014. “Visualisations of Data from the Literacy Tablet Reading Project in Rural Ethiopia.” Paper presented at Electronic Visualization and the Arts, London, 810 July.

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  • Caron, Caroline. 2011. “Getting Girls and Teens into the Vocabularies of Citizenship.” Girlhood Studies 4 (2): 7091.

  • Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 12411299.

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  • Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 2016. “The Urgency of Intersectionality.” Filmed October 2016. TED video, 18:49. https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality.

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  • Davis, Angela. 2012. “The 99%: A Community of Resistance.” Dialogue & Initiative: Special Issue on ‘Occupy!’: 46.

  • Dobson, Amy Shields. 2013. “Performative Shamelessness on Young Women’s Social Network Sites: Shielding the Self and Resisting Gender Melancholia.” Feminism and Psychology 24 (1): 97114.

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  • Downing, John D. H. 2000. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. London: SAGE Publications.

  • Driver, Susan. 2007. Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Erçetin, Şefika Şule, and Ssali Muhammadi Bisaso. 2016. “Women Leadership in Complex Social Media and Social Networking Systems.” In Women Leaders in Chaotic Environments: Examinations of Leadership Using Complexity Theory, ed. Şefika Şule Erçetin, 127142. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

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  • Gill, Rosalind. 2012. “Media, Empowerment and the ‘Sexualization of Culture’ Debates.” Sex Roles 66 (11–12): 736745.

  • Gupta-Carlson, Himanee. 2010. “Planet B-Girl: Community Building and Feminism in Hip-Hop.” New Political Science 32 (4): 515529.

  • Hart, Laurel Marie. 2016. “Her Mind’s Eye: Women’s Visions of Urban Life Explored in a Place-Based Social Mobile Photography Community Online and On the Ground.” PhD diss., Concordia University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hart, Laurel, and Claudia Mitchell. 2015. “From Spaces of Gender-based Violence to Sites of Networked Resistance: Reimagining Social Media Technologies.” Perspectives in Education 33 (4): 135150.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kelley, Noah. 2017. “A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity.” https://hackblossom.org/cybersecurity (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Kember, Sarah, and Joanna Zylinska. 2012. Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Kidd, Amanda. 2016. “Networks of Violence in the Production of Young Women’s Trajectories and Subjectivities.” Feminist Review 112 (1): 4159.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kitsantas, Anastasia, and Nada Dabbagh. 2011. “The Role of Web 2.0 Technologies in Self–Regulated Learning.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 126: 99106.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ito, Mizuko, and Daisuke Okabe. 2005. “Technosocial Situations: Emergent Structurings of Mobile Email Use.” Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life 20 (6): 257273.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Manning, Erin. 2007. Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Massanari, Adrienne. 2015. “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures.” New Media and Society 19 (3): 118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Merck, Mandy, Naomi Segal, and Elizabeth Wright. 1998. Coming Out of Feminism? Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Norman, Donald A. 1999. “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6 (3): 5863.

  • Pariser, Eli. 2011. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin.

  • Shepherd, Tamara, Alison Harvey, Tim Jordan, Sam Srauy, and Kate Miltner. 2015. “Histories of Hating.” Social Media and Society 1 (2): 110.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solnit, Rebecca. 2014. Men Explain Things to Me. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

  • Stephenson, Neal. 1995. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Bantam Dell.

  • Taft, Jessica K. 2010. “Girlhood in Action: Contemporary US Girls’ Organizations and the Public Sphere.” Girlhood Studies 3 (2): 1129.

  • Take Back the Tech. 2017. “Safety Toolkit.” https://www.takebackthetech.net/be-safe/safety-toolkit (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Thaler, Anita. 2014. “Online Harassment and Online Solidarity: A Technofeminist Perspective.” Paper presented at 13th Annual IAS-STS Conference on Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies, Graz, 5–6 May.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, Yin-han. 2009. “‘Posing into Being’: An Exploratory Study of Taiwanese Girls Self-Portraiture Online.” In Communicative Approaches to Politics and Ethics in Europe: The Intellectual Work of the 2009 ECREA European Media and Communication Doctoral Summer School, ed. Nico Carpentier, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Richard Kilborn, Tobias Olsson, Hannu Nieminen, Ebba Sundin, and Kaarle Nordenstreng, 179192. Tartu: Tartu University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wikipedia. 2017. Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism (accessed 12 June 2017).

  • Wittkower, D. E. 2010. “A Reply to Facebook Critics.” In Facebook and Philosophy, ed. D. E. Wittkower, xxii. Chicago: Open Court.

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