Gender and Digital Culture

With the support of the University of Southampton’s Digital Humanities team and the University of York’s Centre for Digital Heritage, I’m working to coordinate a series of events that attend to the relationship between digital culture and gender. I’m looking for a paid assistant (from the University of Southampton, which is graciously funding the post) to contribute to the initial set-up and preparatory research for these events, and I’ve pasted details below for anyone in the humanities at Soton with an interest in matters of the digital.

I’ve been wanting to blog on these issues for over a year now, but the subject for me has been a sensitive one, and I was never quite sure how to approach it. The potential negative ramifications for speaking out seemed disproportionate to any possible benefit, and so I’ve sat silent wondering how best to manage my concerns. I enlisted help from a couple of my closest friends and colleagues, asking them to look for articles or related discussions about instances akin to mine, and simultaneously I started to do my own research.

Unfortunately, but meaningfully for me, over the past few months, several very high profile incidents have presented themselves that resonate with my experiences. Indeed, just today, the Times has published an article (not open access, disappointingly) on a comparable theme, headlined: “British universities in grip of ‘lad culture’ of misogyny, according to NUS”. Others, like Anita SarkeesianMary Beard, Sarah Parmenter, Leigh Alexander, and see here, have all actively—and inspiringly— responded to what is disturbing but clearly indisputable gender-related harassment via digital/web-based media.

As for me, since 2011 I’ve experienced a series of separate episodes of being subjected to email or other social media-driven judgments on my appearance and sexuality. These were not simple, innocent remarks by friends and family, but often long, detailed descriptions and fantasy-like reflections about me sent in private messages direct to my personal email/Facebook accounts from colleagues around the world. The first incident was so absurd and unexpected that I just told a couple of my girlfriends at Southampton about it and had a bit of an uncomfortable laugh. The second incident was even more awkward and I began to feel incredibly self-conscious and embarrassed about how I was projecting myself to others. The third incident led me to silence – I no longer wanted to discuss it with anyone because it had become such a point of humiliation. All three of these incidents happened in 2011, and they were only the start of a trend that has continued since then.

But I’m exhausted now of burying the subject, and I wonder who it’s profiting to not attend to something that is demeaning and inappropriate both personally and professionally.

When I mentioned to others that I wanted to begin to think about how digital culture is implicated in these exchanges, I was met by a variety of reactions. Some rightly pointed out that digital media have far more connection to – and relevance for – gender than merely their application in derogatory ways. In other words, the conversation is a wide one, and I should think about how these tools can be (and are) wielded meaningfully, strategically, productively in other contexts.

At once, others implied that it was nonsensical for me to air my frustrations in public because it would lead people to question how they might appropriately address me in the future. On this point, I have to assert myself by saying that one could not possibly mistake innocent flattery (that is expressed publicly and is witnessable to all) with the types of private, explicit, long-winded, repeated and persistent messages that I’ve received through email. This is not debatable.

To that end, the University of York and the University of Southampton are coming together to talk through some of the many intersections, contentions, problematic and productive dimensions of gender and digital culture. Further description is below, including reference to other very visible cases of gendered abuse on the web of late. My experience is more in line with that of Leigh Alexander, but it impacts upon my life and my career, and as such, it is important to me.

Thanks as always for your support and constructive advice – I am so grateful. I am always keen for links, research articles, videos, and contacts on these issues, so please don’t hesitate to send them to me.

Gender & the Digital Events

Issues of gender and their relationship to digital technologies have had some presence in the news media lately, with Mary Beard and Sarah Parmenter being two amongst many individuals from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds who have actively responded to gendered and digitally fuelled character attacks. Such episodes are among a series of matters arising from applications of – and interactions with – digital tools that impact upon the professional and intellectual lives of scholars, and which consequently have implications for research, teaching and related practice.

In light of the University of Southampton’s and University of York’s growing digital humanities and digital heritage streams, Sara Perry (York) and Graeme Earl (Southampton) seek to organise a cross-institutional, live-streamed seminar (or series of seminars) in the spring time that bring(s) together specialists working in both the humanities and sciences for a critical conversation about their engagements with digital tools. We are looking for a postgraduate student to assist in coordinating the event(s) and to prepare a draft discussion document to help structure the debate. Work must be completed by 31 March 2013. The event will run after the Easter vacation.

Our interests are in exploring the (gendered) relationships between people and digital technologies: how, in tandem, they variously facilitate, exacerbate, rethink or replicate diverse behaviours. More specifically, we are interested in how these relationships operate in different disciplines in terms of professional and personal development, and how we equip individuals to use such technologies productively. The digital humanities have an important cross-disciplinary role to play not only in understanding how men and women engage with digital media – and how the media might recondition our research studies – but in preparing people for those studies themselves and for professional careers in all digitally-mediated disciplines.