“Jailbreak the patriarchy!” is a new Chrome extension from Danielle Sucher. The neat little project allows you to reframe the information you encounter on the internet by switching the gender of the content presented. The extension basically replaces instances of man with woman, he with she, and various other nouns and pronouns with their gendered equivalent (although it doesn’t always retain proper grammar). As Sucher herself states:
Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: “he loved his mother very much” would read as “she loved her father very much”, “the patriarchy also hurts men” would read as “the matriarchy also hurts women”, that sort of thing.
This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!
Last fall, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University released the results from their National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. One glaring finding: Women thought men were having more orgasms than they actually were. Eighty-four percent of girls in the survey said their partner had experienced orgasm during the last time they had sex. But only 64 percent of men confess to actually having experienced an O. That’s a pretty major gap between perception and reality! We decided to investigate further and conducted a poll on Cosmopolitan.com. Eighty six percent of readers said they don’t think their girl knows when they fake it, and 90 percent of fakers say they don’t plan on telling their girl the truth. But delivering academy award-worthy performance in the boudoir merely encourages your girl to continue doing things in bed that don’t get you off. And that’s a damn shame.
First, this Chrome extension reveals how users are increasingly prosuming the internet itself in an era of Web 2.0. By producing novel content such as this and inviting others to help her tweak its development, Sucher is taking an “open source” model of development.
Secondly, this project reveals a new way to consume information on the internet. By “jailbreaking” the patriarchal lens of much internet information and reframing it in opposite gender terms, this project can be said play into our “atmosphere of augmented dissent.” Just as the #OWS movement has used new technologies to foster grassroots mobilization, this extension gives individual internet users the tools to radically reshape the information they receive online. Don’t like patriarchy? Simply overwrite its language with this new app!
This second point needs some elaboration, however. Certainly, the jailbreak extension offers a space for investigating prevailing gender discourse in an era of mediated and collaborative knowledge construction. It also, however, remains within, and so part of, the binary gender categorical system.
As scholars like Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling point out, the organization of humans into binary sex and gender categories is not only biologically false, but politically problematic. Butler in particular argues against early feminists who wish to replace male domination with female domination. Instead, Butler argues, we should queer the categorical differences until the categories dissipate altogether.
While “jailbreaking the patriarchy” effectively deconstructs gendered language, it remains within and reinforces the binary sex/gender system. This is not a critique of the project, which accomplishes the important task of illuminating taken for granted assumptions and power differentials. Rather, it is an imagined extension.
What if, in addition to “jailbreaking the patriarchy,” we could “jailbreak” the sex/gender binary? Rather than replacing “he” with “she” we could replace all gender pronouns with “zi” and “hir” (a la Leslie Feinberg) and replace all gendered nouns with gender neutral nouns. For example, the Cosmo article mentioned above would refer to “sexual partners” rather than “guys” and “girls,” and the sentence: “she loved her father very much” would read “The child loved hir parent very much.”
Not only would this illuminate the prevalence of heteronormativity (such as that seen in the Cosmo example), but would make us utterly confused and uncomfortable. We would feel as though we did not have all the information to understand the situations about which we read. It is this discomfort, this feeling of “missing” something that would highlight the embeddedness of binary gendered language and its concomitant categorical structure with which we make sense of the social world and those who inhabit it.
Digital technologies, and the internet in particular, has been imbued with utopian hopes of breaking down structural hierarchies and queering categorical distinctions. The technological potential is there, but we must always remember that technology does not operate by itself. The architectures, structures, and uses of technology are necessarily entangled with the social, cultural, and psychic structures of the fleshy beings who create and utilize them.