What Can Feminism Teach Facebook Researchers? A Science Studies Primer

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Photo Credit: Bill Dickinson

Science, to borrow a phrase from Steven Shapin, is a social process that is “produced by people with bodies, situated in time, space, culture, and society, and struggling for credibility and authority.” This simple fact is difficult to remember in the face of intricate computer generated images and declarative statements in credible publications. Science may produce some of the most accurate and useful descriptions of the world but that does not make it an unmediated window onto reality.

Facebook’s latest published study, claiming that personal choice is more to blame for filter bubbles than their own algorithm, is a stark reminder that science is a deeply human enterprise. Not only does the study contain significant methodological problems, its conclusions run counter to their actual findings. Criticisms of the study and media accounts of the study have already been expertly executed by Zeynep Tufecki, Nathan Jurgenson, and Christian Sandvig and I won’t repeat them. Instead I’d like to do a quick review of what the social sciences know about the practice of science, how the institutions of science behave, and how they both intersect with social power, class, race, and gender. After reviewing the literature we might also be able to ask how the study of science could have improved Facebook’s research. more...

#SpeakBeautiful: Reinforcing a dangerous metric

Twitter and Dove have teamed up in a new campaign to combat criticisms of women’s bodies on social media. The #SpeakBeautiful campaign, which kicked off with a short video (shown above) during the pre-show of this year’s Academy Awards, cites the staggering statistic that women produced over 5 million negative body image Tweets last year. The campaign implores women to stop this, to focus on what is beautiful about each of us, and bring our collective beauty to the fore. Set to musical crescendo and the image of falling dominos, this message is both powerful and persuasive. more...

The Feminisms of Laser Hair Removal

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On 25 February 1940, an officer with the San Francisco police department’s homicide detail reported a “rather suspicious business” operating in the city. At 126 Jackson Street sat an old, three-story rooming house, recently leased by Dr. Henri F. St. Pierre of the Dermic Laboratories. As Assistant Special Agent J. W. Williams later described the scene, “women had been seen entering the place from the Jackson Street side at various times of the day, subsequently leaving by … an alley at the rear of the building. Following the arrival of the women, cars would arrive with a man carrying a case resembling … a doctor’s kit. They would also enter the building for a short time, come out, and drive away. . . .” At first sight, the medical kit, the furtive departures, and the seedy locale all signaled to Williams that St. Pierre was running a “new abortion parlor.” As it turned out, however, “the so-called ‘Dr.'” was offering a somewhat different service to these women: the removal of their unwanted body hair through prolonged exposure to X rays (quoted directly from Rebecca Herzig’s Removing Roots: ‘North American Hiroshima Maidens’ and the X-Ray).

Body hair. Humans have it. Where they have it, how much they have, and what color it is, holds moral connotations tied to cultural norms of both gender and race. In the simplest sense, men should be hairy. Women should be hairless.

The good and moral woman has little to no body hair, and the body hair she does have is only on her legs, and all of those hairs are blond and fine. For those of us who fail to naturally achieve this bodied moral norm, the medical-cosmetic market offers an array of technologies to help hide, temporarily or permanently, our moral failing.  laser

 

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UCSB: A Terrible Lesson in Digital Dualism and Misogyny

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How does one begin a blog post about a profoundly tragic event? With shock? Only, I’m not shocked. With anger? I am angry, but starting there doesn’t feel right. Empathy, I think, is how I have to start.  I can only imagine the pain and fear of the people of Isla Vista, and honestly can’t imagine the depth of pain felt by those who lost family members and loved ones in Friday’s shooting.

As we all fumble through this event—which feels like yet another blow in a terrible but patterned chain of violent events—I believe many of us can’t help but wonder: how did this happen? How does it keep happening?

As with all things, the “how” is a complex question, one for which complete answers are largely impossible.  In this case, however, I can identify two key interlocking factors: digital dualism and misogynistic culture. more...

Causes and Consequences of the Duckface

A University of Toronto Study identified the "golden" facial proportions for women (http://www.news.utoronto.ca/researchers-discover-new-golden-ratios-female-facial-beauty-0)
A University of Toronto Study identified the “golden” facial proportions for women (http://www.news.utoronto.ca/researchers-discover-new-golden-ratios-female-facial-beauty-0)

So about Selfies… They were the Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 Word of the Year. #TtW14 had an entire panel on them. And on a personal note, I mentored a student through an independent study of Selfies over the course of two semesters.

Today, I want to talk about one particular Selfie varietal: The Duckface. Specifically, I want to talk about the architecture of the Duckface and how it becomes the symbolic locus of control over feminine bodies within the context of compulsory visibility.[i] more...

Toxic: on race, gender, and resilient labor on social media

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Concepts like “the male gaze” and “controlling images” are Gender Studies 101 material: they’re the basic terms in which many feminists understand the media’s oppression of white women (in the case of the male gaze) and black women (in the case of controlling images). The gaze and controlling images are how white supremacist patriarchy subject women to its control.

But I think contemporary social media and big-data political economies are using different devices to control women, especially black women. Social media and big data facilitate a specific form of sexist racism, one that controls women through racialized discourses of toxicity and unhealthy behavior patterns. Instead of turning women into objects and/or erasing their agency, social media and big data let non-white women do and say whatever they want, because their so-called “aggressive bullying” produces the damage against which white women demonstrate their resilience. A similar claim has been (in)famously leveled against “feminism,” especially “intersectional feminism”: it vampirically drains the lifeblood of the progressive, radical left.

What’s specific to the construction of WOC, particularly black women, as “toxic”? Or feminism itself (often represented by ‘intersectional’/WOC feminism) as ‘vampiric’? What about social media, and perhaps even to Twitter, makes the unruliness/threat posed by WOC to white women/white feminist culture industry function in a very particular way, i.e., as toxicity and vampirism? How is the construction of women on social media as toxic/vampiric related to economies of viral upworthiness?

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The Parable of the Coffee Maker and the Design Sir

Image by Th3 ProphetMan
Image by Th3 ProphetMan

I’d like to start off with an admittedly grandpa-sounding critique of a piece of technology in my house: My coffee maker’s status lights are too bright. My dad got it for my partner and I this past Christmas and we threw-out-the-box-immediately-wanna-keep it, but the thing has a lighthouse attached to it.  We live in a relatively small (and very old) place and our bedroom is a small room right off the kitchen. The first night we had the coffee maker I thought we had forgotten to turn off the TV.  We don’t really need alarm clocks anymore either, because when it finishes brewing it beeps like a smoke detector. Again, we love the coffee maker (Dad, seriously we love it.) but sometimes it feels like wearing a shoe that was designed for someone with six toes. more...

Resilience as Labor

 


from a flyer for a program run by ecotrust

This is a cross-post from my research blog, Its Her Factory.

This week in my graduate seminar we talked about resilience discourse. I’ve written about resilience before, and the concept is a key theme in my forthcoming book with Zer0 Books. It’s also, as I understand, a trendy and common concept in programming and IT. For an introduction to the concept, you can refer to the blog post I cited a few sentences ago, or Mark Neocleous’s article in Radical Philosophy.

Here I want to focus on the question of critical alternatives to resilience. Resilience is and has long been a way that marginalized and oppressed people respond to, survive, and thrive in the midst of oppression. But now that resilience has been co-opted so that it’s a normalizing rather than a revolutionary/critical/counter-hegemonic practice, how does one respond to, survive, and thrive without being or practicing “resilience”?

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More on Drone Sexuality: droning, knowing, and binaries


If drone sexuality means machines telling us who we are and what we want, then dating site algorithms are drone sexuality, right?

As I said last week, I’m responding to Sarah’s recent series of posts on drone sexuality. In this post, I want to follow through/push one of Sarah’s concerns about the way her account relied on binaries–both gender binaries (masculine/feminine) and subject/object binaries. I don’t know if Sarah would want to follow my argument all the way, but, that’s one thing that’s great about thinking with someone–you can develop different but related versions of a theory, and more fully explore the intellectual territory around an issue, topic, or question.

What if droning isn’t something “masculine” phenomena do to “feminine” ones, but a process that everyone/everything undergoes, and, in sifting out the erstwhile winners from losers, distributes gender privilege? In other words, droning is a set of processes that dole out benefits to “normally” gendered/sexually oriented phenomena (masculine, cis-gendered, homo- and hetero-normative, white, bourgeois ones), and that subject “abnormally” gendered/sexually oriented phenomena (feminine, trans*, queer, non-white, working class) to increased vulnerability and death?

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Femininity as a technology: some thoughts on hyperemployment

 

 

Does digital technology, especially insofar as it is masculinized or seen as gender-neutral (which are generally the same thing: mankind, postman, etc.), resignify the gendered stigma conventionally attached to care work, affective work, and other sorts of feminized work that never quite counts as “real” labor?

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