FemTechNet

Over 50 percent of the world population is female and yet women are often still considered a ‘minority’ by some, with fewer rights and more duties and responsibilities than the male of the species. It is expected of women to bear and raise children, to carry out household duties and often to go out to work to supplement the main earner’s wages. In addition, they are considered the obvious person to care for the elderly or sick in the wider family. All this becomes even more difficult when the woman/wife/mother becomes a single parent, for whatever reason.

Although suitably qualified, women will often not be the person chosen to fill a position because of care duties or being (or potentially becoming) pregnant. Thus, many women will take any chance to use her valuable and expensive training no matter if it is only a temporary position or she is paid less than her male colleagues. To take up the financial slack she will accept other jobs, even if not close to her home. Job insecurity becomes a common feature of her life where she is now juggling several jobs together with household and care responsibilities.

A specifically challenging feature of this kind of work is that often one finds oneself without contact to a regular body of staff where one can find help and encouragement. All these aspects are additionally acerbated if one is a woman of colour or of indigenous descent teaching a marginalised subject such as black feminism. FemTechNet was founded to bring these women together and to initiate help and support using digital communications. Using Zotero (see note below) and Scalar (see note below) the collective has produced a handbook for those involved in the teaching of critical race, media and ethnic studies: “FemTechNet Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Pedagogy workbook” This is a compilation of open access material and includes syllabi, classroom and background materials available for free and which is being constantly updated by contributions by the users of the site.

Problems listed by the young people in Freeway High School in Austin, Texas (which we discussed in an earlier post), i.e. lack of adequate internet access, constant updating, inadequately equipped (ancient or instable devices), parallel those experienced by these women. Video conferencing showing them in their real life situations helps them to be together although apart, giving them a sense of belonging. They can reach each other at all times knowing that there is someone out there who understands and can probably help. Being dedicated to expanding and initiating the use of digital software, the FemTechNet collective are learning to creatively overcome technological problems in this process of empowerment.

One of their particular challenges is the lack of diversity at their colleges/universities and in the classes they teach. This is mainly due to the scarcity of women of colour and indigenous background at any level of academia. The members often work at the edge of academe (#transformDH, see note below) and their critique is designed to “build, break down and build again” as they declare in their “Collective Statement on Teaching and Learning Race, Feminism, and Technology”. Furthermore, they aim “to integrate interdisciplinary content into scholarship by developing curricula and activities that address issues of racialization, ethnicities, power, and identity.”

Materials uploaded are made available for free, and the DOCCs (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) they set up ensure that knowledge finds itself in a two-way track: users upload their changes or offer their own presentations on a topic; knowledge production, they consider, is one of the most valuable aspects of the Network. This way the DOCCs reinvent the idea of the classroom as being a location of possibility and expand it through collaborative use thereby “destabilizing pedagogical power dynamics”.

Working together enables participants to leave their comfort zones, personally and academically. The FemTechNet Situated Knowledge Mapping Project for example creates a “live, open interactive digital map that foregrounds questions of intersubjectivity and collective responsibility” and can only be carried out through individual input from all at the table. The interactivity between students permits a depth to the map full of personal experience that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.

Whilst improving the chances for indigenous women and women of color in academic circles, the problems FemTechNet came across show that technologies are gendered and racialized in use and structure because the digital divide is a social problem. Especially for these women, who are already absent from privileged circles in face-to-face discourses. However, the internet can help through globally connecting and creating a chance for bigger groups that support the so-called ‘minorities’.

The work the collective is doing is important for black feminism as it uses the internet practically thereby becoming aware of the problems the internet carries for women of color because the internet resembles the same structures as the real world. There are power relations visible; in fact, visibility is one of these power relations. If there is no way a group can make its voice heard by an audience there is little hope that change will occur. It is important that those who are not part of the academic discourse can also be heard. In the case of black feminism it is necessary to leave the academic discourse and look at what is happening on social media and on the streets. Social media is an excellent medium for raising the awareness of social problems. Because not everyone has access to a computer and not everyone learns the skills of using technology in the same way, there is the problem that those who would benefit from a social media presence remain invisible. Hence, the much needed diversity cannot always be found.

By using online courses instead of classrooms FemTechNet can guarantee a higher interaction with the participants. More ideas and problems can be exchanged. Participants who are not mobile or have no flexible time frame can still join in and by that the diversity of the group increases. Finally, the internet allows the creation of an international network that is stronger than a small group of locals. The strength not only derives from a larger number of participants but can also lead to more reflection. As FemTechNet described this situation when they thought the US American approach they took when designing their practices could be taken as a blueprint for all their global offices but experience showed that this blueprint could not be transferred to other cultures and societies. This is an aspect that can easily be overseen when putting one’s own perspective as a universal one.

In conclusion, the learning effect of the group increases by seeing the situation of others. It is difficult to take the perspective of another group than one’s own, and thus the capability of working on problems of other groups is always limited. Considering this aspect the internet and social media can help to create the missing diversity that is lacking in traditional discourses. With the self-reflection FemTechNet highlights in their text, they are giving an example for others and show a possible future for a more diverse and integrative way.

Notes:

  1. #transformDH is an academic guerrilla movement seeking to (re)define capital-letter Digital Humanities as a force for transformative scholarship by collecting, sharing, and highlighting projects that push at its boundaries and work for social justice, accessibility, and inclusion.” (#transformDH Tumblr)
  2. Zotero /zoʊˈtɛroʊ/ is a free and open-source reference management software to manage bibliographic data and related research materials (such as PDF files). Notable features include web browser integration, online syncing, generation of in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies, as well as integration with the word processors Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Writer, and Google Docs. It is produced by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. 
  3. Scalarwww.scalar.me; use of Scalar for born-digital scholarship and cutting-edge, collections-based digital pedagogy on their campus as well as those who wish to develop their own projects showcasing institutional collections editorial and copy-editingfeature.

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