On Wednesday last week, I had a great time talking about feminist activism and digital media at the School of Media and Communications, University of Leeds, amongst the company of good friends and colleagues. Nancy invited me to speak in the Department’s Research Seminars last year, and I finally made it there this year, just two weeks after my book ‘Feminist Activism and Digital Networks: Between Empowerment and Vulnerability’ got published.
So I thought that talking about feminism in this Research Seminar now was important. Feminist and queer activism are constantly shifting and changing as the identities that are associated with them change, but it is in this historical and sociopolitical conjunction that feminism seems more relevant than ever to people, to their everyday lives and struggles in a very bleak world. In the last few months, we have witnessed how feminism just ‘clicked’ – millions of people recently marched around the world against Trump’s misogyny and right-wing populism, and digital culture has been thriving with feminist memes, hashtags and other forms of participatory media that has given many of us hope about the future of bottom-up organizing. It is the first time after many years that feminist issues are the central issues in cultural and political life, and not just the preoccupations of feminist. The first time in years of feminist backlash when we are not operating within an assumption that feminism has met its aims and is a matter of the past; it clearly has not.
But as feminist cultural production flourishes in the streets and online, so does hate speech, cyberbullying and online misogyny. I showed the audience of the talk the top results that my search of the word ‘feminism’ returned on YouTube on Monday. YouTube is populated with Feminist Cringe, a supposedly comedy genre that ridicules feminists who are articulating any kind of counter-discourse to the misogyny in the media and in protests. The hate speech that the comments attract is appalling and worrying, and it begs the question: are we taking one step forward and two stps backwards?
But do these comments really matter, you may ask? Can this kind of online anonymous, and perceived as intangible hate speech really hurt a movement that is physically present in the streets? How much power do social media actually have? I think they do – and in what followed in my speech I tried to unravel how I think about the complex dynamics of content production and control that constitute online networks as contradictory spaces of both vulnerability and empowerment for feminist and queer politics. In this long talk, I visited some of the key concept in my new book. A key theoretical concept that I introduce is that of biodigital vulnerability. My argument is that corporeal vulnerability, and the new forms of governmentality that appear due to technoscientific acceleration, when made public can have great political potential and can be empowering for communities and individuals that have been marginalised or victimised due to sexuality or gender.
Through a discussion of the development of the concept of biodigital vulnerability and a key investigation of the different temporalities of digital media and everyday activism, in this talk I revisited the central themes of the book: labour, embodiment, affect, practices and materiality.
Watch this space for the slides from the talk!