FemTechNet: Collectivity is the Change-Maker

http://adanewmedia.org/2012/11/issue1-juhasz/

http://fembotcollective.org/femtechnet/faq-for-femtechnet/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/femtechnet-online-courses-teach-feminist-technology_n_3763863.html

In our day and age, though women have many more rights than they had a hundred years ago, there are still some basic conceptions of femininity that remain and give people the idea that women are less capable of working in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. This ideology remains unfortunately prevalent and, if left unaddressed, will cause many future young women to doubt their own capacities to excel in STEM professions.

Reading through these three articles about FemTechNet, has been very inspirational and has brought to my attention many subtle ways in which misogynist discourses still pervade our society. What spoke to me in particular was FemTechNet’s Project entitled “Storming Wikipedia,” which encouraged women to take to Wikipedia and make amendments to all the pages that are still more geared towards the male demographic or that carry implicitly sexist messages in their content and diction. For example, a Huffington Post article about FemTechNet pointed out that, instead of including top female authors amongst the “American novelists” Wikipedia page, a separate page was created for “American women novelists.” FemTechNet concerns itself with things like these that maintain prejudice against women in the professional sphere even in such seemingly minute ways.

What I also found special about FemTechNet’s work is its effort to decentralize power in learning, so as to create a more collaborative approach rather than a top down approach to knowledge dissemination. In order to carry out its mission, FemTechNet started DOCC, Distributed Online Collaborative Courses, which gives people all over the world the opportunity to participate in these web based courses and contribute to both the teaching and learning process.

I find it interesting that this collaborative approach is referred to as “feminist.” While in class we have sought to determine what about collaboration makes it a specifically “feminist” technology, I think this goes back into the history of women’s work (a historical narrative which is often omitted and which FemTechNet seeks to bring to light by digitizing the many contributions women have made to technology over the years that have never been acknowledged due to male domination over the public sphere and technology). I think a lot of what makes women so special, is their ability to account for the needs of others, not only for their own. There is a fundamental striving for harmony, equality, and respect inherent in women’s outlook on the world, which I believe has the potential to foster very productive and progressive conversations. This sort of harmonious collaboration is essential, especially when it comes to the mass communication platforms enabled by modern day technology, where conversing with the whole world is made possible on our pocket sized screens.

What reading these articles also brought to mind was female telephone operators, who began to dominate the telephone industry due to their ability to enable respectful interactions. Back in the early 20th century however, as telephone operators, women didn’t have a voice the way that we do now with the ubiquity of media and ready media access. In one of the articles, the author points out that during FemTechNet meetings, participants are encouraged to share their ideas and not their personalities, which points to the way in which women are getting valued for their intellectual contributions rather than solely their ability to be pleasant and civil as it was in the early 20th century.

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