I always have grand plans of writing up blog posts after a conference. And it never happens. I am off to another conference four days after I return from this one so rather than be frustrated with myself for once again not getting around to my post-conference recap in a timely manner, I thought I’d try something new. Quick, impressionistic posts that share some of the ideas from and in response to panels relevant to The Spiral Dance.
This morning, my first panel of the day was Feminist Making I: Building Critical Contexts with Susan Garfinkel, Liz Losh, micha cárdenas, and moderator Lauren Klein.
(nota bene: I’m jet lagged and was hungry and had a head ache during this panel, so I may have misheard or misinterpreted some things.
I really enjoyed Susan Garfinkel’s idea that thinking of objects as performance (influenced by Schechner) allows us to incorporate both the object and the maker into the frame of study. I am also sympathetic to the urge to resist the pink & hearts m.o. of trying to get more girls involved in tech. During discussion, in response to an audience comment about the tension between giving girls “what they want” and the feminist critique of pinkification, Susan articulated something that has been on my mind for a while. Although I don’t like the color pink much myself, I am often made uncomfortable by the denigration of it. But I’ve also written elsewhere on this blog about my frustration with pink tools. And I tend to be really conflicted about it. This is connected to my frustration with “gender neutrality” (I’m not convinced that such a thing is possible) as really meaning things that are not pastel colored. And also connected to the tendency for things that are seen as feminine or feminized as being minimized or dismissed. Susan summed up this tension so well when she responded that there is a difference between turning tech pink and a more substantive effort to address underlying issues. So pink is not the issue. The thing that is offensive is the superficial attempt to attract women to tech by making essentialist assumptions about what women want / like.
I always find Liz’s work so thought provoking and inspiring and today was no exception. I appreciated that she started off the conversation about the problematic notion of transparency and brought in some video of Wendy Chun talking about the problems with assuming that access to source code equates to transparency.
micha picked up the thread of transparency as a problematic tool of domination and I really appreciated the way she talked about transparency as a white patriarchal tool for oppression. I knew of her project autonets but I was really inspired by the way she framed it as addressing how safety from violence feels in the body and in relation to concrete skills for collectively responding to violence.
During discussion, the talk turned to 3d printing and discussants were articulating tensions around what seemed to be questions of the possibility of intervention when one downloads and prints a 3d design. More than one person talked about how something that seems less creative can be a gateway to more investigation, experimentation, and learning. The panel ended as I finally articulated a thought I wanted to share and that was that a lot of the questions about the degree of intervention made through acts of downloading and printing seem to some degree to relate to issues of true creativity and originality, which in other arenas we already recognize as unstable and perhaps unachievable ideals. Had a thought that I wanted to ask and that was about whether this notion in and of itself might be growing out of notions of the sanctity/veneration of the author as individual, and whether pushing against that in and of itself could be a productive feminist act.
Also, during discussion, the question arose of where the makers in the room practice and whether they are comfortable in traditional “maker” spaces. One audience member mentioned that she does a lot at home where she can be embarrassed and frustrated by herself. She made a sort of self-deprecating joke about academic narcissistic work habits, but I think the underlying point of her comment, about privacy, is a really important one. We require privacy to formulate ideas and try and fail in safety. That does not always mean alone, but it does mean within a safe space. And I echo her that for me, that space does not tend to be in traditional maker settings. One of my co-panelists for tomorrow, Lone K. Hansen, and I spoke brieflly afterwards about how that isn’t necessarily a question of male / female space compositions, but more about diversity in a space that is not dominated by hypermasculine “bro” figures (my words, not Lone’s; she was much more articulate).
Last thought: I was really intrigued by the audience question of whether feminism is a process or a product and I thought Liz’s response about the processes involved in building collectives was really productive. I will be thinking about this and all of the above questions for time to come.
I’ll add links and images later, but for now, time to head to Feminist Making II.