Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Internet Architecture of Gender : Women on YouTube

Content is the final layer of the internet cake. “Content is king.” Even though in the Long Tail, Chris Anderson says, that “in a world of infinite choice, context, not content, is the king.” (22) Clearly, the issue is that we are still talking about kings not queens.
 In Unmarked, Peggy Phelan said that “If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture. The ubiquity of their image, however, has hardly brought them political or economic power.” (23)
These wonderful halcyon days, where the ‘apple at last hangs.. indolent-ripe on the tree’ (24), pose a question. Who eats the apple now? Almost exclusively, public debates about gender and the internet have focussed on issues of the digital divide. As if the problems facing women can be solved simply by giving them enough computer skills and internet access to freely provide the bulk of the content that men can mine for money.
Since getting access to reliable contraception and abortion, women have had the freedom to engage in sexual activities in a way unprecedented in civilization. However, there is no evidence of changing socio-political dynamics other than a post-feminist YouTube culture of exposure and exploitation. There are no women winners in the porn industry, although it was the practically the first public content on the internet.
From the moment the internet became commercial in 1988/89 sex became the big business traffic. In 1995, 4 out of the 10 most popular bulletin boards were sex related ( Adult businesses developed uuencode to transform text code into pictures. HTML set the stage for the picture porn explosion which has continued with development of streaming video. There is a lot of money in porn on the internet, but it is not flowing into female purses. Tera Patrick, infamous as one of the few exceptions, believes that the industry won’t see another female star reach her relative power due to market saturation of free content and the lowering of entry barriers for content producers. (25)
Phelan said that you can’t protect porn under the guise of free speech. Porn perpetuates dominant gender power relations and is a continual enactment of oppression.  In 1965, Marcuse wrote that “what is practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.” (26)
Marcuse believed that tolerance should be subversive, undermining dominant ideologies rather than perpetuating them. It follows that whenever tolerating a freedom of speech is at the expense of a section of the community, then there is a power imbalance at the bottom of things.
Angela McRobbie says, “The new female subject is, despite her freedom, called upon to be silent, to withhold critique, to count as a modern sophisticated girl, or indeed this withholding of critique is a condition of her freedom.” This individuation goes hand in hand with the self government of the modern neo-liberal subject in which wrong choices are always individual not societal. (27)
The poor postfeminist girl must try to embody sex, gender, career, beauty, porn, popularity, individuality and happiness in her visible identity. Failure to do so is her problem alone. In silence.
Internet governance must encompass all these things, because the internet and its governance produce and reproduce all of these things. Lessig calls for a new breed of technocratic philosopher kings to dispense wisdom and be our guardians. (28)
Kings, you note, not queens. May all the queens of cyberspace arise and reclaim their realms.

22. Anderson, Chris “The Long Tail” (2006) Hyperion: New York

23. Phelan, Peggy. “Unmarked - the politics of performance” (1993) Routledge: New York

24. Whitman, Walt. “Halcyon Days” in “Leaves of Grass” (1891-92) Retrieved on May 27 2010 from

25. Nowak, Peter. “Sex, Bombs and Burgers”. (2010) Allen&Unwin: Crows Nest, Australia

26. Marcuse, Herbert. “Repressive Tolerance” (1965) in “A Critique of Pure Tolerance” (1968) Boston Beacon Press. pp 95-137

27. McRobbie, Angela. “Postfeminism and Popular Culture” in “Interrogating post-Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture” eds. Tasker, Yvonne & Negra, Diane. (2007) pp26-39 Durham, NC: Duke University Press

28. McCullagh, Declan “What Larry Didn’t Get” (2009) Cato Unbound Retrieved on May 20 2010 from

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