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Cyberfeminism at Cyberia

uk.media, uk.misc, demon.local / 20 April 1995
By Paola Kathuria

Reporting from the Front (again)

Last Thursday, another "cyber" discussion event was held at London's Cyberia, the cyber café.

It was entitled "Cyberfeminism: Is Netiquette Sexist?" with the accompanying blurb, from INTERNET magazine, of

how to forge female-friendly cyberspace. Includes an examination of sexist language used in Usenet groups.

I tried to get some other people from demon.local to come. I ended up going with two women from the regular meets, a woman we first met at the women's meet and a non-net friend of mine. It was an open event and it was filmed.

I took notes at the Cyberlove event of contentious issues but I'm afraid I couldn't write fast enough this time. I'll report what I remember and then comment on it at the end.

"Computers are ugly"

Eva Pascoe, the psychologist, was the first speaker again. She said that "computers are ugly" and that they need to be integrated into the environment for "fun" (that context defines how they are used). She spent a few minutes on this subject and I was waiting for her to suggest that we paint computers pink to make them more accessible to women.

Computers, she said, were created by men for jobs like accountancy and maths and that the whole net thing was swamped with "boring jargon" and that women shouldn't have to "deal with things that they don't need to know." Apparently the cost of setting up a net connection was prohibitive to women, and she quoted £2000 for a computer, modem and stuff.

Cyberia have several initiatives to increase the number of female net users. They have women-only training sessions which have proved successful, free time to accompanying women to Cyberia and some other things. The women users they have met come from creative backgrounds such as graphic design, art and journalism.

"most people who use computers are women"

Eva said that most people who use computers are women, as it's usually a female secretary doing letters or e-mail for a boss who never goes near the computer. She said that "in a couple of years time" we will have voice-activated computers and so these women computer users will lose their jobs to their bosses who will start using the new technology.

They were encouraging women to work in creative fields of electronic publishing and electronic advertising and Eva said that it is not yet seen by men, who were too dumb, to see it as a market and so it's an opportunity that can be taken up by women before the men know what's happened. She said that these jobs were up for grabs and e-publishing/ e-advertising would be for the next 10 years. She also spoke of our representation in the virtual community, of politicians who hadn't used the net.

Tecno Whores

I then have four other names in my notes but not much beside them. There was a student from Harrow who was there to talk about the "Techno Whores". I gather that they were invited to talk at Cyberia because of their name and web site (which, Rosie confessed, had little on it). I think we listened for 30 mins and I would have to say that it was a content-free talk. A journalist then read out her talk -- part rant, part inspirational -- from notes. All I wrote down was "'hacker' is sexist" (which I didn't agree with). Then there was two talks about women's art on-line.

The discussion, as last time, was badly co-ordinated. I don't see the point of taking questions and comments from the floor but not responding to them. Like "we had a women's meet last month and posted it to some uk newsgroups; how come you didn't hear about it or support us?" to be answered with "ok, next question" or "if you want to encourage women to use Cyberia, why don't you have a crèche?" "next question". The discussion was also off-topic for most of the time. The issues of netiquette or Usenet being sexist never came up.

The Internet should be free

CompuServe got a major slagging off. My friend asked why this was so and someone -- and Eva -- said that the Internet was about giving information away, about doing things for free, about communicating and sharing (which women were good at, which Eva noted) and it's about giving something away first before trying to take something back, whereas CompuServe has always charged a lot for their service and were doing it all wrong, were a bad role-model, and were crap. Given that Cyberia charge £5/hr for net access, £1.50 for a cup of coffee and £5 to go to their evening events, I do find this attitude against being a business rather puzzling.

Sexism

The only comment I made to the room that evening was to say that I had been uncomfortable with the sexism I had heard against men. I said that if it was acknowledged that the Internet came about by sharing and giving stuff away, qualities usually only attributed to women, and also that men created the net, that perhaps men should get some credit for building the thing that we're all using.

It was a disappointing evening. After the flak I got from posting the women's meet announcement and wondering why some men seemed to be so threatened by us, I realised that the Cyberia "feminists" are those that would encourage that feeling - they give feminisism a bad name.

I have not reported on all the examples of men-bashing but, suffice to say, I was cringing all evening. I don't see the point, if one has a cause like feminism, to slag off, as they did, men and middle- aged feminists. How can anyone be taken seriously if they are as sexist and patronising as those they are complaining about?

In summary

I had a shorter summary of the evening:

Cyberfeminism
Netties
Nerdettes
Technowhores
Bollocks

Paola