~ Queer College of Art
“What does it mean to be a cyberfeminist today? How can we articulate a rigorous, substantive and purposeful vision of cyberfeminism without being exclusionary or restricting possible incidences of difference and contestation?
This essay examines pre-millennial cyberfeminist thinkers use of critical, political and aesthetic strategies and how these technologies might be repurposed today.
What does Cyberfeminism 2.0 look like?”1
Helen Hester in “After the Future: n Hypotheses of Post-CyberFeminism” highlights the vast changes in technomaterial and political conditions of the twenty-first century. Throughout the paper Hester highlights the need for any contemporary gender politics that aims to tackle digital cultures to get specific in their commonality and firm in their demands. What we are facing is a restriction in domestic virtual space, alongside a severe lack in privacy and control over current digital technologies. In order to draw on the pre-millennial cyberfeminist thinkers, the papers focuses on Sadie Plant’s Zeros + Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture (1997) and the cyberfeminist international’s OBN 100 anti-theses-old boys network (1997). In the analysis of these two works Hester shows cyberfeminim’s “commitment to proliferation, multipiliticity and distribution,”2 making the important distinction between the pre-millennial cyberfeminist dealing with the evolving differences in the mass women’s movement, and the multiplicity of current feminisms.
Our name is Zero, for we are Many
Hester’s analysis of Zero + Ones starts by making the important link between Plant and thinkers such as Freud and Irigaray: “Are women different? Of course. Is it all about the genitalia? Why not?”3
The paper goes on to claim that the main conceptual inconsistences lay in the unclear mashing up of the book’s themes, which we will get to shortly. Firstly we think it is important to focus on this point as a potentially damaging essentialism. What constitutes the dominant female subject in gender politics in relation to digital cultures is typically that of the white, middle class, cis and abled body. How does a cyberfeminism 2.0 aim to incorporate a multiplicity of genders that is not reduced to an empirical interpretation of chromosomes? Or one that does not reduce sexuality, gender and identity in which a vast and constantly changing matrix of desires and performed roles exists, to a single part of the body?
Please note here we are not critiquing the methods offered by Hester; we support the need for contemporary queer and feminist projects to make clear, and concrete demands. However, we are aiming to highlight what contemporary queer and feminist projects have replaced pre-millennial negative self-identity with. Are we replacing a strive for a negative self-identity, with reason and rationality and if so what essentialisms come alongside this shift?
“From my perspective, however, the real essentialism, Zeros+Ones is apt to run multiple tendencies together and to make associative leads between phenomena.”4
In the later part of Hester’s analysis of Plant the paper comments on Zero + Ones’ constant shifting of themes, from psychoanalytical accounts of painting and weaving to 90’s club culture. Hester notes here that although this makes for an interesting read it results in the work lacking in thematic clarity, while also blocking the work’s ability to connect to larger-scale political agency. Hester concludes the first part of the paper by drawing a link between the inconsistences found in Zeros + Ones to a range of pre-millennial cyberfeminist thinkers, stating, “Arguably, this rather optimistic approach to digitally and connectivity is characteristic not only of Plant’s work, but of the dominant strands of pre-millennial cyberfeminism more generally.”5
Heretical and Antithetical: Cyberfeminist Politics
Hester then focuses on the OBN 100 anti-theses-old boys network constructed collectively at the first cyberfeminist international in 1997. Here Hester draws the connection between the collective decision of the first cyberfeminist international to use a negative self-identification with early cyberfeminism’s inability to formulate large scale political action.
“cyberfeminism’s conceptual preoccupation with decentralisation is paired with (and expressed via) an apparent preference for scattered micro-politiking.”6
Hester goes on to note that although pre-millennial cyberfeminist thinkers may have experienced limitations in the scale of their projects, what they were formulating was a breaking away from traditional methods of labeling and exclusivity. While working within the radical politics of the time what early cyberfeminisms were able to do is what Virginia Barrett has called “open-sourcing feminism”7. This important move allows a range of race, class, gender, sexuality and differently abled bodies to be included under the feminist subject; a shift in part resulting from the pre-millennial cyberfeminist.
“As its name suggests, the anti-theses seek to provide a negative definition of cyberfeminism, loosely mapping this position through a series of playful and performative rejections rather than via an assertion of overarching identity.”8
Here Hester makes an important point that no political, social or aesthetic movement that aims to make demands can go without an identity. This identity is either constructed internally from within the movement or externally by those who oppose it.
Hester concludes by offering an “n hypotheses” without a predetermined endpoint, allowing itself the possibilities to be updated, contributed to and evolve over time in an attempt to formulate large scale political collectivity, one that is firm in its demands and clear in the commonality of the range of subjects it strives to represent.
“Hypothesis: Xenofeminism is a gender abolitionist, anti-naturalist, technomaterialist form of posthumanism, building upon the insights of cyberfeminism. Its future is unmanned.”9
1. Hester, 2017
7. Barrett, 2017
8. Hester, 2017
9. Hester, 2017
Click through to text ︎