by Claudia C. Lodia
GenderIT.org's recent interview with Anita Gurumurthy gives a strong feeling for the call to continue engaging the work of Heike Jensen in internet governance. Jensen's work urges us to remember that the gender equality agenda is not simply to be a "marginal add-on" to the political field of internet governance but, to be engineered strategically into media and ICT goals.1 Some of the key components of the gender equality agenda include, women's right to respectful representation, women's access to the media and ICTs they wish to use, and true and full participation of women in decision-making positions in the respective business and governmental institutions.2 These components have been part of the driving force towards the construction of a global normative framework of women's human rights and gender equality since the UN world conference on women in 1975. By 1995, feminists and gender equality advocates assumed a formal commitment to help implement what materialized as a mandated global strategy of gender mainstreaming. Intended to "make women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes [sic] in all political, economic and societal spheres," this strategy was to critically consider the inter-national, inter-regional, inter-cultural, and digital differences that run deep between women and men around the globe. Gender mainstreaming did not only set up the ways for institutions - business and state - to oppose gender biases and inequalities by incorporating a gender perspective in all institutional policies. It also helped the women's movement to organize and promote women's participation and empowerment through media and ICT practices from the ground up.
At issue now is that media and ICT gender initiatives are repeatedly appropriated and used to couch the advancement of private and corporate interests. What is needed is a serious investigation of the commitments behind the promise of gender mainstreaming. Gurumurthy calls out the "network-data complex," in particular. This complex consists of the grand alliance of tech companies and rich countries along with their corporations standing to govern traditional mainstream media and web 2.0 platforms. At one point in time these "microcosmic social realities" were strategic sites for realizing freedom of expression. But over the years, the network society has taken hold of these sites for the purposes of surveiling our sensibilities. They extend their pressure towards us to "like" and "dislike," to upload and "tweet." They endeavor to shape our emotions based on what they infer from our responses, through a slow and consistent release of ideas and images which we are meant to consume while they profit and repeat. What organizes this network hegemony, as Gurumurthy seems to suggest, is that we have yet to fully grasp the "economics of the network-data complex." "We are – as data in the network – part of the new economic structure, anxious participants," though "unable to admit" our significance in media and ICT governance.
The question is, how we can confront this believed inability. Gurumurthy suggests that if women are to intervene in network settings and governance transformatively, and practice forms of democratic global arrangements, we need to "examine and interpret the constructed nature of social reality from where we stand – as alienated commodities and agents for a politics of resistance." While this is a strategically powerful installment in the struggle against the centralization of power in the network society, we must also be willing to examine where we stand, that is, the very contingencies of our role as consumers.
While issues of media and ICT governance are inevitable concerns to all people from all orientations, it is the contingent role of women – many of whom participate as audiences and consumers – that is mined most violently by media and ICT profiteers. For example, content analyses of television advertisements in the Philippines reveal the normalization of heteronormative roles through image and product dissemination.3 When a particular setting, say for instance, "inside the home" is consistently used as background to portray a primary character, let's say a "woman" who also holds a particular brand or product, and when this image is given consistent and regular exposure through media flows, it functions to serve the mechanisms of gender assignments. However, we must acknowledge that this mechanism is fueled partly by us through our very commitment to performing the role of consumer. Further, we must acknowledge that there is no necessary continuity between those images delivered over the network which we then receive and perceive. The feeling of continuity or connection between these images is constructed, mechanically produced by both us and the network and, is intensified through consistent and repetitive exposure through media and ICTs. But because it is a mechanical connection, there is room for its displacement. From the point of view of both audiences and consumers, freedom of expression begins in the displacement of this presumed connection. Displacement can occur at that moment which demands our translation of the image exposed to us – the moment where we can actually decide to consume the image differently.
Claudia C. Lodia is a Pinay lesbian scholar-activist and a doctoral student of Anthropology and Social Change at California Institute of Integral Studies. She currently volunteers with international feminist organization, Isis International.
1 Heike Jensen, "Whose internet is it anyway? Shaping the internet - feminist voices in governance decision making" in Global Information Society Watch, 2013
2 Heike Jensen "Global Feminist Politics Concerning Media and ICTs: Past Lessons and Present Challenges" in Women in Action, 2010
3 For discussions on women as consumers see Ms. Josie F., "Providers and Consumers" in Women in Action, 1997; Michael Prier and Dave Centeno, " Gender Representation in Philippine Television Advertisements" in Sex Roles (2013) 69:276-288