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Cyberfeminism is a feminist community, philosophy and set of practices concerned with feminist interactions with and acts in cyberspace. The term was coined in 1991, and feminist individuals, theorists and groups identifying themselves as cyberfeminists were most active in the 1990s. Cyberfeminists resist rigid definitions of their movement, but it is broadly concerned with expressing and developing feminism in the context of online interactions and online art.
Use of the term "cyberfeminism"
The term Cyberfeminism was first used by the Australian collective VNS Matrix in their 1991 cyberfeminist manifesto for the 21st century. In this manifesto VNS Matrix famously proclaimed “The clitoris is a direct line to the matrix”. Julianne Pierce from VNS Matrix explained:
“four bored girls decided to have some fun with art and French feminist theory… with homage to Donna Haraway they began to play around with the idea of cyberfeminism… Beginning as if by spontaneous combustion, from a few hot nodes in Europe, America and Australia, cyberfeminism became a viral meme infecting theory, art and the academy. “
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According to Carolyn Guertin, Cyberfeminism was born "at a particular moment in time, 1992, simultaneously at three different points on the globe." In Canada, Nancy Paterson, wrote an article entitled "Cyberfeminism" for the Echo Gopher server. In Australia, VNS Matrix used the term to label their radical feminist acts "to insert women, bodily fluids and political consciousness into electronic spaces." That same year, British cultural theorist Sadie Plant used the term to describe definition of the feminizing influence of technology on western society. Guertin goes on to say that, the first international cyberfeminist conference in Germany, in 1997, refused to define the school of thought, but drafted the "100 Anti-Theses of Cyberfeminism" instead. Guertin says that Cyberfeminism is a celebration of multiplicity.
Put simply cyberfeminism refers to feminism(s) applied to and/or performed in cyberspace. An authoritative definition of cyberfeminism is difficult to find in written works because early cyberfeminists deliberately evaded a rigid elucidation. At the first international cyberfeminist conference, delegates avoided stating what cyberfeminism was and instead devised with 100 anti-theses and defined what cyberfeminism was not. The idea of defining/not defining it through several overlapping ideas (anti-theses) is appropriate to post-modern feminist ideals of a fluid worldview rather than a rigid binary oppositional view and reflects the diversity of theoretical positions in contemporary feminism. The 100 anti-theses range from the serious and instructional, for example “Cyberfeminism is not just using words with no knowledge of numbers” (i.e. cyberfeminism requires active engagement with technology in addition to theory), to the whimsical, for example “Cyberfeminismo es no una banana”. The 100 Anti-theses is written primarily in English but includes several other languages in line with the 100th anti-thesis “cyberfeminism has not only one language” denoting cyberfeminism as an international movement. This combination of serious real world action mixed with a good dose of irony and sense of fun is also evident in many cyberfeminist artworks. Carolyn Guertin has perhaps most lucidly dubbed cyberfeminism: "a way of redefining the conjunctions of identities, genders, bodies and technologies, specifically as they relate to power dynamics" in an interview for CKLN-FM in Toronto.
Donna Haraway is the inspiration and genesis for cyberfeminism with her 1985 essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" which was reprinted in "Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature" (1991). Cyberfeminism arose partly as a reaction to “the pessimism of the 1980s feminist approaches that stressed the inherently masculine nature of techno-science”, a counter movement against the ‘toys for boys’ perception of new Internet technologies. As cyberfeminist artist Faith Wilding argued:
“If feminism is to be adequate to its cyberpotential then it must mutate to keep up with the shifting complexities of social realities and life conditions as they are changed by the profound impact communications technologies and techno science have on all our lives. It is up to cyberfeminists to use feminist theoretical insights and strategic tools and join them with cybertechniques to battle the very real sexism, racism, and militarism encoded in the software and hardware of the Net, thus politicizing this environment.”
“Cyberfeminism in its very nature necessitates a decentered, multiple, participatory practice in which many lines of flight coexist.” Alex Galloway
The practice of cyberfeminist art is inextricably intertwined with cyberfeminist theory. The 100 anti-theses make clear that cyberfeminism is not just about theory, while theory is extremely important, cyberfeminism requires participation. As one member of the cyberfeminist collective the Old Boys Network writes, cyberfeminism is “linked to aesthetic and ironic strategies as intrinsic tools within the growing importance of design and aesthetics in the new world order of flowing pancapitalism”. Cyberfeminism also has strong connections with the DIY feminism movement, as noted in the seminal text DIY Feminism, a grass roots movement that encourages active participation, especially as a solo practitioner or a small collective.
Around the late nineties several cyberfeminist artists and theorists gained a measure of recognition for their works, including the above mentioned VNS Matrix and their Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st century, and Faith Wilding and Critical Art Ensemble. Some of the better known examples of cyberfeminist work include Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back From the War a browser based art work that plays with the conventions of HTML; Linda Dement’s Cyberflesh Girlmonster a hypertext work that incorporates images of women’s body parts and remixes them to create new monstrous yet beautiful shapes; and Shu Lea Cheang with the 1998 work Brandon which was the first Internet based artwork to be commissioned and collected by the Guggenheim.
The decline in volume of cyberfeminist literature in recent years would suggest that cyberfeminism has somewhat lost momentum as a movement, however, in terms of artists and artworks cyberfeminism is still taking place. Recent artworks of note include Evelin Stermitz’s World of Female Avatars in which the artist has collected quotes and images from women over the world and displayed them in an interactive browser based format, and Regina Pinto’s Many Faces of Eve.
The goals of cyberfeminist artists are varied, as there is no one ‘feminism’ but rather many feminisms, and cyberfeminist artists are as likely to draw on any one particular feminist school of thought (for example socialist feminism) as they are to work without acknowledgment of any theoretical background. However, Faith Wilding in her account of the first Cyberfeminist International listed several areas that were agreed upon as areas in which more research and further work was considered desirable, including: promotion of cyberfeminist artists theorists and speakers; publishing of cyberfeminist theory and criticism; cyberfeminist education projects; creating coalitions with female technical professionals; and creating new self-representations and avatars that “disrupt and recode the gender biases usual in current commercially available ones”.
With the public acceptance of the Internet came a utopian belief that in this new neutral territory users would be able to shed their gendered bodies and be androgynus equals in cyberspace. Unsurprisingly, this has not turned out to be the case – “every social issue that we are familiar with in the real world will now have its counter-part in the virtual one”.
Although there was a surge of art and research happening in the cyberfeminist field in the late nineties, that surge has subsided and many may conclude we are living in a post-cyberfeminist world (wide web). This backlash is evident in real-world feminism also, with many young women believing that feminism is either unattractive or that it has succeeded in providing equality for the sexes and is no longer needed.
- Cyberfeminist Manifesto (1991) by VNS Matrix
-  Women and New Media edition of n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal from 1998 which focuses on cyberfeminism.
- Rosser, S.V., Through the Lenses of Feminist Theory: Focus on Women and Information Technology. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 2005. 26(1): p. 1-23.
- VNS Matrix, cyberfeminist manifesto for the 21st century. 1991: Adelaide.
- Pierce, J., Info Heavy Cyber Babe, in First Cyberfeminist International, C.S.a.O.B. Network, Editor. 1998, OBN: Hamburg.
- Guertin, C.G., Quantum feminist mnemotechnics : the archival text, electronic narrative and the limits of memory, Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Alberta, 2003 Doctoral Dissertation. Ch.1 (Alberta, 2003), Senior McLuhan Fellow, UofT.
- Hawthorne,Susan. Klein, Renate eds. CyberFeminism: Connectivity, Critique and Creativity. Spinifex Press, 1999. pg4.
- Old_Boys_Network, 100 anti-theses. 1997.
- Wajcman, J., TechnoFeminism. 2004, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
- Sollfrank, C. The Truth about Cyberfeminism. .
- Wilding, F., Where's the Feminism in Cyberfemnism. paradoxa, international feminist art journal, 1998. 1(2): p. 6-13.
- Galloway, A., A Report on Cyberfeminism: Sadie Plant relative to VNS Matrix. Switch (9).
- Bail, K., ed. DIY Feminism. 1996, Allen & Unwin.
- Lialina, O. My Boyfriend Came Back From the War. 1996 .
- Dement, L. Linda Dement; Cyberflesh Girlmonster CD ROM. .
- Cheang, S.L. Brandon. 1998 .
- Stermitz, E. World of Female Avitars. 2006 .
- Pinto’s, R. The Many Face of Eve. 2005 .
- Spender, D., Nattering on the net : women, power and cyberspace. 1995, North Melbourne: Spinifex.
- Dallow, J., Rethinking Feminism and Visual Culture. NWSA Journal, 2003. 15(2): p. 135-143.
- 100 anti-theses
- Feminist Practices and Politics of Technology
- The Beginner's Cyberfeminist Dictionary
- Faith Wilding's essay 'Where is Feminism in Cyberfeminism?'
- function:feminism - A timeline following the development of cyberfeminism with links to writings and art projects 1991 - 2006
- cyberfem - feminismos en el escenario electronico / espai d'art contemporani de Castello
- Website of SubRosa, Faith Wilding and Hyla Willis
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