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making connections. making things. making the feminist-Internet

by Alexandra Juhasz

I didn’t make Kong Jian (Grapefruit Experiment did, and Jessica Villella made the cover art after hearing the song at a talk I gave at Colby College) but I did initiate it. Like most objects on the Internet, it has passed between many hands—and feet—and across uncountable screens and is made of disparate parts. Unlike most things here, however, the constituent pieces were formed around a particular problematic (what is feminist space?), towards a specific end (a song), and for a special place (my pedagogic project, Feminist Online Spaces [FOS]). So, its production was programmatic. Programmed by me and at minimum two others (agency in online making is hard to pin down, what with so many hands [and feet and screens] to account for; each with her own intentions and actions). Its programming and production are instantiations of making things and connections towards a feminist-Internet that we might aim to share.

I collaborated on this song with Wendy Hsu and Carey Sargent concluding a six-month project—a road show of sorts—that I built from and within the many academic talks I was invited to give across North America about some digital objects, classes, and communities that I have recently made (FOS and LFYT, see below). Wendy and Carey are girlfriends and fellow-post-docs in the Digital Humanities at Occidental College (who also turn out to be my actual neighbors in Highland Park, Los Angeles, go figure). These young scholars, partners in a band called Grapefruit Experiment, were audience members who I met when I gave one of said talks at Oxy about my video-book Learning From You Tube (LFYT) and FOS, both classes and websites occurring about and on the Internet. I loved their work, and we synched with our many shared interests.

I am building FOS to hold serious conversations, principled interactions, and fun little media objects occurring under the rubrics and methods of feminism (join us!) I made this place because I realized that my five-years of attempting to build a radical place and pedagogic system about and on YouTube for LFYT—occurring as it did within the most emblematic corporate entertainment platform of web 2.0—pushed me, dizzyingly and almost willingly, into a “feminist online cybercloset,” what with all the evasions, sleights of hand, and ameliorizations I needed to take on and up to be able to speak in these wide open, popular/ist, misogynist environments, as a radical feminist scholar and artist.

I built FOS to better hold the learning and communities and things that I most value from feminist face-to-face experiences and places, like classrooms, and organizing, and art events, while also hoping to enjoy the possibilities of connection and community-building facilitated by technology.

Photo emailed to me by Daniel Chamberlain during my talk at Occidental College

Because I was touring, I constructed OFS (with the help of my web-designer, Simone Bouyer) as a place where audience members could share their little media objects, made after and in response to my talks, thereby creating circular (Call and Response and Call Again) structures and movements for people and their things that sought to propel feminists from:

  • Reception to Production
  • Commenting to Connection
  • Production to Collaboration
  • Internet to the Real World (and back again)

I hoped this process, and the site, would encourage feminists who I met in person to engage with me and my work more akin to how we might interact on the feminist-Internet (interactive, archived, accountable, mobile, resplendent with short little shared user-made objects).

Collage emailed to me during UCLA lecture by Roxy Farhat

A room like the Internet; an Internet like a room.

I love the many things that were made through these efforts, even as I can only think of them as exercises towards procedures of making feminist-things that I have yet to fully realize. The process was what mattered: the sense of excitement, shock, playfulness, worry, and community that was produced in each and every place along the road when I unmade academic protocol by asking audience members to respond to my scholarly talk by making something. Make they did, and many of the objects were quite extraordinary (especially given how quickly they were made), and all of them were generous and generative.

(the missing writing, cut off by a scanner, reads: “to flash across space and time?”) hand-delivered to me by Jill Campbell during my talk at Yale

(Importantly, the time I have to make this essay, one built upon things made by others in five minutes, reflects on power imbalances of production that might matter for feminism.)

While professors have always made things like lectures, and classroom dynamics, and articles and books, and students follow in suit by making papers and discussion that sometimes obey their teachers’ rubrics, the Internet has altered this dynamic with its promise of both permanence and a public, its expansion of available writing tools, literacies, and formats, and its flexibility of forums. Digital technologies merely expose the sordid or glorious truth that all scholars make things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) use(r)s. Just like good feminists, however, now we must all be accountable for that as well as what we make, and how and where we do and show it. I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently at the MLA on Digital Work.[2]

My recent making with many others on the Internet—initiated through a principled, critical, communal production with my students and audiences—strives for feminist-inflected interactions that cross on and offline spaces where making things is a way of making connection and community in pursuit of a feminist-Internet and world we wish to inhabit.

This is the seed of my newest venture (co-conceived with Anne Balsamo), the FemTechNet project, which you can join here on Fembot via the “Register” pull-down menu. I do so hope you will make things with me there (and elsewhere).