[iDC] Reading Women/Writing Women/Being Women

Michele White mwhite at michelewhite.org
Wed Jul 12 15:12:32 EDT 2006

Hello all, this is my first post and my comments are
followed by a brief bio. I appreciate the varied
replies to the question on gender and list
participation. One of my concerns, and this has also
been expressed by other posters, is that we need to
fully acknowledge the structural forms of sexism that
may have caused women's silences both historically and
in new technology supported forums. The question can
also too easily end up being used as (and I know this
is not the intention) an accusatory demand that women
participate or that their lack of participation will
be taken as an indication of their disinterest and
dearth of expertise. What does it mean to be a woman
and write when this is raised or ignore it? 

I quite like Mira Schor's article on Patrilineage, in
which she suggests how the overwhelming references to
male theorists and authors in considerations of
contemporary practices, work to underscore the
importance and debt that everyone has to a series of
already canonized men. Do women's/feminists' (and
certainly these are not the same thing) works and
theories get highlighted in our considerations or are
lurkers supposed to adopt the previously sanctioned
texts in their contributions? Linda Nochlin's "Why Are
There No Great Women Artists?" indicated the
institutional systems that needed to be changed for
women to be able to equally engage. At that time, the
values in art and the systems by which artists were
produced excluded women. Is it possible that some of
these structures persist?

There are significant ways that the "appropriate"
gender and race of computer and Internet users are
articulated (this is considered at length and with
images in my book The Body and the Screen: Theories of
Internet Spectatorship, MIT Press 2006). Many Internet
designers and programmers depict the body that they
expect to engage. For instance, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS)
report on the "Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human
Subjects in Cyberspace" uses an image of Leonardo da
Vinci's Vitruvian Man, which employs geometry to
indicate that all aspects of the body are rational and
knowable, and directly maps him onto the computer
screen (Frankel and Siang 1999, 2006). The AAAS image
supports the report's claim that there are subjects
"in" or within the Internet and suggests that the
gender of this subject is male. Gateway (2004), which
indicates that the Internet and computer are portals
for natural bodies through its company name, renders a
similar male control of the technology. It depicts a
young Caucasian male student standing in front of a
chalkboard, drawing a laptop, and about to materialize
his every technological desire. This boy's position is
like that of Harold creating his own world in Harold
and the Purple Crayon (Johnson 1955). The Lycos web
site seems to speak directly to the individual when it
offers to "Find more on the topics that matter to you"
(2004). However, the individual depicted in the
accompanying image is a white man. This direct
address, which is also used in such television forms
as home shopping, news broadcasts, and talk shows,
appears to acknowledge personal interests and "you"
while allowing the media producer to render an even
more detailed version of the spectator's desires,
viewing behaviors, and buying habits. Despite these
personalization claims, "you" does not acknowledge

When images of women appear in these web-based
advertisements, they are often reclining, ignoring the
technology, engaged socially rather than in business
transactions, and available for the visual
contemplation of the spectator. Standing or squarely
sitting white male figures suggest authority,
coherence, control, and interest while reclining
females, who are often positioned at a diagonal,
provide a way for the viewer to look upon the women,
visually enter the picture plane, and suggest her
immobility, lassitude, laziness, and reduced control.
Representations of women act as site greeters while
men are depicted using and understanding the
technologies. Logitech tends to depict businessmen and
to associate women with cameras and script them as the
object of the gaze (2006). In one Logitech web site
image, a male businessman is contrasted with an
advertisement for webcams and video dating that
features a woman sitting near the computer, head
tipped to the side, and mouth open in laughter and
performing for the camera and prospective date rather
than working with mouse, keyboard, and screen. 

Depictions of eager white male heterosexual computer
users, which appear in Wired, other media sources, and
varied Internet forums, may not be surprising since
the web sites for computer graphics designers, gamers,
and programmers implicitly address these individuals
and often include renderings of sexualized female
bodies for their pleasure. Computer generated
depictions of nearly naked women with large breasts,
narrow waists, and puckered lips regularly appear on
web sites for computer graphics software and related
hardware and are handed out at trade fairs. For
instance, ATI Technologies (2004, 2006) presents a
computer rendering of "Ruby" looking provocatively
down and inviting the spectator to look at her. Ruby's
large breasts, narrow waist, and expanses of pale skin
are still partially mapped with the kind of grid that
was used to render her. Web sites, software boxes, and
other forms of advertising present fairies, swimming
mermaids, and other scantily clad fantastical female
figures as appropriate output. These renderings
indicate the kinds of images and spectatorial
positions that should be produced by Internet and
computer technologies and thereby keep other
spectators from being acknowledged and comfortably


My belated bio: Michele White is an Assistant
Professor of new media studies in the Department of
Communication at Tulane University. Her book, The Body
and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship,
was published with MIT Press in 2006. In this text,
she poses hybrid critical models and suggests how
theories that engage with authorship, film, gender,
hypertext, net art, postcolonialism, queerness, and
race can provide ways to understand Internet sites and
be applied to future research. Her published articles
include: "Television and Internet Differences by
Design: Rendering Liveness, Presence, and Lived
Space," Convergence: The International Journal of
Research into New Media Technologies 12, 3 (2006);
"Where Do You Want to Sit Today? Computer Programmers'
Static Bodies and Disability," Information,
Communication and Society 9, 3 (2006); "My Queer eBay:
'Gay Interest' Photographic Images and the Visual
Culture of Buying," in Everyday eBay: Culture,
Collecting, and Desire, eds. Ken Hillis, Michael
Petit, and Nathan Scott Epley. New York: Routledge
Press, 2006; and "The Aesthetic of Failure: Net Art
Gone Wrong," Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical
Humanities 7, 1 (2002). For more information:

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