The article that is going to be analyzed in the paper at hand is called The Internet Is Full of Jerks, Because the World Is Full of Jerks: What Feminist Theory Teaches Us About the Internet and is written by the feminist scholar Adrienne Shaw. The title is partially self-explanatory: the author of the article speculates upon the increasing sexism and misogyny that currently dominate online spaces, filling it with various forms of hatred and humiliation, as well as the ability of feminist theory to change this situation (Shaw, 2014).
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In Shaw’s view, she is addressing a problem that can no longer be ignored: her primary concern is to restore justice in relation to feminism. Shaw’s point is that feminist theory is totally ignored by researchers when it comes to studying modern technologies and technological spaces that are initially designed as exclusively male spheres of activity. Shaw cites the common delusion that gender studies have nothing to do with online spaces since otherwise it would mean that “men have no gender either” (p. 273). She insists that feminism is capability of offering the technology field a critique of generating knowledge even when it is far from being centered on women as the research object. Thus, the major thesis of the article is that feminist theory – that has to encounter misogyny, aggravated by cultural norms of Internet communication – cannot be ignored in its attempts to give people an opportunity to re-evaluate how to properly use emerging spaces as well as how new spheres shape their existence. According to the author, despite this extreme opposition, feminism is still highly attentive to the way power is distributed in various discourses and therefore can notice and eliminate potential threats connected with the invasion of technologies into peoples’ lives. She believes that, unlike most theories that involve the study of technologies, feminist theory does not perceive them as naturally good or evil, as they are always analyzed and assessed in terms of production and consumption (Shaw, 2014).
In order to support her thesis, Shaw provides examples that show the ability of feminist theory to make sense of technological implementation without relying on oversimplified beliefs about natural propensities and determinism despite the aggressiveness of the Internet space towards this. She reviews Janet Abbate’s research on the topic, proving that a male-dominated field of technology was initially considered to be destined for women. However, over the course of time, gender imbalance appeared as coding set the standards and working conditions that excluded everyone who was not white and male from this professional field. Another researcher, to whose work Shaw resorts, is Lisa Nakamura, who investigates racism and sexism as accidental vs. predetermined phenomena existing in the online space. The scholar comes to the conclusion that both racism and sexism can be explained by neither communicative failures nor simple trolling. On the contrary, these attitudes result from the same privilege that helped male users achieve domination in technologies, making them a part of masculine culture.
Having this privilege allows people to be jerks – not only keeping anonymity, but also when they can be sure that no consequences will follow. This aggressive position of white, male users makes it possible for them to determine who can participate in Internet discussions and to what extent. Shaw exemplifies this inadequacy using the case of Anita Sarkeesian, who launched a project with the purpose of investigating how women were represented in various video games. Her online activity resulted in numerous death and rape threats, flash games and videos humiliating the woman, acts of vandalism on her Wiki page, and other assaults and attacks, which were highly demonstrative in terms of attitude to feminist theory in the online space. Similar situations occurred each time someone tried to address the issue of race, gender or other types of discrimination on the Internet. Such behavior allows Shaw to infer that the online space is deliberately made hazardous for women in order to exclude them from discourses dominated by men. She provides evidence from a male journalist, who claims that attacks on women are more numerous and violent on the Internet than any threats he received as a male journalist. This made a lot of women discontinue their blogs, websites, or profiles and distance themselves from the online space in their professional activity (Shaw, 2014).
What Shaw tries to prove is that despite its evident advantages, feminist theory cannot be applied in the field of technology as long as such kind of behavior is supported by the overwhelming majority of users. Despite the fact that racism, misogyny, and homophobia did not appear with the age of information, these attitudes get aggravated by the Internet as it encourages all kinds of extreme and intolerant behavior (Shaw, 2014).
Moreover, despite the fact that modern technologies made it possible for a large number of people to participate in culture production (e.g. creating fandoms), this opportunity remains limited for people who are marginalized because of their gender, race, religion, and for other common reasons. This implies that these people’s voices are excluded from the culture formation process. On the contrary, feminist theory teaches people to encourage the activity of minorities in digital production and recognize their contribution to the development of the online space. According to Shaw, feminism makes people re-evaluate the relationships between leaders and outsiders and question the necessity for over-privileging. In addition, the author poses a question regarding surveillance networks violating privacy of online participation by making it hypervisible. In this context, lessons learnt from feminism that promote, among other things, a right for privacy, should be put into practice. This practical usefulness of feminist theory allows Shaw to conclude that it cannot be simply neglected as a valuable perspective on the media world (Shaw, 2014).
The major strength of the article is its evidence-based character: the author provides numerous examples of other studies (including those performed by males) that support her point of view. Moreover, she manages to compare and juxtapose different perspectives, identifying their strong and weak points. Most of the sources that the article quotes are contemporary, which gives the reader an up-to-date picture of the problem and the urgency with which it should be tackled. The author has considerable personal involvement in the issue under discussion, which makes her arguments all the more convincing and credible.
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However, despite a number of strengths, the article still has some relative weaknesses. Shaw’s writing wavers between academic and journalistic styles, which is rather a questionable mixture. Moreover, the author frequently switches from one point to another, leaving the reader perplexed. Shaw’s unwillingness to follow a logical pattern of argumentation makes it challenging to identify the major thesis of the article and its underlying idea. This difficulty is aggravated by the structure of the text: it is divided into huge paragraphs that contain numerous points instead of developing one at a time.
Thus, it can be concluded that the information provided in the article evokes scientific interest, but could have been presented in a more organized manner.
Shaw, A. (2014). The Internet is full of jerks, because the world is full of jerks: What feminist theory teaches us about the Internet. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 11(3), 273-277.