Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bodies in a technologized world

This week's reading provided me with at least two sources that combine several of my own interests. "Tales of an Asiatic Geek Girl: Slant from Paper to Pixels" and "Their Logic against Them: Contradictions in Sex, Race, and Class in Silicon Valley" both combined technology and gender in engaging ways. Race certainly plays a role in both of these pieces as well; in the former, the women in question are immigrants, and in the latter, Mimi Nguyen names her ethnicity in the title. Midway through her article I started to wonder ... Can we ("we" being a social/cultural collective) only work on normalizing one perceived personal anomaly at a time? Nguyen tells us that in punk rock's transformation, " the race riot I wanted was clocking in at a very very distant third" behind revolutions regarding gender and sexuality (179). While I understand while we focus on markers of difference, wrong though that may be, I wonder why we have to separate these marked characteristics. Didn't the revolution of attitudes toward sexuality in punk rock do something for perception of race as well? I cannot prove that it did or didn't, but I wish I could read more writing that lets these markers mingle and be messy. These essays reminded me of a class discussion from a week or more ago in which Dr. Haas told us that one belief among black feminist thinkers is that being a female doesn't mean that one knows anything about what it's like to be a black female. Which makes perfect sense, and which is probably something most people don't consider.

Nguyen's discussion of in/visibility was also fascinating. She tells us several times that "in/visibility is a trap" and goes so far as to suggest that the promise of the Internet for "abstract citizenship" depends on one's own narration of one's own body (182). You're only allowed the protection of that abstraction so long as you do not narrate yourself as marked in any way. Once you've done that, there is a sense that visibility becomes an obligation, as evidenced by the hate mail Nguyen received. Thus, while technology can be an equalizing factor, it can just as easily be a means to mark a person and punish them for any perceived refusal to play "by the rules."

I also want to touch just briefly on the passage in which Nguyen discusses her difficulties in finding Asian/American feminist work because every search engine turned up pornography when given her search terms. She criticizes the notion of visibilty being power, paralleling Peggy Phelan's point that "almost-naked young white women" would be running things if visibility were equivalent to power with her own point that Asian women would also be much more powerful. My answer to this is simple: Who says young white women aren't running at least a high percentage of Western culture? I'd say there are an awful lot of young white women with an awful lot of power. Maybe the larger problem is the way that young white women (and Asian women, and any women) conceptualize themselves.

Early in this class, I put forth a possible definition of race: " a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm." I knew at the time that this was a broad definition that would have to be revised, and I think now that I should add something like "a construction of particular rhetorics about a person's physical being, used ... ." And after trying out this addition, I realized that this definition would include gender as a sub-category of race. I think this is interesting, and I'm not ready to toss out that notion yet.

In "Their Logic against Them," Karen J. Hossfeld does an incredible job of showing how the integration of immigrant women's various markers works both for and against them in the factories of Silicon Valley. She also demonstrates how "managers fragment the women's multifaceted identities into falsely separated categories" as a strategy to keep the women subservient. For example, women are so conditioned to believe that being a worker and possessing femininity are mutually exclusive that they make practices to restore femininity a priority (43). Like Nguyen and others, Hossfeld also separates "gender logic" and "racial logic" in order to address the ways in which these logics are used, but she also shows that they always are connected. Just as the managers use fragmentation to employ colonizing strategies, the women use their "unified consciousness" to turn those strategies into tactics to benefit themselves.

The most shocking piece of information I read in this essay--in this whole book--was that "because employers view women's primary job as in the home, and they assume that, prototypically, every woman is connected to a man who is bringing in a larger paycheck, they claim that women do not need to earn a full living wage" (47). While I wouldn't have a problem believing that this is a subconscious motivator in the workplace today, the overt articulations of this feeling in this chapter were outrageous. Such evidence really makes me think hard about affirmative action. As I've previously said, I think affirmative action has been a good thing, but I wondered if it had outlasted its necessity. With cases like this at hand, it's safe to say that affirmative action is still very much necessary.

I've not touched upon any of the other chapters in this text yet, and I feel that I'm not giving them the time they deserve. I thought that Logan Hill's chapter on access to technology was enlightening, although I disagreed with him in a number of places about the ways and reasons that race and technology are connected. Kumar's discussion of the plight of the H-1B worker was another point in favor of affirmative action (although I don't know if affirmative action applies to non-citizens). And the examinations of lowriding, hip-hop, and karaoke cultures were all fun ways to apply some of the ideas we learned from our reading of Michel de Certeau last week. The people within these cultures are certainly poaching products and re-producing them as tactics to gain power and reinscribe their own cultural ideals.

The book referenced above is:

Nelson, Alondra, Thuy Linh H. Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, eds. Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.

Other interesting reading: My Mulan, a short piece on the Disney movie by Mimi Nguyen


  1. Oh, one other thing ... a question I have. Nguyen began her article by telling about how she worked in the world of zines. I know nothing about zines, and as she continued to discuss her life at that point I realized that the biggest piece of the puzzle that I was missing was who the audience was for her zine (Slant, which later became the Web site that the discussion in my post is about). The question of audience is key to examining how the technology aided/obstructed her in constructing herself in the punk rock community. Anyone know something about zines?

  2. Great comments, Erin. I particularly enjoy your take on Hossfeld's Their Logic against Them essay. I too commented specifically about that piece as I found it well organized and telling of the conditions female tech workers face. There's a fascinating (and tragic) dynamic at play there that I just hadn't anticipated before reading that piece. Citing that passage about employers associating a man in a woman's life (and so requiring less wage) in conjunction with affirmative action not stepping up to the plate is a unique position. The flip-side to the deflated wages would be inflated wages, which, unfortunately for the immigrant worker, places them in a more direct competition with local American workers vying for the same job (for when the wage is so ridiculously low, there are undoubtedly fewer people vying for the position). Thus, appropriately and fairly increasing the wage might actually work against the minority worker! A terribly predicament of capitalism and globalization run amuck is the overriding interest in the bottom line... companies will do anything they can to save on expenses, even if that means exploiting immigrant labor or gender divides.

  3. Being a woman in the workplace is certainly one of the biggest challenges I've faced.

    Penelope Trunk @ twittered a few weeks ago about sitting in a board room meeting while going through a miscarriage. And the blogosphere craziness quickly ensued.

    She was even asked to speak on CNBC, or MSNBC, or something like that and actually had tot ake the time to educate the interviewer on how a miscarriage is not an instantaneuos thing, how it's a female experience that can last many days and that life must continue.

    As a woman, a business owner, if she did not pick up the pieces and move on in her life during a miscarriage. It would impact her career. Even though she owns her business she is accountable to many people, and that accountability leaes little room for the female "everyday things."

    Simply amazing.