Technofeminism: Technology from a Gender Perspective

Technofeminism is a term created by Australian sociologist Judy Wajcman and defines the link between feminism and social studies on technology. Being a technofeminist or working around technofeminism implies thinking and developing technological initiatives and products in two ways. On the one hand, aimed at vindicating the role of women in the production and use of technology and, on the other, at thinking about the history and present of women’s relationship with technology from multiple angles: patriarchy, mutual care, art or communication. What Wajcman states in the book where the term appears for the first time, entitled “Technofeminism” and published in 2004, is that techno-scientific advances are radically transforming the woman-machine relationship and that new technologies are also gendered, both in their design and in their use, so that occupying spaces in ICTs for women implies linking up with spaces of power that were historically denied to them.

In an article published in the September 2021 paper edition of Pikara Magazine entitled “Technofeminism. Beyond the hacker myth”, journalist and philosophy graduate Teresa Villaverde emphasizes the importance of analyzing the concept, leaving behind the commonplace of sabotaging institutions, the conventional idea of hacking from self-conscious and antisocial eggheads who, just for fun, seek to fuck the system. What the author says is that, if hacking exists in the female sphere, in most cases it has emerged as a response to harassment, violence, and male chauvinist injustices of various kinds. So when we talk about techno feminism, the idea of hacker acquires another nuance that is rarely taken into consideration and expands to “groups of programmers, consultants and technologists who work with a feminist perspective, from the collective and outside the paradigm of the genius programmer, to configure more inclusive technologies,” as Villaverde writes in her article.

Ideas Digitales is a platform that serves as a repository, map, training, and inspiration channel for a growing community of agents who apply their creativity to adapt to the new digital times. And from here the concept of cultural hackers is coined, as a network of digital creators in different fields that make up an ecosystem of cultural innovation and that, in the context of technofeminism, have much to say and contribute.

At the roundtable “The digital revolution: this world is already another”, an initiative within the “Learn from the best” section of Ideas Digitales, the guests discussed whether our bodies and minds have already adapted to this new technological metabolism and whether or not technology drives progress in the world. Participants included the director of the Peccata Minuta project, Cristina Abelló, art curator Semíramis González, and writer and journalist Cristina Fallarás, who commented: “For the first time in the history of humanity we can communicate globally using social networks without capital investment. This is a radical revolution because it generates universal solidarity, so that if I say something here it connects with what a woman in Japan says and what a woman in Canada says. And that has never happened before in the history of mankind. And that generates the possibility for those who are against the established power to communicate”.

Cristina Fallarás was part of the #Cuéntalo project, a hashtag that was launched in 2018 on Twitter and through which, from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center with the specialist in scientific data visualization Fernando Cucchietti at the head, nearly 3 million tweets were analyzed that resulted in more than 160 thousand stories of sexual aggression. The result is a historical document that adds to the collective memory of male violence narrated by the women victims themselves and is key to understanding the enormous dimension of the conflict.

In this way, technofeminism constitutes a network of complicities that seeks to transform the world through a radical change in patriarchal culture. And a good start is always education, as in the case of the All women tech project, the first academy of the technological profile created by women and for women aimed at online training in different digital fields: data science, data analytics, and content design. Through its Crowdcast channel, you can access lectures, classes, and debates on technology and the gender gap.

It is not a minor fact, nor does it mean an exclusive position that All women tech is an academy only for women and that it is within the ecosystem of Ideas Digitales. The fact is that the technological and digital field has always been dominated by men and it is time to do justice, equalizing quotas and offering equal opportunities. From this logic Digital fems is also born, an instance created for the design of digital projects that promote and increase female participation in technological environments. And always under the concept of creating diverse and plural teams within companies, public institutions and all types of organizations from the creation of innovation plans in diversity and hackathons.

And while technology advances rapidly, the different forms of gender violence remain intact and are expressed in multiple aspects. That is why a platform such as Data against noise, included in the “Strategies” section of Ideas Digitales, becomes essential within technofeminism. Through tools and techniques of Big Data, mapping and other methods for the management of large volumes of data, this website publishes and makes visible all the information available from the judicial system and the police on male violence in Spain: gender violence (that which is exercised within a couple or ex-partner relationship), domestic violence (that which is exercised in the family environment) and violence against sexual freedom. In addition, they promote collaboration not only by offering the download of all the contents, but also by giving the opportunity to feed the database through different mechanisms and to disseminate the data in different social networks.

And, of course, the field of culture continues to resort to necessary rescues, to outstanding debts that history has with respect to the role of women. Very recently, the auditorium of the art and technology center Etopia in Zaragoza screened “Sisters with transistors”, a documentary dedicated to the pioneering women of electronic music and which tells their untold story, their role as innovators through machines and their liberating technologies to completely transform the way music is produced and listened to today (the film can also be seen on the Filmin platform). The screening was part of the Efluxión project, a podcast by art historian María del Castillo on contemporary culture and where topics related to fashion in the future, digital landscapes, and work on the internet are addressed.

Etopia also has a project entitled Academia Fachada Media, through which artists from all over the world are invited to intervene in the facade of the building. One of the latest interventions was in charge of Slovak visual artist Silvia Binda Heiserova, who used photos uploaded to Instagram under the hashtag #woman to elaborate a critique of the visual representation of women, manipulating those images until achieving an abstract landscape, proposing a three-dimensional geographic and geometric exploration through the digital image projected on the facade of a building.

Another key name in Spain when talking about technofeminism is Mariona A. Cíller. Cíller, president of Habilis per Abacus Cooperativa and co-founder and creative director of SokoTech, a specialist in technology and education. With SokoTech she struggles since 2015 to develop a digital social innovation laboratory where projects linking arts, science and technology are produced. A work that they themselves link within a “cross-pollinated nature”, a sort of synthesis of knowledge in various fields, academic and non-academic. A team in which the majority of its members are women.

The Bekka is a common space for learning about free culture, technology, and feminisms. A collaborative environment especially composed of heterosexual women, lesbians, and trans people, against the traditional conception of most of this type of technology labs in which cis men predominate. This is how they state their objectives: “To empower ourselves and take over the machines, and also in a theoretical/reflective way, generating a critical and feminist discourse on technologies”. They work on issues related to free software, social networks, privacy and global surveillance, techno-politics and cyberfeminism, recycling, and programmed obsolescence, the gender gap in technologies, critical and feminist digital literacy, digital protection, and feminist digital self-defense.

In several of these areas, especially in terms of security and technological surveillance, Gemma Galdon is one of the great specialists in Spain. She has developed her work as an analyst of the social, legal and ethical impact of technology, smart cities, privacy, security policies, resilience and policing. She is a founding partner of Eticas Research & Consulting and a researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of Barcelona. In her latest academic publications, she addresses the proliferation of surveillance in urban environments, local security policies, community policing, security in large events, the relationship between privacy and technology, and smart cities. All this, from a strong gender perspective that she shares with Susana Sanz, information security advisor, hacktivist, and Spanish consultant living in Amsterdam, a teacher in digital self-defense within the Balkontactics platform, where she teaches everything necessary to protect the security of digital devices and connections, keep abreast of the latest threats in the field of digital security and to understand how the Internet works, to prevent risks and take the necessary measures.

The technology and digital culture festival Sonar+D, parallel to the electronic music festival Sónar in Barcelona, also take care to have among its guests each year activists, artists, and references of technofeminism. This 2022 was the turn of Constanza Piña, a visual artist, dancer, researcher, and educator born in Chile and focused on experimentation with electronic media, free technologies, and DIWO (“do-it-with-others”) methodologies. Piña performs a scenic work that unifies sound performance with dance, proposes works that break the fourth wall, incite audience participation and promote exploration of noise in its cultural, political, and sonorous functions, questioning the role of techno-hetero-patriarchy, anthropocentrism, and machines in capitalism.

It has been almost twenty years since Judy Wajcman invented the concept of technofeminism. Today we are living an unprecedented moment of multiple experiences and initiatives related to this essential field in all areas of thought and action crossed by new technologies. We invite you to continue deepening and knowing some of them in Ideas Digitales.