Disrupting sexism online? Gender, play and digital spaces

Disrupting sexism online? Gender, play and digital spaces

Disrupting sexism online? Gender, play and digital spaces

Dr Jess McLean from the Department of Geography and Planning, and Dr Soph Maalsen from University of Sydney, talk about how digital feminist activism works, and how it can draw on playful, networked tools of disruption

Listen to their podcast here.

Dr Jess McLean: As you may be able to tell from the audio, I wasn’t certain if I would or should share some of my own narratives of sexual harassment and assault as an introduction to this talk on feminist digital activism. On listening to the audio again, I hear hesitation and awkwardness in my voice – perhaps that’s part of the reason why digital feminist activism keeps growing. Experiences that are hard to talk about can be more easily contained and controlled in online text, although the responses to such narratives are always unpredictable.

The podcast that is linked to here is from current research by Soph Maalsen (University of Sydney) and I on disruptive feminisms. We are interested in how digital feminist activism works, especially when it is drawing on playful, networked tools of disruption. We argue that feminism has always been disruptive. Those that frame disruption as a recent phenomenon that is driven just by technologies are overlooking these, and other, modes of disruption.

One of the key ways in which digital feminist activism is growing is through sharing narratives of sexual harassment and assault; the #MeToo moment/movement is perhaps the most widely known recent example of this feminist strategy but there are many more. For instance, groups like Destroy the Joint are subverting persistent sexism and misogyny across different campaigns.

This podcast is drawn from a symposium held at Macquarie University in late-April 2018, which aimed to explore contemporary conceptualisations of ‘disruption’. The Symposium was funded through the Geographical Society of New South Wales (GSNSW) Symposium Funding Scheme and hosted by the Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University. Margaret Raven and I co-organised the event and we are planning a special issue on Geographies of Disruption with Symposium participants.

This Symposium brought together current research that investigates ‘disruptive geographies’ and explored the merits and disadvantages of using disruptive geographies as a framing metaphor for unpacking scalar, spatial, and place-based dimensions of innovation, turmoil, interruption and change.

In its general sense, disruption means to prevent something, or an event, from continuing as usual or as expected (Macquarie Dictionary 2017). In this conceptualisation, as a division, it is closely aligned with other notions such as interruption, break, separation, and rupture. But disruption can also mean to create turmoil, and is closely aligned with disorder, disturbance and confusion. The diverse perspectives shared at the Symposium teased out the different ways in which this term is being used and simultaneously challenged discourses of disruption that are emerging.

The structure of the Symposium itself was disruptive as participants randomly selected presenters rather than following a pre-conceived timetabling. This spontaneity was both unsettling and stimulating as participants co-produced a lively set of dialogues.

Disruption can be a constructive force of change if it reveals hegemonic power structures or inequitable management of resources. For example, during the Symposium, Adam Fish from Lancaster University discussed a range of examples of drones helping to facilitate disruptive justice, describing how activists and local communities are using drone footage to contest illegal forestry. Another form of disruption was highlighted by Mitch Goodwin and Jack Latimore from the University of Melbourne who discussed Yarra Yarra, an Indigenous meeting place that is now overlaid with Melbourne city, and how augmented reality may peel back layers of the city to show this sometimes-buried presence.

This discussion and more from the Symposium can be found at the Department of Geography and Planning’s blog.

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