Friday, May 28, 2010

Women on YouTube

Content is the final layer of the internet cake. “Content is king.” Even though in the Long Tail, Chris Anderson says, that “in a world of infinite choice, context, not content, is the king.” (22) Clearly, the issue is that we are still talking about kings not queens.

 In Unmarked, Peggy Phelan said that “If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture. The ubiquity of their image, however, has hardly brought them political or economic power.” (23)

These wonderful halcyon days, where the ‘apple at last hangs.. indolent-ripe on the tree’ (24), pose a question. Who eats the apple now? Almost exclusively, public debates about gender and the internet have focussed on issues of the digital divide. As if the problems facing women can be solved simply by giving them enough computer skills and internet access to freely provide the bulk of the content that men can mine for money.

Since getting access to reliable contraception and abortion, women have had the freedom to engage in sexual activities in a way unprecedented in civilization. However, there is no evidence of changing socio-political dynamics other than a post-feminist YouTube culture of exposure and exploitation. There are no women winners in the porn industry, although it was the practically the first public content on the internet.

From the moment the internet became commercial in 1988/89 sex became the big business traffic. In 1995, 4 out of the 10 most popular bulletin boards were sex related ( Adult businesses developed uuencode to transform text code into pictures. HTML set the stage for the picture porn explosion which has continued with development of streaming video. There is a lot of money in porn on the internet, but it is not flowing into female purses. Tera Patrick, infamous as one of the few exceptions, believes that the industry won’t see another female star reach her relative power due to market saturation of free content and the lowering of entry barriers for content producers. (25)

Phelan said that you can’t protect porn under the guise of free speech. Porn perpetuates dominant gender power relations and is a continual enactment of oppression.  In 1965, Marcuse wrote that “what is practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.” (26)

Marcuse believed that tolerance should be subversive, undermining dominant ideologies rather than perpetuating them. It follows that whenever tolerating a freedom of speech is at the expense of a section of the community, then there is a power imbalance at the bottom of things.

Angela McRobbie says, “The new female subject is, despite her freedom, called upon to be silent, to withhold critique, to count as a modern sophisticated girl, or indeed this withholding of critique is a condition of her freedom.” This individuation goes hand in hand with the self government of the modern neo-liberal subject in which wrong choices are always individual not societal. (27)

The poor postfeminist girl must try to embody sex, gender, career, beauty, porn, popularity, individuality and happiness in her visible identity. Failure to do so is her problem alone. In silence.

Internet governance must encompass all these things, because the internet and its governance produce and reproduce all of these things. Lessig calls for a new breed of technocratic philosopher kings to dispense wisdom and be our guardians. (28)

Kings, you note, not queens. May all the queens of cyberspace arise and reclaim their realms.

22. Anderson, Chris “The Long Tail” (2006) Hyperion: New York

23. Phelan, Peggy. “Unmarked - the politics of performance” (1993) Routledge: New York

24. Whitman, Walt. “Halcyon Days” in “Leaves of Grass” (1891-92) Retrieved on May 27 2010 from

25. Nowak, Peter. “Sex, Bombs and Burgers”. (2010) Allen&Unwin: Crows Nest, Australia

26. Marcuse, Herbert. “Repressive Tolerance” (1965) in “A Critique of Pure Tolerance” (1968) Boston Beacon Press. pp 95-137

27. McRobbie, Angela. “Postfeminism and Popular Culture” in “Interrogating post-Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture” eds. Tasker, Yvonne & Negra, Diane. (2007) pp26-39 Durham, NC: Duke University Press

28. McCullagh, Declan “What Larry Didn’t Get” (2009) Cato Unbound Retrieved on May 20 2010 from

Discrimination by Default

Lawrence Lessig says that code is political - code has values. (16) Code also has binary values. 1010101010101. In the most literal of senses, the bits of information that make up all code are built on dichotomy: on/off, 1/0. Just like black/white or male/female. No room for indecision or shades of grey.

Zero has been troubling for sometime now, most famously in the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea who is credited by Aristotle with creating dialectic argument. How can being be many? How can something be nothing? And was zero a number or a separation? Although some form of zero has been in use for thousands of years, including an early form of binary similar to Morse code created by the Indian scholar Pingala, the Persian mathmatician Al-Khwarizmi was the first to define zero as a numeral 1500 years ago, and rules governing the use of zero first appeared in Brahmagupta’s book “The Opening of the Universe” in 628AD.

Although Leibniz calls zero “an amphibian between being and non-being”, (17) he also hoped it would convert China to Christianity through the power of union between zero and one, nothing and god, seeing as how everything falls in between. If this is indicative of the potential power of 1s and 0s then believing them to hold the power to permanently ascribe gender is nothing unusual.

The power of binaries at the deepest level continues a discourse of difference between male and female, rather than a unity or trinity or something else altogether. As Baudrillard said about language, meaning is derived as much through absence as presence. We understand dog to mean ‘not cat’. Signs are situated within a web of meaning and the ‘not’ is as important as the ‘is’ for our understanding. This powerful gravitational force prevents us from achieving escape velocity from the gender well.

Evelyn Fox Keller as a practising scientist writing about gender, notes that the dichotomies that encode our thoughts limit our thinking. For example, no one searched for mobility in the ovum because of the assumption that male/female correlated to active/passive. The binary mindscape we inhabit is inhibitory.  (18)

And in the digital world, our Weberian bureaucracy, we are compelled to answer to our sex over and over, regardless that it is either neither here nor there or immediately obvious under the circumstances. Default values. The iron cage of rationalization has enclosed us with the ‘irrationality of rationalization’. (19)

The International Standard ISO 5218, Information Technology - Codes for the representation of human sexes, specifies:
0 = not known
1= male
2= female
9= not applicable
“No significance is to be placed upon the fact that “Male” is coded “1” and “Female” is coded “2”. This standard was developed based upon predominant practices of the countries involved and does not convey any meaning of importance, ranking or any other basis that could imply discrimination.” (20)

This standard is, by the way, used in several national identification numbers, including China and France. Many nations use other techniques to separate citizens numerically by sex. eg. Bulgaria uses odd national identification numbers for females and even numbers for males, Estonia reverses the polarities. 

Our constant self identification as ‘gendered’ epitomises Foucault’s notion of governmentality. The sadness to me is the disappearing Ms. Ms is resistance to being defined by marital status, which means loss of self possession and second class citizenship in many countries. One or two small letters that signify a large battle.

When I google Ms, I get many results for either Multiple Sclerosis or Microsoft. I have noticed in recent years that many database forms have dropped Ms out of the list items. When I’ve insisted on being Ms, it frequently makes no difference. Even the Hon. Carmel Tebbut, my local female MP, has ignored my request to be Ms and sends me Mrs letters.

As I teach web and database design, I realise just how little thought goes in to the creation of default fields. All the effort goes into the tricky parts like the relationships. Not the easy bits like what sex or title someone is.
As Lu-in Wang says in her recent book about race and law, “Discrimination can occur by default because discrimination is the default.” It is a self fulfilling prophecy. (21)

Discrimination is biopolitical. Code is political by default not just design.

(The Internet Architecture of Gender / to be continued....)

16. Levy, Steven. “Lawrence Lessig’s Supreme Showdown” Wired Magazine Archives. Retrieved on 27 May 2010 from

17. Padua, Sydney. “2D Goggles” Retrieved on 27 May 2010 from

18. Keller, Evelyn Fox. “Gender, Language and Science”. (1996) Templeton Lecture Sydney University. Retrieved on August 15 2009 from 

19. Ritzer, George. “Sociological Beginnings: On the Origins of Key Ideas in Sociology”, (1994) McGraw-Hill: New York pp154

20. ISO 5218:1977 International Organisation for Standardisation Retrieved on 15 April 2010 from

21. Wang, Lu-in. “Discrimination by Default” (2006) New York University Press: New York


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Women in the Tubes

The almost total absence of women from the infrastructure of the internet is striking. Both the management and manufacture of the wires, pipes, and cables of the internet infrastructure is gendered by absence. Even Malaysia, where women constitute half of all computer scientists, has the lowest numbers of women in the area of external cabling or outdoors infrastructure construction. In Malaysia, ICT is seen as a respectable career for women, as opposed to medicine which is considered too physical, combining quiet private office work with good remuneration. (11)

US and Australia have had declining female participation in the internet infrastructure over the last 30 years, aside from in companies like IBM and CISCO who have been consistently incorporating positive discrimination strategies to remedy a shortage of skilled workers and gain a competitive edge. Billions of dollars globally are currently being invested in infrastructure and all the G30 nations are presenting reports on mantaining standard of living in the information economy through innovation and increasing the skills of the population.

Yochai Benkler says that “communications technologies have ‘biases’ that affect the patterns in which societies that utilize those technologies interact with and around information and knowledge.”
Technological biases interact with social patterns of use. Through a reflexive relationship with existent institutional frameworks and incumbent social relations, there is ‘institutional and adapative lock-in’ which limits new technological possibilities and causes a ‘network effect’. This contributes to perceptions of desirable innovations and practises, creating a ‘feedback effect on the path of technological development’. Organisations invest most heavily in technologies that fit their values and needs. Those technologies reinforce the continuation of existing practises. (12)

According to Judy Wajcman, “SST studies show that technology does not develop according to an inner technical logic but is instead a social product, patterned by the conditions of its creation and use.” (13)

On the one hand, women are excluded from the business side of decisions about technology. The number of women on boards, in CEO, CFO or CTO positions or in government through out the Western world remains minimal, less than 15% is a generous interpretation of available figures. On the other hand, following the design concepts of ‘lock-in’ and reflexive reinforcement described by Benkler, then gender discrimination is likely to be occurring by design. From the bottom up.

The smallest decisions made at the lowest level of the internet’s layers, the infrastructure, can ‘lock-in’ everything above. Elizabeth Churchill describes how the lack of women in powerful technology design positions maintains the dominance of ‘gender neutral’ design practises that don’t consider women. She gives several examples, including car airbags, which have been so dangerous to people shorter than ‘average’ height (mainly women), that cars with airbags now have to have ‘turn off’ mechanisms and there are legislations against small statured people travelling in seats with airbags. (14)

The high numbers of women in Malaysian ICT education and industry described by Lagesen suggests strongly that the lack of women in western ICT is a cultural construction. Lagesen makes the point that all of the women she interviewed not only enjoyed working with computers but did computer science because their families and friends encouraged them. It was a sensible and supported career choice. (15)

This occurred in a particular socio-economic climate. In Malaysia, ICT is a government priority area, on the back of a previous governmental push to redress women’s disadvantaged education position. So young Malaysian women had a larger pool of female role models in ICT professions and at university than available in the ‘Western’ worlds, as well as strong encouragement across the board to learn computing for themselves and Malaysia’s future.

Malaysian women in computing is a modern story. The story of the internet was written much earlier on the wires and pipes of older communications technologies, where there are very few women in the tubes. If our freedoms are architected in the code layer, then they are built on a gendered base.

(The Internet Architecture of Gender / to be continued....)

11. Lagesen, Vivian A. “A Cyberfeminist Utopia? Perceptions of Gender and Computer Science among Malaysian Women Computer Science Students and Faculty”. (2008) Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp1.  Sage Publications Available at

12. Benkler, Yochai. “Communications Infrastructure Regulation and the Distribution of Control over Content” (1998) Telecommunications Policy. Vol. 22. No. 3. Pp 183-196. Great Britain: Elsevier Science Ltd. Available at 

13. Mackenzie, Donald & Wajcman, Judy “The Social Shaping of Tehcnology - Second Edition” (1998) Open University Press - Buckingham

14. Churchill, Elizabeth. “Sugared Puppy Dogs Tails: Gender and Design” (2010) interactions XVII.2 - March/April 2010 Available at

15. Lagesen, Vivian A. “A Cyberfeminist Utopia? Perceptions of Gender and Computer Science among Malaysian Women Computer Science Students and Faculty”. (2008) Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp10.  Sage Publications Available at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is the Internet an Ogre?

The internet, like ogres and onions, has layers. Layers, transparency and the end-to-end principle are considered the defining characteristics of a free, accessible and innovative internet. Lessig describes the internet as the most important ‘innovation commons’ the world has ever seen, both through culture and architecture. (6)
The end-to-end principle means a network should be as basic as possible and intelligence should be located at the ends. This can be traced back to Paul Baran’s shift from circuit to packet switching network design but was first articulated in 1981 by Jerome Altzer, David Clark and David P. Reed. It is NOT the default property of networks but a constructed one that is critical to the operation of the internet as we know it. (7)

The internet is really a network of networks, combining so many different technologies, companies and countries that as the internet has grown, problems of governance have arisen. Internet architecture was based on the layers principles as described by Solum and Ching, where the first corollary is the ‘principle of layer separation’ and the second corollary is the ‘principle of minimal layer crossing’. (8) The internet is arranged in a vertical hierarchy of layers and wherever possible issues within one layer should be addressed within that layer only. If layers must be crossed, either literally or legislatively, then the least distance crossed is the best ‘fit’.

The idea of utilizing internet architecture principles to inform the governance of the internet is generally credited to Yochai Benkler, Harvard Professor of Law. This was developed further by Lessig, Solum and Chung. Currently the UNCTAD (post WSIS2005) proposes, in the Information Economy Report 2006 (IER), to use the layers principle for internet governance. (9)
The Content Layer—the symbols, images and material that are communicated.
The Content Layer—the symbols and images that are communicated.
The Content Layer—the symbols, images and material that are communicated.

The Application Layer—the programs that use the Internet, e.g. the Web.
The Application Layer—the online technologies or programs
The Logical Layer—TCP/IP, the ‘code’ or software that enables data to travel across the wires and cables
The Transport Layer—TCP, which breaks the data into packets.
The Logical Layer—TCP/IP, the ‘code’ or software that enables data to travel across the wires and cables
The Internet Protocol Layer—IP, handles the flow of data over the network.
The Link Layer—the interface between users’ computers and the physical layer.
The Physical Layer—the copper wire, optical cable, satellite links, etc.
The Physical Layer—the copper wire, optical cable, satellite links, etc.
The Physical Layer—the copper wire, optical cable, satellite links, etc.

Lessig explains that the internet mixed free layers with controlled layers. The infrastructure or physical layer is fundamentally owned. The content and application layers are partially owned, but the center, the code, was free.

The internet is an ogre analogy can now be extended. As the donkey replied to Shrek, “You know, not everybody likes onions. Cakes! Everybody likes cakes. Cakes have layers.” (10) The code is the cream in the cake.

(The Internet Architecture of Gender / to be continued....)

6. Lessig, L. “The Future of Ideas” (2002) New York: Vintage Books Chapter 2 p23. Also available at

7. Lessig, L. “The Future of Ideas” (2002) New York: Vintage Books Chapter 3 p34. Also available at

8. Solum, Lawrence B. and Chung, Minn, "The Layers Principle: Internet Architecture and the Law" (2003) U San Diego Public Law Research Paper No. 55. p4. Available at SSRN:
9. “Information Economy Report 2006” (2006). UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Paper E.06.II.D.8. Available at

10. “Shrek” (2001) Quote from 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Diigo 05/12/2010

  • 2005 exhibition and edited collection curated by Bruno Latour "From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik - or How to Make Things Public" seems to be simultaneously critiquing and creating Habermas's 'bourgeois public sphere'. Amongst many, many other 'things', Dingpolitik references the work of Walter Lippmann "The Phantom Public" and John Dewey's "The Public and Its Problems".

    "What Is the Res of Res publica? By the German neologism Dingpolitik, we wish to designate a risky and tentative set of experiments in probing just what it could mean for political
    thought to turn “things” around and to become slightly more realistic than has been attempted up to now. A few years ago, computer scientists invented the marvelous expression of “object-oriented” software to describe a new way to program their computers. We wish to use this metaphor to ask the question: “What would an object-oriented democracy look like?”

    tags: #ARIN6902, internet governance, realpolitik, dingpolitik, latour, public, governance, habermas, dewey, lippman, public sphere

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Diigo 05/05/2010

  • Wow. Read it and weep. Tim O'Reilly is promoting this article. I haven't read anything quite so scarily propagandist since Caberet. What do I mean? (and who is this 'state'?)

    Courtesy of One Economy Corporation "If e-mail lives in the cloud, who owns that information?" says State Department's Alec Ross.

    Cloud computing is a double-edged sword in the fight for Internet freedom, a top State Department official said on Wednesday."

    "During a major policy speech in January, Clinton announced that Internet freedom would become a strategic priority for the United States in 2010. In March, State revived the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, a Bush administration initiative that worked to harmonize policies departmentwide on protecting free speech. The renamed NetFreedom Task Force met on March 4, when 19 telecommunications and information technology companies discussed the corporate sector's role in facilitating Internet freedom."

    tags: #ARIN6902, internet governance, control, internet, diplomatic, cloud

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Diigo 05/01/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.