Political Hacktivism: Feminism Online

cyberfemmanifesto IMG

Fig.1: ‘Generate your own Cyberfem Manifesto’, Screenshot

(View Work here: http://doc.gold.ac.uk/~imaun001/Cyberfem_Generator/)


The United Nations reports that approximately 3 billion people (more than half of the planet’s population) now use the Internet. (UN News Center) About three quarters of those users are also active on social media sites. (Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS) It is perhaps then not surprising that today politics and the Internet often go hand- in-hand considering the multitude of on-line media channels and platforms that allow instant and worldwide communication, to spread ideas, ideologies and politics. In this artwork I will investigate the influence of the Internet on feminism.

One of the early pioneers in the 1980s of exploring the relationship between technology and feminism was Professor Donna Haraway of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her essay ‘The Cyborg Manifesto’ (1983) sparked a movement and inspired one of the most well-known cyberfeminist collectives called the VNS matrix.  The VNS matrix was established in the 1991 in Adelaide, Australia by a group of female artists who wanted to make their presence known online.  They wrote ‘A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century’, in doing so coining the term cyberfeminism.  They also used the Web as a channel for coded online interactive artworks such as ‘All New Gen’, a game in which the goal was to defeat the ‘Big Daddy Mainframe’.

During the late 1980s, access to the Internet was not yet common place in the home and it was not until the late 1990s that it became a broadly accessible platform for communication and research. At that time, women were majorly under-represented in the user scope of computing. (Renata Bialkowska) A study showed that in 1995 80% of internet traffic was pornography related, and that only 2% of this traffic was from women. (Renata Bialkowska)  Professor Kira Hall of Boulder University of Colorado asserts that this imbalance in gender engagement in computing led to two different types of internet feminism. (Colorado University)  Firstly, ‘radical cyberfeminism’ in which there were women-only sites which intensified the boundaries between and separation of men and women.  Secondly, ‘liberal cyberfeminism’ the ethos of which was to promote both a genderless world and internet.  Hall goes on to claim that the internet actually intensified the idea of gender rather than neutralizing it.  This contrasts with the goals and opinions of the VNS matrix who were more aligned with the liberal cyberfeminist movement. (Renata Bialkowska)


Fig. 2: ‘Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century’, VNS Matrix 1990 (VICE)

All New Gen

Fig. 3: ‘Brave New Girls’, VNS Matrix (VICE)


I am inspired by the pioneering presence that these women made online and their goals to achieve better representation of women in technology.  Consequently, in my work I have aimed to create something that captures an essence of the historical cyberfeminist aesthetic, but that also includes a more contemporary take of online interactivity. One consistent feature that has remained throughout the short history of cyberfeminism is the importance of the manifesto. In 2012, the art collective ’Cybertwee’ wrote an updated cyberfeminist manifesto, the movement having been instigated by a desire to revisit Donna Haraways pioneering ’Cyborg Manifesto’.

These inspirations led me to create an online manifesto that would be an interactive piece of art work. My intention is that the audience has the opportunity to experience cyberfeminist ideas and gain an insight into the importance they had for promoting women’s engagement with the online world. I think this is particularly relevant today as there are still many gender divisions online and in the technology industries.  For example, in Silicon Valley men still outnumber women 3 to 1 in the computing profession, and only around one in twenty Chief Innovation Officers are women. (Society for Human Resource Management Magazine)

I have coded an online manifesto generator using html, JavaScript and css that determines how one’s cyberfeminist ideology aligns with the various movement based upon a series of questions.  Because the questions are pre-determined, I am introducing an element of satire into the work, since this implies that many people actually believe in the same things, or slight variations thereupon. The piece also aims to expose and mock one of the paradoxes of the ‘buzzfeed generation’ of online quizzes, where the implication is that everything – even complex belief systems – can be determined by a handful of simple questions and their responses.


Fig. 4: Background graphics

The graphics for this project are supposed to be a representation of a cyborg goddess. “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” was one of the most notorious statements Donna Haraway made in her manifesto and it is something that later cyberfeminist movements have tended to disregard.

I decided to combine the aesthetic of a goddess and a cyborg to create images of ethereal sci-fi creatures. The style is inspired by the post-internet movement and the original aesthetic of the VNS Matrix.I designed my work to have the aesthetic and feel of a piece of cyberfeminist art. One of the leitmotifs of many feminist art movements is a punky-anti-high-art vibe.  There are also few boundaries as to what would generally be considered to be feminist art. This lack of clear definition means that the artist perhaps has more liberty in the feminist genre than may be available in other categories.

all new gen  Fig. 5: ‘All New Gen’, VNS Matrix (VICE)

The main challenges I had to overcome for this piece were technical ones. It was my first piece of html, javascript and css code so it was an educational process. There were some issues trying to make the text compile into a manifesto but this was overcome with some assistance and research. Were I to revisit this project, I would create more artwork for the page. With more time, I would also create a more refined web page and manifesto. I found the theme very interesting and personally relevant, and it has given me many ideas I would like to continue to explore in the course of my studies. As a starting point for this theme, I am pleased with the results I achieved and I am looking forward to delving deeper into this topic in the future.


Works Cited:

“‘We Are the Future Cunt’: CyberFeminism in the 90s.” Motherboard. VICE. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century.” Transmediale. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Achieving Gender Equality in Technology Workplaces.” Society for Human Resource Management Magazine. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“An Oral History of the First Cyberfeminists.” Motherboard. VICE. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Cyberfeminism – Its History and Its Relevance Today.” Renata Bialkowska. 16 June 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Donna J Haraway.” University of California, Santa Cruz. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Homepage of Kira Hall.” Colorado. Colorado University. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Internet Well on Way to 3 Billion Users, UN Telecom Agency Reports.” UN News Center. UN, 5 May 2014. Web.

“Meet the Digital Daredevils of 90s Feminism.” Dazed. 17 July 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Social Media Use Over Time.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“The Cybertwee Manifesto.” Cybertwee.net. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Images Cited:

Fig. 2, 3, 5: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/we-are-the-future-cunt-cyberfeminism-in-the-90s