The two pieces discussed in this response highlight ways in which social media and the digital realm can be harnessed as tools to push back against oppressive power structures. Through two different modes of digital text, they demonstrate the power that technology has in giving voices to those who are routinely silenced.
The first of the two texts I will be discussing is “Feminist Rhetoric in the Digital Sphere: Digital Interventions & the Subversion of Gendered Cultural Scripts” by Liz Lane. The article starts by recounting a 13 hour filibuster delivered by Wendy Davis in 2013. When Davis was evicted from the podium during the final hour of the filibuster—for allegedly veering off topic—fellow senator, Leticia Van de Putte took the podium. Addressing not only her colleges but the viewers of the session—in-house and digital—she asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand for her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”
The article uses Van de Putte’s rhetorical question to address the larger subject of how women can be recognized, acknowledged, heard, and respected in the digital sphere, or as Lane puts it: “At what point must a woman speak online in order for her voice to be recognized?” She speaks to the role of authority in male spaces, the silencing of women, and the rhetorical subversions used by women and enabled by the digital sphere that “strengthen the presence feminist rhetoric in online discourse.” Lane notes that while there are empowering aspects afforded by the digital sphere, it can also facilitate harassment more easily.
The piece uses well applied supporting evidence for its claims, but gets ahead of itself in making generalizations at times. References to “expected cultural codes” could be more rhetorically powerful were they referenced with specificity. These generalities are possibly due to an assumed audience (after all, this piece was published in “a journal of gender, new media, and technology”). Lane’s article left me wondering what methods might be best in educating women of all ages how to utilize the digital sphere in a way that is most advantageous for subverting harassment and a patriarchal society.
The second piece, “How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson” is an article written by a college professor, Marcia Chatelain, accompanied by a syllabus that was crowd-sourced via social media. The article begins with a short personal narrative from Chatelain about her love for first days of school. She reflects on the fact that Michael Brown, who was about to start college before he was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, will never have another first day. This reflection caused her to want those students who would still have first days of school to be able to learn about what the circumstances of the events surrounding Brown’s death. Chatelain took to Twitter, asking to friends and fellow educators to help compile materials that could help to educate students on the events, what happened, why they happened, and how we got there.
The syllabus listed after Chatelain’s brief article contains over 100 pieces, ranging in media from movies to articles to hashtags, and much more. The headings designate the different media and subjects covered: “Teaching About Race and Ferguson,” “African-American History/Civil Rights in the United States,” “Children’s Books,” “Community Organizing, Leadership, Activism,” “Educational Issues,” “Film,” “Media Studies and Journalism,” “Music,” “Other Educational Hashtags on Twitter,” “Personal Reflections,” “Poetry,” “Policing,” and “Race and Violence in America.” Chatelain refrains from providing any argument in her piece. Rather, she has simply provided an explanation for her rationale in compiling the syllabus provided. While this is not inherently persuasive towards any means, it is effective in that is allows the texts to speak for themselves. Her piece does not specifically say that these texts are about Ferguson, but rather, they form a web of discussion about the policing, discrimination, and oppression of Black people in America.
These texts both deal with oppression in the digital sphere. They are both about how technology, the internet, and communication can serve disenfranchised populations in order to gain a certain kind of power. In the case of Lane’s piece, the discussion surrounds the use of rhetoric in the digital sphere in order to subvert male oppressors. In Chatelain’s piece, the digital sphere is used as a tool for communication and education.
While this communication is not an active form of subversion as those discussed in Lane’s article are, the education received from this syllabus is a form of resistance to a white operated educational system. By educating oneself with the Ferguson syllabus, one can actively subvert the narratives that seek to distract from the arguments being made in its pieces. At face-value, Lane’s piece is more persuasive in that it seeks to make an argument, while the Ferguson syllabus simply provides resources. However, that is not to say that there are not a multitude of arguments contained within the piece. The two pieces are part of the same conversation, though they do not both contribute in the same manner. They are both participating in the discussion of how we use technology to subvert power structures. They are both examples of the power behind (or rather, in front of) a hashtag. In each piece, the hashtag acts as a rallying cry for change—one through action, and the other through education.
Chatelain, Marcia. “How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
Lane, L. “Feminist Rhetoric in the Digital Sphere: Digital Interventions & the Subversion of Gendered Cultural Scripts.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology No. 8. 2015. Web.
Image Credit: Kohn, Sally. Wendy Davis Shoes. Digital image. The Daily Beast. N.p., 6 July 2013. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.