@womeningerman: A Digital Feminist German Studies Archive on Twitter

By Didem Uca

“Twitter as archive/twitter as sketchbook/as feedback loop/as void/as filesharing network/as an instrument of collaboration/as a megaphone/as therapy.” (Zarina Muhammad, https://www.artrabbit.com/events/live-broadcast-chat-show-with-zarina-muhammad)

Twitter, like other mainstream social media outlets, is an outlet for the virulent and often anonymous expression of misogyny, racism, and other violent forms of discrimination­­––even by the current U.S. President. Yet it is also where social justice issues are discussed in real time and where users can garner support for movements that have consequences beyond the web; to name just a few examples, the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName have long brought attention to police brutality and other forms of violence towards Black Americans, while the Me Too movement, founded by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and popularized through the spread of #MeToo on Twitter over a decade later, has helped to expose the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault for women.Twitter also serves as a means to combat the rampant misinformation of Trump’s administration and deal, sometimes through memes and GIFs, but often through careful collaborative analysis, with the trauma surrounding his tenure. But in what sense might we consider Twitter as not just an ephemeral, if ubiquitous, mode of communication and organizing, but, indeed, as feminist archive?

In An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (2003), Ann Cvetkovich writes about trauma from her perspective as a feminist, lesbian, and sexual assault survivor, positing that her intervention is less about understanding these forms of trauma through a main stream lens and more about considering “a sense of trauma as connected to the textures of everyday experience” (3–4). Perhaps the act of voicing our individual traumas on Twitter and finding others who share it might function like trauma theory did for Cvetkovich, which became a site that allowed her to “ask about the connection between girls like me feeling bad and world historical events” (3). During my five years managing the Coalition of Women in German’s Twitter account, @womeningerman, I have grown to see it as a form of feminist archival practice, sequencing an alternate “timeline” (to mix social media metaphors) in a time of widespread racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, Islamophobic and antisemitic sentiments, and ableism.

The Coalition of Women in German is a feminist German Studies organization founded in 1974 by professors and graduate students who sought a venue for their scholarship, intellectual community, and mentorship in the male-dominated field of North American German Studies. WiG has been at the forefront of feminist scholar-activism for over forty years and continues to develop in increasingly intersectional and interdisciplinary directions. At a conference in Shawnee, Pennsylvania five years ago, members expressed interest in broadening the organization’s reach. At that time, it had nothing in terms of a public-facing social media profile that could share our activities and communicate our commitments. Therefore I volunteered to found and manage @womeningerman.

As interest in the account grew, it became clear that its reach would far exceed the organization’s membership of about 300. Currently, the account has over 1660 followers, which is a high number for an academic organization of a fairly specific scope. Our average number of impressions is about 30,000 per month, with some months far exceeding this (e.g. the conference month of October 2019 has made over 131,000 impressions and counting), while certain tweets, such as one announcing the latest volume of our journal, Feminist German Studies, has made over 61,000 impressions. The initial primary purpose of the account was to highlight the scholarship, teaching, and activism our members are doing on their campuses and in the profession through initiatives like #WiGgiesInAction. These additional clicks on articles and book projects can lead to greater reception and opportunities for collaboration, while featuring stories of members’ successes in the classroom create positive hits for Google search algorithms.  Social media mentions raise scholars’ Altmetric scores, which may even serve to increase likelihood of tenure and promotion.

However, beyond the important goal of gaining a broader audience for our members’ work, the account itself serves as a platform for members to engage in conversations on social justice within the German-speaking and U.S. American contexts, both within and beyond academia. In this way, Twitter can become a vital force for scholar-activism. The account shares resources that center the experiences of people of color, queer folx, and women in German-speaking countries, retweets co-conspirators such as @Blackgermans and the newcomer @DDGCTweets, and initiates conversations through creating hashtags such as #GermanStudiesSoWhite. Promoting campaigns and events such as the #FeminismToMe Instagram-based exhibit at the Goethe-Institut in D.C., to which many of our members contributed, employs online resources to further feminist causes within more traditional cultural organizations, even impacting their physical spaces.The account also amplifies open letters written by colleagues to address the problematic actions of our professional organizations and attacks on the humanities and language learning. These online activities in turn shape our conferences and organizational commitments; for example, the strong response of our membership to the online Open Letter to the AATG: A Ten-Point Program of the Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum (DDGC) Collective, which several of our members helped draft and many more signed after it was shared to social media and email listservs, became our 2019 conference’s Thursday night coalitional feminism in action session, organized by Dr. Alexandra M. Hill and facilitated by Ph.D. candidates Tiarra Cooper, Karolina Hicke, and Brandy E. Wilcox. By then live-tweeting the discussion online, @womeningerman creates and archives a hybrid mode of virtual/visceral scholar-activism that is accessible and accountable to multiple audiences simultaneously.Indeed, live-tweeting the annual conference has made it possible for people unable to attend to nevertheless join the conversation. As Dr. Evan Torner recently tweeted from his public account @guyinblackhat, “I have never been able to attend a @womeningerman conference but am a dues-paying member, so the social media presence always connects me with the larger WiG community each October. People are indeed grateful for these accounts in their feeds.” These sentiments are echoed by other non-attending members and supporters.Furthermore, our social media presence has allowed us to engage with the work of leading feminist artists of color in the German-speaking world both on- and offline. Our 2018 guest of honor, Reyhan Şahin aka Dr. Bitch Ray, continues to engage with us on Twitter (@LadyBitchRay1), while the first Twitter-based correspondence with Sharon Dodua Otoo (@SharonDoduaOtoo) happened after realizing that she follows the account and then asking her to consider attending as our guest of honor in the future––a hope that will come to fruition in 2021.The routine exclusion of marginalized cultural producers from traditional archives is both due to and reinforces their exclusion from our canons, literary and cultural histories, and curricula. Through projects like @womeningerman, our activism in the archives can extend into the virtual sphere and back outward. The very existence of an active Twitter presence that highlights issues of marginalization and exclusion in German Studies can serve to promote inclusion. One follower, an Assistant Professor who asked to remain anonymous, recently direct messaged the account to share that it is “definitely something that makes German Studies relatable and inclusive. I honestly have never thought of myself as a Germanist until the past few years, because of how those in the academy viewed my research. It’s really been ONLY through Twitter and a couple presentations at ACTFL that I’ve felt welcomed into German Studies.” By cultivating our own audience and intervening in the whitewashing, mansplaining, and exclusionary tendencies of our field, @womeningerman indicates that social media can function not only as a conversation starter and way to stay tuned into the Zeitgeist, but also as an archive of our scholarship, our activism, and, yes, our #BadFeelings, which can thus transform into meaningful coalitional action.

Disability and Decolonizing Time/Knowledge on the Tenure Clock

by Danika Medak-Saltzman (Syracuse University), Deepti Misri (University of Colorado Boulder), and Beverly Weber (University of Colorado Boulder)

In this post, the three of us draw on our shared experience at a predominantly white public university in order to share some initial responses to the following question: How are the neoliberal academy’s modes of organizing labor and valuing knowledge steeped in spatiotemporal logics that are both settler colonial and ableist in nature? Our motivation in tracing these logics stems directly from having observed “faculty with disabilities” at our university “running against the tenure clock” under expectations that are as ableist as the metaphor, as well as seemingly abled women faculty, faculty of color, and contingent faculty, who have strained against the academic clock and ended up debilitated in the process. 

Continue reading “Disability and Decolonizing Time/Knowledge on the Tenure Clock” »

Counting and Accountability: Collaboration in and Against the Neoliberal University

by Carrie Smith (University of Alberta) and Maria Stehle (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

In our 2016 book Awkward Politics, we write about what collaboration can or might do within, or to, the academy. We write of its subversive and revolutionary quality, of its ability to push back against assessment mechanisms of the university and against the theoretical canon at the foundation of the humanities. Further, we speak at length about our own collaborative relationship that grew from tentative dates via email to long chats on Skype, tracing its origins in a shared sense of academic and feminist political urgency, but also in a mutual understanding that the tools of our discipline, German Studies, should not onlyuse, but must also dotheory in a broad sense. Doing theory can only have meaning when the resulting thinking reaches well beyond the object or subject analyzed, beyond the pages of the book, the frames of the film, the pixels of the video; when that theory has social and political value. Throughout our collaboration, the personal nature of our relationship was bound up in our intellectual and political commitment to feminisms. As Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman write in the preface to their conversation in Sex, or the Unbearable: “our own conversation includes and exceeds us at once” (x). While our thoughts in that book are at times utopian, at their very core lies an understanding that for theory to be written, read, and mobilized as social practice (Berlant and Edelman), the work must be collaborative in conception and execution. 

Continue reading “Counting and Accountability: Collaboration in and Against the Neoliberal University” »

Ph.D. in German Studies or the Possibility of Becoming an Unhappy Queer

by Simone Pfleger

In the fall and winter of 2017, I spent the majority of my time revising my dissertation, which I then defended successfully in December of that year. Like many of my fellow graduate students, I was working on my dissertation while constantly keeping an eye on the job market. Keeping an eye on things is necessary to know what is happening in the field and to stay informed, but it also means that my attention is directed elsewhere or redirected. Continue reading “Ph.D. in German Studies or the Possibility of Becoming an Unhappy Queer” »

Digital Feminisms and Feminist Futures: Assemblage, Race, Power, and Bodies

Carrie Smith-Prei | Maria Stehle

@BetülUlusoy und @KübraGümüşay: Wie erklärt ihr euch die Vereinbarkeit von Eurer pro- Erdoğan- und pro-IGMG-Gesinnung (Erdoğannahe Organisation in Deutschland), die ihr seid Jahren in diversen Eurer Tweets und Postings offensichtlich (Ulusoy) und teilweise durch die Blume (Gümüşay) ausdrückt, mit eurer Aussage, dass ihr “Feministinnen” sein wollt und für Frauenrechte kämpft? […] Feminismus […] bedeutet […] nämlich: neben der Bestrebung nach der Beseitigung von geschlechtsspezifischen Ungleichheiten im eigenen Leben und Gesellschaft vor allem der kritische Hinweis auf patriarchal-frauenfeindliche Strukturen in der eigenen Community – ich kann solche Tendenzen bei keinem von Euch erkennen.

—(Lady Bitch Ray, excerpt of her Facebook posting July 19, 2016)

[I]n den letzten Tagen versuchte man mir Anhängerschaft zu verschiedenen Parteien und Organisationen anzudichten. Mich enttäuscht der Argwohn, das Lagerdenken und das Unvermögen Differenziertheit zuzulassen. Doch das sagt viel aus über unser Jetzt. Unsere Gesellschaft. Uns. Deshalb, einmal für alle. […] Ich bin weder pro dies, noch pro das. In meiner Person und Arbeit vereine ich mehrere Identitäten und Ideale, die in allen politischen Lagern der Türkei (aber nicht nur dort) auf die eine oder andere Art und Weise anecken, wenn nicht gar fundamental widersprechen. […] Statt in Lagern denke ich in Solidaritäten.

—(“10 Punkte, einmal, für alle.” Ein fremdwörterbuch, Blog by Kübra Gümüşay, posting on July 27, 2016)

Ehrlich gesagt finde ich Deine Stellungnahme vom 27.07.2016 zu meinem Posting, falls man diese überhaupt als an mich gerichtete Antwort betrachten darf, ziemlich schwach, liebe Kübra. Es ist eine schwammige, in Harmoniesucht getränkte Wir-haben-uns-alle-lieb-Haltung, mit der Du keine Antworten auf meine Fragen gibst. Du beziehst wieder keine klare Position in solchen Blogs und Beiträgen – oder besser gesagt nur allgemeine, doppeldeutige Botschaften. Ist das Absicht, Naivität oder politische Strategie?
I don’t know. […] Aus der Position einer alevitisch-muslimisch sozialisierten Deutsch-Türkin der zweiten Generation heraus, die mit keinem Verband, Organisation oder Institution (außer Universitäten und Hochschulen) verbunden ist: Ist es Absicht, dass Du – obwohl Du Dich aktiv in IGMG- und AKP-nahen Kreisen bewegst – spezifische Themen in Deiner anti-rassistischen und feministischen Agenda bewusst rauslässt? An welche Themen ich da denke: Erdoğans Frauen degradierende Politik in der Türkei, die Ächtung von Homosexuellen in der Türkei, die dortige Hetzjagd auf LGBTs und Transgender-Menschen, die Lage von Aleviten und Alevitinnen im Besonderen, konkreter: die Vergewaltigungen und Folter von Kurdinnen in Cizre und Muş-Varto in diesem und letztem Jahr, (natürlich immer aus kritischer Perspektive), Etwas allgemeiner: Die Folter von IS-Kämpfer*innen von Jesidinnen?

—(Lady Bitch Ray, excerpt of her Facebook posting in response to Kübra Gümüşay’s Blog, July 29, 2016.)

These are excerpts from a social media debate triggered by a posting by Lady Bitch Ray, stage name of academic-artist-activist Reyhan Şahin, on her Facebook site, a debate that addresses Muslim feminism, feminist positionality, and feminist politics more generally. Her first posting was inspired by the failed military coup in Turkey and by her longstanding suspicion that some Muslim feminist activists, specifically Kübra Gümüşay and Betül Ulusoy, who are active mainly in the digital realm, hide their association with orthodox Muslim organizations and might support (aspects of) the pro-Erdogan government in Turkey; in the public sphere of Germany, these digital activists feature themselves as anti-racist feminists who are also devout Muslims, but, according to Lady Bitch Ray’s argument, they take a different tone when speaking to the Muslim community. Lady Bitch Ray’s postings triggered many responses: some were in favor of starting the debate, others were openly hostile; some accused her of being divisive and playing into the hands of racist white mainstream feminists, others praised her courage to speak up as a Turkish-German academic in a complicated political debate.

One of the key complications of the debate is the manner in which it uncovers the potential for siloing within the contemporary landscape of feminisms in Germany. The social media debate between Şahin and Gümüşay inspired Sineb El Masrar to publish an article in in taz that states:

Wenn sich weiße, nichtmuslimische Feministinnen dem Diskurs zuwenden, gilt dies als selbstverständlich. Vor allem wenn die neue Generation der sogenannten Popfeministinnen der alten Riege Kopfschmerzen bereitet ob ihrer Positionen zu Prostitution, Porno und Islam. […] Die irritierten Reaktionen [auf die Debatte zwischen Lady Bitch Ray and Gümüşay] – übrigens auf beiden Seiten – offenbarten, wie viel Unkenntnis und Uneinigkeit beim Thema ‘Islamischer Feminismus’ noch immer herrscht und dass sachliche Kritik innerhalb postmigrantischer Gruppen zum Teil als Verrat gilt. (Sineb El Masrar)

El Masrar shows that Muslim feminist of color in Germany navigate an almost impossible range of political currents. Şahin as a scholar, and, in a rather different way, Gümüşay as a journalist, are not only aware of these currents but also try to make them useful for their respective causes and positions. Their different approaches and strategies are clearly born out of different political positions, something apparent even without their having to assume membership in any particular organizations. Traditional notions of the descriptors conservative, right-wing, racist or anti-racist, even feminist, however, do not seem to adequately describe the terrain.

The various layers of this brief example speak directly to questions of position, voice, and appropriation of certain voices for certain causes, all of which is heightened in the age of digital media; it also speaks to the politics of racialization and to anti-racist activism and to debates about religion and Islamophobia. Moreover, fostering a politics of solidarity, albeit differently and maybe ironically, is the stated goal of both Gümüşay and Şahin. While feminism has certainly come to the forefront of conversations around anti-racism in Germany, increasingly since the New Year’s Eve events in Cologne (prompting Die Zeit to ask in a January 18th discussion between Christina Klemm and Sabine Hark: “Sind wir über Nacht zu einer feministischen Nation geworden?”), the public entanglement of race and feminism has also further complicated the increasingly contested definition of feminism, including what individual feminists looks like, say, and represent. These questions are at the center of debates about feminist activism today: voice and appropriation, the politics of digital activism, race and religion, the true form of feminism, and the meaning of feminist solidarity. If traditional binaries do not appear to trigger a productive political debate, one can either try to find positions outside of these binaries (which is what Gümüşay stands for) or insist that confronting these tensions is the only way forward (as Şahin seems to suggest), even in a seemingly unproductive debate that threatens to backfire. Said differently, this position argues that we need to go for and to the political impasse and cause trouble.

Indeed, these questions are “trouble” and, as we call for in our book Awkward Politics, citing Donna Haraway, we need to “stay with the trouble.” For (white) academic feminists, however, this seems to be a difficult demand. Why does staying with the key issues of this debate seem like too much trouble? And is there a point at which we (white) academics ourselves become (too much) trouble? Beyond being specifically about the current situation in Turkey, Germany, and Europe, this debate raises a more theoretical question about patriarchy and complicity, about populist appropriations of feminism and right-wing populism, and about (the limits of) global feminist solidarity. In this discussion, both, Gümüşay and Şahin, are “willful,” as defined by Sara Ahmed:

To affirm willfulness does not mean prescribing a set of behaviors […] as if they are an appropriate or necessary way of doing politics. […] Willfulness could be thought of as a political art, a practical craft that is acquired through involvement in political struggle, whether that struggle is a struggle to exist or to transform our existence. Willfulness might be thought of as becoming crafty. (133)

But does Ahmed’s concept of “willful obedience” (137ff) also describe parts of Gümüşay’s political craft? Her insistence on her Muslim identification, on her veil, is, in most situations, a willful act. In others it might be willful obedience—and this is precisely what Şahin seems to point to: that there is a politics of willfulness that changes according to context and that this, precisely, is where we need to carefully and self-critically examine our solidarities. Gümüşay calls for solidarity, for listening and for telling our stories, for open communication (see her blogs and lectures on video), but she refuses to engage directly with Şahin’s questions. Again, is this a willful political act of evasion or is it a perpetuation of power structures in a political sphere that is constructed as “elsewhere” (in Turkey, maybe, or within certain communities) but that is, in fact, also always very much “here” (in Germany, in the US, globally)? The answer to these questions depends completely on position, but due to the political urgency of these questions, relativism cannot be an option. A simple posture of “well, that depends” is an expression of privilege (and not an option for Şahin, for example). Solidarity appears selective, then, and becomes part of a questionable political power play.

Added to Gümüşay’s willfulness is Şahin’s own, as Lady Bitch Ray. On January 15th, 2016 an interview with Şahin was published in the online edition of Die Welt in which she claims the mass sexual assaults that happened during as well as the racists responses to the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne stand in for a national problem that should prompt Germany, and German feminism, to redefine itself:

Deutschland hat gerade viele Baustellen. Vor allem bezüglich seiner Selbstdefinition als Einwanderungsland und mit dem Umgang mit ‚anderen’ Menschen. […] Wir brauchen eine Neudefinition des Deutsch-Seins. Daneben entwickelt sich der Medien-Feminismus in Deutschland zu einem mit Wasser aufgeblasenen Kondom, der, wenn er platzt, nichts außer stinkender Plörre hinterlässt. Ich finde, wir sollten auch über einen klügeren und wirkungsimmanenten Feminismus sprechen.

Here she criticizes not only the racist and anti-Islamic images that are associated with the violence against women on New Year’s Eve, but also the media culture that allows for and promotes such racism and violence, a media culture equated with Medienfeminismus that presents feminism as harmless and easy to consume. In this interview, Şahin utilizes playfully pornographic language—the marker also of her music and fashion creations, other writings, and popular Bitchsm seminars—that underscores the normalization of violence and consumption: “Ich würde alle Männer auffordern, von nun an 69 Klitorislängen Abstand von Frauen zu halten und einen höflichen Umgang einzuschlagen, wenn sie sich entscheiden, mit einer Frau zu sprechen. Und ich fordere mehr Raum für vaginal-votzige Selbstbestimmungsrechte und weniger Schwanzimperialismus.”

Her sexualized and very physical word creations, here and elsewhere (also in the debate discussed here, for example when she opens the July 29 posting on Facebook quoted above with the demand: “Pussytionier’ Dich!”), function not only as communicative tool but also as material that can be reconfigured, thereby gaining body, oversized and excessive. The suggested “69 Klitorislängen Abstand” in this interview excerpt, is of course a reference to the Cologne mayor’s remarks in response to the New Year’s Eve events that women should remain “eine Armlänge” from strangers at all times, which sparked the digital campaign #einearmlaenge that preceded #ausnahmslos. The excessively extended body part—the 69 clits—of Lady Bitch Ray’s comment points toward the ridiculousness of one-arm’s-length; the clits and the arm function as indexes for the violence of sexist and racist culture while also highlighting feminist political wilfulness as an of aesthetic disturbance. Ahmed opens her 2014 Willful Subjects with a reading of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale “Das eigensinnige Kind.” The fairy tale tells of a child who never listens to its mother and even in death extends its willful arm out of the grave. Ahmed uses this story to speak of willfulness or the willful as part of feminist, queer, and racialized existence. Here, the material is willful; the pornographic words are on bad behaviour, naughty. Ahmed concludes her book with the following:

When arms come up, they disturb the ground. Can we learn not to eliminate the signs of disturbance? Disturbance can be creative: not as what we aim for, not as what grounds our action, but as the effect of action: disturbance as what is created by the very effort of reaching, of reaching up, of reaching out, of reaching for something that is not present, something that appears only as a shimmer, a horizon of possibility. (204)

In Lady Bitch Ray’s interview, the clits become these arms, they are raised #einearmlaenge to point toward a creative process of assemblage that here and in the example of the debate is made possible in the digital sphere. At the same time, they point toward possibilities for utilizing the methodologies of digital feminism in the non-digital world. In digital feminisms, a whole host of themes as cultural forms founded on exponential difference collide, awkwardly: present and future, race and anti-racism, consumerism and critique thereof, nation and internationality, body and material. These collisions can be thought of as assemblages in which, to quote Puar, “[c]ategories—race, gender, sexuality—are considered events, actions, and encounters between bodies, rather than simply entities and attributes of subjects” (52). Assemblages “de-privilege the human body as a discrete organic thing” (57); when the human and identity or subjectivity are no longer privileged sites for analysis, the body is expanded to include all forms of matter, material, and institutions, and urgent themes rise to the surface. Puar writes, assemblage is about,

design, layout, organization, arrangement, and relations—the focus being not on content but on relations, relations of patterns (Phillips 2006 , 108 ). […] Concepts do not prescribe relations, nor do they exist prior to them; rather, relations of force, connection, resonance, and patterning give rise to concepts. (57)

In many ways, assemblage is also about deviance (see Heather Love, “Doing Being Deviant”), discipline, and control; thinking “the intertwined relations of intersectionality and assemblages […] can help us produce more roadmaps of precisely these not quite fully understood relations between discipline and control” (Puar 63). Both, Gümüşay and Şahin try to not only uncover the process of assemblage but also to take control of the female body as assemblage; relations of force assign their bodies a place within patriarchal concepts (in Schwanzstrukturen, as Şahin would describe them) but their visibility as willful, deviant, and feminist, produces relations of connection and resonance.

Moreover, that the debate began on the official Facebook page of Lady Bitch Ray shows the willfulness of the aesthetics in that disturbance. The platform, which itself is highly commercial and driven by individually tailored ad revenue, and the page, which carries all the markers of Lady Bitch Ray’s sexualized, irreverent, and poppy visual language, become a further component assembled onto the question of race, power, and solidarity, one that spurs on perhaps unexpected, vitriolic, or confused affective responses in a broad range of participants. Thus one manner of addressing these political questions is by looking at aesthetic forms and their affective resonance (aesthetics as defined in its broadest sense as the way in which we address our relationship to the world around us; affect as what happens in us and between us in our confrontation with that world), which might help to politicize this trouble. Lady Bitch Ray works with hyper-visibility and awkwardness (as we describe in Awkward Politics) and Gümüşay “confronts the relationship of her work to the public by challenging a particular form of visibility and by resignifying the limits of the political” (Weber 3). Both approaches represent and also confront an impasse, the impossibility of situating the racialized, sexualized, gendered body in any sphere outside of the realm of power politics and violence. The digital realm, however, opens up different sets of relationships between forms of violence, bodies, aesthetic forms, and social realities.

In our work on digital feminisms, we think through the digital not only for its distribution of feminist topics, but also for the fundamental restructuring of the material culture of feminism, with broad-reaching aesthetic, affective, and political implications. We engage in theoretical thinking about the material culture of digital feminist work, the aesthetics of feminist protest in the digital age, and the consequences of digital feminism for contemporary antiracist, feminist, and queer theory and methodology. When we speak of digital feminisms, we reference feminism as an ongoing process of continual becoming, one that also contains its histories and futures. Digital spaces are places of political collaboration or community building as well as spaces of divergence, deviation, and transition. A definition (and dismissal) of digital feminism that focuses on activism powered by social media and ignores the theoretical and methodological possibilities that digital feminism might offer is short sighted. In their introduction to Digital Anthropology (2012), Heather A. Horst and Daniel Miller discuss how the digital intensifies the dialectical nature of culture. The digital is made up of binary code, 0s and 1s. Thus, it creates a dialectical system of differences that expand and reproduce themselves ad infinitum and at breakneck speed. The 0s and 1s in the code represent simplest and most abstract thought, as the infinite possibilities for the production of differences cannot be conceived of conceptually. Horst and Miller warn that while this description of the digital seems idealistic, as it could suggest the potential to lead toward a new equality and openness, this idealism is deceptive; gender parity in most digital cultures and arenas is a long way off.

This understanding of the dialectical nature of digital code, a code founded on difference, can be extrapolated onto an understanding of new cultural forms made possible in the digital sphere, but also those communities, cooperations, and collaborations—even the contentious ones—arising there. Assemblage helps us to get at the materiality of digital feminism as a coming together of bodies of all sorts that hold gendered, racial, ethnic, national, or economic meanings, a coming together that can only be read as an event of identity, one that continually constitutes itself anew, much like the 0s and the 1s of the digital code. In their writings on digital anthropology, Horst and Miller emphasize that the important relationship between the digital and the material allows for a different approach to normalization. They explain this as the tendency to quickly accept new material cultures of the digital as “normal.” In digital feminism, this normalizing tendency is political, the politics of which become apparent as an aesthetics of disturbance. That disturbance is willful.

In the example of the debate sparked by Gümüşay and Şahin, it is precisely the pushback against the normalizing tendency of media discourse—that which at first appears contentious or shocking becomes quickly subsumed by the constant barrage of images—that acts as a disturbance, one with aesthetic dimensions. At the same time, it would seem the more personal attacks between the two would also ask after the normalizing tendencies of cultures of violence, of the control of the body, and of the unilateral desire for fixed political (feminist) definitions and allegiances. All of this is slippery in the digital. Digital feminisms offer strategies for creating willful disturbances also in the non-digital world by developing connections and new discourses through assemblage. These strategies include hypervisualization, cooption, quotation, flattening, disappearance—all as a disturbance of the social order, of the (digital) dialectic of difference. Specific themes and images leave the digital arena and appear again, synchronized to the quickly changing tempo of their political aims. But while oriented toward futurity, this does not mean that digital feminism is ahistorical. Instead, it offers new forms of engagement that ask us to change our political reading habits and our community-building strategies.

If there is only space for antagonism, we are in a realm where we cannot reassemble zeroes and ones in new contexts. We freeze. There is, however, room for the creation of new reading habits and new strategies of community building. If Gümüşay is supporting a violent regime in parts of her work, then there has to be room for feminist critique without dismissing her anti-racist and feminist work in Europe. What one might want to call a queer reading of our digital-material realities implies that we can question solidarities in one space while, at the same time, we may foster solidarities in another. To act as (digital) feminists, then, means to welcome critique when we use gendered and racialized tools for power and control, or when we see them in use, but it also means to call for willful solidarity when we face these very tools together.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. “A Willfulness Archive.” Willful Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

—. “Willfulness as a Style of Politics.” Willful Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Alaimo and Hekman 120-54.

El Masrar, Sineb. “Frau muss genau hinschauen.” Taz, August 6, 2016. Accessible at: http://m.taz.de/!5324213;m/

Haraway, Donna. “SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble.” Keynote Lecture presented at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. March 24, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1uTVnhIHS8.

Horst, Heather und Daniel Miller. Digital Anthropology. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012

Gümüşay, Kübra. ein fremdwörterbuch. Blog Posting “10 Punkte, Einmal, Für alle.” July 27, 2016. Accessible at: http://ein-fremdwoerterbuch.com/2016/07/10-punkte-einmal-fuer-alle/

Lady Bitch Ray, official Facebook Site, postings July-August 2016.

Love, Heather. “Doing Being Deviant: Deviance Studies, Description, and the Queer Ordinary.” Differences 26.1 (2015): 74-95.

Puar, Jasbir. “I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess: Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory.” PhiloSOPHIA 2.1 (2012): 49-66.

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Weber, Beverly. “Kübra Gümüşay, Muslim Digital Feminism and the Politics of Visuality in Germany.” In Feminist Media Studies. Digital Feminisms: Transnational Activism in German Protest Cultures, edited by Christina Scharff, Carrie Smith-Prei, and Maria Stehle. Spec. issue of Feminist Media Studies 16.1. New York: Routledge.


One Year Later / Charleston Strong

One Year Later / Charleston Strong

Mary Catherine Lawler

Being in Charleston one year after the shooting at the A.M.E. Church has been surreal in that superficially everything runs business as usual, but traces of memorialization are visually present throughout the city (and a remembrance ceremony and a memorial concert across from A.M.E. are scheduled for tonight).

Symbols of the slogan “Charleston Strong” appear throughout the city – nine doves – for the Charleston 9 shot dead last year – form a white palmetto tree against a dark blue rectangle, a clear parallel to the South Carolina state flag.


Charleston Strong banner in the French Quarter.

While brunching at Toast on Meeting Street, I noticed a staff member wearing the same design on the back of his Charleston dark blue t-shirt. Little and big signs like this in the big little city seemed to point to a universal cognizance and recognition of the tragedy in an everyday manner.

In returning from Fort Sumter, however, I saw the larger scale and passed through the affective borders of the space in front of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun – a plethora of flowers accumulated at the foot of the church’s steps, sweetgrass crosses woven and attached to the wrought-iron gates, dark blue and white flag displayed.


Flowers and memorializations at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street.

Two white men stood holding a printed banner with the Charleston 9’s photos and names – the banner read “say their names” / “Charleston 9” / “never forget” – while black congregation members sharply dressed gathered nearby. Across the street, setup for an evening concert in memory of the nine had begun, white ribbons fixed to white chairs, speakers plugged in and tested.


A shop window on King Street replaced goods and wares with bios of the nine, sweetgrass roses, and an expression of prayer.

Even on the highly commercial King Street, known for mid- to upscale shopping, a shop window featured posterboard backing a newspaper cutout of the Charleston 9, adorned with sweetgrass roses and partially framed with a notice that prayers were with the A.M.E. Church.

While it’s unnerving to walk through a “nice neighborhood” like the one in which the A.M.E. Church is located and think that someone could walk by with a weapon and into a church full of people like those next to you on the street, at the same time it felt good to see both black and white members of the community expressing solidarity in Charleston identity. Much work must still be done in terms of gun laws in the U.S.; perhaps Charleston can be a source not only of race discourse, but also of gun violence going forward.

Here the Charleston City Paper article – “Mother Emanuel: One Year Later”.

Park bench on Meeting.

Signing off from the Holy City.

A sweetgrass rose of peace.


Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal                                                  

Mary Catherine Lawler

Republican Fundraiser, Media Sensationalism

Last night I attended a fundraiser for a state candidate campaigning here in South Carolina. My parents had been invited and I attended, half-disturbed, half-fascinated, having decided that as long as none of my money contributed via my presence, I was ok with observing a different political culture.

I’m trying to process what’s happened in Orlando and how it’s been dismissed that the shooting took place at a gay nightclub. People are stocking up on guns and yelling on Fox News about Muslims and I’m scared for the LGBTQ people I know.

My parents voted this morning – for a conservative state candidate – and I’m very divided. The people (read: Republicans) last night were hospitable and on the whole didn’t seem unkind, but they obviously aren’t what the candidate termed “Muslim sympathizers” and the host’s wife, morbidly pregnant, laughed about me getting out of state just under the wire as the shooting in Orlando happened.

My father’s voting confirmation, stuck to our deck behind which a patriotic half-cockade sags proudly.

In his not-so-brief speech of gratitude that wandered through local politics and gratefulness, the candidate mentioned that his opponent had gone knocking on people’s doors, telling them that he “wasn’t a Christian, was a Muslim sympathizer, and didn’t believe in this country”, to the response of much mmm-mmm-ing and headshakes from the small assembly gathered round. “But none of this bothered me,” he said, “until he attacked me and said I wasn’t really an Eagle Scout”. Har har – who cares about being lumped in with them there ferners but daggone it if someone questions the one afternoon you spent doing “community service”.
I don’t know what to make of all this, and I can’t imagine how the LGBTQ community is feeling if I’m uncomfortable.
This morning I went to work out at the county club gym (close to a voting location across the road), where campaign signs out front encouraged people to participate in the Republican Primary.

Flag Day as the State Election Day. Taken in our driveway after I borrowed the election sign to photograph.

The Elliptical and the House of Commons
After channel-hopping through crap like Cougar Town and reality nonsense, I landed on C-SPAN, which was broadcasting live the US House of Commons; each speaker was given five minutes on the floor. While some spoke about arbitrary, distracting topics like small business owners and the history of some colonel in Michigan, others commanded with moving presence, like Al Green, who expressed gratitude that members of the non-African-American community had helped black Americans to where they are today, and encouraged those Americans who “owed a debt to others” to repay it now by standing with the LGBTQ community, and ended with the pledge of allegiance, clutching an American flag, or Nydia Margarita Velázquez, who did not thank Mr. Speaker, but began by reading the names of those murdered in Orlando, voice often breaking with emotion. She followed this list only with a simple statement that those who were killed would not be forgotten and would inspire action to better the States, finishing early.

Star-Spangled Spatulas – an attempt to recover Americana. Made in the USA. Domestic patriotism.

The Material Culture of Americanness
Where does Orlando leave us in the age of bi-partisan politics that will not end? I bought the star-spangled spatulas in Miami, a place obviously proud and patriotic, as evidenced by the many American flags highly visually present on Ocean Drive and elsewhere. In thinking through the material culture of Americanness, through things like voting stickers, outdoor flags and banners, flag-shaped cooking utensils, and corrugated voting propaganda, I realized that most of my American identity derives from a connection with an American “thing”. A flag, a bald eagle meme, a stars-and-stripes bikini at Walmart made in Cambodia, a US flag speedo worn on Miami beach. Captain America paraphenalia, etc – the more insecure the American identity becomes, the more tangible – and commodified – it becomes. You can literally hold Americannness in your hands; you can rotate red, white, and blue, you can cover your sex with it, and flip your pancakes with it.
The Gun Argument – Cowboys and American Masculinity
This is part of the reason – perhaps a stretch – that guns are so embedded in American identity. The more precarious the male American ego, the more tightly clenches the fist round a clip of ammunition and a hard barrel. This is why – even following mass shootings involving military-style assault rifles – that gun laws are not changed. A gun in the hand is an American in the making. America’s problem – admittedly, one of many – is that it holds so tightly to the identities and supposed ideals of the “founding fathers” that is evolution is retarded almost to the point of regression.
This is an on-going thought process. More soon, from a proud and patriotic American, ex-pat, academic, moderate, June Cleaver Gloria Steinem love child – a walking contradiction in terms.

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

Maria Stehle


At a children’s birthday party in a park, I suddenly found myself in a conversation so uncomfortable that I longed for an interruption: for one of our children to call for me, for my husband to need my help, for any of the other guests coming over to say good-bye. This is a rather uncommon feeling at such a party, where, usually, I long for a few minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation with parent friends that I had not seen in a while.

But: the party was almost over, most guests had left, and most children were peacefully playing at the playground after having consumed cake, cupcakes, and strawberries. A bit to the side, I got caught in this conversation with a father, a man I had not met before the party. One of my friends introduced him to me as a scientist from France, who, as my friend insisted, also spoke German. His German was better than my French, I admit, but the easiest way to communicate would have certainly been in English. And, unfortunately in this case, since this allowed for a much more elaborate speech, he switched from his rather broken German to English after I asked him if he was considering moving back to France—or might I have said “Europe”? He answered that he was not sure since the current situation in Europe was so bad. I was not sure how he meant that and I was still not sure exactly what he meant when I finally managed to, however awkwardly, leave the conversation. I listened (see previous blog posting “When to Shut Up and Listen”) but my silence was born out of confusion, which, I believe, he took as ignorance and possibly even interest in what he had to lay out for me. He insisted that the whole idea of the EU was orchestrated by the US. That I should simply look at all the positions the US took vis-à-vis the EU in the past, say, five years, it need not be more than that, and convince myself that this was true; that the EU is, basically, the extended arm of the US. Sure, he admitted, European countries were good at waging wars against each other. I chuckled and said, yes, Germany certainly was. And he quickly stopped me to point out that no, no more talking about the past. He corrected me: we are not guilty of the past—while I had not even spoken about guilt—and that this was about the future. If he were the French president tomorrow (I chuckled again, but his face remained serious), within 24 hours, he said, France would leave the EU. He argued that the structure of the EU was not clearly democratic or participatory, and I agreed, but suggested that maybe it was also because people do not appear to even care to vote in EU elections. His more pressing issue, however, so it seemed, was the fact that the nation-states just needed to make their own decisions and mistakes, in their interests and with their own futures in mind.

Why do I think and write about this anti-EU rant and this, not just man-splaining, but lecturing posture of a man whose name I do not recall and who, most likely, I will never see again? I have not done the reading or “research” into the US positions on the EU that he assigned to me so that I could, as he suggested, “form my own opinion.” I am, however, involved in a research project on European film; we are looking at intimacies on screen, mainly between non-legal or migrant characters and European citizens, to argue for moments that allow an imagination of alternative futures for, in, and beyond Europe. I also presented talks related to the so-called “refugee crisis” and the general perception of Europe in crisis that considered gender, media perception, and political appropriation for right-wing political causes. But somehow, his tirade caught me off-guard and I did not engage; I listened, I asked some questions: probably not the right ones and certainly not provocative ones, since I had no interest in trying to persuade this man who clearly thought of himself as rather persuasive, and: I was not interested in a political argument at a children’s party. I also kept wondering: is my affective attachment to the idea of Europe simply very “German” of me? If this were the case, wouldn’t that confirm his argument, that, in some way, above all, it is all about national belonging and national “characteristics” albeit, in this case, learned and historically determined ones? He tried to persuade me by approaching me as “a German” by absolving me of any sense of collective guilt and by asking the rhetorical question of why the Germans should pay for Greeks’ laziness. Wouldn’t I agree that this makes little sense? I am not sure what, according to his opinion, the US interest in this example would be and I certainly think there are many German interests involved in keeping Greece in the EU and in the Euro-zone, and these reasons are certainly not primarily altruistic ones. I did not engage him about on the question of Greece. As I carefully pointed out that, despite what he appeared to see as the US pushing the EU to accept Turkey into the union, Turkey had not (yet) joined the EU, he ignored me. Turkey is EU’s Other and the EU’s buffer zone. Turkey is a NATO country. Turkey is a very complicated country. Turkey and Germany, well, have a complicated and intricately interwoven past and present, and, in the current refugee crisis, Turkey is a key player. And so is Greece. I did not push him, again, maybe because I just wanted him to stop talking about this. And maybe because I was I afraid to find out what really was behind his rant. That, possibly, this is all about keeping the “wrong” people out of Europe and protecting or luring back the “right” ones?

So, right there in this park in a university town in the US, the question of reading the “crisis” became central. Whose crisis is this? A crisis that might prevent a highly educated, clearly patriotic, ex-pat of France from returning to France while many refugees from Syria, Africa, the Middle East, are stranded in camps somewhere or drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to enter the EU. And right here, under the large Oak trees on the side of a playground, the kind of unique racism of Europe can be voiced as a politically persuasive argument: it is just about our future. Leave the past behind, genocide, colonialism, etc… and move on, think of the future. Let the Others of Europe, of the other Europe, outside of Europe, make their mistakes and let us (in this case the French, but this could easily be the Germans, the Britons, etc…) make our own decisions about our futures. Who are these French people and whose future is this? The future of the people who live in Europe or of the people this European, French-man, thinks should live in Europe and decide on Europe’s future?

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Mary Catherine Lawler


Dorian Electra and Refinery29’s music video on becoming “cliterate” touches on Freud, Master’s and Johnson, and why women were tortured and killed for being “witches” (read: engaged in sexual pleasure).

While the pastiche pop, over-the-top aesthetic calls to mind a Barbie dreamhouse vibe and ’90s style, with props like a hot pink plastic flat clitoris held up by a carefully poised clear plastic hand, the retro feel infuses the video with a historical distance to the present that forces the viewer to think about how the clitoris and female pleasure are categorized and discussed today.

By making visible a part of the body normally hooded from view, Refinery29 and Dorian Electra expose the patriarchal discourse around the visibility of pleasure and gender. Additionall


Our Musical Ode To The Clitoris We proudly present a musical ode to the MOST fun part of the female body

Posted by Refinery29 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016