It is usually in the internet sphere, as opposed to “real life,” that we change our identity because “real life” is uncomfortable or, in extreme situations, bears severe oppression on our backs. Nourae-Simon writes about Iranian women’s use of the internet in “Wings of Freedom.” “The absence of the physical body in electronic space and the anonymity this offers ha[s] a liberating effect on repressed social identity.” Iranian women’s bodies are being controlled by their government, they are told what to wear, how to act, and they are thus restricted from their personal freedoms in public. Having a space where all of these restrictions are non-existent is most certainly freeing and revolutionary to these women.
The Iranian women can create “rooms of their own” in the form of forums, blogs, etc., but it does not mean they can place a lock on the door to their “rooms,” forbidding outsiders to enter. There are no such things as locks on the internet and there is an overabundance of outsiders that will surreptitiously press their ears to these doors and listen and judge.
Our Internet Lives
Kahn & Kellner, in “New Media & Internet Activism,” talk about the diversity of “technoactivists” who have “materialized a vital space for politics and culture” by using the internet. Professor Daniels, in “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s),” highlights the various uses of the internet, especially in regard to feminism. It can either be a tool for feminism activism, a place to “survive” and “resist repressive sex/gender regimes,” or a place for “girls and self-identified women…to transform their embodied selves.” Using the internet is an autonomous process. No one is forcing you to use the internet for any of the aforementioned reasons.
No one is telling you how to identify yourself, either.
On the internet, it is simple to fashion oneself into an idealized image. For example, on Facebook, people pick and choose what they want their “friends” to see. Maybe they want to put on the mask of the “party guy” or “party girl.” Maybe they want to appear intellectual. Whatever the case, this choice sharing of information can be seen as liberating. A person is in control of what he or she shares, is in control of his/her personal information.
The danger of this is that individuals are posting what he/she thinks others want to see, as opposed to what the individual believes is true to herself/himself (there is also the danger of Facebook owning everything you post).The pressure of surveillance makes people do strange things, as is explicitly shown through Josh Harris’ experiments of surveillance, seen in the documentary We Live in Public. A participant in the Harris pod experiment describes a camera as holding “power” to control the subject of its gaze. Another participant states she feels legitimized by having a camera on her.
Nathan Jurgenson writes we live under the surveillance of an “omniopticon” where individuals produce “the content and the gaze.” Are we really showing who we are on the internet or are we trying on various masks for our audience in order to appear better than we believe we are? For example, if a woman pretends to be a man on the internet or pretends to be “invisible” because she believe it to be easier, this experimentation with gender identities or no gender identities raises consciousness “about gender issues and might contribute to the long-term destabilization of the way we currently construct gender” (Danet, Barbara).
Projecting a different image than what we really are on a space separate from the physical world may be liberating to some, but it could also be harmful because it carries the weight of patriarchal society across the threshold from the physical to the digital world.
Even in “rooms of our own,” are we disciplining ourselves, upholding biopower?
PS: Want to see how exposed you are on Facebook? Go to ReclaimPrivacy.org.