Running into Virtual Walls: 2015 National Women’s Studies Association Re-cap

I had a delightful time at the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this past weekend.  I reconnected with old friends and made some news ones, heard some amazing talks and picked up some amazing books.

Thanks so much to my fellow presenters Alexis Lothian, Roxanne Samer, Avery Dame, and our moderator Carol Stabile for creating such an awesome panel!

Alexis spoke on trigger warnings and how they can be used as a kind of radical world-building in the classroom.  Roxanne talked about consciousness raising in feminist sci fi fandom zines and shared some amazing archival examples.  Avery spoke about the labor and design of community management in online spaces through the lens of trans users of Tumblr.  And I talked about how hackers and modders are creating queer spaces in online gaming culture.

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My awesome panel and some friends at a post-talk breakfast

The keynote by Sara Ahmed was nothing short of spell-binding.  Her speech blended poetry with theory with activism.  I especially enjoyed her concept of the invisible walls that women, queers, people of color, and the disabled find themselves running into.  These walls are not invisible because they are imaginary.  Rather they are invisible to those whose privilege makes their existence easily bypassed, beneath notice.

Because of my own work, I immediately thought about how this concept applies to #GamerGate and gendered problems in online/geek culture generally.  I think that one of the big disconnects between feminists and social justice activists and gamers who are sympathetic with #GG (not the ones actively doing the harassing, but rather the ones who insist that it is actually about ethics in games journalism and who assume that reports of abuse are exaggerated because they haven’t been doing it) is that the every day barriers that constantly rise up in front of women and people of color and queer folks every day online are like invisible walls to those who the culture was designed to accommodate.  And since they can’t see the walls, these #GG supporters assume that the blame for the cuts and bruises on those who are getting hurt must be the result of their own clumsiness.

It is a reminder that one of the things we need to do to create change is make our work legible to those outside of the academy, those outside of activists circles.  I believe that many of these people we think of as residing in the “enemy camp” would actually help us to tear down those walls if only they could see them.

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