reflection: Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
"Within glitch feminism, glitch is celebrated as a vehicle of refusal, a strategy of nonperformance...Glitch feminism urges us to consider the in-between as a core component of survival - neither masculine nor feminine, neither male nor female, but a spectrum across which we may be empowered to choose and define ourselves for ourselves. Thus, glitch creates a fissure within which new possibilities of being and becoming manifest. This failure to function within the confines of a society that fails us is a pointed and necessary refusal. Glitch feminism dissents, pushes back against capitalism."
Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto by Legacy Russell is an interesting combination of Black feminism, cyberfeminism, philosophy, and critical gender theory. readers interested in feminist non-fiction works that discuss new ways of looking at the world will find impactful gems in this book. But i'm not sure i'm as optimistic about the internet's potential to disrupt patriarchy as a lot of cyberfeminists seem to be - that's my biggest problem with this book.
This book talks about quite a few topics so i'm going to talk about my favorite and my least favorite thing about this book. The rest of my thoughts will be elaborated in my final thoughts video.
Before I delve into the book, I want to point out that many people might think of feminism as one happy group of semi-political people who want equal rights for women. This is sort of true - but really, feminism is like Christianity. Lol like - there are A LOT of branches of feminism. There are Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians in the same way feminism has split off into Black feminism and womanism, third-world feminism, ecofeminism, and Marxist feminism, you name it.
Cyberfeminism is just one of these branches and is one of the more obscure. As the book says, the term was coined by Sadie Plant in 1994. Cyberfeminism generally describes feminism that is interested in technology as "an effective medium for resisting repressive gender regimes and enacting equality," as Jessie Daniel writes in her paper titled "Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment" published by The Feminist Press. It asks, as Izabella Scott does in her article "A Brief History of Cyberfeminism," could we use technology to hack the codes of patriarchy? Could we escape gender online?
In Glitch Feminism, Russell is further interested in this idea of "glitch." When a computer or a phone glitches on us humans, these items cease being efficient. As Russell writes, a machine that "literally cannot work, forgets how to work, works against its function" becomes one that "challenges the endemic correlation between value and labor."
In a capitalist world, efficiency is everything and is even more important than equity. note that a common argument against socialism and communism is that it won't distribute goods "efficiently." Therefore, instead of seeing these glitches as system failures, Russell asks us to see these glitches as radical refusals in the face of capitalism.
This might sound like your college philosophy class at its most abstract but bear with me because this is actually My favorite part of the book. Russell argues that queer, marginalized genders and people of color are also "glitches" in a cis white heteropatriarchy world. Essentially, we are aberrations in the system, walking radical refusals - and this is something to be embraced.
As Russell writes, "Gender is a scaled economy: it a mode of regulation, management, and control." Essentially, the gender binary (women stay home and rear children, men go out and earn money), is efficient for capitalism. Therefore, the bodies that refuse to conform to this gender binary (either by being Black or by being queer) are "glitches" that challenge the very system of capitalism itself. These were my favorite takeaways from the book.
So then comes my least favorite part of the book - which is the idea that the internet can be "liberatory."
Russell acknowledges that the internet is not perfect. As she admits, "All technology reflects the society that produces it, including its power structures and prejudices." Not only are all of the major tech companies owned by men, mostly white, but all of the major internet providers are as well. The digital landscape isn't very different from the offline world. Furthermore, access to the internet is still largely concentrated amongst the global rich and upper-middle-class (only 59 percent of the world's population has internet access).
So I'm surprised when she also relies on the digital as having the potential to create space for people of color and genderqueer bodies. There are many gorgeous stories included in the book of digital performance artists and people who found and explored their identity through the internet. Even Russell herself tells the reader that "the world around me never let me forget these identifiers. Yet online I could be whatever I wanted. And so my twelve-year-old self became sixteen, become twenty, became seventy...I set out to explore 'man,' to expand 'woman.'"
This is great if this was Russell's experience but I remember being twelve and on the internet. I wish I could say it was a safer space than real life to explore my identity but it was often worse. Those who remember racist, unchecked YouTube comments, Formspring, the cyberbullying era, the predatory chatrooms might feel like Russell is describing a completely different internet altogether. Plus if you are 12 pretending to be 20, is it identity exploration or priming for exploitation? I wish all these tensions were described a bit more.
All in all - interesting points, but cyberfeminism has never really spoken to me mainly because I think the internet only heightens the prejudices of the real world.