Symposium challenges gender, technology conceptions


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Photo by Firas Sattar |

Students write their positive and negative technology experiences on post-it notes at the Institute of Women and Art’s “Trans Technology: Circuits of Culture, Selfm and Belonging” symposium yesterday at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library.


Micha Cárdenas and her partner intimately kissed and monitored their heart rates, naked and in front of a live audience in a video yesterday presented at the Trans Technology symposium.

In her project, “Technésexual Interaction: Erotic Mixed Reality Performance,” the avatars of Cárdenas and her partner, Elle Mehrmand, were simultaneously projected and mimicked their actions, while their heartbeats played for the audience in the video.

The presentation was a part of an effort by the Institute of Women and Art to provide a look at gender, art and technology yesterday titled, “Trans Technology: Circuits of Culture, Self, and Belonging.”

The symposium consisted of two segments at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library and at the Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus.

Technology is where ideas about gender are codified and read, said Christina Dunbar-Hester, co-curator of the exhibit.

“This is something that is maybe not readily apparent but is true of many technologies,” said Dunbar-Hester, a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. “So this event is important because its artists and technologists opening up these ideas about gender norms and gender hierarchies and tweaking them.”

Bryce J. Renninger, curator of the exhibit, said one example of gender awareness in technology could be seen in the Barbie Liberation Organization.

“In the early 90s, a bunch of people got together and changed the voice boxes of G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls, because the things that these dolls were made to say had codified these gender expectations,” said Renninger, a Ph.D. student in the School of Communication and Information.

Cárdenas also presented “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study,” a mixed-reality performance film incorporating a Second Life experience.

Transgender people must fulfill one year of living in their preferred gender before receiving gender confirmation surgery, Cárdenas said. Her project questioned the requirement and suggests avatars from the online virtual world, Second Life, as an alternative.

Another segment included two artists from The Hacktory in Philadelphia, an organization devoted to the hobby of exploring the limits of what is possible with common items.

“These [pieces of art] are really outspoken about the gendering of technology and the de-gendering and re-gendering of technology … people I’ve met want to believe that technology is apolitical and that the ability to use technology is about the effort you put in,” said Stephanie Alarcón, one of the artists.

The second artist, and director of The Hacktory, Georgia Guthrie, constructed “Compulsive Repurpose,” an art piece on display. To create the piece, she said she knitted an Ethernet and phone cable to symbolically meld what is associated with men and women.

Women are associated with knitting, while men are connected with technology and gaming, she said.

Guthrie and Alarcón’s event also featured an interactive project, where they asked participants to write down one negative and one positive technological experience on index cards.

They also requested that participants write down their age, the year this event happened, and their gender if they wished to do so.

Some of the written results directly demonstrated dominance of particular orientations and genders in technology, they said. One stated, “In elementary school, none of the teachers knew how to use computers. A boy in the class knew but refused to show anyone.”

“One thing that’s very basic and essential to the experience of a lot of transgender people, such as myself, is the technology of gender-segregated bathrooms,” said Emma-Kay, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences.

She said it is not complicated technology, but it is something that transgender people have to deal with every day.

“Just seeing transgender bodies, bodies that are similar to my own, is very reassuring and it feels very safe to me in a world that is often very hostile,” said Emma-Kay.


By Cody Beltis

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