Image description: Women and girls sitting on floor

Image description: Women and girls sitting on floor, at the Imagine a Feminist Internet South East Asia regional convening. Image source: Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines

When is the last time that you daydreamed, spending hours imagining some unrealistic ideas? Have you found yourself continuously getting overwhelmed by different issues happening in this world as a feminist? Is it difficult for you to take a break, a break for fantasising, and enjoying your daydreams?

Without a doubt, imagination is vital in the history of technology. Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and writer who lived from 1815 to 1852 envisioned the potential application of the Analytical Engine— the original computing machine beyond calculation and even published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine as a program. Hedy Lamarr, the well-known film actress and unknown inventor, ambitious developed the idea of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed during the World War II, and this tech has later been incorporated into Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and CDMA. Radia Perlman, the American computer programmer and network engineer, succeeded in visualising Ethernet networks and in inventing the spanning tree protocol— the fundamental to the operation of network bridges.

These amazing women’s stories were shared during the recent “Imagining a Feminist Internet in Southeast Asia+(IFI-SEA+)” workshop held In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 14 to 16 November 2019 by The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) and EMPOWER-Malaysia, with the support of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). This workshop, consisting of 3-day fruitful discussions and inspiring lectures, not only uncovered the untold history in the development of information technology but also created an informative and safe space for young feminists in the region to imagine their future with technology in the digital era.

In the session of “imagining a feminist technology,” each group of participants was given three cards. Two of them were item cards, listing items such as glasses, bicycle, hat, dildo, and so forth. The third card was a value card, showing a feminist value, such as sustainable and equal. The task of each group was to design a feminist technology driven by the value they had assigned, with the two items they got, to achieve the future they want to work towards.

The discussions turned out to be mind-blowing. We got a 3D printer with open-source sex toy design, using recycled materials, so diverse sexual pleasure can be compromised without causing potential pollution to the environment. We got a phone that could reserve and deliver images with its smell online to engage olfactory stimuli for sharing, and its inventors wished that it could be used for well-being. We got a headgear that can scramble wearers’ physical gender expressions in public to protect them from potential harassment and discrimination. We also got a no hate hat, which can download collective feminist recollection and histories into the wearer’s brain space and knowledge space. We even got an anti-monopoly belt that prevents individuals from monopolizing economies, and wearer who has taken too much space will be stopped automatically by the belt. While these fantastic ideas were being shared, the room was full of laughter, and we were amazed by each other’s creativity and innovations.

We got a 3D printer with open-source sex toy design, using recycled materials, so diverse sexual pleasure can be compromised without causing potential pollution to the environment.

Similar practices were played through the entire workshop, focusing on a variety of issues within the feminist movement, just as its name indicated— Imagine a feminist internet. Some basic but fundamental questions were raised, such as “what is a movement?” We envisioned and visualized the movement we have been involved and demonstrated it in multiple artistic styles, instead of spending hours in playing with language. These visual demonstrations were so powerful that we could easily get connected, although we come from different contexts.

We also shared reflections that echoed our conversation around innovation and creativity, “How we imagine other forms of organizing outside of capitalism?” I was very impressed by a word said by our facilitator Jac in this session, “We have never had a moment where you can tweet directly to your head of state. The internet has changed the concept of public spaces. There is a new sensitivity to the temperature of discourse and chatter because our authorities are closer to us and vice versa.” This word “discourse” reflects the feminist realities in Southeast Asia.

“How we imagine other forms of organizing outside of capitalism?”

Feminists are taking advantage of their creativity in organizing activism in digital space and playing a more influential role in the process of promoting democracy in some countries in the region, such as Malaysia, which was not normal ten years ago. At the same time, they, especially those young feminists who grow up in the digital era, are challenging the general concept of both activism and activist. The majority of the participants for this workshop are young feminists who are under 35, and many of them identified themselves as individuals and they enjoy their current unaffiliated roles and status in the feminist movement. One biggest concern throughout the workshop is how to value the contribution of individual activists and ensure their ownership of the activism. Also, how to recognize and engage those womxn, who do not even self-identify as feminists in the activism? When we reviewed women in the development of technology in the region, we realized that there is an increasing number of womxn in the region who are working in the IT industry, or are social entrepreneurs or working for the government as experts. But we didn’t know them, and they were not regarded as part of the activism in most cases.

Image description: Women and girls sitting on floor and on chairs at Imagine a feminsit internet regional convening in South East Asia. Image source: Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines.

If I can summarize the workshop in a word, it must be “imagination.” We imagine a movement that people could get connected towards shared goals, where technology can be driven by feminist values. We imagine alternative strategies to mobilize the feminist movement in the digital era by recognizing and valuing individuals’ roles and contributions within a movement. We imagine innovative projects to achieve the movement we want by taking advantage of potential resources and technology. Most importantly, we were able to have the change to take imagination seriously, being inspired by others imaginations, and being empowered by our own imaginations. For me, this is the most powerful form of resistance that brought by the young feminists to the activism in the region.

I was writing the article when the novel-coronavirus outbreak occurred, another virus that we have never imagined. While China's authority has been trying to use internet censorship to manipulate the discourse of the outbreak in the name of stemming panic, the public has never given up breaking the silence and appealing for truth with endless creative strategies. Perhaps that is the reality we are facing daily— the development of technology creates an illusion that we are living in a world where we have everything in our hands, but the disaster and calamities keep bringing our ignorance before us. Thank God, we never lose our capacity of imagining, which constantly provides us with possible solutions as well as comforts us with a potential feminist future. This situation always reminds me of the words of Dickens, "It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us."

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times

Image description: Group photo at Imagine Feminist Internet regional convening in South East Asia. Image source: Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines

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