A little over a year ago, I spent my spring break in a northern Swedish town called Umeå. Complete strangers had invited me to give a talk at a workshop on digital gender. A little awkward but why not, right? My fantastic hosts at the University of Umeå’s digital humanities center, Humlab, were kind enough to book my flights so I could spend a few days in Stockholm with my sister, who flew over from London to see me. After a great weekend being terrible American tourists whose knowledge of Sweden was limited to vikings, Ikea, and the Swedish Chef (bork bork bork!), I caught a flight to Umeå, a charming town 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Traveling to give a talk always feels a bit lonely to me. It’s not exactly like a conference, where I’m usually grateful for solitary time because there are so many people to see once it’s underway. It’s not like a job market campus visit where you’re accosted by a faculty member the minute you arrive and are never left alone in case you peek behind the curtain (yes, job market campus visits are a strange blend of Wizard of Oz and North Korea). Sometimes you’re heavily scheduled, but more often than not you just show up in a random town and try to find your way around.
The first day of the workshop, I was on a town bus, hoping I was in fact in Vasaplan and on my way to Samhällsvetarhuset (that is a real place, I kid you not; see also: terrible American tourists). A man got on the bus after me and we regarded each other with the slightly wary “Do we know each other?” looks that Indians do when they encounter each other in the wild. Turns out, it was Nishant Shah, whose work I’ve long admired. Bonus: he had been to HumLab before and actually knew where we were going. When we got to HumLab and I saw micha cardénas, Annette Markham, Jenny Sundén, and other participants, I realized that Digital Gender was, in fact, academic fangirl heaven. The range of talks and critical making workshops (long live Dragon High!) was exciting and the points of contact between the different kinds of research many of us do were thought-provoking. New friendships and collaborations were born. Don’t beware of Greeks planning workshops – Anna Foka put together the best event I attended last year.
On the last day of the workshop, we sat around for our last fika and plotted the afterlife of Digital Gender. A little over a year later, the First Monday special issue on digital gender is here. Editors Viktor Arvidsson and Anna Foka put out a CFP with remarkable speed and found thoughtful reviewers for our work. The reviewers who read the first version of my essay “Toxic Femininity 4.0” pushed back in productive ways and Viktor and Anna provided additional advice. The final version is all the better for the considerable time and attention that the reviewers and editors generously gave. My essay considers the ways white liberal feminists direct toxic discourses towards intersectional feminists to position themselves at the center of mainstream feminism. All of the essays in the issue are on point, especially Viktor and Anna’s editorial introduction, which frames ongoing work in digital gender; Nishant Shah’s essay “Sluts ‘r’ Us” (the title just speaks for itself); Jenny Sundén’s article on (trans-)gender and the glitch; and Lewis Webb’s reading of slut-shaming in Ancient Rome and online today, among others. I’m happy to count these once-strangers as friends and look forward to the future of Digital Gender.
Read the journal issue here: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/issue/view/442