Free Software and Feminism: The Ethics of a Digital Age

-The Free Software/Free Culture Movement is based on an empowerment model, that through freely available source code people can control the technology they use.  But what does that really mean if someone does not have the technical skills to understand code?
-A general reflection that technology is *created.*  It does not just arrive out of nowhere, someone makes it AND
-The gendered/raced/economic aspects of who is coding and for what reasons must be considered because particularity in “developed” countries a main source of people’s communication, ideas about the world, and sources of information are coming from, or going through, technological devices which run software.


This presentation is meant to be a short introduction to the free software and free culture movement from a feminist perspective.  In general the discourse that bridges the connection between technology and feminism is feeble, especially when it comes to design and code, not just usability and implementation.  The free culture/free software movement is a movement that is concerned with anti-exploitation when it comes to the use of technology.  The movement specifically likes to frame it from the rhetoric of individual “control” and “autonomy.”  What is lacking is involvement from those who are not just, shall I say, technologically adept, meaning those do not know how to “code.”  There is also a general lack of reflection on the gendered, raced, and general-social economic reasons for why certain people are involved in free software/free culture and why others are not, despite the fact that only a small portion of the population is creating the software that a significantly larger percent of the population is using.  That is, there are far fewer people creating software (who have the ability to create software) than there are those who are using software.  It is extremely important to begin to think about what technology *is* and what it could be in relation to embodied identity.  Without reflection of what technology, software in particular, is from the standpoint of who and why it’s being created, the same colonialist style of exploitation will (is being) reproduced based on the current system of how software production works.  This talk is meant to be a short introduction to spark the idea that technology is created by people and can be created in MANY different ways.  I want to introduce free software to a crowd that will help build the bridge connecting technology to feminism.  

This is relevant to reproductive rights in that many medical systems are dependent on software in terms of keeping records, in terms of patenting/licensing of medical discoveries, in terms of “googling” for reproductive services, just to name a million different ways that technology and reproductive rights are intertwined.  In whatever ways that software, licensing, patenting, and technology is used with reproductive rights, the issues of free software and free culture are relevant.  It is a question of how these current systems are implemented and why?  What affects does race, gender and class have on how and why this was created this way?  How is this current mode of software operation recapitulating forms of oppression, or how is it re-imagining ways of being in the world that are subverting old forms of racialized, classed, and sexed violence?  These are just some of the questions that can be asked in relation to software use around reproductive rights.


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One response to “Free Software and Feminism: The Ethics of a Digital Age

  1. Engaging in a feminist exploration of technology and cultural norms is more within the purview of digital humanities rather than straight technology. There are an increasing number of digital platforms which aim to promote engagement in this sort of dialogue. I find it a positive that the Internet anonymizes people and technology is evaluated by the process and product so I don’t have to engage in the standard dance of embodying my gender the way society expects me to and instead just focus on my ideas. On the other hand, I do find coding culture harder to get into in person, and wish there was more support for women in technology the same way there has been a push to support women in mathematics.

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