Feminism – the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities under the law in every area of life, including in politics, employment, education, health, and relationships – does exist in Second Life (SL), but not as explicitly as I expected.
In a previous post, I mentioned that this semester I’m team teaching a course on American history and film and like to see what learning environments SL has to offer, if any, on topics we’re studying. We are now segueing from the Civil Rights Movement (not represented in SL, as far as I can tell) to freedom movements it inspired, including Women’s Liberation – which is why I began looking for signs of feminism in SL.
One place not to look is in SL Search using “feminism.” I got a long list of adult sims advertising such things as “forced feminization” and “femdom” (terms I’d never heard of), as well as “slaves,” “pigs,” and “cows.” I can’t say I was shocked; after all, in the list of January’s 50 most popular SL sims, the majority were sex havens (see Wagner James Au’s list in New World Notes). But I was saddened.
Nevertheless, the results of the 1960s-1970s feminist movement are all around us in SL, from the freedom to do and wear what we want to the freedom to play, without discrimination (I assume and hope), most any role as a woman, from combatant to technical wizard, from vampire to, yes, sex goddess. Even so, discrimination against women is alive and well in the USA – as the recent political brouhahas about Planned Parenthood and hormonal contraception reveal.
Fortunately, the search for “women’s studies” was more helpful, producing a place Christian women can meet for Bible study and a series of SL women’s groups, including those for two programs I knew had sims somewhere: Ohio State’s Department of Women Studies, which I learned about last October during Cooperative Extension’s Virtual State Fair; and Arizona State’s CompuGirls, which popped up on a Google Alert. Today I report on what I learned about the latter and will later prepare a post on the former.
CompuGirls is an initiative of Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation with funding from a National Science Foundation grant. “A social justice technology program for girls” is the description immediately given on its website, which goes on to explain that the program is “for adolescent (grades 8-12) girls from under-resourced school districts in the Greater Phoenix area.” It’s a summer and after-school program “where participants learn the latest technologies in digital media, games, and virtual worlds and become a voice for social justice and change in the world.”
In Second Life, CompuGirls is located on a skybox called Tech Savvy Isle (67, 87, 810). It’s still under construction but the promise of this platform and some of the girls’ accomplishments are readily apparent. I counted nine rooms in the complex: six are unfinished or bare; three appear to be in use.
The first room I entered greeted me with three slideshow panels, two of which were running through a series of group photos. One area contained a large table holding three laptops; another had lobby-like furniture in front of a wall of enlarged pages, perhaps of a pamphlet. The pages provided a lot of information that I didn’t see on the CompuGirls website; for example, I learned how the members of each cohort are chosen and the benefits of their program participation and association with ASU.
Another room was mostly empty except for a colorful bulletin board next to the entrance to a lecture hall that looked to be set up for class. And in yet another part of the complex was my favorite room, a student exhibit area called “Video Documentaries iLife Series.” On two walls were group and individual video projects on social justice topics of interest to the girls, with slideshows, commentaries, and links to the documentaries on YouTube.
I was impressed with the quality and format of the two videos I watched (each about 5-minutes long). The global warming video had two narrators: one spoke in Spanish as English subtitles rolled, and the other spoke in English as Spanish subtitles rolled – back and forth, each with different content and images. The video about graffiti on the Gila River Indian Reservation fascinated me even more: the images were stunning and the balanced perspective on two types of graffiti, gang related (destructive) and artistic (creative), was thought-provoking.
I applaud the CompuGirls program and hope that it leads to other programs for girls that, as the subtitle of a CompuGirls research report says, aims at “Awakening Girls’ Passion for Social Justice and Technology.”