The shocking idea that gender could be invisible is one that has only struck me recently. The visibility of women, as women, from birth to menopause, the constant reminders of our danger, our femininity, our otherness is the unspoken score to life as a woman. However, this is an incessant reminder that we are other to ‘something’, to the universal, the man who is the measure of all things.
This insight, profound and obvious, underwrites much of the work of Dr Heike Jensen, academic and activist to whom this edition of GenderIT.org is dedicated. Heike’s work is feminist and addresses global concerns, often from a Southern view point. She worked with activists in South and Southeast Asia, exploring how patriarchy has shaped the internet and our experiences and expectations of it, ever conscious of the ways in which different histories have shaped those experiences and expectations.
In this edition, Anita Gurumurthy, executive director of IT for Change, looks at the debates on privacy and gender, an area in which Heike was both active and innovative. Anita looks at where the debate is today and charts the major challenges ahead.
Marianne Franklin’s contribution to this issue primarily builds upon the work Heike did in the arena of internet governance and policy. As both chair of the gender caucus at the World Summit on the Information Society and a key member of the German civil society grouping during the summit, Heike was involved in both a practical and theoretical level in looking at internet governance with a gender lens. This article looks at the developments since Heike’s passing in February 2014, and how her latest works presciently engage with these developments.
Overall, despite Heike’s pessimism about the internet as it is today and the ways in which it is developing, there is a deep-seated optimism about Heike’s work. She recognised that patriarchy is oppressive not just to women, but to the majority of men as well, whether due to their poverty, the colour of their skin or their sexuality. By taking apart the structures of patriarchy, uncovering the power relations that are built into the institutions and architecture of the internet, Heike consciously contributed to our ability to question, interrogate and rebuild those institutions in more equitable ways.
More personally, this optimism wasn’t just part of Heike’s work or engagement in activism. It bubbled through in her sense of humour, her ability to sustain laughter through the difficult task of working with those separated by distance, time and culture. While not realising it at the time, our last conversations was about a long-distance science fiction reading group, focusing on female authors that challenge our perception of what the future, of what technology, even of what being can be. This is where my personal memories of Heike dwell, the thought experiments, driven by that mixture of fiction and reality that allows us to imagine futures that are more free. I hope that through this edition, readers will be driven not only to investigate Heike’s work more deeply, but also to engage in the deeper project of imagining, sharing and building an internet and a broader future without the shackles of patriarchy.
Image by Lucía Puertas used under Creative Commons license.