- “Web-Weaving,” for Spider-Avatars
Highlighting the successes of feminist online activism, Gina Messina-Dysert’s lead-in essay for this discussion creates a compelling image of the power and potentials of the deliberate application of feminist strategy within online spaces. Religion, like politics and culture, is changed by cybertechnology—god/dess can’t avoid manifestation or incarnation within the worlds created by those who are of creation. Using the term web-weavers to describe essential members of the FAR community, Messina-Dysert’s cohort responds to the call of many feminist theologians whose work insists that we see Earth-life (often including the divine) as a web, a matrix, a womb, a connected space, or an intersection of relationships.1 In her 1986 book, From a Broken Web, Catherine Keller described our “objectifying-dichotomizing reflexivity,” as a “web-breaking consciousness” that permeates our actions, attitudes, and mythologies.2 Calling us to emulate the spider goddess Arachne and rebuild webs, she further asserted that “feminism speaks a spider language,” and a mischievous one at that.3 The FAR community, like WATER4 members, Exponent bloggers, and the many other groups that Messina-Dysert names, web-weaves consciousness back together, enacting this feminist project and voice. But the playful trick of Messina-Dysert’s double entendre reveals that the spider, already a monster to many and a reclaimed goddess to others, can also be a digital avatar whose playground is the World Wide Web.
I date my own technological exposure by telling you that the digital arachnid I imagine here is just like the “tektikes” who attack the character Link in the 1986 Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda. Appearing when Link enters a new territory, the spider-like tektikes hop onto the screen, slowly moving in a zig-zag motion until you destroy, avoid, or are injured by these monsters. Injury at some point in the game is almost inevitable (at least the first few times you play it); and this risk is part of what makes it fun. Video games like those in the Zelda franchise share a great deal in common with other online spaces. While full of the potential of which Messina-Dysert speaks, no online space is a “safe space.” [End Page 159] Injury lurks around every corner, as do fun and engagement. Providing opportunities for connection and inclusion, blogs, games, and other online media can also encourage division, dissemination of misinformation, and terrible violence. Of course, the same can be said of religion and feminism.
A kind of power, web-weaving isn’t inherently “good,” howbeit inherently relational. Messina-Dyssert describes the mutually empowering use of this ability; and this is an important task. Writing and speaking about gaming among my colleagues, I find online media and video gaming in particular are too easily dismissed as irrelevant, a passing fascination with popular culture, or just another tool of Euro-kyriarchy. I welcome this dialogue within the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the premise of which assumes the significance of online spaces. Accepting this import, it is critical that we discuss the online context itself as a kind of place, text, and discourse of liminal embodiment. Online media challenges feminist definitions of community and activism: the deliberate application of strategy Messina-Dysert discusses. However, I am also interested in the unintentional consequences of having an in-between and, so, ambiguous online body. Feminist theo/alogians must consider both how to use the particular power of web-weaving, as well as what it means to embody this relational power within the place of the Internet.
So, I’m a digital spider-avatar, what in the world does that mean? First and foremost: that what I am is not entirely up to me. I pay for Internet access. My blog is written on a platform designed by someone else with particular constraints, as is the website I created last year. Video games I play sometimes leave me in uncomfortably close relationship with the capitalist and racist heteropatriarchy that produces them. While fun and entertaining, video games can reproduce some of society’s worst oppressive ideologies. They are available to a few and largely manufactured...