Centering Intersectional Feminism Online: Equality Archive as Digital Humanities Praxis
Equality Archive, www.equalityarchive.com (accessed January 15, 2021).
Click, tag, read, like, share, comment, perform a diatribe, read, share, call in/out racism and misogyny in culture and politics, add photo, hide, untag, delete—these are the quotidian actions of the new generation of feminist and social justice–oriented web users, many of whom find their ways into American studies courses at colleges and universities across the country. A few years ago, the majority of young people got their news from the late-night talk shows.1 Now it happens in social media feeds.2 While often proffered as a site of equality and democracy, the internet has been an oft-critiqued site of racism and misogyny by feminist American studies scholars, such as Lisa Nakamura, Safiya Umoja Noble, micha cárdenas, and Roopika Risam, who elucidate how internet search engines and digital technologies reinscribe structural violence but also offer opportunities for resistance.3 Hashtag activism, too, has become a primary meeting ground that both connects people who may be isolated geographically into online communities and helps coordinate in-person actions with deeper impacts, such as #BlackLivesMatter, the #MeToo movement, and the many instances of the #WomensMarch.4 Central to digital humanities scholars working within the discipline of American studies (via the ASA Digital Humanities Caucus or in other interconnected and interdisciplinary ways) is developing feminist and critical race scholarship and praxis that connect online sites of resistance to on-the-ground activism, art, protest, and survival tools for vulnerable individuals.
Out of this new wave of justice-oriented projects spawns Equality Archive—a collaborative effort built by a collective of feminists—led by Shelly Eversley, assistant professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, and Lauren Hurson, educational technologist at CUNY’s Graduate Center. This project, a digital encyclopedia of feminist knowledge, is distinctive for how it was built, deploying [End Page 195] feminist principles from the ground up: through the platform’s infrastructure, the collective arrangement of labor, the curation of intersectional and assemblage feminist topics, and the figuring of praxis as central to the role of knowledge presentation. There have been efforts in the digital humanities to decenter whiteness and promote the work of women and gender-nonconforming folks (#TransformDH, #DHPoco, #GODH, #RaceDH); however, there is still more work to be done. Projects such as Equality Archive are necessary to continue building momentum against racism and misogyny online, in the digital humanities, and in artist, activist, and academic spaces more broadly.
To get started, type “equalityarchive.com” into a web browser. You will encounter a cleanly designed organization of white background intermingling with images and black text. The logo offers the words EQUALITY ARCHIVE in all capitals, one word on top of the other—the “Q” has been transformed into the symbol used to signify “woman.” An ever-changing banner of photographs of women and nonbinary folks in various states of resistance frames the landing page. Words appear at the upper right of the screen: History, Issues, People, Participate, The Collective. These words, all clickable options, offer one way that entries are organized. Click on “History,” and you will scroll down to find a long list of important moments in feminist history. Some of these are canonical, such as “Roe vs. Wade,” “Equal Rights Amendment,” and “Sojourner Truth.” Others tell less well-known stories, such as “Georgia Gilmore,” the founder of the Club from Nowhere (a collective of black maids, service workers, and cooks who provided amenities to activists working the front lines of the civil rights movement); “Alice Bag: Hollywood Punk Scene,” a central figure in the Latinx punk scene of the late 1970s; or “Wilma Mankiller,” the first female president of the Cherokee Nation. Click on the “#NotYourSidekick” link to find a multimodal account of the elision of Asian American women and girls in mainstream feminist movements. One photograph shows female college-age students addressing the camera with a protest sign reading “We need FEMINISM b/c we’re NOT your mail order brides, the CURE to your YELLOW fever, your fantasy SEX TOYS, or your subservient housewives. We are STRONG, INDEPENDENT, and CAPABLE ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN.” Amid text that briefly historicizes the history of Asian American feminism are other images from different decades in twentieth-century history, a twenty-eight-minute documentary Connecting Voices: The Exclusion of Asian American Feminist Issues, and a brief bibliography outlining three texts for further reading. [End Page 196]
Overall, a few entries suffer from a lack of consideration of the complexities of the subject matter. “Equal Rights Amendment,” for example, is articulated as being “very simple” instead of having a long history of resistance by Christian conservatives and addressing its reputation for only helping white women. “Margaret Sanger” could have also included a mention of her troubling involvement with the eugenics movement. Nevertheless, this diverse range of topics has implications for pedagogy across many disciplines, including American studies, race and ethnic studies, and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. An easy assignment to engage students at all levels would be to ask them to write and submit an entry for review of which you can find a submission form at the bottom of each page.
As young people inside and outside the classroom continue to address the urgent violent and discriminatory behavior of public discourse exacerbated by the forty-fifth president and his followers, Equality Archive, as a repository of feminist knowledge and history, enters the ring. A deep understanding of who came before, who fought for the civil rights of black people, women, LGBTQI folks, disabled people, and Latinx immigrants, among others, is essential for any future change maker in this country. As such, a project that addresses the important, and often-neglected, histories of feminist organizing in the United States, especially in a way that is digestible to diverse audiences, fuels the fire of activism for students at multiple levels (from high school to graduate school), artists, activists, and “curious people.”5 While the go-to spot for quick information on the internet shamefully remains Wikipedia, as the information often upholds hierarchies of heteropatriarchy and white supremacy, those entries have become too long to get the quick, vital facts on any issue; do not address the information in a multimodal format; and lastly, due to how wikis function through lack of intentional peer-review, often proliferate wrong, global North–centric and/or colonial knowledge on any given topic. There have been feminist efforts to combat these biases, such as Art + Feminism’s wiki edit-a-thons and FemTechNet’s wiki-storming sessions, projects that correct the lack of representation of cis women, transwomen, nonbinary people, and feminist subjects in this archive.6 Even so, people seeking truth and justice or who embody a marginalized identity still have to actively question the accuracy of every sentence and risk taking on the ideology of the oppressor through self-colonization.7
Equality Archive fills this gap and centers praxis as part of knowledge acquisition. This feminist recovery project offers selective, short narratives of history, issues, people, and invaluable activist and nonprofit organizations, [End Page 197] meticulously peer-reviewed by feminist scholars, allowing readers to trust that they are learning what they need to thrive as a feminist. Furthermore, every page is connected to others through links and a keyword web on the right side of every page that transforms the site into a “multilayered feminist ecology” linked through metadata.8 In addition to text, each page shares fair use images and videos and a brief list of materials for further reading that further aggregates content across the web. This “intersected and interconnected network of linked entries” is formatted in a way that expresses the intersectionality of multimodal website design similarly to the way that intersectionality, as a foundational feminist principle, ties different identity categories.9 Although the pages are easily sharable on social media platforms—and this is the point—Equality Archive thinks beyond click-bait by suggesting various ways to take action through preexisting activist organizations that focus on issues central to intersectional feminism: “Since action—not thinking—can transform the world.”10 For example, “Nina Simone,” whose access to formal training in the arts was inhibited due to her race, links you to the Destiny Arts Center, an organization that inspires social change through the arts in Oakland, California, for a community of children that is “socio-economically, racially and culturally diverse.”11 Thus, the learning joins directly with concentrated social justice activism, thereby connecting the digital to the material.
The leadership and “labor of love” of Eversley and Hurson, who painstakingly arranged the architecture and infrastructure of this project from the ground up, requires special commendation. As Jacqueline Wernimont articulates in her introduction to the “Feminisms and DH” special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly, as feminists “we must attend to the ways that academic practices and digital spaces and tools are being leveraged by those with power—very often to limit marginalized people and at the most extreme to consume or promote violence against women, people of color, and trans people.”12 Eversley and Hurson have attended to this by thinking through intersectionality at all stages of the construction, especially centering the free sharing of information, dispersed labor networks, and collaborative knowledge production.13 Fully articulated in their fem-ifesto, “Equality Archive: Open Educational Resources as Feminist Practice,” Eversley and Hurson offer complete transparency in how they have constructed Equality Archive, from choosing a hosting company to how the labor is distributed, and from how data are stored to developing “a taxonomy of entries” in the metadata that allows for deeper interconnections.14
All of the entries, which do not name a single author, maintain Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licenses, [End Page 198] granting the collective authors ownership of their work while also becoming part of the public domain to be shared and remixed freely.15 Although the “About” page articulates that the collective “donated their time, their money, their talent, or their specialized knowledge,” disclosing that the contributors were not paid for their participation in this project, the contributors are named and thanked under “The Collective” header. Equality Archive relies on open source software—meaning that the software is free for use, built through distributed and collaborative labor, and constantly undergoing updates through peer exchange.16 Ongoing feminist debates elucidate how misogynist online virtual workplaces of open source software development are especially hostile, inaccessible, and exclusive to female contributors.17 Notwithstanding, Eversley and Hurson have chosen Reclaim Hosting to host and manage their content; Cyberduck as their file transfer protocol software; and WordPress as their content management system.18 This infrastructure allows flexibility within the structure and content to change as digital technologies incorporate feminist viewpoints and as the seas of feminist theory and practice continue to shift, grow, and rise as new concepts, identities, and underacknowledged figures enter feminist discourse.
American studies scholars in the United States stand at the precipice of history making as the Trump regime continues to make the world a less safe place for women, people of color, Jewish individuals, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations, especially in light of the attempted coup on January 6, as the 2020 election results were in the process of certification. Even as a new administration takes power, Trumpism and the discursive, structural, and physical violence that have come into central view will not be suddenly eradicated. Equality Archive offers an entry point to succeed in what micha cárdenas calls for in a recent essay—“solidarity between all those whom the word ‘humanity’ has failed to signify, and for an ethics that extends beyond the human.”19 To move forward, those involved in feminist and social justice activism and scholarship must learn the strategies and tactics of past social and political movements, to see what works and what fails, and to reconfigure them to present structures of power. We need multiple tools to take on whatever challenges come our way, and Equality Archive is a digital humanities and American studies project ready to grow and develop, to be used in classrooms and activist gathering zones, to reach toward equity for all. [End Page 199]
Lindsay Garcia is assistant dean of the college for junior/senior studies and recovery/substance-free student initiatives at Brown University. As a scholar, she utilizes antiracist, queer, and feminist approaches to the study of interspecies injustices.
1. Geoffrey Baym, “The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism,” Political Communication 22 (2005): 259–76.
2. Katerina Eva Matsa and Elisa Shearer, “News Use across Social Media Platforms 2018,” Pew Research Center, September 10, 2018, www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/.
3. See Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race: Visualizing Cultures of the Internet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (New York: New York University Press, 2018); micha cárdenas et al., The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities (New York: Atropos, 2012); cárdenas, “The Android Goddess Declaration: After Man(ifestos),” in Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities, ed. Elizabeth Losh and Jacqueline Wernimont (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 25–38; Roopika Risam, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2018); Risam, “What Passes for Human? Undermining the Universal Subject in Digital Humanities Praxis,” in Losh and Wernimont, Bodies of Information, 39–56.
4. Elizabeth Losh, Hashtag (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019); see also Tara Conley, Hashtag Feminism, accessed January 30, 2019, www.hashtagfeminism.com and taralconley.org/hashtag-feminism/; Black Lives Matter, accessed March 15, 2019, blacklivesmatter.com; me too., accessed March 15, 2019, metoomvmt.org; Women’s March, accessed March 25, 2019, womensmarch.com.
5. Shelly J. Eversley and Laurie Hurson, “Equality Archive: Open Educational Resources as Feminist Praxis,” Feminist Media History 3.3 (2017): 155.
7. Alexander Kiossev, “The Self-Colonizing Metaphor,” Atlas of Transformation, accessed January 31, 2019, monumenttotransformation.org/atlas-of-transformation/html/s/self-colonization/the-self-colonizing-metaphor-alexander-kiossev.html.
8. Eversley and Hurson, “Equality Archive,” 155.
9. Eversley and Hurson, 156.
10. Eversley and Hurson, 155.
12. Jacqueline Wernimont, “Introduction to Feminisms and DH special issue,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 9.2 (2015): 12, www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/2/000217/000217.html.
13. Intersectionality, although as a principle extends back to the nineteenth-century, is a term developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw to address the ways in which black women were affected by misogyny and racism in an overlapping way. See Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence,” Stanford Law Review 43.6 (1991): 1241–99; Jasbir Puar, “‘I’d Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess’: Becoming-Intersectional of Assemblage Theory,” PhiloSOPHIA: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 2.1 (2002): 49–66.
14. Eversley and Hurson, “Equality Archive,” 156.
16. Open Source Initiative, accessed January 31, 2019, opensource.org. For further information on how open access is feminist through the lens of feminist legal theory in relation to copyright law, see Carys J. Craig, Joseph F. Turcotte, and Rosemary J. Coombe, “What’s Feminist about Open Access? A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy,” feminists@law 1.1 (2011), journals.kent.ac.uk/index.php/feministsatlaw/article/view/7/54.
17. Yi-Wei Lin and Matthijs den Besten, “Gendered Work Culture in Free/Libre Open Source Software Development,” Gender, Work, and Organization (June 5, 2018): 1–18; Lauri Apple, “Women Fed Up with Open Source Community Creeps,” Jezebel, December 4, 2010, jezebel.com/women-fed-up-with-open-source-community-creeps-5705980. For further information on this subject, see Geek Feminism Wiki, “FLOSS,” accessed March 15, 2019, geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/FLOSS.
19. cárdenas, “Android Goddess Declaration,” 35.