This week I’ve been thinking a lot about two related things:
1) How utterly uninterested I am about anything relating to ‘digital’. I’m interested in weird ideas, what’s inside things, discovery, performance and invention – meaningful things that affect me and people like me, and physical stuff. The internet and its many social media networks doesn’t feature. I know nothing about any of it. The phrase ‘digital art’ is guaranteed to make my heart sink.
2) How so many of our problems are about our need for heroes. And get this: heroes are male. The reason there are so few female superheroes is because there are so few female heroes. If you support a hero culture, you support a masculine one.
Bear with me.
I mean something fairly specific by the hero culture. I see it in the world of technology and ‘digital’ cultural commentators. Not all of the male ones are heroes, but all of the ones who are heroes are male. It feels very bold to say, and I’m so keen for it not to be true that I’ve tried to come up with reasons I might be mistaken, but it’s no use: I keep coming back to it.
Think of a woman you know who works in this space – someone you think of as being pretty famous – and look her up on Twitter. How many followers has she got? I’m looking at one right now. She performs constantly to extremely high acclaim, she creates, she’s been on national radio multiple times, she can turn her hand to anything, everyone who’s ever seen her work agrees she’s fantastic (I have in all honesty never heard a bad word) – and she has fewer than 1,500 followers. She gets very little press attention, and more importantly, very little boosting by her male contemporaries. I mean what more does she have to do? Why isn’t she the most famous icon of our times? I can think of a number of men who have acquired agents, book deals and newspaper columns on considerably less. There is an unspoken expectation that they will want to be heroised. Women aren’t considered candidates for hero stuff, because to be a hero is to be a guy.
Of course, being a hero isn’t something to aim for!
But it signals a culmination of power – you are listened to. You are quoted, endlessly – usually by other heroes. Check out a blog, newsletter, links list etc by any white guy you’ve heard of in the creative tech community and see how many pages you have to scroll through before you find a token women mentioned. It isn’t conscious, this “Oh and of course, here’s someone else I read, who is a woman of all things!” – but you can see how it makes us feel. Think, too, about how you consider women in this community. Are they generally a bit more friendly and approachable? Perhaps, facilitators? People you see as, more or less, serving YOU in some way? Or are they mysterious towering genius playboy megaliths you’d talk about in hushed tones and travel the country to spend money to see? Can you imagine someone saying, of a woman, “I declare this the year of [her name]!”, after she got some media traction behind her ideas, and it getting 500 RTs?
This need for heroes – where heroes are equated with power – you don’t get it everywhere. There are other communities I’m involved with that aren’t dominated by a sort of grand jury of ‘masters’. There are other worlds where the idea of all-knowing heroes is considered a bit funny and embarrassing and people are just people, who basically just want to get on with their own lives without referring to ‘the legend’ or ‘the god-like’ so-and-so every time they create any media or write anything on the internet.
If this is what it means to be in the ‘tech’ community, you see why we want to opt out; why we might find it less than thrilling. In fact, we (not just women) are precluded from the thrill. The excitement that pushes ideas forward in this world and makes things happen arises out of the opportunity to be heard. Basically, it’s much more exciting to be heard than to have something to say. Voices are power, not words. The voice is what’s rewarded, not what’s said. And voices are amplified in this echo chamber. It’s not a community of ideas at all, it’s a community designed to bolster the careers of a few hero-people, and a few of their mates.
So, the reason I can write so frankly here is because I know so few people will read it, even fewer will have read this far, having decided they knew what I was going to say. And part of the reason it won’t be heard is due to the invisible obstruction that prevents the community from seriously hearing me out. The only way to be heard is to be a Hero, or be amplified by a Hero – everything else is just a background crackle, unworthy of attention.
It’s a kind of freedom, but don’t for a second imagine we chose it.