Jill Arnold and Hugh Miller
Nottingham Trent University
'I think,' he said, 'we will go out and have a
look at it, it is a great thing to
do what is necessary before it becomes essential and unavoidable.'
- Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman (1967: 177)
|Cyberpsychology in context|
Cultural life is becoming more and more dependent on technology, and we are right to consider to what extent our capacity to construct our cultural future is affected by the enmeshing of the individual in rapidly accumulating, ever shifting, and increasingly complex arrays of information (Gergen 1991 & 2000). Psychology offers accounts of how people engage with technology and how its conceptualisation can influence our understanding of ourselves and our ways of being; and increasingly, psychology is focusing on the new technologies of the Internet and the web (Chandler 1998 & 1999, Gackenbach 1998, Gauntlett in press, Gergen 1996, Riva & Galimberti 2001). To discuss our interactions with cyberspace in this way acknowledges that there are opportunities to create new kinds of identities in this new social space, and to re-evaluate our lives and question the moral basis for what we find ourselves doing. Of course, cybertechnology does not yet allow all the narratives and constructions, the resonances and subtleties of taste and style, nor the obvious political frameworks, which we rely on to position ourselves, know ourselves and play our part in society. But, rather than debating the web and the Internet as qualitatively different from, apart from, and outside our usual discourses or social constructs, we think that we should consider how people use existing concepts, social skills and moral precepts for dealing with the electronic world as it is found, and as part of the cultural world in which we live. In this article, therefore, we want to go beyond a limited discussion of cyberculture as a phenomenon in isolation from wider historical, social, or political frames and contexts for understanding (Gackenbach 1998, Jones 1998, de Kerchove 1998, Silver 2001). Feminist psychology would also require that this discussion includes the sexual politics of the use of these new technologies in a framework of institutional power and inequalities (Danet 1998, Donath 1988, Haraway 1991, Harcourt 1999).
We take the view that identity is something we are constantly renegotiating (Gergen 1991 & 1994, Gergen & Gergen 1988, Gilligan 1982, Markus & Wurf 1987), and that the web homepage offers a new way of 'doing being a person' and the opportunity to construct a complex multi-layered hypertext self (Chandler 1998, Cheung 2000, Miller 1995, Miller & Arnold 2001). Yet the person at the computer retains an identity grounded in physical and social existence, and can only experience the sense of being 'out there' from that embodied space. Our awareness and understandings about reality, including the self and space beyond the screen, are part of the discursive context in which we live (Gergen 1994, Gergen & Gergen 1988), and events that take place in any number of contexts, even those that are called 'virtual', can become part of the stories we tell and that are told about us (Bruner 1992, Holzman 1999, Shotter & Gergen 1989). Through this discourse and social interaction with our selves and others, including through text and pictures on the web, what 'happens' at a distance can be looked at as part of the psychology of 'what we do' and therefore can be considered as part of our sense of ourselves - as much as, for example, those events that happened earlier in our lives are part of who we are now.
In developing a cyberpsychology of how these new (re)presentations of selves are being conceptualised and acted upon, we have tried not to treat the web as exotic (Hawthorne & Klein 1999, Sloan 2000), or people's behaviour in constructing webpages as any more 'unreal' than other performative aspects of ordinary life. For us, the real space of cyberspace is on the bodily side of the screen, and the web merely provides a new way for people to present and establish their identities and to find out about others, just as people do in all kinds of other circumstances; we agree with Anna-Malin Karlsson that: "most home pages are part of communicative and cultural processes" (Karlsson 1998).
In our discussion here we review some of the wider issues and implications that arise from our studies of identity and presentation of self on web homepages, undertaken over the last six or seven years. We explore and illustrate some of the points raised using quotes from our respondents who took part in two recent questionnaire and interview studies of female academics, as described below (and more fully reported in Miller & Arnold 2001a & 2001b), and by referring to observations of aspects of their webpages and earlier webpage comparative studies (Miller & Mather 1998, Miller & Arnold 2000a). Our research has shown that the threats, insecurities and possibilities for professional identities for female academics remain firmly grounded in the prevailing, though shifting, ideological, rhetorical and social structures of academia. In fact, masters, mistresses and apprentices all have to make use of these existing structures and relationships while accommodating the development of the Internet and web technologies, and as we shall show, there are many uncomfortable tensions that are as yet unresolved.
|Identities and presentations of self on the web|
As a practical psychological matter, we consider a person's 'presence' on the web as a social public activity that, as in the rest of life, requires some disclosure about who you are, what you do and your background. It may be a way of simultaneously revealing yourself and distancing yourself from direct interaction with others, but it is still a real activity - not a virtual one. For example, people feel the need to assert that there is actually someone 'there' and in the quote below, from one of our respondents, we see that the use of a photo helps address this need: "I didn't want to be a faceless person so I decided to have a photo to emphasise there was a real person behind the bits".
We think that social constructionist ideas about the symbolic interpretive nature of our (inter)actions in whatever medium we have to perform (Bruner 1992, Gilligan 1982, Harré 1989, Holzman 1999), and the idea that the self exists - discursively, performatively, narratively, socially - only in relation to others (Gergen 1994, Gergen & Gergen 1988, Radley 1991), provide useful ways for understanding what is happening in web identity construction. So, when people are creating a web presence, they will choose ways of doing so that are part of a recognisable negotiation of meanings, and will try to communicate who they are and what their ideas are about. The choices they make will therefore relate to their usual modes of addressing what it is they wish to 'get across'. This is illustrated neatly by a respondent who commented: "... the style and the way I've put it up and written in an accessible style ... it's not about me personally but it's about my personal mode of communication and getting things across".
We have suggested elsewhere (Miller 1995, Miller & Mather 1998, Miller & Arnold 2000b & 2001b) that the insights discussed by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) also apply to the presentation of self in electronic life. Although presenting oneself on a webpage lacks the face-to-face interaction (and the multiple possibilities for embarrassment) which Goffman discusses, his ideas of choosing a self and a way of presenting that self which can be appropriately maintained and validated, and of the backstage work which supports that presentation, still seem relevant to web homepages. So does the notion of the impression 'given' - that message which the presenter intends to communicate about him/herself and is consciously monitoring - and that 'given off' - the impression which others form from the non-intentional aspects of the self and how it appears. The boundary between 'given' and 'given off' is not fixed: it depends on sensitivity and self-monitoring. The higher one's awareness of how one is being received and how one's behaviour is influencing one's reception, the more one's presentation is in the area of 'given' rather than 'given off'. Traditionally, masters need little sensitivity or self-monitoring: they may feel that they have the power to assume that their 'given' selves will be accepted, or at least tolerated. Those in less powerful positions have more to fear from what is 'given off'. That is not to say that what is 'given off' is necessarily negative or devaluing. In the case quoted above, the "personal mode of communication" and way of "getting things across" would probably give a positive impression of the person presented, which could be 'given off' by someone less aware of metacommunication than our respondent. The point is, though, that for those less powerful, the 'given off' mode is a dangerous one because, since it is not controlled, it cannot be kept safe. One way of reducing the danger is through high levels of sensitivity and self-monitoring, as we've said, and another is by reducing the range (and richness) of what is communicated, so that what remains is more easily controlled, and gives less purchase for alternative interpretations. We believe that we have seen both these strategies in the choices academic women make about their webpages.
The traditional literature on interpersonal relationships (Argyle 1967, Coates 1996) established long ago that women and people with relatively low status or power use self-monitoring of linguistic, paralinguistic and body language signals to 'manage' social interactions, usually in ways that maintain prevailing assumptions about roles and relationships. Cultural or institutional expectations concerning gender roles play their part in providing the framework for the interpretive aspects of such interactions (Baker Miller 1986, Hollway 1992, Squire 1989, Stokoe 2000, Unger & Crawford 1992).
|Perspectives from our research|
Our ongoing research and reports on gender effects in the presentation of self on personal homepages on the web began with an analysis of the differences between male- and female-authored non-institutional homepages in terms of the use of personal pronouns, photos and links (Miller & Mather 1998). Prompted by what we thought were further interesting differences to be observed in academic homepages, that study was followed by a comparison of the personal homepages of men and women academics on institutional sites (Miller and Arnold 2000a & 2000b). More recently, we conducted two qualitative studies of women academics' views about their webpages (Miller and Arnold 2001). The first of these involved interviews with ten women academics from an opportunistic sample, while the second widened the scope, starting with a web questionnaire (available at https://www.ntu.ac.uk/soc/psych/arnold/qintro.htm) which was posted for spontaneous response, though we also contacted a number of women academics whom we knew had personal homepages, and invited them to fill in the questionnaire and to refer it to other women they felt might be interested. The questionnaire itself was anonymous, but we invited respondents to contact us with their email address if they were willing to be interviewed by phone or email. In all, 35 people have now completed the questionnaire (at the time of writing: more responses come in from time to time) and 16 have contacted us for follow-up interviews, of which 12 have been completed in full, to discuss wider aspects of their use of the web as part of their academic work, as well as specific points about their own webpages. All interviews were carried out by the first author and these were mainly by phone, with a few face-to-face meetings. Most of our respondents were from the USA or the UK, and all were from Europe, North America or Australia. The richness of perspectives - from those of junior staff to those of senior directors of international programmes - reflected different cultural features of academic life, but did not hide how much was common to the experiences of these professional women over matters of presentation on the web.
Although Miller's original 1995 essay on self-presentation on the web didn't take gender into account, the experience of looking at personal homepages led to an early realisation that there were noticeable gender differences in how people presented themselves (other researchers such as Hess 2001 have been led to the same conclusion). This was so even though the web was then a new medium, and issues of gender-swapping and gender-avoidance were being noted in other aspects of CMC (Danet 1998, Stone 1991, Turkle 1995). Even in MUDs and MOOs, the fact that people are motivated to play with gender - and academics are interested in writing about it - shows that gender is still important, and affects how people communicate, even if some forms of CMC provide a certain flexibility in terms of how the differences are assigned and handled (Lawley 1993). So, although it is possible to present alternative identities on the web, as most of our work has dealt with people's 'work' websites, we expected and found rather less gender play than elsewhere, and we found no real attempts to obscure gender, though many play it down for reasons we will explore later.
One disappointment in the study of personal webpages has been how little people have exploited the possibilities offered by the medium of the web to present themselves as complex, varied and multi-faceted selves, and this is as true in academia as it is generally. There is often, of course, some institutional control imposed regarding style and content, though most academic websites show that there is quite a degree of freedom to make academic homepages 'individual'. In our interviews we discussed the choices that our respondents had made and some of the problems they faced in the decisions they took and the issues this process raised for them.
In the current edition of Mots Pluriels, one of the issues addressed is how the Internet might affect established power structures and relationships. A central theme that emerges from our work is that there is a clear power difference visible in webpages, in that men are allowed (i.e. allow themselves) more options, and women need (or believe they need) to use the web structures to validate their expertise or status. We have argued that the wider range of display that men allow themselves is shown in the use of self-pictures and the style of visuals. In our earlier studies, we found that women were less likely to put pictures of themselves on their pages than men. This is probably still true, but to a lesser extent; but what hasn't changed is men's willingness to present non-serious pictures of themselves. As will be seen in some of the following discussion based on the interview studies, academic women told us about why they don't feel that they have the freedom to do anything other than make unassuming claims and establish credibility and acceptability. Power, professionalism and academic identity are certainly all concepts that those who are using the new technologies seem to be dealing with in one way or another.
|Academia and cyberspace|
There are several reasons why we chose to study academic homepages in order to discuss the psychology of the presentation of self on the web. Firstly, as far as we were concerned, the world of academia was one we already knew something about, and therefore we could explore the topic with those we consulted from a shared position and in line with radical and feminist views on the use of qualitative methodologies in psychology (Banister et al 1994, Burman 1990, Wilkinson 1986). That is, we recognised the personal and professional challenges and issues being raised, and as creators and participants in academic culture and values, economic structures, political framework, social communications and interactions, we were keen to understand what was happening as academics identified themselves on personal homepages.
Secondly, somewhat like the so-called 'virtual' realm of cyberspace, academia is also typically contrasted with the 'real world' - it is a place where people are supposedly free to study, share and comment on ideas, regardless of patronage and commercial interests and values. Over the last thirty years academia has been in a continual and revolutionary process of political and ideological reconceptualisation and change, so we need to keep looking at the state and nature of the institutions if we are to actively contribute to the directions in which these changes are taking us. With the increasing use of on-line teaching and distance learning, and in anticipation of further developments in the notion of the Virtual University, academic life and our place within it is clearly going to alter further. We could see that it was important to begin to understand people's concepts of what it is that we do in these new spaces, and what it means (and will mean) to be an academic in this context. From within the academy there have certainly been attempts to resist revisions that do not seem to be bringing positive benefits to students, teachers, researchers or society (Fox & Prilleltensky 1997, Holzman 1999, Kenway & Langmead 2000, Newman & Holzman 2000, Sloan 2000).
However, one important and neglected question in relation to these new understandings about what we think we are/should be doing concerns the deep-seated gender issues in the academy. We found well-qualified women who were contributing to the life of the academic world, yet who felt that they were having difficulties in being recognised as wholly part of their institutions and as time-served mistresses of their craft. What we think our research indicates is that apart from the political issues about advancement (or lack of it) for women within the academy, there are identity issues too. Some women have discovered that they can look to the web for connections, to share knowledge and to gain support concerning the authenticity of their identity in academia.
Finally, it seemed that the metaphor of 'apprentices and masters' chosen for this edition of Mots Pluriels could depict the relations between those who are securely part of the (patriarchal) academic establishment, and who have the hegemonic power to assume that things are to be seen and understood in terms of the way they create or write about them, and those who cannot make such assumptions. What we are arguing is that the web may allow changes to take place in terms of power distribution, because communication and access to communication enables 'apprentices' to position themselves differently in relation to 'masters' and to take action in new ways. The web is a tool that freely offers opportunities such as instant world-wide publication. This could perhaps enable shifts in patterns of autonomy and power in the academic workplace, and give apprentices the chance to assert a sense of identity that is not restricted by the financial considerations, monitoring exercises like the British Research Assessment Exercise, or other institutional constraints.
So it would seem that the establishing of a web presence (with work not yet published in paper journals or 'work in progress' as part of this burgeoning identity) would be something of particular value to the apprentice academic, who can exploit the new medium to find a place among others and engage in the development of ideas through sharing. Of course the conventional pathways to success and the traditional stages and platforms for recognition of worth and the maintenance of standards are not threatened by the additional possibilities for those who wish to find their own 'voice'. Rather, those without much power often find ways to live semi-independently in the backyard of the institution. As one young academic from Sweden put it:
|Women academics on the web|
The web as a space has been depicted as having a theatrical potential (Danet 1998, Turkle 1995) for people to present ideas, visions and interpretations of their work and research. It is not,however, an empty stage merely waiting for actors. Those women academics who venture to have a presence there do so with an awareness that if it is to have meaning for them as part of their professional lives, they need to address cultural (and gender) issues no differently than they would on the 'real' side of the screen. The women to whom we talked could see how it might be worth the struggle to make web culture a less prejudicial or discriminatory place, yet as one respondent recognised, as in all other places, there is competition for the limelight and leading roles: "It's very important to keep [a] profile even though blokes are trying to dominate the web".
There were four particular issues raised by women which we think show the nature and range of matters that have a wider significance for understanding the relationships between masters, mistresses - and some apprentices - in academia. Firstly, our respondents had reservations over where and how to draw the boundary between the public and personal in establishing an identity that could both communicate about work and reflect something about themselves. They showed reticence about revealing too much, as this could conflict with maintaining a professional and credible presence: "I want to present my personal self alongside my professional self [but there is] an issue about the distance between [the] personal boundary and the public". Women might not be able to deal with this matter comfortably, as many men apparently do. For example, as one respondent remarked: "People do want to relate to you as a whole person, not just as a lecturer - but it seems very invasive".
This aspect of a professional's life, which relates to being a "whole person" and also a member of a social community, will involve, as discussed earlier, having to cope with the lack of total control over the 'given' and 'given off' aspects of 'being a lecturer'. The pictures in the departmental corridor or some photographs from the student/staff social night out might for some (both men and women) seem invasive too. There are, however, additional risks for a web presence for professional women in that, even though personal details may well help others to know the context of the cultural/social/historical background to their ideas or programmes, and thus create a better sense of who is communicating with them (a factor which is highly valued in many pedagogical practices), difficulties can nevertheless arise over where to draw the lines to prevent uncomfortable exposure to traditional discriminations and social prejudices. We think that when women show caution about how they present themselves on a web homepage, this reflects a belief that personal factors may be used to judge their professionalism or the quality of their work in ways not applicable to men. We found evidence (Miller & Arnold 2000a) that men have no problem in presenting both their work and their personal lives with mocking self-deprecation, using pictures of themselves engaged in macho activities such as riding the rapids, or as unattractive nerds; by comparison, ironic 'fluffy feminine' images were only very occasionally used by women. One category of picture that frequently appears on men's sites is the 'joke self-portrait', with the subject pulling a horrible face, or in strange and atypical dress, or falling down drunk, or with the face strangely framed or cropped. In all our studies, we found very few examples of pictures like this on women's pages. This is probably not because women are incapable of self-mockery, but rather because men can be more confident of their public acceptability, and so feel that self-mockery does them little harm. Perhaps men don't have to overcome the same prejudices linking credibility with the way they look, and don't feel the need to reassure others that they are appropriately qualified and competent when they present themselves on their web homepages.
A second and related main issue for women was that of power - and powerlessness. Concerns were expressed at various levels, but arose for many when it came to making particular choices about the style and content of their webpages. Examples included decisions about whether or not to have a photograph and if so, which one; about having traditionally feminine layout styles; and if working in sensitive areas of research like child abuse, the risks associated with jeopardising funding through mentioning sexual orientation. We found it telling that women tended to make a great effort to use traditional markers of professionalism as a means of assuring positive judgements about acceptability: "I tried to give both myself and my research as much credibility as possible by making us both appear professional". Similarly, insecurity about being regarded as worthy was expressed by this respondent: "I was particularly careful not to include personal information as that only makes it easier for visitors to discount my professional persona".
It is clear, then, that the presentation of self for these women posed some contradictions, not least because of the power - or lack of power - they felt they had to make claims about themselves (Breakwell 1983, Gilligan 1982). This was true, whatever their actual status (high or low) in academia, and our respondents were often very definite, even adamant, that it was necessary to take care over the choices they made about what to include or exclude, and the impressions that might be created. Even at the risk of reinforcing outmoded gender assumptions, women made these choices in order to be intelligible (Bruner 1992, Shotter & Gergen 1989) and to make their claim for acceptability and authenticity in traditional ways recognisable to both men and women. We know that to be acceptable in academia requires one to be adequately qualified, to have appropriate experience and peer-recognised publications, and to present all that information in a suitably academic structure. We would argue, though, that acceptability depends also on dominant - usually male, establishment - ideas about roles to be played, and we contend that the differences outlined above reflect real-life sources of potential discrimination that cannot be hidden by the hypertext nature of the web. It seems that women may not want to risk giving in to the temptation to experiment too openly with the apparent freedom and equality of the medium. One respondent commented:
This last remark raises a third, intertwined issue, namely the threat to our identities from the perceptions others might have of our appearance. Unsurprisingly, this was expressed most strongly when women discussed their decisions about the use of a photo. The awareness of abusive objectification and the dominant cultural effect of the male gaze on women's self-portraiture has been commented on by critics across all disciplines of the visual arts, photography, film, television and advertising (Chadwick 1990, Crowley & Himmelweit 1992, Gamman & Marshment 1988, Hawthorne & Klein 1999, Nochlin 1989, Unger & Crawford 1992). The resulting psychological effects on both men and women in regard to the construction of gendered identity is too vast a subject to be explored here, but the comments of our respondents reflected some of the ways in which they dealt with the assumptions that lie behind the problems of 'gaze'. In our first interview-based study, for example, one or two women commented on the notorious webpage "Babes on the Web", where photos submitted by women were rated on their attractiveness by distant observers. (See Kibby 1997 for a useful discussion of the implications of this webpage.) The 'fun' of this activity has obviously lost some of its appeal as it no longer exists in its original form, but a sexist and pornographic culture still exists, and for women to be looked at raises all the worst fears of the public 'for-all-the-world-to-see' aspect of the web. The public presentation of self and identity always carries the potential for embarrassment and humiliation, but for professional academic women, the posting of a photo may make claims to respectability, credibility and authority a matter of boundaries controlled by distant others.
It is a feature of our society that men generally do not have to take account of these negative cultural aspects of the presentation of self in the same way. When a man engages in self-presentation, indicating who and what he is, it is usually in terms of a 'looking out' rather than a 'to be looked at' persona (van Zoonen 1994). Mickey Hess has recently lent support to this idea; and one of his interview respondents summarises the dilemma for women in this way:
For this person, it is feared that the 'what I'm like' might override the 'what I am' of her professional identity. The idea that identity can be threatened has been explored by Glynis Breakwell (1983), who discusses how people experience a threat to their sense of self when they feel there is a mismatch between their subjective perceptions of themselves (who they are) and the categories of identity that others might use to label them (what they are).
A further recognition of the power of socially-constructed interpretations is revealed in the strong assertions made by some that the web should have merely an informational function. When for example one of our interviewees said: "It's my programme that's important - not what I look like", or another remarked: "We are never going to change anything if we let personal appearance affect what people want to make of what I do, or [...] my work", they were assertively rejecting the emphasis placed on women's photos. How then do women who wish to include a picture show themselves as professional? We found in all our research that a common response was to resort to the obvious and least demanding choice of image, as in the case of one respondent who indicated candidly:
This resorting to the standard 'mug shot' underlines the fact that society often requires us to be identifiable, whether it's on our passport, library ticket or as 'part of the team' on the institutional website. The point is that it should be a matter of concern to the academy that some of its members still have to struggle to find a way of portraying 'what I am' without the 'what I'm like' contradicting it, or incurring censure for their work or programmes. These difficulties raise the fourth and final key issue: the nature of institutional inequality.
When gender is used as a category, it can both conceal and express an underlying struggle for equality. Our observations of webpages and our conversations with women academics reveal several implications for such equality. What would a non-discriminatory gendered performance of self look like? In what voice could we speak in a cultural environment that would allow women to present themselves without fear of this affecting their credibility?
In the developing critique of cyberspace, people have taken various stances in regard to expectations and opportunities for women (Gauntlett in press, Kenway & Langmead 2000, Plant 1997). The radical feminist cyborg (Haraway 1991, Hawthorn & Klein 1999) might be contrasted with the position of someone concerned with support and the practical sharing of information (Harcourt 1999, Henwood et al 2001). We found that idealistic expectations for the web to be free of the old boundaries, and to allow a common position from which all could speak, seemed increasingly unnecessary to many of the women to whom we spoke (see the useful critique of women's autobiographical literature, including Haraway's work, in Smith 1993). One psychology colleague saw the main function of the web as permitting constructive communication, and rejected the need for a categorical approach:
This discussion merely hints at possible directions for future conversations. Certainly, at any rate, further debate about cultural diversity, and the positioning and conceptualisations of women in cyberspace, is needed, and from as many disciplines as possible, if we are to challenge oppression and inequality of access to privilege, without losing valued differences.
|The same old gender plot?|
We have found, then, that the gender plot has not changed much, and that the web is by no means a theatre free from the usual cultural, non-universal, embodied specificities. One of our respondents who, echoing so many others, said that she wanted her webpage to present her female identity in a way that "did not undermine [her] academic credibility" was expressing the problem in terms that rarely seem to be used by male academics. It is unfortunate that we live in a society where a representation of 'being female' risks undermining credibility - while 'being male' would not. In addressing equality issues many women are attempting to balance the need to avoid pomposity and pretension, and to distance themselves from stereotypical categorisation, while simultaneously attempting to maintain their dignity and create an authentic picture. As one young but senior academic put it:
Over the years, psychological literature has moved from attempting to discover and describe simplistic differences between men and women towards understanding how we use different social constructs to develop a sense of gendered identity, and it is in these terms that we see what is happening here (Hollway 1992, Stokoe 2000).
|So, what are women doing with the web?|
What we have argued so far is that, from the perspectives of our respondents, cyberspace is neither a medium to 'master', nor a place to escape to as an alternative to 'real life', free from the constraints imposed by day-to-day existence. Rather, for most interviewees it is part of the usual business of finding ways to develop their work and juggle it with other aspects of life. We found examples of positive, constructive and practical uses of the web, and women trying to 'speak out' in ways that others would recognise. As the following quote illustrates, identity on the web is not entirely an individual matter: "The point of establishing who we are is for discovering like minded people - we are always reinventing ourselves".
The idea of the collective even in academia is of course not new, and both women and men have quickly realised the potential of a 'web presence' to help them make contact with others who share their values and interests. The quote below picks up on many of the points that we think are constructive and, above all, adaptive in women's approaches to dealing with the opportunities presented by the new technology:
Another respondent, who had a slightly different perspective on this situation, claimed: "I don't want to present myself as so individualistic [...] about my career [...]. It breaks the rule to step out as an individual - women are used to the culture of the collective and the group".
There is an ongoing debate within feminism over the best approach to transforming existing power relations, and we believe that our explorations have been illustrative of one aspect of this struggle. There are initiatives in which women are taking responsibility to try to develop processes and technical skills to enable interdisciplinary work and the use of alternative women-friendly or feminist methodologies (Henwood et al 2001). Some of our respondents seemed very determined to create webpages that matched their principles and reflected their ambitions for the technology to be useful: "I don't want to have too fancy software that can't be opened - surely the whole feminist critique of technology would be that you think: 'Hey, let's make this accessible!'". It is still a challenge, however, to bring out the benefits of reflexive practices, and to develop ways of being an academic that do not contradict feminist values or radical approaches:
|What about masters, mistresses and apprentices?|
Women starting out in an academic career are apprentices along with their male colleagues, but even when they have served their time and presented their theses, they may not quite become journey(wo)men or mistresses - let alone masters. Power relations between apprentice and master have never only been about skills acquisition or even serving time. To enter the Guild was also to be trustworthy - and trusted - enough to assume responsibility for the guardianship of the mysteries of the arts and crafts. The notion of credibility is a matter of trust, and women still have much to prove if they are to be acceptable, not just in terms of skills and even knowledge - but trusted to present the 'right' kind of knowledge to the world. This metaphor reverberates around the conversations we had with so many women, where on the one hand there is a struggle around the issue of being trusted, and on the other there is a painful awareness that to venture outside the Guild is possibly to risk too much, if paying the rent and raising the kids are also important to them (Henwood et al 2001). The female director of a hard-won research programme told us that she would not risk bringing attention to personal factors that might distract a web visitor from taking an interest in her work. A lack of time to deal with censure and negative reactions is a practical matter for many women. To be a member of the Guild enables valuable work to be done, where individual identity is to be based on what is done and not on who you are. To have the confidence and authority to write from a particular viewpoint (e.g. feminist, non-reductive) has been a long-fought battle in many disciplines, and our research would seem to indicate that many women think they may still be in danger of losing the political and ideological gains made thus far. Women cannot grow up in a male-dominated society, or enter an institutional culture that is based on a patriarchal ideology, without first learning the necessity of treading carefully.
Concern about the right, particularly in an institutional context, to claim the use of technologies for one's own purposes without apology is understandable. We do not want to give the impression that women assumed themselves to be less worthy as academics just because they wanted to change aspects of academic culture or capitalise on opportunities which web connections across the world afforded them. While a great deal more research and reflection is necessary in studies of cultural practices in academia, we hope and believe that there is some evidence, especially among younger women, of a sense that their academic roles are still being negotiated - and not imposed, either through traditional craft customs, or through innovative institutional initiatives based on values to which they have not agreed.
|Conclusions and further directions|
In this paper we have raised a number of issues about the role of web homepages with respect to autonomy and power in the academic workplace, and the limitations placed on women wishing to assert an identity that is not restricted by patriarchal and institutional control, nor by their own sense of the vulnerability of their professional gendered selves. From a positive perspective, we can see that there are ways to establish identities that are not so grounded in old power bases, and that the web could allow a change in modes of communication and access to communication - which might in turn make a great difference to the positions of apprentices and masters.
What will the academic apprentices do with their web spaces when they have more power and become masters and mistresses? There may firstly be a drive to discover the power of authentication through locating others of like mind, related ideology, similar style, or the same ethnicity and/or gender. Any use of the web requires negotiation of power structures in the process of conveying information and producing knowledge. Thus, power is "productive and circulatory and not static and oppressive" (Ashcroft 2000). Unfortunately, though, in the real politics of university institutional existence, knowledge and power are often treated as commodities to be 'acquired'. There is some danger that apprentices might view their work as only really having value for their 'masters' in terms of acquisition of power rather than experience of learning. On the other hand, burgeoning uses of the Internet and the web may help stem the incursion of such power schemes, associated with commercialism and capitalism, into the academy. We might hope, indeed, that the potentialities of cybertechnology will encourage people to work for common purposes rather than just for the furtherance of career opportunities.
For our activities in cyberspace to be meaningful they need to be explored as part of broader existing narratives and cultural traditions. Those who aren't masters are full of ideas and they already have voices. The web offers the potential to make communication possible between different cultures, between apprentices, between women, and between all those who are not, or not yet, masters. It is possible to view struggles on and around the web as instances of resistance rather than of victimisation. Women academics are developing awareness about aspects of research that "allow[ ] them to both accept and reject structural inequalities and to question conditions without marginalising [them]selves from opportunity" (Denner 2001: 163). Subversion requires an awareness of the normative cultural presences of masters, while seeking opportunities for outsiders to join the cultural conversations.
Writing or creating ourselves into existence is nothing new; and authenticity is always a mixture of the embodied self and the performing itself. People will continue to find ways of creating an acceptable way to be, as opportunities arise from day to day. This is not a disguise - but a guise to help in professional as well as ordinary social interactions. On-line presences will become commonplace aspects of our biography, like the ability to drive, use a washing machine or make a phone call. What we make of the opportunities offered by the new medium is up to us; will we continue to be trapped in the same old gender plot, or will we take the chance to (re)write the narrative?
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