Gender inequality is a historical problem that exists in all areas of society, which appears in the household, in the workspace, and also in academia (Huang et al.,2020). In 1914, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual conference in Australia. more than 300 of the world’s leading scientists managed to arrive, and as expected, most of them were men, with only about 11% of them being women (Sherratt, 2015). Still in Australia, about a hundred years later, at the Digital Humanities 2015 conference, in response to an all-male plenary panel that opened the conference, Professor Deb Verhoeven’s talk ‘Has Anyone Seen a Woman?’, directly pointed out the hidden gender imbalance in the digital humanities (Verhoeven,2015). It seems that the worldwide debate around gender and digital humanities has not only been, but still is, urgent.
What is Feminist Digital Humanities
As the intersection of feminism and digital humanities, Feminist Digital Humanities embraces digital and computational methods as part of its research methodology and aims to identify, explore, and justify the widespread presence of women’s work in most digital archives (Liu,2012; Wernimont, 2013). According to Hamilton and Spongberg (2017), Feminist Digital Humanities contributes to a new integration and collaboration based on women’s knowledge and interpretations.
The Women Writers Project is a good example of a Feminist Digital Humanities collection that has preserved the work of feminists and scholarlyized their efforts. The project was established by Brown University in 1986, the rapidly growing post-feminism era of feminist digital humanities, during which the main technical methods used by feminist digital humanities scholars were textual techniques, the social conditions of literature, and rhetorical analysis (Wernimont, 2013). This long-term research and publication project is focusing on making texts from early modern women writers in the English language available online. It maintains “Women Writers Online”, an electronic full-text collection of rare or difficult to obtain works written or co-authored by women from 1526 to 1850. As of 2022, the database contains 439 individual works, with around fifteen new texts being added to the collection every year. All the text-based records are publicly available online and you can download all the text metadata records for free, in the formats of MARC and MARCXML. The Feminist Digital Humanities Collection had been considered the only way to represent the history and engage with the past works of feminists.
Furthermore, with the development of feminist activism and digital humanities methodology, Feminist Digital Humanities emphasizes not only the role of women, but also feminism, and cyberfeminism in technology (Wernimont, 2015). It also addresses issues of diversity, gender and sexuality, as well as contemporary feminist awareness.
Women are rapidly dominating social media to educate people about the growth and contributions of feminism. Activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006, initially to advocate for low-income black women and girls who experience sexual harassment and assault. And in 2017, it became viral when American actress Alyssa Milano encouraged victims of sexual harassment and abuse to tweet about their experiences with #MeToo in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse allegations. Soon after Milano’s tweet, the movement crossed U.S. borders and became an international phenomenon. Sexual abuse survivors took to Twitter and other social media platforms to share their stories using this hashtag. Within a week and a half, 1.7 million #MeToo tweets were generated in over 85 countries(Lee,2018).
Harvard University’s #metoo Digital Media Collection, begun in 2017, accumulates and preserves the digital footprint of this social media-driven #metoo movement and the accompanying political, legal, and social struggles in the United States. The first version of this dataset collection contains over 32 million tweets with the #metoo hashtag or other relevant keywords, ranging from 2017 to 2020. All of the text datasets are publicly available and can be downloaded for free in txt format.
It is easy to see from these two different feminist digital humanities projects from different eras that scholars are beginning to focus not only on the remarkable work of women, but also on using feminist theory and digital technology to give voice to the self-interest of women in general and, even more, to social equality (Bailey, 2011). The full use of social networking media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has contributed to the role of digital media and devices in the rising popularity of feminist awareness. Over time, the #MeToo movement has succeeded in shifting the focus not only on gender-based harassment but also on discrimination against race, sexual orientation, colour, age and disability. Not only that, but it also brought public attention to the lack of a system for reporting sexual misconduct in the workplace. Additionally, digital humanities and digital methodologies allow us to encounter history not only in the form of tiny data but also in the form of huge metadata.
Challenges and Limitation
While feminist approaches have been identified as an important growth area in the scholarship of digital humanities (Risam, 2015), speaking of challenges and limitations, feminist digital humanities faces a set of methodological and cultural biases. The reality is that major professional conferences are known to be thematically biased toward male approaches to ‘stylometry, programming and software, image processing, and more male-dominated fields’, with women more like anonymous labour-only contributors behind the scenes (Bianco, 2015). There is also a strange disconnect between digital humanities and feminist engagement. For example, several major digital humanities projects that are now at the forefront of the field had feminist imperatives at the outset (e.g. The Women Writers Project, The Orlando Project, and The Dickinson Archive), while Wernimont (2015) indicates that there has been no sustained inquiry into the evolving relationship between feminist theory and digital humanities work.
Overall, digital technologies support a space where gender, race, class, sexuality, and other axes of identity are actively constructed (Arvidsson and Foka, 2015), the digital humanities have countless possibilities for intersection with various disciplines. With its support, there is a greater need for scholars to conduct impactful and sustainable research by using digital technologies in conjunction with contemporary social contexts.
Arvidsson, V. and Foka, A., 2015. Digital gender: Perspective, phenomena, practice. First Monday.
Bailey, M.Z., 2011. All the digital humanists are white, all the nerds are men, but some of us are brave. Journal of Digital Humanities, 1(1), pp.1-1.
Bianco, J., 2015. Man and His Tool, Again? Queer and Feminist Notes on Practices in the Digital Humanities and Object Orientations Everywhere. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 9(2).
Hamilton, P. and Spongberg, M., 2017. Twenty Years On: feminist histories and digital media. Women’s History Review, 26(5), pp.671-677.
Huang, J., Gates, A.J., Sinatra, R. and Barabási, A.L., 2020. Historical comparison of gender inequality in scientific careers across countries and disciplines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(9), pp.4609-4616.
Lee, B.H., 2018. # Me Too movement; it is time that we all act and participate in transformation. Psychiatry investigation, 15(5), p.433.
Liu, A.Y., 2012. Where is cultural criticism in the digital humanities? (pp. 490-509). eScholarship, University of California.
Risam, R., 2015. Introduction: Gender, Globalization, and the Digital.
Sherratt, T., 2015. Unremembering the forgotten. Keynote, DH2015.
Verhoeven, D., 2015. “Be More Than Binary.”
Wernimont, J. and Flanders, J., 2010. Feminism in the age of digital archives: the Women Writers Project. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 29(2), pp.425-435.
Wernimont, J., 2013. “Whence Feminism? Assessing Feminist Interventions in Digital Literary Archives”. Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations.
Wernimont, J.,2015. “Introduction to Feminisms and DH special issue.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 9, no.2 http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/2/000217/000217.html