Elements of risk and safety - empowerment
“The most important factor Online for women is control of their discourse and identity.” (Scott, 1998).
As I have stated previously my interest in these sites lies in the fact that Webcams are attractive because they offer women strong elements of risk yet at the same time, elements of safety. They address the desire for the freedom of discourse that women want to experience on the Net - some ‘Camgirls’ have no interaction with people that visit their site - yet their journals and the cams allow them a strong sense of personal expression: The elements of safety built into the technology largely protect them. They have a level of anonymity in the Offline world yet reveal their intimate private life on the Net:
“Control of the transaction, whether writer and reader or Webcam subject and viewer is paramount, and it is a key reason that most diarists of both kinds are women…Journalling is a confiding act, and as such probably comes easier to women than to men in our society but without the Web’s built-in security features it is doubtful that so many women would be comfortable exposing their minds and bodies Online. A web address gives no reliable clues about the physical address and a camera that is turned on can as easily be turned off. That exercise of power over the technology and the mostly male viewers is one that some (Webcam) journalling women clearly enjoy…” (Green, 1998).
In rare instances elements of the control over the technology are occasionally transgressed. A hacker broke into Jennifer Ringley’s site and replaced all the images with images of dismembered corpses (Humphreys, 1998).
However, when images of women are presented Online the potential freedoms that are found in text-based forms of CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) no longer exist. Firth warns that: “digital cameras destroy anonymity ...you cannot “gender fuck” or escape the rules of attractiveness that favor the young, thin, and the rich…” (Firth, 1998).
With text based CMC there was for a time a certain level of freedom that came with the territory of anonymity yet as Lisa Gerrard posits: with Webcams: “The body was back - well, two-dimensionally, but still you could send an image of your physical self over the wires - so we’re back now where we started: as in the pre-network days, a women’s body defines her. She has to decide whether to put her picture on her personal Website: if she is pretty, will she be taken seriously as a professional? if she is young or old will she be taken seriously at all? if she wears makeup will someone think she’s on the make? what if she is thin or fat? The fact that so much of our culture has moved Online makes no difference: Online or off we live in a world that has trouble seeing past a woman’s body.”
By publishing their image on the Web 24 hours/7 days a week these Webgirls are taking a risk - they are risking that their images will be used to satiate male desire. They are risking their image being downloaded and attached to Websites such as “Toupes Babes then rated by the number of hits they receive.” (Blair/Takayoshi,1999). Yet one of the aspects of risk-taking commented on throughout my interviews is that it is creative, dynamic and most of all exciting. By living life on the Web these women are empowering themselves and offering at the same time a vibrant image of resistance to the cosmetic image of women portrayed in traditional Offline mass media:
These sites: “...attempt to emphasize characteristics of strength, self esteem and intelligence…For CyberGrrls everywhere, the Web offers the potential for openly rewriting oneself in resistance to the narrow image of women as the weaker sex….She can reach even farther and touch the peoples of the world with an action as simple as publishing her own homepage…” (Blair/Takayoshi, 1999).
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