with Miss M. and Meike Schmidt-Gleim
at Public Netbase Media~Space!
on the occasion of her presentation, "Cyberflesh: World Wide White Wash"
on 28 April 1997
Miss M.: Could you tell us a bit about what you do?
Anne Balsamo: Well, I'm a Professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Georgia Tech is historically an engineering institute, so pretty much what is does is it trains engineers, but over the last twenty years, it has branched out into other academic fields. Primarily in business, which in some perspectives isn't much of a branching out at all. They also need arts and letters and humanities. The program I teach in is the humanities program. It is called the School of Literature, Communication and Culture. At Georgia Tech, my position is that I am a Professor of Literature, Communication and Culture. Although it is in three disciplines, it is all in one department.
It is a cultural studies program that focuses on cultural studies of science and technology. We cut into the broad field of cultural studies with a focus on the history of science, new media and communication technologies. The things I teach at Tech in the undergraduate program are courses in science, technology and gender, and science, technology and race. In the graduate level, I teach in the program on information design and technology. The courses I do in that area are communication and culture courses, and new media studies courses. I am the Director of the Masters program. It is a program which trains people to be multimedia designers and web designers, multimedia project managers, and so on.
That is my institutional identity. It is one that I have morphed into after several re-inventions. I started in a Ph.D. program in organizational theory and moved into a Ph.D. program in mass communications. Then I went to Georgia Tech and started working more in science and technology and new media, and now I'm also doing multimedia. It has been one kind of shift after another.
Now, here is where I am. I do more multimedia than I thought I would ever do. I do things like different kinds of multimedia projects and I work on students' projects, usually as a coordinator/manager. There have been projects I have been involved in under the guise of new media studies. I've been interested in doing actual multimedia work because I think that if you used to do media studies in the US, you would focus on radio, television or film. Often times, you would have production experience in radio or television, or you knew how to shoot films. Now, as we move into new media studies, our focus is not radio, television and film. It really picks up with maybe interactive television a bit, but it really moves into the Web and internet-based and CD-ROM kind of phenomena. I've been trying to get production experience in the new media, not because I was trained in that but because, as someone focusing on that, it is incumbent upon me to have more production experience.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: So that is combining the practical with the theoretical?
Anne Balsamo: Yes. In fact, that is a real struggle for us to combine the practical with the theoretical because our students only want to do practical stuff. They don't want to be bothered with theory. I can't get them to read anything to save my soul. On the other hand, I keep telling them that you will design better if you have an interesting question to work on. What theory does is it helps you ask interesting questions. Not that it is going to help you know exactly how to design a button differently. The only textual thing they seem interested in is what will help them design better. I get on their case by saying that I am not interested in helping them design buttons, I am interested in helping you think more critically about what you are doing, about why you should have a button in the first place. We go back and forth on that. They will go out and be multimedia web masters who sometimes fail to see the importance of critical work.
Miss M.: But maybe that is because Georgia Tech initially had been a technical school which had been concentrating on engineering and technical aspects in the first place.
Anne Balsamo: They are much more hands-on and pragmatic, which is good and they do really interesting stuff. The faculty don't have the same kind of production background that the students do. If they can run rings around us in production, what we contribute to this is that we require them to read the theory and we require them to reflect critically on the kind of projects they do. So it is a little bit of a tussle.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: So sometimes in the practical things they know more than you do.
Anne Balsamo: Oh, yes. But the question is whether it is really important to know the shortcuts in Photoshop. My point is that you can animate your site within an inch of its life, or within a pixel of its life, but that doesn't answer why you are doing the site in the first place, or why people would visit your site. As we are seeing now, more bell and whistles, and more animated gifs. That does not make a site more compelling. What makes a site compelling is the angle, or the content or the topic, the focus. The eye candy part of it is not what is going to bring people back.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: What do you think of your reception in the feminist field?
Anne Balsamo: That's a good question. The reception falls into two categories. One is the category that says, "Why are you doing this?" This is a privileged domain, this isn't the kind of feminist work we should be doing, we should be working on much more grounded projects such as technological literacy, or getting computers in the hands of underserved populations. Doing things like talking about web design or doing postmodern theory as it has to do with digital aesthetics seems from that angle pretty esoteric and pretty non-political and not grounded. That is a long-standing feminist critique of many things including the whole project of theory in general. When you couple that with a fascination or involvement with high technology, it makes sense that we would be criticized on those grounds.
But there is another group of feminists, young women who are either very fascinated with technology, or don't know necessarily how to use it but are eager to learn. There are a number of women, and a number of men who would call themselves feminists, who are interested in the use of new media precisely for feminist topics or feminist concerns. It might be how to do a web site for the Georgia Commission on Women and how you can gather information on the services for women in the state of Georgia in one place so you can access the information like a database. Or they are interested in what kind of web sites would women design that would be informed by feminist or a feminine aesthetics.
There is another group of feminists who are intensely fascinated and very interested in the implications of this new stuff.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: Perhaps we could come to your theoretical work. You focus on the consequences of new technologies on power relations in societies. Which kind of new technologies do you have in mind? Is it communications technologies?
Anne Balsamo: I come to an interest in the communications technologies through the book . I started investigating the first technological scene that I got interested in which was body building. In some respects, it is the most organic kind of body technology and the least invasive in the sense that it is not like cosmetic surgery which cuts into the flesh. I started investing technologies with the most grounded material and least invasive, and moved through different topics and different technological scenes until I ended up in midst of studying on-line communication and the gendered aspects of that. It was from there that I started looking at and being interested in new media in general. By "media", I don't just mean things like on-line communication. But right when I was looking at that, the World Wide Web just kind of sprung to the fore and people started getting interested in that: Web-based things, interactive TV, interactive installations, interactive films, virtual reality arcades that are more embodied than the earlier applications.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: Do you recognized any similar implications for these new technologies?
Anne Balsamo: I think there are similarities. Here are all these new technologies but they often end up telling the same old stories. They are supposed to be revolutionary and make new experiences possible, whether they are experience of the body, or experiences of space, or experiences of different landscapes and so on. It seems that if you hang in there or you participate or you use them, the narratives that slowly accumulate are the same old stories. The same stories about men and women interacting, or the relationship of or thinking about the body. I have been really intrigued by the fact that, although these are new technologies which should allow us all kinds of creative possibilities, the evidence of creativity is far and few in between. Every now and then you will see an insight or a flash of doing something different with the technology, but for the most part, they end up being the same old thing.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: Do you recognize the possibility of more creativity within these new technologies than with technologies we are more used to, for example, the telephone?
Anne Balsamo: I think there are definitely more creative possibilities with these new technologies such as the development of web sites or of virtual reality and so on. That may actually help us think differently about older technologies such as the telephone, or video or TV.
Miss M.: Couldn't it be that whenever we use technologies or machines, it is about imagination? The question is whether our imagination changes quickly enough, or changes to the extent that what we do with these technologies is different from what we do with a fridge, for example.
Anne Balsamo: I think we use technologies based on what we know and what we can already imagine. But there is a sense in which technologies, especially these new ones, offer the means for new possibilities. They are tools of a sense, though they are not neutral tools, but they are tools to make new things available and to make new things happen. The interaction between a certain sensibility and a set of new tools would yield more novel phenomena than I think I have seen. They are hyped as if they are the newest and best thing since white bread and that they are going to deliver democracy. That promise of the technology which is built into every technology, whether it is the telegraph or the telephone, would have us believe that this is the breakthrough tool that will finally deliver us from whatever impoverished state into whatever enlightened state we should aspire to.
That is, in part, what I react to. I don't think so. That doesn't seem to be what is happening. The people who could be more creative with these new technologies, like the artists and younger people who haven't been so inculcated into a system of thinking, aren't necessarily the ones who have access. There is creative potential but the people most positioned to have the imagination or the imaginative resources to think differently with the tools are not the ones who have access to it. It is the people in the institutions.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: Your writing presents a rather pessimistic view on changes generated by new technologies. Why is it that you think that, on the one hand, traditional power relations are rather re-enforced than dissolved by the new technologies and, on the other, that they do have potentials? How is this paradox resolved?
Anne Balsamo: That is a good question and that will take me into some theoretical ground, so bear with me. I don't reside there in terms of my intellectual life but I have a pretty strong opinion about this. My project, whether it has been body building or cosmetic surgery or the Web itself, has been trying to investigate how these technologies have been taken up and the way in which they work and the way they function institutionally. That means, what are the institutions which determine the use of these technologies, what are the institutions that invest these technologies with meaning? When I looked at the institutional configuration of various technologies, what I found was that the institutional arrangements were very conservative, that they were reproductive relations, meaning that the technologies were being used to reproduce the power system that was already underlying the institutional structure.
That is not surprising given what we know about how institutions function and the nature of capitalism and so on. The reason I was interested in teasing out what institutional forces set things up and stitch the meanings of these technologies in place is because I think that that is the only way you can get insight into how you can change the use of the technologies and do things differently. If you are as interested as I am in making these technologies do other things, it is not enough for me to go into gyms and start using body building technologies and think somehow that because of my will or my intention, the technologies are going to do different things for me than it has done for every other woman who has ever done it. In fact, to change the meaning of the technology means that you have go t to intervene in the institutional relations which structure the meaning of the technology. That will have different implications for different technologies.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: It is not the technology itself but the institutions?
Anne Balsamo: That's right. It's the combination. Access to technology itself is not going to make that technology be different. Changing the institutional matrix within which the technology is embedded is much more of a hopeful possibility. We've seen it happen in the USA where people think that if you just give children of a lower economic class computers, that will solve their problems and they will now become technologically literate. And they are not going to use drugs and not going to get pregnant.
This was the idea behind the"Give Them All the Power" book by Newt Gingrich. That is ridiculous because the technology is not a panacea. The technology in and of itself is not going to be meaningful to people for whom the entire situation in which they are in does not render the technology useful. Even if you were to go in and do job training on the technology, what are you training them for? What kinds of jobs are you training them for that are not supported by the educational system that they are required to go through, that are not supported by the community values that they hold, that are not supported by the families that they are part of?
The point is that the technology cannot transform things if you do not also transform the institutions that support the use or the meaning of the technologies.
Miss M.: And develop the technology itself because that is also a very important part of it.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: With the internet, I can understand your point if you change the content, you can change the technology and the power relations. But with genetic technology, for example, in what way can this technology be changed? Isn't it that the power relations are so intrinsically embedded in the technology?
Miss M.: Genetic engineering is a very specific thing because it is unlike any other technology as it is embedded in our will for the perfect.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: But take cosmetic surgery. You change your face according to traditional imaginations of what makes a beautiful woman.
Anne Balsamo: That is interesting because I do not talk about genetic technology for the very reasons that, one, I do not know about the science of genetics to navigate that terrain, to know if there is really any possibility to do something different with it or if it is in-built into the logic of the science itself that what they are striving for is a scary proposition. I wonder about it a lot. I know there are groups that contest the human geno-diversity project on political grounds and just say that under no circumstances shall this science continue. I also know that there is no way that that decision will ever be made because the only thing that is technologically impossible is to say no to technology.
Miss M.: I think this has a lot do do with the fact that, for some strange reason, technology is always connected to mythologies in some abstract sense. It is always about our imagination of what we want to be and what we want to do. As you were saying, it always ends up being the same thing. Is that because people's imaginations, thinking and goals don't change as quickly as the technologies? With genetic technology, I have a feeling that it is such as religious question. Do we want a perfect person or don't we? There is no in-between. It is incredibly horrid for people to say yes or no. I am incredibly ambivalent. It is such a religious question.
Anne Balsamo: At its core, because it is about the definition of what is human and what is not. It is not just about the shape of human beings and what are we going to look like, which is cosmetic surgery, rather what are we going to be. It will be very interesting to watch what will happen in the post-cloning era. Look at what happened with the whole outrage in the USA: Clinton called for a scientific panel on cloning and there were lots of people calling for the absolute ban and they wanted right away a statement saying that you cannot clone a human being. Up till now, people assumed that cloning was going to happen so far into the future, that we would have plenty of time. Well, guess what? It happened in 1997. The problem is that now any statement prohibiting the cloning of human beings is almost beside the point because there is probably somebody out there already working on it. If they are not doing it in the US, they could be doing it somewhere else. And they probably are. We have not seen the last of the controversies about this.
Miss M.: There is an interesting phrase you mention in your book, and it is taken from the book by Pat Cadigan, "Sinners" : "Change for the machines?" What is your interpretation of it? There are many ways of looking at the phrase, for example, either humans changes to work better with machines, or we change machines to work better with us. What is your point of view?
Anne Balsamo: Have you read "Sinners"? Originally, it means, "Do you have any change for the vending machine?" It is a commentary on the fact that all the characters have changed to adapt to the machines that are prevalent in her cosmology. One of the things I wonder about is, in the era of the cyborg, have we so accepted the idea of the machine as part of or constitutive of our identity that we have already morphed or changed for the machines such that now we are already thinking of ourselves as co-terminus with the machines instead of sitting outside of the machines? I am certainly an acolyte of Donna Harraway's and I still would rather be a cyborg than a goddess. I am with her on that one, but I wonder what that means. What about us has changed that we would invite the machine in or start to live comfortably with the machine?
If you look at daily life, we live comfortably with machines. Maybe there isn't any going back, but can you actually think about the possibility that we could make a different kind of decision, that we could change yet differently? Not change back but could there be change in such a different way that we don't continue being excessively reliant on machines?
Miss M.: I did interview with Pat Cadigan about a year ago and asked her the same question: "Do you think that the notion of progress is so important to us and to the whole of Western culture that there is no way of saying 'Stop'?" She said, "No, I think there will always be curiosity and curiosity will always bring about ways of people dealing with certain things." Do you think there should be an end to developing technologies?
Anne Balsamo: You mean an end in the sense of a horizon that we aim for?
Miss M.: Yes, or maybe the whole discussion about genetic engineering. Do you think there should be a point where we say, "Now is enough. Now we have done enough and we should go any further"? This leads us to the question of the technologization of an entire society: do you think it is a danger or should we go on doing what we are doing?
Anne Balsamo: If you think about the fact that we go on doing what we do without much reflection, that is probably going to continue. What I would advocate is, if we are going to go on doing what we do, we are going to have to be more reflective about what we do. It is probably a fallback to a belief in the power of reflectiveness and the notion that if you can reflect on what you are doing, then those are actual choices, and if you are actually making choices, then you can be held accountable for the consequences of those choice. Versus just saying we should keep on doing what we are doing. That feels like the agency of transformation isn't resting with us and is resting out there. I don't want to advocate that we don't continue doing what we are doing in the sense of exploring new technological developments and doing science, but that we become more reflective about what we are doing and make more obvious those aims, like to sit and think about genetic engineering--"why are we doing this?"
Well, there are multiple aims: there are the benevolent aims and there are the malevolent aims. The problem is that nobody talks about the malevolent aims. It is the function of criticism is to say, "If we could find the gene for cancer we could cure it, but on the other hand, thus and such could happen." If the two possibilities were made more explicit, our hopefulness as well as our fear, then we can say we can pursue this, though it is likely to usher in a new era of eugenics. Then I think people can be held accountable for those things and we can make more informed decisions about whether we want to continue on with that. Whereas now, I think we continue on just because we keep hoping, in the idealistic sense.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: But the thing is that now that we are already prostheses to our machines, how can we distance ourselves from the machines and the developments surrounding them? We may already regard ourselves as machines, as we can see in language, for example.
Anne Balsamo: I guess by recognizing our multiple natures and by recognizing to what extent we have become perverted by the machines.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: Your text emphasizes the material of our bodies. Perhaps the material will bring us back to the material.
Anne Balsamo: Well, the strident emphasis is on the material aspects of these technologies is because when I hear people hype the technologies, that is what gets left out and that is what gets obscured. It is not only the impact it has on the material bodies of the users, but also how the technologies are built on the labor of laboring bodies in ways that, if you take a look at it, are pretty disturbing in terms of silicone sweatshops and the global division of high-tech labor. Those were issues which Marxists and feminists used to be concerned about. When everybody got post-modernism, those issue went by the wayside.
Miss M.: Is that your criticism on post-modernism?
Anne Balsamo: Yes, and this isn't an original criticism at all but, in its fascination with the textual, it abandons the materiality of everyday life. In that are its seeds of its apoliticism: it ends up making politics an issue of representation rather than politics as an issue of the lived body in specific geo-political-national situations, grounded politics. I think that the politics of representation have been very interesting and have yielded some really sharps kind of insights but that is not all that politics is.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: What role does money play in this scenario?
Anne Balsamo: Money is very important. I am going to talk about that one in my paper on the politics of webcasting and how all these corporate agents are just fascinated with the World Wide Web and webcasting and so on. The kind of equipment required to do robust webcasting is still pretty expensive and out of the reach of desktop designers and artists and so on. The economic basis of new technologies is still troubling to me. In the US, it is very difficult for artists to get their hands on this kind of equipment. There is a group call "Public Domain" who want to do what you've done here in the sense that they want to make a available for artists in Atlanta and in the South. They haven't been able to come up with a material space like this, but they have a virtual space. They have a web site and an electronic domain that is being served off of Emory University's server and the only reason they got that is that one of their members is a computer operator at Emory and he is doing it actually pretty clandestinely. If the University knew it.... The powers within the university are pretty ignorant.
Miss M.: Yes, it is a very difficult situation and even here, where every politician in Austria has the word "telecommunication" on their lips. We only got this space a few months ago and they are nice and they pat us on the back, but basically, there is no money for it. I think that that is interesting that, on one hand, people realize that it is important to have people experiment with technology. Even from a simple economic point of view, you need people to test it and to experiment...
Anne Balsamo: ...because you never know where the next Netscape is going to come from...
Miss M.: Exactly. But on the other hand, there is no reason to sponsor those people, and I think that that is an inherently political thing. People talk about it the whole time, but they don't do it. I wonder if it is something specific about the technology, if it is a structural thing. You have people like John Perry Barlow who will write manifestos about the liberation of everybody through technology which is, of course, is a big lie, and I think he is starting to realize that.
Anne Balsamo: It will liberate some people but not everybody. I am sure it is an interaction with the structural conditions where access to the technology needs to be highly regulated because you don't want it to be used for too progressive means. You certainly don't want people organizing against the state. That is the big debate about the clipper chip and encryption in the United States. They want everyone to have it, they want schools to have it, but they also want the ability to decrypt anything that gets sent over the internet so they can make sure that no one is planning an insurrection. As if that were even possible. As if they don't have a hegemonic lock on the citizens.
We have this huge equipment grant from Apple Computers worth $1 million worth of equipment over five years. I am one of the 3 people in Georgia Tech who have been writing the grant and negotiating what we would do. It is only equipment because Apple doesn't have any cash. They are very interested in giving us this equipment because the situation that Apple is in in the industry is that they have to offload some of their research and development functions because they are on the ropes. They are in dire straits right now. What their hope is is to give us at Georgia Tech $200 000 worth of equipment every year for five years and let's see what they come up with. But they put one stipulation on it: that the equipment has to be used in the service of this project, "The K-12 Web Project." (K-12 is kindergarten through high school.) It is basic required foundational education in the US, and we have to developed some web-based project using the Apple equipment. We are sitting there now, getting ready to receive the first installment of this grant, trying to figure out what we could do with this eqip[ment, short of putting computers into the schools and high schools in the state of Georgia. $200 000 is not going to go very far. Which schools do you pick? And even a million dollars is not enough to outfit the entire state of Georgia. We have been going back and forth. Because I am involved in the project, I am trying to think though it theoretically: if you have this much money or equipment and you have this goal, how could you make use of it such that you would attend to that goal? What we have decided to do is to build a webcasting production suite and a multimedia training classroom in my school to train teacher in that K-12. What we will do is teacher training, seeing them as a kind of underserved population. They were trained well before the internet became everyday and certainly before the World Wide Web. We will train they to build website. We will be lobbying the state of Georgia to use the money they have set aside for technology to buy the computer systems to support the teachers who go through the training program. We are trying to coordinate with the state because they are very much of the mindset, "We've got lottery money. We are going to buy the kids computers." Our point is, "Good, you do that." We will train the teachers who will use the computers to train the kids.
It gets us out off that liberal knee-jerk "let's just give the stuff to the kids" and thinking about a different kind of population we can serve which are the teachers. We still have a piece which has yet to fall into place which is that, when the schools get the equipment and we are training the teachers, they still need somebody in the schools who can be the media specialist, who could be the webmaster, who could be the person to literally plug the machines in, make sure that the software is compatible. The teachers can't do that because they are already overburden. That piece of the puzzle has yet to be brought into play.
That is what I mean about changing the institutional structure. Just training the teachers and the state giving them computers is not going to solve the problem. You are still going to need someone who knows how to set up the networks, make sure that the systems work on a daily basis, make sure that they interface with the broader network in Georgia called "Peach Net". Those are real resources. Someone will have to be hired for $40 000 a year with benefits to do that--an educational technologies specialist. I don't know yet where that is going to come from.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: One question we will have to ask about the gender bias. Do you think it has been assured by the new technologies and could you give us an example?
Anne Balsamo: You mean how the gender bias is built in to the use and deployment of new technology? Cosmetic surgery is a good example because it is a set of techniques and technologies which should pretty much be gender-neutral. Whether you get eyebag surgery as a man or as a woman, it should be the same kind of surgery. Although the surgical techniques are the same for the male and female bodies, the ways the surgeries take up meaning are different. For men, when they get cosmetic surgery, the meaning of their technologies is that they are investing in their career. It is a good business practice for them to look youthful and to get rid of the bags under their eyes or their double chins. when women use the same techniques, it is always understood that they really need to look good, they need to maintain their youthfulness for men. The way in which those techniques get marketed and the way in which patients themselves justify the surgery differ: women justify the surgery by saying "I want to look good for my husband because I am feeling competition from younger women for his attention," or "I am fifty and I want to get rejuvenated." Even if they don't say that they want to look good for their husbands, they end up justifying the surgery in very gendered ways. But men do also. Not only is it marketed to men differently, but men also won't say they'll do it because they are vain. They will say, "It is good business investment. It is a competitive workplace out there and I need to look virile and smart." Men justify it as a business tactics, women justify it by saying the world appreciates a beautiful woman. What other justification do you need? That is the point where the technology itself could be the same but, depending on the bodies which are engaging with the technologies, the meaning of the technological experience is different.
Miss M.: Where does feminism lead to? We are doing a web project called "Dolores' Bulimic Breakfast" focusing on women and everyday life, also on a theoretical basis, but also with a series of interviews and projects by female artists. One issue that came up was that feminism no longer seems to be an answer for many young women any more. They are distancing themselves from it. Many say, "I don't need it anymore." A lot say, at least in Austria, that feminism is associated with bitter, radical lesbians or men-hating women. Which is, of course, bullshit, but that is the impression they have. Where do you think that lead to?
Anne Balsamo: We have that same reaction among young women. I am not a feminist but I am not a plague carrier. My response is that I think it is wonderful that they can get to the point where they can feel that somehow they don't need it. What I try to do is I try to educate my students: the fact tht they can feel that way is an accomplishment based on the hard labor of a number of women who have gone before them. the fact that they could be at Georgia Tech, for example, is because there have been a number of pioneers who have slogged it out from the fifties and the sixties because women were only admitted in the mid-fifties. The fact that the whole profession of engineering could be open to them is, in part, dues to the women's liberation movement in the US that demanded equal rights for women and equal opportunity. I remind them that the fact they can even make the choices they are making now is an accomplishment that many women have contributed to, not just something they were born into or just showed up one day. They were born into it, but because many people worked very hard to make things different for them so they could have options and choices.
So, one things is to remind them of the shoulders they stand on, and say, "Excellent. That is really good. And I hope you don't feel the oppressive conditions that older women had." That would be great because that would be a real sign of feminism's success. I always wonder how long this will last. I wonder when the first realization will hit them that they are being treated differently precisely because they are women that they are not being paid as much. What usually gets them where they really live is that first experience when they get paid less than their male counterparts or not getting promoted at the rapid rate that their male counterparts are. In the US, female engineering students who graduate will about five years and then they don't get promoted at the same rate, so their salaries level off more quickly than male engineers who are in the system for the same amount of time.
I think it will be in ten years down the road when the insights or the critical perspectives of feminism will become germane for them. You believe in the power of education, that you plant a seed. Although they may not take it up as part of their identity down the road, it will be there to help them explain the situations they are going to find themselves in. I don't feel it is necessary that they call themselves feminists as much as they understand, one, that there is a history that helped them get where they are to have the choice, and two, when the time comes when they are face with different salaries or overt discrimination or harassment, that that feminist consciousness will help them not take it personally in the sense that it is not about them being a bad person. I think a lot of women have internalized it. Feminism help you say, "They are not treating me stupid because I am stupid. They are treating me stupid because they think I am a women who doesn't have any brains."
Meike Schmidt-Gleim: You understand yourself explicitly as feminist?
Anne Balsamo: At Tech, I identify myself as such and when I was hired there in 1991, people tell me I was the first feminist ever hired. I think that there were other women hired before who were feminists but who would have never identified themselves as such because the climate was very different. Now we have a number of feminists, men and women. The situation has changed.
Miss M.: Where do you think feminism is going? What is feminism for 21st century?
Anne Balsamo: Feminism is a mindset and an epistemological position and a philosophical positions, so I think it will always have a vitality that is not dependent on making converts. There is a variety of feminist perspectives, but it is an epistemological position that takes gender as a valid point of analysis not to the exclusion of other identity markers or aspect. Rather, it starts at and thinks through things via a logic of gender. I don't see that that is going to go away even in the face of women not experiencing the kind of oppression that an earlier generation of women did.
Feminism has become and will become even more complex. As we think through how gender crosses race identities and economic positions, it is already becoming multiple in what it means to take a feminist stance. You don't just do it on the basis of gender, you also think about the racial aspects and the class-based aspects. The disability or the embodied aspects are something we will probably be hearing and thinking more about. I think there is a feminist future even though people are not lining up to join it.