As we embark on the next semester of the Praxis Program we have begun to think about our “roles” in the Prism project. This has led to a surprising rush of gender feelings. Parts of these feelings feel too second-wave feministy to be appropriate in this day and age, but regardless I find myself frustrated with myself for fitting into certain gendered tropes. We have six people in our Praxis cohort, three are men and three are women and two of these men have previous experience in the coding/programming world. Thus as we assign jobs I find myself gravitating towards design, project management, outreach and community engagement. While the rest of the positions have yet to be assigned, its hard not to feel a division of labor emerging that is highly gendered.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that my hesitation to take on “coding” responsibilities grows out of the realization last semester that I am not that interested in learning programming languages. I’m happy that I have learned HTML/CSS and have a basic understanding of Ruby on Rails, my computer proficiency has expanded a thousand fold, and I will be certainly implementing digital tools in my dissertation. However, I may not necessarily want to do the backend work necessary to make those tools manifest. It is hard to let go of my deeply feminist goal of mastering coding languages and democratizing this knowledge for underrepresented groups in the digital world (women, people of color, queer people etc.). This is not to say I have somehow given up on learning Ruby or other aspects of programming, but it is clear to me that I do not have the passion or drive to ever truly master these tools.
An additional challenge that my gender has presented me with is my frustration at not knowing and needing to constantly seek help. Even though the Scholars Lab staff could not be more amazing, kind, and understanding as they explain what is likely obvious to them, I feel that my constant confusion and steep learning curve plays into gendered assumptions about women and the digital world.
Unfortunately right now I have more questions than I do answers about gender in the digital humanities. How do we make digital humanities spaces that are truly feminist and anti-racist that recognize the historical and structural inequalities each person brings to the space? How can we as people from underrepresented groups work through feelings of insecurity or “out of placeness” in the digital world? How do we implement progressive pedagogical approaches to the digital humanities that resist teacher/student dynamics that disempower students? I know that there are already groups doing this work and I am excited to spend more time engaging with their pedagogical approach (groups like BlackGirlsCode and TransformDH). In the meantime I’m curious what other people think…