Women in Cyberspace: A New Key to Emancipatory Politics of Location
Boundaries define human space. This is all the more conspicuous in the case of women whose lives are marked by social, religious, and cultural boundaries that contain and define them. Even the desire to have one’s space appears to be unbecoming of a “good woman” who is expected to conform ungrudgingly albeit happily to the domestic space that is set aside for her. If that be the case, the Woolfian desire for the “whole world” possibly will sound scandalous. All the same, this seems to be the unsaid yearning cherished by many a woman who wishes to push further the boundaries that mark her life.
It is increasingly recognized that space is an important category for analyzing and understanding the configurations of human relationships in a given society. The major identity markers such as class, race/ethnicity, caste, religion and gender define people’s social space. The location of an Indian woman is determined by her positioning at the intersection of class, caste, and religion with gender. The socio-cultural and economic configuration of her location shapes her worldview and it is also a strong determining factor on her mobility—the way she moves, and the world she moves on.
Today, the focus has shifted from seeing space as a neutral setting— an objective, inevitable backdrop against which social changes happen—to identifying a mutually constitutive, dialectical relationship between social structure and space. Social theorists have identified embodied space as the location where human experience and consciousness take on material and spatial form1 and this has strong implications for the social structuring of gender.
It is within this framework that I examine the prospects of cyberspace with respect to the politics of women’s location. The concept “politics of location,” coined in the mid-1980s by Adrienne Rich, refers to the articulation and interrogation of her personal and sociostructural location—particularly the “circumscribing nature of (her) whiteness”—in the context of larger feminist politics and power relations.2 The use of the term “politics” here denotes the way power is exercised in defining women’s identity and roles of which spatial- ity is an important factor. Space is used to ascertain power positions, and the waxing and waning of spaces are used as means of tracking power dynamics.3 Feminist politics is also indicative of the way women assert power, and so the “politics of location” is a key to explore into the prospects offered by cyberspace from a feminist theological standpoint.
In this paper, I take The Narakkal Episode as a case for exploring into the potential that cyberspace holds for women who refuse to be imprisoned by their socio-structural locations, but take steps toward reaching the “whole world.” Analyzing this case against the backdrop of the culturally conditioned locations of Indian women marked by the class and caste inscriptions of gender, my thesis is that even with its ambiguities and the possibilities of abuse, the virtual world gives women “a space of one’s own” in the Woolfian sense. By examining the potential that cyberspace holds to enable women of the “subaltern” to move from “eclipse to identity,”4 and speak in order to make their voice heard, the paper attempts to evolve a theology of cyberspace that is liberating for women.