Photo by Ashley Etemadi
“I’m not your Asian AI sexbot. I’m not the manic pixie Anime school girl from your pornographic fantasies.”
When fourth-year Design & Media Arts student Devin Nicole became aware of the persistent misogyny both within and outside of the arts program at UCLA, feminism became an essential part of her life. Feminism became a political and personal necessity, not only for her artistic production but also in everyday interaction with others and the world at large.
“I realized that men were constantly fetishizing me as a hypersexualized Asian cyborg because I fit that trope that is prevalent in a lot of popular culture like cyberpunk anime, videogames, and movies like ‘Ex Machina,’” she says. “I realized that I had been socialized to play this sort of a passive role in my interactions with men, kind of like a service Siri. And the fact that I’m conventionally attractive, attentive, and articulate just helped trap me in complacent behavior and thought patterns.”
“I began to recognize that in a lot of my intimate experiences, men just tended to reproduce the empty, cliche narratives that they consume in porn and entertainment industries.” Devin cites these realizations as critical in pushing her to radically engage with herself in novel ways, a process that has cultivated an internal revolution of growth and love. “When I understood that heterosexuality and romantic love were socialized in me by the patriarchy and are not actually innate drives, I was able to get in touch with my sexual desires for women.”
Feminism extends beyond this subjective scope for Devin, however. It is also a political activity that is essential to breaching the gendered digital divide. “What does it even mean to be a woman-creative who is politically engaging with technology?” she asks.
Devin says that the Design & Media Arts program at UCLA suffers from an extreme lack of political discourse because it favors technical mastery while ignoring critical thought and social consciousness. This produces a highly capitalist environment that is in no way conducive to marginalized realities. “That’s why,” she says, “I wanted to take up space in the field as an Asian American feminist, to contribute to and help cultivate a diversity of image, narrative, and affect.”
However she recognizes that this problem extends beyond UCLA. “I’ve learned that being a woman working with technology means that you are working with tools and an industry inherently rooted in patriarchal production and the objectification of women,” she explains. “When you’re working with optic technology, such as cameras or virtual reality, you are working with the lens of the male gaze. When you are producing images of the female body, you have to be aware of the history behind these realities and the cliche narratives built into photography, cinema, video games, etc. so that even you yourself as a woman do not accidentally perpetuate the male gaze in art. We see this a lot with fourth wave feminism and female artists attempting to reappropriate the male gaze online.”
Devin thinks that the future of women’s liberation is inherently tied to technology, especially as we see the technological world get more and more advanced. “We must seize technology as a means to liberate women. The internet completely mediates our experiences and relationships with each other now. Feminism must disrupt cyberspace.”
Devin is a part of UCLA’s voidLab, an intersectional feminist collective that seeks to foster a diversity of identities through arts and technologies. Devin says that voidLab is constantly grappling with “questions on what it means to be creative feminists working with technology,” and that it provides a space for unique political projects to come to fruition and visibility.
Groups like voidLab offer Devin the tools for engaging with radical feminist politics on a daily basis, and this engagement has been a source of personal growth and happiness. “Feminism for me is the process through which I now invest my time and energy in relations founded on political solidarity and change, and it is invaluable and potentially liberating for each and every one of us.”
The voidLab is hosting a panel on decentralizing the web on November 17th at the Broad Art Center.