photo authorized by Salvatore Iaconesi
Living without Internet nowadays is like living without electricity. It may be doable and even romantic, but why? It's a modern reality that the virtual and the real have become the same. As for us women, the planet's invisible gender, the internet emphasized the reality of our existence, since it is everywhere and mostly within female reach.
At the Pisa Internet Festival, a panel convened to talk about the virtual body of women. The lively audience, the four panelists, and the organizers all sang the same tune: where the body goes, misogyny follows. We didn't manage to praise any high-tech wonders, or celebrate the empowerment of once-marginal groups online. We mostly concentrated on the Internet's modern bounty of violence, stalking and pornography.
In 1974 Marina Abramovic staged her performance "Rhythm 0" in a Naples art gallery. She stood nude and silent before a random audience, who were supplied with 72 tools (from feathers to knives and a gun). The gallery crowd was allowed to do anything they wanted to a silent and nude female body. For six hours the insulted her, hurt her, even cut her. When her provocative performance was finished the guilty parties just turned their heads away from her, as if she was not real, and as if her real and human body had been some mere virtual phantom. But after those six hours, her hair grew a big patch of gray!
That Naples art gallery had a single nude female body while the Internet has proliferating virtual copies of millions of them. Female bodies are major vehicles of pornography, trafficking, stalking, political harassment and political scandal. The "democratic" aspect of the Internet has caused control over the nude female body to collapse, since they can now spread anywhere at any time, on any electronic device.
Recently an Italian hospital specializing in breast cancer was abruptly closed. Women patients photographed their own breasts and a banner was made which was posted on YouTube. This efficient campaign, which made it clear that the health of real female bodies was at stake, was closed by YouTube as "pornography." This was the pornography of women exposing virtual images of bodies in order to preserve the existence of their real bodies and their real lives in their own real hospital. The hospital was also full of images of women's naked breasts because that was a hospital's very reason for being. "Of Bodies, Our Selves," the motto of second-wave feminism, is rendered obsolete through the Internet policies of Google's Youtube and that of the other major social networks, who retail our privacy to advertisers while denying any political rights or power to their billions of participants. Our virtual bodies certainly do not belong to ourselves.
But women are good survivors, even in the law of the jungle. Pussy Riot girls are rotting in a Russian slammer, one of them was on a hunger strike, and yet their video campaign went viral even before they had the world support of over-exposed stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga.
Increased visibility on the Internet means it's harder to feign ignorance of repression or genocide, but mere awareness doesn't lead to action and may even make things worse. Forty years ago, only a bunch of art fans would witness the astonishing act of Marina Abramovic, while the similar feminist political art circulate worldwide and risk prison sentences. In contemporary zones of war and terror, female civilians are bombed and shot with no distinction of sex, except of course that women in the Muslim world are singled out for especially severe political repression.
In the Depression crisis, a wave of femicide is major everyday news in the Italian press. Merely being murdered isn't bad enough; after their violent deaths these women are publicized in pathological detail, and the public obsesses over how and why a women's body was mutilated, dissected... Was it love, revenge, did she somehow deserve it, or was it utterly random? ... The virtual dissemination of these prurient fantasies somehow makes the destruction of a living female body a stronger experience, more public, more real... But who inhabited those virtual, spectacular, scandalized, dead women's bodies? Whose fingers hit the keyboard to spread those images, and to gather them up? What will come next, for the women who survive and come out of that jungle of necro-fascination?
At the Internet festival in Pisa, very young booth-bunnies were wearing red sexy miniskirts with the triangle shaped "free wifi" logo stenciled right on the crotch. These girls were apparently blasting the Italian Internet right across the ancient piazzas with underage sex appeal, yet this alarming prospect didn't bother anyone, least of all the smiling girls who seemed glad for any chance for youth employment. Free wifi as a function innate to the female body: the free source of life? No comment!