This issue of Switch developed out of the Chik Tek '97 conference and exhibition held here in San Jose, California, last November. In that forum, participants discussed various aspects of women artists working in/with technology, including whether women needed to have a gender-specific forum at all. These questions triggered a debate that could have continued and which Helen Wood took up in her series of post-conference interviews (see "Chik Tek Symposium Revisited").
For the forum of Switch, however, the conference as a beginning point offered only a narrow range of possibilities, particularly for those of us in graduate programs who wished to take up questions in theoretical discourse. Thus the question of constructing oneself as a female, whether through role-playing or in a game patch as Anne-Marie Schleiner does (see "Does Lara Croft Ware Fake Polygons: Gender Analysis of the '1st Person shooter/adventure game with female heroine' and Gender Role Subversion and Production in the Game Patch"), expands into conceptual structures beyond 'women in technology.'
The shift to 'gender' allows play, beyond feminism or post-modernism, in the disruptive field of queer theory. 'Gender' is most problematic when it acts as an umbrella or cover term for women's studies, rarely including references to constructions of maleness by men. Evidence of recent publications begins to allow that this all-inclusive term actually can apply to men (an example might be Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation by Abigail Solomon-Godeau (1997), although by a female author). Yet the strength of 'gender' shows most clearly when Joan Schuman, in her paper "Either/Or...Both/And: Field Notes on Gender Ambiguity & Medical Technologies," excavates a middle space -- an interstice between the female and male topographies -- which challenges both sides of dominant sexual binarism.
The revolt against socially accepted norms spawns the development of new cultural identities, and in this expanding gap where 'gender' cuts across 'electronic media' cyberfeminists have also appeared. New to the feminist pantheon, cyberfems evolve idiosyncractically, totally without a need to be consistent with each other or any other authority. Sadie Plant, who coined the word, has her own fascination with the complex, and largely ignored, relationship between woman and machine. In reviewing her recent book, Zeros and Ones, Alex Galloway, in his "Report on Cyberfeminism," goes further and makes an attempt to describe cyberfem's history and clarify its theoretical forms.
For another glimpse into the difficulty of of pinning this identity down in any definitive way, Mary-Anne Breeze interviews Francesca da Rimini (see "Attack of the Cyberfeminists"), one of the members of the VNS Matrix collective which published the 'VNS Matrix Manifesto' (1991) that declared themselves cyberfeminists. As artists/writers/ gamers they feel free to shift from essentialist woman-womb image/word combinations to technoist lingo aimed to infect technology from within.
Monica Vasilescu's "Cyberfeminist Resources" and my own "Charred Edges: Grrrl Power and the Structures of Feminism" flesh out the web-based map of cultural activity going on at the female\/machine interstice. Not all of this activity shows up as art, nor does it always exhibit a radical or subversive political stance. Access, however, equals power, and electronic media -- even as it loses ground to commercialization and censorship -- have now been accessed and occupied by more than one gender, with enough energy to cause arcs at the gaps.