On 29th November 2022, the Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad organised a Panel on “Representation of Women in Digital Spaces” in collaboration with Alliance Française de Hyderabad. The panellists were Dr. Samuel Berthet, the Director of Alliance Française of Hyderabad, Dr. Usha Raman, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad and Nikaytaa, a gender scholar and Master’s graduate from the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad. The session was moderated by Dr. A. Suneetha, a researcher and previous coordinator of Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies, and a guest faculty at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad.

Prof K. Suneetha Rani, Head and Professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies, UoH welcomed the panellists, moderator and the audience and shared the importance of the topic in today’s increasingly technological world. On the one hand, the digital space offers a utopia where one can choose self-expression and form chosen families. But on the other hand, digital media also replicates offline hegemonic norms. Dr Rani highlighted the paradox of the digital world which can be empowering as well as disempowering for women, non-binary and marginalised people.

Dr A. Suneetha added to Prof Rani’s observations and shared the multiple opportunities and challenges of digital spaces. She talked about solidarities cemented between Dalit, queer and marginalised groups over the internet. She also spoke about the various meanings of “Representation as “access”, “content” and “identity”. When we talk about more representation of women in digital spaces, who will represent the category of women? How do we democratise digital media and avoid over-representation and under-representation? Dr Berthet shared his observations of the digital experience. He talked about the importance of an equitable digital space that respects subjectivities. He underscored the stereotypical representation of women from the 17th century to the 21st century in images, films, and advertisements and asked the audience how we could reclaim the digital space. He highlighted the arguments of feminist science and technology scholars that when the product is free, “We” are the products. Thus, reclaiming the digital space also means redefining digital agency and community. Dr Usha Raman began by sharing the potential of the internet. On the one hand, solidarities, fund-raising campaigns, and protests are organised online. On the other hand, doxing, deep fake, and scopophilia are very much the reality of women’s internet experience—the more marginalised the woman, the more targeted. She highlighted the systems that shape and force the “seeing” of women–the gaze that sexualises women in video games and advertisements. She stressed that we must combine technological and social values to intervene at multiple levels regarding conscious consumption, social policy and technology regulation. Nikaytaa stressed the importance of going behind the visible platform to the subterranean programmable space of our lives and observing the human and material factors that go into making decisions. She also discussed possibilities for increasing the representation of women through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. The questions, frameworks and case studies put forward by Nikaytaa ruptured the binary of digital as disembodied and physical as embodied. In the Q&A section, the audience and the panellists discussed how the digital space could be reclaimed. Some participants shared their experience of the digital space being a safe space while some participants talked about their experiences of self-censorship. The session involved many thought-provoking and critical discussions of the digital space, representation and the category of women. Ms. Abhiruchi Chatterjee, a Masters students of Gender Studies from Centre for Women’s Studies, who took the initiative to negotiate a collaboration between Centre for Women’s Studies and Alliance Française, proposed the vote of thanks.

//Contributed by Nikaytaa, M.A (Gender Studies) 2020-22, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad.//