Creating Xenofeminist Spaces
How Virtual Reality Can Subvert Ideology
by Martin Hare Michno
Courtesy of Pixabay and PublicDomainPictures.com
You might have heard of xenophobes, those who are prejudiced towards foreigners; and if you’re into science-fiction you might’ve heard of xenonatomy, as in the study of alien anatomy. But if you’re asking yourself what on earth is Xenofeminism, then you’re asking yourself a very good question. One might understand it as a philosophy, another as a call for action. Perhaps it is both. It is a term coined by Laboria Cuboniks, a group of six anonymous women who in 2015 published The Xenofeminist Manifesto: A Politics for Alienation. In very brief terms, the manifesto proposes that modern technology should be used as a feminist tool to dismantle the social norms we believe to be a natural fact. As you might already know from the word xenophobe, the prefix “xeno-” is Greek for foreigner or alien. Laboria Cuboniks use the prefix to embrace all that is different to us, all that is alien and so-called “unnatural”.
In their manifesto, they write: “Anyone who's been deemed 'unnatural' in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who's experienced injustices wrought in the name of the natural order, will realize that the glorification of 'nature' has nothing to offer us.” Xenofeminism is about building bionic arms for whoever needs it, helping trans people change their body as they wish, and supporting women who do not want to undergo pregnancy. It is about de-constructing and re-constructing nature itself.
What, then is a "xenofeminist space" and what does simulation have to do with it all? Well, as the manifesto argues, the way we organise space (homes, cities, communal buildings, etc. - not outer space) is the material manifestation of our ideology. The way we construct the environment around us reflects the way we behave, and ultimately, the way we can behave. Thus, a radical change in the way we organise our space would lead to a radical change in our social conditions. For example, a complete reinvention of our domestic spaces, which today are designed to suit the traditional family, would pave the way towards a restructuring of the nuclear family itself, which has hitherto, to quote the manifesto, "stubbornly worked to isolate women from the public sphere, and men from the lives of their children". Of course, building new spaces and experimenting with infrastructure in the real world is not easy. It is simply too expensive and time-consuming. In a virtual world or simulation, however, it is possible to reorganise space and create experimental infrastructures ceaselessly and without any significant costs. Taking advantage of the ease with which one can model virtual space, videogames offer a serious opportunity for Xenofeminism to deconstruct the domestic space and create new alternatives. Developers have potential to foreclose, restrict or open up future social conditions through their organisation of virtual space.
The utility of videogames does not end there for Xenofeminism. Unlike a written text, a film or a stage performance, videogames are the only media that can offer interaction. The chance to interact freely with the virtual world allows for a vast possibility of events. Anything can happen, including the ability to interact and co-operate with other human beings within the virtual world. The developers could organise space to experiment with different, unusual, perhaps even unnatural, social interactions. As an example, we could simulate the manifesto’s vision of “augmented homes of shared laboratories, of communal media and technical facilities”. By uploading such a creation to a server where players can spend their time experimenting and even role-playing, we might be able to reach certain conclusions about the effectiveness of such design and help determine whether the virtual space should take material form in our physical world. The myriad of different experiences which the players may go through can all be collected as data to determine whether the (virtual) infrastructure is convenient or fruitful for society.
Of course, a virtual simulation of the physical world will not be precise. Nevertheless, it will undoubtedly deliver useful information about the behaviour of people in relation to new spaces. This is one of the many ways in which videogames can be used as a revolutionary tool. If the future will be digital, then its revolutions will be too. The feminist movement must not ignore the revolutionary potential of technology; it must seize technology and wield it like a sword.