Women's Cyber-Empowerment in Mainland China: Characteristics, Potentialities and Constraints
Never before has the world experienced such dynamic change in new technologies. This study aims to provide a critical and thorough examination of the role that the Internet plays in Chinese women’s empowerment. Specifically, the principal issue of the proposed work is to explore how Chinese women, via online groups and the women’s blogosphere, organise activities and speak up in order to fight for gender equality within the complex political, cultural and social conditions of contemporary China. Under the influence of the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing in 1995, ‘empowerment’ has become an innovative word that occupies an increasingly important position in women’s studies. Though the concept is still slippery and difficult to define, there is a common thread that runs through analyses of women’s empowerment. It consists of a process whereby women’s various abilities, be they options, choices, control or power, bring about, through bottom-up ‘inner transformation’, a shift in perceptions of human agency (Malhortra, et al., 2000, p.5-6). Building upon the conceptualisation of women’s empowerment in previous works in the literature, the reformulation here retains the elements of power, process, agency, resources and achievements, along with the gendered components. It consists of at least three aspects of women’s empowerment dynamics: a) women’s agency from a gender lens; b) women’s resource mobilisation; c) women’s identification. The presence of women’s agency involves choice, control, voice and power. Resource for women is not only a medium, but also has the potential to mobilise women to make their collective/individual voices heard in the public sphere. Within the process of women’s empowerment, identity has become an increasingly influential concept in women’s representation, which is a matter for both the individual and collective processes of construction. In the information age, with the advent of the Internet, women have more opportunities to self-express, communicate and network than they do via traditional media. However, the ways in which the Internet frames the process of women’s empowerment have yet to be clearly conceptualised. This research project aims to fill this gap, discussing the Internet as an alternative platform which makes it possible to link women and their empowerment in the same pathway. The Internet is the entry point and the medium through which women’s concerns are essentially expressed. It provides the expanding spectrum in terms of the redistribution of ‘flows of information gathering and dissemination’ (Sreberny, 2005, p.288) for women to organise and engage in activities on gender relations issues. By using the Internet, women can, on the one hand, recognise they are as much of a social subject as men; on the other hand, women’s subjectivity can also be recognised by men. Furthermore, the Internet has the ability to reach out and benefit the construction of women’s identification.