“She Maketh Herself Coverings of Tapestry”:  Feminist Activism and Collaboration in Second Life

Feminism is an entire world view or gestalt,
not just a laundry list of women’s issues
— Charlotte Bunch

Tapestry
Second Life Left Unity Feminists antiviolence exhibit

The Second Life 7th Birthday celebrations were held this week, and there were many displays that caught my eye, but none that touched me as deeply as this exhibit.  Hosted by The SL Left Unity Feminist Network, who organized the Sixteen Days of Activism presentations in November of 2009.  The exhibit was supported by a network of SL antiviolence organizations, Four Bridges, Stop Violence Against Women, Amnesty International, Peace Train, Virtual Native Lands, Social Justice, Coalition of Women for Peace.  The group has been active in opposing images of violence against women in Second Life, and this presentation underscores their success in forging an association groups and concerned individuals who want to establish community standards in Second Life.

The tapestry at the centre of the display details the many successful events, exhibits and presentations that were held in November and December of last year, reminding those of us who needed to be reminded that virtual worlds are no refuge from the violence women often face in our society.

As I stopped to look at the tapestry, I thought about the value of Second Life activism, or  “slactivism,” as it’s sometimes called.  Those who hold events, protests and demonstrations in Second Life are sometimes criticized for their actions, and told to “get a life.”   I think this is a very short-sighted attitude; as our community grows, we are more than ever aware that virtual worlds are connected to the actual world.  What goes on here reflects what goes on in our everyday lives, and sometimes it can have a profound influence on us.

Second Life is a ludic society.  It gives us a space that approximates the actual world, and it allows us to explore, test, and play with it.   It shouldn’t be surprising that there are people experimenting with activism here.    A virtual space is a safe place for people to voice their opinion and try out new ideas.  Participants can work out in a virtual space things that might not be possible in a physical one; they can even do things that are  inadvisable in a physical space.  They can make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.  Most of all, their activism requires those who witness it to reflect on its message in a visceral way, a way that is intimately connected to their actual, corporeal reality.

Memorial for the Montreal Massacre
Memorial for the Montreal Massacre

I did spend a quiet moment at the SLLU Feminist memorial for the Montreal Massacre,  commemorating December 6, 1989, when a gunman systematically killed fourteen women at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal because he believed they were feminists.

The memorial is very simple, and because it is set off from the rest of the sim by a brick wall, it was a very peaceful place for me to stop and reflect on an event that marked my own life very deeply.  I thought about the families of the young women who died, and about the virtual people who had visited this memorial before me.  I watched the candles flicker, and didn’t feel that I was “playing” at showing respect for those young women.

A virtual space privileges the symbolic, and can provide a focus for looking a what is really important.  Because the space is immersive, it can keep the bustle of everyday life at bay, allowing us the time to stop, breathe, and perhaps understand things a little better.

“She Maketh Herself Coverings of Tapestry” will be open until July 6.  To visit the exhibit, you can download the Second Life client here, then click this link to visit: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/SL7B%20Phenomenal/138/97/22