Celebrating women in Web3
The tech industry has always been a boys club. The women who pioneered the internet rarely got recognition, let alone long-term influence over its development. Mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm back in the 1800s. Hollywood movie star and inventor Hedy Lamar was involved in developing the technology that led to what we know today as WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Most famously, the brilliant and iconic Raida Perlman invented the algorithm that enabled the original Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). Despite their invaluable contributions, women were left out of most of the decision-making in the Silicon Valley bred internet landscape that’s come to shape much of our modern lives. Celebrating this Women’s History Month is a good opportunity to look back at how Web2 shaped our experiences growing up in the digital age, the social price for lack of representation in tech, and to explore the question of whether or not Web3 can offer a better, more equitable future for historically marginalized voices.
When Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in 2018, he was questioned by Representative Billy Long about the precursor to Facebook, Facemash, a site created for the sole purpose of rating female students’ hotness without their consent. He did this by hacking into the student ID photo database at Harvard University, where he was a student. While Zuckerberg claimed this has nothing to do with what later became known as Facebook, calling it a “prank site,” some early users of the platform may remember a similar game in 2007 that allowed users to, once again, rate users’ hotness. As much as Zuckerberg tried to distance Facebook from Facemash, the disregard for data privacy and emphasis on appearances seems to share a similar thread.
The male gaze has been deconstructed in the contexts of film and advertisements, but it also plays an important role in the way social media apps are imagined and constructed. Web2 is focused on looks and appearance. Each user has a timeline or profile where they can share their accomplishments: anything from a healthy meal or workout milestone to a new relationship or baby announcement, all thrown through a filter. It’s a linear story focused on individualism, powered by addictive rewards and validations tapping into our most basic human desire to feel belonging and acceptance. But these structures of profiles don’t nurture communities. We’ve seen these algorithms just heighten polarizations and craving for validation. Centralized apps have crafted a false narrative of safety that assures users that it’s okay to upload their faces, their wallets, their memories, and their most intimate moments to public forums, a stark contrast to the safety sensibilities of the early internet, where online identities were more easily anonymous. There was nothing safe about being a girl on social media during the rise of Web2. “Be careful. That post will haunt you,” was a constant warning, meaning that whatever ends up online will stay online forever. Slut-shaming and bullying through misuse of private photos was extremely common back then; it was also reflected in the way the mainstream media would bully and take down powerful women like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as a normal part of the news cycle.
The Fourth Wave Feminism that emerged in 2012 and the #MeToo movement that followed two years later gave us some promise that the internet we knew could transform into something better, a place where social movements could make an impact and foster community. Women banded together to demand accountability, and social media became a powerful tool to have our voices heard. While a lot was accomplished, these movements seemed to have been hijacked by marketing giants. For example, the reclaiming of the color pink by young feminists on social media was a meaningful gesture of owning an expression of femininity that had been mocked as vapid or childish. Pink became a powerful color of unapologetic female presence online, but marketing companies quickly sank their teeth into it, coined it “millennial pink,” and turned a profit with targeted marketing campaigns aimed at young women. The movement was quickly commodified. This new wave of feminism that hoped to achieve intersectionality coudn’t survive the Web2 structure. It was quickly overtaken and diluted, much of what’s left of it is empty, unrelatable Girboss campaigns.
The #MeToo movement made great strides, but the Web2 channels of communication do not support long-term social action as they operate on a data-for-profit model. It’s become clear that the linear, vapid structures of Web2 need to be replaced.
“Navigating the Web3 Workforce as a BIPOC, Queer, Marginalized Individual” panel at ETHDenver 2022
Part of what encouraged Web2’s morally questionable centralized model was the lack of diversity. It makes little sense for a group of profit-driven people of the same age bracket, race, and gender to make decisions that impact the entire world. The people from that bracket have not experienced the damage that the internet can inflict on those who were not born with the specific privilege of being a white male working in a growing industry. The way it’s designed doesn’t allow users freedom of expression in their digital forms. Web3 allows for some democratization and anonymity, and even though it’s been dominated by men so far, it’s time to change the boy’s club narrative surrounding tech. While Web3 is still in its infancy, the more traditionally underrepresented groups that join the movement, the more likely it will remain decentralized. This International Women’s Month has brought attention to projects that are focusing on representation, education, and social action.
Web3 has huge potential to be an equalizing force for those historically marginalized by existing systems. Through education, connection, and rewards, we are excited to grow a strong, equitable community in BFF.
— JAIME SCHMIDT, CO-FOUNDER OF BFF
Founded by real-life best friends Brit Morin and Jamie Schmidt, BFF is one of the largest and most exciting communities out there. Their site reveals a graph showing that men make up 81% of Web3; and estimating it will be a $10 trillion dollar industry by 2026, BFF aims to make sure that underrepresented groups don’t get left behind. They were both passionate about the space and found it troubling that women were not getting their seats at the table. BFF’s mission is to “democratize female and non-binary education, access, and financial opportunity in the Web3 ecosystem.” Founding members include fifty industry leaders, amongst them Sheila Marcelo, Catherine Fake, Gweneth Paltrow, Tyra Banks, Mila Kunis, and Kate Hudson. Their discord, open to anyone looking to learn about crypto, is full of tutorials and information for whatever sector of crypto you might be interested in.
Black Women Blockchain Council is a space for all age groups dedicated to bringing black women all over the world into blockchain and fintech by providing mentorship, hiring opportunities, and scholarships. Recruiters can go on their website to find suitable talent. Their website states “Reports from The Kapor Center and Digital Undivided show women of color tech founders make up only 4%. And only 1 percent of venture capitalists are black women. However, the number of startups founded by black women has also increased 2.5 times from 2016 to 2018, jumping from 84 to 227. Funds collectively raised by black women founders increased from $50 million in 2016 to nearly $250 million in 2017.” By educating BIPOC girls and providing them with skills for careers in these fields, they are actively shaping more inclusive leadership in the future of tech. From afterschool and summer initiatives to their full-fledged Emerging Leaders Fellowship, they are currently fundraising an NFT education workshop for local female artists in Nigeria so they’ll be able to create and make money off of their own artworks.
There is a sense of potential with Web3, we all can shape the future. We are at the beginning so let’s onboard more women, more people from underrepresented communities because they need a seat at the table to decide what the future for our kids will be like. It’s such a big beast, the internet, and I think how can an artist living in London change anything? But if I can empower women, engage in conversations we haven’t had before, if that can impact the way Web3 is created, it’s worth it. It’s so easy in the current world to feel helpless with the political climate and global warming. The little things can count. If it feels like you’re shouting in the void you should still shout because it does make a difference.
— LEAH IBRAHIM SAMS, POWER OF WOMEN NFT
Many female-led projects are not just about making money, but focus on social impact. While large organizations and PFP projects are gaining recognition and launching major collaborations, there are many projects out there that are opening up space through representation and community. The Power of Women is an NFT movement of bold, diverse, empowering artworks by illustrator Leah Ibrahim Sams. Her aim is to bring inclusivity into the space and open up channels for conversations around taboo subjects such as postpartum depression and abortion. Sams has worked with The Cova Project, an Australian charity providing safe sanitary solutions to women in developing communities across Africa. The Cova Dignity project is available on Opensea and features donated work from socially minded NFT artists.
Items from The Cova Dignity project
Women have already revolutionized the space, taking on leadership roles and changing the ways social action can manifest in the digital realm. Just in recent weeks, while the world has been struggling to come up with a plan of action to aid Ukraine, DAOs have been essential in providing financial relief in an incredibly quick and transparent way. Women, both Russian and Ukrainian, have specifically taken the floor by raising millions of dollars through NFT sales. Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova in collaboration with The UkraineDAO, Oliva Allen with the passport-burning NFT, and Aleksandra Artamonovskaja’s work with RELI3F are making history. The far reaching impact and power of historically underrepresented people entering the Web3 space is just beginning to emerge, and it’s already changing the world.
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