Sluts ‘r’ us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age


  • Nishant Shah ICAM, Leuphana University, Lueneburg, Germany Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore, India



Slut shaming, Revenge porn, Body and Technology, Social Media


When it comes to examining the relationship between digital technologies and gender, our discourse has fallen into two pre-wired sets of responses: The first set approaches gender as something that is operationalised through the digital, thus producing the rhetoric of ICT4D and women’s empowerment through access to the digital. This also gives rise to the DIY cultures that makes women responsible for the safety of their bodies and selves, and puts the blame of sexual violence or abuse back onto the body of the woman. The second set approaches the digital as something that operates gender, examining the regulations and control that the digital technologies exercise on women’s bodies, gender and desires. This focuses on practices like revenge pornography, privacy, protection and security in the age of growing cyber-bullying and attacks on women. In both these discourses, there is always the imagination of one of the two sites as passive — either the gendered body uses digital technologies for its intentions, or the digital technologies shape the gendered body following the protocols of algorithmic design. By looking at the figure of the digital slut, as it emerges in popular cultural practices and debates in regulation, that this separation of gendered intention from machine protocol fails to accommodate for the quotidian and varied engagements of bodies and technologies, and thus produces flawed regimes of regulation and law around digital gender. I propose two strategies to understand ‘digital gender’ as a moment of configuration rather than a finite resolved category: The first is to combine the protocols of technology with the metaphors of the body, producing a metaphorocol, which enables us to move beyond the aporetic production of body and technology in contemporary discourse. The second is to relocate agency and question the body as actor/the body as acted upon paradigm that is invoked in thinking of body-technology relationships. Consequently, I argue I propose two different approaches that draw from material practices of gender and the architecture of physical computing, to offer new ways of reading the practices of policing and pathology of gender in the age of ubiquitous networking. I argue in my conclusion that ‘digital gender’ as a concept helps us build upon earlier intersections of feminist thought and practice with other identity politics by opening up to other identities of regulation and control that emerge within data regimes of information societies.

Author Biography

Nishant Shah, ICAM, Leuphana University, Lueneburg, Germany Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore, India

Nishant Shah is a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Culture, Aesthetic and Media (ICAM) at the Leuphana University, Germany and the co-founder of the Centre for Internet & Society, India, where he served as a Research Director for six years. He is the editor of the four-volume anthology Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? (2010) and the editor of the series on Histories of the Internets in India (2008-12). He has published variously  and teaches on questions  of digital identities, digital activism, digital media and learning, and body and technology.




How to Cite

Shah, N. (2015). Sluts ‘r’ us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age. First Monday, 20(4).