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The Fourth Gender: Imagery, Identification, and Imagination In the Virtual Experience

I've persuaded my first-year students of English Composition to write on the umbrella topic of Justice. Many students are writing about race, abortion, the death penalty, gender equality, gun control, climate change, student loan forgiveness... For the past year, and more so considering FB revealed tampering algorithms, many students write about the adverse effects of social media on identity and self-esteem and the epiphenomenon of conflicting virtual interaction.

I met one of my students during Zoom office hours. They wanted to write about the positive effects of social media, maintaining connections with friends and family during the pandemic, networking for specific purposes and information, and, above all, how social media has become an arena of resistance with the explosion of hashtag movements, such as blacks lives matter, new voices, me too, and hear me.

As I was advising them, I remembered that I had written an essay back in 2013 for The Better Bombshell's website, which, unfortunately, disappeared like many sites on the World Wide Web. The Better Bombshell is an anthology created by Charlotte Austin, compiling literary works in various genres and illustrations by amazing artists curated by Siolo Thompson.

The Better Bombshell: Writers and artists redefining the female role model was published on February 14, 2013, on my birthday. I attended the gala in Seattle wearing a classy silver dress (a loan from Julie Bardin as I celebrated Valentine's Day. The book is a collaborative grassroots anthology that asked writers and artists a simple question: "Who is the better bombshell?" Writers and artists attempted to respond to this crucial question by employing various genres (nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and screenplay) and mediums (photography, drawing, and painting). Indeed, the last century has seen women's roles change more rapidly than ever before, and the media is showering us with images of modern women without conscious reflection on what those images mean.

As I was talking with my student, I realized that the essay about the concept of women cross-pollinating in digital spaces had prognosticated hashtags movements in the virtual realm almost a decade ahead. I am now rescuing my narrative and reposting it on my blog. Thank you, Siolo Thompson, whose oracles continue to prognosticate my days, and to Levi, with whom I have worked cross-pollinating artistically, for your creative and constant support.

Thank you, Charlotte Austin, for believing in me; I still want to take you up on that hiking journey to the fresh wells, magical waterfalls, and cozy geysers up on the Seattle forests and mountains. You, Levi and Siolo said that I was your girl crush, but you three are mine. Abrazos.


Mandatory Sentence - Levi Hastings

Imagery or The Metaphor of Cyberspace:

Cyberspace is a conglomerate of human expressions. It is highly visual, manifesting enhanced colors and lines over digital canvases. It has movement and motion, synchronicity, and symbiosis. Since it is an alternative space that offers an arena for alternate selves, it is possible to boldly say that the virtual space is where otherness may venture to play, and thrive. Today, cyberspace is a place where women, nonbinary folks and BIPOC can defy, undermine, and dispute traditional concepts of gender roles and redefine themselves: a place for transcending in transformations after transgressing tarnished traditions.

Indeed, in cyberspace, gender boundaries can be radicalized through artistic expressions in various genres and narratives of the self. The other bond and blend, interacting through intertextuality, inter-gazing, and game-playing.

It is sonic and aural, and even though we cannot taste, smell, or touch when we interact within the virtual realm, the experience is kinetic: the senses of sight and hearing trigger all senses in our minds and bodies. Suppose art is the aesthetic representation of a finished invention appealing to the senses. In that case, cyberspace could be understood as a multi-fictional narrative where creative, artistic, and logistic media find an auditorium for its audience to express, opine, and play.

Thus, we are wired, we are plugged in, we need to live updated, we operate with wi-fi, we compute information, and input ideas employing our subjective perception on this alternate world, or in the projections of ourselves into it from the real world, as doppelgängers and doppelgängerins: avatars and alter egos. Even when we have long passed substituting coal and sharpened stick for ink and quill to communicate, and to have the need to record and disseminate with ink on press, we have, nonetheless, used language and symbols constantly, now speaking with fingertips pressing keys, with thumbs touching and scrolling. We continue to invent and to inhabit imaginary places — and cyberspace is as fictive as it gets. And yet, it's as real in our minds as we are writers and readers of the stories we protagonize in the cyber stage.

City Walkers - Levi Hastings

Identification or The Metonymies of Virtual Urbanization:

Cyberspace — as William Gibson coined the term in his first short story, "Burning Chrome" and popularized with his cyberpunk novel Neuromancer — is not real space. However, it is possible to open portals with user i.d.'s and passcodes and access gateways keying algorithms. And when we enter the realm, we find ourselves browsing, running, or surfing, entering a room to chat, joining a conversation in a café, writing on walls, dating online, and even having sex in a den.

These are metonymies, transfigurations, and transactions of the information language, inter-communicating on the Internet, identifying the places of an abstract web with those familiar symbols and signs with which we connect in real-time. And we promptly deliver them from drives rendered through information highways or redirected via digital routes.

But such figurative language allows women quickly seize a virtual dwelling in which there is existence in performance and community. Social networks enable the gathering of women where cyber grids become the settings of narratives — a virtual square for activism where conversations are spontaneous and systematic.

Rene Magritte's famous pipe image with the phrase Ceci n’est pas une pipe depicts the difference between representation and reality. Other assumptions such as that "nothing is real" and "reality is an illusion" conclude that cyberspace is metaphysical. However, if virtuality opposes the concept of what reality is, which is determined considering concrete space and measured time, then cyberspace during a cyber event could define a notion of authenticity in their juxtaposed representation of real-time albeit incorporeal space. There is a happening taking place somewhere when that is perceived as real from the factual milieu. Moreover, there is a timely and timed trail in a thread recorded digitally, revealing evidence of interaction even in representing acts and happenings. And Cinderella's glass slipper fits, or a stiletto, a boot with spikes, a flip-flop, whether the other shoe is found, or not, in the different realm. Who cares? I do. You do. We all should.

Upgrade Final - Levi Hastings

Invention or The Metalepsis of Avatars:

Cyberspace expands and constrains constantly. The boundaries between the public and the private, authenticity and deception, and most clearly, between illusion and reality have fuzzy, flexible, and fixable lines. The mind is virtual, the feeling is virtual, and pleasure is virtual. Because the body experiences reality, existence even in virtuality happens through the senses, and our minds make of it a sensical world. The body is not negated; it is the medium to interact in this other reality. It is not disembodiment but the ability to control how we appear; the spaces that our bodies occupy are shaped by personal choice. The tools and skills that we as humans have to perceive reality are virtual. Therefore, cyberspace becomes a matrix where we experience reality, even in its fictional fettle.

Even though there might be constrained or contained virtual spaces limiting transcendence, like-minded people can vivaciously and vividly act, react or enact by subverting social prejudices from the virtual community to social realities. This is an opportunity that renders women able to hold the reins and take charge of how constructions and structures should be in the virtual social world and cycle back to the real social world.

Furthermore, the projection of selves as avatars or veiled under pseudonyms, pen names, performative personae, allows women to gain agency. In a way, everyone is the other here, and women have a history with otherness. Hello. Therefore, women are better equipped to thrive in a virtual realm, which could endow them as bombshells of a new era and rise out of storytelling and role-playing.

The Fourth Gender—The Forthcoming Bombshells:

Representation in communication is social and political, so narratives in cyberspace become discourses, even when uttered as digital shibboleths against hackneyed hierarchies and outdated values. Language renders itself as written acts, acted stories capable of bridging the one with the other, the gazed-upon with the gazer, the interlocutors, the writer with the reader. Internet challenges the nature of reality, the current condition of culture, freedom of expression, and violations of copyrights, autonomy, and surveillance.

Wunderkammer-Admiral - Levi Hastings

Real and contemporary women interact in this space of non-physicality, and in it, they can write their bodies and own their bodies. Their form and substance transpire through the genres used to express, bend, cross, deploy, to transform their identity.

With the advent of the information era, the bombshell's depiction is turning most adamantly into the badass/kickass woman, the warrior woman, the amazon, one who possesses traits and trends widely accepted as masculine, to such an extent that she is deemed a deviation. But their predecessors, often infamous Femme Fatales (fictional or factual), have been considered dangerous, treacherous, wicked, emotionless--the madwoman in the attic...because they all have exposed a potential to debunk the masculine and reject patriarchal views, destabilizing the status quo. Frequently, strong-willed women have been labeled as un-feminine because they practiced pre-established gender male roles. But the metaphor of the bombshell moved into metonymic realms of warfare and martial laws and associated this symbol with the sense of absolute destruction, thus, annihilating women's innate ability to create life.

The idea of today's real bombshell is even more dangerous because the military industry has manufactured the smart bomb, aiming to target specific audiences, to control its destruction. Its smartness could be comparable to a lethal weapon, conspiring with media to deceive and manipulate a determined audience cunningly. But today's woman-bombshell is higher and evolved being, in tune with her creative and creational forces. Her body does not dictate who she is, and instead, her sensibility and cogent wit control it or release it at will.

Pioneer Wives - Levi Hastings

The bombshell is another species, a fourth gender, a fore-gender, welding the notions of a diva, femme fatale, feminist, warrior, and badass, solidifying in the virtuosity and sensible brilliance of a cyberspace hermaphrodite, all in one. She is the forthcoming re-invention in virtual space and real-time. She is herself and her alter ego at once, out of virtual transformation in the unbodied (but not disembodied) cyber experience.

The forth-gender is the radical version of an other one: today's woman and folk identifying as women.

As the bard would say the people of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. They wear the pants, the skirts, the hats, and the boots, so fiercely, that you should tremble--there's an earthquake shaking you, but fear not, my friend. It is justice manifesting.

Long Live Lilith and her rightfully begotten flowers' seeds.

Personal Card by Levi Hastings

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