Deemed as a white, male-dominated space, many female artists and celebrities have voiced their enthusiasm for inviting more women into the web3 movement. While many NFT projects focus on education, philanthropy, and providing visibility for women creators, some have been criticized for using social justice issues as selling points, undermining their risks and actual contribution to the cause. Is NFT an outlet for women to express and achieve financial independence, or is it another “tokenizing” marketing gimmick to exploit female audiences? What are some of the risks and opportunities with “pinkwashing” the NFT market?
Women in Tech
The tech industry was never meant to be a playground designed just for men. In 1946, the group selected to work on the U.S. military’s first computer had over 50% of women programmers. During the 60s, computer scientist and programmer Margret Heafield Hamilton successfully led her team to chart Apollo 11’s path to the moon and was widely celebrated for her meticulous work. However, as the tech industry and engineering jobs became more lucrative in the late 60s, such a situation slowly shifted. Beginning in 1984, the number of female computer science major started to steadily decrease, dropping from 36% to merely 18% at the current day. Today, the makeup of U.S. software engineers is reported to be 80% men.
Despite women playing significant roles in early technology revolutions, the industry developed business structures that reinforced patriarchal norms and masculine biases. The profitable nature of the work has caused male executives to establish workplace cultures and hiring criteria that sidelined women. Such an unbalance in the workforce has also led to biases that reinforce this cycle, influencing functionalities of applications to be in favor of men. Based on research done by the MIT Media Lab, Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI) facial recognition software was found to have challenges identifying darker-skinned individuals and female faces. AI recruiting technology was also reported to favor male candidates due to its development and testing process using resumes of men.
In 1994, the term “Cyberfeminism” was introduced in the midst of the dot-com boom by Sadie Plat, director of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick. Heavily influenced by feminist theorist Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, the Cyberfeminists aimed to make the Internet a collaborative utopia where people escape gender norms: abolishing discrimination based on gender, creating a virtual world free from sexist social conditions, rebuilding equitable social relationships, and providing equal opportunities to all. However, the movement’s morale was quickly challenged by its conflicting notions. Many criticized that although the movement called for the dissolution of gender and racial hierarchies, it failed to address issues of race and marginalized, disadvantaged groups. As the dot-com bubble burst, the rally cries of Cyberfeminists further diminished.
“Being bad grrls on the internet is not by itself going to challenge the status quo, Cyberfeminism presents itself as inclusive, but the cyberfeminist writings assume an educated, white, upper-middle-class, English speaking, culturally sophisticated readership.”Faith Wilding, Author of Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism
Female Empowerment Through NFTS
In recent years, NFTs have rapidly grown to become the new financial market that bridge the digital and physical worlds. In 2020, the NFT art sales reached a total of about $41 billion. Despite the mass amount of capital yielded, NFT space faces criticisms of being deemed a “Boy’s Club,” with merely 14.23% of female engagement. Regardless of the multibillion-dollar industry, only around 5% of women report owning an NFT, and 5% to 15% of creators are reported to be female-identifying.
The significant gap between the two has led crypto enthusiasts to advocate for inviting more women into the Web3 space. Projects and conversations revolving around feminism in crypto have soon gained attention. Many female artists, investors, and creators have joined in, aiming to empower and elevate women through such outlets. Created by Toronto-based illustrator Rachel Winter, The Remarkable Women NFT collection is one example of project committed to the celebration of all women. Inspired by cultural diversity, fashion, and feminism, the NFT artworks feature bold, colorful female figures with empowering messages written in 15 languages. The purpose of the project also extends to philanthropy, with 10% of the drop proceed donated to the 501(c)(3) organization Fund for Women’s Equity (FFWE), and 10% of the secondary sales donated to its community-driven fund to support causes that empower women globally.
Celebrities were quick to join in. October 2021, actress Reese Witherspoon became the first celebrity to change her Twitter profile picture to a World of Women avatar. The World of Women, illustrated by artist Yam Karkai, is one of the most popular “starstruck” NFT projects that promote female representations. After its launch, the project generated more than $40 million in two weeks and was almost immediately sold out. Other than being a women-centric organization, WoW pays close attention to education and advancing members’ knowledge in Crypto. To better navigate the space, newcomers are offered the WoW Educational Hub and Discord access, where resources and conversation are provided for a deeper understanding of the market.
Other projects such as the UnicornDao suggests a Web3 investment fund for women, non-binary and LGBTQ+ NFT artists. Led by Nadya Toloknnikova, a member of Moscow-based music group Pussy Riot, the UnicornDao focuses on generating a Web3 fundraising experience through DAO. The project encourages and supports women to participate in the NFT market for financial benefits. Tolokonnikova made it clear that blockchain technology, NFT, and crypto tools can be used to eradicate sexist power structures and that it shouldn’t be an exclusive club for crypto bros.
“I fell into a trap that’s typical for a girl; that girls are not supposed to do anything tech-related. Just because of my gender, and the way I look—because I do enjoy wearing short skirts—there could still be a moment where you’re dismissed immediately, and alienated and objectified.”Nadya Toloknnikova, Time Interview
Moving forward, Toloknnikova describes her vision for the project as building “infrastructure for a feminist revolution on the blockchain.” She claims that for the first time, she can finally utilize economic tools to leverage her goals of re-illustrating the patriarchal narrative.
Risks of Pinkwashing
As feminist ideologies rightfully swore the NFT market, some have drawn parallels between such a trend with the Cyberfeminist movement in the 90s. Criticisms conclude that although they claim to serve all women, the majority of feminist NFT projects center around white women and/or women of extremely privileged backgrounds.
In March 2022, former director of market development for Facebook, Randi Zuckerberg, uploaded a music video to her Twitter account named “We’re All Gonna Make It” — a playful spin on Twisted Sister’s 80s classic “We’re Not Gonna Take it.” The video features Zuckerberg dancing and singing gleefully with cameos of other known female NFT enthusiasts, including Lisa Mayer, Sara Baumann, Mai Akiyoshi, and Maliha Abidi.
Putting aside the video’s cringyness and its lack of self-awareness, the intention behind it still seems unclear. If feminists in the NFT space emphasize so much on inclusivity and welcoming all women, the excessive usage of exclusive lingo comes across as otherwise. Zuckerberg later explained herself in the same Twitter thread that she wanted to introduce crypto jargon to the newcomers in a fun way. That she was hoping the video could serve as a 2-min crypto lingo 101 lesson that also celebrates the women of Web3.
Though Zuckerberg’s video failed to achieve what it was set to do, it seems unfair to place too much judgment on a passion project. After all, it doesn’t really pose harm to anyone other than being slightly annoying. However, the trend of celebrities promoting NFT projects does have the potential to cause actual damage.
Bob Seeman, author of the book “Bitcoin: Unlicensed Gambling,” says in a Bloomberg interview that “celebrities and social media influencers have a lot of brand power,” yet due to its novel nature, the current crypto market is extremely underregulated, making it vulnerable to scams. In the U.S., the Security and Exchange Commission rules that it is unlawful for any person to promote a security without disclosing their financial relationship/ownership to the source. However, since the same set of rules does not apply to the crypto market, the risks of celebrities and influencers taking advantage of their audience through promoting NFTs looms over the market.
January 2022, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Mila Kunis joined a promotion event aiming to bring more women investors into the crypto market. During the event, Kunis said to the audience: “We are so conditioned as women to be risk-averse. I want to take risks, and I want to see what happens.” There is no doubt that someone as famous as Kunis and Paltrow can afford to take on such risks. However, for the regular audience, such promotions often purposely overlook the danger and volatility of the investment with exciting buzzwords that can maximize traction. In this case, the shiny gold carrot that dangles ahead is female empowerment. The fear of missing out, as well as the urgency of joining a lucrative, male-dominated field, is dangerous in the sense that it clouds people’s judgments and makes them forget what truly matters.
“These projects are very clearly centering mostly White women or mostly women who already come from a lot of privilege. It felt like buzzwords for people to eat up, so they felt good about supporting a women-led project.”Adrienne Young, Social Media Strategist
NFT Bubble Bursting
Similar to the dot-com boom, as the market continues to cool, many worry that history may repeats itself with a similar bubble burst that happened in the 90s. In March 2021, an NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first tweet was purchased by an Iranian crypto entrepreneur for $2.9 million. However, as of 14 April 2022, the largest bid for the tweet was $6,823.54. Additionally, the volume traded has shown significant drop. Based on Market Tracker, in August 2021, more than 200,000 NFT sales took place daily, which amounted to about $400 million. However, as in April 2022, the number of sales per day only ranges from 10,000 to 30,000, and the total number does not surpass ¼ of its past amount. Many have argued that the bubble burst for NFT might have already arrived. On top of decline in trading volume, the value of NFTs has also decreased tremendously. As one of the most popular NFT collections, a recent sale of a Bored Ape Yacht Club stood at $224,028.62, which was a loss of $67,799.54 for the buyer who had purchased it. In 2021, NFTs comprised a total market capitalization of approximately $23 billion. However, currently, the number has dropped to only $10 billion.
In conclusion, considering the current state of the crypto market, I believe the most one should do is to educate oneself, utilizing creditable resources to gain knowledge on the subject. One shouldn’t feel fearful or pressured by the market just because of their gender. If the investment seems right and one happens to have the resources to back their risks, maybe it is a good opportunity to jump in. And if it doesn’t, maybe that is okay too. Despite all, critical thinking and making your own decisions seem like the essential practices of being a feminist.
Abrams, Loney. “The Other Art History: The Forgotten Cyberfeminists of ’90s Net Art.” Artspace, January 4, 2019. https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/the-other-art-history/the-other-art-history-the-forgotten-cyberfeminists-of-90s-net-art-55864.
Balwa, Priyanka. “Women’s Day 2022: An NFT Artist Shares How Female Creators can Make Money from Non-Fungible Tokens in India.” Financial Express. Financial Express, March 8, 2022. https://www.financialexpress.com/digital-currency/how-women-can-become-nft-artists-in-india-and-make-money/2453584/.
Bruner, Raisa. “Exclusive: Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Launches Crypto Dao.” Time. Time, March 3, 2022. https://time.com/6154118/pussy-riot-unicorn-dao-nadya/.
Clark, Mitchell. “NFTs, Explained.” The Verge. The Verge, August 18, 2021. https://www.theverge.com/22310188/nft-explainer-what-is-blockchain-crypto-art-faq.
Cuen, Leigh. “Pussy Riot Shows the Cypherpunk Power of Feminist NFTs.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, April 2, 2021. https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/25/pussy-riot-shows-the-cypherpunk-power-of-feminist-nfts/.
Egkolfopoulou, Misyrlena. “Celebrities Can’t Promote Stocks. Can They Endorse NFTs?” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg. Accessed April 22, 2022. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-13/can-celebrities-promote-nfts-regulators-struggle-to-oversee-defi-market.
Evans, Claire. “‘We Are the Future Cunt’: Cyberfeminism in the 90s.” VICE, November 20, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en/article/4x37gb/we-are-the-future-cunt-cyberfeminism-in-the-90s.
Frank, Joel. “Is the NFT Bubble Bursting Already?” Yahoo! Yahoo, April 22, 2022. https://www.yahoo.com/video/nft-bubble-bursting-already-122123804.html.
Goldberg, Emma. “Perspective | Women Built the Tech Industry. Then They Were Pushed out.” The Washington Post. WP Company, February 22, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/02/19/women-built-tech-industry-then-they-were-pushed-out/.
Lang, Brent. “Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, World of Women Partner to Adapt NFTs into Movies, TV Shows (Exclusive).” Variety. Variety, February 18, 2022. https://variety.com/2022/film/news/reese-witherspoon-hello-sunshine-world-of-women-partner-nft-movies-tv-shows-live-events-1235185212/.
Mainwaring, Simon. “How Remarkable Women NFTs Are Forging Innovative Avenues of Impact.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, March 10, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmainwaring/2022/03/09/how-remarkable-women-nfts-are-forging-innovative-avenues-of-impact/?sh=17946eca1337.
Morris, Chris. “The NFT Bubble Is Showing Clear Signs of Bursting.” Fortune. Fortune, March 4, 2022. https://fortune.com/2022/03/04/nft-bubble-market-crash-price-value/.
Mulko, Maia. “What are NFTs and How do they Work?” Interesting Engineering. Interesting Engineering, March 1, 2022. https://interestingengineering.com/nft-non-fungible-token#:~:text=%E2%80%9CNFT%E2%80%9D%20is%20an%20acronym%20that,attributes%20that%20give%20them%20worth.
Shaw, Anny. “‘Men Still Own the World, and It’s Not Cute’: NFT Projects and Daos Lead the Way during Women’s History Month.” The Art Newspaper – International art news and events. The Art Newspaper – International art news and events, March 8, 2022. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/03/08/men-still-own-the-world-and-its-not-cute-nft-projects-and-daos-lead-the-way-during-womens-history-month.
Tiku, Nitasha. “Famous Women Join the Crypto Hustle, but It Could Cost Their Fans.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 19, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/04/06/women-crypto-nft/. Wolfson, Rachel. “NFTs of Empowered Women Aim to Drive Female Engagement in Crypto.” Cointelegraph. Cointelegraph, October 19, 2021. https://cointelegraph.com/news/nfts-of-empowered-women-aim-to-drive-female-engag
Mainwaring, S. (2022, March 10). How remarkable women nfts are forging innovative avenues of impact. Forbes. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmainwaring/2022/03/09/how-remarkable-women-nfts-are-forging-innovative-avenues-of-impact/?sh=445f59671337
“While Men Wanted, Women Did: Empowering Female Creators with Nfts and Crypto.” Cointelegraph. Cointelegraph, April 16, 2022. https://cointelegraph.com/news/while-men-wanted-women-did-empowering-female-creators-with-nfts-and-crypto.
“’World of Women’ Nfts Are Cracking Crypto’s Boys-Club Image.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, January 14, 2022. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/world-of-women-nfts-reese-witherspoon-1283724/.
Rajpalsinh. “Pussy Riot Launched Unicorndao to Support Women and LGBTQ+ Artists.” The Crypto Times, March 9, 2022. https://www.cryptotimes.io/pussy-riot-launched-unicorndao-to-support-women-and-lgbtq-artists/.