I just finished Audacia Ray’s Naked on the Internet, and I admit to having mixed feelings about it.
Having an interest in any form of cultural criticism, I remember my excitement upon seeing the book when browsing at my local bookstore. I read the back flap and was sold. I imagined that I knew very little about how women used the internet and so exploring at least one dimension of their use — where sexuality is concerned — might prove interesting as well as educational. This book especially seemed a propos on the heels of my reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, which in large part was dedicated to the Internet’s effect(s) on our society. Ray’s book was certainly educational, though it failed to maintain my interest throughout its entirety (which, for a male heterosexual reader, doesn’t seem too surprising).
Naked on the Internet is groundbreaking, in that Ray provides an introduction to a topic which scholarship has almost completely ignored. Her book accomplishes something phenomenal in that she doesn’t just cover this topic; rather, she maps out all of this topic’s hidden recesses and then undresses it completely, exposing these recesses for her readers’ perusal. Without a doubt, Ray has filled Naked with more information and more diverse perspectives than I expected. Nevertheless, her work suffers, in my opinion, from two major flaws.
Perhaps my expectations are overinflated, but when I approached this book I expected serious research which would generously contribute to existing scholarship, especially when written by someone with an MA from Columbia University. and when categorized as “Women’s Studies.” Unfortunately, all I got was hearsay, generalizations, and a narrow perspective on what I take to be a burgeoning field. Perhaps the greatest defect was her simple lack of precision, which in turn drastically marred the author’s credibility. Nearly all of her observations or criticisms, for example, are backed up with phrases as unspecific as, “…and I’ve talked to plenty of women who confirm that this impulse….” or “because women are often socialized to please, and because many do genuinely take pleasure in doing so…” Of course, the real shame here isn’t just that the author opted for vague and unspecific examples, but that this could have been easily rectified. Ray interviewed dozens of women, but chose not to collate their answers to her questions in any quantifiable way so as to back up her observations, and ignored the multitudinous academic research engines available, simply brimming with articles which could provide ready-made support for her sweeping claims.
Ultimately, I think the true value of this book (and do not mistake me; it is a valuable book) lies in its virtue as an introduction and a de facto call for further research. Through numerous brief anecdotes or roughly hewn enthrographic vignettes, Ray highlights dozens of points for further inquiry, such as her assertion that blogs may be the hallmark of a transition from confessional to professional, where blogs are acting like traditional confessionals with the exception that users can profess themselves into being. While this work may lack legitimacy as a critical text, it certainly makes great strides in compensating with its gusto. Perhaps Naked on the Internet can be best thought of, not as a flagship, but as a scout, making that perilous first foray into turbulent waters.