Chinese Malaysian, American Literature at Osaka University, Japan.
Confronting Gendered Dualistic Concepts: Feminism and Technology
Have you ever wondered what makes you human? Is it the mind or the body that makes us human? These questions are related to the Christian dualism of spirit/flesh. This mind/body dualism encourages a hierarchal structure in which the mind is given the dominant position and the body comes second. Moreover, Elizabeth Grosz claims that this mind/body dualism is deeply tied to masculine and feminine subject positions, in which the mind is associated with reason, culture, public, self, subjectivity and masculinity while the body is linked to emotion, nature, privacy, other, objectivity and femininity (Grosz 4). It is suggested that this dual and hierarchical nature of oppositional thinking comes to sustain phallogocentrism—the privileging of the phallic signifier, more specifically, the male oriented values, in language and culture (Cixous 91).
That is to say, the mind/body dualistic concept, the Enlightenment values of reason in the construction of the human is, indeed, gender biased. One of the ways to deconstruct this dual and hierarchical thinking is through the use of technology. It is suggested that the ambiguity arising from technologies not only collapses the nature/artifice, the mind/body dualism (Toffoletti 20). However, as Judy Wajcman claims in Feminism Confronts Technology, the definition of technology has a male bias, thus a re-definition of it becomes necessary (Wajcman 137). This biased identification is derived from a stereotypical thought that women are technologically incapable, which is derived from the separation of labor between men and women, whereby women participate mainly in cooking and childcare. From here, we understand that the identification between technology and masculinity is not inherent in “biological sex difference” but rather, a result of “the historical and cultural construction of gender” (Toffoletti 22).
Drawing on this, cyber-feminists claim that women and technology together are viewed as a double threat to the rational patriarchal order (Huyssen 71). As Sadie Plant suggests, “Cyberspace is the matrix not as absence, void, the whole of the womb, but perhaps even the place of woman’s affirmation” (60). By embracing cyberspace as female space, women thus can change the “male-defined technological landscape” (Toffoletti 24). Regarding gender and technology, it is suggested that the act of gender swapping in the virtual world serves as a “vehicle for self-reflection” and gives “people greater emotional range in the real,” which provides a platform to understand gender differences and eventually a world that celebrates gender diversity (Turkle 219, 222).
Nevertheless, technology does have a dangerous consequence that we should recognize: in the near future, when humans are capable of becoming cyborgs, a pansexual transhuman society will become real and at that time, there is a possibility that we will no longer remember the meaning of being human. Thus, a balanced force or relation between feminism and technology must be maintained so that the machine/human dualistic dystopian future will remain as fiction.
Cixous, Helene. “Sorties.” in New French Feminism: An Anthology. Ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle De Courtivron. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. pp.90-98. Print.
Grosz, Elizabeth. “Notes Toward a Corporeal Feminism.” Australian Feminist Studies 5, 1987. pp.1-15. Print.
Huyssen, Andreas. “The Vamp and the Machine: Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis.’” in After the Great Divide. Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1986. pp.65-81. Print.
Plant, Sadie. “The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics.” in Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. ed. Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows. London: Sage, 1995. Print.
Toffoletti, Kim. Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture and The Posthuman Body. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007. Print.
Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. London: Phoenix, 1997. Print.
Wajcman, Judy. Feminism Confronts Technology. Cambridge and Oxford: Policy Press, 1991. Print.
Text © Lay Sion Ng
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