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rhizomes.

04 spring 2002
Thinking Through the Cybernetic Body: Popular Cybernetics and Feminism
Susanna Paasonen
[1] As discursive field, cyberfeminism appears as located between two mutually exclusive, or at least
contradicting articulations of embodiment. The prefix "cyber," drawing from both scientific and popular
investigations into cybernetics, refers to articulations of the body as a system of feedback loops and
autonomous responses, which owe to the Cartesian paradigm separating the body from the realm of
knowledge and the rational mind (cf. Judovitz 2001). Feminism, again, refers to the legacy of the
women's movement and feminist theory that have, since the 1960s, called for a politics of location in an
attempt to map anti-Cartesian forms of reason and embodiment. Radical feminist poet and theorist
Adrienne Rich (1995, 284) phrased the question in 1976: "cannot (women) begin, at least, to think
through the body, to connect what has been so cruelly disorganized?" Radical feminism mapped the
female body and sexuality as terrain of power and knowledge, breaking the transparency of the "natural
body." During the past decades, studies on embodiment and power have become a central field of
interest, further adding to the feminist project of rethinking embodiment, markers of difference and
identity.

[2] Since the early 1990s, "cyber" has become something of a free-floating signifier for things to do with
computers and information networks, and cyberfeminism has surfaced as a discursive arena for
imagining and analyzing inter-connections of gender, new technology, and the Internet in particular.

Donna Haraway's widely quoted and referenced "Cyborg Manifesto" (orig. 1985) has inspired
researchers to rethink the boundaries of the human and the machine, "nature" and "artifice," but this
rethinking has not in all cases included critical engagement with the Cartesian legacy of cybernetics. In
what follows, I look at the apparent tensions between "cyber" and "feminism," moving between popular
representations of cybernetic bodies and feminist appropriations--as well as critiques--of cybernetics.

This enterprise involves an attempt to understand how "cyber" became used in discussions on gender
and embodiment before the first articulations of cyberfeminism (VNS Matrix's 1991 "Cyberfeminist
Manifesto for the 21st Century"; Plant 1995) and the wider cyberspace discourses of the 1990s.

[3] Given that both the field of cybernetics (in its both academic and popular forms), and feminist
theorizing of technology and embodiment span several decades and branch out in various ways, neither
of the two can be thoroughly discussed in the confines of a single article. Therefore, I focus on some
rather iconic moments of representing and explaining the body in the 1960s and 1970s, from astronaut
cyborg figures to the television series The Bionic Woman, and Shulamith Firestone's visions of cybernetic
feminism. I believe that revisiting these discourses on technology and embodiment makes explicit the
need to rethink the uses of cybernetic figures in, and their implications for (cyber)feminist practices.

Enter popular cybernetics
[4] Generally speaking, cybernetics stands for the science of communications and automatic control in
both machines and organic systems, as outlined by Norbert Wiener (the 1948 Cybernetics, or, the
control in human and machine; the 1950 Human Use of Human Beings). Cybernetics has been
established as a field of scientific inquiry within engineering, computer science, medicine, anthropology,
sociology and psychology, but equally as representations, figurations and visualisations circulated in
popular media culture--that is, as popular cybernetics. Cybernetic research feeds into popular
cybernetics as terminology, general principles, experiments and analogies: of these, analogies between
brains and computers as information-processing systems, the body as cybernetic system of feedback
loops and autonomous responses, and the centrality of homeostasis in cybernetic systems are among
the most common and well known. Cybernetics has been widely appropriated in science fiction (cf.
Hayles 1999), psycho-cybernetics self-improvement literature and consulting (cf. Maltz 1970; Andersen
1985), as well as popular overviews on new technology (Halacy 1965; Ceuzin 1965). Cybernetic
principles such as feedback, self-organization, or homeostasis, have been employed in writings on
media, from Marshall McLuhan and the video movement in the 1960s and 1970s, to the cyberpunk
fiction and cyberspace texts of the following decades.
[5] The concept of a cyborg, cybernetic organisms, was first introduced by Manfred E. Clynes in the 1960
article "Cyborgs and Space," co-written with Nathan S. Kline, which dealt with possible adaptations and
modifications of the human body for space travel. Clynes and Kline saw the challenges of space travel as
an invitation to participate in human evolution, making it possible for astronauts to adapt to alien
environments. Cybernetic self-regulating man-machine systems became the means to accomplish these
ends without altering human heredity. Cybernetic systems would operate in collaboration with the
body's autonomous controls so that astronauts would not need to consciously operate any gadgets,
"leaving man free to explore, to create, to think and to feel" (Clynes and Kline 1995, 29-31; also Gray
1995, 47). The suggestions made by Clynes and Kline included primarily combinations of hypnosis, drugs
(psychic energizers, even amphetamines) and surgery for altering the bodily system (Clynes and Kline
1995, 31-33), although Clynes also suggested the possibility of mechanical devices being incorporated in
"the regulatory feedback chains--the homeostatic mechanism that keep us viable for such an
astonishingly long time" (Clynes in Halacy 1965, 8).
[6] According to Clynes, "the main idea was to liberate man from constraints as he flies into space--that's
a kind of freedom--but it seemed necessary to give him bodily freedom to exist in another part of the
universe without the constraints that having evolved on earth made him subject to." (Gray 1995, 47.)
Having evolved on Earth, one's body is conditioned in certain ways and can be reconditioned to better
correspond to external conditions: meanwhile, "the self" assumedly remains the same. The individual is
represented as if separate from, although tied to, its "vessel," the body, and through scientific progress,
"the self" can be freed from the body and its immanence.
[7] Clynes' and Klines' 1960 article evoke interest both in the media and within NASA: Life magazine
featured an article based on their ideas on the possibilities of cyborgs, and NASA commissioned an
entire study on cyborgs (Gray 1995, 47). Cyborg fantasies were part and parcel of the more general
enthusiasm concerning space and astronautics, as fuelled by the contemporary quests by Soviets and
Americans to "conquer space." Space opened up as a new frontier previously familiar from science
fiction but now reachable by human kind. As pointed out by Donna Haraway (1989, 137), space has
been figured and imagined of as the future of man, "escape from the bounded globe into an anti-
ecosystem called, simply, space." This view is exemplified in Paul Ceuzin's (1965, 4), introduction to a
popular French overview on astronautics, which attaches space travel to subversion in the history of
humanity. Ceuzin declares that: "[o]ur century will remain in history as the one that will have seen the
first human escape from the terrestrial prison," and continues, that "[astronautics] is already
transforming our mentality and [--] tomorrow it will perhaps transform it morally and physically. We are
thus living the largest human revolution; it remains to be seen if, in spite of our weaknesses and
limitations, we will be able to triumph it." (Ceuzin 1965, 5.) The earth and the body are both depicted as
prisons from which man must liberate himself and aim towards transcendence, freedom from the
surroundings, and optimization of one's bodily mechanism. In his foreword to D.S. Halacy's popular
overview on cybernetic organism, the appropriately titled Cyborg--Evolution of the Superman, Clynes
reproduces the same discourse:
A new frontier is opening which allows us renewed hope. The new frontier is not merely space, but
more profoundly the relationship between 'inner space' to 'outer space'--a bridge being built between
mind and matter, beginning in our time and extending into the future. [--]
A new word was created in 1960 to describe a new concept for man's venture into space: Become a
spaceman; live in space as at home--if possible, better than home! Do not take into space earth's
hindrances and encumbrances. Be a free spirit in space, weightless and not weighted down by the
limitations of terrestrial ancestry. (Clynes in Halacy 1965, 7.)
Being a spaceman, a superman implies freedom to transcend confines such as situatedness and
embodiment, and to make oneself at home in space, immaterial and weightless. As Mary Russo (1995,
26) points out, such images of "freedom as limitless space, transcendence, individualism, and upward
mobility of various kinds" have been central to modernism and liberation discourses, which tend to
reproduce the body/mind -split. Following Donna Haraway (1992, 297), such formulations are
representative of productionism which comes down "to the story line that 'man makes everything,
including himself, out of the world that can only be resource and potency to his project and active
agency'. This productionism is about man the tool-maker and -user, whose highest technical production
is himself; i.e., the story line of phallogocentrism."
[8] The 1970s in particular saw numerous visualizations of popular cybernetics, literary, cinematic, and
televisual alike. In many of them, bionics and cyborgs signified a discursive terrain for articulating novel
possibilities of the human: with cybernetics, men were able to rebuild themselves as "better, stronger,
faster," as the opening sequence of the popular cyborg television series, The Six Million Dollar Man
(1973-1978), declared. However, as Lynn Spigel points out in her studies on media and space frenzy of
the 1960s, these dreams of novelty became articulated in highly racialized and gendered terms: the
most visible agents of space exploration were white male engineers, on whose expertise the expeditions
were based. White men were equipped for conquering "the new frontier" while popular representations
focused on women as the wives of astronauts, or occasionally as "sexy robots" (Spigel 2001, 125-128).
According to Spigel, the space race, "provided a popular spectacle through which Americans could view
the future in terms of the past and still feel as if they were going somewhere," and helped the whites to
secure their power "through the control and colonization of space," as well as shaping the culture's
imaginary geography of the universe" (Spigel 2001, 133, 145). These ideas of simultaneous
transformation and reinforcement of the status quo become quite evident in the series Six Million Dollar
Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), which were both based on Martin Caidin's novel
Cyborg (1972)
Imagining the super(wo)man
[9] Martin Caidin's Cyborg depicts the construction of the former astronaut, Colonel Steve Austin as the
world's first cyborg. Inspired by cyborg research, the novel relies on Norbert Wiener's analogies
between the human nervous and muscular systems and artificial feedback mechanisms, as well as the
possibilities of integrating them--both illustrating these principles and developing them further in the
sphere of science fiction. In addition to the term cyborg, it celebrates the idea of bionics as a cutting-
edge field of cybernetics: in D.S. Halacy's (1965, 41) definition, bionics stands for "a further realization
by biologist and engineer that in many ways man could be equated with machine and vice versa."
Cyborg reiterates such principles and equations, as did the later television series with their
representations of bionic embodiments. These rationalized understandings of embodiment are explicit
in a paragraph, where Doctor Wells explains the functioning of bionic limbs that are integrated into the
body of his patient, Steve Austin:
Your brain sends down it signal in the form of electrical impulses. These travel through the nerve
networks of your body. While your arm remained a stump [--] the signals terminated where the limb
was severed. But now the wires in your bionic limb are connected directly--fused, as I said--with those of
the stump. They have literally became a single unit. And the elements of the bionics limb have been
programmed to respond in direct proportion to the electrical signal that is sent out by your brain. They
are also programmed to respond in the same manner as did your entire arm. This is the computer
aspect of the bionics system. It's basically the same for man or machine." (Caidin 1972, 134-135.)
Austin's reconstructed body is discussed in terms of "cables and wires" that "carry messages of
awareness and pressure and feel, and, of necessity, pain" and his brain is defined as "the most
extraordinary computer ever known" (Caidin 1972, 119, 131). In the pilot episode of the television
series, Colonel Austin is offered the over 800 page manual of his bionic arm, and its operations are
explained in some detail, simultaneously also providing user guides to Austin's own body. As a
prototypical cyborg, Austin both embodies and exemplifies cybernetic understandings of human
embodiment, which fundamentally reproduce the Cartesian legacy of framing the body as a "dissected
corpse, whose mechanical logic is associated with the artifice of automata" (Judovitz 2001, 71).
[10] Picking Colonel Austin as the ideal specimen of "a new breed," a "kind of superbeing" (Caidin 1972,
63-64) has explicit eugenic undertones. Austin embodies ideals of hegemonic masculinity (rationality,
physical strength, heterosexual appeal, technical skills, intelligence, courage) in a Caucasian figure, and
he is chosen as the test subject due to his exceptional abilities that are highlighted throughout the
novel. Austin is an experienced test pilot, the youngest ever astronaut to walk on the surface of the
moon, who "stood six feet, one inch tall, with eyes deep blue; a lean, muscled frame, almost rangy; a
laugh filled with warmth; and an animal attraction about him," considered among the astronauts as
"close to genius." With masters degrees in aerodynamics, astronautical engineering and history, and an
undefined Ph.D. degree, he is also star athlete in most sports. As doctor Oscar Goldman summarises,
Austin is a man "so unusual, extraordinary [--] Physically an outstanding specimen. A great athlete. An
advanced student of the military arts." (Caidin 1972, 59, 123-124.) With bionic additions, his athletic
skills become not only superb, but superhuman (Caidin 1972, 152, 160-161).
[11] Steve Austin is a perfect representative of the white race: male, heterosexual, North-American,
rational and superior in physical and mental performance, a man who has conquered space. Technology
steps in as means to make him into representative of a new breed that combines the best specimen of
human kind with the best of cutting-edge technological research and development. This convergence
reads as explicit reproduction of white mastery and use of technology in supporting the hegemony of
white masculinity--especially in the context of gender, race and the space race (cf. Spigel 2001).
[12] In 1975, Lindsay Wagner made a guest appearance in The Six Million Dollar Man as Austin's
childhood sweetheart and tennis professional Jaime Sommers, with whom Austin falls in love. Sommers
is Austins' ideal heterosexual partner--white, athletic, blonde, and feminine, but their romance is
violently ruptured as she nearly dies in a sky-diving accident, suffering the loss of three limbs and an ear.
Austin convinces OSI to rebuilt her as the worlds first female cyborg with a bionic arm, legs, and an ear
that enables her to hear distant things. Austin and Sommers are now truly "made for each other," as his
mother jokes, and the couple plans to marry. During this happy engagement period they are
continuously seen running at amazing speed, on and off-track, smiling at each other and leaping over
fences, tractors, and other obstacles. Yet, to paraphrase the opening sequence of the series, Austin is
quite obviously "better, stronger, faster" of the two. While Sommers appears to be the female
equivalent of Austin, and his "natural" love-interest, she is also situated as his inferior in performance. In
spite of her technological prowess, Sommers remains a representative of "the weaker sex."
[13] However, Sommer's body soon begins to reject her new bionic limbs. After series of painful
headaches, she suffers massive cerebral hemorrhage and dies on the operation table--only to be
resurrected a year later to star in her own series, The Bionic Woman, where she has a cover job as a
school teacher at an air base and is recurrently shown together with both children and animals. In 1977,
she even teamed up with a bionic canine, named Maximilian.
[14] During the mid-1970s, the Bionic Woman was a female heroine marketed to children in yearbooks,
lunch boxes and as action dolls. Her athletic and merry figure represented optimism in terms of
technological progress and the ability of cybernetics to change the world for better (Wilson 1995, 243;
cf. Gough-Yates 2001). In addition, she embodied both the cybernetic understanding of body as a
system that can be reconstructed and rewired with technology, and hegemonic understandings of the
appropriately raced and gendered body with decidedly feminine characteristics. Jaime Sommers may
have been physically stronger than non-bionic males, but her femininity expressed itself as care, nurture
and empathy (towards children in particular)--and, as the second episode of her series, "Angel of Mercy"
(1976) was eager to point out, she had a strong aversion not only towards violence but also needles and
snakes which rendered her nauseous, almost hysterical.
[15] Sommers was both fully bionic and female in the sense of being feminine and heterosexual--and
thus she guarded the unity of embodiment, desire and sexual practices even with bionic rearrangements
(cf. Butler 1990). As a figure of popular culture, the bionic woman offered visualizations of technological
embodiment and frameworks for considering the role of cybernetic technologies. However, the series
also illustrates Anne Balsamo's notion that new technologies should not be too readily connected to
novel ways of interpreting the self and the world, for "[i]t is just as likely that these new technologies
will be used primarily to tell old stories--stories that reproduce, in high-tech guise, traditional narratives
about the gendered, race-marked body" (Balsamo 1996, 132; also Braidotti 1996). Along with other
contemporary fictions dealing with life-like robots (e.g. The Stepford Wives, 1975; Westworld, 1974;
Futureworld, 1976), the series simultaneously blurred the boundaries of organic and machine bodies,
and reinforced those of gender as a hierarchical, binary system of differences that can be decoded from
the body.
[16] By the early 1970s, "cyber" had entered into the general vocabulary and popular cybernetics had
been formed as a field of representations concerning the boundaries and the nature of the human.
These representations resorted to ongoing scientific research (as in the case of NASA-funded cyborg
research, and, more currently, Alife and AI). However, popular cybernetics should also be understood as
building upon, and feeding itself. Individual texts both draw from, and add to popular cybernetics as sets
of concepts, figures and analogies that may be quite detached from research. Visualizations and
adaptations of cybernetic themes have formed a landscape for imagining the possibilities of new
technology, of freeing man from confines set by evolution and embodiment. In the 1970s, "cyber" came
to signify the possibilities as well as dangers of technology in various fields of culture, feminist studies
included. Given that fictions concerning reconstructions of the human body have long made use of the
figure of woman as machine, such investigations into the body-politics of cybernetics were greatly
needed. [1]
Feminist articulations of "cyber"
[17] In her 1970 The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone outlined the need for, and possibilities of
cybernetic socialist feminism. The book envisions an alternative form of cybersociety brought forth by
increased computerization, automation and the developments in high technology. In addition to the
obvious affinities to cyber terminology, Firestone relies on mechanistic understandings of the body as
object to be controlled and known, belief in rationality and reason, as well as social planning and the
organization of society with the aid of technology and science--themes central to contemporaneous
cybernetic social theories (Mki-Kulmala 1998).
[18] According to Firestone, as part of the current social, cultural and political system a cybersociety
would be both patriarchal and classist, and add to the marginalization and oppression of women,
whereas the alternative one would be based on female control of technology, ecological responsibility,
and a radical redefinition of the society (labor, family, love, leisure) both on the level of production and
reproduction. (Firestone 1970, 230-231.) Such a post-heteronormative cybersociety would mean public
computer centers, extensive use of contraception and reproduction technologies which would free
women from the confines of childbearing.
[19] The dialectic of sex in her book title refers both to a revolutionary process leading towards a future
society, and the underlying gender dynamics that have structured society from prehistory to the
present. Firestone anchors women's oppression firmly in biology and nature: women's reproductive
capacity is the cause for the original division of labor, "oppression that goes back beyond recorded
history to the animal kingdom itself" (Firestone 1970, 2). Consequently, reproduction and female
embodiment become the cause for gendered division of labor, and the fundamental gender dualism is
seen to spring from sex and biology (Squires 2000, 366; Haraway 1991, 10). Technology, again, steps in
as means for overcoming the tyranny of embodiment and biology. As science and technology move
toward uncovering the laws of nature, it becomes possible to fight nature: through control over
technology, women can restore the ownership of their own bodies. This, again, asks for a rethinking of
the very categories of nature and culture. (Firestone 1970, 2, 11, 226.)
[20] Firestone's ideas can be--and they have been--critiqued as a utopian science fiction narrative,
illustration of ultra-rationalism, technological optimism or determinism. [2] Certainly her model readily
assumes that changes in the system of production and reproduction will do away with gender as a
regulatory system of bodies, gender, desire and individual intelligibility (cf. Butler 2000, 75). Firestone
sees power as patriarchal and oppressive, and does not account for its productivity, which leads into the
idea that once the social and cultural conditions and practices (such as those of co-habitation) change,
people will be liberated and free from the confines of normative heterosexuality, and power will be
radically redefined in terms of gender, age, class and race. Furthermore, Firestone builds on cybernetic
principles of bodies (as well as societies) as systems that can be known and controlled. The body
becomes articulated as other, a system that the self can "operate" and master like other natural objects.
[21] As Donna Haraway argues, Firestone's lacking vision of a feminist body-politic leads her into
"reducing social relations to natural objects, with the logical consequence of seeing technical control as
a solution. [--] That is, she accepted that there are natural objects (bodies) separate from social
relations. In this context, liberation remains subject to supposedly natural determinism, which can be
avoided in an escalating logic of counterdomination." (Haraway 1991, 10.) The Dialectic of Sex stands in
clear opposition to many major contemporary radical feminist texts (e.g. Rich 1976/1995; Daly
1978/1990) in its arguments for overcoming gender with the aid of technology, and positioning nature
as the cause for gendered, raced and classed relations of power. Taking up and reproducing the
cybernetic discourse of the body as prison of the mind that can be reworked to better suit the needs of
the environment, Firestone also turns a blind eye to anti-Cartesian takes on embodied subjectivity.
[22] Thinking against the Cartesian legacy, Adrienne Rich (1995, 284) points out that "[w]e are neither
'inner' nor 'outer' constructed; our skin is alive with signals; our lives and our deaths are inseparable
from the release or blockage of our thinking bodies," and argues for a need to think not outside the
female body and thus produce old forms of thinking, but through the body in its full complexity and
political significance. This process is of particular importance to women, who have "tended either to
become our bodies--or to try to exist in spite of them" since the "female body has been both territory
and machine, virgin wilderness to be exploited and assembly-line turning out life" (Rich 1995, 282-285).
[23] Rich, like Firestone, describes processes through which women have become used as tools and
machines of reproduction, but does not credit this to biology or female capacity for reproduction.
Rather, the oppression of women is based on the integration of reproductive capacities in an order of
male political control and economic power (Liljestrm 2000, 258). Feminist body politics, in Rich's
formulation, includes women taking over tools of reproduction: not shifting reproduction to the terrain
of technoscience, but opening reproduction, sexuality, and parenting up for redefinition. Contrary to the
Cartesian paradigm that separates minds and bodies, souls and mechanical systems, reason and
experience, Rich aims to outline alternative starting points: "Not to transcend this body, but to reclaim
it. To reconnect our thinking and speaking with the body in particular living human individual, a
woman." (Rich 1986, 213.) As Marianne Liljestrm (2000, 268) points out, Rich defines the body as a
crossing of material and symbolic forces, as a discursive location inscribed with multiple codes of power.
[24] In her call for embodied knowledge and feminist ethics, Rich, like several other radical feminist
writers, argues against the Cartesian legacy and refuses to mark the body as other (cf. Braidotti
1993;.Gallop 1988). Firestone, again, refers to cybernetic, Cartesian-influenced formulations of body as
perfectible machine: the self as "ghost in the machine, the centralized fountain-keeper, sole agent and
administrator of the mechanized functions of the body" (Judovitz 2001, 78). While these stances appear
to be mutually exclusive, "cyber" and feminism have been bridged together within cyberfeminism since
the 1990s. Cyberfeminism has provided spaces for articulating connections between women and
computer technology. However, the tensions between mechanistic and anti-Cartesian feminist stances
have not been solved.
Cyborg figurations and the notion of skin
[25] Like Shulamith Firestone, Donna Haraway argues for feminist incorporations and appropriations of
technology and overcoming the dualities of nature and culture, organic and inorganic, female and male.
She uses the figuration of cyborg as feminist appropriation of military and NASA funded research
projects as a boundary figure that refuses origin stories of fullness or "seductions to organic wholeness"
(Haraway 1991, 150). Unlike Firestone's dialectic model, Haraway's manifesto does not depict a state of
future possibilities, but conceptualizes the contemporary situation with its convergence of human,
animal, and machine, reading it is as a possibility for feminist politics of difference. Yet, like Firestone's
model, the cyborg figuration is utopian.
[26] Haraway's cyborg figuration is something that, following Angela Bammer (1991, 4, 155), may be
identified as a partial vision, which can "provide a sufficiently open space into which to project the
possibility of as yet unchartable change." Like other figurations, the cyborg stands for "a politically
informed account of an alternative subjectivity," feminist forms of knowledge "that are not caught in a
mimetic relationship to dominant scientific discourses" (Braidotti 1994, 1, 75) and disrupt "the
teleological evolution of both humans and machines, nature and culture. Figurations are like myths with
seams in--or myths turned inside out. They are unnatural, irrational and very partial." (Kember 1998,
118.) Thus figurations unavoidably fail, if read literally rather than figuratively: as fantasies of
overcoming the body through the use of technology, as science fiction tales of humanity made machine,
or unlimited possibilities of gender-switching and identity play (cf. van Lenning 1997, 138-139; Klein
1999, 202, 208).
[27] In cyberfeminist texts, Firestone's utopian futures are relatively seldom acknowledged, while
Haraway's cyborg manifesto has become something of an iconic reference--or, as Nathalie Magnan put
it during the 2001 Very Cyberfeminist International, a "holy text." Firestone's cybernetic visions may be
accused of uncritical embrace of Cartesian principles, but this is considerably less so with Haraway's
cyborg figuration. Nevertheless, one may ask, to what degree are cyborgs open to feminist
appropriations, to being uprooted from their military and techno-scientific contexts?
[28] Writing on the centrality of science fiction in the U.S., Sharona Ben-Tov (1995, 143) argues that the
wide appeal of Haraway's figuration is owed to the lure of technologization as cultural fantasy that
"depends on believing that the world really lends itself to complete definition and control by science
and technology." In Ben-Tov's reading, the cyborg manifesto does not have the rhetorical power to
subvert the ideology on which it is built, or to fully overcome the underlying objectifying understandings
of embodiment. She argues that "Haraway's image of the skin is a passive shell between the Cartesian
self and the object world. Cyborg embodiment means installing devices in the shell, augmenting it with
machines that 'can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves'." However, "[m]achines
don't blur the boundary of the self; they just extend it." (Ben-Tov 1995, 144, 146.) According to Ben-Tov,
Haraway simultaneously reproduces the liberatory rhetoric of science fiction and technological
utopianism that she aims to confront.
[29] Although Ben-Tov's reading can be criticized for being too literal and not giving full credit to the
cyborg as figuration--its strategic nature in negotiating ground for articulations of feminist subjectivity--
it should be noted that the cyberdiscourse which Haraway employs in the manifesto has force that
feminist appropriation may not be able to subvert. Cyborg imageries figure embodiment in ways similar
than Shulamith Firestone, as a rationalized system that can be known, controlled and improved as to
liberate people from biology. Once the body becomes construed in such a mechanical vein, it is quite
difficult to reverse this logic for outlining alternative forms of human-machine connections. Such friction
between cyberdiscourse and the project of "thinking through the body" has become more explicit in the
later appropriations of the cyborg figuration than it was in the speculative manifesto.
[30] In cyberfeminist texts of the 1990s, the appeal of cyberdiscourse, enthusiastic towards the
possibilities of computer technology, often anti-political in its articulations of cyberspace as alternative
realm and tied into ideas of transcending the body (Adam 1997, 20-21) tended to override feminist
concerns for anti-Cartesian reasoning and body politics. As information networks became articulated as
a cyberspace, a parallel reality "on the other side of the screen" where old identifications and
subjectivities were said to collapse (Plant 1995, 54; Plant 1997, 213), or as spaces of transformation and
identity factories (Stone 1996, 180-181)--only to quote some of the best known authors identified with
cyberfeminism--identity and embodiment became conceptually separated, and, in many cases, the
previous was simply left behind.
[31] The figure of cyberspace owes equally to popular cybernetics and the inter-connected fantasies of
space, exploration, and freedom. As Constance Penley (1997, 22) points out, "'space' remains one of the
major sites for utopian thinking" in the U.S., and "'going to space' is still one of the most important ways
we represent our relation to science, technology, and the future." To paraphrase Penley (1997, 15-16),
fictions such as Cyborg and Bionic Woman represent a similar utopian stance towards the possibilities of
technological progress. As texts of popular cybernetics, they both humanize high technology and
provide a vocabulary for discussing it. In bionic fictions, progress through technology is tied with NASA in
the shape of a male astronaut protagonist, yet in them, the act of "going into space" (technological
progress, humanized science, future of man) takes place on the surface of the earth, and the human
body becomes the space to explore and modify. Spaces of progress and adventure, then, open up on
various level with references to cybernetics: as the outer space of astronautics, the inner spaces of
bodies and minds, and the terrain of cyberspace.
[32] Freedom from bodily constraints, various means of transcending material conditions, have been a
recurrent theme in cyberdiscourse since the 1950s: bodies have been subject to manipulation, their
automatic functions have been simulated with machines, bodies have been replicated and replaced by
machine ones, and finally the body, as "meat," has been left behind in cyberspace fantasies.
Furthermore, while gender, along with other embodied differences and the materiality of bodies, tends
to disappear in abstracted cybernetic models, the varying representations of virtual embodiments in
cyberspace tend to be clearly gendered and heterosexualized (Springer 1996; Balsamo 1996; Braidotti
1996). There is something of an obsession towards embodiment in cyberdiscourse--embodiment
constantly becomes "an other" that needs to be controlled and objectified, rendered open to
manipulation and altering. The tendency to think of bodies as something that one has, rather than
something one is and does, leaves unnoticed that bodies are not capsules that "we" inhabit, but our
very beings. Identity categories are inscribed in our bodies, read and performed: thus bodies are "the
transparent enabling power and 'zero-degree' of our agency" and yet opaque, "within our agency, yes,
but certainly in excess to our volition" (Sobchack 1999, 48).
[33] The issue of skin, addressed by Ben-Tov in her critique of Haraway, may be central in re-thinking the
relations of individuals, bodies and technology. In her Strange Encounters, Sara Ahmed (2000, 46-47)
argues that a feminist body politic should go beyond Adrienne Rich's focus on "my body," that is, "the
equation between lived experience, the privatised realm of 'the my', and particularity," since "my body"
is possible in its particularity "only through encountering other bodies, 'your body', 'her body and so
on." This involves thinking of bodies in relation to others, marks of gender, race, and age, and seeing
particular bodies as carrying "traces of the differences that are registered in the bodies of others"
(Ahmed 2000, 44, emphasis in the original). For Ahmed, the project is one of thinking through the skin,
rather than the body: skin does not simply stand for a surface of signs (color, wrinkles, hair, etc.) but for
boundaries that are assumed to contain subjects "inside" while keeping others "outside." In other
words, skin signifies a mechanism for social differentiation (Ahmed 2000, 44-45.).
[34] This conceptual shift enables a consideration of some bodies as more visible and marked than
others, bodies coming to matter through the skin, and people becoming situated in relation to each
other (through proximity and distance). Skin becomes readable as a kind of interface that is nevertheless
fully material (cf. Tikka 1996). Furthermore, thinking of the materializations of bodies as "systems of
meaning," helps to bridge the possible conceptual gaps between the body as lived, and the body as
signs, and also provides a stance for analyzing understandings of the body as a (cybernetic) system and
object.
Epilogue: Us versus Them--Who?
[35] Cyberfeminism becomes often articulated against "feminism" which signifies the "second wave" of
the 1970s, and is understood as homogenizing, essentializing, and anti-technology. Accusing feminism of
reductionism, cyberfeminist articulations postulate the "second wave" feminism as a version of
gynocentrism and cultural-feminism where women and nature are allies against the masculinist culture
of technology and control. As Faith Wilding (1998) has noted, cyberfeminists tend to depict 1970s
feminism as monumental, essentialist, anti-technology as well as anti-sex, while there may be little
understanding of the history of feminist theory and practice. And, paradoxically, "cyberfeminism has
already adopted many of the strategies of avant-garde feminist movements," such as separatism and
women-only groups (Wilding 1998, 7). Any closer reading of feminist texts of the 1970s and 1980s
reveals a wide array of takes on technology, from Mary Daly's anti-technological views to Shulamith
Firestone's embrace of high technology and computing, and feminist uses and critiques of technology in
fields such as cinema studies and photography (cf. Penley 1988; Spence 1995). Certainly there has never
been such a thing as "a feminist definition of technology," but rather multiple feminist takes on and
critiques of different technologies, as well as attempts to appropriate them and alter their meanings.
Here the question concerns processes of signification, tactics of representation and the uses of
technology (how it is made to signify), rather than its assumed, unchanging essence.
[36] Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich in particular reappear as generic representatives of cultural-feminist
essentialism both in terms of the category of women and the nature of technology. Rosalind Gill and
Keith Grint (1995, 4-5), for example, discuss eco-feminist alliances between women and nature as
essentialism that is unable to deal with change and celebrates traditional ideas of femininity as female
specificity. This essentialism, represented by Rich, Daly and Susan Griffin respectively, is discussed as
persistent essentialism and "flawed as a theoretical perspective and disempowering as a political one"
(Gill and Grint 1995, 4-5, 12, 14). The historical, political and theoretical contexts of their writing are not
analyzed: thus attempts to acknowledge embodiment and embodied (sexual) differences stand for
essentialism that the authors aim to overcome with critical constructivism.
[37] Certainly eco-feminist definitions of gender, power and technology are not encouraging in terms of
female technological agency and they may work to (re)produce assumptions of women as nurturing and
holistic. However, it should be also noted that accusations of essentialism tend to erase contexts of
these specific articulations, along with the differences between essentialisms. [3] Teresa de Lauretis
(1989, 6-8) points out how poststructural theory in particular often becomes depicted as the anti-thesis
for essentialism, as the "new and much improved" version of feminist theory--or, as she ironically
remarks, as the "dark horse and winner of the feminist theory contest" (de Lauretis 1989, 7). Feminist
theory becomes narrated as a tale of progress while feminist texts are situated in what de Lauretis
(1989, 10) calls a reductive opposition. Such formulations, which often bypass historical and political
contexts, fail to acknowledge the importance of existing feminist work and their figurations of gender
and society.
[38] Overviews on feminist critiques of technology may produce narrative trajectories from the denial to
the embrace of technology, from alliances with nature to those with culture, from essentialism to
constructionism (or, to personify, from the discourse represented by Mary Daly to that represented by
Donna Haraway). This narrative may also be posed in somewhat modernist terms as one of progress and
increasing theoretical sophistication (cf. Ahmed 1998, 70). The coexistence of different paradigms of
thinking, their varying aims and tactics, again, cannot be accounted for in such a model where feminisms
lose their plurality and become articulated as tales of progress, encompassing antagonistic--or even
dialectical--struggles (Butler 1997, 1-2; de Lauretis 1995, 15; de Lauretis 1989, 3-10).
[39] While there is little doubt that crucial paradigmatic shifts have taken place within feminist
theorizing in the ways of conceptualising power, difference and the varying locations of women, the
inter-connections of race, sexuality, class, and age, and in the increase of inter-disciplinary work and
criticism of epistemological foundations (Sandoval 2000; Brooks 1998), I am more skeptical towards the
totalizing representation of feminist theory as radically divided into "before" and "after." Following Lynn
Spigel (2001, 361, 370), simplifications of the past take place in order to affirm the present, implicitly
suggesting the "'progress' of contemporary culture" and its "hip attitudes." Such enlightenment thinking
involves a recontextualization of the past "in order to believe in the progress of the present," and it
includes as much forgetting as it does remembering (Spigel 2001, 362).
[40] I believe it crucial to account for the connections as well as differences, if one is to formulate a
critical and conceptual stance for cyberfeminist investigations into gendered bodies and technology.
When thinking in terms of oppositions (us and them, before and after, then and now) a certain othering
and willful forgetting takes place. This may disable us from seeing the degree to which novelty is
articulated in terms of the old, and the ways in which central questions concerning embodiment, power,
or technology have been previously articulated and debated.

Notes
[1] Mary Daly is, of course, well known for her work on robotitude and alienation. See Daly 1990;
Halberstam 1998; I have discussed Daly's work in relation to popular cybernetics and The Stepford
Wives in Paasonen 2001.
[2] Most recurrent criticism concerns Firestone's belief in technological progress and her views on
reproduction technology (Woodward 2000, 66; discussed in Franklin 1999). Firestone's views on gender,
technology, and cybernetic socialism have been left with less attention (see Squires 2000, 366;
Halberstam 1998, 476; Paasonen 2000).
[3] Fuss 1989, 4. Keith Grint and Steve Woolgar (1995) address essentialism and constructivism in their
article," aiming to point out the failures of eco-feminist stance towards technology, as well as those
within constructivist feminist theories, since, according to Grint and Woolgar, anti-essentialist takes on
gender and technology tend to resort to essentialist claims concerning sexism and patriarchy. Dismissing
both essentialism and anti-essentialism as inconsistent and insufficient, they pose post-essentialism as
the means to account for the contingent and textual 'nature' of both gender and technology. While their
discussion on the different meanings of essentialism is interesting, and while I agree with many of their
notions, the essay refers to feminism as a general term, and, doing this, performs a unifying move.
While some feminist authors and their views are specifically addressed, they become representative of
"feminism" in general. Meanwhile, feminist discussions of essentialism (Braidotti 1994; Fuss 1989; de
Lauretis 1989; Butler 1990; Haraway 1991) are not addressed, which leads into an illusion that these
debates have not taken place. As the discursive arena is cleared from feminist theorization, the two
male authors are left with the space to scrutinize feminist writings on technology and to practice
Foucauldian power/knowledge in which feminism becomes defined and understood, then put in its
place and revealed as lacking. Politics of location, or situated knowledge, in this context, appear not to
be an issue.

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