Cyborgs and Feminism- Dr. N. Katherine Hayles and Donna Harway

How We Became Posthuman
Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics
by N. Katherine Hayles

“Like all good magic tricks, the test relies on getting you to accept at an early stage assumptions that will determine how you interpret what you see later. The important intervention comes not when you try to determine which is the man, the woman, or the machine. Rather, the important intervention comes much earlier, when the test puts you into a cybernetic circuit that splices your will, desire, and perception into a distributed cognitive system in which represented bodies are joined with enacted bodies through mutating and flexible machine interfaces. As you gaze at the flickering signifiers scrolling down the computer screens, no matter what identifications you assign to the embodied entities that you cannot see, you have already become posthuman.”

Hayles talk on “How we Became Posthuman”

Excerpt from “How We Became Posthuman”

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991)

In 1985, Haraway published an essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, in Socialist Review.

In “A Cyborg Manifesto”, Haraway deploys the metaphor of a cyborg to challenge feminists to engage in a politics beyond naturalism and essentialism. She also uses the cyborg metaphor to offer a political strategy for the seemingly disparate interests of socialism and feminism, writing, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs”(p. 150). A cyborg is a:

  • cybernetic organism
  • hybrid of machine and organism
  • Creature of both fiction and lived social reality

Haraway’s cyborg is an attempt to break away from Oedipal narratives and Christian origin myths like Genesis. She writes, “The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.”

As a postmodern feminist, she argues against essentialism, which she defines as “any theory that claims to identify a universal, transhistorical, necessary cause or constitution of gender identity or patriarchy” (“Feminist Epistemology”). Such theories, she argues, either exclude women who don’t conform to the theory and segregate them from “real women” or represent them as inferior.

According to Haraway’s “Manifesto”, “there is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (p. 155). A cyborg does not require a stable, essentialist identity, argues Haraway, and feminists should consider creating coalitions based on “affinity” instead of identity. To ground her argument, Haraway analyzes the phrase “women of color”, suggesting it as one possible example of affinity politics. Using a term coined by theorist Chela Sandoval, Haraway writes that “oppositional consciousness” is comparable with a cyborg politics, because rather than identity it stresses how affinity comes as a result of “otherness, difference, and specificity” (p. 156).

The idea of the cyborg deconstructs binaries of control and lack of control over the body, object and subject, nature and culture, in ways that are useful in postmodern feminist thought. Haraway uses the metaphor of cyborg identity to expose ways that things considered natural, like human bodies, are not, but are constructed by our ideas about them. This has particular relevance to feminism, since Haraway believes women are often discussed or treated in ways that reduce them to bodies. Balsamo and Haraway’s ideas are also an important component of critiques of essentialist feminism and essentialism, as they subvert the idea of naturalness and of artificiality; the cyborg is a hybrid being.

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