gendering, the verb.
Cyborg Celebrities & Cyberpolitics: Casual

In this blog post, I am going to be discussing gender in relation to technology, especially the internet — otherwise known as the “world-wide web,” the “information superhighway,” or “that thing that brings you photos of naked ladies and lolcatz within mere seconds.”

The internet is an incredible presence in our world; it has created a tangled, complex web of issues in how we view essentially everything. The influx of information resulting from cyber-politics, in particular, involves the exchange of “political” information through high-speed forms of communication. Clearly, the internet is remaking politics every day; it has already reconstructed the our political realm to a large extent. Global discussion over various issues stands on a world stage through web pages injected with words, photos, videos, recordings and more. There is an evident need for the critical reader to distinguish between fact, fiction and opinion; the spread of both liberation and ignorance infests the web in every corner. Moreover, the way we express ourselves in what is essentially the world stage has dramatically become more and more casual as we are opened up to the comfort and ambient intimacy of the internet community. The internet has enabled the complete recreation of the so-called “social personality” for all genders; it also creates an environment for aggression to be let out via videogames.

A fact that must be faced is that technology itself is not gender-neutral. In both “Cyborg Soldiers and Militarised Masculinities,” by Christina Masters and “Sex, Gender and Cyberspace,” by M. I. Franklin, gender is examined through virtual constructions; both articles clearly exemplify that advanced technologies promote gender stereotyping. 

According to Brenda Austin-Smith, the internet is a male-dominated world, with many of its elements partaking in sexism. Men, rather than women are associated with machines and technology, and “men rather than women are encouraged to explore and ‘master’ technology” (Austin-Smith).

 This is discussed further in Christina Masters’ “Cyborg Soldiers…” The article describes how the construction of the “cyborg” soldier represents a desire for total masculinist control and domination. A cyborg is a hybrid of biological and technical materials; he is human, yet also machine. The cyborg soldier appears in video games and virtual worlds, and in real life. Like the character of Achilles in Greek mythology and literature, there is this conception that the cyborg soldier is “more than man”; it’s as if being merely a human is not sufficient or acceptable. In contrast to Achilles, the cyborg is not made out to be a God; however, it is not much different in the sense that superiority is attached to the idea of transcending the fleshy, weak human body. This divide creates the separation between both mind and body, and the self and other. Thus, an obvious result of this is that the cyborg reinforces dimorphic constructions of male and female. The cyborg is gendered, and of course, he is male.

The connection between masculinity and technology carries out a disconnect between not only the genders, but it enhances a normalization of violence. Bodies are interdependent from the actualization of war, as they are represented in a microcosmic military universe; reality is unrealized. As little “blips” on a screen in a virtual world, they are completely dehumanized. 

The article discusses how the human body has entered the realm of being used as a means of power; the body can be explored, examined, broken down, and rearranged. One can control this other body at their own will, which gives birth to the ‘mechanics of power.’ This reconstructed and supposedly superior body can be manipulated so easily as a servant. What this reminds me of is my favourite novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the story is about Dr. Frankenstein’s attempt to recreate human life. He creates a version of a human that is so ugly and terrifying that he cannot bear to accept that he himself has created it. In relation to cyborgs, the themes seem to match up in some way; the attempted creator or controller never seems to realize the full set of dangers that come with their own responsibility to control, their right to control, and the outcomes that this may have. Parenthetically, in Frankenstein, there is a religious undertone; Dr. Frankenstein is punished for trying to take away the right from God to (re)create life. By creating these militarized cyborg bodies, is the role of God Lady Gaga being tampered with? Was that a serious question? Was that last question rhetorical? Will we ever know? (HASMYHUMANBODYINGESTEDTOOMUCHCOFFEETONIGHT? Yes, that one I will answer.)

Human soldiers are treated as a burden for getting “stressed,” evidenced by the lack of acceptance towards post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers. The inferiority applied to “regular” human beings becomes more evident in the examination of the military’s attempt to hide the fact that men are increasingly affected by this disorder. Shaming an emotional disorder has created a smoke screen so thick, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miley Cyrus was on the other side. (Who said that? Was that me?) The blatant privileging of technology over human biology is frankly terrifying. Not only are is human biology being seen as weak, but the complete reinforcement of males needing to be iron-tough — almost literally — is prevalent. Males are already made to seem like they aren’t allowed to have emotions. This further promotes that ideal. What, you have emotions?! You’re getting replaced by a machine then, buddy! The way in which these advanced military technologies are being “fetishized” creates a direct equation between technology and power. As Masters points out:

" The language of the cyborg is the language of violence, a language that has the power to generate meaning and knowledge about the bodies upon which it acts. the other — gendered, racialised, and sexualised — is constituted as less human, as object, as different, as a ‘code problem’ in need of techno-scientific solutions, as bodies-of-danger. The language of the cyborg necessitates the denial of the body of the self so that it can act upon the body of the other, effecting a distance and disassociation from the other so that it can engage in practices of domination, subordination, and subjugation. “

By reinforcing masculinist discourses, the use of the cyborg also causes traditional hierarchal dualisms to prevail. Masculinity and femininity are framed as evident binaries. Moreover, “culture and nature, mind and body, superior and inferior, subject and object, objectivity and subjectivity, disembodied and embodied, strength and weakness, active and passive, rational and irrational” have sadly come to represent the distinction between the cyborg and “humanoid.” Somehow, this says something about what human men “should” strive to be like — more like a tough machine than an emotional…well, woman.

In Franklin’s “Sex, Gender and Cyberspace,” women are examined in terms of the new ‘body politic’ of the female virtual body. In fantasy communities, gaming and Internet discussion forums there is a large presence of “cyber-babes,” like the notorious Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider games and movies. What worries me is Lara Croft’s enhanced physiology. She is posed as a real threat to traditional masculinity, which would seem groundbreaking, yet she still possesses an unattainable ideal for women to strive to be. Somehow what that plants in my mind is this: it’s okay for me to have fall outs with femininity as long as I’m looking ~~*fierce*~~ and fOxY while I do it. I can be tough, strong, intimidating, fearless; I can fight for myself; I can have a muscular physique and pump iron like the big boys: as long as I still have a tiny waist and a LARGE set of well-rounded……morals. Just kidding, breasts. There was no way around saying it.

Lara Croft has a transnational appeal, which goes beyond the effect of Western hegemony; she is an international figure. To perpetuate this idea that she is allowed to be masculine, as long as she is in line with the “important” feminine traits — the aesthetic ones — is detrimental. She is visually enhanced — the most delicious eye candy for men’s corneas to devour. However, it’s about more than that; Lara Croft isn’t real, and even in her fictional construct, she is not really human. This can be forgotten, though, by her escapist admirers. After all, I get a little too attached to fictional characters in novels. But I mean, I also talk to shoes…but I digress.

If we are constantly bombarded with reconstructions and re-embodiments of the female body, our perception is going to get more blurred than a night out on the town with Ke$ha. We already view bodies that have been photoshopped, our fashion industry favours an unrealistic and frail frame, and Hollywood evidences an unhealthy trend of skinny starlets. 

Technology makes all of this seem casual, just as technology/television normalizes the bizarre lives of “reality” TV stars. For entertainment, people actually turn to shows about angry couples screaming at each other using highly offensive language, featuring appearances from hyped-up midgets (if you were thinking of Jerry Springer, I was actually referring to Jersey Shore, but it’s all the same really). The supposed “stars” slinging cellphones, sucking on cigarettes and sipping on champagne in their celebrity-specific spaces are somehow central to our century’s conception of certified success. This cycle of cementing certainty of satisfaction also signifies that life makes sense through …cents. Too far? Are the Gods Lady Gagas of alliteration even getting annoyed with me here?

Anyway, the importance of money and success centres around the fantasy world of Hollyweird, which is at least a somewhat real space. Fantasy realities actually give users the chance to play God. They transcend the power of celebrity, in a way; they have the ultimate power, resting beneath their hands. Whether it’s a male cyborg or a female cyber-babe, they are the masters of control and complete domination of these very real-seeming characters. And in the end, videogaming is gendered; most users are male. This is an exercise in power wherein the male gets to live vicariously through a super-mega-male whose world may involve cyber-babes. Yet, it is acceptable to play through the role of a female if she is largely masculinized. But once again, she would have no real appeal at all if she didn’t have virtually enhanced breasts and a firm, shapely, well-rounded..personality. Just kidding. (We all know how to finish that sentence.) After all, if she didn’t have these traits to normalize her sexuality, she may as well just be a man. Right?!

Technology obviously has the power to normalize things or make them seem inherent; subliminal messaging barely even has to be subliminal anymore in order to “brainwash” individuals. Within the space of the internet which encompasses a feeling of intimacy and familiarity between users of social networking is the dangerous and subtle spreading of stereotypes and ideas. Obviously, the spread of ideas can be enlightening. However, mindless subscription to accepted “norms” among online circles of friends can also be a result of this wealth of information. The expression of gender stereotypes in online videogames seems like a simple, small part of the game to some users, but it’s part of our culture of cyber-politics. Critical analysis is often not applied, just a desire to escape, and channel energy into a “game.” Cyborg soldiers and Lara Croft may just seem like creations for entertainment and “fun.” However, there’s nothing entertaining about putting unfair pressures on all genders in a time when innovation and progress is so important.

SOURCE:

Articles found in Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations. Edited by Laura J. Speherd.

I got lazy with citing. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate.

Addictions, Armed Robberies & the Aspiration Gap.

Judith Butler and Jigna Desai’s “Manolos, Marriage, and Mantras” and Kristen Ghodsee’s “Potions, Lotions and Lipstick,” both capture the startling state our society is in regarding gendered consumerism. “Manolos…” examines South Asian American “chick-lit,” the style in which almost all chick-lit is written evidences a high stress on the importance of consumption, while “Potions…” examines the effect of post-socialist Bulgarian consumerism.

First, I would like to digress by explaining an unhealthy addiction of mine. I did not plan on becoming addicted. It just sort of sneaked up on me. First I was just doing it because it has been normalized by society. There was nothing wrong with this. It was normal. Then I realized how good it made me feel. I found myself going out in search for different places that would help me feel the rush of it all. Even just the thought of it gave me this yearning - I needed more, more, more. Then one day I found myself talking to a shelf, saying “don’t worry, you’ll all get your chance to shine,” to objects.

And, recently, as I said this to all 49 pairs of shoes which I own while reorganizing them by colour, height and type (boots, wedged, heeled, flats, professional-looking, too-nice-to-actually-even-wear-more-than-once-a-year and not-nice-enough-to-treat-as-well-as-all-the-others), it became clear to me that I have a problem.

Hi. I’m Kathleen. And I’m a shoeaholic. 

I realize that the reason I am so drawn to shoes is they enable me to be a consumer and yet feel consistently good about it. I am constantly being told what it is to be feminine, to be a woman, to get respect; this involves excessive consumption of essentially unnecessary goods. Yet, if I am told that dresses are what will make me beautiful, and the dress fits too tightly around my stomach, I’m going to wish I didn’t have extra inches to “pinch.” By contrast, if a shoe fails to fit my foot properly, I just look down and think, on to the next. I can’t change my shoe size, and no one will judge me for being a size seven and a half. That’s “normal.”

The article “Potions, Lotions and Lipstick,” by Kristen Ghodsee explains Juliet Schor’s theory of the “aspiration gap,” whereby individual consumers in the United States have an “inflated sense of the material things” that are seemingly needed in order to have a “normal" life. Schor explains that in global capitalist societies, people who once compared their own economic success to that of their immediate friends and neighbours now "measure themselves against economic elites, celebrities" whose lavish ways of life they must evidence in order to be considered successful.

In Butler and Desai’s article, the success of the heroines in chick-lit novels is studied; similarly, their success is measured in part by their luxuries. They are supposedly empowered by their ability to spend their income on ostentatious goods. For example, the main character in Goddess for Hire drives a hummer and drinks Starbucks; the main character in For Matrimonial Purposes owns all the best brands of shoes (drool), such as Manolo Blahniks and Dolce & Gabanna. 

In the chick-lit novels the authors look at in “Manolos, Marriage, and Mantras,” the “right to consume” not only gives the female protagonists the illusion of feminine sexual and gender agency; it gives them a sense of citizenship in America. Their pursuit of beauty culture is alarmingly important and a huge factor in all three novels discussed by Butler and Desai.

In “Potions..” beauty culture is discussed in how it affected Bulgaria during socialism and post-socialism. In the article, evolutionary biologist, Nancy Etcoff says that the desire for beauty is not the result of “societal conditioning, but a biologically-based set of preferences hardwired into human beings.” This is fascinating to me, because it seems as though beauty is subjective, and the opinions of others are perpetuated and end up influencing our own ideals. Yet, if this desire is hard-wired, I wonder what beauty would mean without cosmetics and brand-names.

In the aforementioned article, women in Bulgaria were obsessed with attaining the higher-quality cosmetics and brand-names of the West. One woman tells the author that “[a]ll women want to be beautiful, and we all believed that women in the West were more beautiful than we were because they had better products and more time than we did.”

The strangest thing is hearing beauty described as something that can be improved by oneself as long as they have the right products, and time. I think it shows how effective and prevalent advertising is; we are told that, no matter what our body type, with [insert!product!here!] we can be that size 1. With products, anything is possible, we are brainwashed to believe. We can improve ourselves through objects, through chemicals compounded into a little tube, through materials.

The importance of these material goods in the chick-lit novels mentioned seem like the real centrepiece of the genre of novel. For example, Goddess for Hire is about a woman who finds out that she is the reincarnated Hindue goddess Kali Ma. She acquires mystic powers and the ability to sense malevolence. A major stream of the novel is supposedly that she is a symbol of justice, yet when she witnesses an armed robbery, while — of course — filling up her Hummer, she is unable to act in a heroic way. She merely scratches the criminal before hitting him with her handbag. The materials are framed and constantly stressed as important. Maybe, whereas most literature integrates allusions into their work and rich references to other works, chick-lit places references to glamorous items to enhance the work. After all, that’s what the audience they are writing for will be impressed by, right? And as this is done, readers will become more and more aware of these brands, of the flashiness, and place more and more importance on it. The cycle will continue, an endless crescent of pointless admiration and desire.

But that’s just society. That’s just normal, right?

This year my aunt showed my mother her “Coach” bag and told her how much it cost. My mother is the most thrifty person I have ever met, yet she thought that because my aunt had this bag, it must mean something, not just about status — but about being normal. My mother, who cannot afford to pay for my tuition, took me shopping at the Outlets in Seattle and walked around asking people where the “Couch” outlet was. “Mom, it’s coach.

We walked into the outlet, and everything was evidently overpriced, even for an outlet. My mother spent time speaking with people working there, looking at different bags and wallets and other do-hickeys of sorts.

"Mom, I don’t need this," I told her, looking around at the blindingly white displays with their immaculate arrangements of scarves and bags in complementing colours.

"Kathleen, I don’t want you to be like, deprived, though," she told me.

This was coming from a woman who never purchases things for herself, from a woman who has done everything in her power to make sure that I have a comfortable life… and she thought… no, this wasn’t happening.

"Mom, we’re leaving."

"No, really, it’s okay Kathleen, Auntie Pat was saying how they are all the rage and I don’t want you to feel like we can’t—"

"MOM, SERIOUSLY? I AM A PRIVELEGED WHITE KID," I said a little louder than intended. I got some strange looks for that one. We left.

I couldn’t believe that someone as thrifty as my mother could buy into what was being pushed on her by society about brand-names and the importance of these titles. I felt angry at the world of consumerism for affecting someone as strong-willed as my mother. The media was brandishing their words like weapons, and even my mom had been hit? Even she thought that something like owning a certain kind of purse makes one successful.

She ended up buying me a thirty dollar bag at Nine West and seemed to feel better in some way, like she had done her part. She helped me be part of the consumer world, helped me feel — helped me benormal.

Is this really a measure of being “normal,” and what happened to wanting to be an individual, a noncomfomist, a free spirit? Now people just buy hippie-chic or “indie” clothing to be individuals.

I’m not much of a true individual when it comes to separating myself from consumerism. Right now as I watch my painted fingernails scatter across a keyboard (in Urban Behaviour's Coral Peach colour) and look over at my rows upon rows of shoes, I know that I am no different. Do I think that, in a sense, this is a sign of me being a “normal” young, female adult? Am I just as at fault as the next woman who gets sucked in to beauty culture? Call me Casey Anthony, because I am guilty.

SOURCES:

Ghodsee, Kristen. “Potions, lotions and lipstick: The gendered consumption of cosmetics and perfumery in socialist and post-socialist urban Bulgaria.” Gender and Women Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, (2007): 27-37.

Butler, Pamela; Desai, Jigna. “Manolos, Marriage, and Mantras: Chick-Lit Criticism and Transnational Feminism.” Meridians: feminism, race, transnational 2008, vol 8, no. 2, (2008): 1-31.