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.
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.