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Notes Towards Day 2: Technologies of Gender

I. Welcome back: anyone new? sign-in sheet

II. Coursekeeping: techno-issues to review? (lparrish?)
how are we coming on registering, logging in,
posting, linking, accessing readings…?
when in doubt, always check most recent version of home page
(where we’ll post all tweakings…)

great to read your intros…

choice of readings for Wed: Haraway or Halberstam
Post or bring in a logo/image of your imagined/
utopian relationship of technology & gender

III. Speaking of which (utopic? dystopic?)
asked you last week to write about your
reactions to the images of Aimee Mullins;
but forgot to ask you what you thought! ….
What did you think?

IV. Joining us today (with some additional/
differential thoughts about Mullins?) are

Teresa de Lauretis, Professor of History of Consciousness,
UC Santa Cruz
(who wrote a now classic book on
Technologies of Gender
in 1987); and

Keith Grint, Professor of Defence Leadership,
Cranfield University, UK

Rosalind Gill, Senior Lecturer in Gender Theory & Gender Studies, London School of Economics,

who put together a book on The Gender-Technology Relation: Contemporary Theory and Research (1995)

reading these essays a decade after that–>
question is what we can add to what they have said:
how revise their claims?
to what degree do they describe/illuminate/
fail to encompass our experiences?

Kenneth Burke’s “Unending Conversation” Metaphor: Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

We’re in that parlor, and this is what we are overhearing:

The first question that came to my head is whether gender itself can be understood as a technology…I’m just curious to see if that idea could go anywhere.

Baibh: I love the idea of gender as technology…an artistry…of subverting gender norms

Natasha: I like your point…society as a whole might be responsible for constructing conceptions of gender

Hannah: Gender=Technology?
…what is “natural”, especially in opposition to what is “technical”? In my mind, the two aren’t black and white; there’s a continuum.

slutze: I liked your question about when to stop considering technology as “natural”…. It has a tendency to hurt my head.

Barbara: Children under 12 in Uruguay being able to change their names and their gender w/the okay of their parents?

de Lauretis:
the concept of male/female sexual difference is
a liability in feminism:
simple opposition limits our thinking
(“radical epistemological potential”)
makes difficult to articulate differences among/w/in women
(i.e. women who wear the veil, the mask, masquerade…)
and within each of us (who are raced, classed, as well as gendered:
each of us multiple, contradictory subjects)

gender is not a product of bodies, but of social technology
(cf. our stories last week: encultured, not biological)

she evokes Michel Foucault, Louis Althuser, Jacques Lacan,
Jean Lyotard, Giles DeLeuze, Umberto Eco, Michele Barrett, Joan Kelley,
Lucy Bland, Wendy Hollway, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig,
Julia Kristeva, Kaja Silverman, Jonathan Culler, Jean Kennard,
Elaine Showalter, Tania Modleski, Rosi Braidotti…

(now you are really getting lost!…
and we could go on getting lost there…

…to argue that gender is an on-going construction, a representation, an ideology, a system of understandings and relationships that we keep reproducing….

every time we check the “F” box–>we are entering the system
(read bottom of p. 11)–>accepting and absorbing the representation

de Lauretis has a particular concern with how cinema operates as
a social technology=technology of gender:
not just how the technology constructs gender,
but how, as spectators, we absorb it
(several of you have studied film; are film minors….?)

offers her essay as a “rough map” of a way to “walk out” of the conservative/patriarchal/male-centered frame of reference/
imagines a different construction of gender in the margins
not represented but implied/unseen
space-off: not visible in frame but inferable from what is
–includes camera and spectators:
all that is not represented, is “elsewhere”

10 years later, Grint n’ Gill make all this concrete:

by describing the link between
technology and masculinity as ideological,
and complaining that most feminist research
remains within that problematic

3 positions:
(flawed essentialism: women=biology=nature=harmonious;
valorizes oppression, no negotiation/resistance;
only principled course of action is separation from society)

liberal feminism
(no critical analysis of technology; seen as neutral;
focus on gender as primary division, but
no theoretical distinction between
authentic and socially constructed identities;
stereotypes keep women out: catch-up programs)

most satisfying approach:
historical culture of technology-as-masculine

(powerful critique of cultures of masculinity and
technology as coterminous:
expresses/consolidates relations among men
male dominance of technology originated in/
was consolidated by
historical gendered division of labour in capitalism:
skill an ideological category women couldn’t contest,
not involved in technical design
“circuit of technology”: gendered, embody patriarchal values,
index to and source of women’s oppression

symbolic dimensions of technology enter into gender identity:
masculinity constructed through technical competence;

lack of it=feminine gender identity
(so women resist technology because of implications for identity!)

rejecting computing=doing femininity (Sherry Turkle)

Natasha: Was I losing femininity by choosing this major?

AH: I would like to explore why I felt that that Computer Science class was so inaccesible to me and how it might be possible to make it easier for myself as a woman to learn…like a foreign language class instead of like a math class.

problems and tensions of this perspective
essentialist drift (“women’s/men’s interests”),
dilemmas of ideology untheorized;
problem with “patriarchy” as universal, transhistorical phenomenon
tendency to functionalism in performative analysis:
what it means to act as a women is answered in advance;
what should be an analytic question is
built into research as set of assumptions

only reinforcing patterns noticed analytically:
bleak, tautological
stock, stable ways gender is done,
knowable in advance, used as index of practice

Theoretical imperative not to “black-box”
(treat meanings as self-evident, stable)
Opposite failing: inability to see
remarkable endurance of some networks

“Society is not what holds us together, it is what is held together. Social scientists have mistaken the effect for the cause.” (Latour)

Post-essentialism: acknowledge textual character of technologies;
what counts gender-wise is interpretations

case studies on medical technologies, domestic appliances,
telecommunications, information technologies:
“cracks” for struggle and change

So: a lot of theory
(there WILL be a lot of theory–Anne loves it; sorry, Carrie!)

What is Theory?
“a looking at, viewing” (from L, Gr; per OED)

“the questioning of presumed results and the assumptions on which they are based. The nature of theory is to undo…what you thought you knew, so the effects of theory are not predictable” (Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, pp. 15-17).

Break into groups of four and practice doing this:
1) introduce yourselves to one another (1 detail from your posting)
2) theorize your gender and technology story from last week

(new folks group together, tell each other
*one profound/early story about being gendered
one profound/early story about your relation to technology)

was it an “eco-feminist” story?
a “liberal feminist” story?
did it acknowledge the
“historical culture of technology as masculine”? (Grint, Gill)

did it recognize any “technologies of gender,”
any ways in which gender is a product
“not of bodies, but of social technologies”? (de Lauretis)

what (in other words) were the larger,
presumptions that lay behind your stories?
can they be changed? (do you want to change them?)

3) share the objects you have brought/thought of:
examples of ads, song lyrics, etc. which represent
a relationship between technology & gender–>

data to (or to challenge) these arguments

(theorizing our own examples:
Laura’s “motherboard,”
Anne’s images of Aimee Mullins…
Laura’s discovery of a speaker system built into a mannequin….)

–what you would say to/in a “parlor conversation”
with deLauretis, Grint or Gill?
–what concrete item/anecdote/event could you
use in support of your response?

Return to large group:
what do we know now? what are our questions?