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You see a gun, I see a Girlfriend



You see a gun, I see a Girlfriend

When confronted with technology, there seems to be this desire to conquer the technology if reference to millions of sci-fi books, movies and fans are to be believed. In places closer to home, I believe one can find reference to such “genderizing” of technology in the US military. From calling a ship a “she” to telling cadets that they must keep their gun as close as or closer than a girlfriend, the US military is doing its part to keep America manly and heterosexual when using technology. This reference to technology as feminine, and belonging in the hands of men is re-enforcing the superiority of men in Western American culture and glorifying the idea of controlling technology.

Science Fiction has a history of incorporating technology, as the name implies with “science” in the title. During the ongoing discussion during class, the possibility that we humans are also technology with the expansion of the definition of technology as art and using the technology of chemical (ie hormonal) changes arose. Additionally, in exploring this connection between science and technology, the class has noted a tendency towards destruction in technology and the use of technology by men. Combining these two tendencies is a proliferation of fictional and non-fictional stories which address technology. Violent creatures that cause destruction such as the Terminator, G.I. Joe, Dollhouse, etc. are often augmented or assisted by technology.

Whatever the technology, there is often reference to AI and the unknown. In exploring this concept, most instances of AI are male terror-bots (with the exception of Echo from Dollhouse) and female ships (with the notable exception of HAL from Space Oddessy 2000). Male terror-bots, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The Terminator, are often thug-like in that they own very low-function brains and high-function “muscles”. In this incarnation of gender, the technology displays impressive feats of strength, but is often “undone” by something emotional, like falling in love as in Asimov’s Millenium Man, where the robot-butler is humanized and eventually dies and ages “like a normal human being” after falling in love with a human female. Additionally, with Solomon from class bringing us insight to Frankenstein’s monster, we see again, the monstrosity or unnatural object as a threatening male technology.

In these representations, the male robot has autonomy. They are originally trapped by rules or society, but then gain independence and autonomy through beating things to a pulp. In Watchmen, there is reference to Dr. Manhattan (conceivably one of the most dangerous weapons to walk the Earth). He is all-powerful, but it seems that only the removal of his humanity could permit such a thing to occur. In this removal of emotions, the male is strongly associated with technology and the destructive side of technology in particular. By characterizing the unknown as dangerous, it shows the unnatural potential for destruction that is inherent in the technology. By acting out through the medium of fiction, there is the possibility to work through some very human fears.

The war-like nature of things an average person considers to be “technology” (this does not include household implements or makeup) is, therefore, the next logical point to consider. In connecting this argument back to discussions from class, we see that there are strong connections regarding the “naturalness” of technology as well. Technology is often seen as “unnatural” and the feminine as more “natural” with the connections to the Earth Goddess motif that was prevalent in the early stages of humanity. One online paper entitled “Male” Technology, Feminist Dystopias and the Promise of Cyberspace, criticizes this extreme genderizing of technology and the author mentions “Feminists have often assumed the role of opponent of technology, a role that seems to have developed out of the equation between women and nature prevalent in Western society” (Ruth Nestvold); I take this to mean that technology, by virtue of not being in the realm of the “feminine” it then becomes something “masculine”. However, it seems that such a dichotomy also allows for the shady realm of homosexuality. As such, there are often efforts to curb such things from being suggested, so there is the tendency to not always view technology as masculine.

The title of this paper is in reference to the idea that when in the army, one is to treat their gun as their girlfriend. There are even websites which are dedicated to care and keeping of guns that state, “When you want to have success with our guns, you must treat them like your girlfriend, your wife, or both. Very nicely. Take care of it.” (Anschulz). There are also references in real-life military situations to this gun as a girlfriend concept. One of the few Air Force songs I am familiar with goes “I used to date a beauty queen/ now I date my M-16”. Perhaps by combining the desire to conquer technology with viewing technology as something feminine, the US attempts to maintain a culture in which heterosexual relations, where the man is the dominate party, are prevalent. Claiming technology that one can control (ie, guns, ships, etc.) as feminine puts even more power into the hands of the masculine. It also reinforces the idea that the powerful items are male and that men are technology, while still holding true to the idea of women and men in a “natural” relationship. There is even some science fiction which caters to this idea. The gun-as-girlfriend trope is repeated in The Soldier Within by Micheal A Burnstein. The soldiers are given “SM” or “Simulated-Mind” guns, which are based off of their brainwave patterns. As such, the guns are the “perfect girlfriends” that anticipate everything the man might need in order to be a better killer. By tailoring the gun to respond to the soldier handling the weapon, the soldier eventually realizes that the rifle (which he names Samantha) has become his best friend.

In Science Fiction, there is often a reference to weapons and technologies of destruction. Even within these fictional tales, the weapons and vehicles often follow the cultural convention of naming the items with feminine names or referring to vehicles as a “she”, whereas the captain is usually male. The female ships represent a more passive element to a story. While the techno-captain hurtles into battle, the ship may have destructive power, but often just makes passive-aggressive comments and offers advice and directions, (which the male captain ignores in favor of blasting through walls). One of the famous instances of female ships is Han Solo and his ship the Millenium Falcon. Han will often refer to the ship as a female, saying, “She’ll hold together. Do you hear me, baby? Hold together!” in one of the most quotable lines of the movie. While not exactly an example of AI, it is an example of a female ship under a male captain. In Anne McCaffery’s books she has a particular book entitled The Ship Who Sang, which features a female spaceship that loves with her (male) captain.

In some of the science fiction regarding women there are often references to how technology can be an equalizer of the gender field and in some cases turn the tide to the opposite direction. A critical factor of pilots in the Air Force is that women can pull more G’s (gravitational pull) than a male pilot for simple factor of being a smaller mass. Such an advantage will often lead to better female pilots; however, no matter how much better suited as a pilot they might be, there seems to be this fear that a woman’s emotions will take precedence. In fact, in one work of Science Fiction entitled Elites by Kristine Kathryn Rusch the pseudo-science refers to enhancing the “natural maternal instincts” of women to be the elite fighters of the title. The story inside of the story is that originally women were considered “too delicate” for the violence of war, technology grew to be an equalizer so women became combat approved, then the biologists tweaked the natural self-defense mechanism to soldiers had increased desire to survive. The thing that led to women of this fictional world being used in combat was the idea of a female dog going feral to protect her puppies in battle.

By associating technology with power in these scenarios, it is possible that the only way to represent power is with the idea of the masculine. In associating power and technology as a masculine domain, it seems “unnatural” were a female to step into the role of “the man” as wielder of technology; thus, it seems the female role is to be the passive piece of technology. Perhaps this is the reason why there are fewer male to female transgender stories on the web.

2 Responses
  1. March 30, 2009

    Your topic seems to be about the labeling of the destructive technology as feminine, which on the one hand, shows that it’s subservient in a weird way to men, but in another, is different from the usual way of thinking about the female as what gets destroyed not what does the destruction. I’m having trouble, however, following your thought process. I see that there’s a concept of technology as masculine, which is potentially disrupted by this idea of guns, ships, etc. as female, but which ultimately isn’t as you show such technology to be passive. Very interesting point that I think if you connect the dots a little more for me, and dig into the implications of this idea a little more, you’ll really have raised an important issue. I keep thinking if technology is masculine, then what does it mean that guns and ships are female? Does this mean that passive technology is female? Is female code for passive, so that any technology that gets coded female becomes less empowered?

  2. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 31, 2009

    Yeah… I kind of didn’t put enough in there did I? Um, I think the point I was attempting to make was that technology is male-dominated, but female driven. The “passive” technology is seen as “feminine” and any reference to feminine technology is only to make the male heterosexual more comfortable in the role as patriarch. (God that sounded a little femiNAZI…) The idea of someone “feminine” using technology therefore becomes unsettling because it deviates from the norm, and thus becomes more “unnatural”. Even the Elite women of the story are more passive because technology is not really changing them, just augmenting them into something unnatural. Some examples would be this comic about future technology. Or the comic about feminine passivity in relation to technology.

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