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How We Create Gender: the Roles in Which Technology Shapes Us


(Baibh Cathba)

How We Create Gender: the Roles in Which Technology Shapes Us

When discussing gender, I believe it is important to separate it into the mental and physical aspects, as this seems to be the most common divide. As a class we seemed to agree that there was a definite “gender” scale upon which the mental gender identification could take place, but biologically there were definitive realities: genitalia and the inevitability of physical sex. In contemplating the gender roles and the roles that biological sex plays, I believe that any “abnormalities” such as hermaphroditic or neuter traits are often left out to hang in favor of the transgendered issues. While it is possible to be one physical gender and then desire to be another, the physical aspect has always been the hardest to reconstruct; however, no longer is this the case. As such, the question I would most like to address is how technology shapes gender and whether the definition of technology can expand to include “outside influence”. I argue that technology can often be found in surprising places when referring to the construction of gender and that furthermore we cannot escape our gender being shaped by technology.

In discussing gender differences, there may not be an intention to further separate the genders by claiming stereotypes, but this seems to be more and more frequently the case. Through feminist discourse in the readings, it seems to me as if they are trying to prove that one gender is no greater than another; however, I argue that by placing the argument in such terms there is an inherent belief that one gender currently is better than another in order to engender (pardon the pun) the argument. In the “Technologies of Gender” reading, it states that cultural conception has locked us into a binary of male and female as designations for gender. In spite of such a statement, the reading further expands on the idea that “[t]he construction of gender is both the product and the process of its representation” (deLauretis 5); thus, suggesting that there is the possibility that gender is in the constant process of re-definition. In fact, because of this constant cycle of definition and living up to an individual standard, there is a growing argument that “in anything you point to, there is so much variation within each gender that you have to get rid of this idea that ‘men are like this, women are like that”[1]. As such, identity is a difficult thing to define because by virtue of being a component of identity, gender then becomes an issue of perception and point of view. deLaurentis sums this idea up concisely when she states “[t]he construction of gender is the product and the process of both representation and self-representation” (deLaurentis 9). To further clarify this process of defining oneself as a gender, I put forth another pertinent quote from deLaurentis in which she mentions that there is a moment in which we define ourselves as having a gender when confronted by check boxes to which we must decide upon “M” or “F”. By arguing that gender (not sex) is constructed by a culture, I suggest that gender then becomes a property of technology.

Now having affirmed that there is some basis to the class’ hypothesis that gender is a construct, we come to the technological portion of the discussion, or operations on physical aspects of the body such as genitalia. When regarding surgery, cosmetic or otherwise, the issue of necessity inevitably arises. Considering that when statistics label women as “the vast majority” who take advantage of cosmetic surgery (Dull & West 54), the issue of “necessity” definitely comes into play when discussing surgeries. As discussed in class, labeling things as necessary or unnecessary is also tied in with the gender of the subject. In the case of the readings for the past Monday regarding transgendered people and the quest for insurance, it is particularly poignant and pertinent to the issue of gender. Also addressed in the Dull and West reading was the issue that men were less likely to seek cosmetic surgery unless it was for a “valid” reason such as an inability to breathe. I believe this leads to many images (such as were found by the class for the robot/gender day) that have a male doctor working over the body of his female subject in a manner similar to Galatea and Pygmalion. The link to the site which featured a manikin with a feminine torso and speakers in place of breasts and a plug for music players in lieu of a vagina particularly comes to mind.

Because of this decision that is foisted off on people, I think that it considerably confuses the thinking regarding the “abnormal” cases in gender definition. With the advent of technology that may be able to lead us toward an ability to predict and shape our future children’s gender, there is a distinct quest to re-define the definition of what is “normal”. As discussed on the blog, it seems to me that we have introduced the “third gender” known as “ze/zer”. The ability to perform surgery then becomes an important factor in determining the ability to create and/or maintain this so-called “third gender”. Discussing the Parens article, I came to the conclusion that surgery has come to represent a way to “normalize” children into one of two genders: male or female. I also believe that this categorization discounts the hermaphrodite, the testosterone deficient, the androgynous, the “genderqueer”, or the neuter to list a few. This means that not only is technology a “creation of man”, but also a reference to chemicals.

In class we discussed makeup as a technological tool, as well as braces and prosthetics; reference to such material, I would argue, does not eliminate the possibility to include chemicals or “biological” technology. As Natasha stated in her post, when considering the role of DNA in the creation of gender, one could consider DNA as “code” for the human machine. With advanced hormone therapy, anti-depressants, perk-me-up drugs, and even an attempt at “wetware” or replacement nervous systems for the human body, technology is advancing to further sculpt the human body as gendered. One might even argue that eventually gender will be a performance art augmented by chemicals and surgeries until one can be whoever or whatever they want. As an anthropologist, I am encouraged to “explore the deviant”, and I am quite positive that given fifty pages more I would not be able to reach a satisfactory definition of gender when one begins to throw in sub-cultures such as “furries”, online artists, forums, etc. I think that given enough time I would be able to find many more shocking instances of gender and perhaps even argue that the creation of gender is an art.

[1] McArdle, Elaine. The freedom to say ‘no’. May 18, 2008. The Boston Globe. Last viewed 2/12/09.

One Response
  1. February 18, 2009

    What I’m left wondering is in what ways does technology, especially technology that affects our physical structures, reinforce or deconstruct the social constructions of gender? You seem to be suggesting that technology enables the fluidity of gender or makes gender indeterminate. And yet, there’s a way in which technology seems to allow (force?) people, especially women, to conform to certain gender norms. The conflict seems to arise when considering people who begin with indeterminate gender (for whatever reason) and that they may have the freedom to construct gender through technology in new ways. It’s an interesting idea.

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