Feminist Cyberpunk

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Cadora, Karen. "Feminist Cyberpunk." Science-Fiction Studies #67, 22.3 (Nov. 1995): 357-372.

Cyberpunk is not dead but a new "revolutionary blend" of the feminist variety has emerged. (Maly, 27/06/02)

From Cadora's Abstract — Until the 1990s or so,

[...] cyberpunk has been a predominantly masculinist project with few strong female characters. Often characterized by an organic, pastoral past, feminist sf remains largely untouched by cyberpunk's enthusiasm for technology. [... But recently] a handful of feminist writers have ventured into the field of cyberpunk, engaging with, and even taking pleasure in the technology that their feminist predecessors avoided while overturning the politics of gender and sexuality espoused by their masculinist predecessors. The characters in feminist cyberpunk blur the boundaries [as with Donna Haraway's cyborgs] between human and machine, human and [non-human] animal, and the real and the unreal, deconstructing the human body without forgetting the real exploitation of explicitly female bodies. [...] Feminist cyberpunk envisions something that feminist theory badly needs: multiply positioned subjects who can negotiate and succeed in a high-tech, postmodern world. (p. 372)

Deals with Pat Cadigan as "the sole woman novelist in the cyberpunk canon," offering "strong female characters like Allie in Mindplayers (1987) and Gena and Sam-I-Am in Synners, although Cadora concludes Cadigan fails to deal "fully [...] with feminist concerns," as in Synner's frequent conflation of "technology and masculinity" (Cadora p. 358). The paucity of women writers and of a feminist lens on important current trends takes from feminist SF "its power to critique and reimagine the intersections of technology and gender," and also misses the crass (our term) but crucial political point that we need to see presented in cyberpunk worlds of the near future "where technology is a tool of both oppression and liberation," where "[p]overty is pervasive and technological resources are expensive luxuries. Those without access to computers are effectively kept in the underclass" (p. 359)

Deals with cyberpunk authors Mary Rosenblum, author of Chimera (1993), Ruby Kubick for Glass Houses, and others (see below), often in terms of an expanded version of Donna Haraway's analysis of cyborgs (p. 359), with a more positive vision where technology might indeed bring us to "the total triumph of genocidal patriarchy," or a different "result of the meeting of human and machine, for cyborgs also hold the high-tech keys for survival" (p. 360). Accepts Haraway's "observation that 'cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction' (150)" and that "The intrusion of technology shifts the erotic away from heterosexuality and reproduction away from the body" — however,

For women, the realities of the flesh are all too present in the imperfect world of cyberpunk. Because of this, embodiedness [sic] is a central issue in feminist cyberpunk in a way that it is not in masculinist cyberpunk. In [William Gibson's] Neuromancer, for example, Case moves through cyberspace as a disembodied gaze [...]. But female characters cannot assume a disembodied gaze [p. 364] even in virtual reality [VR]. They are tied to their bodies in ways male characters are not. It is not surprising, then, that almost all feminist cyberpunk depicts virtual reality as a space that must be navigated in a body of some sort. (pp. 364-645)

Even in Marge Piercy's He, She and It, where cyberspace "is only marginally relevant," and the emphasis is on "when Yod, an android with highly sophisticated artificial intelligence [AI], crosses the boundary into humanity" — even there "Piercy's characters do enter 'the Net'" and when they do "[...] they automatically 'project' their bodies," though "[...] these virtual bodies are completely malleable," allowing what in 2019 we might call avatars that are a "projected self-image [...] of a 'natty man,' an armored mining machine,' or even a 'large, fury mole' (§31: 267, 272)." Interestingly, the women can make themselves only "less visible" than they might be, while "Only Yod, the male android, can project himself 'as transparency' (267)."

For themes of embodiment and immortality, and perhaps ontological questions on the nature of reality note discussion of "Pretty Boy Crossover" and comparisons and contrasts in other works Cadora discusses: "The proliferation of human consciousness in cyberspace takes reality beyond the limits of embodied existence. Immortality becomes possible in electronic realms. The title character of Cadigan's [...] 'Pretty Boy Crossover' (1987) is offered the chance to 'live as sentient information' (111). Ultimately unwilling to 'cross over,' the Pretty Boy resists of temptation of this "exalted" and eternal electronic existence (112)" (Cadora p. 367). Cf. and contrast such works as Frederik Pohl's The Boy Who Would Live Forever, where digital immortality is chosen. Also note in cyberpunk by women

For others [...] the lure is irresistible. In Cadigan's Synners, Visual Mark longs to escape the prison of his "meat" body. Bit by bit, he leaves his body for the limitless expanse of cyberspace. In the process, Mark feels "better than fantastic. He felt "unreal. Un-fucking real" (§22: 232). A similar event occurs in Rosenblum's Chimera. Flander gets so deeply into the Net that he can't find his way back to his body. Neglected, his body dies, but the fox [a "Self" avatar of Flander] still roams the Net. Like Visual Mark, Flander has translated his soul into software code and silicon chips — the ultimate in mechanical contamination. Interestingly, the characters that do choose electronic resurrection [sic] are invariably male. Women either cannot or will not do this. Despite intense pressure from her ex-lover Mark, Gina ultimately refuses to relinquish her body because "only the embodied can really boogie all night" (Synners, "Epilog": 433). The kind of experience she values cannot be found in cyberspace. (pp. 366-67, quoted from p. 367 [See above on Pretty Boy and note Cadora says that it's only males that choose immortality, not that all tempted males accept it.])

RDE, 15/16May19