A little while over a year ago I suddenly realized that I love robots. I love quaint vintage clockwork tin robots, but I also love anatomically correct robots or Cyborgs, think Bladerunner, iRobot etc.
I don’t love robots because of some childhood nostalgia, I never played with them or liked them as a kid, the reason I am so intrigued by robots is a bit more philosophical and complicated.
If you think about it, from the beginning of time humans have always created things in our image. Painted pictures of people on cave walls, carved effigies of the human form for ritual or religious reasons, or made toys for children, like dolls. We use our abilities to manipulate tools and technology to create reflections of ourselves. It seems triumphant.
I think the robot, an anthropomorphized machine, is the most poignant man-made reflection of humanity, as although robots symbolize our amazing abilities to create ever more advanced technologies, they may also have the ability to transcend human skill and strength. And we know this. We create and relate to robots, both as a reflection of how far we have come, but also, how flawed, mortal and frail our human condition is. We simultaneously fear and are intrigued by robots, our own creation.
You may be wondering where gender and feminism possibly fits in here.
Throughout history men have been associated with technological ingenuity across all cultures. This, I believe comes down to what Sherry Ortner, a feminist writer in the 70’s and 80’s, referred to as the ‘Nature-Culture’ divide. Ortner claimed that the universally lower status of women in all human societies throughout time was due to the fact that women are associated with nature (ie. Childbirth, mothering, nurturing) whereas men are associated with culture (arts, science, religion, philosophy, physics etc).
I think Ortner’s thesis is incredibly relevant and interesting even today when you think about whether girls and boys are socialized differently towards technology. You only have to look at gendered enrollments/preferences of certain fields at any level of education to see a clear disparity between what is deemed masculine (mathematics, science, IT, engineering) and what is feminine (English, humanities, performance art). This is, thankfully, changing in today’s information age, where technology has become central to the lives of most people in some way, however, I wish to use this blog to look at how people of different genders use and relate to technology in different ways.
Technology has been used in the past to marginalize women in many ways as it was seen as the territory of men. However, feminists in the 50’s and 60’s, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Shullahmith Firestone, advocated for women to embrace technology as a means for empowerment. This primarily referred to reproductive technologies such as The Pill and other types of birth control, and also other medical technologies, so men and masculine institutions that had a monopoly on the use and knowledge of technologies could no longer control women.
I believe that the way we use technology, and the types of technology we use is profoundly gendered and instrumental in shaping social constructions of gender. Men have been defined by their use of tools, weapons, and cars– Women have also been defined by their use of kitchen and home appliances, and their perceived inability to use other types of technology deemed masculine. However, all this has changed, we all use computers, smart phones and tablets irrespective of gender. The Internet and social networking have become central to every day social life for millions of people. This makes me question as to how gender, which was previously such an embodied, lived aspect of humanity, is now being constructed and played out in a disembodied cyberspace. There are many examples of how the Internet has negative implications for women and feminism (widespread pornography, online slut-shaming, gendered cyber bullying, body snarking), However, there are also a number of positive aspects, particularly the ability for women to access information and join online communities.
I am interested in the future of technology and what it means for gender, as it seems, both gender and technology are vital aspects of what makes us human, which is rather ironic as both of these are for the most part artificially created by humans ourselves.