Friday, September 28, 2007

eschewing our gender, yet again

Now dissertating in earnest, it is time to read N. Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman again.

Hayles begins her story with a prologue on the Turing test. What everyone knows about this test is that it has become the litmus test for identifying the moment when machines become "intelligent" (intelligent=ability to fool human beings, which, all things considered, is a pretty poor benchmark but, zenme ban). What no one remembers is that there were two versions of the test in Turing's proposal, the first being that one would interact via computer terminal with two unseen entities, and depending solely on the electronically transmitted responses to your questions, you would determine--not which was human, and which machine--but which one was a woman, and which a man.

"If your failure to distinguish correctly between human and machine proves that machines can think," Hayles asks, "what does it prove if you fail to distinguish woman from man?"

Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing, argues that the intent for inclusion of gender test is to show that gender, unlike intelligence, is in fact dependent upon unalterable physical reality. Hayles disagrees; the cases as presented are parallel, and point to a willingness to define gender in terms of symbolic manipulation similar to intelligence.

All of this reminds me of the hermits' marvelous diversion, the “gender genie” test, a kind of variation of the Turing gender test. What does this say about gender and identity? I fooled it successfully, and rather grandly—now I am a man? No; but it does tell you something interesting about my identity, that is, I am a woman who can successfully represent myself through verbal/semiotic markers as a man. And perhaps that is interesting.

The crucial move, as Hayles points out, is “distinguishing between the enacted body, present in the flesh on one side of the computer screen, and the represented body, produced through verbal and semiotic markers constituting it in an electronic environment.” And this, BTW, is the advent of the cyborg... Why? Because technology is the bridge connecting the physical and represented body/ies. The test requires disjunction, therefore: “What the Turing test 'proves' is that the overlay between the enacted and represented bodies is no longer natural inevitability but a contingent production, mediated by a technology that has become so intertwined with the production of identity that it can no longer meaningfully be separated from the human subject.”

And, of course, Gender Genie's verdict on the above:

Female Score: 428/Male Score: 701
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male! (and in any case, definitely cyborg)

8 comments:

hermit greg said...

In my original survey, you came out "Chick"--but just barely.

JTB said...

Yes, but my Doctor Who post was WAY male. So there. Besides, how much cooler is that I can float back and forth between cybergenders?

hermit greg said...

I agree: it's totally cool to be ambisextruous.

TKP said...

Haha, I saw pictures of you at Lectureship taken by GKB and your hair is getting longer, woman! I miss you. Loves to Clare and Brent.

jocelyn said...

I checked out the Gender Genie test. (I did it twice, once with a professional document, once with a blog entry.) At first, I was thought to be male, then female. Here's my observation: it seems that almost any professional or academic writing would almost certainly get the author deemed "male" because the masculine keywords include such common words as "a," "the," "at," and "it" and has no personal pronouns, whereas the feminine keywords are chock full of pronouns (your, her, we, she, myself, hers). So, it just seems a little bit skewed. Any woman who writes a blog about her friends and uses pronouns then turns around and writes a professional document using appropriate definite articles ("the") could be "ambisextruous" (I like that word!). Am I right?

I'm just wondering how the quiz-makers collected their data and if women really use that many pronouns over other, more common words like "the."

But here's to gender-bending and fooling the machine!

JTB said...

Jocelyn, I've also wondered about the academese correlation...although all the texts I've used are blog posts. All the posts involved some amount of analysis and quoting: the Marcus Ross rant, the Doctor Who post, and this one. Interestingly, the rant is the only one to score female (and just barely--you can see it on hermit greg's link).

But it raises the question of just how "male" the academic world still is, a question that all of my female colleagues at PTS have discussed from time to time with regard to seminar discussions, expectations, and generally combative atmosphere...

scoots said...

I'm going mostly off of intuition here, so I might be overlooking some important points.

My experience with school has been that more scholarly discussion tends to make very fine distinctions between things, whereas less academic (though still intelligent) discussion can get away with broader generalizations.

It seems to me that a more agressive (though hopefully not harmfully combative) style of discussion is better suited for graduate school, because someone is always there (hopefully) to challenge students when they aren't making fine enough distinctions. (It's no use getting away with sloppy thought or language during grad school, because no one will read your books or articles after you graduate--unless you're provocative.)

A more congenial mode of discourse, in contrast, would be more helpful for undergraduate education, where the goals are primarily for students to learn how to think and to learn some generalizations to approach life with.

The corrollary to this (and I think my experience bears this out) would be that harsh professors probably don't reach undergraduates very well, whereas more lenient professors probably don't prepare grad students as well as the students need them to.

This doesn't have to break down to gender differences, and of course a professor (or a fellow student) can be tough and respectful at the same time, which is the ideal.

But to the extent that the stereotype about women valuing relationships and men valuing ideas is true (I've experienced a slight tendency in that direction, though less so as more and more of my friends are grad students), then gender might make a different for this reason: it seems to me that most of life should be more about relationships, but grad school should be more about ideas.

Spaceman Spiff said...

I put in one of my posts which I would have considered stereotypically "masculine" (I was making a sort-of-kind-of formal argument) and it came out female (with a score of 2025 to 1721). Strange.

By and large the genie think I am male, which is correct, but I was surprised at that one particular one. Looking at my score, I got a lot of female points for "if" and "with"... interesting...

(Post in question: http://spiffthespaceman.blogspot.com/2008/02/argument-against-scripture-as-epistemic.html)