In chapter 3 of Cyborg Selves I offer a detailed analysis of the way gender and human sexuality is envisioned in two distinct posthuman discourses. One, of course, is the feminist cyborg discourse begun by Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto," and the other is the analysis of gender and human sexuality offered by James Hughes and George Dvorsky in their Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies white paper entitled, "Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary."
I won't recap everything here, but suffice to say, I find these two discourses on gender and sexuality to be in opposition to each other in important ways, and the contrasts between the two ultimately rest on their divergent views of the human body, and in this instance, the female body particularly. [If you want to know more, well hey, take that $100 you've got lying around just waiting to be spent and click the link on the sidebar and get yourself a copy of the book! :)]
One of the assumptions in Hughes and Dvorsky's analysis of transhumanism and gender is that technological interventions on the human body are the ultimate means of addressing the social injustices surrounding gender. They anticipate a future where, by means of various technologies, people will be able to consciously select certain "gendered" traits, according to personal preference, thus dismantling the "gender binary" that we have (presumably) inherited from our unaltered biology. The vision is one of liberation from that restrictive binary by altering our bodies at will.
There are a lot of things here to take issue with, from my point of view, but again--read the book.
What I want to focus on here is a new wrinkle of worry about this approach to gender and biotechnology and the posthuman future, prompted by my latest brush with the rampant sexualization and body distortion and stereotyping and reduction and limitation in children's media and the toy industry.
This past week Clare asked me to please rethink my ban on Winx Club. The girls at her school play "Winx" at recess, and while she joins in, she always feels a bit lost because she doesn't watch the show and has to figure out who is who and what is happening. I get that. And she was super thoughtful about asking me to rethink, and suggested I watch an episode. And promised that if I did let her watch it she would ignore all the inappropriate stuff (oh how I wish it worked that way). Of course it also turns out that she had been illicitly bingewatching on the iPad after Netflix put temptation right in front of her face. Sigh. #parentfail.
So, I watched an episode. And it basically made my brain explode and dribble out my ears. It was beyond the horrible I had braced myself for.
Then I saw the newest toy to come down the corporate pike for my daughter: Fairy Tale High.
Great! They're like Bratz, only not Bratz because they're, like, fairy-tale-ish. They're like Monster High, only not, 'cuz they're fairy-tale-ish. They're like Winx and _____ and _____ and ______ only not, 'cuz they're fairy tale princesses in their secret life instead of fairies and _____ and ______. Wow! That's what we call OPTIONS!
Pigtail Pals member Bailey Shoemaker Richards says it:
I mean, just look at them. You literally cannot tell these things apart.
What does the above picture have to do with transhumanist aspirations to postgenderism, I bet you're wondering.
That's great, because I'm about to tell you.
First, there's the basic question that Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals puts to us, which is, what are our girls (and boys!) learning from these distorted representations of the female body, and limited, frivolous representations of girlhood?
Yes, that's rhetorical. We know what they're learning, and it is false, and it is harmful.
My question is, what happens when these internalized false and harmful notions of what girls and women's bodies are supposed to look like collide with the ever-more-inventive technologies we use on those bodies?
Will we get the transhumanist utopian vision of technologically mediated gender equity, and human bodies that, again via technological mediation, defy the presumed biological gender binary?
Or will we get women who seek to sculpt their bodies into the distorted representations we've been handing them as the ideal and norm ever since they were born, and men who expect that?