A Brief History of CyberFeminism

I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” - Donna Haraway

Photo by Juno Calypso

Photo by Juno Calypso

Originally published on www.slutever.com

The future - as will be made abundantly clearer on January 21st - is looking a little bleak. Looking backwards isn’t all that great either; for women and other marginalized groups, are the past doesn’t give us much to be nostalgic for. Sure, everyone had great pin-curls and lipstick in the 50s, but I would rather saw off my right arm à la James-Franco-in-a-crevice than have my main life-purpose be to churn out babies and meals for a man - however Draper dapper. The future is the only blank page we have to map out something hopeful, an exuberant feminist projection. The future is our imminent site for resistance, and luckily for us, there’s a legacy of future feminisms to buoy and colour our ambitions.

CyberFeminism, a term first used by media artist collective VNS Matrix, doesn’t refer directly to any one cohesive movement - just as the term “feminism” doesn’t refer to any singular way of thinking or experiencing. I define CyberFeminism, here, as radical future feminist visions with a space-age sheen, populated and written by queer sci-fi utopists, bionic babes and cybergrrls in silver platforms.

Like all so-called “histories”, this one is imperfect, and incomplete. This Brief History is a 6-point look at a few of the movements, exhibitions and theories that make up cyberfeminism - whatever that may mean. It’s a curated patchwork held loosely together by a common feminist hope for, and vision of, the future - a more subversive, metallic, raucous, queer future populated by hacker chicks and cyborg femmes.

Like all histories, someone will yell out (or more likely, type in the comments) - “You forgot this very important thing!” They’ll probably be right. I don’t claim to be comprehensive, however, just somewhat brief. All I want to do is leave the taste of space-metal revolution in your mouth.

1. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto

You can’t (or shouldn’t) talk about science fiction, future feminisms, technology, utopias, dystopias, or anything really without referencing the inimitable Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Sure, we’re almost 40 years past the essay’s publication date, but if this past year taught us anything it’s that progress is not a straight line (or even a relevant concept), not nearly enough of us are reading things, and feminisms are no less than ever our crucial cyborg armor. I am now going to do a bad job of summarizing Haraway’s un-summarizable essay. The cyborg, Haraway suggests, is an identity politic. It’s the ultimate queer myth: seen by the rest of the world as alien, incomplete, monstrous, the cyborg is in fact an icon of resistance, unashamedly multiple, powerfully autonomous. The cyborg is an electric collage of incongruous parts, a postmodern dream-nightmare, a binary-defying construction that revels in its constructedness. The cyborg is a way to break apart and reassemble ourselves in our own image (not man’s, not God’s).

2. Feminist Cyberpunk

In her essay “Feminist Cyberpunk,” Karen Cadora echoes Haraway’s desire to breakdown distinctions between human and machine. Cyberpunk, Cadora claims, is a genre seriously lacking in female representation (quelle surprise!) - but is rife with feminist potential. Cadora writes that “cyberspace is… feminine” - a space where women can escape the bodies that are so often sites of violence and oppression. Like other kinds of punk, feminist cyberpunk is fractured, unruly and thrillingly angry. Feminist cyberpunks are riotous, tech-savvy, and extend a PVC-coated middle finger to the militarized Luddites of the patriarchy.

3. Afrofuturist Feminism

In her essay “Black Girls are From the Future,” Susana M. Morris notes that Afrofuturism pivots on “the centrality of African diasporic histories and practices in sustaining progressive visions of the future.” She goes on to define Afrofuturist Feminism as the intersection between Afrofuturism - which “seeks to liberate the possibilities that open up when blackness is linked to futurity” - and black feminist thought, which hopes to “uncouple dominance from power as blacks assert their agency.” A radical feminist future must include all of those Afro-diasporic histories and visions of the future that have been lost under the violent tide of dominant history and historic oppression.

4. Gender Hacking

Paul B. Preciado is gender-hacking royalty. In the seminal work “Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacoponorgaphic era,” Preciado, assigned female at birth, describes how he hacks gender, capitalism and Big Pharma by taking black-market testosterone - therefore subverting and resisting an institutionally and pharmacologically enforced gender binary. By “re-coding” biology using hormones, Preciado and other gender hackers are asserting autonomy over the industries that police our bodies and our genders. For more on this topic I highly recommend Andrea Abi-Karam’s article “Glitch the Cis-tem: Against Structural Destiny” for GUTS Magazine.

5. Future Feminism - The 13 Tenets

Future Feminism was a 2014 exhibition and performance series that took place at The Hole Gallery in NYC that featured talks and works by artists including Kembra Pfahler, Marina Abramović and Juliana Huxtable. Over the course of the exhibition, The Future Feminism Collective debuted their “13 Tenets of Future Feminism,” a manifesto that sought to make sacred (they engraved the Tenets on pink marble) and explicit a new potential feminist “frontier” for society. The exhibition and its accompanying manifesto called for a dismantlement of the patriarchy through the strategic feminization of its systems. Their thirteenth tenet is a sentence that’s currently pervasive to the point of being a commodity (but has nonetheless not lost any of its power) - The Future is Female.

All thirteen tenets can be read here. For an even more recent future feminisms exhibition (featuring acclaimed photographer Juno Calypso, among others) see the 2016 group show LIFEFORCE, which took place at The Untitled Space in NYC.

6. Hacker Chicks

Like in any notoriously-bro-ey, male-dominated industry, being female in computer science is not easy. In the fictional world, Hot Hacker Chick is an abundant and eye-roll worthy trope - because there’s only ever one girl, and she is rarely fleshed out beyond her flesh. Despite the fact that they’re an endangered species and rarely fully-formed - hacker chicks are the coolest. They just are. For a few examples, see: Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Ed (Cowboy Bebop), Trinity (The Matrix), Kate Libby (Hackers) and Esther Nairn (The X-Files). For an IRL hacker chick fix, check out digi-coven Tech Witches - a female and gender non-conforming feminist collective intent on the digital dismantlement of the patriarchy. PS: hoping the US government frees Chelsea Manning, the high priestess martyr of hacker chicks.