Faith Wilding on Thu, 4 Feb 1999 20:10:11 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Flesh 'n Chips

     [reposted with permission; this is a work in progress.--tb]

Flesh'n Chips: Suggestions Toward an Embodied Cyberfeminist Politics

Faith Wilding

What is it about women and chocolate, the scientists wondered? Why do women 
eat such quantities of the stuff while men seem much more interested in 
chomping down on hunks of rare steak. Women, they concluded, have been 
_socialized_ to crave chocolate; chocolate eating has become part of feminine 
construction. What a relief to know that this craving is not genetic and can't
therefore be tampered with by genetic engineering. 

What is it about women and machines, the cyberfeminists wondered? Why do 


Rumours of the death of feminism (and cyberfeminism) have been greatly 
exaggerated. Recently, feminist voices from all over have been calling for a 
new activism and vision in global feminisms today. In the U.S.A. bell hooks 
speaks about communities of concern, and also about "feminist movement" which 
implies constant mobility--thinking as action, movement, and flux. Avital 
Ronell calls for a "justice" feminism that is not simply reactive, but 
inventive, creative--and that presupposes a feminist embracing and use of 
technologies and new social models that can assist communication and promote 
ways of living and working that are more just, pleasurable, and autonomous. 
Donna Haraway calls for feminists to engage in "freedom projects" which 
thoroughly analyze the effects of technology on women and children in 
different countries, and underscores the importance of feminist organizing and
resistance. Nancy Lublin calls for a "praxis feminism" rooted in a materialist
analysis of women's actual lives and situations.
Contemporary feminists are struggling to work out in lived practice how to 
live in a house of difference. This means engaging in the lived experience of 
affirmative work, sociality, and activism, with women from diverse 
backgrounds, ages, races, and classes without resorting to quotas, tokenism, 
political correctness, or "special" considerations. It is crucial for the 
development of contemporary global feminisms that women actively seek out and 
develop these experiences.

We live in a time of crass power consolidation through global pancapitalism. 
Information technologies are profoundly changing our public and private lives 
and the experience of what it is to live in a body in relation to other 
bodies. For those who would resist the relentless erasures of history and try 
to disturb the monumental reign of market ideology, it is necessary to muster 
all their knowledge and cunning to find ways of creating active nodes of 
subversion and resistance on however modest a scale. A new politicized 
cyberfeminism can develop strategies for such resistance and for new forms of 
activist networks. Collaborations between long-time feminist activists and 
younger net-savvy women eager to develop contemporary feminist practices are a
strategy for creating bridges to past feminist histories, strategies, and 
tactics that are important resources for contemporary feminisms. 

For example,the Cyberfeminist International, a group of artists, technicians, 
and theorists inspired by the Old Boys Network,are planning their second
international symposium. "Strategies for A New Cyberfeminism" 
will focus on feminist critiques of technology; activism; biotechnology; 
connections between technology and difference; as well as down-and-dirty 
discussions of cyberfeminist theories, strategies and practices. Such 
international communication and collaboration is a crucial step toward 
understanding (and being able to act on) local and global differences that are
affected by the ways that new technologies are reconstructing women's lives, 
bodies, and subjectivities.

I propose that new cyberfeminist strategies involve examining the connections 
between historical and contemporary sites of feminist struggle and resistance 
and the new technological developments which are having a profound impact on 
these sites. For example:  

1. The interconnections of technology and difference: The every-day embodied 
conditions of womens lives are being profoundly altered by the new 
technologies. This is as true for highly educated professional (first world) 
women in the sciences, medical, and computer industries, as it is for clerical
and factory workers in the just-in-time telecommunications home-work industry,
and for rural village women working in chips factories and assembly 
sweat-shops. It is vital for women to consciously analyze their own immediate 
situations and conditions in order to understand how they are being reshaped 
by the new global technologies. At the root of such consciousness-raising lie 
questions of agency and power which women need to address.  

2. The conditions of production (labor) and reproduction--historically always 
already linked for women--are changing in ways that are having drastic 
consequences for the lives of all women. Bodies and body 
processes--particularly those of women and fetuses-- are being re-engineered. 
Cyberfeminists need to interrogate the new flesh-, reproductive-, and gene 
technologies, and assess their particular political, economic, social and 
emotional impact on different groups of women globally. Women constitute the 
major share of the increasingly feminized world labor pool, and changing 
working conditions are profoundly affecting their social, economic, and 
reproductive lives, as well as their family and intimate relationships. 
Cyberfeminists need to analyze and draw attention to the changed conditions of
the entwinement of women's productive and reproductive functions in the global

3. Increasingly medical and military technologies are closely connected. As 
Claudia Reiche and others have pointed out, much cutting edge medical 
technology is being developed and tested by the military. Civilian 
applications of this technology are already having far reaching effects on 
women, as for example in ultrasound pregnancy technologies and in imaging 
techniques. In affluent countries, the new eugenics of ReproTech and the 
mapping of the Human Genome posit that there is a code of codes which must be 
reinforced and replicated. Those who do not accede to the hegemony of the code
become a new Other, the flesh Luddites, the contaminated and contaminating 
mutants forever exiled from the eugenic paradise. In the U.S.A. many feminist 
attitudes toward women's health have been institutionalized mostly in order to
compete for women patients. As a result, women have largely been silenced 
again and discouraged from taking an active role in their own health care. The
manufacture and control of fertility/infertility and the medicalization of 
women's body processes are vital subjects for cyberfeminist scrutiny, 
critique, and activism. Meanwhile in poorer countries traditional healing 
practices are being eroded as pharmaceutical companies and wester medical 
technologies penetrate everywhere in search of new markets. Cyberfeminists can
lead a reactivation of a feminist politics of healthcare.


Our radical feminist foremothers struggled for far more than the vote and eqal
rights for women. Indeed, the fight for women's suffrage, bitterly as it was 
resisted at the time, in a way served to obscure the real threat of feminist 
demands which were nothing short of the complete tearing down and rethinking 
of the central institutions of the State, the Church, and the Family. A 
radical new cyberfeminism must move beyond discussions of women's 
technophilic/technophobic relations with technology to interrogate the 
"State","Church" and "Family" of digital technology itself. It must move 
beyond the problematic goal of "equal access", futuristic body/machine 
utopias, and making technology available to disenfranchised women. 
Historically, waves of feminism have always accompanied technological change 
and expansion, and feminists have often contested these technological changes 
in various ways.  

Cyberfeminists have opened the contested territory of the Internet not only 
for feminist communication, interrogation, play, and pleasure, but just as 
importantly for new feminist campaigns, education, critique,tactical 
interventions, activist coalitions and all manner of collaborations. A new 
cyberfeminism can draw on a strategic knowledge of feminist history,theory and
practice, to thoroughly scrutinize the effects of technology on many aspects 
of women's lives and to fashion a politics of presence, tactical embodiment, 
and full engagement with the discourses of technology and power,  keeping 
prominently in mind that all women (all people) are affected by technology in 
different ways depending on race, class, economic and social factors.

Currently there is much confusion and doubt about the effectiveness of various
resistant strategies on the Internet. My hope is that we can use the face to 
face meetings of the Second Cyberfeminist International and the Next Five 
Minutes for radical and energetic discussions with many different women (and 
men) to inspire new strategies for an engaged and activist embodied 
cyberfeminist politics.  
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