As a female student majoring in computer science, gender and technology will always be strongly linked for me. As part of a clear minority, there are many times when I have been shocked at the reactions and stereotypes that have accompanied my years in programming classes. (“You’re a girl.” Really? Thank you for that news bulletin.) In a technical major, I am clearly defined as female. Haraway and Lyotard both see the ideas of gender and technology as being very related, yet they take very different stances on the issue of how. While there were certainly times that I wished my gender didn’t define me within my program, somewhat similar to Haraway’s extreme view, Lyotard’s recognition of the importance of both sexes is both more practical and beneficial for our world and advances in technology.
Haraway takes a rather extreme viewpoint, and sees gender as something to be pretty much completely destroyed. She acknowledges gender as part of a person’s identity now, but argues that “Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth” (180). Clearly she is pushing for a change. For her, the difference between male and female is just one aspect of the greater hierarchy in life today that needs to be broken down. She sees this hierarchy as one of oppression, and until gender differences are not destroyed this oppression will always exist. Technology then, according to Haraway, is the way in which this can done, through the image of the cyborg. Her definition of a cyborg is very deep and covers a variety of different angles, but one of these is clearly that of a new social reality – “The cyborg is a creature in post-gender world” (150). Her view of a “better” world may be a lot different than what others would choose. For instance, she discusses the emergence of the “Homework Economy” beginning on page 166. Part of the industrial revolution and one consequence of technology, she says, is the restructuring of laboring and deskilling of the work force, making jobs very vulnerable and able to be restructured at any moment. This seems like a very bad thing for the labor economy (especially so for all of the people who are losing their jobs), but Haraway actually seems to be pleased with these changes. She notes that women’s places in the work force are becoming more and more important in both the economy and the home, which is thus breaking down some of the traditional barriers between males and females. In an sense, if its leveling the playing field between women and men, it seems to be ok for Haraway. For her such modifications are something to be embraced, not avoided.
For Haraway, technology, through the cyborg, has the ability to bring some huge changes. She talks about changing what counts as experience, basically restructuring all of life. The boundaries of gender are not necessary, though we may see them as such – “We are responsible for boundaries; we are they” (180). We are in control of the boundaries, and can use technology to remove them. She seems to believe that we can, with the help of technology, completely change the current view of gender, one which is filled with hierarchy and oppression. Gender, however is only the beginning for Harway, and is used as a symbol of all boundaries and hierarchies that exist. “Race, gender, and capital require a cyborg theory of wholes and parts. There is no drive in cyborgs to produce total theory, but there is an intimate experience of boundaries their construction and deconstruction. There is a myth system waiting to become a political language to ground one way of looking at science and technology and challenging the informatics of domination” (181). Through the cyborg and technology, Haraway envisions a utopia without division.
Lyotard almost directly addresses views like Haraway’s when he says, “The notion of gender dominant in contemporary society wants this gap closed, this transcendence toppled, this powerlessness overcome” (21). He, on the other hand, does not seek to destroy these gender differences. He, rather, sees them as essential. While Haraway dreams of a new world that would be better due to the elimination of gender and other boundaries, Lyotard is focused on creating a new world, but is insistent on its failure unless gender did exist. Lyotard’s utopia could not occur without gender. For him these differences are to be embraced, as they are the reason for all thinking. Thinking, he argues, can only be brought about through the desire for something that we lack. “And if we think, this is because there’s still something missing in this plentitude and room has to be made for this lack by making the mind a blank, which allows the something else remaining to be thought to happen” (20). If there was absolutely nothing missing in life, then there would be nothing to think, because there would be no space to fill. The lack brings about desire. Our gender differences are then extremely necessary, because they give us something to lack. Lyotard argues that each gender lacks what the other has, and feels this lack inside, which brings about desire. Without this desire, we wouldn’t have any reason to think or create new things. In other words, without gender, we couldn’t have thought or technology at all.
Within the structure of his essay, gender serves to bring about two different views of the same problem, through the division by “HE” and “SHE”. While both sections address the same fundamental issue, that is, could machines be created to extend thinking past the destruction of humans and the Earth, they clearly argue from a more male and then female point of view. The first section, labeled “HE”, pushes philosophers to realize the importance of creating machines that can think. It enters an argument that is very gung-ho for the use of the technology in this manner, saying that “this and this alone is what’s at stake today in technical and scientific research in every field…” (12). The second section, labeled “SHE”, continues this argument, but in a much more cautious way. Here Lyotard mentions several problems that will be faced along the way of making true human-like machines, including the idea of writing, suffering, and feeling these gender differences mentioned in the previous paragraph. The important part to note is that these two arguments are not meant to function as individual entities but, rather, must be taken together. The juxtaposition of the aggressive and the cautious, the physical and the emotional, clearly highlights the differences that Lyotard sees as crucial to the thinking process. This gender difference is clearly seen by him as necessary to thought, and it is just as necessary to both his argument. Unlike Haraway, who feels we’d be better off without gender, Lyotard recognizes the importance of both halves.
Oftentimes, Haraway’s idea of a utopia may seem like just that – a perfect world where people aren’t defined by their genders. But in reality, this can never happen, and never should happen. It is neither practical nor beneficial to think this way. It is instead important to realize, like Lyotard demonstrates in his essay, the importance of both halves. Without both halves of the argument, Lyotard’s essay would be complete – it would either be too cautious, with too much disregard for the possibility of success, or too optimistic, throwing caution to the wind, without acknowledgement of some very real hurdles that would first need to be tackled. In the same way, technological issues need to be solved with both genders working together. Gender cannot be simply ignored. Women and men bring different things to the table, especially when it comes to solving a technological issue, and these differences are necessary for us to reach our full potential in technology related fields. For a simplified example of this, I turn to the computer programming competitions that I compete in every semester (yes, I am aware of how much of a nerd that makes me). I am on a team with myself and two guys. The different roles we take over the span of the competition can be fit into gender categories. Our team could almost be divided into “HE” and “SHE” like Lyotard’s essay – the two guys steam on ahead, trying to brute force everything in their sight, half-finishing four or five programs, while I’m behind them pointing out what little time we have left or reminding them that we don’t get any credit for the stack of “I-almost-got-it-but-got-bored-part-way-through” or “the-judges-are-jerks-I-never-make-any-errors” programs accumulating in the corner.
In my personal experience, gender has been inescapable, but this is not a bad thing. Yes, some classmates, professors, or random people I talk to may hear my major and automatically jump to conclusions on my abilities or personality based on my gender. Yes, it seems inevitable that I’ll stand out sometimes (I swear I’m not the only one taking notes… but I am definitely the only one color-coding them). But as a girl in a mostly-guy field I bring something different to the table, and according to Lyotard, that’s just what we need.