Prof. Adam Johns
Narrative and Technology ENGLT
23 March 2012
Revision #2 (Blog 5)
Harraway’s reading of A Cyborg Manifesto combined with Gibson’s portrayal of the pseudo feminine character, Molly Millions is an ideal representation of a future in which gender roles and gender appearances are blurred cyclically. Before we delve into the debate of how Molly is the epitomized character to Haraway’s perspective of feminism as it pertains to society, we must first establish what it is that Haraway is arguing in the first place. Essentially, in her essay, Haraway is rebelling against the western notion of female equivocation with nature. Rather than lining the woman up with a goddess, Haraway states that the female gender is beginning to equivocate itself with the male gender in many ways. The lines between genders are blurring, the boundaries previously established by gender roles are breaking down and women and men are arriving on a more even playing field. This equalization is led, in Haraway’s argument, by the establishment of cyborgs. With the robotics of these entities playing a larger, more prominent role than the gender, the concept of gender roles within cyborgs falls by the wayside. Thus, without cyborgs, Haraway argues in context of Neuromancer, gender social equality would not be as feasible, or at least more difficult to attain. Haraway essentially states, “the cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world, it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour…” (150).
One can argue that in our society, in our reality, without cyborgs we are working towards gender equality. While we are working towards it, there are many strides waiting to be taken and many obstacles necessary to overcome before this is even remotely the case as much as it is in Neuromancer. To start, we are continuously reminded that Molly is clearly of petite stature, society’s reaction to her as she struts down the street is obviously that of fear as they clear a path for her. This is simply because of their knowledge of her physical composition threatening those around her. Which leads us to wonder whether the blurring of lines in her society between genders is really genders blurring the lines, or the physical composition of individuals regardless of gender identity which blurs the line. Or are they one in the same? Additionally, rather than playing into our society’s gender roles of having the man take the woman out to a meal for the date, Molly exemplifies the reconstructed social norms in her society as she takes Case out to eat, wining and dining him rather than the other way around. She is a representation of the cyborg’s impact on her reality and society. Jumping back to the question above, regarding the true recomposition of gender roles, this evidence in the novel would point to the notion that it is not necessarily the gender norms being reconstructed from scratch here. Rather, it seems as though the gender roles and thus the norms have been switched. Men and women have flip-flopped from the men courting the woman to the woman wooing the man.
Yet, the more outward social norms have switched as well as the more subtle social expectancies of the various genders have merely been blurred with the development of cyborgs. What one individual expects from another is largely dependent on how he or she portrays himself and his gender. A more outwardly masculine character has more of a chance to intimidate the surrounding characters purely because of his squared, chiseled and more muscular physical features which imply physical power. On the other hand, more feminine characters are looked at more lightheartedly with their more curvy and round features. This, in turn, implies vulnerability. However, with the development of cyborgs, as is seen in Neuromancer, the individuals have the opportunity to combine features from both genders or implications from both genders into the individual’s new composition. This is seen in Molly as she is of a smaller stature and glides through the streets with the grace of a ballerina yet the determination of a fighter. Yet, her razor eyes, her artificial and harsh body parts which provide the masculine intimidation with her feminine physique were all made possible by her exploitation of her previous physique. This can easily be seen as submission to society’s classic perspective of gender roles, which Molly is trying to reverse slowly by first blurring the lines, whether she is doing so consciously or subconsciously.
Molly had to buy these parts and have them physically constructed in order for her to have this appearance, physically, emotionally and mentally to the rest of society. One can also argue in relation to this, that the fact of her prostitution only forces her to take steps backwards and regress in the fight for gender equality. She played into the role of taking advantage of her gender and sexuality in order to get what she ultimately wanted in the end, something that is widely debated in our society. On one hand, the woman knows exactly what she is doing and is using what she has to her advantage while she can. However, on the other hand, in many situations it is not the woman’s choice to be a prostitute and is only supporting the patriarchal objectification that has so evidently inhibited certain strides from being made socially towards gender equality.
Linda A. Jackson, Linda A. Sullivan and Janet S. Hymes from the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University comments on gender roles and appearances in their study entitled, Gender, Gender Roles and Physical Appearance. In the study which they conducted over an extended period of time, the three women found that the gender roles constructed by society largely impacted the desired physical appearance of each gender. This study, in particular focused primarily on women. The study displays that women who have a more masculine appearance, meaning fewer curves in the hips, butt and thigh area, are increasingly more self aware of how society views them in relation to women with more of a feminine physique. The study followed the women and perceived that society’s interaction with them was that masculine women are not necessarily more intimidating, simply less appealing to interact with. Similarly, more feminine and curvy women, socially had a smoother experience making friends and with opposite sex interactions. With that said, they were taken significantly less seriously. Thus, the novel, Neuromancer, can be a perfect experimental and hypothetical representation of the combination of each gender’s physical appearance as the individual holding these characteristics interacts with society. Molly is the ideal character to highlight as she is of a smaller and more feminine stature yet her artificial cyborg aspects are harsher and more masculine, thus providing the intimidation to her surrounding peers and commanding the respect.
Jackson, Sullivan and Hymes suggest that the social expectations of each gender role constructed these expectations of physical appearances and in turn, the physical appearances feed the social role expectations, a vicious cycle of sorts. If Molly is able to blur the gender lines with her physical appearance and work towards gender role reversal as is aptly seen in the manner in which she attempts to court Case rather than the other way around, perhaps Harraway is incorrect in that women can never be fully separated from our connections with the natural world. Perhaps rather than eliminating that equivocation, the development of masculine harsh lines and cold metal associations of cyborgs merely dulls that affinity rather than silencing it completely.
While Molly is a representation of a female cyborg blurring the lines between gender in her reality of a society, she is also an apt representation of the questions we must constantly ask ourselves regardless of what reality of a society we live in: Is there a line, and what is it, that we must teeter on in order to preserve the dignity of our individuality and in turn the community which we are representing and that which is aiming to progress? And at what cost do we cross that line? Is crossing that line necessary for true progression? In other words, do we need to be controversial in relation to what our goals represent, and do something shocking to wake people up, make them pay attention, and in turn, ultimately make true social progression? The answer is yes there is a line, and it is absolutely necessary to cross it if we ever hope to make true social progression. Molly crossed that line as she sold her body in prostitution in order to afford her cyborg reconstruction. While that can initially be seen as regression, it is regression for the sake of progression. Without committing to that degrading behavior which slaps an objectifying label on women initially, Molly would not be able to reconstruct her parts as a more threatening cyborg which in turn allowed gender physical appearances to be blurred and finally the switching of gender roles to commence.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
Haraway, Donna Jeanne. "AN IRONIC DREAM OF A COMMON LANGUAGE FOR WOMEN IN THE INTEGRATED CIRCUIT." A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-81. Print.
Jackson, Linda A., Linda A. Sullivan, and Janet S. Hymes. "Gender, Gender Role, and Physical Appearance." The Journal of Psychology 121.1 (1987): 51-56. Print.