«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
According to Faith Wilding, the question of how to define cyberfeminism is related to two aspects contemporary women are working with: ‘new technologies and feminist politics’. 11 For Wilding, cyberfeminist artists are those who use technology as an interface to address their political views of feminism. Therefore, they need to use technology as the means, through which they express their opinions about gender and sexuality. Contemporary women artists involved in the exhibition, From My Fingers: Living in the Technological Age, either adopted technology as the media to address their creative ideas, or argued feminist politics via traditional interfaces, such as paintings and collage (eg. Hsieh Juin Hung-Chun’s works), which are contradictory to the ideas of ‘using technology as a means’. In my view, the selection of Taiwanese artists for this show was on the basis of the members’ show of the TWAA, meaning that Chen did not strictly adhere to Wilding’s definitions of what cyberfeminist works should be.
Donna Haraway states in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991) that ‘late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly
48.2 percent of the whole industrial production in Taiwan, which is around 48.1 percent of the total value of the export industry. These figures can be found at the website of the TEEMA, ‘The Success of the International Exhibition for Taiwan’s Electronic Production in Autumn:
Direct Future Trend of Industrial Business’, http://www.teema.org.tw/events/moreinfo.asp?autono=3090, consulted on 26 Nov 2006.
Wilding, Faith. ‘Where is Feminism in Cyberfeminism?’ in Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, op cit, pp 34-39.
M. Turner, © 2008 ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed’.12 Haraway’s argument indicates a phenomenon, created by machines, that technology has diluted the distance between organic (nature) and non-organic (artificial); flesh (mind and
technology has contributed to human life is not only to provide it with physical needs (ie. music from the radio; visual entertainment from the television) but the invention of cyborgs (what Haraway has described as ‘a creature in a post-gender world’13) which has given people a different world where there is ‘no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts’.14 For Haraway, it is ‘cyborg’ that creates this kind of ‘utopia’ and
to describe cyborg, she states that:
A cyborg is a hybrid creature, composed of organism and machine. […] Cyborgs are post-Second World War hybrid entities made of, first, ourselves and other organic creatures in our unchosen ‘high-technological’ guise as information systems, texts, and ergonomically controlled labouring, desiring, and reproducing systems.15 Cyberspace provides us with an imaginary world in which to explore the information shifting within the electronic space. The improvement in science after the Second World War started to change people’s lives; for example, cyborgs provide people with labouring assistance. According to Haraway, the invention of cyborgs becomes essential as they are designed to combine Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London and New York: Routledge, 1991, p 152.
Ibid., p 150.
Ibid., p 1 M. Turner, © 2008 human bodies and machinery to perform the jobs that people program them to do. Cyberspace, which is based on the World Wide Web, is similar to the notion of cyborgs, having neither individual characteristics nor gender discourses. In cyberspace, every individual functions as a simple unit to communicate and transport their information via electricity and power leads.
In the fast changing age of technology and cyberspace, people are experiencing an imaginary world where information and ideas can be transferred within seconds and where beliefs about traditions and the past can be more easily debated. Moreover, according to Haraway, technology can lead us to a world where there are no debates regarding issues of gender and even no conflict between traditions and modernism as the division of values does not exist in cyberspace.
Taiwanese women living today are fortunate enough to use technology as a means to re-consider what has been given to their roles from colonial history and patriarchal society, because the very freedom of the cyber world has allowed them to do so. From My Fingers demonstrates the fact that Taiwan is embracing the age of cyberspace and that women artists are taking advantage of this development to re-interpret the traditions and social structures under which they exist. In the following section, I begin to de-construct gender’s expected orders and roles in cyberspace by looking at binary relationships both in sexuality and technology.
Binarism and Women M. Turner, © 2008 The zeros and ones of machine code seem to offer themselves as perfect symbols of the orders of Western reality […] [a]nd they make a lovely couple when it came to sex. Man and woman, male and female, masculine and feminine: one and zero looked just right, made for each
other: 1, the definite, upright line; and 0, the diagram of nothing at all:
penis and vagina, thing and hole…hand in glove. A perfect match.16 Technology is made up of a binary opposition: 1 and 0. This relationship is often used in feminist arguments, and as a result, there exists a kind of connection between technology and gender through the understanding of their structure: binarism. Although it is impossible to calculate the real number of people who are accessing cyberspace, it is estimated by Sadie Plant that ‘50 percent of the Net’s users are women’.17 It is possible that men pretend to be women in cyberspace in order to chat with other women and vice versa, however, this percentage still tells us that cyberspace is equally taken control of by both women and men. Men and women at this moment become equal parts as the two key elements, 0 and 1, in technological space. Through Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture (1997), Sadie Plant’s inspiring argument initiated my examination of the relationship between technology and women.
Man once made himself the point of everything. He organised, she operated. He ruled, she served. He made the great discoveries, she busied herself in the footnotes. He wrote the books, she copied them.
She was his helpmate and assistant, working in support of him, according to his plan. She did the jobs he considered mundane, often the fiddling, detailed, repetitive operations with which he couldn’t be bothered; the dirty, Plant, Sadie. Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture. London: Fourth Estate Limited, 1997, pp 34-35.
Ibid., p 112.
M. Turner, © 2008 mindless, semi-automatic tasks to which he thought himself superior.18 The citation above is what Plant describes as the established order between men and women. In my previous chapters, I suggested a number of examples of Western and Confucian philosophies to reveal the interaction of binarism. Here, a new perspective from which to investigate gender and binary relations appears when the symbols of technology imply the differences of sexuality. Plant describes 1 as reference to men and 0 to women, through which good couples (read: as the norm) perform a relationship: one is in control and the other follows. The relationship of zeros and ones reminded Plant of the ‘Western’ world order and the logic of things; furthermore, they prompted her conclusion that women occupy the inferior position. She uses the relationship between the machine code, 1 and 0, to explain her argument of how the binary relationship between men and women works. According to Plant, women are in the supportive position assisting men as if ‘1’ is the centre, whilst ‘0’ is the margin.
Zeros and ones, the essential and only electronic units in technology, make Plant juxtapose her arguments with gender. Technology itself is considered as men’s science, however, computers and technical products are mainly assembled by women labourers. It is mainly men who develop technology and it is mostly women who do the labouring work to produce it. However, the first program in computer science was invented by a young woman, although most of us believe that computing and technology are examples of masculinity and patriarchy. In an interview with Zoey Kroll in 1997, Plant asserted that Ibid., p 35.
M. Turner, © 2008 ‘[w]hen I found that [the] Victorian teenage girl (Ada Lovelace) had effectively invented the first computer, or certainly written the first computer software, it was obviously an amazing discovery’.19 Ada Lovelace, being the key figure of Plant’s Zeros + Ones, produced the first example of what came to be known as a computer program in 1833, 20 one hundred years before even computer hardware was created. Lovelace understood the mechanical functions of the Jacquard Loom [fig 78], a machine which revolutionised weaving production during the first and second industrial revolutions,21 and saw how the punch-card system of control could be applied in terms of what we now understand as a basic computer program. The mechanism of the Jacquard Loom determines complex thread patterns by means of the absence or presence of the holes in punched cards, and it demonstrates the possible application in another context – the development of the first computing logic.
It can be argued, therefore, that the initial connection between women and technology can be traced back to Lovelace’s discovery of the functions of the loom, and that this represents an essential element in the discussion of
women’s relationships with technology. Plant asserts that:
The yarn is neither metaphorical nor literal, but quite simply material, a gathering of threads which twist and turn through the history of computing, technology, the science and arts. In and out of the punched holes of automated looms, up and down through the ages of spinning and weaving, Kroll, Zoey. ‘Technically Speaking: An Interview with Sadie Plant by Zoey Kroll’, updated in 1999, http://www.penelopes.org/archives/pages/ntic/newmed/sadie.htm, consulted on 11 Aug 2006.
More details can be found in Plant, op cit, pp 5-9.
George P. Landow introduced the ‘Jacquard Loom’ and explained that it ‘proved important in both the first and second industrial revolutions - the first because it demonstrated the mechanization of textile production, leading to British cotton factories; the second, because its punch-card control system later proved important in early mainframe computing’. Landow, George P. ‘Punch Card Loom Jacquard’, http://www.victorianweb.org/technology/jacquard2.html, consulted on 18 Aug 2006.
M. Turner, © 2008 back and forth through the fabrication of fabrics, shuttles and looms, cotton and silk, canvas and paper, brushes and pens, typewriters, carriages, telephone wires, synthetic fibres, electrical filaments the World Wide Web, the Net, and matrices to come.22 Weaving is traditionally considered to be women’s practice; Ada Lovelace, found the important function from it and transformed it into an important element in the history of the invention of computing. In Zeros + Ones, Plant collected Lovelace’s notes on how she designed an engine with the punch-card system, from which it can be shown that effectively, she wrote the first simple computer program, some one hundred years before the computer, as we know it, was invented. It is worth citing Plant, who highlighted some of
Lovelace’s ideas, as follows:
“Certain stuffs require for their fabrication not less than twenty thousand cards,” and because their repetition “reduces to an immense extent the number of cards required,” the Engine could “far exceed even this quantity”.23 What she contributed to computing technology suggests the fact that computers are not simply men’s inventions and that a woman’s intelligence (Lovelace’s invention) plays an essential role in its history. Lovelace’s contribution to computing programs freed women’s hands and feet from the weaving process, therefore, the inventions of computing and the Jacquard Loom have similarity in reducing women’s physical labouring. 24 As the computing industry becomes one of the living necessities of the twenty-first Op cit, p 12.
Ibid., pp 19-20.
It should be noted that there were many male weavers, however, weaving was mainly considered to be women’s work.
M. Turner, © 2008 century, it is interesting to recall that the invention of technology was, initially, to create a world where bodily labour, especially women’s, could be replaced. In the twenty-first century, when technology has been upgraded to assist people with most parts of their lives, it is interesting to see how artists respond to this phenomenon. The exhibition, From My Fingers: Living in the Technological Age, was curated under these circumstances and it considered what women’s next role will be after their bodily labouring has been freed from its physical work in Taiwan.
Having developed the link between women and technology, I shall now examine some characteristics of cyberspace, existing between the computer screen and the keyboard. Nina Wakeford addresses the notion that in the technological era, there is no in-betweenness, halfway nor even negotiation.
She argues that ‘increasingly cultural criticism is questioning essentialist perspectives on technology which links it inescapably with masculinity, men’s activities and the absence of female participation’.25 In this cross-cultural and cross-national space, problems of subjectivity disappear and there are no limits within this new world. On the internet, the instant transference of sounds and images dilute the differences of time and geographies in two different locations and give women a different perspective from which to explore gender discourses. Julian Stallabrass responds to this argument by
The greatest freedom cyberspace promises is that of recasting the self:
from static beings, bound by the body and betrayed by appearances, net Wakeford, Nina. ‘Gender and the Landscapes of Computing in An Internet Café’ in Kirkup et al (eds), op cit, p 291.