Birth Without the Messy

So we have one of these at my university and a friend of mine in the FAU Comparative Studies PhD department Jeff Nall  is working on research that looks at this robot, which simulates birth. He sees this pregnancy-bot as part of the medicalization of birth. For him this is akin to pornographic toys – like the Jenna Jameson vagina that can be bought which is literally just a vagina and upper thighs – so it objectifies the vagina and eliminates the subjectivity of the female.
Jeff’s argument is pretty convincing – he brings up all these advertisements, which imply that doctors are in control of birth not women – have any of you see Ricky Lake’s film about home birthing – The Business of Being Born – pretty interesting stuff: Here’s a clip from it – I think…
I’m on the fence – in some ways this looks like a great teaching tool – but then again when a woman goes into the labor room if her doctors and nurses are used to dealing with a robot will this undermine her agency as a living breathing woman ?  Thoughts?

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Currently, I’m Diggin’ The Hunger Games

The word on the street was I needed to read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games. (You know that by street I mean my super cuddly but totally gangsta women’s studies  friends, right?) And to be honest, this recommendation wasn’t just at a low hum – this was a full on YOU – YOU with your interest in feminism and YA, YOU MUST READ HUNGER GAMES from the A-1, top of the heap, head of the coven, feminist I know, Jane Caputi. (<—- that’s a link to her books, but If you don’t know Jane you can check out an old interview with her by clicking here). So, I did it. I followed the prescriptions of my friends and colleagues and read the Hunger Games Trilogy, and as usual, they know me well. It is enthralling and really presents a lot of fodder for someone with feminist leanings – but also anyone who is questioning the culture we are living at this moment. (Hmm… a dystopian story which makes you question your current culture…how could that happen.)

First off, The trilogy centers on the characters Katniss and Peeta, who stray from traditional representations of gender.  Okay, put it this way – our everyday understanding of gender includes stereotypes that normalize the behavior and physicality of each sex. For example, girls like pink and boys like blue or women are slight and men are brawny and because these gender codes are generally understood as normal and natural, a departure from them is often perceived as irregular or even deviant. (In the era of Marxist, Feminist, Postmodern and Queer theory, with a particular nod to Foucault, it must be acknowledged that ‘natural’ is a loaded word, which begs the question who or what determines what is natural? Is natural an innate state of being or rather is natural a construction of the social sphere?  Like natural, the presentation of a ‘normal’ way innately implies a determined social construct, boundary or othering, a prejudice.)  In this framework the ability to live up to your sex – to be a ‘true’ man or a ‘real’ lady – is recognized as both culturally necessary and desirable because gender is seen as an innate quality, necessary for sexual attraction and reproduction. Katniss and Peeta successfully blur and defy these standards or ‘norms’ and for that reason lend themselves to a discussion of Judith Butler’s concept of performativity. (If your not familiar with Butler you could buy this and watch this or keep reading).

In Gender Trouble, Butler presents the idea of gender as ‘performative’ implying that gender is not an innate quality linked to sex but rather a behavior, which is learned and practiced, quite like playing the piano.  Butler details this understanding of gender as performance, so that she can underscore the idea that these performances are repeated with the intention of maintaining the gender binary.What she means is that continuing to imply that boys are different from girls, makes it possible to maintain the idea that boys are better than girls or, if you will, the oppressive dynamic of western patriarchal traditions. Butler purposes that to escape the boxes imposed by culturally constructed gender norms, we have perform and repeat other gender constructions so that we expose the nature of gender as performance. AND this is exactly what Hunger Games does – blurs the lines! While first few pages some readers claim to mistake  Katniss for a boy because of her behavior – surprise!

The second issue that I’ve been thinking about regarding these books is feminist care ethics. Let me give you an example: A chain link fence encircles District 12, separating Katniss Everdeen from the woods and the bounty that lives there. The law handed down by the capital says, “Trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties” (Collins 5). Despite these rules, Katniss regularly shimmies her way under the fence, hunts freely with the intention of providing for her starving family, and believes that “more people would risk” hunting if they were capable (Collins 5). Even in this seemingly simple action, Katniss’s behavior presents readers with an ethical conundrum: Katniss is breaking the law, which should be considered wrong but she does so for good reason, right? Feminists who are philosophically based in care ethics would say, right!

Grounded in fighting for social justice, feminist thinkers, including Carol Gilligan and Sara Ruddick, argued the feminine perspective and/or experience offered a counter point to the more traditional Kantian or deontological ethics. These more customary ethical perspectives argue that to maintain an ethically sound environment we must impartially adhere to rules or universal truths of goodness. For example, thou shall not steal and if thou doesth steal, well then, thou deserveth thou’s punishment because stealing is wrong, no matter the context. In response to deontological ethics, feminists purposed a feminist care ethic, which recognizes the intentional good that resides in supposed universal truths, but also notes that life – the reality of existence – does not happen in a moral vacuum. These feminists believed that when confronted with a moral decision, ethically sound people must not remain impartial but rather make their choice with regard to the particularity of their perspective and the context of the situation at hand.

This is the kind of thinking that Katniss Everdeen does – and I think this is pretty interesting stuff  – even if it is a YA novel…See, I told you they were worth thinking about. We wax poetic about Holden Caulfield, don’t we?

Oh and by the way – I also wanted to share these two tidbits the Blackwell …And Philosophy series is planning a Hunger Games and Philosophy book, which I am hoping to be a part of and this project.  And, finally,  illustrator Sabrina Vincent has created some Cute Hunger Games Drawings you might want to check out, if you’re into the whole ETSY scene.

Announcement: Take a look at Peggy Orenstein’s new book

Anyone interested in Girl Studies? Peggy Orenstein, has just released a new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Girlie Girl Culture. If you are interested you can read read the New York Times Book Review. Looks interesting to me.

So, I went to the movies, again – no strings attached.

 Those of you who know me personally know that despite my feminist leanings and my best intentions, I am still a sucker for hollywood. In particular, I love romantic comedies and teen  flicks, ( not to mention teen television and YA novels). When it come to these often patriarchal films, I am not a complete push over – and by that I mean I don’t just sit there and sop up the cheesy without thinking about it, and I certainly don’t take chauvinism lying down. But, I know that merely buying the ticket is a donation to the kind of media that promotes a male dominated asymmetrical gender dynamic.

That said, I saw No Strings Attached this weekend. For those of you who don’t know,  this film stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Portman plays Emma, a strong-willed and determined female doctor, who has no need for relationships or love. In fact, she finds relationships taxing and complicated so she avoids them completely. Enter Adam (Kutcher), a fun-loving, sensitive male wannabe writer, who works as a producer for a teen show similar to Glee (sidenote: yeah, glee!). Adam and Emma enter into a “friends-with-benefits” scenario, which is basically a denial of their budding relationship. (Note: Normally, this is the point where I might say spoiler alert – but if you don’t know where this  film is heading from the first scene than you aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us.) Ultimately, after much push and pull Emma realizes that she’s in love and gives in to her version of traditional heterosexual partnering.

The basic premise here is about reaffirming gender construction. This is the story of how the stoic woman learns to face her emotional core, a storyline I think we are seeing more and more often (Juno, Love and Other Drugs, The Ugly Truth, The Proposal…)  and one that seems to be a backlash against the ideas of 2nd wave feminism. Before, Simone de Beauvoir women were (and still are) perceived as unreliable because they are “emotional” and so some 2nd wave feminists looked to strip away the understanding of woman as emotional and replace her with the super-woman, a career focused gal who could do anything a man could.  (Note: I am italicizing woman and man here to emphasise that these terms are constructs – no one genuinely fits into these categories 100%). No Strings Attached, like the other films I’ve mentioned, features this less than emotional girl and portrays her lack of desire for a relationship as reactionary scar or wound, which is the result of either having to grow up too fast or deal with a great traumatic event earlier in her life.  Emma is heroically emotion deficient because she is the rock for her mother and her sister.  The confirmation that Emma, has these issues is a scene in the car driving to her sister’s wedding in which Emma’s mother explains to Emma being so brave since her father died was important but isn’t really necessary anymore. Following this chat and a similar conversation with her sister Emma takes a whirlwind dive into the emotional mess category. Blech.

The point is this film seems to say that women who choose work over relationships or women who don’t act emotional are just out of touch with the truth of their feelings; they are  lying to themselves and all they need is the right guy – the sensitive guy –  to help them see how relationships can make you happy.  This is a backlash to that super-woman who acts like a man – the infamous feminazi. Films like this usually include a gender switcheroo – a sensitive man and a dominating woman – so in some ways they flatten the rigidity of gender categories but they still maintain  dominate codes of the patriarchal system one strong stoic partner and emotional partner, i.e. a non-equal partnership of domination.  

I am absolutely not saying that relationships don’t make people happy. They often do. Nor am I saying that a woman can’t walk around and say she doesn’t need or want a relationship and then change her mind. In fact, I know that an enactment of traditional male stoicism is not anything I want to be and I generally question why women would want to mimic this fallacy of the masculine construct because isn’t it the history of what men have done that caused the problem – our culture of domination? But that said I still find myself wondering why? Why, in the second decade of this new millennium am I seeing this story pattern?  The answer seems obvious to me: if you can’t beat them join them. In other words, any pattern that reaffirms the heteronormative love match maintains the othering and subjugation of non-conformist behaviors , i.e homosexual relationships, single moms, asexuality etc. Sure, go ahead be a doctor – act emotionless – poo poo relationships, as long as it’s in theory, not practice.  Because in the end we learn s that despite her hard exterior Emma is after all a girl – a gorgeous, tiny ,thin,  emotional mess who acts jealous, hides in bushes, binge eats doughnuts and gets the guy.  Puke. Puke. Puke.

Anyway – it was funny and man oh man, Portman and Kutcher are so very pretty.

Andy Clark’s Natural Born Cyborgs – and stuff…

So, if you haven’t noticed I have started talking about technology a lot lately and right now I am enthralled by thinking about  Andy Clark’s book,  Natural Born Cyborgs, and I’ve been walking around talking about it constantly because I am so interested in how limited our definition of the word technology has become and also because I am having a hard time denying his explanation of human beings as natural born as cyborgs. 

In particular, I am fascinated by Clark’s understanding of human existence as not only mind-body but also scaffolding – or rather technologies that are so integrated into our everyday practices that we hardly notice them. Clark points out that human beings are and always have been dependant on tools or rather technology, scaffolding,  and this dependence has enabled us to persist.

When I consider my own existence, I know that  there are daily interactions with  technologies that don’t conjure any fear of a cyborg coup and in fact make my life possible – for example – chairs, desks, marker boards or  overhead projectors. And unlike Clark,  I am able to see beyond his 2003 publication date to my iphone, which sometimes seems an extension of my hand. This device has already changed the dynamic of how and what I memorize. For example, as a child I had an address book for people’s addresses and knew all my friends’ phone numbers by heart. Now, I have all my friends, coworkers, acquaintances and others information in my pocket, stored on my iphone and I memorize no one’s phone number. Also, when watching TV who wonders where you know that actor from or what her name is when you have the internet in you pocket; it enables my brother and father – both doctors – to look at x-rays when they are hundreds of miles away from the office eating ice cream or playing golf.

As you can imagine – Natural Born Cyborgs isn’t perfect.  Clark really doesn’t entirely broach the subject of privacy infringement – neither bodily nor theoretically. He glosses over the possibility of ‘implanted’ devices without much notice  and seems to think that good will ultimately prevail in a battle with big brother. While he thinks he has a holistic sense of the mind-body continuum, he repeatedly refers to the body as the “skin bag” and favors the individual spirit of the liberal subject. Ultimately,  I think in some ways Clark is too flippant and in other ways too tentative. The word scaffolding seems to undermine the reality of our interdependence. These devices aren’t really scaffolding. Scaffolding is temporary; it’s the structure that enables the building to be built – it’s a support that is removed upon completion. While, our technologies may be interchangeable – this pen for that one, a new computer for an old one – they are not disposable. We cannot achieve our goals or keep pace with the current requirements of our lives without them. (My office/students e-mail at all hours of the day and expects a reply – Does yours?) What I’m getting at here is more than a question of overload or limitation or privacy infringement – all things that Clark mentions –  but rather a question of desire. What do we want from progress?

As I believe Donna  Haraway also argues, Clark is bringing our attention to the immediate truth – we are already melded – we are patched and stitched amalgams – but while we may be natural born cyborgs – or integrators – are we comfortable with the direction our technology is headed in? I keep thinking about the Bruce Willis film that came out a couple of years ago, Surrogates – are technological bodies are initially passed off as the same as real bodies.  At a cocktail party –  is it the same to have the internet implanted into your brain, so that when someone mentions  Franz Marc and the Blue Rider you can silently do an internal google search so that you don’t seem ignorant with regards to German Expressionism? Are you presenting a real you or is this some second self – ideal for interviews but not great for intimacy?

Let’s face it cyborgs freak me out. It’s not that I feel that technology is poised to take over the world but if you’ll allow me to generalize the image of the cyborg has repeatedly been used to forward phallocentric, militaristic, technological domination and flesh-less female subjugation. I mean have you seen this Svedka ad campaign:

Or how about She-3P0, which I was ranting about yesterday?

But that said – perhaps Natural Born Cyborgs premise – his general argument – gives us a way to rethink technology – to drag it back from the brink of ickiness and let it flourish in new directions.

Okay – one more thing – Clark has a new book, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. I’m gonna read it.  Are you?

I’m Afraid that Stepford Wives are Real

So, I know I’ve been missing in action for a while but I’ve been meaning to pay more attention to this blog and today’s the day!

Currently I am taking a fantastic class, New Cyborg Theory taught by Prof. Lisa Swanstrom at Florida Atlantic University. The class has a website, which isn’t very accesable to outsiders but one of my fellow classmates posted an article entitled “Inventor Builds She-3P0 Robot”.

You can look at the article but the basic gist is that a Canadian inventor has created a “perfect wife” robot.  This is exactly what my nightmares are about. This is crazy stepford wife stuff! She’s a GPS and an e-reader, not a person. What about intimacy? The article says that she could be made to “simulate” having an orgasm?!?!?! Is that the purpose of female sexuality? An orgasm for a man to appriciate? It is moments like this that remind me how topsy turvy the world still is in terms of female subjegation. She-3Po, The perfect wife – a.k.a. a non-entity, a slave, who spends her day catering to her husband’s whims.

Here she is….

This  just to makes the hair on my arms stand up.  How about you?