geekgirl - dr. sadie plant

DR. SADIE PLANT

teaches Cultural Studies at Birminham University. UK. She is interested in the issues attached to drugs, cybernetics, cyberfeminism, and machine intelligence and self organising systems.

Sadie: I'm working on cyberfeminism at the moment which suggests that there is a an intimate and possibly subversive element between women and machines - especially the new intelligent machines - which are no longer simply working for man as are women no longer simply working for man.

RosieX: Why do you use the term 'cyberfeminism'?

Sadie: I started using the word quite independently of any other use I'd come across. I'd never seen the word used before. Cyberfeminism to me implies an alliance is being developed between women, machinery and the new technology that women are using. It seemed to me a lot of women really love this type of technology and because of the 'toys for boys' complex it was curious that they did. I thought women should be encouraged to go with their desire. To start with I simply used the word cyberfeminism to indicate an alliance. A connection. Then I started research on the history of feminism and the history of technology. It occurred to me that a long standing relationship was evident between information technology and women's liberation. You can almost map them onto each other in the whole history of modernity. Just as machines get more intelligent, so women get more liberated!

RosieX: Can I infer from your work that the term cyberfeminism implies that patriachy is doomed?

Sadie: The interesting thing about this is that obviously a number of tendencies have developed. Tendencies of feminisation exist economically, particularly in industry and employment practices. It's not happening because people are trying to make it happen - or even because feminist politics are driving these changes (although that is a part of it), but changes are occurring almost as an automatic process. This process is underway, and women do become more important, especially in advanced capitalist cultures. And it seems there is a shift right across the world that this is happening. In every sense, geographical shifts are occurring - from the centre to the periphery. Sexual relationships are shifting as well. It's beautifully effortless, it's an automatic process!

RosieX: Do you think a paradigm shift is occurring? Say, an exchange from a decidedly male paradigm to a female paradigm in terms of who has power in the infotech world?

Sadie: I think the two start to converge. In a sense, women have always been the machine parts for a very much male culture. Women have been the means of reproducing the species, reproducing communications - secretaries etc. - which is obviously similar to the role of machines and tools. So I think there really is a concurrent process: as machines get more autonomous, so do the women. I think women - once they start to make the connection - feel more comfortable with the technology. And really the notion that it is all masculine is a convenient myth sustained by the present power structures. This myth is increasingly irrelevant and is an unture picture of what's occurring. A lot of the new thoughts are being provoked by the whole cyberpunk movement - by which I mean not just the literature but the whole chaos/techno culture in which men participate in a feminine way or increasingly feminised way.

RosieX: But at the moment, generally speaking, only a few women have access to this power - or are they capitalising on these shifts? What about the gap between information-rich and information-poor women?

Sadie: It's important to realise that there is never an instantaneous change - but, neverless, if you look at the historical situation and women's lib so far, you can begin to track future potential. Access to technology is widening. Even though we still have problems, it seems implicit in economic and political terms that these processes are automatic. The power structures with a vested interest - be they men or women in those power roles - won't hang on to them forever. The material processes underway totally mitigate against that. There is always a split between intentions and effects. I mean the intentions of the military or the power structures may intend the technology to be for them, but the effect is quite different. The more they (the military) want it for themselves, the more paradoxically they end up spreading it around. I mean we are in the first wave of information technology, and of course, issues of access are important - but soon the issue will not be access but how to avoid it.

RosieX: Which are the major forces which will, or are, forcing a paradigm shift?

Sadie: Definitely economic. The software producers want to sell this stuff. If it's not free, it's getting very cheap. Prices are plummetting. We are witness to accessible technology via the market forces inherent within capitalism.

RosieX: Going back to your point about the construction of myths... You don't agree that girls are technophobic?

Sadie: Well it's difficult. Generally, girls are brought up to avoid interaction with technology. Nevertheless, women's relationship with machines is more intimate historically than is men's. Now, for instance, girls grow up with technology: it isn't new to them. Technophobia is increasingly becoming a myth. I think it's a shame that a lot of feminist theory buys into this notion of technophobia. It not only buys into it - it's keen to perpetuate it.

RosieX: Can you escape the issue of gender on the Net?

Sadie: I think it's increasingly advantageous to be female. So many men take on female personae that the gender issue has become an increasingly murky thing to discuss. There is everything to play for. It's fascinating that men want to play at being women. It's an opportunity they have not had presented to them in the past. It also implies a recognition by men that to be a women in the past was a liability, but now it's a distinct advantage and privilege. The male is basically becoming redundant. Traditionally, it's been about the male in the abstract. The white man. Capitalism, commodities, new machinery and women - all the things that served man's ends - are starting to pick up and go their own way. This is on a global scale. You can witness the shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific culture.

RosieX: Do you think technology is sexy?

Sadie: Yeah, really sexy.

RosieX: But aren't we positioning women in stereotypical relationships with the technology? I mean what image is being created?

Sadie: This is the great split between intentions and effects. Cyberpunk fiction has created these femme fatale roles. It's been a very unpredictable process. Male writers have created very sexy roles for women, though they have no apparent feminist agenda in doing so. Strong female characters in films, books, etc. can only be beneficial to the goals of feminism. These writers have effectively assisted the feminist movement.

RosieX: What about hype?

Sadie: Well yeah. [smiles]

RosieX: Let's talk about the future?

Sadie: We will see enormous changes in the whole notion of what it is to be human. Women are just starting to realise that they have been defined by a male definition. As men slide out of this definition of identity, as they become more feminine, I doubt women will stay where they are. They will move as well.

RosieX: Oh oh, do women get more masculine!?

Sadie: Absolutely not! Men are effectively catching up. Women too will become more feminine - even though we have no idea what that is. We are going to experiment with it: we are going to find out.

RosieX: What roles will be created by men trying out female personae? Is there a danger of perpetuating certain oppressive roles?

Sadie: Yes, there is an absolute danger of that. Men can step into those roles, but many women will step into totally unprecedented roles.

RosieX: Do you agree with Donna Harraway that technology is a deadly game?

Sadie: Only for the white guys.

Titles available by Dr. Sadie Plant


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