The (Post)Feminist Politics of Cyberpunk

By Gillis, Stacy | Gothic Studies, November 2007 | Go to article overview
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The (Post)Feminist Politics of Cyberpunk

Gillis, Stacy, Gothic Studies

In Cyberpunk and Cyberculture (2000), Dani Cavallaro identifies a new account of the Gothic, one which is at home in cyberspace and the representations thereof. She terms this the '(cyber)Gothic'.1 Cavallaro discusses the ways in which science fiction 'has developed Gothic themes and modalities, often by foregrounding horror as a product of self-alienation and of the impenetrability of truth, thus supplying powerful critiques of modernity and humanism'.2 Tatiani G. Rapatzikou picks up on this conjunction of the Gothic and cyberspace in Gothic Motifs in the Work of William Gibson (2004), providing a reading of gothicised tropes and aesthetics as a key component of Gibson's corpus.3 Discussions of gender and the body are a part of these arguments but neither Cavallaro nor Rapatzikou address how the representation of women in cyberpunk and the history of the literary and filmic cyborg are both partly determined by the Gothic tradition. In this article, I provide a reading of gender politics in cyberpunk which draws upon the Gothic, the cyborg, and the (post)feminist subject. This reading will be effected through an account of the ass-kicking techno-babe, a crucial component of the masculine strand of cyberpunk. This strand valorises a masculinity and technology dialectic exemplified by Gibson's Neuromancer (1984).4 Cyberpunk draws upon film noir, with its hardboiled detectives and Gothic monstrous femmes fatales. From Molly Millions in Neuromancer to Y.T. in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992) and Trinity in Andy and Larry Wachowski's Matrix trilogy (1999-2003),5 the representation of cyberpunk demonstrates that the (post)feminist project of the ass-kicking techno-babe has found a home in the Gothic aesthetics of the noir-inf(l)ected genre of cyberpunk. However, this figure is one marked by both pleasure and fear; thus, for Rosi Braidotti, '[b]ad girls are in and bad girls carry or are carried by a teratological imaginary'.6 The account of how hyper-sexualised cyborgic female bodies are positioned in contrast to the repressed bodies of the mirror-shaded male hackers reveals the destabilising conundrum of supposed agency contained by the determinacy of the (post)feminist body.7

The Bitch is Back: Postfeminism/(Post)Feminist

In 1982, the New York Times Magazine ran an article entitled 'Voices from the Post- Feminist Generation'.8 Since then, the term 'post-feminism' (or 'postfeminism') has circulated in both media and academic discourses. Its definitions are variable although a common feature is that many are predicated upon a reading of feminism as a project which is complete and, as a result, unnecessary. The multiple meanings of postfeminism speak both to the apparently easy dismissal of the feminist project and to the way in which feminisms are often positioned as feminism, a monolithic and singly-defined entity. In its media form, postfeminism is used regularly to describe

a movement when women's movements are, for whatever reasons, no longer moving, no longer vital, no longer relevant; the term suggests that the gains forged by previous generations of women have so completely pervaded all tiers of our social existence that those still 'harping' about women's victim status are embarrassingly out of touch.9

There are subtle distinctions to be made between the versions of postfeminism which circulate, particularly in the American media, but many of these versions use an understanding of feminism (that is, second wave feminism) as overly and unnecessarily concerned with the history of woman as one of victimisation. For example, Camille Paglia endorses this reading, as is evidenced by the following:

Never in history have women been freer than they are here. [This] bitching . . . it's infantile, it's an adolescent condition, it's bad for women. It's very, very bad to convince young women that they have been victims and that their heritage is nothing but victimization.10

This competitive postfeminism, one which endorses a 'survival of the fittest' model and which encourages women to kick ass, whether against men or women, is one which circulates most commonly in popular culture.

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