Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Anne C. Herrmann; Abigail J. Stewart | Go to book overview

FEMINISM/POSTFEMINISM

21 Automating Gender

Postmodern Feminism in the
Age of the Intelligent Machine

JUDITH HALBERSTAM


My Computer, My Self

The development of computers and computer science in the 1940s activated a debate between humanists and mechanists over the possibility of intelligent machines. The prospect of thinking machines, or cyborgs, inspired at first religious indignation; intellectual disbelief; and large-scale suspicion of the social, economic, and military implications of an autonomous technology. In general terms, we can identify two major causes for concern produced by cybernetics. The first concern relates to the idea that computers may be taught to simulate human thought, and the second relates to the possibility that automated robots may be wired to replace humans in the workplace. The cybernetics debate, in fact, appears to follow the somewhat familiar class and gender lines of a mind-body split. Artificial intelligence, of course, threatens to reproduce the thinking subject, while the robot could conceivably be mass produced to form an automated workforce (robot in Czech means "worker"). However, if the former challenges the traditional intellectual prestige of a class of experts, the latter promises to displace the social privilege dependent upon stable categories of gender.

In our society, discourses are gendered, and the split between mind and body—as feminist theory has demonstrated—is a binary that identifies men with thought, intellect, and reason and women with body, emotion, and intuition. We might expect, then, that computer intelligence and robotics would enhance binary splits and emphasize the dominance of reason and logic over the irrational. However, because the blurred boundaries between mind and machine, body and machine, and human

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