Nutek Women Dr. Sadie Plant teaches cultural studies at Birmingham University. UK. She has done a lot of work in the past on the "situationists" and is very interested in anti-authoritarian thinking & practice. She is now looking at Cybernetics and writing a book on drugs, cybernetics, & cyberfeminism & the whole issue of machine intelligence and self organising systems. All of which annotates Sadie are "becoming increasingly important for women today". (most comments in brackets are those of the editor(s) who are in no way responsible for them, or any other comments.)

Sadie intros herself...

I'm working on cyberfeminism at the moment which suggests that there is a an intimate and possible 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

The word cyberfeminism I started using quite independently of any other use I'd come across. I'd never seen the word used before. This is one of the reason I was delighted when I came across the work of VNS Matrix here in Australia. 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 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 do women get more liberated. (link to history of this particular lie industrial revolution, witchcraft, loss of "women's knowledge")

RosieX

Can I infer from your work that the term cyberfeminism implies that patriarchy 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. Its not happening because people are trying to make it happen _ or even 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 also shifting as well, its beautifully effortless, its 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 info tech world....

Sadie

I think the two start to converge. In a sense women have always been the machines 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 all 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* they 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 untrue 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

Its important to realise there is never an instantaneous change but never-the-less 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 & 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 for ever. 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 issue of access are important, but soon the issue will not be access but how to avoid it. Soon it will be like Coca Cola.

RosieX

Do you think academics have an entrenched interest on the net?

Sadie

The basic position we are in, is that new technologies are running away with its self. This is a good thing to assist in the destruction of existing power structures. Ironically as I mentioned before the more you try to protect what you have the more it works against you. Take hacking for example: the more security on the systems the easier it is for the hacker to get in (what?...i thought security made it MORE difficult, it may increase determination to 'get in' though). In Britain at the mo' there is a huge proliferation of e-mail and BBS'. Even if the Internet remains a largely academic system which I doubt it won't matter for long, due to the other systems and social forces in play.

RosieX

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

Sadie

Definitely Economic. The software producers wanna sell this stuff. If its not free its getting very cheap. Prices are plummeting, we are witness to accessible technology via the market forces inherent within capitalism.

RosieX

Go back to your point about the construction of certain myths,. You don;t agree that girls are technophobic?

Sadie

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

RosieX

You seem to infer a certain amount of anger at the collective. But historically and also in anti-authoritarian movements the collective has been essential in order to assist change. What do you now think about the role of the collective versus the role of the individual?

Sadie

For a long time I have questioned the authoritarian nature of the collective. By the same token as you suggest you can very often feel alone on the net, there are possibilities which exist which are not one nor the other. These again exist due to the emergence of new technologies and new forms of communications. The notion of networks=feminism=technology, these links open up new possibilities. These possibilities can create far looser but not less important connections for women. Its far easier to pull out or work with the group when its necessary or desired. You can use the technology for single purposes rather than having to heavily invest an interest for the collective. The younger gen seems to be far more effective in just doing this and not being aware they are creating new political spaces.

RosieX

ahhhh, but can you escape the issue of gender on the net?

Sadie

I think its 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. Its fascinating men want to play at being women. Its 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 its a distinct advantage and privilege in the future. The male is basically becoming redundant. Traditionally its been about the male in the abstract. The *white* man, With the emergence of new technology, a general process to which were once the means to serving the ends of patriarchy are now gaining their own autonomy. Capitalism, commodities, new machinery and women all the things that served man's ends re starting to pick up and go there own way. This is on a global scale. You can witness the shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific culture. In certain stages capitalism has no loyalty, and men are finding out women have no loyalty to men.

RosieX

Do you think technology is sexy?

Sadie

Yeah, really sexy.

RosieX

But aren't we positioning women into 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 fem fatale roles. Its been a very unpredictable process. Male writers have created very sexy roles for women, 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 etc have effectively assisted the feminist movement.

RosieX

What about hype?

Sadie

Well yeah (smiles).

RosieX

Lets 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. Now all intelligent commodities are challenging these definitions. The notion of agency gets challenged. 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's, 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. When you have been always crammed into a man;s idea of female I think for women the possibilities are endless for men well...

RosieX

Your new book about drugs and technology, its very hard to discuss drugs isn't it, without feeling a certain amount of responsibility?

Sadie

Drugs are very complicated. They represent to me another analysis of the divergence between intention and effect. But historically drugs have been used for the benefit of men (**i.e. those who had access to them, they were not specifically gendered substances except by virtue of the society which used them. People have used substances to enhance themselves. However, in Europe at least, a fear of Women's knowledge led to the mass removal of that information power from the hands of women. Specifically referring to the witchhunts of the 17th century (?) we see at least a partially conscious intent to reduce womens accessed to and use of substances. This has reverberated in (in)direct ways to the technological relationship between women and this information technology) Ada Lovelace who clearly had great difficulties was successful in adopting a masculine code 100 years before it was done. She used opium for pleasure and achieved some of her best mathematics under the influence of drugs. In history the representation of drugs as feminine has also been very evident, such as mother coca, maryjane. etc (I suppose that these are trendy ways of subtley mentioning asexual drugs in a sexual way, ensuring the engenderment of inanimates) . There is a definite parallel and cultural collision between the emergence of new technology and the design of machinery. This is very much about and connected to the drug experience. Its interesting that a lot of Californian design is about reverse engineering the drug experience. Its prolly an unconscious effort. (probably not, look to the psychedelic revival in implicit ways in the fields of typography, graphic design and music videos. We are living in a world who wants to be and is constantly developing symptoms of psychedelic intoxication/liberation but has not prepared itself. It is suffering from the effects. This is part of the pain of post-modernism where academics and advertisers believe that we have lost our base in a previous reality. This revolution cannot take place for those who were not aware that there was something that came before. This revolution will grind down those who do not know how to comprehend the spin. Nothing can stop the articulate. The schizophrenic vocalisation of reality will not be heard by anyone but the interfische)

RosieX

Oh no you said the word Californian are we all going to be consumers of white male Californian culture?

Sadie

No! I see a shift from European culture to the Pacific. There are some really interesting developments in South East Asia and China. The biggest economics are being developed in this region. A very different scenario than what we have now.

RosieX

Are you at all worried that underpaid South East Asian women will toil away producing computer components for the West?

Sadie

Its only that process of feminism which has proved in the West to liberate women. Certainly it has helped in Japan. There is great activity of unprecedented women experimenting and finding themselves. Most of the workers finding themselves being made redundant are the traditional male workers. Its not going to hurt to have a slight turning of the tables. The absolute new activities women will indulge in in the future we can't even guess at.

RosieX

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

Sadie

Only for the white guys (just remember females are immune to nuclear radiation)

Titles available by Dr. Sadie Plant

  • Cybernetic Hookers:Women, Drugs and Intelligent Machines
  • Beyond the Screens: Film, Cyberpunk and Cyberfeminism
  • The Future Looms:Weaving Women and Cybernetics. Dr. Sadie Plant writer and lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK.