Collective Identity in “A Cyborg Manifesto”

The main concept in “Cyborg Manifesto” calls arms to feminists to discard traditional female practices and stereotypes and to embrace metaphor of a “cyborg.” The cyborg differs from the traditional female human because it has no boundaries, is not afraid to go against the mainstream collectiveness and thought processes, is powerful, and is in a way almost asexual, “as the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism.” The main concept that I want to focus here is regarding the “collective identity” of females that Haraway brings up.

One of the main quotes that struck me was: “Gender, race, or class consciousness is an achievement forced on us by the terrible historica experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism… Which identities are available to ground such a potent political myth called ‘us’?” Here Haraway rallies against women having a collective identity because there is no specific identity to encompass all women and to group them together as “us.” To do so would mean they adhere to a certain stereotype. She believes it to be exploitation and unfair representation because feminists exploit this collective identity of “us” by grouping together mass experiences and ideas of women to create politics that don’t apply to each and every individual. However, it is ironic because being a cyborg creates a collective identity of its own. Are cyborgs, specifically female cyborgs, not represented a certain way in media and publications?

Haraway also brings up the possibilities of cyborgs being haunted, like “ghosts,” in a way because they are “basically machines not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous.” Interesting, although Haraway is against the “collective identity” that feminists bring up in female experiences and history because it generates an inaccurate stereotype. This is ironic because the concept of a cyborg as being a ghost has been replicated widely throughout media, especially in examples of American and Japanese film. In “I, Robot” (widely acclaimed movie starring Will Smith), Dr. Lanning states his worry that, “there have always been ghosts in the machine,” fearing that these robots have a will of their own. Another famous Japanese animated film, “A Ghost in the Shell,” of which various versions have been reproduced, introduces the concept of sexuality and gender identity. In the story, the artificially manufactured female cyborg turns out to have a will of her own, thus coining her as “the ghost in the shell.” This same concept of cyborgs and mechanical beings possessing a “ghost” becomes a sort of shared collective identity because the concept is so widely spread across so many media platforms. Thus, Haraway’s disparagement of “collective identity” becomes ironic because the very concept of “ghosts” she speaks possesses a stereotype of its own as it is represented in so many cyborg characters of science fiction films.

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     On another interesting note, in relation to another text we discussed in class, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Rachel Rosen is depicted as an alluring, yet calculating and stoic woman capable of many things. In much of media, many female cyborgs symbolize and represent many of these values- sexy, yet independent and a “femme fatale.” They are powerful and capable of many things men are: But in stories such as the above mentioned, the act of Rachel Rosen using her body to lure Deckard away from the bounty hunters-how would that be seen in terms of what feminists and Haraway believe in? Is Rachel Rosen’s sexual act against what feminists believe in? Do you believe that Haraway would support or be against the values that Rachel Rosen embodies as an android?

To wrap up my thoughts, a final interesting quote I found in Haraway’s work is: “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” This quote serves the appropriate job of summing up Haraway’s belief in cyborgs and the urging of the metaphor of “cyborg.”  The cyborg, the offspring of science fiction, alleviates the feminism question because the very genre of science fiction provides the respite and appropriate response to current developing societal problems, locally and internationally. However, another way to explain the situation and Haraway’s support of a cyborg’s lack of identity is to say that to create such a community lacking a “collective identity” requires the very fictional potential of a cyborg that it represents.

What are some of your thoughts on “A Cyborg Manifesto?”

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2 Responses to Collective Identity in “A Cyborg Manifesto”

  1. writinginmy says:

    “Are cyborgs, specifically female cyborgs, not represented a certain way in media and publications?” I think this is a valid point but on the other hand, I think we have to keep in mind the fact that while the word ‘cyborg’ has a whole history behind it, Haraway uses it imaginatively as a term towards her own idealized future, stripped of that particular context – she rebuilds it instead. In the sense we would not have to necessarily consider how ‘cyborg’ today plays in media and publications versus how ‘cyborg’ plays in her imaginative future.

    “They are powerful and capable of many things men are: But in stories such as the above mentioned, the act of Rachel Rosen using her body to lure Deckard away from the bounty hunters. Isn’t that sexual act of Rachel Rosen against what feminists believe in?”

    I don’t have a strong definition on feminism – I know that Lady Gaga thinks feminism is about taking control of your sexuality and flaunting it.. In that sense, sure, it aligns with feminism. But this is a touch question – reclamation of sexuality is an act mired still in sexism that makes it hard for that reclamation to be justified…

  2. teithabess says:

    To jump in on the sex-feminism question, I think we need to keep in mind that the sexy, femme fatale character has a long history in fiction and film, partially as a male fantasy (this isn’t my original idea, but I can’t find the article it came from). However, while I certainly agree with writinginmy that reclaiming sexuality these days isn’t as straightforward as it should be, when I read “Androids,” I thought Rachel had complete control over the situation and her body. I of course balked when she mildly accused Deckard of taking advantage of her due to an inability to control her sexual urges, a female stereotype also mired in sexism (I found including this characteristic in an android strange at first, then realized it could have been placed there for Rosen customers who want sexual gratification from their androids — a disturbing can of worms to potentially open). Yet the reader later learns Deckard is not her “first,” so Rachel knew that it would happen, effectively using her programming, in addition to her body, to achieve her goal. The sticking point in regards to feminism might be one’s views on prostitution — for though Rachel has control over that particular encounter, one could argue she is nevertheless forced to do it by her situation as an android protecting her kind, as many prostitutes are forced into the trade. Perhaps I’ve made a major leap, so feel free to call me out. Control over one’s body is a major issue in my understanding of feminism, but it is rarely so simple in a work of fiction as a character making a choice without any outside, societal influence, much like reality.

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