a b i t a r ooe
noo(p u n
t o)oo n e t
X T O S
Truth about Cyberfeminism
The question "What is Cyberfeminism? " is definitely the one
I am asked to answer most often. Everybody who is confronted with the
term for the first time, wants an answer. But even after years of dealing
with this question, it might happen, that you still do not have the
definite answer, that you have to ask yourself again and again, or maybe
you have the answer, and simply do not want to give an answer!?
The First Cyberfeminist
International, the first cyberfeminist conference which took place in
September 1997 in Kassel, Germany, agreed on not to define the term.
Instead, we wrote the 100 Anti-Theses. These Anti-Theses clearly define
what Cyberfeminism is NOT. Here you get a little selection:
--Cyberfeminism is not an ism --Cyberfeminismus ist keine entschuldigung
--Cyberfeminism is not lady.like - Cyberfeminismus ist keine kunst -
Cyberfeminism is not a horror movie - Cyberfeminism is not ideology
--Cyberfeminisme n'est pas une pipe --Cyberfeminism is not a single
woman. But even after reading all the 100 Anti-Theses, you probably
will still feel kind of unsatisfied regarding the question you started
In our times, when you are looking for information, it makes sense to
do a search on the net. If you make a search with the most popular engines,
you will find about 500 links to Cyberfeminism all together. You will
find manifestos, texts, individual biographies, and art projects. You
will find euphoric proclamations, utopian concepts, but also critique
on cyberfeminist concepts and theories. I highly recommend to do this
search, because you get a good feeling for the diversity of all information
which is summarized under this term, and you will certainly come across
the crucial thinking and writing concerning Cyberfeminism. Many women
(and some men also), who often do not know each other and each other's
work, are summarized under the same umbrella, and all continue to write
the story, but at the same time it becomes very clear, that everyone
has a different concept of Cyberfeminism.
One link you will certainly get is the one to the Old Boys Network,
(www.obn.org). It is
the website of the international cyberfeminist organisation, a network
I started to spin with two other women in 1997. Meanwhile it grew and
changed a lot, and if you are interested, you can find more information
about the Old Boys Network on our website. Generally speaking, OBN is
also oriented around the primary question: "What is Cyberfeminism?".
If you are looking for quick answers, you could have a look at the FAQ
on our website. FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions, and is a
file in question and answer format. Many websites have FAQ files, as
they compile information about a certain topic and eliminate the need
for personal responses to queries and questions. The OBN FAQ file contains
different and even contradictory answers, as they have been given by
the individual members of OBN. Here are some quotes:
-- a feminism, of course--focussing on the digital medium.
-- a vehicle for discussing certain methods in theory, art or politics.
-- the updated version of feminism dedicated to new political issues
raised by global culture and media society.
-- a new product and the marketing strategy at the same time
-- much more than every other feminism linked to aesthetic and ironic
strategies as intrinsic tools within the growing importance of design
and aesthetics in the new world order of flowing pancapitalism. ..."
Yvonne Volkart, a Swiss art critic and theorist, and also member of
OBN, says that Cyberfeminism is in fact a MYTH. In the introductory
talk to the next Cyberfeminist International she said: "A myth
is a story of unidentifiable origin, respectively different origins.
A myth is based on a central story which is being retold over and over
in different variations. This characteristics make it fit very well
current, postmodern needs. A myth denies ONE history as well as ONE
truth, [At this point you definitely know that the title of my lecture
is meant ironically!] and implies to search for truth in the spaces,
in the differences between the different stories. But speaking about
Cyberfeminism as a myth does not mean to mystify it, but simply indicates
that Cyberfeminism only exists in it's plural."(end quote)
Although I agree with Yvonne in her understanding that there is not
ONE histroy and ONE truth, paradoxically, I would like to make an experiment
at this point, and try to write a little history of Cyberfeminism. The
invention of Cyberfeminism is dated 1992. Independent from each other
the English cultural theoretist Sadie Plant and the Australian artist
group VNS Matrix started to use the term. It simply resulted from the
fusion of "Cyberspace" and "Feminism". Interestingly
the choice was made for the prefix "cyber", and not for "techno"
or "virtual" to indicate something new. Actually "cyber"
is derived from cybernetics. Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics,
based his theory on the assumption that there is an analogy between
organic and technologically regulated systems, which transmit and process
information. In the mid 80s the science-fiction author William Gibson
added another meaning to the original one by his cyberpunk trilogy.
He created cyberspace, the spaceless, virtual world of electronic networks,
an etheral space of collective hallucination. In cyberspace the body
has vanished, flesh only exists as wetware. This vision clearly indicates
a holistic and maybe even a sexist phantasy, as women are mainly regarded
as fembots and cyberbabes. In light of the sexist ideas inherent in
the word cyber, the addition of the word feminism creates an ironical
twist and offers space for alternative interpretations for what cyberspace
Additionally, creating "cyber"feminism was a smart marketing
idea. Gibson's novels had initiated a huge hype, and the prefix cyber
was used in all kinds of possible and impossible combinations, i.e.
cyberbody, cybersex, cybermoney, cyberfood, cyberhippies, cybertrash
and so on. It indicated a new era, a time in which everyone would be
free from all material problems, namely the body (freedom from pain,
sex, hunger, thurst...). Adding these concepts to feminism sounds paradoxical,
because at least until the 80s when the categories of man and woman
were deconstructed or expanded by introducing "gender", feminism
clearly referred to the "natural" and pysical entity of bodies
(man/woman). And feminism still is widely identified with "old
school feminism" -- especially, the broadly popular efforts associated
with, e.g., the women's lib movement of the 1970's. These movements
typically emphasized an ideological and intentional understanding of
politics, expressed themselves in terms of "men" and "women,"
often took separatist and technophobic forms, assumed a moral high ground
in their efforts to compensate for social discrimination and female
victimization, and aimed to achieve clearly defined goals (e.g., legislative
The more differentiated forms of feminism which emerged in the mid 80s
and 90s, which mostly took place in academic life, were more theoretical
than the political rhetoric of the 70s feminism; it required deeper
thinking and gave fewer instructions political action. Simply by attaching
the happy cyber hype to the term feminism in the early 90s, again opened
up an immense potential. The synonym for an unreflected, euphoric understanding
of new technologies, which "cyber" definitely is, breathed
new life into the debates around gender and feminism -- and it sells
Going back to the history. Although, VNS Matrix and Sadie Plant came
up with the term in the same year, it stands for different approaches.
Plant associates Cyberfeminism with a relation between women and technology,
which she describes as intimate and subversive. For her Cyberfeminism
is the "theoretical answer to the fact, that more and more women
give their innovative input into electronic art and virtual technologies."
In her latest book "Zeros and Ones", she fully expounds this
theoretical answer. Her basic assumption is, that a female signification
comes along with the digitalization of society. To argue her theory,
she takes up different threads and weaves them together to a model of
a new society. The spread of non-linear, decentralized and unhierarchical
structures play the central part. Plant recognizes them as the return
of the "female principle". But this process does not result
from political or other intervention, but happens automatically, without
any effort. Making this assertion transfers power and creativity to
the new technologies, their inherent characteristics and the constellation
they arise from.
Plant sketches a utopian model, and claims it as reality. The female
and the digital society are her inspiration, and she brings them together
in a way from which both cannot escape anymore. What was meant to be
a positive utopia, causes a feeling of uneasiness by it's immanent hopelessness.
For her argumentation, Plant engages Irigaray's ideas of female symbolisation;
traditional ways of historiography (producing heros/heroines and identification
figures like Ada Lovelace); Freud's concept of weaving women symbolizing
their penis envy; and the universality of the Turing machine that is
compared to female mimicry. Apparantly she didn't leave any questions
Here I'D like to propose another experiment, which is to read Plant
as if she would make an ironical assertion. That gives back subversive
power to her rigid concept. Unfortunately it is not meant that way.
The approach of the artistic ancestresses of Cyberfeminism, VNS Matrix,
is quite different. Although they share Plant's sense that digital society
is a feminization, their poetic emissions from and about the female
body are always accompanied by a wink and a nudge. Moreover, their more
literal efforts to contaminate technology with blood, slime, cunts [sic]
and madness were anarchic enough to profane the prevalent myth that
"technology" is just "toys for boys."
I would like to end my history here, highly neglecting Donna Haraway
who wrote the seminal Cyborg Manifesto in the 80s. Her cyborg, the symbol
for a future beyond gender, is considered by many to be the actual starting
point for cyberfeminist thinking. But Haraway herself never used the
term Cyberfeminism or claimed any rights for it.
Thus, through this brief history, it is possible to see how the originators
of the term Cyberfeminism, use it in very divergent ways. Beyond these
differences in origin -- notions of "the feminine" and the
constructed relation between the female and technology -- there is yet
another, multiple variant: the ways in which the term is used by the
new "generation" of cyberfeminists -- who use the term in
idiosyncratic ways to designate heterogeneous projects, ideas, movements,
ideals, attitudes and activities. So, in a short time, the term Cyberfeminism
has been appropriated in many novel ways.
Cyberfeminism is beginning to appear with some frequency in the context
of art, politics and science. Its clear ending suggests a political
demand or strategy. But it also might indicate an artistic method. Maybe
Cyberfeminism makes artistic practise politically effective, or suggests
artistic methods in politics? What does "politics" mean within
As I pointed out before, there is a clear distinction to the feminist
politics of the 70s. Subsequent "feminist" efforts in the
1980s and 1990s already took more differentiated and less overt forms,
which very often repudiated some of the basic premises of their predecessors.
And all these different and diverse feminisms do still exist side by
side. It is in this context that Cyberfeminism has arisen--so it is
not at all surprising that ideas about the feminine and relations to
technology and politics should be wildly divergent.
The prefix "cyber" serves, of course, as a linguistic attempt
to differentiate these theories and practices from those of first &
second wave "feminisms" -- with varying success, depending
on the contexts. However, as a field between these poles, it nevertheless
succeeds in establishing a new frame of reference *by its very existence*.
And so heterogeneous are Cyberfeminisms that one could just as easily
argue that the term's construction is not the prefixing of "cyber-"
to the body-word "feminism" but the reverse: "cyber"
may be the body and "-feminism" the modifying suffix.
In this case, the primary questions might involve how "cyberness"
in addition to the "feminine" relate both to older questions
and to newer technologies. Thus, a happy and fruitful confusion predominates--one
that leads activists, artists, and theoreticians to constantly check
their approaches, to formulate new ones, to implement Cyberfeminisms
for themselves and for their interests, and, of course, to discuss these
questions and concepts. It is not that real social conditions no longer
require feminism; but more complex thought structures and more mobile
constellations of power make concrete political approaches more difficult
to identify and achieve on a mass scale.
These new starting points--different from their predecessors and from
each other as well--require new forms of action. It doesn't matter whether
the methods take political, artistic or philosophical forms, for the
simple reason that politics can take artistic forms and art political
forms, and so on. What *is* important is a common reference to the relations
and alliances constantly being formed, as Cyberfeminism does not express
itself in single, individual approaches but in the differences and spaces
In a culture in which the accumulation and advance of technology is
continually expressed in terms of freeing us from nature, there are
certain basic tendencies we must recognize: new forms of subject-constitution,
new distributions of competence regarding new technologies, new infiltrations
of power configurations, and new forms of discourse which are established.
It is in the fields where these phenomena coexist and are coextensive
that Cyberfeminism functions as a unifying moment. It creates the myth
of a political identity without forcing anyone to strive for it.
I would like to quote the German artist Joseph Beuys at this point.
Explaining the strategies of his project "Büro für direkte
Demokratie" (Office for direct democracy) he once said: "For
me it was only important to hang whatever term on the wall; people just
had to find the term interesting. Then this term could function as an
entry point to the actual problem." (end quote, translation C.S.)
I think the term Cyberfeminism is perfect, in order to take on that
function. Using the term is part of the strategy.
Consequently, Cyberfeminism also stands for political strategies, as
well as for artistic methods--and does so very well. Create your own
Cyberfeminism, any you find out the truth about it.