In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Egeus says of his daughter, Hermia, “As she is mine, I may dispose of her” either to marry Demetrius against her will or to be put to death. Hermia may also choose to become a nun if the other two options don’t suit her taste. “To you,” says Theseus, “your father should be as a god –/ One that composed your beauties, yea, and one/ To whom you are but a form in wax/ By him imprinted, and within his power/ To leave the figure or disfigure it” because, in the minds of these powerful men, women are a product of their reproduction alone (the invisible mother was no more than an incubator for his sperm). What has changed since the times of Greece and Shakespeare? Science has discovered that reproduction is not as simple or patriarchal as those days but the forces of masculine dominance over the female body pervade. Consider the feminine cyber-body images pictured and described in Devoss’s piece; they are owned by ideological perceptions of what is ideally feminine, even to the point of lacking the necessary physical characteristics that imply autonomy. Even in cyber arenas where gender can be modified those ‘men who chose female characters […] with a 38-24-34 figure” echo the presumptions of Egeus and Theseus.
Haraway’s cyborg is none of this. She is not a woman striving for perfection, as Haley Mlotek says and not necessarily feminine at all; it is a hybrid. Haraway says that “Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within”, after all, a moral majority does not necessarily constitute good morals. Blasphemy is, according to the OED, Profane speaking of God or sacred things; impious irreverence or against anything held ‘sacred’. The boundary between what is human and what is an animal is considered sacred in many ways – bestiality for instance – which is why we can mock hybrid caricatures like a jackalope, but why do we not hold the boundaries between man and machine to the same standard? I do not have a definitive answer to this, but I suspect is has something to do with the way technology has become a new religion of sorts and just as the old religion did, it reinforces masculine-centric values and ideals. Still the cyborg – according to Haraway’s definition “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” – because its social aspect poses a real threat to traditional social norms. Western norms developed out of a unified social understanding that we are fallen and that the fall was precipitated by the vulnerability of woman to temptation, therefore it was necessary to restrict her to prevent calamity. But the machine is science, not religion and has no memory of a fallen past because there isn’t one to remember. Knowing how the potential power of the cyborg is being funneled into standard cultural practices is the best way to subvert that process and start writing a new history.