What does the cyborg have to do with feminism?

Karen Kayfetz '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

Donna Haraway wrote a thorough, brilliantly crafted and well argued essay on feminism entitled "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Her piece addresses modern feminism intelligently and creatively but in her attempts to tie in ideas about the cyborg identity and cyborg feminism her reasoning is loose and she seems to pull a lot of ideas out of the air without justifying her points well. Even by just the second paragraph of her essay she begins haphazardly, and in my opinion unsuccessfully, to construct a relationship between cyborgs and the feminist movement.

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women's movements have constructed "women's experience," as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women's experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.

She defines both cyborgs and the women's movements in terms of social realities and social relations but then leaves that as the basis for the connection between cyborgs and women. Where is she getting this from? What's the relevance?

At the end of her essay Haraway attempts to summarize the correlation between cyborg imagery and women and again she manages to leave the reader puzzled about or even annoyed with her vague, unconnected statements.

Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

If you're interested in cyberpunk or the cyborg body there are more fun reads out there; if you're interested in feminism I would recommend that you read Haraway's essay and simply skip over the bits about cyborgs for they are grossly irrelevant to the rest of her essay.

Related Materials


Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991. pp.149-181.

Course Website cyborg Body & Self

Last modified 14 April 2005