Japanese Cyborgs and Androgyny
Hi Friends! I’m gonna slowly start to upload some of my favorite essays/pieces I’ve written for college. To start this off I’m posting my final paper for Gender and Technology. Squarespace can’t take footnotes so I’ve placed my sources at the end. :)
To many people, the intersection of cyborgs and gender can be a confusing concept. Not every culture so readily welcomes the idea of cyborgs so welcoming— except Japan. In fact, a major cultural export is media that revolves around cyborgs, i.e., Ghost in the Shell, Psycho-Pass, and Cyborg 009. Before discussing the gender correlation, the term cyborg must be first defined. A cyborg is “A being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts.” With this definition, we can further discuss what gender is. Gender is defined as, “The socially constructed characteristics of women and men — such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men.” Within this construction of gender we find androgyny, or the act of “Combining masculine and feminine characteristics in regard to appearance, gender identity or sexual identity.” So then, how does gender fit into the cyborg, and why explore androgyny? Cyborgs, though sexless, often time present gendered constructions. Cyborgs seem to defy gender physically, exiting in a androgynous state, yet they enforce the heteronormative gender expectations of their physical presentation.
Vision of the futures, wether or not they carry a dystopian feel, often paint the cyborg in an unfavorable light. The line between cyborg and human often appears blurred, but the more cybertronic an individual becomes, the less human a person feels. Should the normative ideas of the negative cyborg prevail, the very idea of liberating cyborgs will be lost, a notion that is important to contemporary culture. The reach of humanity, and cyber-electronics, are irreversibly intwined. The very existence of cyborgs challenge the essence of human nature, causing an existential crisis in the cyborg, and the human.
This work examines the relationship with Japanese cyborgs and androgyny. By exposing the ideas of androgyny, it becomes evident that cyborgs took on these characteristics in a dystopian view rather than a genderless utopia. I hope to understand the androgyny phenomena, and the appeal it has on cyborg based science fiction and feminist ideals. Throughout this paper I will argue that androgyny and the cyborg are not only intwined, but androgyny is required for the creation of a cyborg. Despite cyborgs having some gendered aspects, they overwhelmingly display genderless characteristics that lead to the overall views of being an androgynous individual. These androgynous features, no matter how progressive them seem, enforce the gender roles cyborgs set out to dismantle.
The Ideal Cyborg
What should a cyborg be, and how are they both constructed in and outside of gender? In the powerful piece “A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna Haraway, the cyborg is a "lived social reality" and “fiction" that is the women's experience. In much feminists literature, the cyborg is an allegory for the female struggle. However, one cannot dilute the cyborg simply into the female struggle. A cyborg should be the means though which we find “The utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender.” In order to dismantle the construction of gender via Japanese cyborgs, Japan’s views of androgyny must be discussed.
In Japan, androgyny is having its moment, but it can be argued that Japanese culture has been condoned to accept androgyny for years now. Popular culture has been subtly mentioning androgyny in many forms of popular media including but not limited to, shōjo manga/anime, bishoen ai manga, cyborg manga, and within J-pop culture. There is even a cultural concept called, bishoen, or both genders. Bishoen is not hermaphroditism, although in the 1970s it was originally expressed as such. The ideas of a cyborg being androgynous, then, is not as shocking as one would be lead to belive. With strong ideas of androgyny since 1970, Japan is the perfect place for the genderless revolution.
Returning to what a cyborg should be, the cyborg is a “figure that embodies the capacity of information technologies to erase gender boundaries and the structures of oppression.” We see this in Major Motoko Kusanagi, from Ghost in the Shell. Thought outwardly expressed as a female, and calling herself by that gender, Major often times dress in a way that is androgynous, and maintains the physical power and processing of a hyper-masculine male. The cyborg narrative requires a cyborg “who can negotiate and succeed in a high-tech world.” This is not to say a strong female is not feasible, instead it is a nod to the creation of the character and the contrast to a more feminine “non-cybertronic” male, such as Togusa. Of course these stereotypes are rooted in heteronormative cultural constructions.
The True Cyborg
Now that the ideal cyborg has been established, we turn to the realities of cyborgs. Cyborgs often represent the future, whether it be optimistic utopia or dystopian landscape. In this paper emphasis will be placed on the dystopian viewpoint. The image of the Japanese future is rooted in technology. As a real world technology powerhouse, this is not far off as, “Technology gives us the possibility to go beyond the present, beyond the present, beyond our world.” These imagined futures have technology as a saving grace, but the reliance on technology is not a utopia. Many science fiction works take place in a dystopian ruled by the very technology designed to save humanity.
In the work “Psycho-Pass” a system called Sibyl dictatorially rules the country and forces life order. Individuals have no choice in profession, and even accesses their mental state, without consent, to determine if they will commit crimes. In this cybertronic controlled society, no one can escape technology’s power. This is a fear that is embodied in technology across decades -
even in 1950 Ray Bradbury actively warns of the future we face when the human element is reduced in everyday situations. Technology can keep things going, but eventually things disintegrate and humanity declines.
Enter the dystopian cyborg. The heteronormative patriarchy has yet to be dismantled. If anything, gender is hyper-focused onto technology. In dystopian futures, cyborgs are either the enemy or state ruled enforcers, either way humanity is subjected to their tech overlords. Individuals (such as Togusa) who reject cybertronic enhancements are locked down upon, favoring the individual who embraces technology over the one who rejects it. In these situations we are taunted with the “power relationship between the biotic and techno-mechanical components; which is ‘really’ in control.” As seen in “Cyborg 009” a terrorist organization (Black Ghost) created cyborg soldiers to aid in their plans for domination. However, the first nine cyborgs (0001 - 009) created rebel against Black Ghost and decide to fight the very organization to create them. Though the cyborgs are “the good guys” the fear of a cyborg rebellion, such as the one in Cyborg 009 is a very real dystopian trope. Was it the electronic component or the human element that caused the cyborgs to rebel?
Gender in dystopias is often toxic. Hyper-expression of gender is the norm, and the “cyborg failures to deliver on revolutionary promise” of gender escapism. Instead the cyborg, though presented with androgynous functions, acts, displays, and identifies as a gender object, displaying the obsessive attachment to gender humans have. In a dystopian world, one would expect the collapse of gender, as it papers to be a positive construction, with the exclusion of gender changes in dystopian stories, it must be assumed that gender is an inherently “bad” trait. Cyborgs are not the only technology to carry a dystopian view.
Androgynous Cyborgs, Androgynous Japan
There is a saving grace within gender though: androgyny. The cyborg, again, is truly sexless— and ultimately lifeless. They possess no sex organs, no means of sexual reproduction, and ultimately no true death. For Major, “The sexed body as reproductive body has no meaning in her cyborg status.” Is this not, one of the goals of early feminism; the liberation of forced pregnancy and childbearing; being born into a body that was seen as simply a sexed object. In Ghost in the Shell, the act of reproduction with the Puppet master is more than just a code, it leaves on body full behind.
Noting the puppet master, we first see “him” in a female cyborg body, one that was willingly entered into. As a cyborg, he has no means of reproduction, yet wants to pass a “seed” on, a masculine trait. Even in as genderless entity, the act of reproduction can become a gendered identity. It is difficult to separate what counts as androgynous, and what passes into the lines of hermaphroditism when discussing technology reproduction. Yet, within this mess of reproductive identity emerges self expression. Cyborgs are aware that their “lack of sexual specificity does not equal a lack of characteristics of sexes.” Because of this self awareness, they tend to accept their fate as a sexually sexless being, who can construct their own views and ideals onto themselves.
This acceptance of androgyny is seen inside Japanese culture with the rise of ambiguous media idols. To rest my thoughts earlier, androgyny is seen in shōjo manga, mostly in the earlier works, based around beautiful boys and aesthetics. These beautiful boys slowly began to work their way into other media; ones that were not solely aimed towards young girls. However, the younger generations are more likely to accept change, and by targeting them as an audience the acceptance of non-binary or non-heteronormative individuals is leaked into everyday life. Linking this to cyborgs, is the acceptance of technology into the lives of the Japanese. If a culture can so rapidly accept something that betters their lives, then they can slowly accept the idea that gender is destructive.
During this paper, the cyborg has been reveled as neither helping nor harming the Japanese views of gender and technology. The “Cyborg narratives are still very much concerned with the binary oppositions of sex and gender, and the sexuality presumed to accompany them.” Haraway’s futuristic ideas of being seen as a cyborg, one who is connected to both nature and themselves, rather than goddess have not come to fruit. Instead, the damaging heteronormative gender construction forces non-binary individuals (such as cyborgs) further out of the picture.
Androgyny still has a long way to go. As more and more androgynous beings and items become accessible to the everyday person, the more this idea spreads. Through popular culture one can actively challenge an oppressive gender cultural identity. This goal may seem slow, and far off, but so was the idea of the cyborg. As science progresses the cyborg is becoming closer to becoming a reality, so is the societal acceptance of robots and technology in our everyday lives.
The cyborg is both a fetish item and a liberating item. As the cyborg is both of living and cybertronic materials, it spans the living web of connections, and the web of future realizations. As an androgynous being, it represents hope for the construction of gender; though the cyborg alone is unable to completely dismantle destructive gender norms, it offers an embracing alternative to the goddess ideals. Whether or not we choose to actively see ourselves inside the cyborg matrix, we are constantly intwined between the gender constraints and self liberation. As Haraway says, “Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”
Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991.
La Bare, Joshua. "The Future: "Wrapped... in That Mysterious Japanese Way"." Science Fiction Studies 27, no. 1. 2000.
Orbaugh, Sharalyn. "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity." Science Fiction Studies 29, no. 3. 2002.
Silvio, Carl. "Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii's "Ghost in the Shell"." Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 1.1999.
Wong,Kin Yuen, Westfahl,Gary, Chan, Amy Kit-sze. “World Weavers: Globalization, Science Fiction, and the Cybernetic Revolution.” Hong Kong University Press, HKU. 2005.