Illustration by Josan Gonzalez

Xenofeminism aims to abolish gender through technology

Disclaimer: Article originally published at TAB UOL, in Portuguese.

Created in 2014, the collective Laboria Cuboniks reunites artists, writers, and programmers dedicated to discuss the theme of xenofeminism: a movement in constant transformation and definition of political models that encompass the present time and the future of technology and science, as well as gender issues. Connected to contemporary philosophical branches such as the left-wing accelerationism, anarcho-transhumanism and speculative realism, xenofeminism even coined the “Communist Manifesto of the 21st century” by cultural commentators such as Mark Fisher.

In spite of all the provocative ideas that the movement brings to contemporary philosophy, xenofeminism (XF) is not, necessarily, a movement with completely new ideas. In 1984, the sociologist Donna Haraway had already published the Cyborg Manifesto, in which she proposed the use of technology as a means to emancipate us from gender issues by the means of the cyborg as a didactic, moldable creature and existence. In the case of xenofeminism, however, it goes even further: it is all about creating an abundance of genders that the very idea of gender becomes absurd and thus grows obsolete.

In Xenofeminism (2018), one of Laboria’s members, Helen Hester, writes briefly about this possibility that also recalls one of the strategies posed by accelerationism, since it envisions the “acceleration of alienating effects of the forces of capitalism to incite the necessary, radical social transformation in o order to surpass the political status quo in an economy of rampant exploitation”, as defined by the philosopher Martin Hauberg-Lund, author of Spekulativ realisme En introduktion.

In this sense, the accelerationism may be seen both as a nihilistic movement that compactuates with the perversity of contemporary technology, or even a counterintuitive viewpoint if we consider that the goal of the movement is to take capitalism to its extreme so that it implodes by itself.

According to Rodrigo Petrônio, professor at FAAP and PhD in Comparative Literature at UERJ, the idea that the deadlocks of capitalism may only be surpassed by the means of capitalism itself might make sense, as proposed by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guatarri, Maurizio Lazzarato and other authors. However, in conceptual terms, Petrônio believes that the accelerationism could actually be a bit naïve for finding support in an integral teleology: “There is no contemporary epistemology strong enough that is based on an integral teleology, only in terms of local, contingent or partial ends. Accelerationism has thus assimilated all the problems of doctrines based on a linear and non-contradictory progress.” In other words, reality is much more complex than the accelerationists may be able to foresee.

Xenofeminism, however, aims to apply this same logic to the context of gender, which changes a little bit the focus of the strategy. In this case, Petrônio is more optimistic, especially because XF is more assertive and pragmatic than accelerationism. “If the proliferation of genders negates the distinctive value between genders themselves, then the hierarchical value presented in the category of gender no longer works. It becomes inoperable, as Giorgo Agamben would say. There is a deactivation of the laws of heteronormativity. I like this idea for its pragmatic and logical approach.”

In the case of Beatrys Rodrigues, a researcher specialized in the intersection between technology and gender studies, she is a little bit more skeptical about this. For her, the abolitionist gender proposal is somewhat utopian, since gender equity is still something that we are slowly trying to achieve in all spheres — economic, social, and epistemological. However, similarly to Petrônio, Rodrigues also sees the pragmatism in XF as something positive and already being practiced.

Alienating Technologies

The xenofeminist manifesto proposes, since its very slogan, the “politics of alienation.” Alienation here, however, is not used in its literal sense of being isolated and disconnected from the world, but it is a nod to the concept of alienation argued by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Published in 1848, the book made an alert about the dangers of alienation that comes from the process of industrialization in Europe, that is, the collateral effect in which workers aren’t able to benefit from the output of their workforce, and so they find themselves feeding a vicious circle of exploitation and disconnection between the individual and his own humanity. In other words, in the capitalist production mode, workers are invariably hindered from the ability and possibility to plan their future or even their freedom for being stuck in this cycle of production of capital that, by its turn, secures exploitation.

What XF suggests is that alienation is, in fact, inevitable, but maybe we could subvert it after accepting it as a reality. As written by Macon Holt in an article for Arkbooks, we use the same language and rationality to express our inquiries about language and rationality, so, why can’t we use technology as a tool to criticize and subvert technology itself?

In his words: “Is it not through technologies, such as antibiotics, acting upon bodies that so many of us have been able to live so long that to keep reading we need to modify our eyes with the technology of crafted lenses and lasers. Is such a creature not already alien? Maybe then some forms of alienation are not all bad. Maybe it will be further alienation that will free us from whatever unjust forms of culturated nature have burdened us with patriarchy. If this is the case, XF is then bold enough to ask the follow-up question, what can we do if we were to embrace our alienation and proliferate it further? Can this be how we attain emancipation?”

The collective Gynepunk proposes a queer activism combined to biohacking and the development of hardware for self diagnosis and self-care using open-source code.

It’s at this point that XF connects to transhumanism in its left-wing facet, when it also shares thoughts with biohackers who are searching for ways to make DIY a reality. In Xenofeminism, Hester gives clear examples of technologies such as the Del-Em, a method of uterine suction for the removal of menstrual material that, when repurposed, has become also a more secure mechanism for abortion.

This device was created in the midst of a movement from the 1970s known as self-help, in which (white, cis, heterossexual middle class) women gathered to share information and medical knowledge between themselves as a means to achieve more autonomy and avoid the imposition of the healthcare system. It is well reported that, at that time, for instance, procedures such as tubal ligation were performed without the consent of women, as much as hysterectomies were also made with no need and not previously tested anti contraceptive methods were also applied and prescribed.

In this sense, XF uses Del-Em as a symbol of a simple but significant technology when it comes to the case of women’s empowerment through the self-help movement. Currently, Hester sees in the collective Gynepunk an evolution of this practice as they propose queer activism, biohacking, and the development of open-source hardware for self diagnosis and self-care. Examples include the 3D printed speculum which enables women to perform self-exam and collect material for pap smear, as well as other devices mounted with disposed pieces such as hard disk motors and webcams.

Hester mentions that besides helping communities that are marginalized through prostitution, or in the case of immigrants and trans people, GynePunk also breaks with the medical gatekeeping. This doesn’t mean that they are an anti-scientific movement or that they have anything to do with the rationale of groups such as anti-vaxxers, for instance. In fact, what XF proposes is to disrupt the capitalist monopoly over healthcare, which is something that makes perfect sense in the U.S. context in which they actuate. While groups of trans biohackers produce their own hormones in the U.S., in Brazil, the Universal Healthcare System (SUS) began to offer sex reassingment surgeries in 2019 for people aged 21 to 75. But, on the other hand, Brazil also has politicians such as Damares Alves, who is currently the minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, and is openly positioned against the LGBTQI+ agenda.

To Rodrigues, this binary categorization proposed by Damares is problematic and we already know how much violence and incongruence she may cause in the current situation. However, it is still necessary to think about politics that strengthen and protect women. While XF proposes the overcoming of gender binarism, the researcher believes that it will still take a long time before we reach this point as a society. “I hope that, more than ‘importing’ manifestos, we are able to develop our own Latin American critical versions of these technologies, especially in the Brazilian case,” she argues. “Also because we need to connect this criticism in a more tangible and practical way in our colonized context, so that the civil society, public agents and companies with interest in social impact may be able to use this information in an actionable way. We are at the infancy of gender studies, especially in this intersection of gender and technology. I would like to see more manifestos being written by our own collectives or that there were more Tupiniquim ‘Haraways’ around here.”

Future, a propositive time tense

Rioters dressed as characters of the series The Handmaid’s Tale in front of the Brazilian Congress.

In Brazil, there is an even stronger appeal for the racial issues rather than feminism itself. Although the country still suffers from inequality between men and women in economic terms, for instance, there is even a bigger disparity when it comes to the racial side of the question: black women are paid less than white women, even when they have the same position. Additionally, black women not only are discriminated against for their gender, but also their ethnicity. When we talk about trans people, then this situation becomes even more unbalanced: about 90% of this population in Brazil become sex workers for lack of regulated job opportunities. It is based on such alarming numbers that Beatrys Rodrigues feels a certain pessimism in the short-term, but xenofeminism may be aiming for a more distant and more optimistic future than the one we are able to visualize now.

To Rodrigo Petrônio, XF encompasses the most potent aspects of feminism: “It combats melancholy and the epistemologies of negativity, it promotes the defense of alienation, gender abolitionism and the valorization of emancipative potencies through technology, science and transhumanism.” According to the professor, it is possible that we are just at the beginning of one of the biggest revolutions of Homo sapiens or even of Earth as a planet itself. “The double comprehension of this revolution is found in science and technology. Among the radical and paradoxical changes that may come from this revolution, gender emancipation seems to be one of the most crucial. And even if we think about an indiscernibility between genders which imply the creation of new bodies and new subjectivities, I believe that this change is just beginning. Xenofeminism is an extremely intelligent proposal connected to these collective demands for sense and transformation to be held through technosciences and transhumanism.”

Beatrys Rodrigues believes that this scenario may be achieved through the intersection of massive behavioral analysis after data mined from social platforms and combined to genetic and hormonal manipulation. “The XF manifesto foresees all of that: we will need to create new words, new symbols, new stories for these hybrid beings that are being chemically manipulated,” argues the researcher who, in the end, believes that it will be necessary that societies will need to take action by becoming more conscious and by creating these new viral, contagious narratives that will allow us to enter this new age.

In times of success of series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and the song The rapist is you, xenofeminism proposes narratives and technologies that may blind us today in filter bubbles or manipulate us through invasive algorithms that are attempting to change the course of history. But while we worry about issues such as privacy, reproductive technologies and virtual sexual harassment, Xenofeminism in a similar way to Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto poses non-essentialist questionings that claim for non-patriarchical technologies that enable us to think new ontologies, new kinds of human-machine relationship and even a future that may seem utopian now, but that one day may be truly able to abolish gender.

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Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Science fiction writer.

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Lidia Zuin

Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Science fiction writer.

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