Girls. Girls? Girls!: Becoming-Girl, Sadie Plant, and the War on Women

22Aug12

A few weeks ago there were some strange convergences – reading Nick Land’s comments on violent feminism, Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-girl (celebrated by Cederstrom and Fleming at the end of their Dead Man Working) and most recently Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl. Suddenly there were all these concurrences of the politicization of the figure of the girl. This was bookended by endless discussion of HBO’s Girls and an issue of Rhizomes dedicated to Becoming Girl to the now recent explosion of stupidity would could loosely be collected under ‘the war on women’ title in terms of recent discussions of rape from Tosh’s attempt to make a joke, to the incredible harassment of Anita Sarkeesian in trying to set up a series of videos analyzing the role of women in video games, to avoiding any comment of Assange’s charges, to recent republican stupidities which seem as naive in regards to basic biology as to women. To say nothing of Pussy Riot.

What the hell is going on? Part of this was particularly odd reading about ‘becoming-girl’ in conjunction with reading Sadie Plant‘s old shorter texts online as well as critiques of her work. While Plant’s theory may be cyber theory most broadly construed it is a strange form of feminism (a form which was criticized for leaning too hard on the liberative capacities of technology) and also one that combined apparently opposed forms of feminism: namely Luce Irigaray and Donna Haraway. The essentialism which Plant pulls from Irigiray is not an crudely Platonic one but more an embodied (or strategic) essentialism – it is one in which feminism pulls from a Deleuzian materialism but in the more realist sense or at least scientific sense as it is articulated by De Landa or Luciana Parisi. But since technology is capable of changing those very materials directly or less directly (more slowly) through the ‘second nature’ of culture and technology.

The technological liberation seems premature or outright utopian now, part of the strange materialization of cyberspace which appears in bad 90s movies like Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity. In a more common sense when Sarkeesian is slandered by brainless hackers who are threatened by even the potential of her project of somehow toning down the sexiness of female characters in games or even simply pointing out how lopsided the representation of women in games is. Not that I agree with all of Sarkeesian’s critiques as some I think are a bit too quick. She discusses the gradual unclothing of Samus Aran in the original Metroid as part of the ‘Woman as Reward’ trope. While this is it overlooks the effect of first realizing Samus is a girl to younger male players. For myself there was nothing sexual about it (or at least nothing that registered consciously) instead it was a sudden realization of the simultaneously difference and non-difference of being a girl mediated by technology doubly mediated. Mediated by play through the Nintendo and through the realization that, in a robotic suit, what does it matter if one if a boy or a girl? As a form of unexpected mediation I can see here the value of becoming-girl though I question the deeper ontological basis suggested by D and G as well as the transformation’s purported ease.

But technological access and power (outside the abilities of hackers at least) has become so much a tentacle of capital. For Tiqqun the figure of the Young-Girl is not a gendered concept but a model for the capitalized citizen who first began to emerge after The Great War. The figure of the Young-Girl marks the valuation process coinciding with capital as they put it. Here one can also think back to Nina Power’s sentiment that women cannot be friends under capitalism.

Another interesting example, and one that connects to Flemming and Cederstrom’s example of Charlie from Firestarter as becoming-girl is Aggie from ParaNorman. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] Norman, who can see and speak to the dead, is tasked with reading a book at the grave of a witch who after her trial and execution cursed her seven accusers to rise from the dead every year (that is unless the book is read). It is eventually revealed that the witch was only a small child at the time of her death and was accused because she, like Norman, was communicating with the deceased. Norman realizes that reading her a bedtime story merely pacifies her for another year and decides to talk to her to giver her true peace in order to stop the curse but, more than that, to try to tend to her unjust murder.

In way the films stages of the little boy from Cederstrom and Flemming’s Dead Man Working (Danny from The Shining) and the figure of the little girl (Charlie from Firestarter). Furthermore the film shows (though not as strongly as it could) the gap between the accusation of witchcraft and actual witches. As Sadie Plant discusses in Writing on Drugs, witches were often exposed to ergot or other psychoactive substances. Particularly striking in Plant’s account is the historical accounts of women using psychoactive ointments and greasing staffs to use them (hence witches’ brooms as transporting devices). One does not have to squint very hard to see the slut accusations of those fighting for birth control as being the target of a witch hunt, as a form of chemical access and sexual freedom. Politics (or at least political theory) writ large runs from the agency of women.

If there’s revolutionary power in the unanswerable question ‘What does a little girl want?’ as is suggested in Dead Man Working, it is buried in a cavalcade of historical shit that still refuses to see women as capable of having wants beyond mere biology or not filtered through men as to reify their object status. The purportedly exceptional cases such as Assange which appear capable of sweeping rape under the table without actually admitting to doing as such are another example of a notion of politics which is gesture over construction. Don’t tell me about the critique of empire over women’s rights – you are actually erasing half the world’s claims to exist unharmed.



3 Responses to “Girls. Girls? Girls!: Becoming-Girl, Sadie Plant, and the War on Women”

  1. Excellent! Especially liked the refraction of the sudden realization of the doubling of technological remediation. Got me to thinking again on Jay David Bolter’s work Remediation: Understanding New Media.

    Glad to see your fire stirring… Something of the moment: Noortje Marres new book Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics is coming out soon!

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Thanks for your comments! Glad to see you back and blogging again!


  1. 1 A Thousand Plateaus, Part 3 (pgs. 272-309) « song, and sin

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