Theory: Virtual Sex: The Female Body in Digital Art
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Paper in Collaboration with Associate Professor Claudia Herbst, Pratt Institute
Virtual Sex: The Female Body in Digital Art
For “From Feminism to Formalism,” panel for 93th Annual College Art Association Conference in Atlanta,
February 18-22, 2005



The iconography of the virtual female was a hotly debated topic of the 1990s. Cyberfeminsism eagerly took to developing the virtual female, her limits and potential possibilities. In this context, technologically mediated representations of the female gave rise to a presence in the realm of technology would at last break with the exclusionary practices that male-dominated disciplines such as the sciences and high technology have long been identified with.

Critical inquiry into the iconography of the virtual female have, in unison with a disenchanted technology economy, all but subsided. Yet, the image of the virtual female continues to inform culturally important arenas, including the arts, sciences, technology, and a never-ending stream of consumer products, with undiminished force.

Calling for an urgent revisiting of the iconography of the virtual female, this joint presentation evokes a historical context that has been investigated by feminist scholars at length although rarely in regards to its implications on women’s equal standing in the realm of technology. The history in question is that of the Western Christian church and the power it has consistently exercised in the shaping of technology.

Scholars such as Mary Daly and David Noble have critically reviewed women’s systematic exclusion from the formative ranks of the Western clerical culture, which is the root of technological inquiry. This legitimized some bodies of knowledge while suppressing others, thereby delimiting scientific inquiry and also the development of technology itself. Women were also placed outside the bond that had sprung between religion and technology. The disqualifying of women’s erudition was based on literal interpretations of biblical doctrine, both cumulative and cultivated. Noble has convincingly argued that technology emerged from Christian monasticism; its morality still colors female iconography in the realm of technology, including the identification of woman with original sin.

Interestingly, where women’s knowledge is marginalized, her body has become subject to male scrutiny and determination. The male clerical culture of the Christian church did much to suppress women’s sexual identity and to control her processes of reproduction. Where in the past the image of the virginal female was the product of a sacred male community, today stands the virtual female, the product of another male community that inadvertently reveals its exclusive history and biases.