Feminism in Gibson's Neuromancer

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Feminism in Gibson’s Neuromancer

Regarded as the beginning of the “cyberpunk” movement, William Gibson’s classic novel Neuromancer, confronts the pronounced societal issues of feminism of the time. By distorting the female traits of his characters, Gibson illustrates that gender equality is only achieved when the female persona is able to transform away from both the desired and rejected feminist attributes imposed by societies fixed gender roles.

Although the Cyberpunks are almost always male, Gibson’s portrayal of the female character, Molly, is quite rare and illustrates the perceptions of women during the time. Quite opposite to the soft and gentle woman Case marries and settles down with, Molly is depicted as a hard assassin and bodyguard. Gibson demonstrates that society is traditionally male dominated as women “stay at home” while men are able to explore the frontiers of technology. The juxtaposition of the “stable” and maternal-like woman a man would typically marry, depicts Molly’s nature as defying the status quo by taking on the masculine association of technology demonstrating the exploration of a woman living in a man’s world. The cyberpunk movement explores the link between human and machines, as seen in the descriptions of Molly which portray the interconnection of the embodiment of humans and machines to depict the role of technology and gender. If cyberpunks are typically male and embrace technology, then in order for Molly to transcend her own gender she must embody technology as Gibson illustrates through her physical characteristics. She is described “look[ing] artificial” with her eyes replaced with mirror like “silver lenses seem[ing] to grow from smooth pale skin above her cheekbones,” (Gibson, 24). Defying the weaker stereotypical female character, Gibson shows that Molly has to be physically changed to give her the needed strength to overcome her gender limitations. There is optimism though as the ability for Molly to not merely survive, but thrive in this cyberpunk world seems to illustrate the possible success of women in a high-tech world.

Molly’s accumulation of technological tools to morph her physical body to more machine-like features demonstrate technology serves as means of protection as well as necessary tools for survival in this male world. Molly uses technology to shield her eyes, asserting protection of her “soul,” her humanity, assumed by the popular imagery of the eyes being the “window to the soul.” Molly’s sacrifice for the enhanced masculinized realms of vision is further pronounced in her interactions between Case and Rivera, two male figures never able to capture true gaze. By refusing to allow neither Case nor Rivera the ability to gaze into her eyes, she is protecting the very aspect of her humanity and refuses to allow her male counterparts, the ability to take this from her or suppress of her true nature. For Rivera, her impenetrable mirrors are particularly problematic because his strengths are based upon the very idea of visual trickery. Rivera’s desire to see himself in Molly’s eyes to represent his desire to control Molly, and his frustration in only seeing himself reflected by her lenses leads to her capture by 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool. This ultimately causes Rivera to smash one of her mirror shades in a desperate attempt to see the color of her eyes, illustrating the gender anxiety felt by Rivera as a result of the removal of the sensual trait of a woman’s eyes by Molly’s mirrored lenses. Rivera feels his masculinity is threatened by Molly’s unwillingness to subject herself to his masculine gaze nor will she allow him to grasp through her eyes the essence of her true being.

Rivera’s anger is paralleled by Case, as he too struggles to command Molly’s gaze or to keep her in his grasp. In their first encounter, Molly stalks Case but he is unable to see her, “behind sailors in short-sleeved khaki. Dark hair, mirrored glasses, dark clothing,...
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