Sex Tech Study Guide: A Cyborg Manifesto by Annie Brown


One of the most relevant texts for the sex tech industry is Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, utilizes the metaphor of the cyborg to create a framework for understanding the fluidity of identity and the increasingly blurred lines between (wo)man and machine.

Her breakthrough perspective on the intersection of technology, sex, and identity is one of the most celebrated texts within academic feminist circles. Yet it is almost never brought up in related discussions within the tech/startup scene.

This is most likely because “A Cyborg Manifesto” is simply not part of our industry’s lexicon—but it should be!

While perhaps more approachable than many academic feminist texts, Haraway’s essay is not what one might call a “light read.” In fact, many of us simply don’t have the time to engage in philosophy.

In this edition of Sex Tech Study Guide, I’ve condensed the most relevant points of Haraway’s argument and provide examples of how her theories can be applied to improve the sex tech sector.

A realist approach to technology

Harraway defines a cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

Although this essay was written before the widespread use of the Internet and our almost constant connection to technological devices such as smartphones, Haraway magnificently captures our complicated relationship with machines.

She states, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.”

By accepting our role, perhaps our inclusion, in the world of machines, Haraway sets the stage for a more practical relationship with technology. She is harshly critical of techno-utopians, many of whom can be found writing for WIRED, TechCrunch, and the like.

However, she is also opposed to the tendency towards “knee-jerk technophobia.” A more useful perspective is somewhere in between.

From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet…From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.

Haraway understands that technology is not neutral. Examples include the exploitation of labor (typically female) in non-western countries to make our electronics, or the lack of female test subjects in medical trials, and discrimination against female founders of tech companies looking for investments.

It is easy to see how a demonization of technology, especially by feminist activists, has occurred. However, the demonology of technology is not only impractical given our interconnected reality, it also limits our imagination.

“Taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies” has some serious benefits according to Haraway. The metaphor of the cyborg and an acceptance of our singularity with technology opens up a world of possibilities.

For one, we are no longer forced to see the world in dualisms (“animal or machine” “masculine or feminine”). It provides us a framework to see ourselves as constructed, much like our machines, and therefore capable of reconstruction and software updates. Additionally, it allows us to congregate based on “affinity” and “partial identities” as opposed to essentializing and thus isolating ourselves.

Second, it gives us more control over the negative impact technology currently has. As Haraway so eloquently states, “The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us.”

Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts.

Disrupting tech’s association with masculinity

Haraway describes women’s relationship to late 20th-century technology as existing/surviving within the “Integrated Circuit.” Instead of viewing our personal, private lives as separate from technology—Haraway demonstrates how they are delicately intertwined.

She explains,“We are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to polymorphous, information system.” As a result, women and technology are more integrated than generally thought.

Here are some of Haraway’s examples of sociotechnological transformations:

Home: “…technology of domestic work, paid homework, home-based businesses and telecommuting…” (Think: Alexa, Nest, Remote Work)

Market: “Women’s continuing consumption work, newly targeted to buy the profusion of new production from the new technologies (especially as the competitive race among industrialized and industrializing nations to avoid dangerous mass unemployment necessitates finding ever bigger new markets forever less clearly needed commodities)…advertising targeting of the numerous affluent groups and neglect of the previous mass markets” (Think: universal income deliberations, artificial intelligence, marketing in emerging markets, Facebook advertising and paid ads from social media influencers.)

Haraway’s full list is extensive as well as clairvoyant considering “A Cyborg Manifesto” was written more than 30 years ago. The key takeaways from this list are two-fold:

  1. Technology has an immediate impact on women’s lives, negative as well as positive.
  2. Women are already “in” tech, we use and create it every day.

Another important point that disrupts the idea that tech is “naturally” masculine is the fact that the makers of one of the key aspects of our lives—microelectronics—are predominately Southeast Asian village women workers in Japanese and US electronics firms.

These women, Haraway writes, are “actively rewriting the texts of their bodies and societies.” She adds that at stake for these women’s navigation of a changing techno/societal landscape is survival.

Throughout Haraway’s academic works, she argues that “feminist concerns are inside of technology, not a rhetorical overlay…the issues that really matter—who lives, who dies and at what price – these political questions are embodied in technoculture. They can’t be got at in any other way.”

By reconsidering our personal lives as separate from technology and instead viewing ourselves as cyborgs—actors in an integrated circuit—women tech workers no longer need to feel like they are imposters in a boys club. Women are and have always been key actors in the development of technology.

At the same time, Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” points to the importance of diversity in technology: technology is political, and who makes decisions in technology matters.

When women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups are included in both political and scientific discussions of technology they are better able to read what Haraway refers to as technological “webs of power” as well as form new coalitions for change.

Understanding relations between tech and sex

The above points are applicable to the technology space as a whole, but of course, unique to our industry is the matter of sex. This is where Haraway’s essay is especially useful in understanding the complicated and often overlooked entanglements of sex and technology.

The metaphor/reality of the cyborg is that they exist outside of societal narratives surrounding sex, morality, and childbirth.

“The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world,” states Haraway, where “replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction.” In this way, the cyborg provides an example of how technology—rather than being the enemy of societal progress—can, in fact, help us to imagine the possibility of sex removed from human, cultural stigmas and categorizations.

Feminist theorists argue that gender is a societal construct. That is, our gender identity is constructed as we mature, primarily by societal norms and pressures. In a sense, our genetic identification (ourselves without society) is the biological form that is then constructed upon. All of us are a combination of biological and artificial. Again, we are cyborgs. This view prompts us to view sexuality in each of us as a biological and societal cyborg.

Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.

Haraway argues that In the age of technology “ideologies of sexual reproduction can no longer reasonably call on notions of sex and sex role as organic aspects in natural objects like organisms and families.” By viewing sex as both externally designed and organic, discussions of sex become less morally weighted.

Haraway’s analysis is incredibly important for the sex tech industry, as it provides us a way of explaining sexuality as not just a part of human nature, but also very much a part of technological reality.

Sex robots, genetic engineering, birth control, online streaming adult entertainment—these are not separate from biological human sexuality, in today’s world they are one in the same—hence the usefulness of the “cyborg” comparison.

Most importantly, “A Cyborg Manifesto” cleverly argues for the entanglement of technology and politics. Everything we do in our lives today is somehow related to technology, not excluding and maybe especially sex. Haraway’s essay provides a necessary framework for thinking about sex tech progressively—the moralities, challenges, and opportunities unique to this sector.

Why Equal Representation on Social Media Matters by Annie Brown


I work a lot with social media for my job as a marketing director. In many ways, I love my job. It allows me to work remotely, write about topics I’m passionate about (such as remote work), and meet fascinating, driven people. However, spending so much time online, one does become very aware of the dark side of social media and insta-celebrities.

Full disclosure – I am white. I am also a female digital nomad that works with social enterprises and am dedicated to helping women and people of color launch successful businesses that make a difference. Recently, several of my clients have asked for me to grow their social media presence – fast. In my 8 years of marketing and content strategy experience, I’ve learned that there is one “growth hack” that creates fast, sustainable results: partnerships with social media influencers.

For the purpose of this post, I define influencers as individuals with established credibility in a specific industry or niche. A social media influencer has access to a large audience and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.

Generally, I enjoy working with influencers. Most of the men and women I have worked with have been incredibly down to earth, kind, and excited to share my client’s stories and services with their audience. However, because I am dedicated to ethical, sustainable and representative marketing – I can get very frustrated doing influencer work, especially when working with the digital nomad/travel blogger space.

Digital nomads aren’t just blonde, white, tall and thin – we are a diverse group and should be represented as such!

Much of the digital nomad life is romanticized and forced to fit into a very narrow understanding of what a successful female digital nomad looks like. She is usually blonde or light-haired, white, tall, thin and photogenic – frequently posing in swimsuits to gain followers.

When I search for the top travel bloggers on Instagram, I see blonde after blonde after blonde. I’ve met some of these beautiful, blonde women – they are amazing, have great stories and have worked hard to gain the following they have. This being said, there are also many black, brown and Asian women who have worked equally hard, are just as beautiful and yet struggle to achieve insta-celebrity status. Of course, there are black men and women in the travel space with huge followings on social media, but marketers often don’t take the time to search these accounts out.

One of the problems with influencer collaborations in marketing is that most marketers only look at the number of followers, they don’t consider the need for black representation in travel and remote work.

One of my clients is a practicing Muslim, and as a result, she has many connections to the global Muslim community. This has been so refreshing, as I have been introduced to men and women of color from around the globe with great followings. But most of their audience resides abroad, not in the United States, and these influencers are typically in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle spaces.

I make an effort to connect them with as many black, brown and Asian influencers as possible. On my part, I am constantly looking to be introduced to influencers and influencer networks within the black community that I can then introduce to brands.

It is my responsibility as a social media marketer to ensure that people of color are equally represented on my client’s pages and in their campaigns – this ensures that I do not add to the already systemic understanding of “normal” as white, young and thin.

The men and women of color with incredible blogs, photography and creative work within the digital nomad and travel industries deserve to be celebrated and highlighted. Digital nomads aren’t just blonde, white, tall and thin – we are a diverse group and should be represented as such!

Featured on Black Digital Nomad

Authenticity by Annie Brown


Common sources of work advice for women, including popular books such as Lean In and mainstream media like Cosmopolitan Magazine, help women understand how to navigate patriarchal structures - but not how to dismantle them.

It is important to understand that the image of the Modern Working Woman is a popular model for navigating the impact of capitalism on women throughout the world. However, the ‘Modern Working Woman’ is a myth.

Anyone interested in understanding how we create cultural myths in our society should most certainly read Roland Barthes. In his book Mythologies, Barthes writes, “myth is a system of communication...[a myth] is a message.” He continues, “myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things.”

When mainstream media and popular culture discuss women’s inclusion in the workplace, they are typically referring to a very specific type of woman. The Modern Working Woman. She is middle to upper class and understands the practices required to make it in the ‘boy’s club.’ Being feminine is seen as a weakness, and self-expression is bad for business.

We see this message over and over again in the Lean In brand of corporate feminism. Speak up, do what they do, don’t let your troubled girlhood and years of oppression be a barrier to your success. Again referring to Barthes, “repetition of the concept through different forms is precious to the mythologist, it allows him to decipher the myth: it is the insistence of a kind of behavior which reveals its intention.”

Although many of the messages that accompany the myth of the Modern Working Woman, such as the acknowledgement of women’s contribution to the workforce, are positive and even feminist, this definition of womanhood exists within capitalist and patriarchal structures, and therefore even seemingly “empowering” messages are stripped of their true progressive potential.

So, how do we decipher the Modern Working Woman myth and further debates about inclusion? The first step is to realize we, as women, have immense agency. Since the beginning of human history, women have navigated patriarchal oppression by outsmarting the system.

Theorist Amyrata Sen defines agency as “the ability to set and pursue one’s own goals and interests, of which the pursuit of one’s own well-being may be only one. Other ends may include furthering the well-being of others, respecting social and moral norms, or acting upon personal commitments and the pursuit of a variety of values.”

Sen theorizes that within patriarchal and capitalist societies, women’s agency is restricted because their actual choices are made based on their current circumstance and may not be an actual measure of their desires.

Proliferated on a mass scale, patriarchal discourses intended to generate particular normative standards can reinforce oppressive structures as well as present new possibilities for resistance. Women all over the world can, and do, use the information found in pop culture texts such as Lean In, Cosmopolitan and the myth of The Modern Working Woman for their own purposes.

However, these approaches cannot offer any complete solutions to women’s oppression, hardships, and insecurities, because doing so would suggest that the problem lies in existing patriarchal structures and not the individual or specific industries.

This being said, if we are to discuss true inclusion and equality in the workplace - we have to think bigger than ‘leaning in’ or making hiring processes more female-friendly. We have to understand that authenticity in capitalism - especially when that authenticity is expressive of female-ness, black-ness, trans-ness, or other-ness (not white straight male) - is discouraged.

In a 2015 article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones write:

“Does your workplace reflect a relative balance of males and females in leadership positions? A healthy range of diversity in terms of age, skin color, religious conviction, culture, or/and sexual orientation? Yes? Before you congratulate yourself on how diverse your workplace is, what if we told you it might not be diverse enough — or at least not in the ways that matter most?”

The authors go on to discuss how TRUE diversity means that people within the workplace are allowed “to be themselves: to have a voice, exercise discretion, express disagreement, show what they really care about, feel ‘natural’ or self-fulfilled on the job.”

Now, perhaps there are limits to this. For example, if someone feels that they need to express themselves by writing a manifesto about how women are less than men which then makes the workplace feel unsafe for already marginalized employees, perhaps that is not a valid form of self-expression. However, there is something to be said about biological differences between men and women - and perhaps if a more educated person and expert in the field were to present well-reasoned arguments that could help us better understand the limitations of identity politics…but I digress.

Authenticity is key to breaking down systemic systems of inequality. When our authentic selves, independent yet intertwined with our political identities, are recognized as valued - we can begin to move away from toxic myths of womanhood, success and intelligence that limit our own potential, as well as prevent patriarchal capitalist systems from being dismantled.

When inclusive movements in the tech sector claim to be liberating women, they are only considering a small percentage of women who have systematically gained access to employment, education, and sexual expression. Inclusion - real inclusion - would take into account the flaws in our educational system, the failures of state and city governments to provide adequate resources to the poor, and the continued undermining of women throughout society.

In these ways, I propose that in order to solve the ‘diversity’ problem in tech and in all workplaces - we need to be more authentic. Not just in our means of self-expression, but also how we discuss the true roots of a problem. Most importantly, we need to encourage and allow authenticity not just as a business ‘best practice’ but as a must-have for societal progress.