“No one born now will experience the world of gentle air we could walk through on impulse, without protection, winds and rain that caressed our skin, deep thick woods, grass like green hair growing thick from the moist earth. We were killing the world, but it was not yet dead.”
It is no surprise that at the end of He, She & It, the author, Marge Piercy, acknowledges A Cyborg Manifesto. Written by Donna Haraway in 1985, is critical of traditional notions of feminism and hoped to empower writers to move past the conventional notions of gender, among other things. Never had this manifesto been more taken to heart and explored by an author until He, She, & It.
Shira lives in a corporate city with rigid structures and rules that stamp out that systemically gaslight her on every front of her life. Her work is undervalued on purpose. Divorce procedures for her and her husband favor him. In an act of contempt and malice, he takes their son. Left with nothing, Shira goes home to her mother and town entrenched in traditional Jewish to face old relationships and old pain she has been running from all her life.
“Information shouldn’t be a commodity. That’s obscene. Information plus theology plus political bias is how we sculpt our view of reality.”
At the same time, a cyborg, a man, is created in the town Tikvah she now goes back to, and her grandmother, Malkah, who raised Shira, helps to program Yod. Where other cyborgs crafted by a brilliant scientist have gone mad and failed, Yod seems to thrive because of the genius programming of Malkah; which instills femininity in the cyborg, bringing a balance to the programming.
As Yod is discovering himself for the first time and Shira is rediscovering herself in her roots, another story unravels: an old story, told by Malkah in the form of a story left for Yod in the town’s network (this books version of cyberspace). The story is of a rabbi in the 1600s living in Prague who has conceived of creating a golem that would protect the Jews from their oppressors. When Joseph is created, however, it becomes clear that he possesses a mind and a will. One which is constrained in the same manner as the ghetto limits the Jews who live there.
“I cannot always distinguish between myth and reality, because myth forms reality and we act out what we think we are’ we know on many levels truths that are irrational as well as reasoned or experimental. Our minds help create the world we think we inhabit.”
This story parallels the main story and has elements of Jewish folklore and cultural history that is both fascinating and works very well to show technology in this future world as a kind of foil for the unknown. As well as how the unknown is always dealt with. In the past and the future, the golem and cyborg encounter similar problems and similar growth that further lends context that becomes pertinent when the question of both man’s humanity.
Shira struggles with being a tool for the corporation as it becomes clear that her losing her son and her choice to return home may be a part of a larger game of factions. Yod struggles with being designed as a tool and a weapon when he views himself as a man, and it becomes clear to anyone that chooses to interact with him that as he learns, much like a child, it is not his functions that define him, but almost everything but them. And this same struggle is mirrored in the past with Joseph, of course. Which creates a growing tension in both stories.
“Everything felt…unregulated. How unstimulated her senses had been all those Y-S years. How cold and inert that corporate Shira seemed as she felt herself loosening.”
As both stories unravel, the characters embody the author's exploration of feminist ideas that are at the most interesting in Yod. The only reason Yod can have a steady mind at all is because Malkah has imprinted into him what a mother might. Where other models solely possessed the scientist’s objectives and personality that was ideal for their being able to protect the town and be an effective weapon, the humanity of the very thing he creates never occurs to him.
“A weapon should not be conscious. A Weapon should not have the capacity to suffer for what it does, to regret, to feel guilt…”
Nor would does it seem to in the case of Joseph. There is a horror in realizing that neither creator understands the importance of the femininity in a person. They appear blind when they look inward to themselves, unable to reach the self-awareness that the interactions they most cherish stem from interactions with their family; particularly the women in their lives, and how they soften from their self-destructive attitudes around them. Yet they choose to create another being and bind the person to themselves only. Where their children are given over to their mothers in other to be made proper men. Their inventions relegated to their task and work; their humanity continually denied. Is it any wonder that the cyborgs before Yod; before Malkah went mad?
“…an artificial person created as a tool is a painful contradiction.”
The women in the story do not exist only to embody these qualities and illicit this exploration. They all struggle themselves with their own notions of femininity. Shira with the cultural reprogramming from living in corporate society for so long. Malkah is almost the opposite of her, dwelling in masculine qualities and taking pride in going against the grain in her keen sense of sexuality that is predominate in every relationship she has ever formed. Each intuitively knows that a person needs masculine and feminine qualities. Or else be lost.
This exploration for the sense of self is never-ending, exemplified in the stories of the multi-generational, globally spanning women of the family; but also in every character. Cyberspace, a place for the mind to express its creativity, particularly in the case of problem-solving. Is similarly different from more masculine cyberpunk works. It is merely a medium, the inherent technophobia is not present at all. The thing to fear most, and fear you should, in He, She & It is always man and the systemic problems that comes with them. As long as the systems that run our lives embody the masculine, we are all doomed to a madness that serves only the creators.
“Men so often try to be inhumanly powerful, efficient, unfeeling, to perform like a machine, it is ironic to watch a machine striving to be a male.”