Posthumanism, the End of Gender and Possibility of Equality

Author – Megi Tedoradze

Posthumanism, the End of Gender and Possibility of Equality

In recent years the term “posthumanism” is often found in the narrow academic, but also in the public discourse of developed countries. The significant development of technology from year to year has respectively gained attention from not only those directly interested in this field but also from all people who have access to the Internet and technology.

ChatGPT-4, released by OpenAI on March 13, 2023, is only one example of the many AI-based tools we already use in our daily lives. These tools are not only exciting and make us feel that we are closer to a more convenient and inclusive future, but also often cause serious anxiety.

In this article, instead of the negative expectations, we will talk about the positive possibilities that the development of technology opens up for feminist and queer projects. Noteworthy, this article is not only about technology. Our main frame of thought is gender performativity on the one hand, and philosophical posthumanism on the other, which is based on the principle of technological development, but also implies many other important conceptual assumptions.

What is Posthumanism?

The term “posthumanism” is an umbrella term that unites several different frameworks of thought: philosophical, cultural, and/or critical posthumanism; liberal or/and democratic transhumanism; new materialism; anti-humanism; ontology of objects; metahumanism.

Of course, each perspective is based on different political projects and stands on different ideals, but each of them shares the assumption that human beings are not the center of the universe and that the anthropocentric point of view is wrong, outdated, and harmful. Consequently, posthumanism, as a unifying term, aims to break the unequal ties that exist between humans, animals, and technology. Beyond that still stands the thought that humans in the post-humanist world cannot be even the theoretical axis of the world, and the point of view that humans are the highest species should be criticized till the last minute. Examples of this can be found of course not only in post-humanist but also in the anthropological discourse in which the human and in this case – Homo sapiens, is not the most developed species, but simply one of many existing ones. However, it should be noted that posthumanism and its project offer an even more expanded vision of the (posthumanist) future of mankind, where not only organic species but also inorganic objects and technological subjects are considered.

One of the earliest incarnations of the posthumanist ideal is the cyborg of feminist philosopher Donna Haraway, from her central work A Cyborg Manifesto (1985). Haraway’s cyborg, according to the author, is the face of a utopian, feminist, and socialist myth. A cyborg is a composite entity of organic and mechanical parts that breaks down the distinct boundaries between organism and machine, physical and non-physical, and most importantly, technology and subject/self. According to Haraway, the cyborg should become the main tool of equality.

By the same principle, posthumanism breaks down the clear boundaries between human and non-human, male and female, physical and virtual, nature and culture, which are essential to the postmodern feminist project, which in turn challenges seemingly stable categories of the identity, which we will discuss in more detail below.

In this way, posthumanism does not stand for the connection between opposites, but, on the contrary, it completely excludes inflexible dualistic thinking. Through deconstruction, human loses the role of the master, and humanism is no longer universalized to a specific group of people.

What is the reasoning behind this? – When talking about a human being, it is important to understand that historically a human did not represent a simple unity of people but considered exclusively a specific group of people, which is why countless categories of people remained and still remain outside the humanist discourse.

Who is the subject of humanism?

We have already talked about what posthumanism is against, i.e. what is the “post” in the term. However, it is important to pay attention to the second part of the term – “humanism”.

Humanism is directly related to humans, although humans in the framework of “humanism” does not represent the unity of all living or non-living people. As we have already mentioned, if we look through our historical past, we will see that the human category was mostly used for a very specific group of people. In the Western world, this group included exclusively white heterosexual men and excluded from its definition historically oppressed groups – women, queers, non-white people, etc.

To be able better understand the meaning of the posthumanist project, we should ask the question – how did the representatives of the historically dehumanized (left outside the human category) group manage to deal with their own humanity? This problem is posed not only by posthumanist ideas but also by feminist thought. The understanding of women, the complete exclusion of transgender people from the discourse, and the non-recognition of non-binary identities are just a few examples of the problem raised by the narrow category of “humanism”.

Gender and humanism

We can draw many parallels between gender and the historical understanding of the human concept. The reason for this is that historically only hegemonic groups have been able to normalize identity categories. These groups were represented by those who already had the privilege of being included in the “human” category, therefore, as mentioned above, “others” were a priori excluded from it. However, one of the early feminist texts, which has been revised many times acquiring different forms and meanings, although conceptually, still does not lose its importance, will help us to illustrate the above-mentioned. This text is the main work of the existentialist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir – “The Second Sex” (1949), where she writes the most famous phrase in feminist studies: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. And then she continues: “No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature”.

Thus, de Beauvoir describes a woman as a process, not an essence. According to Beauvoir, being born as a woman and becoming a woman are two different things: the first has to do with biology, and the second with culture (it should be noted that this thought has been significantly criticized in the last two decades, which we will discuss in detail below). Speaking of culture, we must also repeat that cultural paradigms are created by those assumptions and subjective preconceptions, which are created by a certain part of people – historically, men. Let’s get back to Beauvoir – in “The Second Sex” she refers to the woman as the “other”. What does the term “other” mean? – Beauvoir notes that the definition of “woman” was formed according to her relation to a man. In this way, the conceptual framework of a man implied stability, and individuality, while a woman was “other” in relation to this already existing framework. Thus, the woman was perceived as a secondary, “other” human being and, therefore, did not have access to the reins to produce culture. To put it more simply, the man was self-defined, and the woman was defined only in relation to a man – she was either in harmony or in conflict with the cultural image of the man and thus, did not represent an individual subject.

As we see, Beauvoir’s framework is still relevant to this day, although, from a posthumanist point of view, it has one major problem. As an existentialist philosopher, Beauvoir finds the relation between the individual and the “other” not only in the male/female dichotomy but also in other parts of the culture. Dichotomous thinking (dualism, as we called it above) is problematic for posthumanism because it considers only two poles and excludes the diversity that exists between these two extreme poles or even beyond them.

If we consider that a person is not one or the other depending on one, but many, we will see that the human categories produce, and create each other not unilaterally, but collectively. Thus, posthumanism emphasizes the interdependence of humans (by inclusive definition), animals, and technology, and thus breaks the dualistic notion of gender as well.

Performativity of the gender

It is impossible to talk about the anti-dichotomous definition of gender without mentioning performativity. I think that introducing this term will help us, on the one hand, to doubt the objective reality of gender again. While on the other hand, we will be able to deconstruct social gender norms and see more clearly the possibilities that posthumanism offers us on the way to equality.

“Gender performativity” is a term coined by Judith Butler, one of the most influential postmodernist philosophers and gender researchers of modern times. In her work Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Butler argues that gender is not only a cultural construct but also an entirely unstable and fluid feature of human existence. Therefore, she writes:

“Gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time – an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts[1].

Butler begins “Gender Trouble” by talking about feminism, or rather its critics.[2]  She points out the desire to identify the subject to be the main problem of modern feminism and writes that, in fact, there is no such category named “woman”[3]. It should be mentioned that in this part, she is not original and relies not on her personal opinion, but on the opinion of many other feminist authors who have tried to analyze the concept of “woman” before. However, unlike the others, according to Butler, feminism must abolish its subject and, without the term “woman”, consider the diversity of the group on whose behalf it speaks: “Identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of thar very oppression”[4].

Butler, of course, does not deny that in certain moments of history, subjectivization of women groups and choosing this method of struggle was necessary, although she thinks that there is no longer a need for it, and this method will bring more harm than good since the feminist project will not be able to unite people who remain outside the seemingly solid categories of identity.

Performativity and the act of repetition, which is one of the main characteristics of “gender identity”, may mean that the “subject” “constructs” gender by repeating the codes given in their culture. However, this assumption is completely wrong within Butler’s theory. In fact, according to her, the subject does not create its own gender, but on the contrary, it is forming as a subject, while creating gender. Thus, there is no actor beyond the act [of creating gender]. And this, in turn, to some extent cancels the subject who can “choose” the gender.

Here Butler precisely shows the essential difference between performance (which presupposes the pre-existence of the subject) and performativity (which does not). According to her, performativity does not imply that the subject does not exist at all but is an indication that the subject is not where we expect it to be – that is, it does not lead the action.

Performativity of sex

The category of “sex” is a name that enslaves[5].

In her second, equally influential text, Bodies That Matter, Butler expands on gender theory and argues that sex is also culturally constructed and that it is completely unclear what sex “really” means.

In “Bodies That Matter” Butler writes that the world is given to us only culturally, and if according to the classical definition, culture is represented by gender (recall Beauvoir’s position), and gender by nature (biology), it turns out that as long as we only have access to culture and know nothing about the pre-cultural, we cannot have any idea about gender, and therefore, we understand gender culturally. This is Butler’s main argument when she formulates the opinion that sex is a gendered category.

In this matter, Butler derives entirely from the assumption of body politics which tells us that the body does not exist outside of discourse. In her opinion, everything that is given to us in the world is already culture. Since “sex” is a political and cultural interpretation of the body, there is no sex/gender distinction; gender is built into sex, and sex proves to have been gender from the beginning.[6]

Each of these concepts, of course, begs the question of how performative gender can be broken down. On the one hand, if the subject does not form gender, but gender is formed by repeated bodily acts (for example, clothing, body movements, manner of speaking, etc.), how is it possible to turn the paradigm [subversion] and break this already existing order? Easily speaking, how is resistance possible if subjects are not involved in the process of creating gender at all? – The fact that the subject is not pre-existing, while identities are constructed, allows us to reconstruct identities so that they oppose the power structures.

According to Butler, one of the ways of subversion is to show the parody of heterosexuality and sex-gender forms. In her early works, she thinks that drag culture does this best: “By imitating gender, drag implicitly exposes the imitative structure of gender itself as well as its randomness”. Therefore, she concludes that it is possible to appropriate gender norms in such a way that they contradict their own historically precipitated effects and thereby create a moment of rebellion in the same history – a moment that will establish the future by breaking the past[7].

The end of gender and the possibility of equality

Assuming the performativity of gender on the one hand, and turning to posthumanism on the other hand, we should ask the main question: what does the end of gender mean and what possibilities are opened by deconstructing gender in the posthumanist world? On the one hand, such formulation of the question is already problematic, since the end automatically presupposes the existence of gender before it, and if we claim that gender does not objectively exist, how can it be “ended”? In fact, by the end of gender, we do not mean any objective reality, but the understanding of the instability of culturally already constructed forms of gender, instrumentalization of their performative character, and establishment of new ways of resistance.

Posthumanism opens up countless ways of resistance. We can recall Donna Haraway’s cyborg, which, by appropriating physical parts, creates not only a hybrid being between man and machine but also a being that cannot be inscribed in the female-male dichotomy and naturally excludes the existence of a firm, stable gender or sex in a semi-mechanical body. To quote Haraway herself, a cyborg has no sex at all.

However, we must also take into account that Haraway’s cyborg is a material being that exists in a material world. While posthumanism also breaks the myth of the stability of the material world and emphasizes the importance of the digital world. Who are the subjects of the digital world? What is their essence? Is it possible for a virtual being to have a self? Is it possible for it to have a gender or even sex? These are questions that can be answered from many different points, but one thing is clear – gender, which is distinctly non-binary and includes a spectrum of different identities, is itself destabilized and deconstructed. There is no stable gender “identity”. Thus, neither Beauvoir’s man nor her “other” woman exists. There is only performativity, constant fluctuation, and hundreds of ways of resistance.

To sum up, it can be said that, on the one hand, the performative nature of gender, which completely excludes its foundation in materialism, and on the other hand, posthumanism, which stands for the replacement or complete abolition of the material world, offers opportunities for those groups of people who, historically, have constantly remained outside of humanistic [humanity] framework. By combining these two loci of thought, a performative posthumanism is formed, where the materiality or objectivity of the performance completely loses its meaning, the person is no longer the central being, the distinction between the living and the non-living, and the woman and the man is completely dissolved, and new, much more interesting ways of equality are born.

[3] IBID, 3-44.


Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. 1st edition. New York: Vintage, 2011.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. 1st ed. Routledge, 2011. ———. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 2011. ———. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Anthology, (2009).

Ferrando, Francesca. Philosophical Posthumanism: Theory in the New Humanities. 1st ed. Theory in the New Humanities. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

———. “Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, Metahumanism, and New Materialisms: Differences and Relations” 8, no. 2 (2013).

Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto. University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999.



[3] IBID, 3-44.





Previous Story

LGBTQI+ rights activists protest against the arrests of trans community members

Next Story

International LGBTQ+ Conference was held as a part of Pride Week

Latest news