Reader Query: Gender and Robots

A reader writes:

I am looking for some literature on gender and robots for a course I am teaching in the spring. Do you (or does anyone) know of readings appropriate for undergraduate students which address either (1) why gender assignments of human beings matter/the ways in which they direct us in ordering the world or (2)issues relating to assigning gender to robots, machines and other items which don’t seem to require or have a gender?

10 thoughts on “Reader Query: Gender and Robots

  1. Great topic. I think the robots in the movie WALL*E are fascinating. It would be fun to show a clip from it and get the students talking about what gender the robots are.

    Here’s one take on it: Kate Bornstein’s WALL•E: A Butch/Femme Love Story… or Silly Rabbit! Robots Have No Gender,

    “Is it that simply by looking at the robots, we can tell that WALL•E’s a boy and EVE is a girl? What was it up on that screen that defined the robots’ gender? Both robots were naked, so we could see their entire anatomy, right? Neither of those robots had a vagina or a penis. Did you see one or the other? Neither robot was sporting an Adam’s apple. Neither EVE nor WALL•E flashed any tit that I could see. So, we’ve got no way to spot those robots as male or female by using secondary sex characteristics. But still, most of us would swear on a stack of holy bibles or holy Gender Trouble that those robots are male and female. How did we most of us come to agree on that?”

  2. I just picked up “Artificial Knowing: Gender and the Thinking Machine” by Alison Adam, and though I’ve only begun the first chapter so far it seems to have a fair bit on robotics in it.

  3. I don’t know if it’s gauche to suggest one’s own work, but my “Robo-Diva R&B” article examines the ways dualistic societal attitudes toward technology (helpful/threatening) are mapped on to racialized virgin/whore dichotomies. There are “good white girl” robots (Stepford Wives) and “bad black girl” robots (e.g., Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce). So it’s not just that robots get gendered, but this gendering is also a racialization; and robots, like women,subjected to virgin/whore stereotypes. Here’s the link:

  4. Hi Synaesthetik,
    Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. “Some female androids seemed to him pretty; he had found himself physically attracted by several, and it was an odd sensation, knowing intellectually that they were machines but emotionally reacting anyway.”

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