He & It, She & It: Differences in Male and Female Fantasy of Android Lovers

Notes: this piece has reference to sexual abuse and assault. The analysis
focuses on a heterosexual dynamic insofar as a machine can be considered gendered
.

 

What would it mean to love a machine and, in return, be loved by a machine? The potentiality of robot lovers is a ubiquitous trope in science-fiction, not a recent one either, that indicates the cultural belief that artificial intelligence will not only exist in the future, but that human beings will desire to carry out relationships with these machine-entities. The acceptance that the natural course for artificial intelligence is for it to be housed in a human-like body is a correlated trope among science fiction media. Why this seems to be natural conclusion of machine entities is sometimes questioned—in I, Robot, the film based on Isaac Asimov’s well-known work, Will Smith’s character asks about the androids, “Why do you give them faces?”

It is as though once the intellectual capabilities of a machine progress far enough for it to be considered an individual, we as humans feel compelled to grant that entity with a body. Further than that though, compelled to give them a body like our own and with capabilities similar to our own, which in many ways seeks to incur our emotional response towards these entities to be empathy. In the same way that Will Smith asks about why the androids have faces, with confusion and perhaps disgust, in Ex Machina Domhnall Gleeson’s character Caleb questions android programmer Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, why he has given his A.I. the concept of sexuality.

There’s a question at the heart of these inquiries, one that targets what it means to be an individual, an entity, a person. As the capabilities of computers increasingly races forward with ability for calculation and recall that no human will be able to compete with, the need to draw a line between us, those understood to be individuals, and them, those understood to be merely machines, becomes of ethical importance. As long as a computer remains a machine, or rather, as long as it doesn’t qualify as an entity, it can remain a tool. Being a tool rather than an entity carries on the back of its definition the determination of what ethics are applied to its function—how we humans may handle it for our own uses, for example.

The line between entity and machine surely has to be the capacity for emotion—sympathy and empathy, passionate and platonic love, frustration, pride, wants, hopes and fears. A computer can say, “I am sad,” if programmed to do so and even can do so with complex parameters to define the situations in which an expression of such an emotion is logical or expected. In this example though, few people would believe that the computer “feels” the emotion behind the words.

With these two conflicting ideas, that of entity or tool and the experience of emotions, the idea of engaging in a romantic relationship with an android is intriguing and of two natures: on one hand, questionable in sincerity, on the other, a fantasy. There is a gendered divide that arises when examining machine entity romances or sexual relationships. For men, the possibilities of an android partner conflate a power-fantasy while for women the exact opposite is true, it is a security-fantasy.

He & It, the male perspective on the android fantasy, is riddled with disturbing notions of power-fantasy and especially so in regards to sexual power-fantasy. Browsing pop-media for examples of female androids has an uncomfortable likeness to skimming a porn magazine. The women androids are ridiculously beautiful, over-sexed (for what use does a machine entity have for exaggerated sexual organs?) and, perhaps most disturbingly, obedient. Tammy Oler overviews examples of this in her piece “Of Women Borg,” but I’d like to circle around to the first example of female androids I raised in this paper, that of the entities in Ex Machina.

The programmer of these A.I. entities, Nathan, is drenched with an overt, and disturbing, veneer of threatening masculinity that is obvious from the first scene in which we encounter him, sweaty and confident after boxing a punching bag. A foreshadowing, in fact, of his need to be physically strong in order to grapple his misbehaving creations into submission, but that’s to get ahead of ourselves. Nathan has taken it for granted since he began his project chasing after true artificial intelligence that his creation would be sexual. It certainly fits his purposes—he keeps one of the subservient creations as a maid, cook, and sex toy. She remains silent the entire film, another layer to the utter power-fantasy she encapsulates, for Nathan does not want her to even communicate with his male house-guest.

Nathan created an intelligence, for it is intelligent, complete with emotions and desires of its own, only to bind it into sexual slavery. This is where the concept of entity becomes important, for if this android was a mere machine, his use of it for sex wouldn’t be violation. After all, that would be no different than having sex with an artificial vagina with added body to interact with. But that is not what Nathan has done, somehow that wasn’t enough for him. He created an entity and rapes it, indefinitely and without remorse.

The evidence that Kyoko is not a mere machine is apparent in its (her?) behavior—she sits slumped in hallways, head down, a classic image of someone traumatized. When the opportunity arises, she holds a knife to her abuser and helps murder him. This reflects trauma and revenge; these are the actions of an entity that experiences resentment, hatred, suffering.

Male power-fantasy surfaces in androids as an opportunity for a man to have a woman who obeys all commands without complaint—objects of desire for men who don’t have to navigate concepts of consent as they would with a real woman. Their lover will always find them attractive, perfect, intelligent. Their lover will never stray, a programmed loyalty that eliminates the need for jealousy or fear of rejection. An android woman eliminates male insecurity by promising the man that, to his lover, he’ll always be everything to her and she’ll never leave.

As Oler succinctly phrases it, “In the unchecked hands of men, technology will be used to create ‘better’ women—sexier, subservient private property—and real women will be made redundant.” Ex Machina exemplifies this; Nathan has no physical contact with any other humans in his massive, private estate and there are no human women present in the film. If anything, Ex Machina is a warning on this fantasy—no entity, human or artificial intelligence, will accept the dehumanizing abuse of male power.

Conversely, the She & It perspective of female fantasy and android lovers is not a power-fantasy, but a security or safety-fantasy. The stark contrast between what women view as a possibility out of android lovers and what men do is sobering, said mildly, and tragic, if said honestly. Where men would use the programming of an entity to force it into consent, women view that programming as an opportunity to force the respect of consent. In other words, the male fantasy see androids that are ready for sex at any moment and the female fantasy sees androids that won’t force sex at any time.

This safety-fantasy is expressed explicitly multiple times in Marge Piercy’s He, She & It. The repeated reference to this are striking, “He has total inhibition blocks against sexual violence,” one of Yod’s creator tells his future lover, Shira. This is an aspect of the male android’s nature that will eventually raise him above his male peers when it comes to Shira’s desire and her love.

If this wasn’t obvious enough, Piercy brow-beats the fact into us once more with a conversation Yod and Shira have before they engage in sex: “I would never hurt you, I could never hurt you. Believe that.” Shira’s reply? “That would make you different indeed from any man I’ve known.”

Though it could come across as heavy-handed, these conversations between Shira and her android lover instead tap directly into the desire of women to be safe and especially to be safe in the hands of men. It begs women to question, what if? What if there was someone I knew I could be safe with because they are incapable of harming me? What if I never had to fear that my ‘no’ would be ignored? The ease of these desires indicates the generalized fear and victimization of women in a patriarchal society that is fraught with rape culture.

The male android in this book almost ceases to be “male,” an idea that Shira occasionally ruminates on. For women, perhaps the idea of an entity as a lover that isn’t gendered is easier to accept because it means removing the known threats of masculinity they are familiar with. Yod has a male body but what Shira considers a feminine mind.

Shira’s lover Yod comes with other benefits, some that are more superficial like his inability to conceive of age or beauty. Yod is indifferent to Shira’s physical appearance, quieting an insecurity of women that their lover will leave them for someone more attractive or will stop being attractive to them as they grow older. The fantasy extends to Yod being a listener, he’s infinitely attentive and unendingly tender. But unlike the silent entities in Ex Machina, Yod isn’t silenced—the core of his relationship with Shira is reciprocity. They experience a melding of minds while online that reflects their desires for each other, to know and be known.

On these two opposite sides of the spectrum, we see entities that are abused by humans or elevated to a higher status due to their nature. Ex Machina is a disturbing film for women because it reaffirms what many women believe men desire out of them. It is also a disturbing film for men, I hope, because the consequences of male desire in the film is a response of zero mercy from the abused entities. He, She and It has been labeled a misandrist text, not for surprising reasons. All of the human men in the book are insecure, self-inflated with ego, resentful and bitter towards women if not dismissive, and obsessed with their own status. Yod is praised for not being male as a human man is male and is the hero of the story. In machine entities, humans see possibilities for relationships lacking features that humans find lackluster in what is currently available to them. Unfortunately, what this has revealed about what humans find lacking in relationships of this day-and-age is unflattering to our culture. It highlights the deep divide between genders, one which is losing power and authority over the other and is desperate to retain that status, and one that dreams of a future where fear of assault is unnecessary.

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An Ode to Female SciFi Characters

Leia_resents_Jabba's_pull_on_her_chain

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as weak,
Staying quiet, docile, and meek,
A victim and a whiner,
Waiting to be coddled by someone with a wiener.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as dumb,
Not understanding the uncertainty principle or the vector sum,
Staring gape-mouthed at their genius,
Waiting to be enlightened by someone with a penis.

I’m sorry you are portrayed as slutty,
In a man’s hands becoming putty,
Stripped down to your panties in interstellar space, a fool,
Waiting to be banged by someone with a tool.

But I’m also sorry that you are portrayed as strong,
A “badass bitch” who’s fought too long,
Who won’t let down her guard and is quick to anger,
Waiting to be tamed by someone with a pecker.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as smart,
A know-it-all filled with snark,
An arrogant and haughty snob,
Waiting to be humbled by someone with a knob.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as prudish,
Puritanical, uptight, and priggish,
Flustered whenever a man so much as casts you a look,
Waiting to be impassioned by someone with a cock.

I’m sorry that, no matter how bright and capable you are, your final reward
Is a lackluster relationship with a man and his pork sword.

I’m sorry.

More Aliens

My feelings on Ice Planet Barbarians  by Ruby Dixon are summarized below:

you're a shitty friend Georgie

you’re a shitty friend Georgie

Wait, actually I had another thought about this book:

I said this in my last post, but I feel like there’s lots of reasons not to just jump the bones of the first alien you meet. It would be totally tempting, don’t get me wrong, I see you. But there’s also way, WAY too many ways in which it could go horribly wrong.

reason #167 why it's probably a bad idea to have sex with an alien life form

reason #167 why it’s probably a bad idea to have sex with an alien life form

And it’s totally likely that even if you could have sex, the human body would be capable of becoming pregnant with an alien baby. I took human anatomy. I know that pregnancy isn’t a complicated process at all. I mean, it’s not like that sometimes the human body rejects human fetuses because of clashes between the immune systems.

(hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa)

Whatever, it’s for the sake of the story. What am I expecting anyway, out of a smutty sci-fi novel? Surely not realistic science.

I don’t know what else to say about this book. Maybe I’m still recovering. In a couple of days I’ll go through this book and make a list of words that were in it that I hope I never have to read again.

I give it a BEAR GRYLLS on the SURVIVOR SKILLS scale.

(It got docked points because I am somewhat phobic of pregnancy so whenever the main character in a book gets pregnant I want to scream and throw up simultaneously. Do some people like this as a plot point? DO SOME PEOPLE ENJOY THAT?)

Close Liaisons

I was really excited to read Anna Zaires’ Close Liaisons, because it is a free Kindle book that involves an alien romance.

There’s a lot of things to like in alien romances—tropes like not understanding each other’s language (a classic), finding each other weirdly attractive despite the fact that the likelihood that an alien would find a human attractive is like a human finding a hermit crab attractive, and, most importantly, I’m always a slut for space. Okay, yes, and I want to know what kind of weird dong the author is going to outfit the alien with, that JUST SO HAPPENS to be compatible with female anatomy.

Don’t worry about allergic reactions either.

No really, everything is going to be fine.

God I love aliens.

So, when I got Close Liaisons, I was completely hyped! Alien romance is not a genre that seems to be particularly popular yet (I wonder why, considering that even zombies are getting their own love stories these days).

TOO BAD THIS BOOK IS A COMPLETE LET DOWN.

Let me highlight exactly why this stupid book is so incredibly stupid.

  1. The ALIENS look like HUMANS

You’re writing a book about ALIENS. Who the fuck sits down and thinks, well, these guys are going to drop out of a spaceship, so they should probably just look like a traditionally attractive human being. That’ll surprise them ahahaha!

I will say that at least Zaires has an explanation for the similar appearance of humans and her alien species. Apparently humans evolved because the aliens, millions of years ago, shot their DNA into space to seed planets. Because that’s how evolution works.

It’s fine though, because the aliens have been watching over us a long time and they made sure that we evolved to look like them! That’s not weird at all! But okay!

Alien design? Nailed it

Alien design? Nailed it

  1. The ALIENS used to subsist on BLOOD. They don’t need to anymore, but guess what they still enjoy doing? Sucking on human blood.

I’m sorry, I thought I signed up to read a science-fiction book about ALIENS. And somehow, I ended up reading another terrible paranormal romance featuring perhaps the most overused paranormal creatures—Vampires!

I can't even fault that reasoning

I can’t even fault that reasoning

How did this happen??? I was bamboozled. I was completely fooled. And I was left wondering, why, if you’re going to write a book about vampires, try to make it about ALIENS? Commit to your vampire story, because passing it off as science-fiction is exactly what nobody wants.

Actually, that’s my whole list because I once that little plot detail dropped, I dropped the book. I feel so cheated.

We’ll see if I finish this book, but probably not.

—-

Okay I was going to go, but I had a few more things to say. Zaires starts the book off almost promisingly when it comes to character development. I kind of liked the curly haired protagonist (not enough to remember her name, but there you go), for about three paragraphs. That’s when our alien love interest is introduced and the story goes full of the rails immediately with him stalking her and abducting her to take to his apartment right away (that’s a slight exaggeration, but basically).

Which is great, because now I have about enough characterization of the main character to know that she’s in college and studies (I guess) which is totally enough for me to care about her.

One of the great mysteries of life, to me, is how immediately everyone is attracted to everyone in romances. I mean, hello, she barely knows him and he’s an ALIEN. He could suck the bone marrow out of puppies. You don’t know! And she goes to his apartment, no problem!

Okay, kind of problem, but we all know that heroines in romance novels don’t mind being bossed around by someone they feel sexually attracted to. All their willpower goes straight out the window at first brushing touch.

I’m just of the position that I would NOT get into a limo with a known alien to be taken to his private residence because one time our hands touched.

That could be the beginning of a horror movie.

I’m just saying.

I’m holding off on an official review rating until I finish the book, but for right now Close Liaisons gets one GLOWY EYE out of COULD YOU LOOK LESS HUMAN