Sexualized Saturdays: BMO Versus the Fembots

I’ve been watching Adventure Time for almost a year now, and for most of that time I’ve wondered whether BMO was intended to be a male or female character. And then recently it hit me. It doesn’t matter. BMO is a robot, and inherently genderless. Why do we assume that Pixar’s EVE and WALL-E are a girl and a boy? Would their relationship, which is portrayed as innocently romantic, be as meaningful to us if it had been presented without gendered markers?

wall-e-and-eve-wallpaper-2This led me to wonder why we feel a need to give gender to robots—who, even if they have artificial intelligence, are non-gendered machines. Why do we need to force our standards of gender and sexuality onto what is at best a sentient toaster in order to be able to interact with it comfortably?

And worse, why does the way robots are gendered affect the tasks they are presented doing?

Let’s look at fembots in various media (and don’t get me started on how fembots are inherently sexist because we don’t call male-presenting robots mbots or malebots). The Jetsons’ robot Rosie is a maid. Fembots on Futurama all have pointy Madonna breasts (totally irrelevant to their function—even if robots had sexual urges, why would they necessarily be attracted to standards of human feminine beauty, except that we programmed them to do so?) GLADoS doesn’t have a human-shaped form, but she’s tricksy and manipulative. Chobits’ persocoms are adorable, loli-shaped personal computers.

And the male-presented robots? Bender has a traditionally masculine factory job/purpose, and he is a complex character, even if his standard motivations are to get as rich and drunk as possible. The titular bot in I, Robot gets to go on a self-actualizing adventure with Will Smith. The Matrix‘s Smiths are superpowered AI assassins, and Astro Boy is basically a superhero.

If you think this is just happening in fiction, then get ready to descend into the uncanny valley with me:

This is a(n admittedly scary-ass) top of the line robot, and the purpose of this video is to show how closely the bot’s facial expressions can mirror our own. But it’s titled Japanese Robot Girlfriend for some reason, even though the robot just says a bunch of humble courtesy phrases (the sort you would direct to a superior or boss), and there’s no evidence that this robot is some sort of Real Doll or other sex-toy-thing. Why is she a she, and why does her female-ness mean she is a robot girlfriend and not just a talking, facially responsive robot?

Gendered and sexualized robots are that way because we programmed them to be that way; this is an unescapable truth. What I want to know is why we’re so hung up on gender that we have to assign it to inanimate objects.

3 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: BMO Versus the Fembots

  1. This reminds me of the behavior of adding gender to a car when speaking about it to others. I always supposed that this happens to some people when some level of emotional attachment is reached, especially if the object is perceived to have some stake . This trope is commonly used with ship captains as well.

    But now that you say it, I’ve never known what pronoun to associate with BMO. BMO isn’t really a male or female in my mind and I guess that is credit to the VO and writers for not pulling a typical fembot or mbot.

  2. Great article, I too always wondered about BMO. To make it even more confusing, I think throughout the show they refer to, um, it as both he and she. Mostly though I think BMO is referred to as she. I think there are two examples you give here that are a little miss-characterized. First, The female robots (and in fact most of the male robots) in Futurama, are obviously sexualized as an ongoing joke. Scenes like the one you picture with Bender in a hot-tub are inherently ridiculous, and intentionally so. Secondly, GLaDOS is probably the most nonsexual a robot could possibly hope to be while still having a recognizable gender. She’ s evil and manipulative not because she’s female but because she was forced onto a hard-drive against her will.

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