Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the showthat are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.
A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama.)
In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.
TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.
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?
This 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? Continue reading →