The title of Julie Wosk’s book, ‘My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids And Other Artificial Eves’ covers all the types of robotic and android women out there. Oddly, but not too surprisingly, starting with the original ‘Pygmalion’ later known as the musical ‘My Fair Lady’, where a flower-seller is given upper class graces but ultimately rejects her manipulation. This actually becomes the theme throughout the book with women, whether organic or mechanical are playthings by their creators. There are a couple films noted where there were women creators, do don’t think it’s totally bias.
However, it should also raise the question of the creation of female automations as man’s desire to create a compliant person. That, in itself, is a bit odd, as no matter the sexual equipment attached, a robot is essentially not even asexual just sexlessly compliant and subject to programming. Considering the materials that early robots were made of, you would have to wonder if they existed in real life why people couldn’t tell the difference? Then again, it is also probably a demonstration of compliance than mechanism.
The female form automata of the 1800s-1900s are often the things you might occasionally see on today’s TV antique shows. Here, Wosk examines various examples from Europe, accompanied with photos. Like with balance problems with modern day robots, walking automatons came down to weight as well and later models no longer had porcelain heads but papier-mâché ones made in America.
Of course, when it comes to the 1920s-30s, there were several important robots. Wosk not only covers Metropolis (1927) and ‘Tales Of Hoffmann’ (1951) but several European films as well, exploring their roots before going on the big screen. I know something of this history but not as comprehensive as this and tagged a few to check on their availability, based on the photos she supplies. A common denominator on several films was for the real woman to end up masquerading as the robot to get tease a man which was even used in more modern films. If anything else, it tends to show the woman taking the upper hand and playing up the absurdity that men can’t tell the difference between organic and fake. When you consider these were scripted by men and essentially pooh-poohing substitutes for real women, I did wonder at the morality lesson here during the American depression that I wish Wosk explored the motivation a little more.
When Wosk moves on to more modern human-looking robots, much of the time was seeing how they got on in society than the laboratory although none of them were truly Artificial Intelligence based, although a couple were working towards this.
I did wonder if Wosk made a mistake by identifying ‘The Bionic Man’ as the parent show to ‘The Bionic Woman’, although on the next page she corrected this to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, just in case you think I wasn’t paying attention. I should point out that it’s not Jaime Sommers addressed here but the FemBots. I do think if the Pentagon has male secretaries, Dr. Franklin would have made male robots. You do have to work with what is available.
The odd thing when Wosk addresses the Replicants from ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) is she misses out on Zhora, who must surely have been working the system to make money for her team and was hardly a plaything.
I was regularly checking the index to see if certain mechanised women were included. About the only significant one missing is April from ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003) TV series. Although British TV ‘Humans’ (2015), let alone the Swedish source ‘Real Humans’(2014), was probably too late to be included, I was surprised that our series ‘Eve’ (2015- ) was missed having been out three seasons by this time last year. With films, ‘Automata’ (2015) and ‘Ex-Machina’ (2015) might have been out too late as well, although you do have to wonder about the Terminatrix from ‘Terminator 3 – Rise Of The Machines’ (2003), although being able to look like whatever she/it chooses might also count againt inclusion.
There is also the female-looking robots currently being created in our own reality as ut catches up with Science Fiction, so you do get a comprehensive look at the state of the art, although none have been considered a playthings for men…yet. Like a lot of SF tropes, maybe we’ve got rid of our fantasies in fiction than in real life or, just as likely, they haven’t made them realistic enough yet.
If you want a comprehensive look at female robots in the media, then this is a good choice to have in your collection. If I have to be critical, it might have been interesting to have had a look at male-looking robots and whether or not women treated them in a similar manner.
Although Wosk’s contention is that all female-looking robots are seen as a man’s playthings, I wish she had also examined whether there were any that weren’t in as much detail.
(pub: Rutgers University Press. 221 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £27.95 (UK), $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-6337-4)