Recently, I wrote about androids in entertainment for Comic Book Resources. With the popularity of Westworld, and a new Blade Runner being released soon, I wrote it because I thought it was time to revisit all the great almost-human androids we’ve seen on TV and in movies.
While I was researching that list, however, a definite trend emerged that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Most of the female androids were, essentially, a man’s fantasy made manifest. They’re beautiful and scantily clad. They fawn over the men who created them. They were almost all Stepford Wives, which I found disturbing and nauseating at the same time. Nauseating, because of the idea that 1) a man can’t or won’t earn the affection of a real woman so he makes a fake one instead and 2) just, ew. I found this trend disturbing because it feeds into the idea that women are only put on this Earth to serve men, that we are accessories to a man’s life. I didn’t like that at all.
About half of the androids on the list were male, but only one of those was built to be a sex slave — Gigolo Joe from A.I. The rest were scientists, mercenaries, police officers, guardians… you get the point. Only two of the females on the list — May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fembots from The Bionic Woman — weren’t specifically created to be sexual receptacles.
What really got me thinking about android sexism was when I was reading about Fembots. The evil Dr. Franklin created them to take the places of real women so he could get closer to some kind of device that controlled the weather (definitely a ’70s kind of villain). Here’s the kicker: The Fembots replaced six secretaries of the most important men who worked at the Office of Scientific Intelligence. I’ve got nothing against secretaries; I was a secretary for a long time, and I actually enjoy that kind of work. But I was really taken aback that, in the ’70s, it didn’t occur to any of The Bionic Woman writers to make even one of the scientists a woman.
Maybe it makes sense. The sexual revolution didn’t occur until the ’60s. In order for one of the O.S.I. scientists, who were top of their field, to be a woman, she would have had to have earned her Ph.D. by 1977, when the episode aired. She would have also had to have had a lot of research, publications, grants and journal articles on her resumé. Maybe that was asking too much of the writers.
Regardless of the whether the timing would have worked or not, being reminded that even in 1977 women wouldn’t have been portrayed as scientists served two purposes. First, I was reminded how far we’ve come in a short period of time. TV shows are filled with women in all kinds of important roles. While TV isn’t real life, at least it represents an ideal we can strive for. (For instance, half of Canada’s Prime Minister’s cabinet is women. Love you, Trudeau!) Second, it’s a reminder of how far we have to go. On average, women only earn $0.75 for every $1 a man earns. Our current president’s staff and cabinet are woefully lacking in women. Very few women lead our country’s biggest corporations.
However, we continue to fight for leadership roles, and there is hope. In 2015, the number of female CEOs replacing men was 70%. And, in 2015, women held 18 world leadership positions. (Those women still only accounted for about one-in-ten of the leaders of United Nations member states, but still!)
Hopefully, the May android of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will become the standard for fembots in entertainment, rather than poor Dolores on Westworld, who has been used by every man she’s ever encountered. Even better would be to see real life imitate art, with more women in leadership roles everywhere.