Feminism and the Figure of the Fembot (Part 6.2 of 7)

VI. Phyllis, Ellery, and Landon: The Transgression/Failure of the Fembot

Professor Brooks Landon, author of "Understanding Thomas Berger"
Professor Brooks Landon, author of “Understanding Thomas Berger”

However, in Landon’s reading of Adventures of the Artificial Woman, the critic believes the subversion comes not from Phyllis’ status as a machine performing femininity, or even as a machine developing its own consciousness, but from her rejection of the male authority of her maker. This is what Landon reads as unnatural; not her synthesized body, but her logical mind. She is a woman freed from the chains of the “feminine mystique”. She is not emotion and aura – she is a physical, practical body. He begins to make claims about Phyllis’ character that make her little more than a vehicle for a story of male self-discovery. For example, Landon claims that Phyllis becomes “attracted to show business because all she has learned about the world came from watching television” (Landon 185). This claim is extremely shallow and confers so little interiority upon Phyllis that her subsequent actions of leaving her maker and making a life for herself would have to be little more than bugs in her system, rather than intentional thought out choices. This choice is a much more revealing statement about Phyllis’ “femininity”; rather than going into show business because she finds television entertaining, she goes into show business because she knows already that she will be good at it because she is already a performer. She is acting femininity, acting womanhood, performing it as Butler would say.

Conversely, Landon goes on to claim that when “Phyllis realizes she needs money” she “resolves to use her male-fantasy beauty, perfectly crafted by Ellery, as a street-walker” (Landon 185).  Phyllis, being completely unattached to her body, doesn’t even factor her ‘perfectly crafted’ ‘male-fantasy beauty’ into her decision. The decision to become a street-walker to support herself is one of simple logic, as she deduces that “she could have certain strengths peculiar to a nonhuman: immunity to disease or pregnancy, tirelessness and a constitutional incapacity to be offended […] by any demand” (Berger 40). Landon tries to cast this decision as motivated by emotions of greed and vanity, emotions often associated with women, when it is clearly motivated by logic and intelligence. No matter how “perfectly crafted” Ellery made her body, it is only when other people explain to her how she is expected to use it for gain, that Phyllis does so.

Male and Female Emotions according to the Daily Mail Online
Male and Female Emotions according to the Daily Mail Online

In his reading of Adventures of the Artificial Woman, Landon attempts to spin the plot events in a way that puts Ellery Pierce as the main character, the one with whom the audience is meant to sympathize. Landon dismisses the parts of the story that center around Phyllis as an “inverted joke, where the well-worn topic ‘What does Woman Want?’ is turned to reveal that Man isn’t all that sure what he wants, either” (Landon 187). He argues that “While the novel tempts readers to focus on Phyllis, its protagonist is, of course, Ellery, and whatever serious work this novel may do has to do with him and his moral growth rather than with his animatronic creation” (Landon 187). To Landon, the subversion of gender stereotypes is not “serious work”, nor does it seem that the character of the Fembot, who gives this book its title, is anything more than “animatronic”, despite the fact that she truly develops herself well beyond Ellery’s initial programming. This novel is not the story of the triumph of male dominated logic over the whims of feminized machines, but rather it asks readers to consider how the way we treat machines is intertwined with the way we treat people and expect them to act based on their gender.

An example of inverted gender stereotypes from the late 1800s from Thiophene_Guy via Flickr
An example of inverted gender stereotypes from the late 1800s from Thiophene_Guy via Flickr

Works Cited

Berger, Thomas. Adventures of the Artificial Woman: a Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.

Landon, Brooks. Understanding Thomas Berger. Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Published by rsjeffrey

Robin Jeffrey was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a psychologist and a librarian, giving her a love of literature and a consuming interest in the inner workings of people’s minds.

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