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

VII. The Fembot and Humanity’s Future: Conclusion

The Enon Robot from Fujitsu and a human friend. (Photo by Ms. President via Flickr)
The Enon Robot from Fujitsu and a human friend. (Photo by Ms. President via Flickr)

American feminist and activist Susan Brownmiller once said that “Women are all female impersonators to some degree” (“Feminization”). Judith Butler would certainly agree with this statement. Butler, when read through a feminist point of view, argues that the socially acceptable persona of femininity is completely constructed for the sole purpose of fitting into the heterosexual matrix dominated by an over defined sense of male masculinity. With this truth revealed, it is logical that society’s definition of femininity would become wider and more inclusive, leading to a greater acceptance of women as functioning, self-conscious, and self-commanding entities. The question then becomes, will that ever happen with machines?

The treatment of machines and the treatment of women have been shown to be strangely similar. Both entities have been considered, at various points in their lifetimes, to be devoid of intentionality and devoid of interiority. Both have been under the thumb of a generally male gendered ‘ruling class’ while being simultaneous tied to them for survival. Now that women have achieved public self-hood and fought for the ability to sustain themselves, will machines soon walk the same path? The signs are already around us that such a thing is possible.

In William Gibson’s 1996 novel Idoru, he weaves a complicated love story, set in the future, about a famous pop star who has announced his intention to marry a Japanese Idoru, or ‘idol-singer’, named Rei Toei. The problem is that Rei Toei is software – she is an entirely virtual entity that is adored across Japan. She’s an entertainer, a singer, but she is pure information, presenting as a hologram in public, but having no physical form at all. Even her voice is completely synthesized. The book deals with many complicated issues surrounding the ideas of pure information and avatar selves, but one of the questions it tries to address is whether or not a man can marry something that isn’t technically human. Is Rei even a person? Does she feel, want, or exist in any sense to which human beings can relate?

Signed copy of William Gibson's novel "Idoru". (Photo by Jason DeFillippo via Flickr)
Signed copy of William Gibson’s novel “Idoru”. (Photo by Jason DeFillippo via Flickr)

William Gibson’s work has always had an oddly prophetic feel to it and this novel is no different. A few years ago, the Japanese pop sensation Hatsune Miku performed sold-out shows all over Japan. Adoring fans flooded stadiums, singing along with her and her backup band, enraptured. Miku has become a media spectacle inspiring an anime and several other singers to follow in her footsteps. However, there is one catch: Hatsune Miku can’t sign autographs because she is a software computer program. She is a “digital avatar created by Crypton Future Media that customers can buy and then program to perform any song on a computer” (Graham). The Crypton Future Media group “uses voices recorded by actors and runs them through Yamaha Corp.’s Vocaloid software” -– marketed as “a singer in a box.”  The result: “A synthesized songstress that sounds far better than you ever have in your shower” (Hsu). Fans poured into the stadiums to watch a holographic idol dance and sing on stage, an avatar that is “huge and incredibly realistic” (Graham). Crypton has gone so far as to create a record label just for Miku and her kind called KarenT. Miku also has her own YouTube channel, with most of the videos from the tour available for consumption (Hsu). The Huffington Post admitted that “The sight of thousands of screaming fans waving glow sticks while the holograph ‘performs’ on stage is straight out of a science fiction novel” (Graham). They are absolutely correct – it’s right out of Gibson’s Idoru.

John Naisbitt, an American author and public speaker in the area of future studies, predicted that “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human” (“John Naisbitt Quotes“). With the creation of more and more computer based entities like Hatsune Miku, it seems a certainty that one day an equal relationship between a human and a machine won’t seem far-fetched at all. The figure of the Fembot is the fictional site of society’s complex feelings about gender and machine intelligence, where readers of all genders can work through their feelings towards both their sexuality and the advancing state of machine consciousness. A necessary and cathartic figure, let’s hope that the Fembot will soon be accessible in the flesh; not just as a slave or tech-bauble for her human masters, but as a future friend, companion, and intelligent peer.

Works Cited

“Feminization.” Gender-ID, Your Gender Support Site. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <http://www.gender-id.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11&Itemid=15>.

Graham, Nicholas. “Hatsune Miku: Japanese HOLOGRAPH Plays Sold Out Concerts; Science Fiction Comes To Life (VIDEO).” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 11 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/11/hatsune-miku-japanese-holograph-_n_782442.html>.

Hsu, Tiffany. “Japanese Pop Star Hatsune Miku Takes the Stage — as a 3-D Hologram | Technology | Los Angeles Times.” Technology The Business and Culture of Our Digital Lives, from the L.A. Times. The L.A. Times, 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/11/japanese-pop-star-takes-the-stage-as-a-3-d-hologram.html>.

“John Naisbitt Quotes.” Find the Famous Quotes You Need, ThinkExist.com Quotations. 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <http://thinkexist.com/quotation/the_most_exciting_breakthroughs_of_the-st_century/181930.html>.

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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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