Robots are not only contemporary figures of fascination; they have been a source of awe, intrigue, and trepidation for several centuries, and within cinema, robots intertwine with the representation of women. With the rise of science fiction films about artificial intelligence, the mechanization of gender in cinematic form cannot be ignored. This female robot even has a particular name: The Fembot.
As a bridge between female and robot, the fembot was first coined in the 1976 television show The Bionic Woman. Since then, the fembot has appeared in numerous science fiction movies from blockbusters like The Terminator to independent films such as Robot Stories. Crossing all genres with a science fictional bent, the word fembot may ring some recognition if you think back to your first viewing of the 1997 comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Remember when Frau Farbissina, Dr. Evil’s henchwoman, introduces the Fembots, in her shrill German voice? “Bring in the Fembots!”
As a nod to Bionic Women, the fembots in Austin Powers were scantily clad blond bombshells, their lean voluptuous bodies juxtaposed with machine gun breasts; but not all fembots in film follow this archetype. There is a wide variety of cinematic representations of the fembots. As theorist of cyborgs, Donna Harraway once famously wrote, “The replicant Rachael in the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner stands as the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion.” Unlike the blond Fembots of Austin Powers, Rachael offers another understanding of the Fembot. As films about AI are on the rise, and our dystopic futures seem close to the present, fembots in film teach us not only about machines, but the transgression of gender.
Whether the rise of the robots seem exciting or frightening news, it is clear that fembots teach us what it means to be human. They teach us about science fiction film. Because fembots are not all made equally. Some fembots in film are complex,…