Gendering (Humanoid) Robots: Robo-sexism and Retro-Technology in Japan

Jennifer Robertson


In humans and humanoid robots alike, gender-femininity, masculinity-constitutes an array of learned behaviors that are cosmetically and sartorially enabled and enhanced. In humans, these behaviors are both socially and historically shaped, but are also contingent upon many situational influences, including individual choices and desires. As amply demonstrated in Japanese cultural practices past and present, human female and male bodies alike can perform a wide variety of femininities and masculinities. What about robot bodies? Japan leads the world in the manufacture of robots--humanoid robots--designed for use in the home and workplace. The desirability of a robot-mediated society, which includes interpersonal relationships with robots, is more openly expressed in Japan than in other nation-states with advanced robotics industries. What can human (and specifically Japanese) sex and gender dynamics tell us about how these humanoids are gendered, and vice versa?