Gendered AI: Germane-ness Correlations

The Gendered AI series looks at sci-fi movies and television to see how Hollywood treats AI of different gender presentations. For example…

  • Do female- and male-presenting AIs get different bodies? Yes.
  • Are female AIs more subservient? No.
  • How does gender correlate to an AI’s goodness? Males are extremists.
  • Men are more often masters of female AIs. Women are more often masters of non-bindary AIs. Male AIs shy away from having women masters. No, really.

This last correlations post investigates the complicated question of which genders are assigned when gender is not germane to the plot. If you haven’t read the series intro, related germane-ness distributions, or correlations 101 posts, I recommend you read them first. As always, check out the live Google sheet for the most recent data.

Recall from the germane distribution post that the germane tag is about whether the gender is important to the plot. (Yes, it’s fairly subjective.)

  • If an AI character makes a baby via common biological means, or their sex-related organs play a critical role, then the gender of the character is highly germane. Rachel in the Blade Runner franchise gestates a baby, so her having a womb is critical, and as we’ve seen in the survey, gender stacks, so her gender is highly germane.
  • If an AI character has a romantic relationship with a mono-sexual partner, or is themselves mono-sexual, or they occupy a gendered social role that is important to the plot, the characters is listed as slightly germane. For example, all you’d have to do is, say, make Val Com bisexual or gay, and then they could present as female and nothing else in the plot of Heartbeeps would need to change to accommodate it.
  • If the character’s gender could be swapped to another gender and it not change the story much, then we say that the character’s gender is not germane. BB-8, for instance, could present as female, and nothing in the canon Star Wars movies would change.
Yes, this matters.

I need to clarify that I’m talking about plot—what happens in the show—rather than story—which entails the reasons it is told and effects—because given the nature of identity politics, a change in gender presentation would often change how the story is received and interpreted by the audience.

All the characters in Alien, for instance, were written unisex, to be playable by actors of any sex or gender presentation. So while it “didn’t matter” that Ripley was cast as Sigourney Weaver, it totally did matter because she was such a bad-ass female character whose gender was immaterial to the plot (we hadn’t had a lot of those at this point in cinematic history). She was just a bad-ass who happened to be female, not female because she “needed” to be. So, yes, it does matter. But diegetically, had she been Alan Ripley, the plot and character relationships of Alien would not need to change. He still damned well better save Jonesy.

So what do we see when we look at the germane-ness of AI characters in a mostly-binary way?

Sure enough, when gender matters to the plot—slightly or highly—the gender presentation of the character is 5.47% female, or about 7% more likely than presenting male. When the gender presentation does not matter, that value is flipped, being around 7% more male than female, and around 9% more other than female.

The sample size for highly germane is vanishingly small, and one would expect the coupling to include a male, so the under-noise values for that category is not too surprising. But the other categories. Holy cow.

Put another way…

AI characters more often present as female only when they need to be.

Otherwise, they’re more often male or not gendered at all.

That is shitty. It’s like Hollywood thinks men are the default gender, and I know I just said it, but I’m going to stay it again—that’s shitty. Hey, Hollywood. Women are people.

Ayup.
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