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Wall-E, cute gendered technology

2009 February 23
by Hannah Mueller
Cute gendered technology

Cute gendered technology

In the interest of procrastination… I saw someone recommended Wall-E for the weeks after break.  I thought about this class when I saw this movie over the summer.  Really I like Wall-E a lot, but it blatantly puts a lot of gender stereotypes up on screen for the consumption of young viewers.  Here’s a breakdown of all the ways I can think of that Wall-E and Eve (technology) are stereotypically gendered:

Male                             Female

Wall-E                          Eve

Boxy                             Sleek

Dirty                             Clean

Earth (Home, Me)          Outer Space (Strange, Other)

Loveable                       Cold  (this can go both ways)

Guardian                       Life-bearer

It also gave me pause that Pixar made Eve (the savior of humanity) white with blue eyes, when they could have made her purple or something not overtly racialized.  But while Wall-E doesn’t move past these tired clichés, it does give us a female (robot) who far outshines the male with her use of technology.  If you all think there’s a lot more to say here then I would be up for watching it in class.

8 Responses
  1. February 23, 2009

    Gender stereotypes for WALL-E? I’m not sure you thought this through at all. The tough military recon bot is female, the musical-loving homebody is male. WALL-E cares for and supports a character with a mission to save the entire planet, technically playing playing second-banana and the typical “female love interest” role that Hollywood so often throws into movies willy-nilly to get women in the seats. Really, WALL-E is probably the least stereotyping movie you can find, but you know what they say: if you go looking for prejudice, you will find it. Time to take a step back and realize you’re attributing your own prejudices onto the film, not the other way around.

  2. Hannah Mueller permalink
    February 24, 2009

    I’m applying feminist literary criticism to the movie, not looking for prejudice or saying that the creators of Wall-E purposefully included stereotypes because they hate women (I’m sure they didn’t and don’t). These stereotypes ARE in the film, self-evidently, and the point is that they are so ingrained in our culture that we take them for granted. It’s a good point that Wall-E is a ‘musical-loving homebody’ and that, as I said, Eve has superior technology. I’m not saying there’s a simple dichotomy in the movie, but that it’s interesting because it’s complicated.

  3. Ruth Goodlaxson permalink
    February 24, 2009

    I don’t think it’s prejudice- and I don’t think Hannah was suggesting it was- but I think the filmmakers needed to find a way to impute gender on characters which are not human, and therefore not gendered in a way we are used to seeing. Looking at the ways the robots are gendered could reveal a lot about how we read gender in other ways; which characteristics were necessary to be masculine, and which were necessary to be read as feminine, is revealing of what we assume to be characteristics of male and female.

  4. Solomon Lutze permalink
    February 24, 2009

    I mean, yeah. Is there any reason to actually assume that Wall-e is male and Eve is female? Does it get said? Why do we believe that they are?

  5. The Doctor permalink
    February 24, 2009

    I think something to keep in mind is that stereotypes can be both used and subverted for both good and evil purposes. Let’s consider that a large portion of WALL-E is without speech or human characters, requiring the story told through image, body language, and robot-speak. WALL-E is gendered male; EVE is gendered female; younger, more inexperienced viewers can have trouble picking up on subtle nuances. Both characters possess characteristics that are stereotypical to their identified gender, true. Since the characters are robots and weren’t raised in human societies, any concept of gender they might have would be based on fifth-hand information. Take WALL-E and his movies. Pop culture is a great source for learning gender stereotypes, true… and given this was the little ‘bot’s only exposure to humanity for most of his life, his choosing to gender himself male (unless we’re assuming Buy ‘N Large made him a guy to begin with) would be based on exaggerations of male.

    Both characters also subvert their gender throughout the movie. (For example, WALL-E is definitely a dreamer with his head in the clouds, attracted to shiny things and a hopeless romantic. He’s more in touch with the natural world (what passes for it, anyway) and is clearly identifiable as a person, not just a machine. EVE is goal-oriented, extremely rational, and, at the beginning of the movie, more machine-like and cut off from emotions.)

    I would question the condemnation of using any stereotypes in fiction. Stereotypes are not necessarily used to mock others, oppress the masses, or support the patriarchy. They’re visual shorthand in a medium that doesn’t have the time to delve into the intricacies of everyone’s gender- not without sacrificing the plot and good storytelling, anyway*. Sometimes the only way to turn the tables on stereotypes is to use them. EVE, for example, while being sleeker and more desirable than WALL-E, is also your standard Amazonian Warrior Woman. The Buffy, the Zoe Washburn, the very pretty girl who can also kick ass six ways from Tuesday and do it well. To show capable women, you’ve got to have women.

    Hannah, I’d like to call into question a few of the entries on your male/female dichotomy. First, you labeled dirty as a masculine characteristic and clean as a feminine one. If you’re talking physically, then I can see how women are expected to keep up appearances and be very clean and beautiful all the time, whereas men are allowed to be slobs. If we look into this a little deeper, though, we come down to what these allowed behaviors mean. Men, society tells us, are perfect. Men have the correct body. Men do not need makeup, dieting, cosmetic surgery, or other procedures. Women are the ones with the bodies that “need” maintaining, that need to be primped and fawned over so they are correct. In this sense, it’s the men who are inherently “clean” while the women are very, very “dirty.”

    As far as lovable/cold, aren’t women generally considered to be the caring, emotional types whereas men aren’t connected with their emotions? The stone cold bitch is certainly one stereotype, but said bitch is considered to deviate from the norm- that is, a friendly, warm, caring female.

    I would also argue that WALL-E, being the titular character, is the hero of the movie. EVE might have started with that purpose, but it wasn’t until she met WALL-E that she began to change, rebelling against the system, and led humans (with the dirty-skinned, brown-eyed WALL-E) back home. Any further racist connotations can be explained away in that EVE is a Mac and WALL-E is a PC.

    *-Not that a movie can’t address individualized, nuanced gender and still be a good movie. It’s just a very weighty topic and since it wasn’t the entire point of the movie, there’s only so much we can expect from Pixar.

  6. Hannah Mueller permalink
    February 25, 2009

    You guys bring up a lot of good points. I think I was being super-critical with the “for the consumption of young viewers” comment, as if the characters in Wall-E were any more gendered than characters in all other movies. I just finished reading Judith Butler for another class; she questions the idea of a “person” onto which gender is projected, I think meaning that “I” don’t exist separately from my performance of my gender. So there’s no way that animated robotic characters could have been represented without a gender, because the audience would have no idea how to “read” their performances, and would constantly try to project a gender onto them.

    At the same time, as Ruth brought up, it’s revealing to look at how gender is constructed using stereotypes. It’s very true, Doc, that they’re ‘visual shorthand’ for norms we’re all familiar with. Here’s a question from Butler which strikes me as key to this discussion: “If repetition is bound to persist as the mechansim of the cultural reproduction of identites, then the crucial question emerges: What kind of subversive repetition might call into question the regulatory practice of identity itself?”

    Maybe for talking about Wall-E, this means that, by looking at how stereotypes get repeated, used and abused, and how they “go both ways,” we bring to light how silly it is to accept binary identities of gender. If women can be stereotypically one thing AND stereotypically the exact opposite, then what are we talking about when we say “women”? For example, the Loveable/Cold dichotomy. I was indeed thinking of the cold hard bitch cliché, a la Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (Anna Winstour I think from our panel Mon?). But as I pointed out to begin with and as you say, Doc, it goes both ways: women are often portrayed as the sensitive ones vs. unemotional men. But I wouldn’t say the bitch portrayal deviates from the norm–it’s another norm, a contradictory and thus a revealing one. Revealing in the sense that, we have to ask ourselves, is “woman” a valid cateogry if two opposite claims about “woman” are true/accepted at once?

    Dirty/Clean: Besides the common “women don’t like to get dirty” stereotype, I was especially thinking of a reading from this other gender class I keep bringing up. It was a 15th century sermon by St. Bernardino, where he amusingly explains that women are cleaner than men because men were formed from dirt but women were formed from Adam’s rib, which is clearly not as ‘dirty’. To prove his point, he claims that if you wash an already-clean man in one tub and an already-clean woman in the other, the man’s water will always turn out dirtier than the woman’s. But nowadays, as you very correctly point out, it’s women’s bodies that need to be ‘kept’ clean, more so than mens’. In this case, the contradicting stereotypes show how “male” and “female” are unstable categories because their definitions change over time.

    Wall-E mixes up the Guardian/Life-bearer binary, too, since Wall-E is often the one who needs protecting (though he makes the ultimate sacrifice in the end), and he and Eve find and save the plant life together. Actually, the story’s very subversive in one respect: Eve (being named Eve) totally inverts the old original sin/garden of Eden paradigm by being the female who brings life back to Earth, the opposite of dooming Earth to death through womanly weakness…nice.

  7. Melinda C. permalink
    February 25, 2009

    Man, I need to actually see this movie! Perhaps I should go add a vote for watching it as part of our class…

    Anyway, although I don’t have much to add myself, I did just remember a blog entry I read over the summer about gender and sexual orientation in Wall-E by a pretty infamous blogger named Kate Bornstein. I can’t say how much I agree with her, especially since I haven’t seen the movie, but it is certainly an interesting point of view to consider: Essentially, what she makes me wonder is why we automatically gender the robots in the first place…

  8. Marie permalink
    February 27, 2009

    I’m sorry to be barging in on your discussions, but this is so interesting that I just can’t help it. For myself, I LOVE Wall-E. LOVE. But, I think Hannah and others make some excellent points. I think that maybe the most basic pattern it comes down to is this idea of the male filling the valued, protagonist role. Women rarely fulfill this (and, I would say, even more rarely in movies meant to be seen by wide audiences, and/or of both sexes). Especially in modern movies, there’s a tendency to patronize women by putting her in a strong position but one that is not valued for the plot of the film (if you’ve seen “The Day After Tomorrow”, it’s like how Dennis Quaid’s wife is a surgeon, but he’s still the hero of the story). It’s kind of amazing to look back at movies from the 30’s and 40’s, when it was a Barbara Stanwyck picture or a Bette Davis picture and the guy was the attachment. And the women DRIVE! I would also say that it fills the standard idea of a woman in a “romantic comedy” always needing to learn something important in some way (as Doc says Eve doesn’t change until she meets Wall-E). Another way to think of it is that generally, male characters are considered universally identifiable, like a white character is often considered generalizable, whereas women and non-white characters have something that makes them only relatable to their own groups. The movie is Wall-E, not Eve, and Wall-E is most people’s favorite character, I would suspect. Sometimes, I think that the patronizing approach that a lot of moviemakers take, wanting to give women or girls a strong role model but still make the movie about the male character or from his point of view (for either personal or financial reasons), might be counteractive in a number of ways, because it’s like it legitimizes the secondary status. It’s like, “Women are great, they do lots of good things, just not the best or most important things.” And to Doc, while maybe you were implying this in your footnote, I would say that in order to really overcome gender stereotyping to the effect of no longer expecting behaviors or personality traits from people of a particular gender, that kind of non-normative gender HAS to happen in movies where it isn’t an issue at all. It has to be not the point of the movie for it to really ring true. Like, there are plenty of “girl-power” soccer movies where the girl is awesome and athletic and she beats the boys, but that’s the whole story line, and I don’t think anyone has taken it too seriously.

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