The Manmade Woman

I’ve been looking for over a month now, and I have to say: as far as well-known creation stories go, it is not easy to find one written by a woman, about women creating someone woman-identifying in science fiction[1]. I didn’t realize just how rare it is to read a woman-centric creation story ticking those three boxes until I started researching this very column, searching through science fiction narratives about female androids, by female authors, for one—just one, please, for the love of god— story where the android’s creator was a woman.

Why did those become the criteria I became obsessed with? Your guess is as good as mine. And if your guess is “because you knew such a story doesn’t exist, and you wanted to make a point by ripping off Alison Bechdel”, you’re probably on the right track. It should be noted that I am not the arbiter of what makes android-related fiction good, nor do I think that including female-identified androids will automatically make a story good, or important.

Still, it does seem like a story that should exist. So, I looked for it. And I looked. And I looked.

I even stretched the definition of android a bit in my search, as well as my criteria for female authorship. I reached way back to Pygmalion, which may very well have been told by a woman originally, but which features a man bringing to life the statue of a woman that he has sculpted and fallen in love with. I ran into the same problem with Genesis—even assuming the unknown originator of the story was female, Eve comes from Adam’s rib, and the whole creation process is thanks to a god with he/him pronouns.

From these two stories of creating a human form come a long tradition in western literature of male characters creating women. The narrative echoes of Pygmalion and Genesis are apparent, scanning science fiction from the 1800s forward, as the notion of humans creating human-like beings using non-biological reproductive means start becoming popular. And despite these many riffs, I couldn’t find what I wanted.  At a certain point, it occurred to me that there may not be very much woman-authored female creator/createe literature by virtue of women not having written science fiction for very long, but then I remembered that a woman originated the genre, and that she did so with a novel about a man creating a male being.

Women are no strangers to writing about the creation of androids; Mary Shelley may have been the first woman to write a science fiction story about creating a human-like being, but she was not the last. Some of the greatest and oldest riffs on the mortal creator story are by women. Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It is a masterpiece, and a nuanced discussion of gender, sex, and creation. But it is a story that centers on a male android created by a woman. And it misses my desired trifecta by one criterion.

My difficultly finding the female android story may also be a problem of pronouns, or of vague origins. Isaac Asimov, the go-to guy for android fiction, mentioned in his introduction to The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories that his robots are meant to be read as sexually neutral, though he follows this up with the confusing admission that they almost all have male names, and he treats them “all as male”.  It might be inferred that Asimov, along with other authors who use the pronouns he, him, and his for their androids, are using these pronouns in a now-defunct gender-neutral sense, where “he” is the filler pronoun for a person whose gender is unknown. Female androids are not present in their stories because gender and sex don’t really make sense to robots, or have no obvious bearing on the stories about androids that they’re trying to tell: “he” is a placeholder more than an identity.

And in plenty of stories, the creator of the android is a faceless, genderless corporation. The gender-free protagonist of Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries series has no one creator: the androids of the series are corporate creations, and the person or teams of people who created them are not the subject of much discussion.

There are countless other stories (good stories! Great stories!) combining aspects of my desired android narrative. There are so many that the fact that my female-centric android story has never been widely popularized is a bit of a statistical anomaly. I think there are also dozens of novels and short stories that do match my criteria, but that I simply haven’t read because I haven’t heard of them yet because the folks in charge of marketing such material may not know that a demand for it exists. If you are one of those people, here is the evidence you needed. Show this column to your boss.

 

 

[1] That is, excluding strictly biological mother-daughter stories by women

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