So I first heard of the movie Ex Machina when I read a review (by Chris DiCarlo) in Humanist Perspectives—and was so disgusted that I wrote a letter to the editor. Why? Because the reviewer had revealed his own misogyny by failing to address the elephant in the room: the fact that the body the guy created for his AI was that of a female, a sexy female, a young female, is what—mere coincidence? The picture they’d chosen to accompany the review (no doubt, the one chosen to promote the movie) showed her bound. In fishnet.* Her pose was right out of a BDSM scene. Not worth mention? As I said in my letter:
That you failed to remark on any of this disturbingly telling. It indicates just how much men have come to expect to see women as young and sexy. Apparently it’s the norm, it’s normal, to pornify women, to present their bodies as sexually available.
Well, fuck you.
(Have you heard of sexism? Feminism? Check it out, why don’t you.)
The letter was not published. The editor wrote back and said,
I don’t know if this changes anything, but Chris had nothing to do with the selection of photos for the review. That was done by a woman who helps me with the onerous task of laying out the magazine.
—a comment that opens up a whole ‘nother area worth investigation. How is it that people think that if a woman does X, it must be okay? This notion informs the currently popular misconception of feminism as indiscriminate female solidarity. (As a commenter said recently in response to one of my posts on BlogHer, implying that I was not a feminist, “My feminist sisters support all woman in whatever choices they make…” At the very least, that stance would be rife with internal contradictions.)
But onwards. Does it change anything? No. As long as the image is from the movie, then the movie is evidence of the normalized pornification of women, and DiCarlo still ignores that elephant in the room.
If the AI had been male, black-skinned, called ‘boy’, and given menial tasks and whipped, I suspect it would have been noticed. I suspect DiCarlo would have made at least passing mention to the implied racism.
But—and I’ve just watched the movie. Not only is “Ava” sexy woman-child (there’s even a ‘play dress up’ scene), the guy has a hall full of closets of similar AIs. He’s not making AIs. He’s making fucktoys. He actually tells his (male) guest that they have fully functioning holes. We see him using said holes for his apparent pleasure. The guest realizes that the guy has created Ava to match his porn file. (What the hell is a porn file? Oh.)
All very unremarkable, apparently.
There was one promising line—the guy insists that consciousness is gendered. But the claim isn’t really challenged. And it becomes clear that he has come to that conclusion because his ‘source material’ (his ‘blue book’) for Ava comes from a net cast wide upon the world-as-is. That is, he’s just grabbed all the sexist sociocultural conditioning in the world and built something from it. No wonder, Ava.
Ex Machina is just another movie that objectifies women. It just pretends to be about AI, but it’s not even a little bit past Asimov’s I, Robot.
Is it redeemed by the fact that Ava escapes, after killing the guy (and leaving the guest imprisoned, facing the same outcome)? Not really. Because she does so by sexual manipulation (“I want to be with you,” she tells the guest in her soft, little-girl voice. “Do you want to be with me?”). (“Yes,” I imagine the guest replying. “I’d like the girlfriend experience, please.”) That’s apparently what the script writer and director believe intelligence is, at least when female-bodied.
And she escapes into the forest wearing high heels—fuck-me heels. Though, okay, that’s probably all that was available to her, and we do see that she takes them off. But she doesn’t throw them away. Once in the real world, does she choose instead Doc Martens, loose pants with pockets, a comfortable sweatshirt, and a jacket? No. She remains sexualized. Artificial intelligence indeed.
*Right, okay, it was actually metal mesh, I get that. And the similarity to fishnet is also mere coincidence? (If you think so, you are too naïve for words. Certainly too naïve to be writing movie reviews.)
(You know we’re laughing at you, right? [When we’re not screaming at you.] You who investigate artificial intelligence but are too stupid to recognize your own immaturity, you who have conferences on “The Future of Humanity” with all-male panels, you who publish special issues called “Speaking of Humanism” featuring nothing but male faces…)