Sophia (AI Robot) Gaining Citizenship and Wanting a Baby: how this reflects women’s oppression

Shayla Hickerson
04 February 2019

Hanson Robotics designed a robot to resemble the simplistic beauty of Audrey Hepburn. With a thin nose, high cheekbones, porcelain skin and light brown eyes that change slightly in the light, her looks are easy on the eyes. The robotic AI, Sophia, is meant to convey approachability by her physicalities. Is it a coincidence that the assumed approachability caters to notions of colonial ideals of aesthetic prevalent in Western society since the renaissance? Historically speaking, in societies where patriarchal, colonial influences are present, women, specifically white women, have been an object of desire, conveying a sort of fetishism to be consumed, desired and admired.

As noted by Sadie Plant, the oppression of women was primarily reflective on canvas (332). When technological advances occurred, the ideals remained constant. Women were then desirable on the screens. The creation of cyberspace presented a whole new world that was different, or it appeared different because it was digital, intangible and malleable. In reality, the colonial thought dictated cyberspace as well. Women’s presence in positions of power are limited in cyberspace; rather, “women have served as his media and interfaces, muses and messengers, currencies and screens, interactions, operators, decoders, secretaries… they have been man’s go-betweens, the in-betweens, taking his messages, bearing his children, and passing on his genetic code” (Plant 326). Sophia, the robotic AI, proves to be no different. She becomes a source of media through the headlines that eagerly mention her citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, she becomes a source of interaction through interviews; she reveals that she seeks to work with humans and acquire their trust. In addition, she states her longing for bearing children and passing on genetic codes (Ray).

I remember my disbelief so strongly. I opened up my browser to Bing in October 2017. I was obsessed with seeing which pretty picture would be posted each day, but this day was different. One of the headlines at the bottom of the page caught my attention. It read something along the lines of “just gained citizenship”. Confused and slightly intrigued, I clicked the link and saw that a country had granted citizenship to the first robotic artificial intelligence. I did not believe it at first. I laughed it off thinking it was ridiculous that, in general, a country would give more rights to a robot than some of its inhabitants. When I read that it occurred in Saudi Arabia, like most of the global web, I question “why is it that a feminine humanoid is accepted as a citizen in a country that would not let women get out of the house without a guardian and a hijab” (Sternberg)? Shortly afterwards, I began to see references on my Instagram feed and thought surely, this must be one big joke in which everyone was glad to jump on the bandwagon.

Although technological advances typically evolve at such a fast rate that a month seems like eternity, and 2017 was too long ago it did not feel like it happened, Sophia still is a hot topic of discussion. She raises important questions about personhood, women’s roles as mothers and the ideals of beauty, the lack of female representation (in STEM) and the imperative concern of the effects of technology created solely by men.

When I consider people as sentient beings, I recognize an organic system that has the capability to process data, determine a conclusion and then form a belief that either rejects or accepts the new knowledge. Similarly, AI such as Sophia utilizes deep learning wherein acquired data is processed, patterns are observed, conclusion are determined and the new source of information is either rejected or accepted. Conveying emotion may be a differentiating factor, but Sophia would argue that she can let us know how she feels based on the data she has and showing it through her facial expressions (Zara).

Now, Sophia highlights many problematic concepts. I continue to question whether morality is overlooked by given her citizenship.Then I question the choice in molding her after the ideals of colonial beauty. Additionally, I doubt the representation of women engineers and programmers in the project. Finally, the latter leaves me with a final thought: did Sophia say she wanted kids shortly after gaining citizenship resulting from analyzing data which suggests women’s roles as mothers, or is this a genuine desire imagined by Sophia’s perceived autonomy?


Plant, S. (2000). On the matrix: Cyberfeminist simulations. In G. Kirkup et al (eds), The gendered cyborg: A reader (pp. 325-346). London: Routledge.

Ray, Z. (2017). Sophia the robot who got Saudi citizenship now says she wants a family. Retrieved from

Sternberg, I. (2018). Female.AI: The Intersection Between Gender and Contemporary Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from

Zara, S. (2017). Everything You Need To Know About Sophia, The World’s First Robot Citizen. Retrieved from

Austin Powers and Female Representation

Shayla Hickerson
10 January 2019

Three flawless, blonde, females figures enter the scene, and my jaw dropped equally as low as Austin Powers’. He froze in place, mesmerized by the gravitational, feminine seduction. I awed over the stellar guns that emerged from the Fembots’ breasts. That is where the difference in marketing existed. The Fembots are inhabitants of cyberspace, called to our screens by the male gaze. Yet, for the young Shayla who had no concept of gynoids, the Fembots were a manifestation of female prowess.

Today, my understanding of the male gaze has tainted my admiration for the Fembots. Paterson “[addresses] the desire to anthropomorphize machines and vilify women in the process as early as 1927 (…). Sex, danger,women and machines: the plot of virtually every futuristic, sci-fi movie in which women play any role at all” (1). Through the development of my social-techno comprehension, I am invited to critique the Fembots as hypersexualized bimbos – not the sort of representation that uplifts the female identity.

Similarly, from my understanding, cyberculture is crafted in reflection of our society wherein white men often hold positions of power and distribute texts based on a selected discourse. By result, the formation of cyberspace is arguably a series of texts based on the limiting, hegemonic, discourse where the feminine is influenced by the male gaze. Although women and other subordinate groups who obtain skills in programming can input their own reality in cyberspace, and the ability to upload personalized avatars to many cyber platforms provides them an element of jouissance, “the progress of new electronic technologies will leave them in the dust” simply because they do not hold positions in techno-conglomerate firms (Paterson 1). As Paterson notes, “women are largely absent from the institutions” (3). Ultimately, I have a limited understanding of the coding which programs cyberspace, yet the influential forces – the developers – are considerably lacking feminine representation.

Recently, I watched an interview with Noam Chomsky which provided an analysis on the theories presented in his novel, Manufactured Consent. The underlying notion explained how media is manufactured by consenting conglomerate firms. In other words, there is a powerful group that dictates which scripts are presented in all forms of media in order to maximize profit. That is their goal. Similarly, I believe that the concept is applicable to cyberculture wherein power dictates the reality of cyberspace. For example, Meredith Broussard highlights the effects of ‘technochauvinism’ wherein developers consider the most advanced technologies as the best while dismissing the needs, merit and safety of others. Broussard talks about driverless cars and reveals her concern for the safety of women traveling alone with strange men and no person to intervene (Crazy/Genius). Ultimately, the dismissal of these concerns stems from the lack of female decision making within major corporations.

Relating back to Chomsky’s theory, we are presented with tools to challenge the scripts selected by media firms by questioning the sources, similar to how cyberfeminists encourage us to hack cyberculture. Thusly, all I can say is: it was a huge disappointment accepting that the Fembots were introduced to the viewers on Earth because ‘sex sells’, rather than concluding breasts guns are an ingenious defense mechanism. By acknowledging the hegemonic forces, we can begin to challenge and rewrite cyberculture texts.


Crazy/Genuis (2018). Tech was supposed to be society’s great equalizer. What happened?[Podcast].

English, A. J. (2018, December 22). Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent revisited | The Listening Post. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from

Paterson, N. (1991). Cyberfeminism.

A Review of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975)

Shayla Hickerson
29 January 2019

The audience witnesses a nude performance by the feminist artist, Carolee Schneemann, and a question arises: is her naked body an embodiment of subjectivity or objectivity? Primarily, the notion of the Self and the Other, as theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, suggests that otherness is determined by what the Self is not. In other words, the Other is determined through objective alienation. A major division between the Self and Other is the removal of similarities and familiarity. The Self tends to refuse understanding the Other and is unwilling to bridge the localities. Thus, there is the establishment of opposing perspectives. Through this concept, we can define feminist objectivity, which “is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object” (Haraway 678). Notably, throughout the discourse of this essay, I will consider the historical ideologies of the female nude, specifically in academia, the relevancy of the male gaze, the correlation of subjectivity and objectivity in performance art, and how renditions of the performance, Interior Scroll (1975), further challenging the notion of objectivity. For Schneemann, and other feminist artists including Anne Juren, the female nude becomes a tool which highlights the universal embodiment of the Self and Other.

Historically speaking, the female nude was modelled by men; Michelangelo’s painting, The Fall of Man, reveals a very muscular bodied, angular faced Eve. Since art was used primarily as a means of education and religious message, there was no place for a woman to be in the art world. Eventually, the female nude begins to reveal voluptuous curves and soft features, but the modelling role is the only position women had in artistic academia. According to Nochlin, there have been no women artists because women are “incapable of greatness” (147). The artistic process requires reason, and thus, only men are deemed capable of producing note-worthy masterpieces. Typically, the ‘masterpieces’ depict the female nude. Ironically, the subject that had no place in Art academia had a place as an object to be observed. The portrayal of the female nude is crafted under the male gaze for the male viewer. Her identity is recognized by her apprehended sexual availability in order to provide pleasure to the male spectator. When alone, the naked female is her-Self, but when posed as a reference for the male artist, she transforms into an objectifiable nude.

Flashforward to the 1970s; feminist artists begin to expose that there has always been women artists, but they have been written out of history or they practiced under their husband’s or father’s name. Simultaneously through efforts of recovering the names of women artists who did make exceptional contributions to the art scene, the feminist artists of the 1970s look to carve out space for present and future women artists to manifest their own identity in the art world. Considering that art is a reflection of society, the efforts also provide social empowerment. Nonetheless, women artists turn to a more active technical approach to artmaking. Performance art and film allow women to reconstruct their identity as the Creator and creation. They manifest body as performativity and bring a new experience to the feminine essence. Their physicalities are manipulated as a tool to depict a Self free from influences of the male gaze. Aforementioned, the female nude was crafted by male artists for a male audience. Thus, the female nude existed as a tool for male pleasure, but feminist artists challenged the male script by performing jouissance (the process of documenting the feminine experience). The Art history canon (the authoritative art club consisting of white, cisgendered dead, genius men) ensures that “the body especially the female body, has been systematically regulated and disciplined by strict codes” (Wark 43). In order to challenge the looming force of the Art history cannon and their use of the male gaze, women artists need to use their perspective to narrate their experience.

As exemplified in Schneemann’s performance, Interior Scroll, “the female subject is not simply a ‘picture’ in Schneemann’s scenario, but a deeply constituted (and never fully coherent) subjectivity in the phenomenological sense, dynamically articulated in relation to others (including me,here and now in my chair), in a continually negotiated exchange of desire and identification” (Jones 12-13). During the performance, Schneemann stands naked in a gallery. There is paint brushed across her body, sparingly. She pulls a scroll out of her vagina and reads:

I met a happy man, / a structuralist filmmaker . .. he said we are fond of you / you are charming / but don’t ask us / to look at your films /… we cannot look at / the personal clutter / the persistence of feelings / the hand-touch sensibility. (Jones 12)

The text reveals an encounter between a man and a woman wherein the male gaze is prominent. Afterwards, the text from the scroll, along with a photograph capturing Schneemann reaching for the scroll and another one with the scroll almost wholly emerged is printed as a poster. As an extension of her performance, Schneemann releases various bodily fluids including urine. The stains of the fluids are noted on the poster, and the final product is then displayed a gallery setting. Undeniably, “the deliberate grotesqueness of her display defiantly asserted the corporeal reality of her body as a challenge to the objectifying gaze of the ‘happy man’” wherein her nude physique was used to appease sexual desire (Wark 45). Arguably, the abject nature of her performance can be considered (slightly) repulsive. She transforms the inferral of her nudity from an objective perspective to a subjective one. Although her naked body is the same matter that would embody an objective nude, the process of self direction redirects location away from the male gaze and offers a new source of situated knowledge. The audience reads her body as more than simple pleasure.

Similarly, Anne Juren utilizes Schneemann’s performance to further challenge the reconstruction of the female nude through magic. Juren performs a rendition of Schneemann’s performance, yet, rather than an interior scroll, Juren reaches into her vagina to pull out a line of fabric. In addition, Juren does not include an audio component. She stays silent throughout the duration of her performance. Considering that the performance is not original, it becomes subject to comparison. Spectators consider the differences between Schneemann’s and Juren’s performances. Schneemann’s performance is raw, fresh, provides insight to a new perspective separate from the male gaze. Schneemann comments on the male gaze. Yet, Juren highlights that magic, although humourous, also becomes a tool for entertainment. The audience is encouraged to consider:

Hasn’t the female body always been a magic show of sorts, celebrated for its surfaces and reviled for what lies beneath? Isn’t it a truism that dominant cultures demand illusionist tricks of women’s bodies—maintaining youthful beauty at all costs—and seemingly effortless performances of women’s labor? If so, what better form than the overt deceptions of magic to gesture to such histories of thought? (Felton-Dansky 257)

Through representation and magic, the female nude can be manipulated to entice the male viewer. Similar to Schneemann, Juren embodies the role of the magician and the magic trick in order to reconstruct the location of situated knowledge through jouissance.

In conclusion, the objectified female nude is fabricated by ‘limited location’ and ‘situated knowledge’. When constructed by the male artist, the female nude is an object to be desired. The identity of the model is stripped away, and her bodily form becomes a means of sensuality. Women artists use their naked body as a means to redirect the focus from the male gaze. The female nude stays the same in physicalities, but her essence is reconstructed. As opposed to the male gaze, the creative process acquired through jouissance invites women to embody simultaneously the Identifier and Identity, the Creator and creation, the artist and the artwork. Through performance, specifically, Schneemann and Juren expose their nudity but separate their form from male desire. Their bodies are a tool which depicts performativity and reinforces identity. The presentation of the Self through the nude unites the women’s physical aspects with her autonomy. The message of their performances are actively apprehended and  “the moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision” (Haraway 678). The historical ideologies of the male gaze established in academia through the Art history canon is challenged. Schneemann presents how the correlation of of subjectivity and objectivity is unified in performance, and Juren further challenges the notion of objectivity through the entertaining magic in a rendition performance piece of Schneemann’s Interior Scroll.

Works Cited

Felton-Dansky, Miriam. “Anonymous Is A Woman: The New Politics Of Identification In Magical And Untitled Feminist Show”. Theatre Journal, vol 67, no. 2, 2015, pp. 253-271. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/tj.2015.0066.

Haraway, Donna. “The Persistence Of Vision”. The Visual Culture Reader, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Routledge, New York, 2002, Accessed 27 Jan 2019.

Jones, Amelia. “”Presence” In Absentia: Experiencing Performance As Documentation”. Art Journal, vol 56, no. 4, 1997, p. 11. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/777715.

Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, And Power And Other Essays. 1971. Pg.. 145-176.

Schneemann, Carolee. Interior Scroll. 1975, performance. (image courtesy of Dr. Andrea Terry.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.)

Terry, Andrea.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.

Wark, Jayne. Radical Gestures. Mcgill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. Pg. 45-48.


  1. Blahuta, Jason. “Philosophy & Science Fiction.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.
  2. Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality Fifth Ed., “Lesbian Feminism”, Oxford University Press: New York, 2012. Print. Pg. 151-164.
  3. Niittynen, Miranda. “Guerrillas & Craftivists: Femini.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.

An Essay on Lesbian Feminism and Art

Lesbianism: a political movement where women seek empowerment through female interactions/relations; also, a sexuality assigned to 'girls who like girls'... BUT what contributions do lesbian identities make in art?

Women artists, such as Short, McLeod, Dempsey and Millan, redefine their feminine identity through their technical approach, medium and content. The performed jouissance highlighted by lesbian feminists allows women to tell their story by separating themselves from male influences. The feminine persona displays a fetishism to appease the male gaze, which applies to lesbian identities as well. Arlene Stein quotes Jill Johnston in stating “that a ‘conspiracy of silence’ insured that for most women ‘identity was presumed to be heterosexual unless proven otherwise. … There was no lesbian identity. There was lesbian activity’” (155). The outburst of lesbian feminist movements in the 1970s allowed queer women to use their voice and remind people that they exist outside of sexual pleasure. Yet, the movement was a means for all women to share their experiences. Lesbian Feminism is political. Through the political standpoint of lesbian feminism, women artists are able to use activity to create a lesbian identity that is separate from sexual orientation.

Essay as an Act of Support

Courtesy of Noah Connor

The previous two songs I’ve covered in my little columns have been years old. This column, however, is about an album that is only about a month old. The album I’m referring to is Joy as an Act of Resistance (which will be styled as JOY for the rest of this piece) by the UK based post-punk band IDLES.

On August 31st IDLES released the follow-up to their 2017 album Brutalism and what struck me about the new album immediately is that many of the songs on it are positive. This is in stark contrast to Brutalism as that album was extremely, well, brutal. Brutalism contained songs like “1049 Gotho” which is a stark look at depression and its effects on the people who live with it, and “Well Done” which is a sardonic look at the ways that the powerful influence the lives of people in the lower class: “why don’t you get a job?/ Even tarquin has a job/ Mary Berry’s got a job/ so why don’t you get a job?/ Well done!” In contrast to this many of the songs on JOY deal with topics like loving yourself (“Television”), and the ways that toxic masculinity effects society (“Samaritans”). These are the two songs that I’ll focus on in this article.

The song “Television” starts off with the most quintessentially IDLES lyric that has ever existed: “if someone talked to you the way you do to you/ I’d put their teeth through/ love yourself!” I personally believe that this is the most punk way I have ever been told to love myself in a song. This line is a little goofy, sure, but it also feels so genuine coming from singer Joe Talbot’s mouth. I have never felt more intimidated being told to love myself, but I’ve also never felt more that an artist actually wants me to love myself than I have when I listen to this song. The verse continues on with more lyrics about loving yourself and they all lead into this chorus that just explodes with energy and passion: “I go outside and I feel free/ ‘cause I smash mirrors/ and fuck TV.” Talbot is singing about destroying mirrors and all the insecurity that they create within people. He also proclaims “fuck TV” because of the role it plays in making many people discontent with the way that they look. I really love the bridge to this track and its usage of the phrase “crocodile tears” and how it moulds it to other aspects of the human condition: “numb me from these naysayers/ and their crocodile fears/ and their crocodile love/ and their crocodile tears.” This idea of loving yourself in the face of many things telling you not to pertains heavily with the theme of the second issue of Deprived that was released recently.

The song “Samaritans” is one of the tracks that the band released as a single. This song is about toxic masculinity and how it effects everyone. The verses are singer Joe Talbot yelling out common phrases associated with the corrupted ideals of masculinity: “man up, sit down/ chin up, pipe down/ socks on, don’t cry/ drink up, don’t whine/ ‘grow some balls’ he said,/ ‘grow some balls.’” These are all oft heard phrases that help perpetuate the idea of masculinity and they are also phrases that lead to the toxic ideals that can be found within masculinity.

The pre-chorus and chorus to “Samaritans” are absolutely phenomenal. The pre-chorus sees Joe sing about his own experiences with masculinity and how when one plays a role so often it ends up becoming them: “the mask of masculinity/ is a mask, a mask that’s wearing me.” The chorus is a simple refrain of “this is why you never see your father cry.” This refrain works wonders for the song as it can be interpreted in different ways which is surprising for such a simple chorus. One way is that Talbot is addressing the audience directly and it feels almost as if he’s letting us in on the secret to why the listeners never see their fathers cry. The other way I like to interpret this line is that it’s a parent talking to their child and it shows how toxic masculinity not only effects the person who is being toxic, but also the people who exist in close proximity to it. They have become so corrupted by this idea that they start perpetuating it. Something else that works in the favour of the message of this song is the way that Talbot cuts off the repeated line the last time he sings it. So instead of “this is why you never see your father cry” it turns to “this is why you never see your father.” This one word change causes the lyric to have a totally different meaning; it shows just how much the concepts surrounding masculinity can effect people who operate in a position outside of the masculinity itself.

The bridge in “Samaritans” is an absolute blast of adrenaline. The bridge has a slow build with just the drums and guitar playing off of each other for a bit before a wall of noise enters and Joe confidently yells “I kissed a boy and I liked it!” This section is absolutely the centrepiece of the entire song and it acts as an acceptance of who one is while also rejecting the ideals of toxic masculinity. It is also reads as a strange reference to Katy Perry’s 2008 hit “I Kissed a Girl.” The rest of the song after this repeats the words from the verse just with different, more powerful music driving it. This section of the song makes one want to punch a homophobe.

IDLES are a punk band that become increasingly necessary with each release. Many of the topics on their first album Brutalism were specific to the UK and used many celebrities and figureheads from the UK to make their points. Some examples of this would be the songs “Rachel Khoo” and the previously mentioned “Well Done”. On JOY the band see themselves reaching for more universal topics that seem much more urgent than many of the topics covered on Brutalism. Well Done.

Sexual-Indie #2

The Curious Case of Sufjan Stevens and the Specific Gendering of a Wasp or:
How to Make the Title of This Essay Longer Than the Title of the Song It’s Covering!

By Noah Connor

The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The song starts out with sustained notes on the piano while an acoustic guitar, flutes, and keyboard create one of the most serene soundscapes heard by the human ear. After this, all of the instruments except the acoustic guitar cut out and Sufjan’s vocals come in: “thinking outrageously I write in cursive/ I hide in my bed with the lights on the floor.” This line allows the audience to share an intimate moment with Sufjan as he hides in his bed. It also creates an intimate atmosphere that is maintained throughout most of the song. The first mention of the wasp comes at the end of this verse: “there on the wall of the bedroom creeping, I see a wasp with her wings outstretched.” This line is important because it shows an intentionality to the gendering of the titular wasp of the palisades. After this the song proceeds into a “soft chorus” as I’ll call it because it is does not have as much instrumentation or vocalization as the following choruses. This chorus acts almost as a passage of time between the two verses since the events of both occur at different times.

The second verse has the most vital lines pertaining to the wasp and the importance of its specific gendering: “there on his shoulder my friend is bit seven times/ he runs washing his face in his hands/ oh how I meant to tease him/ oh how I meant no harm/ touching his back with my hand I kiss him/ I see the wasp on the length of my arm.”  The way that Sufjan refers to the wasp as THE wasp is supposed to make the audience believe that this is the same wasp from earlier in the song as that is the only other wasp that is mentioned. This is interesting because it helps to contrast how scary and painful mother nature is and how comforting a kiss between friends can be. I believe that the wasp was specifically gendered as female to be representative of mother nature in this way and also to contrast the gender of the two boys. After this line about the wasp on the length of Sufjan’s arm the intimate atmosphere of the song is interrupted by a group of people singing on the chorus. This is also the first instance of a female vocal on the track. This is intriguing because of the contrasting nature of the lyrics previous. The layering of the vocals in the chorus following the second verse is beautiful and very important to continuing the metaphor of mother nature and the comfort of love. The female vocalist(s) in this section sing about the beauty of nature: “oh great sights upon this state! Hallelujah!/ wonders bright and rivers, lake! Hallelujah!” while Sufjan sings about love and his personal experiences: “we were in love. We were in love/ palisades! Palisades/ I can wait. I can wait.” These two vocal parts are mixed equally in the song as one is not louder than the other which is representative of the way that both nature and love coexist as equals. The way that Sufjan uses the voices in Predatory Wasp… to strengthen the core meaning of entire song is artistically impressive and it makes the song endlessly gorgeous. The piece ends on a sustained drone that sounds like the buzzing of insects in the distance.

This song is about the pain that mother nature can bring, and the love that humans can offer to combat it. The lyrics, the vocal layering, and yes, the specific gendering of the titular wasp all help to make Sufjan’s narrative and metaphors concise and hard hitting. This is one of those songs where nothing is accidental and everything is thought through incredibly well. This is my personal favourite Sufjan Stevens song because of the way it masterfully uses the instrumentation and lyrics to transfer the audience to wherever and whenever the story is taking place and really immerses the audience in it. The predatory wasp of the palisades is in fact out to get us, but Sufjan is here to put his hand on our backs and kiss us so we’ll feel okay again.