Masculinity in Dystopian Science Fiction: Masculinity Construction in the Context of Gender Roles in R.U.R.

Masculinity in Dystopian Science Fiction: Masculinity Construction in the Context of Gender Roles in R.U.R.

Meltem Dağcı

Although it is known that the gender gap between professions continues both in the world and in the slowdown of developments in the field of artificial intelligence, algorithmic technologies have brought the relationship between robotics, gender, artificial intelligence, and professions to the forefront. In this context, some studies have investigated whether there is a gender-based difference in social life in terms of accepting and adopting the existence of robots. Due to the developments in artificial intelligence systems, artificial intelligence engineers have technologies that can produce robots or load different algorithms on the robot. The most difficult thing in the field of artificial intelligence is to prevent gender inequality in the field and to work so that artificial intelligence does not turn into a technology that develops under the patriarchal mentality. In this context, there are some studies investigating whether there is a gender-based difference in social life in accepting and adopting the existence of robots.

By analyzing Karel Čapek’s male robots in the play R.U.R. (1920) and their performance of masculinity, this paper illuminates how, according to the text, the concepts of masculinity can also be transferred through machines. The human creation project of the positivist old Rossum and the industrial knowledge and capitalist leanings of the young Rossum reinforce the purpose of the fiction. An analogy with God can be made for the idea of a human creation project. The human-robot duo is also suitable for this situation. He wants the real person to reflect himself with the artificial person. We see the purpose of being God through our belief that he will see man as imperfect and incomplete and create something better. Rossum’s robots are intelligent and skilled mechanical workers who initially serve the “human master.” It may be ideal for production, but it lacks human sensibilities, emotions, and reproduction. Čapek wants us to see the insatiable appetite of capitalism (Turan, 1-2). The idea of being a god is the product of a traditional masculine mentality, and as you can see, the idea of being a god in R.U.R. was again put forward by a man.

Rossum’s aim is to eliminate inequality between people by integrating robots into the system. Thus, the class difference that exists between humans will be between humans and robots. While all humanity lives in prosperity, robots who feel nothing endure hardship. It allows us to understand whether there is a perceptual, behavioral, or intellectual difference between male and female robots (Showkat 2018; Yan 2014; Hung 2012; Kuo vd. 2009; Nomura vd. 2006).

There are five central characters in R.U.R.: Marius, Sulla, Radius, Primus, and Helena. As can be understood from the character structure, there are two female robots. These two female robots, Sulla and Helena, are labed robotka by Čapek to symbolize femininity. It will be seen that most of the robots and executive robots in R.U.R. are male. Among this branch of characters are ten male robots.

The masculine gaze has also infiltrated the way females see, judge, and evaluate themselves. Women are forced to be drawn to the images produced by the masculine gaze; they are conditioned to fill this masculine frame. It is the pressure to conform or simply accept the patriarchal viewpoint, to be accepted and approved by it, or to tolerate being seen as such. It also shapes the way women think and know about their own bodies, abilities, and place in the world. The dialogue between Helen and Domin in R.U.R. is a testament to that. Domin insists on a situation involving Helena’s body, forcing her into a situation in which she is not comfortable. The male robot persistently touches the female robot’s private areas and body. It is not possible for Helena to consent and approve this situation because she is disturbed by the unnecessary insistence and behavior of the male robot. She does not want it to come close to her body. It is seen that Helena cannot clearly express the discomfort inflicted upon her body. Based on Helena’s reaction, Domin diverts the conversation to another area with a different question. Thus, Domin speaks in a traditionally masculine manner, imposing his opinion on the other side. The dialogue representing the masculine mentality is as follows:

Domin: Thank you. Would you do me the favor of lowering your veil?
Helen: Of course. You want to see my face. . .
Domin: Sir?
Helena: Could you please let go of my hand?
Domin: (dropping) I’m so sorry. I forgot.
Helena: (drops her veil) You want to know if I’m a spy. How careful are you here?
Domin: (looking at her with deep interest) Hmmm, of course! We. . .we are! (Čapek 26)

While the traditionally masculine view encourages women to devalue themselves and to respect men, patriarchy, and the values ​​they reinforce, it prevents women from becoming stronger, getting out from under the power and control of the masculine view, and gaining the ability to defend themselves. So, living under the male gaze involves the power of looking, which determines how men look at women, how women look at themselves, and how they look at other women. Seeing and judging themselves and other women from this perspective is extremely hurtful, worthless, and destructive as women try to affirm and establish their own values ​​within this perspective (Arslan). In the syntax between male and female robots in dialogues and daily conversations, it is seen that the male robots speak with a dominant, masculine mentality. This shows that in terms of the concept of gender in society, we can encounter a strong, invincible, authoritarian, and masculine language in the world of men. The dismantling of patriarchal masculinity first begins in language. Avoiding sexist expressions in daily speech and language use ensures gender equality. The development process in language is positively reflected in the expressions of men towards women.

Journalist and writer Zehra Çelenk expresses the following about masculinity, arrogance, and the borderline: the fact that writing is an act of “drawing a boundary, forming a framework” is remarkable in itself. Used as the broader, plural meaning of “border,” “owner” becomes a representation of many things that surround the world when taken to mean “border is honor.”

Helena: Can we go to the factory now?
Domin: Yes. Twenty-two I guess?
Helena: What is twenty-two?
Domin: Your age.
Helena: Twenty-One. Why do you want to know?
Domin: Because. . . well . . .(enthusiastic) You’re going to be here a long time, aren’t you? (Čapek 26)

Boundaries regulating relations between individuals and countries are not only the subject of politics and diplomacy, but appear also in many fields, from those concerning human rights to gender. The binary and sequential dialog show that the male robot has exceeded its communication limits (Çelenk).  

It is noteworthy that the male robot enters the field and boundaries of the female robot without knowing its place in the drama and asks certain questions in a cynical masculine style. The age-related conversation continues as the male robot infers about the length of stay of the female robot in the factory:

Helena: But for God’s sake! I don’t want.
Domin: (putting both hands on her shoulders) One minute left! Now you either look me in the eye and reject me sternly and then I leave you or . . .
Helena: You’re such a bully!
Domin: It’s okay. Every man should be a little bit of a bully. It’s part of being a man. (Čapek 50)

The woman is so educated and prepared, but she begins to perceive herself as an object. Her self-perception as an object and the excessive socialization of women means that she deeply realizes that the driving force of the social order is the traditionally masculine mind, desires, and tendencies (Işıklı 20). We see the domination of the female body and the effects of traditionally masculine behavior/words upon the female body.

In the play, Domin makes comments about Sulla’s body. He deduces from her body that she is a robot, has no emotions, and has features like human skin. He warns Sulla to rotate her body back and forth during the presentation. Thus, it ignores the privacy of the female robot. As can be understood from Domin’s explanations here, a physiological distinction has been made over the female robot, even if it is the robot in question because the probability of a female robot behaving this way and expressing it verbally is very low. For this reason, discrimination in terms of work/duty load is also made between robots. In the case of job sharing, the body structures of female robots are taken into consideration. In this sense, the problem of gender inequality arises when it comes to female robots that are left in the background. We understand this situation from the dialogue between them:

Helena: (sits down) Where are you from?
Sulla: I’m from here. Factory.
Helena: Oh, so you were born here.
Sulla: Yes, I was made here.
Helena: (surprised) How so?
Domin: (laughing) Sulla is not a human, Miss Gloryova; she is a robot.
Helena: Oh, forgive me, please.
Domin: (puts his hand on Sulla’s shoulder) Sulla doesn’t get angry; he has no feelings. Look, Miss Gloryova, touch his face; look at the leather we made; examine it, please.
Helena: Oh, no, no.
Domin: It’s just like human skin. Sulla even has facial hair that you can see in a blonde. Sure, his eyes are a little small, but look at that hair. Turn around, Sulla.
Helena: Enough! (Čapek 32)

The concept of gender is used to explain the genetic differences of the individual, to emphasize the biological aspect of being a man and a woman, and to explain the physiological differences between men and women. The term was first coined by Robert Stoller, a professor of psychiatry working on transgender studies in 1968 and later developed by British sociologist, feminist, and writer Ann Oakley to describe gender and social roles and norms through genders. In addition to the feminist movement, the field of sociology, emphasizes gender more and a gender-gender distinction is made with the effect of studies that observe the “relationships” between the sexes by some authors. “Gender is a mechanism by which masculine and feminine concepts are generated and naturalized,” posits Judith Butler (75). As can be understood from the definition, with the concept of gender, a number of roles are assigned to women and men in society. These roles involve societal expectations that limit the activities that men and women can do (Kalan 77). As Butler points out, the concepts of masculine and feminine give roles to both men and women in society. Domin is a male robot who uses these roles well. He pressures and imposes sanctions on Helena to have a say over the woman’s body. This speech, which narrows Helena’s fields of activity, raises the expectations of women. Talking and reflecting gender norms through the physical structure of women leads to gender inequality.

Elements such as beauty, attractiveness, and seduction imposed on the female body cause women to be seen as sexual objects and cause more harm to women. Most of the time, only women are thought of as sexual beings, as if there is no sexuality between two individuals, male and female. A woman is under heavy burdens due to the norms of beauty and youth and the sexualized display of the body imposed upon her (Bilgin 21).  

In Domin’s speech, we see efforts to ignore, restrict, and reduce the presence of women in the private/public space. There is a traditionally masculine mentality that puts female robots in the production mold and sees them only as tools in terms of reproduction.

Helena: Are you mad at me?
Domin: God, no! We. . . I just thought we should talk about other things. We’re just a handful of people here surrounded by hundreds of thousands of robots and no women. And all we talk about all day is production rates. It’s like a curse on us, Miss Gloryova. (Čapek 37)
Helena: Maybe it’s a silly question, but why are you building female robots… I mean…
Domin: Gender doesn’t mean anything to them, does it?
Helen: Yes.
Domin: It’s a supply and demand issue. You see, maids, clerks, secretaries… People are used to women working in these jobs.
Helena: But…but…Tell me, male and female robots are mutual…so nothing?
Domin: They’re completely unrelated. There is nothing about emotional attraction between them.Helena: Oh, that’s so scary! (Čapek 48)

Rossum’s Robots are intelligent and skilled mechanical workers who initially serve the “human master.” It may be ideal for production, but it lacks human sensibilities, emotions, and reproduction. The idea of being a god is the product of a patriarchal mentality, and as you can see, the idea of being a god in R.U.R was again put forward by a man.

In conclusion, Karel Čapek shows that in the modern age, the unimaginable mechanization is over-glorified and the spiritual aspects of people can be deformed. The emergence of artificial intelligence in R.U.R. and the fact that the machine completes the tasks that humans cannot achieve does not eliminate the patriarchal, masculine mentality. As can be seen in the text, traditional masculinity and gender roles have been implemented through robots. Thus, the pay emphasizes how the concept of gender serves the capitalist system together with gender inequality, gender-based consumers, and the roles/duties given to robots.


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After graduating from Ondokuz Mayıs University Computer Programming, Meltem Dağcı graduated from Anadolu University, Department of Turkish Language and Literature. Her stories, book articles and interviews have been published in various magazines and newspapers. She has been on the team of the Edebiyat Nöbeti Magazine for eight years. She has been continuing her conversations with the Writer’s Room in Edebiyat Haber for three years.

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SFRA Review is the flagship publication of the Science Fiction Research Association since 1971.

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