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My Fair Ladies

My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    My Fair Ladies
    Book Description:

    The fantasy of a male creator constructing his perfect woman dates back to the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Yet as technology has advanced over the past century, the figure of the lifelike manmade woman has become nearly ubiquitous, popping up in everything fromBride of FrankensteintoWeird SciencetoThe Stepford Wives. Now Julie Wosk takes us on a fascinating tour through this bevy of artificial women, revealing the array of cultural fantasies and fears they embody.

    My Fair Ladiesconsiders how female automatons have been represented as objects of desire in fiction and how "living dolls" have been manufactured as real-world fetish objects. But it also examines the many works in which the "perfect" woman turns out to be artificial-a robot or doll-and thus becomes a source of uncanny horror. Finally, Wosk introduces us to a variety of female artists, writers, and filmmakers-from Cindy Sherman to Shelley Jackson to Zoe Kazan-who have cleverly crafted their own images of simulated women.

    Anything but dry,My Fair Ladiesdraws upon Wosk's own experiences as a young femalePlayboycopywriter and as a child of the "feminine mystique" era to show how images of the artificial woman have loomed large over real women's lives. Lavishly illustrated with film stills, artwork, and vintage advertisements, this book offers a fresh look at familiar myths about gender, technology, and artistic creation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6339-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, Technology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    One summer many years ago, I was wandering through a Manhattan flea market near Twenty-sixth Street when I spied two startling female mannequin heads. One had a face that looked like Marlene Dietrich, and the other was a woman’s head with blue eyes peering provocatively out of a paper bag (plate I). Her identity was half hidden, and in her bag she seemed like a social commodity, packaged and ready to go. I loved how those artificial women seemed both eerie and magical, and the way they blurred the line between the artificial and the real.

    As a photographer, I...

  6. 1 Simulated Women and the Pygmalion Myth
    (pp. 9-30)

    Men have long been fascinated by the idea of creating a simulated woman that miraculously comes alive, a beautiful facsimile female who is the answer to all their dreams and desires.

    The shaping story comes from the myth of Pygmalion as retold by the ancient Roman poet Ovid inThe Metamorphoses. Pygmalion, a sculptor, was dismissive of women. He was “dismayed by the numerous defects of character Nature had given the feminine spirit” and pledged to remain chaste and not have any relations with them.¹ Instead, he sculpted a beautiful ivory image of a perfect woman, and he fell in...

  7. 2 Mechanical Galateas: Female Automatons and Dolls
    (pp. 31-54)

    E. E. Kellett’s story “The Lady Automaton” (1901) is a fantasy tale about men who use science and technology to create an artificial female that seems alive. The beautiful automaton Amelia fits the men’s notion of the perfect Edwardianera lady: an elegant woman who behaves properly, says nothing inflammatory or irritating (actually says nothing at all), and mercifully—to the men at least—shows no signs of having a mind of her own. Amelia was a fictional character, but in 1900, just a year before Kellett’s story, the Parisian automaton manufacturer Phalibois had introduced its factory-made “Gavrochinette,” a mechanical lady...

  8. 3 Mannequins, Masks, Monsters, and Dolls: Film and the Arts in the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 55-89)

    In the wonderfully inventive wedding scene of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent film comedyDie Puppe(The Doll, 1919), the pretty young woman Ossi is doing her best to pose as a wind-up doll but goes in and out of character as her impish spirit breaks through. At her wedding, she periodically wolfs down food and drinks when her fiancé Lancelot isn’t looking and later astonishes him by acting like a real woman—yelling and slapping him when he gets irritated with her for dancing while he is gone.

    Playing the part of a woman who is both artificial and real, the...

  9. Color Plates
    (pp. None)
  10. 4 Simulated Women in Television and Films, 1940s and After
    (pp. 90-136)

    During the wartime years of the 1940s, when Americans were looking for romantic fantasy and comic relief, the Pygmalion myth of a man who falls in love with a beautiful statue that comes to life had a welcome resonance as it resurfaced in the Broadway musicalOne Touch of Venus(1943) with music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, and book by S. J. Perlman and Ogden Nash. Five years later, it was followed by the romantic film comedyOne Touch of Venus(1948), based on the play. Both versions delighted in the magic and mystery of the Pygmalion...

  11. 5 Engineering the Perfect Woman
    (pp. 137-151)

    Filmmakers and artists have delighted in tales of men using science and technology to craft the perfect woman. In the witty 1949 British film comedyThe Perfect Woman, the befuddled scientist, Professor Ernest Belman, creates a beautiful battery-operated electromechanical robot named Olga who is modeled on the professor’s own niece, Penelope. Belman calls the robot a perfect woman, he says, because “she does what she is told, she can’t talk, can’t eat.” This obedient creature is just want men want. When given verbal commands, Olga walks, sits, and even allows men to take off most of her clothes at bedtime...

  12. 6 Dancing with Robots and Women in Robotics Design
    (pp. 152-165)

    Men in literature, film, and art have long been pictured dancing with robots and dolls—beautiful artificial women who gaze at them lovingly and fill them with wonder and bliss. In a pivotal scene in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman,” Nathanael dances with Olympia and is captivated by her charms, without realizing that she is only a mechanical doll. These men are swept up in the charms of the uncanny as they dance with a woman that isn’t real. Soon, though, their dreams, like Nathanael’s, will be shattered as their fantasy female is torn apart. Updating the image, in American writer...

  13. 7 The Woman Artist as Pygmalion
    (pp. 166-186)

    While male engineers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries were constructing amazingly lifelike female robots—pretty, compliant creatures that embodied men’s fantasies and desires—twentieth-and twenty-first-century female artists taking on Pygmalion’s role have used the tools of technology and science to fashion their own machine-women, female robots, mannequins, and cinematic dolls. These carefully crafted female simulacra illuminate the fabricated nature of women’s socially constructed identities—identities that have undergone remarkable reconfiguration and change.

    Women artists took on the role not only of Pygmalion but also of Frankenstein. In Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein, the fearsome Creature assembled from disparate dead...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-222)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)