Gendering robots can be bad for the human female sex more than the male. Unless given specific directions otherwise, most people faced with a robot tend to default to male. I would say 99 out of 100 are quicker to identify a robot and use a ‘he’ pronoun. You know, ‘Tell me what he can do!’ ” Already, robots are helping with tasks like caring for the elderly and teaching, both fields traditionally associated with women. Human-robot interactions are revealing that gender plays a big role in how people perceive, communicate with, and treat robots, much like it does with humans. And a lot of what we’re bringing over to our robot companions of the future are old, tired stereotypes.
The feminine form is typically identified as being weak or fragile in some form, but really inviting and warm and more interactive. Whereas if it were a male robot and masculine design, then there’s a safety issue of, “Ok. I gotta protect myself possibly.” A robot’s perceived gender can change how a person interacts with it. It would be developing and increasing some of our cultural norms for interaction with robots in different contexts. The creators of robots, then, have both a greater opportunity and a very real responsibility to consider what gender means as they design the machines that are becoming increasingly present in our hospitals, schools, homes, and our public spaces at large. Gender stereotypes could be beneficial also. For example, capitalizing on our tendency to be more comfortable with women as caretakers. More feminine home healthcare robots could put patients at ease. But that might be a dangerous path, one that’s reversing to the decades of ongoing work to bring women into fields like business, politics, and particularly science and technology. If robots with a feminine appearance are built only when someone wants a sexbot or an in-home maid, leaving masculine robots with all the heavy lifting, then what does that say to the humans who work with them?