Ever since writing about the Breitbart sexbot column, I’ve been meaning to return to the subject. Not from the political view, but from genre history. Because sexbots go back a long time and there are way more than I have space or knowledge to cover.
Fembots play a dual role as fictional characters. On the one hand, they’re robot slaves, programmed to obey their male master, as the theme song for Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machines points out. In The Stepford Wives, men are actually replacing their wives—who have opinions and needs, and age—with sexbots who are hotter and completely obedient.
On the other hand, they can embody every male suspicion about women. They’re Other. Obeying someone else. Ready to seduce a man, then betray him at the command of their master. And of course they can embody physical fears about those engulfing vaginas (in Terminatrix) or the pointy breasts (Nemesis 4‘s breast knives or the machine-gun boobs of the fembots in The Spy Who Shagged Me).
The first female sexbot was, I think the robot Maria in Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis. The real Maria is a labor organizer fighting for the dehumanized drones of the towering future city. To subvert the workers’ movement, the overlord creates a robot Maria who engages in hedonistic displays and flaunts herself at wild orgies, though there’s no evidence she actually has sex.
Some years later we have a very different fembot in Lester Del Ray’s “Helen O’Loy.” A female robot the protagonist orders as a housekeeper, Helen decides she’s in love with her owner. He’s outraged, but it turns out he’s in love with her too. They marry and live happily ever after.
In the future of Fritz Leiber’s The Silver Eggheads, sex robots are a thing. Forget the idea of being convincingly human: you can order one with fur, a prehensile tail, feathers, whatever floats your boat. The hero rents one, but freaks when he realizes he’s actually putting his penis inside a machine … with gears … so no sex.
In the sixties we got the two Dr. Goldfoot movies (Bikini Machines and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs), then in the 1970s The Stepford Wives, as noted. But it was The Bionic Woman that actually coined the term “fembot” for the female robots used by one of the villains to infiltrate and destroy, though I imagine the terms is better known now from Austin Powers (below, a Bionic Woman-fembot with her face off—all rights to image with current holder).
Occasionally we get a male sexbot, for example in the TV movie The Companion, but those are few and far between—Stepford Husbands used mind-control rather than robot replacements, for instance. While male robots and androids can be romantic figures (the Vision at Marvel, Griffin Dunne in The Android Affair) they’re rarely created with sex in mind.