Films featuring non-human characters always bring about questions of gender and gender roles. The process through which the audience or the writer assigns gender to such characters is underpinned entirely on their own imaginings of the elements that a given gender encompasses. It may bring to light certain stereotypes, assumptions as well as gender roles conventionally assigned to a particular gender. Pixar’s Wall-E is such a film. The film features two robots, WALL-E and Eve. WALL-E has conventional male characteristics such as strength, hard edges and a deep voice, while Eve has smooth curves and a higher-pitched voice than WALL-E. In addition to the physical traits, the interpretation of the differences in the roles that the robots play in the film may be attributed to conventional gender expectations. For example, WALL-E tries to save Eve by clinging to the rocket that has absorbed her. The interpretation of this behavior as a means to assign a given gender to either of the robots is socially constructed. Pixar’s film, Wall-E highlights differences in the robots’ names, physical appearances and roles to prove that gender is largely a social construct.
Wall-E is a love story featuring two robots, WALL-E and EVE, “who” work in an a dystopian environment. The setting comprises of rubble and piles of garbage, illustrating a post-evacuation world. WALL-E spends his time cleaning up garbage for over 700 years. During this time, he develops character and personality, while also becoming lonely. Eventually, a ray of hope comes his way when Eve, a beautiful and shapely probe robot is sent on a mission to scan the Earth. WALL-E falls in love with Eve and follows her across the galaxy.
The author uses names to make the audience assign male and female genders to the robot characters in the film. Despite the fact that the two robots are genderless, there is an attempt by the film writer to manipulate the audience into assigning genders to the robots whereby Eve is the female and WALL-E the male. The name Eve is feminine. There is an indirect allusion to the biblical Eve, who joins Adam in a world in which he was previously alone and lonely. From this allusion, it is evident that the film writer intends that the audience imagine Eve to be a woman. WALL-E sounds like “Wally,” a male name that can also be short for “Wallace.” However, it is clear that WALL-E is an acronym representing “Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class” and not a real name. This fact shows that the author clearly wants the audience to believe that WALL-E is male. The use of names as representations of gender is a social construct. After all, who is to say that a man cannot be named Eve?
Secondly, the physical appearance of the robots WALL-E and Eve fits into social constructs of how a man and a woman should look like. Granted, both robots do not have any “primary or secondary sexual characteristics” (Heldenfels 1). They have no genitalia or any other sex organs or features to denote their gender. However, WALL-E is rugged and has sharp edges, while Eve has a rounded and smooth body (Stanton 22:13). WALL-E is a cube-shaped robot that looks very robust and strong, with broad shoulders and narrow hips thereby falling into the stereotypical description of masculinity (Heldenfels 1). Men are supposed to be strong and not have soft exteriors as that would be a sign of weakness. The hegemonic idea of masculinity is that it is characterized by power, strength, and aggression (Greco 4). Relative to Eve, WALL-E is also dirty and rugged, underlying a disregard for hygiene. This characteristic plays into the gender stereotype that men do not have to be as well-groomed as women. On the other hand, Eve is curvy and smooth, she has an egg-like appearance, to signify her delicateness. She is also not as rugged as WALL-E. This trait falls into the social construction of gender in the sense that women are the ‘weaker sex,” and that they are delicate. She is also very clean as compared to WALL-E, an expectation of society for all women. These characteristics illustrate a deliberate effort by the film writer to make clear distinctions between the two robot characters in the movie. The robots have strikingly different characteristics and every trait is to the extreme. Since the audience assigns gender to the genderless robs based on these traits, one may argue that gender is a social construct. There is no evidence to show any biological distinction between the two robots since they are both artificial and computerized. Yet, from interpretations founded on social construction, it is clear that one of them is male and the other is female.
Thirdly, the roles that the robots play fall under socially-constructed expectations of gender. According to Hart, Mena and women, through their socializations, have developed different self-perceptions as well as ways of relating that have contributed to their self-perceptions and gender identity (48). This statement means that over the course of their lives, men and women develop ways on interpreting certain roles as belonging to a man or a woman. In the same way, one would identify the different roles played by the robots in Wall-E because gender relationships are developed as part of an individual’s internal working concepts of self and other (Hart 43). In Wall-E, WALL-E tries to woo Eve to like him by offering her a living plant and trying to hold her hand (Stanton 28:00). This behavior is traditionally a male role. The man is supposed to initiate a romantic relationship with a woman and not the other way around. In the film, Eve, from a biblical standpoint, is also regarded as the savior of humanity because females conceive and bear progeny. In the same way, in the film, Eve brings “life” to the world of WALL-E that was otherwise lonely and cold. This responsibility is a traditional gender role assigned to females. On the other hand, WALL-E does the physically demanding job of being a guardian. He is a guardian of planet earth and cleans up garbage. This role is quintessentially a male one. From these gender roles, it is clear that the film writer consciously realized the interpretations that would take place by the audience in terms of the gender of the characters. The robots are genderless but the roles they play in the film have socially constructed attachments to male or female gender. In this regard, this film lends itself considerable to the discourse: Is gender a social construct?
There are various names, physical appearances and roles that are traditionally attached to either the male or female gender. Without knowing the sexual characteristics of an individual with regards to gender, most people use these names, physical appearances and roles that are typically linked to male or female individuals to determine gender. In this regard, gender may be described as a social construct. Pixar’s film, Wall-E illustrates this idea in a very clear manner. The film features two robots, WALL-E and Eve, who proceed to have a romantic relationship. Initially, WALL-E finds himself clearing garbage in a dystopian world for 700 years, a period in which he develops feelings of loneliness. Life becomes brighter when he is visited by Eve, a robot probe sent from outer space to evaluate planet Earth. WALL-E falls in love with her and starts the adventure of following her across the galaxy. Wall-E uses the names Eve and WALL-E to represent female and male robot characters. The name Eve is typically female and makes a biblical allusion to Eve, a woman, who came to end Adam’s loneliness on earth, just as Eve had done for WALL-E. Similarly, WALL-E sounds like “Wally,” typically a male name. In the film, physical characteristics are also used to depict gender. For example, while WALL-E is rugged, broad-shouldered, dirty and sharp-edged, Eve is delicate, curvy, clean and smooth. The use for these physical traits to depict gender is a social construct. Similarly, there are typically male roles in the film that are assigned to WALL-E, while typically female roles are assigned to EVE. However, because the two robots have no sexual features that depict their gender, all assumptions on the same are socially-constructed.
Greco, Julianna. “Gender: A Social Construction”. Sociological Imagination: Western’s Undergraduate Sociology Student Journal, Vol 2, no. 2, 2013, pp. 1-9., Accessed 3 May 2018.
Hart, Bruce. The construction of the gendered self. Journal of Family Therapy 18: 43-60. 1996.
Heldenfels, Rich. “Why Is WALL-E Male? Academic Ponders Gender In Movie Robots”. Www.Ohio.Com, 2016, https://www.ohio.com/akron/entertainment/why-is-wall-e-male-academic-ponders-gender-in-movie-robots. Accessed 3 May 2018.
Stanton, Andrew. Wall E. Pixar Studios, 2008.