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her (Spike Jonze, 2013) – Gendered OS and Gender Identity

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  • her (Spike Jonze, 2013) – Gendered OS and Gender Identity

    The film’s title, ‘her’, is itself a gender pronoun, which lends a sort of femininity over the whole film. The film could have been called ‘him, ’since the whole film is about Theodore. Theodore, on the cover, with his blue eyes and red hues behind him, leads us to think that Theodore is a pretty sensitive and romantic guy. And he is. While traditionally labeled a ‘feminine’ trait, Theodore’s sensitivity allows him to excel at his job as a surrogate letter writer, even receiving a complement from his coworker (chris pratt). (“there’s a woman inside of you.”) While this is a strange compliment, I think the film asks us to question our current gender roles and what it is to be “feminine.”

    Upon purchasing his OS, Theodore is asked several seemingly mundane questions to help determine the personality and gender of his OS. Theodore himself chose for Samantha to be a female voice, while Samantha chose her own name. are we to assume that Theodore chose the gender of the OS? Or simply the voice? It is feasible that only the voice could have been female, portraying a male OS. Yet Samantha chose a very female name for herself, which indicates that the Os’s gender would seem to agree with its female voice. However, one of the questions asked to Theodore stood out to me. “what was your relationship like with your mother.” This is a very Freudian question, indicating that ‘Samantha’ would be somewhat of a mother-surrogate. She is indeed very protecting, and behaves in a way that would suggest motherly qualities. (cleaning his computer, showing an immense interest in his feelings, doing things for Theodore’s sake, such as publishing a book.) did this question alone determine Samantha’s behavior? Because Theodore stated he had mother intimacy issues, could Samantha just be programmed in a way that reinforces Freud? Samantha furthers her ‘mother’ role by assisting in Theodore’s divorce.

    This choice of Theodore’s for female voice also indicates a choice of gender. Is the operating system meant to be its own, literally intelligent being, or simply an extension of the user? Is Samantha herself a female, with all of its preconceived notions of femininity, or is the OS programmed to utilize Theodore’s femininity, giving him a way to express “the woman inside of him?” If Samantha is a legitimate AI, this would suggest that gender is not a choice, given to her by someone else, which she then conforms to. She was female upon start-up, not having made the choice herself. If this is the case, is the film suggesting that gender is predetermined? She chose her name, but she could have just as easily selected an ambiguous name, such as ‘Morgan’, “Jordan” or “Erin.” She could have selected a name that’s distinctly male, such as “Robert’ or ‘John.’ So even if her gender is indeed not a choice made of her own, her name itself is, which suggests a gender conformity to predetermined feminine values. Unless she herself, by chance, was indeed a female all the way around. (very unlikely odds conforming to a predestined set that matches with your own.)

    On the other hand, if the OS is truly only programming, then the Freudian question used Theodore’s mother issues and gendered voice choice to create a sort of pseudo-personality. A representation of Theodore, an avatar of sorts. This implies that ‘Samantha’ would be programmed to be what Theodore needed, an outlet for feeling and ideas that are ‘feminine’ so he could more freely express them. The fact that Theodore could call upon Samantha whenever he need to , instead of only when she is available, lends to the idea that Samantha is an extension of Theodore, not a separate being. Could she really just be programming designed to emulate alter-egos?

    Let’s look at Amy’s Os, and her career. Amy works in computer game design. This has been an historically male field. Yet, the game she designed is about being the “perfect mom.” Video games are typically created for a male audience, so this goes against typically gender roles in our society. Theodore seemed to excel at being the ‘perfect mom.’ While Amy is not romantic with her OS, perhaps she was successful in answering her Freudian question, which I imagine would have been about her father. She was in an intimate relationship at the time, I assume, when she purchased her OS, so she might not have required her OS to be programmed intimately.

    Her Os is male, perhaps representing her own male alter-ego, instead of being a separate, thinking entity. In fact, the whole film takes most gender roles and reverses them. Chris Pratt, Theodore’s’ co-worker, has a job that is very much like a secretary. His girlfriend is a lawyer. Those roles are typically gender reversed. During Theodore’s meeting with his wife, She is angry that he is too sensitive, and unable to cope with real people. Historically, this seems to be a male complaint, and in the context of the film, she seems to fill the male role.

    If the film is completely reversing gender roles, are we supposed to question them? It seems that the film is advocating for blurry or non-existent lines between genders. With the case about the OS being a surrogate personality, or programmed alter ego, the film would then suggest a need for an outlet, a way to express these ‘gendered’ personality traits that go against our own literal sex. Would this suggest then that gender is truly a construct? That people of any gender require a more ‘gender appropriate’ personality to express themselves? If so, do they truly need to exist as an exterior source, such as an Os, instead of being integrated within themselves, as part of their own personality, their own men or women inside them?

  • #2
    This post brings up many aspects of gender the film touches on throughout the film. In regard to the Freudian aspects of setting up an OS, I think Theodore was asked about his relationship with him mother as means to better understand his dynamic with females in general. Obviously, Theodore possessed many conventionally feminine characteristics despite identifying as a male. He shows both a desire and a necessity for the approval of all the women in his life; his mother, Catherine, Amy, and of course Samantha. This could have something to do with the femininity evident within himself. In regard to Amy’s OS, hers was not a male, because its name is Ellie. I think the fact that they both chose a female OS plays deeper into this conception as an OS providing traditionally maternal characteristics of organizing, taking care of mundane tasks, and worrying about his feelings. Throughout the film, I questioned whether or not every OS was connected. It was because of these maternal characteristics that made me think every OS was created as a parental figure for the user. Because of the realistic qualities of the AI, it was easy to forget that these systems were programmed and were not actually capable of experiencing neither emotional nor physical feelings. Because Samantha eventually admits not only talking to other people but being in love with them, it made me question the interconnectivity of all of them. Gender was an integral part of her used as a means for the audience to question the role of gender not only within themselves and their lives but also in regard to the characters. Technology does not require a gender by any means, yet the gender of Theodore’s OS is paramount to the storyline.


    • #3
      I did not think about the gender roles of the film while watching, so this idea is truly intriguing to me. I think the complete reversal in gender roles is intentional to make us think about who we are as people. Are we truly being ourselves or are we merely subjects of society? While men are expected to work and provide for the family, Theodore’s excellent abilities in the game as a mother help to show that men can be good stay-at-home parents, while women like Amy and Paul’s lawyer girlfriend help to prove that women can excel in the workforce as well. I also believe that the film does a great in showing that men can have a vulnerable side rather than the gender role of being a “macho man”. Throughout the film, we see this in many of the male characters, from Theodore to Charles and to Paul. Theodore is a sensitive man throughout the film, and Charles randomly decides to become a monk after he runs out of his relationship with Amy. In many films, it usually has the women leaving the man or the women being depicted as the more sensitive one. While Paul assumes the more gender role fitting stereotype, he also seems to take a backseat to his girlfriend when they are around, which can be seen during the double date between them and Ted and Samantha. One thing to also note, and one that I can relate to is the expectations between Theodore’s ex-wife, Catherine, and her parents. It was mentioned in the movie that Catherine’s parents were never satisfied with her accomplishments and always wanted her to do more, and that’s something that many sons’ have to deal with from their parents in some cultures.


      • #4
        I do think there is a subtle intention to question gender roles in our society and have the audience question both Theodore’s masculinity and Sam’s femininity. The opening scene is made to start the audience with questioning what Theodore is when he begins speaking as if he is a woman, we quickly find out that it is a letter, but for a second the audience is left to question Theodore’s gender. As you mentioned in your development Theodore’s entire job, and the reason why he is successful is because he can think like a woman and is in touch with what is traditionally the feminine side. I think it is also worth mentioning that Theodore enjoys spending most of his time either alone or with women. her makes it difficult for the audience to definitively say that Theodore or Sam are one gender or the other in the traditional sense. The film shows both of them acting in a similar manor and enjoying all the same activities.

        The endless similarities between Sam and Theodore makes me agree with your thoughts on whether Sam is just an extension of Theodore and is there to comfort and reinforce what he feels. It is difficult to determine the subjectivity of Sam, but throughout the film there is little tension between Sam and Theodore. One of the most important parts of human interaction is resolving conflict and disagreements, for Sam and Theodore there is really only one struggle or resolve for their relationship. It amazes me today how men and women still think, act, interact so differently but for Theodore he seems to interact with Sam with ease. There is stark difference in the way Theodore acts with his ex-wife and his blind date than the way he interacts with Sam. This shows how different Sam is than a typical woman would be in society, and it is either unfair to say Sam is a female or that she is a subject or both.

        The OS seems to be whatever the users needs the OS to be, the users gets to decide whether they want a man or women in their life. Gender is just one component of how the OS is designed to fill the needs or be an extension of the user.


        • #5
          I don’t quite understand why Samantha has to have a gender, at least “physically”. While I agree that this film has almost everything to do with what it means to be a certain gender and both Theodore and Sam deal with this, I think Samantha’s gender is in the eye of the beholder. It’s almost certain that Theodore thinks of Sam as a female because he programs her to have a female voice and then he goes on to be in a relationship with her but her gender seems to get tricky in later examples in the film. Like when Sam goes on all those internet blogs, it isn’t quite clear to those people if she is a man or a woman, some of that might be because they can’t hear her voice but that only means that a significant amount of what it means to be a gender is based on your voice or appearance, which seems wrong to me.

          Going along with your Amy OS example, I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. Amy was in a relationship at the time of buying her OS, so she programmed it to be female. It is unclear to me if she would have programmed it as a male if she was not in a relationship at the time but you could argue that it could have helped her with some issues she was having if she did. Having a male OS would have helped her through her divorce and she might not have had to talk to Theodore about it so much and it also could have helped her with her job as a video game designer because that is such a male dominated work field.