The Menlo Roundtable

Monsters and Misogyny: Femininity and Disempowerment in Ex Machina

As we brave the new world of artificial intelligence, which human biases will we carry with us? Can we disentangle the promise of AI from historical gender inequities?

Alex Garland explores the boundaries of misogyny in his 2014 science fiction thriller Ex Machina in which Ava, a remarkably intelligent and disarmingly intuitive robot, attempts to escape from her calculating male creator, Nathan, and his young intern, Caleb. Ava manipulates Caleb by feigning maturation before his eyes, developing from a cowering youth to an alluring adolescent to a threatening woman in order to emancipate herself. However, although she is successful in leaving her physical prison at the close of the film, Ava remains trapped by the male gaze and its confining female archetypes, both of the weak girl and of the monstrous feminine. By presenting the duality of victimhood and power, Ex Machina is ultimately a tale of the shackles of male scrutiny and a bold statement about the unique challenges on woman’s path to freedom.