The Gender of Automata in Victorian Britain

M. Norton Wise

in Genesis Redux

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780226720807
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720838 | DOI:
The Gender of Automata in Victorian Britain

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This chapter looks at a problem regarding sex ratios, those involving automata, and explores the implications of Darwinian evolution for Victorian ideas about women, as instantiated in the proliferation of female automata. It starts with machinery in the factory economy and proceeds through evolutionary interpretation to the physiology of the brain. Women's work in Britain was connected with repetitive mechanism and men's with productive engines and oversight. Charles Babbage's division of machines into engines and mechanisms found parallel expression in his vertical division of labor in a factory and in his distinction between his calculating engines and a typical automaton, always carrying with it the masculine and feminine qualities of progressive action versus repetition. The location of the emotions had consequences for the place of women in relation to men in the progression of the nervous system.

Keywords: sex ratios; female automata; Darwinian evolution; Victorian ideas; women; physiology; brain; Britain; Charles Babbage

Chapter.  10038 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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