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Objectification of Women in Sci-fi: Blade Runner

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

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Blade Runner is one of the, if not the classical sci-fi movie in the opposite point in the spectrum to Star Wars. The original movie of Blade Runner is so removed from the source material that the director had said, and I quote: “[Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?] is too dense.” Aside from the themes of consumption, capitalism, and the emotional consequences of these, I want to point out one aspect that is predominant in the film —both in the front and in the background— the objectification of women. 

To give the film some credit, half of the cast is composed of women. Under the risk of revoking those credits, they are all androids. Androids are seen as machines and used by their creators and the people around them for their whims. The setting of the film is the blueprint for the cyberpunk genre: consumerism is rampant, the streets are overcrowded, pollution is visible, nature is gone, and the color scheme is restricted so that when there is a color like yellow or red, it stands out. The film implies that  Earth is where humanity has been left behind, and that technology has allowed them to construct space colonies elsewhere. Certain people who are the rejects of society, such as the friendly hermit JF Sebastian, were forced to stay. The androids were created with a specific purpose but they are not used much on Earth. If they are out of line, they will be terminated. It should be mentioned that the androids are so similar to humans they are called Replicants. Even experts need to do a psychological test, named the Voight-Kampff exam, that utilizes the android or human subjects’ empathy reactions as a key measure to determine how to identify the test subjects. This will determine whether the subject is a human(living) or a replicant (object). 

The female androids are literally the only women that appear in the film with actual personalities. Their purpose, not unlike the masculine-presenting androids, lies in the gratification of  society’s capitalist leaders. They are owned by them. One of the most important characters is Rachael, played by Sean Young. “Rachael is an experiment, nothing more,” is said by her own creator, Tyrell, who leads the Tyrell Corporation. This corporation creates the androids﹘as Apple makes the smartphones we are all too familiar with. Tyrell considers it a success that the Voight-Kampff took longer with Rachael because she is supposed to resemble a real human female. She is even tricked with fake memories into believing herself to be human. And from who do the memories do they really belong to? They came from  Tyrell’s niece’s mind.

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Although Tyrell’s niece is never named throughout the entirety of the film, she may be the only human girl to be of any real use in the plot, albeit in the background. Wouldn’t stealing memories and planting them in others be an inhuman act? Those are her personal memories that even their rivals, the rebellious replicants, know about. After the scene where Rachael is used as an example of how human-like the androids are, Tyrell seems to have lost any and all use of her. Rachael would say that Tyrell wouldn’t see her, even though later on Tyrell would have no problem seeing JF Sebastian when it is night and he is comfortable in bed. 

The rest of Rachael’s existence in the film would further prove the objectification theme of Blade Runner. Rachael is asked to go to the bar by Deckard despite him mistreating her earlier. Rachael, upon accepting her android existence, claims: “I am the business .”. The same man that has exposed her lack of life would then coerce her into sexual acts, as though she were a sexual object, forever at his disposition. It is a controversial scene that has not aged well. Of course, one has to wonder how that was even a good idea in the first place. But the pleasant music in the background implies romance and tenderness, even if all you feel is terror for poor Rachael. 

“Miss Salome and the serpent” is played by Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), one of the rebellious replicants that fled to earth. “She’s trained for an off-world kick murder squad. Talk about Beauty and the Beast. She’s both.” As explained by the senior detective, Harry Bryant, Zhora was built to allure, then destroy. Her first outfit is skin-tight, similar to the Mystique makeup of the X-Men movies. Her bare chest is shown while Deckard talks to her about his (fake) company against moral abuses. He attempts to trick her into participating in a plan to expose potential sexual predators that would take advantage of women in vulnerable positions. But Zhora then says a line that hits anyone who has been or even is merely afraid of, sexual abuse.

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“So if somebody does try to exploit me, who do I go to about it?” Deckard would respond with himself, but we already know that is a lie . It is unfortunate that Blade Runner, with its themes of dehumanization, living, and the personality would simply gloss over this. 

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The most glaring but beloved example of female objectification is the character of Pris, played by Daryl Hanna. She is described by the data as, to put it politely, a feminine-presenting android that is used for sexual purposes. It should be noted that even her lover, Roy Batty, uses her with that purpose. On one occasion she seduces JF Sebastian and later, when Pris and Roy are convincing him to help them, Roy doesn’t say that the two of them will die. He merely says: “If we don’t find help soon, Pris hasn’t got long to live.”. It isn’t subtle that JF Sebastian is what more modern audiences might call a “simp”. While that seems tactful, Pris’ fight scene against Deckard solidifies the objectification element when, at one point during their combat, Pris wraps her legs around Deckard’s neck. His face was right there. One could determine that it was a conscious decision because Pris was created for erotic purposes, and this conduct may exemplify the “essence” of her programming. But such excuses can’t be said for the necrophiliac kiss that Roy Batty gives to her corpse. 

The rest are background characters set to decorate the setting. Aside from one bartender that appeared for a minute or two, these women represented the exploitation of the female body. In the scene where Deckard goes into one of the entertainment buildings, the backdrop is filled with women clothed in Renaissance costumes. On the other hand,  a digital image of a Geisha (or at least a woman imitating one) is shown on a big city screen on multiple occasions throughout the movie. Although the sequel, Blade Runner  2045, shows women in powerful positions, both the film’s timeline and real-life circumstances often place women in the role of objects. An object to be used.

I am a English Literature student from the University of Puerto Rico. I am a bookworm with tastes that go through fiction, psychology and history. Tik Tok, Twitter and Instagram is where I seek fun and news at the same time. I hope to entertain and educate the readers.