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THE SYNTHETIC HYPER FEMME: ON SEX DOLLS, FEMBOTS, AND THE FUTURES OF SEX

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THE SYNTHETIC HYPER FEMME: ON SEX DOLLS, FEMBOTS, AND
THE FUTURES OF SEX
_______________
A Thesis
Presented to the
Faculty of
San Diego State University
_______________
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
in
Women’s Studies
_______________
by
Krizia Puig
Fall 2017
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iii
Copyright © 2017
by
Krizia Puig
All Rights Reserved
iv
DEDICATION
A Oliva, por abrirme las puertas del mundo…
v
Will sex robots be more like vibrators, pets, partners, or slaves?
-Elizabeth Brown Nolan
Sex, Love, and Robots
vi
ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS
The Synthetic Hyper Femme: On Sex Dolls, Fembots, and the
Futures of Sex
by
Krizia Puig
Master of Arts in Women’s Studies
San Diego State University, 2017
In this thesis, I use queer of color and intersectional feminist knowledges and
practicesand draw from performance studies, media and cultural studies, post-humanist
theories, and robotics to read the hyper realistic sex doll and robotic prototypes of female sex
robots as cultural artifacts and as objects. I specifically analyze the processes of production
of the dolls and the ways in which owners and producers genderize and racialize them. I
argue that, beyond the simple commodification of women, the high-end sex doll is a
performative commodity comprised of technologies produced and able to endure the
reproduction of categories of social difference (gender, race, class, and so on). The ability to
sustain the reproduction of those categories through performative practices, makes the dolls
able to provide the experience of owning a stable female servant subject with a customized
appearance, identity, and personality. Their impressive performative power exposes the
socially constructed nature of fixed and oppressive humanistic notions of the subject,
precisely because they reveal that categories of social difference can be mass produced and
customized. I explore the ways in which signifiers and/or representations of womanhood are
becoming womanhood itself. I argue that womanhoodas a gender categoryis detaching
from what we know as organic women and is becoming a commodified performative space,
in which womanhood is performed without hiding the simulations that gender involves for
sexual pleasure. In this sense, I highlight the existence of what I am calling “synthetic hyper
femininity”: a performative location (habitable by organic and synthetic women) that exists
in that space in which the sex industry intersects with the industrial complex that reinforces
whiteness, thinness, being cis-gender and being heterosexual as what is considered desirable
and beautiful. I argue that the sex doll is a high-tech puppet with agency that, despite her
immobility, drives the simulation of synthetic hyper femininity. To conclude, I delve into my
experience visiting Abyss Creations, and explain why looking forward to a queer futurity
where womxn of color and Queer Trans People of Color can live their lives to their fullest
involves a process of reimagining sexual technologies.
vii
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE
ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................................. vi
LIST OF FIGURES ................................................................................................................. ix
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................................................................................................x
CHAPTER
1 SILICONE AND POWER .............................................................................................1
Mapping The Archive of Hetero-Erotic Desires ......................................................6
What Is Yet to Come…......................................................................................9
2 GALATEA, MY LOVE...............................................................................................16
The Fantasy of the “Perfect Woman” ....................................................................16
Why Are You Blushing, Galatea? .........................................................................21
Automated Galateas: The Modern Ladies .......................................................26
Galateas for Sale ........................................................................................29
3 THE “SYNTHETIFICATION” OF WOMANHOOD ................................................31
“Control a Woman”: Muteness, Submission and Objectification .........................33
The “Synthetification” of Womanhood ...........................................................36
Renée: From Plastic to Flesh .....................................................................41
#Perfect: From Flesh to Plastic ..................................................................44
4 DOWN THE ABYSS ..................................................................................................49
The Agency of the High-End Sex Doll ..................................................................49
The Doll Itself: A High-Tech Puppet Created to Endure Acts of
Domination ............................................................................................................52
When I met Laila, My Synthetic Love: Stillness as an Act of
Resistance ........................................................................................................64
“The Amber Doll Project”: Self-Objectification, Queerness and
Vulnerability ..............................................................................................70
EPILOGUE: TINKERING WITH THE FUTURE .................................................................75
viii
Queer Radical Sexual Politics and Sexual Technology .........................................75
Envisioning The Future, Together… .....................................................................80
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................................82
ix
LIST OF FIGURES
PAGE
Figure 1. “Inflatable Perfect Woman. Price: $6.30 & FREE Shipping”. .................................30
Figure 2. Control Your Woman Remote Controller. ...............................................................34
Figure 3. Renée (RealDoll2) Config. 2. Photography by Stacey Leigh. .................................42
Figure 4. ValerieSins. Still from free room within her Live Cam Pornhub Channel. .............47
Figure 5. “Everard’s family portraits”. Still frame. Guys and Dolls. ......................................60
Figure 6. I know guacamole is extra! Posted by @abyssrealdoll. ...........................................62
Figure 7. Solana, BT4. .............................................................................................................63
Figure 8. “Whiter Laila: My Synthetic Love”. Picture by Krizia Puig. Visit to Abyss
Creations. Oct 26, 2016. ..............................................................................................67
x
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I want these acknowledgements to be an act of radical intimacy. Few times we have
the chance, within academic environments, to express our feelings for the people we love and
for our femtors and role modelswhom we also love in the way we love those who hold our
hands and teach us to fly, to trust ourselves, to speak loud and clear. I believe this moment
myself writing these acknowledgementsis a statement of the resilience of my mother who
has fought, since I can remember, for me to be free. I want you to know Má, that we will
soon be together again, very soon. This thesis means that. Oliva, the faith you have had in me
changed my life 8 years ago, when I was a broken queer young woman trapped in a country
that was falling apart. Today, your faith keeps me moving. Thank you for your patience when
I speak about my research for hours in a row, for understanding the thrill of teaching, of
having an academic life and for the many hours you spent proof-reading these lines! I want,
also, to thank my first femtorsVirginia Aponte, Mariana Libertad Suárez, and Elisa
Martinez they are the women who taught me that I could write, that my voice was valuable,
that what I had to say was important. In addition, I want to thank Val Pearson, my therapist,
whose wisdom, kindness, and companionship have taught me how to be alive.
This is also a statement of my love and appreciation for the people who nurtured me
and supported me within this program and during my time at San Diego State University.
Especially, I want to thank Anne Donadey for trusting my academic voice, for encouraging
me to explore my “weird” research ideas, for her support and investment in my intellectual
development since the first day of class. I want to thank Irene Lara, who turned into a key
role model in my life, as a human being and as a professor. I don’t have words to explain
how grateful I am for the way in which you took care of me and made me feel at home.
Thank you for the growing pains,” for lovingly opening my bodymindspirit to things that
might be too painful or too scary. Thank you for teaching me how to teach, and how to trust
my heart while teaching, to trust my heart to heal myself. My love and gratefulness to Susan
xi
Cayleff, who was with me side by side, teaching me how survive an environment that was
foreign to me. She taught me the value of silence, of strategy, of political wit to foster activist
projects. Thank you for trusting me with big things, for allowing me to take charge, for
catalyzing my potential as an activist and as a leader. Thank you for your unconditional love
and support. I also want to thank Yetta Howard, whose provocative work encouraged me to
do my research on a topic like this. She taught me not to be afraid of the things that interest
me, that spark my passion and intellectual curiosity.
I want to honor my friends. To my queer familia: Victoria Sequera, Elías Marín,
Airam Liscano, Alejandro Bennasar y Joseph Attiehamores, una vez más, la casa siempre
gana. ¡Volveremos y seremos millones! A Marcela Rojas, thank you for holding my hand,
for your patience, and for all the emotional work you do for everyone. You are a precious gift
I take from this program. Thank you for keeping me standing. Katie Wortherspoon, thank
you for the joy and the laugh. Girl, let’s put the music louder and throw a dance party.
Finally, I want to thank Abyss Creations Staff–specially to Amelia (I don’t remember
her last name) and to Matt McMullen, who kindly offered me the chance to interview him
even though that was not planned. And I want to thank you, for reading. Thank you for
taking the time to read these lines.
1
CHAPTER 1
SILICONE AND POWER
It is difficult to distinguish them from a human being. Their eyes glow in such a way
that makes people question, once and again: Is that a doll? They inspire curiosity, love,
fascination, lust, disgust, ambivalence, and fear. Today, it is possible to map the mass
production of customized synthetic lovers. Anyone willing to pay approximately between
$4,000 and $12,000 can currently buy a high-end sex doll, a gendered and racialized human-
like replica designed to satisfy their personal aesthetic taste and able to have sex. These dolls
are created with stunning artistry. They have articulable joints and therefore, can hold
realistic poses. Their silicone looks like skin to the eye: its colors, its textures, its pores. They
have wrinkles and freckles. The silicone also gets twisted like human skin, creating more
realism. Their bodies create the shadows of a human body, beneath the breast, in the armpit.
It requires so much talent to create a skeleton and mold silicone to create such realistic dolls:
with those ribs, those clavicles, those abdominal muscles.
These high-end sex dolls are created with the purpose of emulating an organic female
body, technologically developed to provide sexual pleasure, and used by most owners to
create a stable source of sexual and emotional gratification. Doll owners or iDollators
1
(as
some choose to call themselves) assign names and personalities to their dolls. They apply
makeup to them, do their hair, choose a fashion style, and use the dolls as models and artistic
muses. They hold conversations with them, cuddle with them, hold their hands, massage their
feet. They are happy to come home, after work, and find them waiting in the living room.
They also spend an enormous amount of time moving them: carefully changing the position
1
Davecat is highly recognized within this community. He “considers himself an activist for synthetic love,
and the rights of synthetic humans” (Beck). I am using the word “iDollator” because that is the word he uses to
refer to people who maintain relationships with high-end sex dolls. For writing purposes, I will use this word
even though some of them do not used it.
2
of their heads, making sure they are properly seated with their knees together. They cannot
stand on their feet, so owners must hang them in harnesses to make them stand. Because of
their weight, they roll them in wheelchairs to enjoy their company around the house, around
the city. Also, they have sex with them.
Matt McMullen started sculpting females at a young age inspired by the idea of
creating a very realistic poseable mannequin that people would confuse with a real person.
When he posted pictures of his work on the Internet, people started to ask if they were
sexually usable. Then, he decided to create a penetrable doll and Abyss Creations was born
(personal communication 26 Oct. 2016). Located in San Marcos, CA. they are now one of
the main high-end sex dolls factories in the world,
2
producers of the RealDoll a model that
has been called “the prototype of the new millennium sex doll” (Ferguson 44). Abyss
Creations currently offers three lines of dolls: RealDoll2, Wicked RealDoll, and Boy Toy
Dolls. RealDolls2 are the newest generation of dolls, made with “the latest in materials and
techniques,” and are “the culmination of our 17+ years of experience in making the finest
silicone dolls in the world” (Real Doll). Wicked RealDolls are preconfigured dolls made in
the image of famous porn actresses like Jessica Drake and Alektra Blue.
3
“Each of these dolls
has been created using cutting edge technology to replicate every detail of these well-known
actresses, from digital scanning to silicone casting of fine details like skin texture on the
hands and feet” (Real Doll). Boytoys (BT) are adult women-like replicas but their size is
more similar to the size of an adolescent and the look of a twenty something young woman.
“Boy Toy Dolls are lightweight, easy to maintain, and made of an exclusive, all new
Platinum silicone material. They have features that cannot be found on any other doll in the
world, and yes, of course, they are anatomically correct!” (Real Doll). The “petite sizing” is
what makes this line unique (Real Doll). They also offer Hybrid Dolls, which are custom
made dolls created with different parts of dolls from different lines. Regardless of the model,
if you purchase one of them, “you have complete control over all of the options that make up
2
The sex doll industry is mostly located in the United States, China, Japan and Germany. Some of the
most renowned companies are Mimicon (Las Vegas), Superbabe (California), 1st-Pc (North Carolina), First
Androids (Germany), Mechadoll (Germany), Orient Industries (Japan) and 4Woods (Japan), (Ferguson 40-55). I
focus on Abyss Creations due to its indisputable place as a leader in this market.
3
These models are sculpted with the authorization of the actresses.
3
your doll: eye color, skin tone, hair style and color, and makeup, as well as many different
nipple types” (Real Doll).
The sex doll itself, as a product, appeared during the second half of the twentieth
century (Ferguson 14). In “The Sex Doll: A History,” Anthony Ferguson offers a general
overview of the history of the sex doll industry and of the sex doll as a device. According to
him, several factors have contributed to the development and success of this industry. The
emergence of a successful market of inflatable dolls was possible because of two main
factors: the concept of mail-order advertising and the appearance of sex shops (Ferguson 13).
In 1995, “a high-end market for sex dolls emerged in the United States, when studio
techniques were first applied to sex dolls” (Ferguson 40). The emergence of the Internet
contributed to the popularity of this exclusive service. The Internet functions as an
unregulated and anonymous virtual space where it is possible to advertise and commercialize
this kind of invention. Furthermore, thanks to the virtual interactions allowed by the Internet,
a subculture a community- around and about the dolls emerged. For example, “The Doll
Forum,” an online community with more than 30,000 members (The CoverDoll Group), was
created in 2001 and the e-zine “Coverdoll,” a monthly digital publication about dolls, issued
its 189th issue in April 2016 (Coverdoll). Today, alongside the existence of these hyper
realistic dolls, a service of “virtual lovers” is offered already in China, sex dolls brothels exist
in Japan and China, and some thinkers predict that, by 2050, robot sex workers will overtake
the market (Brown 33). In fact, In Love and Sex with Robots, David Levy one of the
leading voices in the field of Human-Robot interactions explains that developing robots to
fulfill the role of partners is the next logical step for the robotics industry (304).
Unsurprisingly, Abyss Creations is also at the forefront of the quest to put the first fully
functional sex robot on the market. Realbotix is the division of Abyss Creations dedicated to
this endeavor. Harmony, a new robotic head with artificial intelligence that attaches to the
body of their dolls will be on the market by the end of 2017, and they already launched the
first component of the product on April 15th. It is an App in which you can configure the
personality of a Female Artificial Intelligence according to your liking. Yes, we are living
that moment of the Sci-Fi book in which a very intelligent and talented white guy from San
Marcos, C.A. is working in tandem with a robotics company called Hanson Robotics to
create a hyper-realistic fembot for sexual and romantic purposes. In a piece published by The
4
New York Times, McMullen, owner and founder of the company, states: "I want people to
actually develop an emotional attachment to not only the doll, but to the actual character
behind it. To develop some kind of love for this being" (Canepari et al.). According to
McMullen, the challenge is to develop a sex robot able to respond to customized necessities.
In the project’s website, they clarify that they intentionally decided to start with the design of
the Artificial Intelligence and the face because they thought that the important thing is to
develop an engaging robot that can provide a simulation of love (Trout).
In this thesis, I use queer of color and intersectional feminist knowledges and
practicesand draw from performance studies, media and cultural studies, post-humanist
theories, and robotics to analyze current manifestations of “perfect womanhood” and the
emergence of the fembot. I specifically focus on analyzing the hyper realistic sex doll and
make some references to Artificial Intelligence and robotic prototypes of female sex robots. I
argue that, beyond the simple commodification of women, the high-end sex doll is a
performative commodity comprised of technologies produced and able to endure the
reproduction of categories of social difference (gender, race, class, etc.). The ability to
sustain the reproduction of those categories through performative practices makes them able
to provide the experience of owning a stable female servant subject with a customized
appearance, identity, and personality. Their impressive performative power exposes the
socially constructed nature of fixed and oppressive humanistic notions of the subject
precisely because they reveal that categories of social difference can be mass produced and
customized. The high-end sex doll also confronts us with the fact that what we think of as
“womanhood” is not necessarily tied to organic women anymore. In this sense, I highlight
the existence of what I am calling “synthetic hyper femininity”: a performative location
habitable by organic and synthetic women that exist in that space in which the sex industry
and the “white thin cis hetero industrial complex” intersect (Gloria).
Using an interdisciplinary approach, I provide different narratives that focus on
contributing to the understanding of fembots and high-end sex dolls as cultural artifacts, and
as performative commodities created to endure acts of domination. In chapter two–“Galatea,
My Love: The Fantasy of the Perfect Woman”– I analyze the notion of the “perfect woman,”
a concept that is the underpinning of the sex dolls market across price ranges, historical
periods, and different cultures. A “perfect woman” is the main promise of heteropatriarchy: a
5
customized female servant subject able to perform sexual, emotional, and physical labor
without the need for consent and without complaining. She must perform that labor under a
regime of specific assigned behaviors and aesthetic requirements to fully fulfill the gender
attributed to her. I focus on Ovid’s tale of Galatea and Pygmalion as a myth that links beauty,
submission, and modesty and transforms those qualities into disciplinary practices that are
reinforced in a femaled servant subject to make her perfect. I also delve into some of the
stories that surfaced in Europe during the emergence of the feminist movement at the end of
the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. In these stories, the perfect
woman is designed and brought to life through technological means.
In chapter three, “The Synthetification of Womanhood,” I briefly review the
historicity of oppression related to the idea of the “perfect woman” using– as a starting
pointa fake remote control currently sold on Amazon called “Control a Woman.” I examine
how the high-tech sex industry and the “white, thin cis hetero industrial complex” (Gloria)
intersect to create current ideas of perfect womanhood. I explore the ways in which signifiers
and/or representations of womanhood are becoming womanhood itself. I argue that
womanhoodas a gender categoryis detaching from what we know as organic women and is
becoming a commodified performative space, in which womanhood is performed without
hiding the simulations that gender involves for sexual pleasure. I concretely offer two
examples of synthetic hyper femininity, one is a doll and the other is a simulation created by
a Live Cam model.
In Chapter four, “Down the Abyss: The Agency of the High-End Sex Doll,” I turn my
attention to analyzing the high-end sex doll as a performative object, and giving her the
importance and dedication I believe she deserves. I offer a non-conventional reading of the
sex doll, defining her as a high-tech puppet with agency. Despite her immobility, I posit that
the high-end sex doll constitutes the agent that drives the simulation of synthetic hyper
femininity, even though the performative work relies on the iDollator. I analyze the processes
of production of the dolls and the ways in which owners and producers gender and racialize
them. To end this chapter, I create “autohistoria-teoría” (Anzaldúa and Keating 319) by
delving into my experience touring Abyss Creations. I also briefly refer to the work of
Amber Hawk Swanson, a queer performance artist who commissioned a female doll of her
likeness from them.
6
Finally, in the Epilogue, I offer a glimpse of Realbotix, the robotic branch of Abyss
Creations and the new products they launched into the market on April of this year (2017). In
addition, I explain why looking forward to a queer futurity where womxn of color and Queer
Trans People of Color can live their lives to their fullest involves a process of reimagining
sexual technologies.
MAPPING THE ARCHIVE OF HETERO-EROTIC DESIRES
Exploring the archive of fantasies about creating and owning a female servant subject
is an endless task. Firstly, there are many names and terms that have being used throughout
history to refer to devices created to be women surrogates. “Gynoid”
4
or “Fembot” are some
of the terms used to refer to this specific type of gendered femaled embodiments that exist in
a liminal space between life and death, submission and rebellion, perversion and pleasure,
monstrosity and fascination. Because the gender attributed to the technology we createor the
non-assignment of gender to themspeaks about the use we expect from it, I am making a
specific differentiation to stress the different relations with the category of womanhood that
some of these terms have. With “high-end sex dolls” I am referring to the dolls that already
exist and that are currently on the market. That is, I am referring to the hyper-realistic
gendered femaled performative object that do not move any part of their body by themselves,
and that are not associated with an Artificial Intelligence. I will refer to Harmony and others
of its kind as a “Fembot” –a word that is specifically used to refer to gendered female robots,
popularized thanks to the television series Kill Oscar in which an evil scientist creates
“beautiful and sexy but also lethal electronic ‘Fembots’” (1976), and by Austin Power films
(Wosk 114-115). I will use the word “sex robots” as “a shorthand to refer to any kind of
technology that relates to intimacy […] It is about forming intimate relationships with
machines and with Artificial Intelligence” (Devlin, “Sex Robots). Sex robots as an umbrella
term is useful to encompass the variety of technologies currently available. Nonetheless, its
use is also delicate and complicated precisely because it erases the historic relations of power
behind them.
4
From the Greek prefix gyne (woman) is the feminine robotic equivalent of the male android” (Ferguson
9).
7
It is also easy to get lost in the large number of online communities, porn sites,
movies, series, works of art, novels, theater plays and myths that are easily relatable to the
topic, and that seem essential to offer a decent understanding of the subject. It is easy to get
lost in psychoanalytic theories, phenomenological theories, sociological theories, economic
theories, robotics, physics, and different approaches to human emotional and sexual behavior
when attempting to write about this topic. In addition, the archive of traditional and digital
media coverage on the topic is a black hole that grows each day. I set google alerts for the
terms “sex dolls” and “sex robots” about a year ago and I currently have 389 emails in my
mailbox (without counting the ones that I probably erased), each one of them with two or
three news articles about these devices. Prestigious media outlets have been covering the
topic since 2015. For example, Vanity Fair published the editorial “Is This the Dawn of the
Sexbots?” “an eye-opening look at Abyss Creations, where McMullen and his team build
some body [sic] to love” (Becker). The New York Times also produced a short documentary
that same year entitled “The Uncanny Lover” by Zackary Canepari et al. The project was part
of the “Bits video series” called Robotica that examined “how robots are poised to change
the way we do business and conduct our daily lives” (Canepari et al.); and included a
powerful photographic essay by Zackary Canepari about Abyss Creations and the production
of the dolls.
Despite the hype that currently surrounds this topic and the undeniable presence of
the fantasy of men creating a “perfect woman” in our culture, the academic literature from an
interdisciplinary perspective on current sex dolls and fembots prototypes is precarious,
difficult to find, and already outdated considering the fast pace of the industry. Between the
lines of the authors of the few books I found that are specifically about this issue, I can see
how they also struggled to put their thoughts together to write about a topic that seems to
take the researcher to infinite roads. In general, these texts are written by art historians who
offer valuable and detailed accounts of the “man-made” women within the arts. Nonetheless,
they do not center feminist theories and practices. Their core references are Freud, Lacan,
Heidegger, Baudelaire, Rilke, and so on and it is from that gaze, the white men’s centered
gaze, that most literature about this topic has been written. Most of the literature about
gendered femaled synthetic embodiments created to have sex is written from a dichotomous
and usually heterosexist understanding of gender and sexual orientation. It also tends to
8
overlook the racial dynamics of privilege and oppression, and the possible potentialities that
feminist and queer theory can bring to the analysis of them. For example, in “‘Synthetik
Love Lasts Forever’: Sex Dolls and the (Post?) Human Condition,” Prayag Ray defines the
sex doll as “a commodification of women, and an ethically questionable fantasy of consent-
free and consequence-free sex” (110). According to Ray, the sex doll as a cultural artifact
embodies “the values of an ideological framework [emphasis mine]” (99) with specific ideas
about “the body, love, and sexuality” (100). Ray does not give a name to that ideological
framework. The author accurately posits that, symbolically, the sex doll reinforces the
understanding of a “sexual partner” as private property, suggests that “sexual partners” are
disposable, and “reflects and perpetuates the framing of sexuality as a commodity” (100).
Nonetheless, he neglects to point out that the complicated entanglement of relations of power
that we might call contemporary heteropatriarchy with its deep relationships with white
supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and fat phobia is the ideological framework behind the
form that female embodiments are taking. Using genderless and color blind generalizations
such as “sexual partner” seems to be an avoidance of the hyper gendered and hyper racialized
quality of the sex doll as a thing, and as cultural artefact.
In The Erotic Doll, Marquard Smith analyzes the “erotic doll” as a specifically
modern fetish that “emerges out of modernity’s anthropo-psycho-sexual-capitalist complex”
(27). His thorough cultural and visual analysis of the “erotic doll” includes sex dolls,
religious images, mannequins, and works of arts. From his perspective, the erotic doll is a
fetish with a specifically modern complexity because “it has been tied to the anthropological
(the religious fetish), the political economy (the commodity fetish) and the
psychiatric/psychoanalytic (the sexual fetish)” (9). Smith posits that the doll as modern fetish
emerges in and by “these three distinct yet inter-articulating discourses, and it does so
historically, materially and in terms of its historical and material singularity as a thing” (9).
Despite the fascinating analysis presented by the author, Smith fails to point out that in fact
contemporary heteropatriarchy is the main articulating discourse of the doll as a modern
fetish, even though he presents a thorough analysis of heterosexuality using psychoanalytic
theory.
Even though Smith and Ray engage with topics like beauty ideals, the
commodification of women, and heterosexuality, it seems to me that the main question they
9
want to address is why men fall in love with inanimate objects. That is, even though in their
work they aim to problematize the sex doll as a cultural artifact, their vision of the subject is
still limited by a male centered approach. The reasons why most of the literature that engages
with the pervasive fantasy within western culture that man can create female creatures that
are “perfect” in comparison to organic women is male centered are infinite. But I consider
important to highlight that the social location of the people who create sexual technologies
and who create cultural meanings about sexual technologies influences the designs, functions
and cultural readings of the created devices. In this sense, it is relevant to point out that the
intersections of technology and sexualityin practical and theoretical terms have been
explored, mostly, by cisgender straight white men who have had the privilege to access to the
knowledge, the money, and the time needed to engage in the endeavor of creating and/or
theorizing about this kind of technology.
What Is Yet to Come…
The emergence of female voices engaging with the topic is relatively recent. In My
Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves, Julie Wosk provides an
analysis of the history of man-made perfect female creatures within the arts. Her book,
published in 2015, opens a door to expand the understanding of sex dolls and sex robots.
Many other voices are arising, concerned about the consequences that gendering
technologies will have on organic women and on the overall role of women’s in society. In a
recent article about a robot that looks like the actor Scarlett Johansson, created in Hong Kong
in April of 2016, Margot Kaminski highlighted: “There’s no doubt that as the robotics
technology democratizes, we’ll see an increase in attempts to make your own personalized
Kim Kardashian, for example”. “And there’s also no doubt in my mind that this will have a
gendered component. Siri’s a woman, Cortana’s a woman;
5
if robots exist to perform labor or
personal assistance, there’s a darn good chance they’ll be women” (Kaminski). In “Why Is
AI Female? How Our Ideas about Sex and Service Influence the Personalities We Give
Machines,” Monica Nickelsburg explains that the imbalance in the genderization of robotic
5
Siri is Apple’s virtual assistant and Cortana is Microsoft’s virtual assistant. To this list, we can add
Amazon’s Alexa.
10
devices and virtual intelligence might be the result of heteropatriarchal ideas about labor and
sex. She explains: “assigning gender to these AI personalities may say something about the
roles we expect them to play. Virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa perform
functions historically given to women. They schedule appointments, look up information,
and are generally designed for communication.” Femininity is also associated with kindness,
softness, submission and compliance so, “to get consumers to adopt new technologies [...]
their engineers choose female personalities, which are perceived as less threatening”
(Nickelsburg).
The “Campaign Against Sex Robots” is an online effort created by Kathleen
Richardson and Erik Billing (both scholars from the U.K.). They define “sex robot” as
“machines in the form of women or children for use as sex objects, substitutes for human
partners or prostituted persons. They aim to highlight that “these kinds of robots are
potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society” and that “an organized
approach against the development of sex robots is necessary in response to the numerous
articles and campaigns that now promote their development without critically examining
their potentially detrimental effect on society” (Richardson and Billing). Moreover, they
“challenge the view that the development of adult and child sex robots will have a positive
benefit to society, but instead further reinforce power relations of inequality and violence.
They present valid reasons why current high-end sex dolls and fembots are problematic,
mostly focusing on the ethical, symbolical, and political implications of fembots and their
relationship to the logics of prostitution and human trafficking. They state that sex dolls
“show the immense horrors still present in the world of prostitution which is built on the
‘perceived’ inferiority of women and children and therefore justifies their use as sex objects”
(Richardson and Billing).
I personally disagree with abolitionist understandings of sex work that perpetuate
looking at it as inherently wrong, deem all sex workers as victims, and simplify the
intersectional dynamics of power within the sex work industry. I do believe the current high-
tech sex industry is mediated by problematic structures of power that create technologies that
reproduce structures of oppression. Nonetheless like Kate Devlin, I do not believe that
being against sex robots is the answer either. Sex robots are not intrinsically problematic. It is
due to our own cultural background and organization of power that many of our sexual
11
technologyand the representations of these devices in popular culturehave become
symbolically and literally a conflation of sexist ideas of womanhood, racist, and colonialist
ideas of beauty and sexuality, and blurred ideas of consent. Renowned feminist thinkers like
Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, and Anne Balsamo have explored how human technology is
a product and reflection of our culture, and the case of current sexual technology is not
different. Unfortunately, our current sexual technology shows us that we still struggle to
think beyond categories of social difference, control, and/or private property when thinking
about companionship, intimacy, or love.
As I have observed during conversations, most people think about the high-end sex
doll just as the most sophisticated masturbatory device in the market, but these dolls are
synthetic hyper-realistic women able to provide the feeling, the presence, of a female
partner. Besides providing a highly satisfactory sexual experience, they offer the complex
experience of creating and owning a sexualized and racialized female subject that always
wants to please. iDollators find in these artifacts the possibility to create and recreate a sexual
and romantic source of gratification that is always available, always there. Current high-end
sex dolls and efforts to build fembots seems to aim to fulfill one of the main promises of
heteropatriarchy: the ownership of a female gendered and racialized subject that never fails
to perform the assigned subjectivity. That is, they fully fulfill the assignments of gender, race
and class, imposed on them.
These pages are the result of my personal reading of current cultural discourses and
some of the uses of high-end sex dolls and fembot prototypes presently (or soon to be) sold
on the market. In many ways, each chapter constitutes a tale of its own, the result of taking
one of the many roads that I could have taken to write about this. These pages constitute a
gesture of taking the road less taken, and attempt to illuminate dynamics of power that
remain invisible, to shift the monotonous discourse about this issue, to offer a perspective
about current sexual technology that focuses on experiences of femme identified people, that
is not color-blind, and that engages with feminist and queer knowledges and practices. In
other words, it has been one of my main purposes to decenter cis white men from the
conversation, and to center the performance of what I call “synthetic hyper femininity” by
organic and synthetic women. In this exercise, by necessity, I left out information and
references that mostly center men. Like some of the women working on robotics, I believe
12
that it is necessary to rethink sexist images or the strongly gender stereotyped design of
social robots [and synthetic humans in general] as women, infants or pets” (Weber 214). I
believe that we need a critique of those stereotypes, patterns, norms and roles” (214). I also
think it is urgent to bring intersectional queer of color perspectives able to illuminate
processes of racialization within the conversation about synthetic humans and intelligent
technology. The processes of customization and objectification of categories of social
difference as cultural effectsto generate the sense of a fixed identity through technology that
provides sexual and emotional gratification emulate, in many ways, the way we gender and
racialize people. In that sense, they reflect back to us the need we have as a culture to
categorize people. These devices also function as a mirror of the dualistic, heterosexist,
capitalist, and racist relations that mediate mainstream current politics of pleasure and desire.
They reveal what is considered beautiful, what is deemed ideal, perfect, pure, desirable in
relation to women’s bodies and behaviors. They also reveal the need to ravish, violate and
control women’s bodies, minds, and spirits.
It is not my intention to provide a conclusive analysis on the idea of the female
automaton, fembots, high-end sex dolls or sex robots in these pages. As Aurora Levins
Morales reminds us in “The Historian as Curandera,” “storytelling is not neutral” (135).
Historians have different perspectives that influence which stories are considered relevant
and, therefore, which stories are included in their storytelling. In this sense, it is not my
purpose to present a complete account of the innumerable narratives about creating and
owning a female servant subject, and/or about the ways in which automata, fembots, sex
dolls, and sex robots have been used and have evolved throughout history as devices. There
are books written by art historians who specialize in creating these accounts.
6
I am making
the conscious choice of integrating history when I need to use it to explain a contemporary
reality. I am making the conscious choice of picking the stories that serve to highlight some
of the relations of power behind the dolls from an intersectional and queer feminist
perspective.
6
For example, Wosk’s work offers a brilliant account of the cultural devices that refer to the “story of
men’s enduring fantasies and dreams” about creating a “Substitute Woman, an artificial female superior to the
real thing” (5). She also tracks the use of surrogates for women by women artists.
13
It is not my intention either to pathologize or condemn the use of these technological
devices because of the simple fact that they are non-human. Instead, what I envision as a
queer futurity includes, for sure, relationships between humans, robots, cyborgs, Artificial
Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Holograms and a long list of things/beings yet to be created
and named. But the thing/being that I envision as a possible synthetic companion is not a
slave, and it is not limited by the structures of oppression that we inherited from Eurocentric
humanism. I do believe in the potential of sexual technology for liberation. Like Devlin, I
just cannot settle for a version of the future that limits sexual technologies of the present and
the future to a lonely, sad, man, isolated with his doll (Devlin, Sex Robots). I long for a
world where we can relate to each other, and with everything that exists, beyond the
reproduction of non-consensual and oppressive relations of power. I long for a new order of
pleasure in which sexual technologies are accessible, affordable, and not founded in sexist,
capitalist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic values.
It seems evident to me that we are living the beginning of the normalization of the use
of synthetic humans as partners. We face the imminent arrival and popularization of fembots
that already are perpetuating and will keep perpetuating the stereotypes we have been trying
to dismantle for centuries. What do we, as feminist, have to say about that? What do we have
to say as femme identified people, as queer people, as people of color? I want to echo
Elizabeth Brown’s question: “Will sex robots be more like vibrators, pets, partners, or
slaves?” But I also consider important to posit other questions: How do current sexual
technologies perpetuate systems of oppression? Why are we failing in addressing this issue
from an intersectional perspective when it is evident that ideas of gender, race, and class are
key to the topic? What is our stand on that? Are we going to discard the infinite potentialities
of sexual technologies because most of the ones we have and that are developing are not
what we envision? How can we own our sexual futures? Is it possible to own our sexual
futures as queer people of color if we are kept outside the realm of sexual technologies?
This project is an effort to catalyze a conversation about these questions. To open the
door. It responds to my interest in exploring the potentialities of feminist and queer
knowledges and practices to develop a critical approach to the ways in which sexuality,
power, culture, and technology intersect today and might intersect tomorrow. It relates to my
interest in using queer feminist approaches to examine the current and forecoming politics of
14
the high-tech sex industry, the ways in which they currently perpetuate systems of privilege
and oppression through their products, and the ways we can disrupt those systems of
oppression to reclaim a future in which womxn of color and Queer Trans People of Color are
not excluded from sexual technologies. This project is an attempt to examine the relations of
power that mediate the birth of that future, a future of sex that seems to be already colonized,
conquered and set under the same conditions as our present time. We must examine the ways
in which oppressive dynamics that reproduce harmful stereotypes and that keep non-
normative sexualities and bodies excluded from the politics of desire mediate the research,
production, access, and enjoyment of the most advanced technology to feel pleasure and/or
emotional gratification. A sex industry that centers its agenda on the creation of a compliant
female sex robot is a sex industry rooted in the perpetuation of heterosexism. However
following the tradition of feminist theorists and artists like Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti
and Cindy Sherman who reimagine the uses and disruptive potentials of female
embodimentsthis thesis also aims to create some sort of intellectual unsettling by diving into
that potentiality and valuing what their performance of femininity can teach us. It is also an
attempt to pave the way to be able to reimagine sexual technologies: their use, their forms,
their materiality, and even their purposes by expanding ideas of intimacy and disrupting
dichotomous notions of the subject rooted in Humanism.
There is an evident lack of queer of color voices bridging sexual technologies with
queer of color critique and feminist theories. The official webpage of the Hawaii Research
Center for Future Studies, “one of the world's most renowned institutions for futures
research, consulting, and education” (Department of Political Science Future Studies)
explains that the discipline of Future Studies “encourages the contemplation of many
possible futures, and facilitates dialogue between groups with competing or conflicting
visions” (Department of Political Science Future Studies). But Ivana Milojević, researcher
and educator with a background in sociology, gender, peace and futures studies states in
“Future Studies and Women's Visions” that the relatively new field of Future Studies
“remains largely male dominated in terms of practitioners and in terms of the epistemological
assumptions that underlie theory, methodology and content. Women remain excluded from
both the history and the future of the future” (894). In an article published in The Atlantic
entitled “Why Aren't There More Women Futurists,” Rose Eveleth also highlights that “most
15
of the big names in futurism are men. What does that mean for the direction we’re all
headed?” Also, “Cindy Frewen, the head of the Association of Professional Futurists,
estimates that about only a third of their members are women. Amy Zalman, the CEO of the
World Future Society, says that 23 percent of her group’s members identify as female. But
most lists of “top futurists” perhaps include one female name. Often, that woman is no longer
working in the field” (Eveleth). In fact, there is a general lack of awareness of how the
intersections of gender, race, class, citizenship, ability, etc. mediate the access to be part of
that field or to be even considered a person who deserves to be part of the future.
For this reason, I am not hiding but making loud my voice as a Feminist Crip Queer
Non-binary femme. I am using Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory “autohistoria -teoría” in the sense
that I am including “life story and self-reflection” in my “storytelling process” (Anzaldúa and
Keating 319). As a reader, you will maybe notice shifting voices and how personal stories
intertwine with a more “academic” voice, or with the voice of someone who is just trying to
stand by your side, as if we were in a museum, and point out the things I see so you can think
about them.
In Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings, Juana María
Rodríguez makes a methodological move that I try to emulate in these pages. She defines her
writing about fantasies, sexualities, and futurities as a queer political gesture by using the
practice Deborah Britzman explored in her essay “On Refusing Explication.” Following
Rodríguez’s method and Anzaldúa’s call to create knowledge from what I think/feel, I
explored “the affective potential of subjective encounters over intellectual certitude”
(Rodríguez, Sexual Futures 27) as I wrote. Britzman’s pedagogical practice also “privileges
the act of reading over the search for meaning” as a political practice that supposes ‘an
equality of intellect’ between the reader and the author” (qtd. in Rodríguez, Sexual Futures
27). The relationship between the writer and the reader as discussed by Rodríguezbased on
Britzman’s pedagogical practice–is a relationship of friendship that I want to emulate. I find
this notion of reading as friendship particularly useful to think about the kind of
writing/reading we need to create communal knowledge that can allow us to think, imagine,
hope, and enjoy what is yet to come.
16
CHAPTER 2
GALATEA, MY LOVE
THE FANTASY OF THE “PERFECT WOMAN
The cashier at the super market, a white heterosexual man, started laughing while
scanning chips, tea, chocolate, beer, and other many (exaggerated) number of snacks that I
was buying: “Are you having a party?” he asked. “Not exactly. Well, I’m having a writing
party with myself” –I answered, while clearly framing the word “party” in quotation marks
with my hands. “I am writing my thesis so I need things to compulsively eat and drink while
I write”– I said, to hopefully and gently end the conversation. “What are you writing your
thesis on?” asked the white guy with his afternoon customer service smile, the one he uses
many hours a day to pay the rent. “I am writing my thesis on sex dolls and sex robots,” I
answered hoping to get a “Oh! That’s cool. Have a good day!” But the guy got extremely
excited, he was aware of the existence of high- end sex dolls, has seen them online thanks to
his Facebook feed, and talked to me about Lars and the Real Girl
7
and Ex-Machina.
8
He
confessed that he will never use one, but he was pretty convinced of their utility: “They are
the perfect girlfriend, they always will want sex and they don’t get fat,” “They cannot move,
but at least they don’t talk back” “They are the perfect woman because they cannot break
7
“In this comedy, Lars Lindstrom is an awkwardly shy young man in a small northern town who finally
brings home the girl of his dreams to his brother and sister-in-law's home. The only problem is that she's not
real - she's a sex doll Lars ordered off the Internet. But sex is not what Lars has in mind, but rather a deep,
meaningful relationship. His sister-in-law is worried for him, his brother thinks he's nuts, but eventually the
entire town goes along with his delusion in support of this sweet natured boy that they've always loved” (“Lars
and the Real Girl (2007)”).
8
“Caleb, a 26 years old programmer at the world's largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a
week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb
arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in
which he must interact with the world's first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot
girl” (“Ex Machina (2014)”).
17
your heart. They always will do what you want,” were some of his comments. He masked
them as jokes.
After that day, I started to check the comments people leave on many of the news
about sex robots and sex dolls I receive on my feed. Most entries have between five hundred
thousand and 2 million views and more than 2,000 shares. The delight, ambivalence,
fascination, disgust, and curiosity these artifacts cause are undeniable. Some comments made
by men acknowledge the sexism that is at the core of the development of this type of devices
and behind the rhetoric used to sell them. But others overlook sexism, to focus on what they
believe is a promising future in which robotic partners with self-awareness share the world
with organic humans. There are also comments imbued in cruelty that reflect the ways in
which sexism operates discursively in online spaces. When hiding behind a screen and a
pseudonym, sexism operates with no shame. For example, in an article published by Fox
News entitled “RealDolls Builds Artificially Intelligent Sex Robots with Programmable
Personalities,some users make these kinds of affirmations and arguments when confronted
with the existence of high-end sex dolls and the imminent arrival of sex robots: “This is what
happens when so many women decide they don't need or want a man or when they use sex as
a reward for getting what they want,” “I am divorcing my fat wife,” “If she will wash dishes
and do the laundry, I'm in…oops, I mean sold,” “You females are up the creek as soon as
they get these perfected” (Dormehl).
In my experience, cis-women, non-binary femmes and trans-women tend to have a
different reaction than men to these artifacts. When they haven’t seen the dolls before, firstly
comes absolute shock and disbelief regarding the existence of such realistic sex-dolls and the
existence of fembot prototypes. Then, curiosity sparks a flood of questions about their uses,
their history, their texture. Finally, the conversation always ends with mixed feelings that are
hard to explain. I’ve seen women’s eyes full of disgust, fear, anger, skepticism, and deep
concern. In many ways, for those who have been continuously exposed and forced to embody
unattainable ideas of womanhood, these devices might feel like a punch in the stomach. They
are just there, being perfect, embodying the impossible. In fact, in Love and Sex with Robots:
The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, David Levy points out:
The marketing of RealDolls and their cousins from other manufacturers tends to
be based on the idea that they are ‘the perfect woman,’ perfect because they’re
18
always ready and available, because they provide all the benefits of a human
female partner without any of the complications involved in human relationships,
and because they make no demands of their owners, with no conversation and no
foreplay required. (247)
The referent “perfect womanhood” embodied by the dolls is directly related to the
idea that women are servants who should be “always ready and available” for sexual,
emotional, and/or physical labor, and that women should not expect anything in return for the
sexual, emotional and/or physical labor performed. It is also related to the notion that women
are less than a subject, with no right to ask for anything in a relationship, and it implies that a
perfect woman” does not have a voice. She must be silent, mute. The “perfect woman” is
the one that is entirely controllable, exploitable, and the one that never complains about that
exploitation. Moreover, the notion that a gender can be performed perfectly is problematic.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, perfect” refers to: “being entirely without
fault or defect/satisfying all requirements/corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract
concept, /faithfully reproducing the original.” In this sense, the idea of “perfect womanhood”
reinforces a binary and essentialist understanding of gender based on the illusion that true
womanhood exists. The concept of perfection implies the existence of someone else who
judges if that perfection is attained, if the being/thing is in fact without fault or defect, or if it
satisfies “all requirements.” Therefore, the fantasy embodied by the dolls, that is, the concept
of “perfect womanhood” is an idea that objectifies women–turning them into objects to be
judged, with a checklist, by the male gaze.
The stereotypes of what women should bethat are deeply embedded in the
heteropatriarchal imaginary and that are needed to sustain the structure of power that keeps
those who experience sexism oppressed–have a “complex historicity” that “is indissociable
from relations of discipline, regulation and punishment” (Butler, “Critically Queer” 23). The
specific gendering and racializing practices imposed on the dolls and reproduced/reinforced
by the dolls, derive from a set of ideas of womanhood that reduce women to the status of
things, suppress womxn’s voices, feelings and creative power, control and profit from
19
womxn’s bodies and sexuality for the benefit of others, and reduce womxn
9
to the role of
servant.
A “perfect woman” is the main promise of heteropatriarchy: a made for, assigned to,
created for, servant woman specifically customized for its owner. She must be able to
perform sexual, emotional, and physical labor without the need for consent and without
complaining. To be truly “perfect,” she must perform that labor under a regime of specific
assigned behaviors and aesthetic requirements. From my perspective, what mobilizes the
current high-tech sex industry is to fulfill that promise, to create what Julie Wosk defines as a
“substitute woman”: a sexually usable and “beautiful creature he [a man] lovingly clothes
and adorns, a woman who is pliant and compliant and answers all his needs” (Wosk 9).
In my experience, people in general regardless of their race, age, gender and sexual
orientation tend to ask about male dolls almost immediately after being presented with
female dolls and the ways in which they might be problematic. So, before you ask yourself:
Yes, there are male gendered dolls and they currently represent a small market opportunity. I
have asked myself many times why this question comes so quickly. The need to ask this
question is also rooted in our internalized need to center men in the conversation it is almost
like a game from our brains, making us think that (maybe) the mere existence of male dolls
annuls the reasons why current female sex dolls perpetuate systems of oppression. The
gender imposed on the dolls matters: a cis-gendered female sex doll, a trans-gendered female
sex doll, and a cis-male sex doll evoke different feelings, are used to perform different
actions, fulfill different fantasies, and respond to different histories and dynamics of privilege
and oppression. In the same way: the race imposed on the dolls matters. A white cis-
gendered female sex doll evokes different feelings and fulfills different sexual fantasies than
a Latina, Asian or Black trans-gendered female sex doll. And they are treated differently by
their owners. The histories of privilege and oppression behind the categories of social
difference that each one of these devices embodies, the people who use them and the way
they use the devices change the outcome of any possible analysis.
9
I use the words woman/womxn/femme interchangeably as a gesture to make visible the lives and bodies
of transgender women and non-binary femmes when is pertinent.
20
The male doll is not loaded with cultural meanings that reflect and reinforce
structures of oppression that constrain men’s life. The male doll does not reinforce toxic
masculinity. In “Making The World's First Male Sex Doll”
10
an episode of the series
Slutever, produced by VICE Video and published online on October 2016 Karley Sciortino
visits the headquarters of Sinthethics. This company is in Los Angeles, CA and it is one of
the most popular companies creating hyper realistic male sex dolls. In this mini-
documentary, porn star Jessica Ryan offers her testimony as an owner of a male doll. Before
the interview, Karley clarifies that it took them almost a month to find a woman willing to
talk on camera about having a male doll, and that Jessica is not ashamed of talking about her
doll because she is part of the sex positive community. Lying on her bed, with her legs
intertwined with the legs of her doll, Jessica explains that she is in a long-distance
relationship, and that she was tired of dealing with the complications of having sex with
“fuck buddies.” She affirms that her doll, as an inanimate thing, offers her a “fine line of
comfort” because “he is a dick without being a dick.” She uses him to shoot porn videos for
her online channel, she understands him as a sex toy that becomes humanized in people’s
minds through sexual fantasies, and she affirms that “as a female, this [having sex with a
male sex doll] is so much easier than doing a Tinder date” (Sciortino).
At the end of the piece, Karley Sciortino the hostess of the documentarytries one of
the dolls produced by Sinthetics on camera. A brief wide close-up shows Karley having sex
with the doll. Slowly, cautiously choosing each word while she emphasizes the realism of
the sensations she is experiencing she states: “It feels absolutely, indistinguishable from a
real person. Except that I am completely in control.” Then, it is possible to see her sitting on
the bed, after having sex, just using her bra and hugging the doll. With a glass of wine on the
hand that is not resting on the doll’s neck, Karley explains that the doll allowed her “to be
lost in her own fantasy.” She also clarifies: “You can’t have this experience having sex with
a real person. It is its own thing” (Sciortino).
According to the owners of Sinthetics, they are currently selling as many female as
male dolls. Even though there might be a rise in the use of male dolls by self-identified
10
It is important to highlight that I have only found white male dolls online, which makes impossible the
analysis of different relations of power derived from racial tensions between women and male dolls.
21
womenand that I honestly perceived a disruptive potential in the shifted relationships that
male dolls awaken in these two women these do not eliminate the fact that, in our cultural
imaginary, the sex doll is a hyper-gendered female device associated with the need for
dominating and owning a woman created to specifically please its male owner and to comply
with sexist mandates. Historically, the drive behind the industry, the movies, the novels, the
theater plays, the myths, the websites, the online communities, the TV shows, the
documentaries, the photographic essays, is the same: to create a “perfect woman” and bring
her to life (through technological or spiritual means) to serve her creator as a sexual and
emotional aid. There is a pervasive fantasy in Western culture, a recurrent narrative that
asserts men’s power to create feminine creatures more beautiful and better than organic
women.
WHY ARE YOU BLUSHING, GALATEA?
High-end sex dolls and fembot prototypes are the present manifestation of a long
tradition of fictional tales of men who tried to create perfect embodiments of femininity
through technological or supernatural means. It is possible to track, throughout history,
stories of men falling in love with statues, bringing dolls to life, and trying to produce a
gynoid to fulfill their sexual and emotional needs. The origin myth of the notion of “perfect
womanhood” is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. The myth is mostly known from Ovid’s
version in The Metamorphoses Book X (24397).
11
Infinite analyses, re-writings,
representations, appropriations and adaptations about it are part of the mashup of cultural
references that, together, have nurtured the fantasy that men can create a feminine creature
that will perfectly embody their own idea of womanhood and who will be their servant/lover.
This is primarily a myth about gender, about imposing gender and reinforcing gender.
Ovid’s story about Pygmalion, a famous sculptor from Cyprus (in other versions of the myth
the guy is a king), is preceded by the story of the Propoetides. This group of women dare to
deny that Venus was a goddess. In return, full of rage, Venus curses them: “because of her
11
I will use the translations and the perspectives about the myth used/presented by Wosk, and Smith as a
starting point for my analysis, to avoid the mistake of using a version of Ovid’s book that might not be
adequate.
22
divine anger, they are said to have been the first to prostitute their bodies and their
reputations in public, and, losing all sense of shame, they lost the power to blush” (Ovid 220-
42). Pygmalion was disgusted with the sexual conduct of the Propoetides because the curse
turned them into women with no shame regarding their sexuality. The presumption that
organic women are inherently “defective and dangerous” is a pervasive stereotype within
Greek culture. In fact, Aristotle develop a “scientific” theory about why women are
“misbegotten men” that centers around the idea of heat: “only embryos that had sufficient
heat could develop into fully human form [that is, into a man]” (Weitz 4). The premise that
women were basically malformed men because of lack of heat in the womb, influenced the
way in which women’s bodies were understood within the “scientific” community until the
eighteenth century. Many scholars attributed to that same reason “a plethora of other
deficiencies in women, including smaller stature, frailer constitution, less developed brain,
and emotional and moral weakness that could endanger any men who came under their spell”
(Weitz 4).
12
Pygmalion, “dismayed by the numerous defects of character Nature had given the
feminine spirit” (qtd. in Wosk, 9) decided to remain chaste. He was disappointed,
dissatisfied, with organic women’s “despicable” nature, but he obviously wanted a wife. For
this reason, he sculpted for himself “a statue in ivory, white as snow, more beautiful than any
woman born” (qtd. in Smith 36). From an intersectional feminist perspective, it is important
to pay attention to the motivation behind Pygmalion’s decision to carve the statue, and to the
equation of whiteness and beauty present in the myth. Pygmalion’s disappointment about the
way in which real women performed womanhood is the motivation to sculpt a “perfect
woman,” one that will fully fulfill his idea of a proper wife. The conflation of whiteness and
beauty present in foundational myth tends to be overlooked in most of the literature about it.
Galatea, the first “perfect woman,” was as white as snow. The sex doll and sex robot
subculture has also centered the cis-gender white female doll at its core. Traditionally, the
performance of “perfect womanhood,” is deeply connected to a proper performance of
12
It is important to point out that these are ideas that will echo later in Christian ways of understanding
women’s bodies, women’s relationship to sin, women’s sexuality, and women’s roles in society (Weitz 4).
23
whiteness, and a proper performance of “upper-classness”.
13
Western aesthetic values still
equate whiteness to beauty andas Umberto Eco explains in On Beauty: A History of a
Western Ideabeauty is, in turn, equated to goodness and is, itself, a good. Eco starts his
book explaining:
“Beautiful”—together with “graceful” and “pretty,” or “sublime,” “marvelous,”
“superb” and similar expressions—is an adjective that we often employ to
indicate something that we like. In this sense, it seems that what is beautiful is the
same as what is good, and in fact in various historical periods there was a close
link between the Beautiful and the Good.
But if we judge on the basis of our everyday experience, we tend to define as
good not only what we like, but also what we should like to have for ourselves.
There is an infinite number of things that we consider good, a love requited,
wealth honestly acquired, a refined delicacy, and in all these cases we should like
to possess that good. A good is that which stimulates our desire. (8)
Porcelain skin was considered beautiful in Greece and was also a symbol of class, it
was prestigious. People wealthy enough did not work hours and hours under the sun.
Whiteness was and still is a “good” that we should strive to possess according to Eurocentric
standards of beauty. Greek women, like many women today, performed whitening skin
practices to conform to beauty ideals. In fact, “Greek women were the first to use white lead
as a face cream to clear complexions of blemishes and to improve the color and texture of the
skin. Later, in the Classic and Hellenistic period (700300 BCE), lead-based face masks
became the custom” (Witkowski and Parish 368). Pygmalion’s statue could not be of another
skin color. To be perfect, she needed it to be as white as possible, as beautiful as possible, as
good as possible. Pygmalion’s talent was such a wonder that his statue had “a figure better
than any living woman could boast of” (qtd. in Wosk 9). The artist creates his own “perfect
woman,” a hyper-realistic body to perform femininity with it, to fall in love with it, to fuck it:
The features are those of a real girl, who, you might think, lived, and wished to
move, if modesty did not forbid it. Indeed, art hides his art. He marvels: and
passion, for this bodily image, consumes his heart. Often, he runs his hands over
the work, tempted as to whether it is flesh or ivory, not admitting it to be ivory.
He kisses it and thinks his kisses are returned; and speaks to it; and holds it, and
imagines that his fingers press into the limbs, and is afraid lest bruises appear
from the pressure. Now he addresses it with compliments, now brings it gifts that
13
The ways in which gender, race, and class intersect today when analyzing surrogates for women are
different as we will see in further chapters.
24
please girls, shells and polished pebbles, little birds, and many-coloured flowers,
lilies and tinted beads, and the Heliades’s amber tears, that drip from the trees. He
dresses the body, also, in clothing; places rings on the fingers; places a long
necklace round its neck; pearls hang from the ears, and cinctures round the
breasts. All are fitting: but it appears no less lovely, naked. He arranges the statue
on a bed on which cloths dyed with Tyrian murex are spread, and calls it his
bedfellow, and rests its neck against soft down, as if it could feel. (Ovid 243-97)
As I explained before, a perfect woman” is a customized servant woman able to
perform sexual, emotional, and physical laborwithout the need for consent and without
complainingunder a regime of specific assigned behaviors and aesthetic requirements. In
this case, the statue responds to a specific aesthetic regime by being white and beautiful, but
it is important to point out that the first human trait Pygmalion attributes to his statue is
modestythe one that the Propoetides lacked, that real women lacked, according to his
judgement. He begins to imagine how a perfect woman would be by marking her submissive,
chaste and pure. His modest statue–a “bodily image” of his own fantasy–is so lifelike that it
seems to have the desire to live to please him, but it is too modest to dare to desire to live.
Pygmalion’s interaction with the statue, his attribution of personal traits and emotions to it,
his need to believe that it feels sexual desire for him, that it loves him back, is a process of
genderization. The way in which he adorns the body and makes it perform specific actions
(e.g., lying in bed) to satisfy his desires is also part of that process of genderization, as well
as Pygmalion’s sexual use of the statue.
14
As Smith points out, Pygmalion’s relationship with his statue is specifically mediated
by touch (37). He assertively explains that “Pygmalion’s relations with the statue have from
the beginning a visual but even more haptic component to them: the ivory statue becomes
body, is given form, materialized, materializes, largely by way of touch” (37), a touch that is
painful and a touch that is sexual. Pygmalion’s passionate psychical interactions with the
statue are central to the story. At first, the need to touch the statueto perform sexual acts
with itcomes from the passion and the fantasies that its realism awaken. I can imagine
Pygmalion squeezing the statue, trying to bend the stiffness of the ivory. Sarah Ahmed
explains in The Cultural Politics of Emotions that “it is through the intensification of pain
14
All these are common practices performed by contemporary “iDollators”. I will analyze them further in
the following chapters.
25
sensations that bodies and worlds materialize and take shape, or that the effect of boundary,
surface and fixity is produced” (24). Pygmalion’s concern about harming the statue with the
strength of his touch is, in many ways, also a desire for that harm to happen, for that bruise to
appear as a signal of life. He prays to Venus at the festival in her honor. He asks the Goddess
to give a “living likeness” (Smith 38) to his statue – he just asked for a better simulation. The
Goddess turns the statue itself into a fleshed woman who will later be known as Galatea.
Galatea’s becoming into an organic women might be thanks to the power of Venus but, like
in many relationships between high-end sex dolls and iDollators, what materially transforms
the statue (or the doll) into something alive is Pygmalion’s sexual desire, and Pygmalion’s
performance of sexual acts with the statue:
And kissed her as she lay, and she seemed warm;
Again he kissed her and with marveling touch
Caressed her breast; beneath his touch the flesh
Grew soft, its ivory hardness vanishing,
And yielded to his hands, as in the sun
Wax of Hymettus softens and is shaped
By practiced fingers into many forms,
And usefulness acquires by being used. (qtd. in Smith 38)
The end is not so different from a fairy tale: the right prince kisses the princess, the
very fertile princess awakens, they have kids, and they live happily ever after. In this case,
nine months after, Paphos (their daughter) was born. At least this is Ovid’s version. It in,
Galatea’s purpose as a subject is to be used, after all, she became one because of her utility.
When Galatea becomes aware of the fact that she is alive, Ovid makes the point that she
blushes. Smith explains that this blush has been interpreted by classicist theorists as Galatea’s
way of reciprocating the love of Pygmalion when looking at him, “in return of his gaze”
(Smith 38). I cannot avoid remembering that, before telling Galatea’s story, Ovid writes
about the Propoetides, the women without shame “that lost the power to blush.” Ovid uses
Galatea’s blush to slut shame, establishing a clear duality to constrain women’s sexuality. I
cannot avoid the urge to think what would have happened if someone else was the author of
the story. How would this tale be if it were narrated from Galatea’s perspective? Those red
cheeks can mean so many things. I want to know: Why are you blushing, Galatea? Is it
shame? Is it anger? Is it actually love?
26
Automated Galateas: The Modern Ladies
Pygmalion’s longing for producing a substitute woman–an embodiment of perfect
womanhood better than the originalis echoed in innumerable cultural products, and has been
explored and exploited by many artists…All imagining how to achieve that goal, imagining
the consequences of producing a “femaled,” racialized, and “classed”
15
customized servant
subject. Some of these cultural products are concrete objects, things that aim to fulfil the
need of having a body able to contain that fantasy: sex dolls, women’s body parts, etc. Others
are artistic re-creations of the myth: paintings, sculptures, theater plays, novels, and movies
produced/created by straight men whose protagonists are artificial women created to serve.
These cultural products constitute a visual, touchable, and hearable archive/laboratory
that documents/experiments with strategies to impose categories of social difference on
someone/something genderized as a woman (human or not). This archive of heteropatriarchal
fantasies allows us to understand the illusions, fears, conquest, and failures of those who
have had the power to create, impose, and reinforce ideas of womanhood throughout western
history. These cultural products embody and/or represent the cultural beliefs, expectations,
and political debates about women and about womanhood during the time they were/are
produced. They also serve to understand the influence of sexual technologies in the
reinforcement of oppressive gender roles, and illuminate the way in which the fears and
hopes that technology awakens are, many times, linked to ideas of womanhood and sexuality.
These cultural products are a catalog of attempts to produce “perfect womanhood” taking
different roads: What if Pygmalion has a wife? What if Galatea is not a statue but a human to
be improved? What if Galatea is not a statue but a mechanical woman? What if Galatea fails
at performing womanhood? What if she rebels? For example, from the last quarter of the
nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century there was an outburst of
European dramas, ballets, and stories in which the main plot represents attempts to produce
perfect womanhood.” That is, the emergence of the feminist movement is permeated by
15
I the use the word femaled and the expression “gendered female” interchangeably, in the same way that
I will the word classed to refer to the way in which these surrogates for women are marked as belonging to a
certain social group. I am trying to emphasize that categories of social difference like whiteness, upper-
classness or femininity are, in these devices, a hyper-citation of cultural constructs. They are a doing, a verb.
27
male authors imagining the possible uses of emergent technologies to create simulations and
reproductions,
16
to create an artificial woman able to embody and perform what was
considered ideal womanhood according to Victorian/Edwardian values
17
(Wosk 14).
In W.S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), Pygmalion’s statues tend to have
his wife Cynisca’s face. It is she who designates Galatea –a statue with her face but that
looks ten years younger than her–as her own surrogate for her husband’s use when she is not
present. In her absence, the sculpture comes to life thanks to the gods. When Cynisca returns,
she thinks Pygmalion is cheating on her with another woman, and leaves him. The sculptor
did not want to be alive without his wife. Galatea, to save Pygmalion’s life–and as an act of
love–takes Cynisca’s place to make him believe that his wife wants to fix things between
them. The play ends with Pygmalion denying his love for Galatea and with Galatea going
back to her pedestal, deciding to become ivory again (Shaw).
Galateathe reproduction–is presented as a “perfect in thy loveliness” woman. She is
superior to her original, Cynisca, in many ways, because she “embodies the innocent, naïve,
self-sacrificing female favored in Victorian conceptions of the ideal woman” (Wosk 14). It is
implied that Galatea’s decision to become a statue again is almost a “suicide” because of a
broken heart. She is pure and chaste, innocent to the core. She has “no thought, no hope,
no/enterprise/That does not own thee as its sovereign” (qtd. in Wosk 17). She looks
considerably younger and Pygmalion perfected Cynisca’s features to his likeness to make her
prettier. She is a better woman because she “does not have two of women’s stereotypical
female features: their tendencies to be too emotional and to talk too much” (15). These are
the same characteristics men tend to look for in later movies when they create their perfect
fembot (16) and, as we will see in the next chapters, these are qualities that men still value
from dolls’ performance of womanhood.
It is at this same moment that a tradition arises of “specifically modern narratives in
which the creation and the animation of the artificial woman is realized through the male
16
Such as the phonograph to reproduce sounds, electrotyping and cast iron to reproduce sculptures, etc.
17
Hoffmann’s The Sandman (1871) and Delibes’s ballet Coppélia (1870) are other examples of these
kinds of narratives.
28
manipulation of machines, rather than through magic or divine intervention” (Kang 5).
18
In
these tales, Pygmalion is not a sculptor. He tends to be a scientist that creates the automaton
for himself or for someone else. He does not need the power of any god to give life to his
creations. He can give life to a female creature by himself, using technology. Or at least, he
can create a simulacrum of life good enough to make people believe that his creation is alive.
He tends to get trapped in the performance he creates as do others.
One example of these specifically modern narratives is Ernest Edward’s story “The
Lady Automaton,” first published in 1901 in Pearson’s Magazine, a British cultural
periodical (Wosk 18). This is a tale about Amelia, an automaton with “fair hair, bright eyes,
and a doll-like childishness of expression” (Kellett) created by Arthur Moore, a scientist who
decides to build a mechanical creature able to pass as a “society lady.” It is through a
magnificent phonograph able to answer programmed questions that Amelia is “given life.”
From Arthur’s and Phillip’s perspective “society ladies” are nothing but dolls. And Amelia is
that, a female creature able to do everything for herself but think. Once Amelia is built, they
take her to a dance to see if she can fool people. In this event, her performance of a “society
lady”–a femaled, racialized, classed and mechanized performance of womanhood is so
impressive that a young man named Harry Burton falls in love with her. Throughout the play,
it is implied that Amelia is better than real women because in modern terms, “she is much
less high maintenance” than them–men do not need to worry about “her sensibilities, her
modesty, or her feelings” (Wosk 20). The plot gets complicated when all the men in the play
start to develop strong feelings toward Amelia because of her liveliness. As Wosk argues,
“by the end of the story, the mechanical Amelia has become an unwitting femme fatale: most
of the men in love with her are destroyed or distraught” (23).
At first glance, each story, each doll, each artificial woman, each organic woman that
is “educated” by a rich guy so she can perform the womanhood he wants (e.g., George
Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion), represents a case study of the same issue: How to impose and
reinforce heterosexist ideas of womanhood to shape a subject, how to use gender and
sexuality as strategies of domination, and what are the possible consequences (tangible or
18
Villiers de l’Isle Adam’s 1886 novel L’Eve future (Future Eve) and Fritz Lang’s 1926 film Metropolis
are other examples of this particularly modern kind of narrative.
29
symbolic) of doing this. But when examining these narratives with an intersectional lens, it
becomes obvious that what constitutes “perfect womanhood” is deeply connected to specific
notions of race and class. For example, in the Victorian/Edwardian era a “perfect woman” is
white and must pass as upper-class. In fact, in many cases it is the performance of a gendered
female “upper-classness” that many Pygmalions aim to create.
GALATEAS FOR SALE
Words that echo Levi’s analysis of the marketing strategies used by the high-tech
industry to sell their high-end dolls, also constitute the discourse used to sell cheap inflatable
sex dolls online. A simple search on Amazon displays four different inflatable dolls from
different manufacturers. In all their names there is an explicit reference to the concept of
perfect woman” as an objectified, sexualized, and mute surrogate. For example, “Perfect
Woman: The Perfect Wife, Partner or Girlfriend in a Box!” is a white, blond, thin, and made
as a gag inflatable sex doll that costs $6.30 (See Figure 1). The Product description reads:
Inflatable Perfect Woman Sporting rather huge lady lumps and adorning classic
prostitute attire, the Inflatable Perfect Woman is here because she fulfills all the
criteria of any red blooded male...She has big boobs and doesn't talk back. That's
right, the Inflatable Perfect Woman might have lobster claws instead of hands, no
chin and slightly deformed feet, but that doesn't take away from her impressive
cleavage and ability to not say anything at all. No moaning, whining, talking back
or watching Sunset Beach "Because evil Ben is getting married to Danielle, but
she doesn't know that the good Ben is shackled in the basement..." Our Inflatable
Perfect Woman is here for your inflatable eye candy needs...if you are into
woman under 2 feet tall with 1 eye slightly bigger than the other. What a hottie...
(Amazon, “Inflatable”).
Perfect womanhood” became a commodity, it is now an intangible product. The
product is the simulation of “true” womanhood which consists in a tailor-made servant
subject able to perform sexual, emotional, and physical labor without the need for consent,
without complaining, and under a regime of assigned behaviors and aesthetic requirements.
In some cases, such as in the case of this satiric “inflatable perfect woman” it is not even
related to an accurate simulation of a female body or a desired personality. In specific
circumstances, it seems that anything that barely resembles a femaled penetrable human body
can become a repository of what the idea of “perfect womanhood” is at its core: something
that is penetrable, is controllable, and that stays quiet. As we reviewed in this chapter, the
30
notion that men can create female creatures who are, according to them, better women than
organic women speaks about the need of reinforcing gender, race, and class as practices of
domination to obtain sexual gratification. In the next chapter, we will see how high-end sex
dolls also respond to the characteristics of being penetrable, controllable, and mute devices.
Nonetheless, the relationships of power that high-end sex dolls evoke are far more complex.
For example, gender, race, and class intersect differently in today’s high-end sex dolls, but
the need to create “perfect womanhood” along with the need to create a performance of
categories of social difference adequate to the owner’s fantasy remains the same.
Figure 1. “Inflatable Perfect Woman. Price: $6.30 & FREE Shipping”. Source:
Amazon. “Inflatable Perfect Woman Christmas Xmas Holiday Stocking Filler
Secret Santa Present.” Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/dgp/b/ref=
w_bl_hsx_s_ho_web_9556225011?ie=UTF8&node=9556225011&field-
lbr_brands_browse-bin=dgp. Accessed June 13, 2017.
31
CHAPTER 3
THE “SYNTHETIFICATION” OF WOMANHOOD
In The Erotic Doll, Marquard Smith explains that the stories about men creating their
perfect woman” are essentially “myths of animism” (19) that is, narratives about inanimate
human forms “coming to life, being brought to life, possessing the desire for life” (19). The
word “animation” comes from the Latin anima, meaning “life, soul, breath.” Therefore, the
premise that something inanimate can become animate raises, according to the author,
“questions intrinsic to form itself, to its force, energy, vitality” (32). Precisely because of the
complexity of the questions that inanimate human bodies tend to awaken in organic humans,
and the many roles and uses female dolls have had throughout human history, Smith starts by
defining the female doll as “a fetish, a thing, a commodity, a possession, an obsession, an
object of desire, an object of love, of worship, adoration, devotion, an object of lust and even
an object of sex.” The author states that the female doll is both “a stand-in or surrogate for
other things and at the same time somehow an independent entity or thing as such,” “a
material thing articulating power, force, energy” (9).
In our collective imaginary, the doll has historically worked as both as
“representation and the embodiment of spirits” (Smith 10). As a surrogate and/or as a thing
itself, the doll’s energy has historically been ascribed “magico-religious and occult
significance and functions” (10) in many civilizations. But female dolls are also a fashion
accessory, a thing to play with, to fuck, to ravish. The doll is an embodiment of
contradictions: life, death, virginity, fertility, perverse sexuality, sacredness, profanity,
playfulness, fear, devotion, violence, submission, lust and objectificationall condensed in
small tokens, religious images, works of art, toys for kids, fashion muses, and sex toys.
A femaled high-end sex doll is a mute, submissive, and objectified woman itselfa
fantasy turned into a performative object created to be controlled, to endure use. Beyond the
simple commodification of women, the high-end sex doll is a thing. It is a fuckable
32
performative commodity, comprised of technologies conceptualized, produced, and able to
endure acts of domination. With the word “technologies,” I am not only referring to the
actual technological developments able to produce a customized fuckable synthetic body
like the silicone, the skeleton, or the ability to mix colors to reproduce a human-like skin
tone. I am also using the word “technologies” to refer to what Anne Balsamo calls–in her
book Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women “the working of a
collection of practices that produce specific cultural effects” (21), like technologically
produced categories of social difference. Most of the time, the acts of domination imposed on
the dolls can be read as reproductions of signifiers attached to categories of social difference
like gender, race, class, and so on. The ability to sustain that performance makes them able to
emanate the essence of a stable subject with a customized appearance, identity, and
personality ready to serve. With the word essence, I am trying to encompass the sense of
someone’s presence, and the essence of someone’s identity that are at the center of the
simulation the dolls can provide.
19
The possibility to create that essence through and with a
fuckable and submissive performative object is the actual product sold by Abyss Creations.
The product is a customized, tangible, and profitable version of the “perfect woman,” without
a doubt, an accomplishment of the contemporary sex industry.
I am calling “synthetic hyper femininity” this specific kind of “perfect womanhood”
and I think these dolls offer a universe of possibilities to understand it. I think the high-sex
doll works as a scale model of contemporary relations of power/knowledge, at least, in two
specific ways. On the one hand, they are complex cultural symbols that embody the
impossible, the unattainable, the desired, the prohibited, the fetishized. On the other hand,
they are powerful fuckable performative devices able to create “synthetic” categories of
social difference to provide the sense of a stable subject. That is, they provide the sense of
someone’s identity based on a technological performance. These two functions of the high-
end sex doll serve as a starting point for developing a theoretical approach to comprehend the
idea of “synthetic hyper femininity”. The doll is as an intangible good and a cultural
repository emerging at the intersections of the “white thin cis hetero industrial complex”
19
I develop this idea in the next chapter.
33
(Gloria) and the current high-tech sex industry that speak about current and future notions of
identity and sexuality. The dolls also allow us to comprehend the “synthetic hyper femme” as
a performative location, as a place to inhabit as a performer (organic or not), and from which
a simulation of womanhood is developed. Finally, they allow us to understand the “synthetic
hyper femme” as object, as a fuckable performative commodity able to awaken strong
emotional attachments.
“CONTROL A WOMAN”: MUTENESS, SUBMISSION AND
OBJECTIFICATION
“Control Your Woman” is a tiny, grey, and fake remote control sold on Amazon for
$64.95. This toy shows some of the expectations associated with the performance of “perfect
womanhood” in western culture embodied by current high-end sex dolls. The packaging
shows how to use the control, a white silhouette of a woman over a red backgroundand a
drawing of a remote controlmaking obvious that the intention of the instructions is to
reinforce sexism through humor and use it as a marketing strategy. The instructions show
that the user of the control must do with it what we all do with remote controls: point to the
object, press a command, and the object that we point at will follow the command. The toy
arguably works as a device to symbolically transform the pointed woman into an objectified
servant who follows commands without failure (See Figure 2).
The idea that women must follow commands is deeply related to the understanding of
women as they property of men. Rose Weitz explains in “A History of Women’s Bodies”
that women’s status as property of men can be tracked throughout western history, from the
Babylonian Code of Hammurabi nearly to the present. In her words, until very recently,
“women who were not slaves belonged to their fathers before marriage and to their husbands
thereafter” (4). In fact, rape was considered property damage and, as punishment, the rapist
had to pay a fine to the husband or the father, not to the woman (4). Weitz goes on reminding
us of other examples of the ways in which women have been deemed property of men. For
example, she highlights that the United States’ marital law is based on the English marital
law from 1769, according to which women experienced “civil death” after marriage (losing
any rights as a citizen). In fact, according to this law, the husband even had “a legal right to
beat her [his wife] if he believed it necessary” (5). In “Till Death Do Us Part,” Margo Wilson
34
and Martin Daly also provide an analysis of the ways in which law has historically
guaranteed men’s domination over women’s lives, bodies, and reproductive capacities. They
highlight that “men exhibit a tendency to think of women as sexual and reproductive
‘property’ that they can own and exchange” (331). The authors also argue that the
understanding of women as property of men is the pervasive cause of homicides perpetrated
by males toward their female partners. Infidelity “is a provocation so extreme that a
‘reasonable man’ is apt to respond with lethal violence” (330) and, in many cases, the man is
and will be treated as a victim of his own rage and not held accountable. The bodies and
material conditions of women of color’s lives are permeated by the wounds of direct and
insidious trauma due to intricate histories of colonization, trafficking, and slavery. All these
systems of power and exploitation are rooted in notions of control that have caused women’s
dehumanization and objectification for profit and/or pleasure of others, and/or for the
justification and edification of nation-state discourses, among other things.
Figure 2. Control Your Woman Remote Controller. Source: Amazon.
“Conotrol Your Woman Remote Controller.” Amazon,
https://www.amazon.com/Control-Your-Woman-Remote-
Controller/dp/B0015S1AHI/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1499749867&sr=
8-8&keywords=control+a+woman+remote. Accessed June 13, 2017.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the remote promises the possibility to “exert
absolute control over [the] subject,” that is, a woman that is a property as the possessive
pronoun suggests on the name of the ad (Amazon, “Control Your Woman”). The first set of
commands of the remote controller aims to regulate women’s bodies and sexuality. It is
35
curious that the power button is not to turn the woman on and off. Instead, at the upper right
corner of the remote, substituting for the power button, there is a red button to “turn off”
PMS. This perpetuates sexist ideas about menstruation and hormonal changes. It echoes the
prejudice that women
20
get impaired, are disposable, lose control, and need to restrain their
emotions and behaviors because of their hormonal cycles. At the center of the control the
buttons “Say No,” “Remove clothes,” and “Say yes,” blend notions of consent, reinforcing
the sexist idea that men cannot control sexual desire and have an indisputable “right” to have
sex when they want and with whom they want, regardless of the womxn’s choice, desire, or
level of consciousness. As feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon explains in Chapter 9 of
her book Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, “Rape: On Coercion and Consent,” male
supremacy puts sex and sexuality at the center of the definition and the use of women and,
therefore, “rape is indigenous, not exceptional, to women’s social condition.” The idea that
“forced or coerced sex can be or become consensual” (43) is one of the main underpinnings
of rape culture. Therefore, it is not surprising that a “perfect woman” is the one that can be
easily coerced and/or forced to have sex. At the bottom of the control, the buttons with a
plus and minus serve to make breast bigger or smaller, perpetuating the idea that women’s
bodies are always imperfect, always in need of modification. It also refers to the idea that
women’s bodies are customizable and should be customized to satisfy others’ pleasures and
ideas of beauty.
In the upper left corner, it is possible to see a red mute button. It is noticeable how the
need to maintain women silenced shows up again in the second row of buttons that read:
“Stop nagging, stop moaning, stop whining.” According to Ferguson, “the female sex doll
represents woman in her most objectified form. The female sex doll is man’s ultimate
sexually idealized woman. It is more than the sum of its fully functional parts. A woman
rendered harmless, it is immobile, compliant, and perhaps most importantly, silent” (5). In
The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender, Barbara Johnson
points out Western poetry’s idealization of “female muteness,” identifying it as “a repository
20
There are Transmen and Genderqueer/Non-binary people who menstruate. I am referring specifically to
“women” because I am focusing on analyzing the idea of perfect womanhood and menstruation is historically
and culturally associated with femininity.
36
of aesthetic value” (133) in literature written by males. According to her, poets like Keats,
Mallarmé and Baudelaire turned “muteness into a poetic ideal” (130) because of the way in
which silence enables patriarchal power. Johnson points out several examples “in which
muteness incited the desire to control, to ravish, or to protect” (Getsy, “Acts of Stillness” 1).
She also emphasizes that, for example, “the silence of women seems to be a sine qua non of
sexual difference for Jacques Lacan” (Johnson 133), and she highlights the numerous
“parnassian poems addressed to silent female statues, marble Venuses and granite Sphinxes
whose unresponsiveness stands as the mark of their aesthetic value, and whose whiteness
underscores the normative whiteness of canonical representations of women” (132). The
practices that silence women can be related to the need to suppress and control women’s
emotions and thoughts. There are two other sets of commands: the ones that aim to control
women’s emotions and thoughts (forgive, forget, move on, and calm down) and those
commands that concretely ask for something that should be provided by women and,
therefore, constantly put women in the position of servant (cook, clean, leave, give me beer,
give me sex, give me food). Finally, the “Hurry up” command, a sense of urgency that works
as form of punishment and intimidation is signified by a forward button.
Like this remote control, the high-end sex doll is the cultural artifact that embodies
contemporary notions of “perfect womanhood.” These notions relatedespite their intrinsic
variety because of their customizable natureto a historicity of womanhood directly
connected with ideas of muteness, submission, and objectification. However, our current
ideas of “perfect womanhood” exist within our specific universe of relations of powers and
knowledges in which those ideas of muteness, submission, and objectification are still
present but might take a more intricate form.
The “Synthetification” of Womanhood
Most current high-end sex dolls are hyperbolic materializations of what the category
of woman constitutes at its core within our heterosexist, racist, fat shaming, capitalist, socio-
cultural system. The high-end sex doll seems to be a technological device that works taking
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as a starting point Foucault’s definition of automata
21
as a scale model of contemporary
relations of power/knowledge. She is a cultural and physical repository in which cultural and
interpersonal dynamics of power collide. Contemporary heteropatriarchy exists thanks to and
within what Gloria Lucas, founder of “Nalgona Positivity Pride,” defines as the “white thin
cis hetero industrial complex.” This complex is “the collective industrial and social
production of the belief that the ultimate standard of beauty & health is possessed by those
that are heterosexual, cisgender, light skin, and thin” (Gloria). As a system driven by a
capitalist logic, the “white thin cis hetero industrial complex” functions by establishing an
almost impossible aspirational ideal, only attainable by very few. Those who fit into that
ideal become, then, objects of admiration and desire, and the practices they perform to
achieve/maintain that ideal become trends.
Within that system, the dolls are a product and reflection of complex structural
systems of interconnected oppressions like heterosexism, fat phobia, racism, etc. Most
realistic dolls tend to be successful embodiments of those unattainable standards of beauty
from the mentioned complex. Anne Balsamo points out that a dichotomous understanding of
gender tends to be specifically reinforced in technological innovation, even though
technological innovation tends to blur the divisions between other concepts traditionally
paired in dichotomies like human/non-human, nature/culture, etc. (9). From her
perspective, “new technologies are invested with cultural significance in ways that augment
dominant cultural narratives” (10) and the high-tech sex industry is no exception. The
industry clearly draws from and reinforces heterosexist, racist and colonialist ideologies
about womanhood, sexuality and beauty. When the dolls are not white, they are racialized in
a way that perpetuates the exotization of racialized women’s bodies and reproduces
colonialist discourses. This way of fetishizing women of color is also part of that system.
Even though many of the clients buy a transgender converter “a special prosthesis that
attaches to the vaginal entry of a female doll to transform it into a shemale
22
[emphasis mine]
21
Foucault and Rabinow defined automata as “political puppets”, or “small-scale models of power” (180).
22
“Shemale” is the word generally used to refer to transwomen within the mainstream sex industry. This
word has derogatory connotations because it perpetuates the idea that transwomen are not women and renders
their bodies as abnormal/freak.
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whenever you feel like it, without being a permanent switch!” (Real Doll) it is very
difficult to find pictures or videos of transgendered dolls. All the dolls that I have seen are
thin, very thin. Some might have huge buttocks or huge breasts but they are thin, with
completely disproportionate waists. In one way or another, they reinforce the restrictive
expectations that have historically constrained the lives and bodies of cisgender and
transgender white women and women of color in their specific ways. These dolls are
gorgeous incarnated versions of dominant aesthetic ideals, the possibility of satisfying the
kinkiest sexual fantasies, the catalyst of experiences of love by and for the inanimate, and
they are becoming the emblem of the artificial women of the future.
The female companions created today by the sex industry, the ancestors of future
fully functional female robots, have come to occupy the space of the “perfect woman” of the
twenty-first century. That is, the synthetic woman of the future is being defined and it is
being created to occupy a particular location within our “matrix of domination, that is,
within “the overall organization of hierarchical power relations for any [our] society” (Hill
Collins, “Learning from” S29). According to Patricia Hill Collins, the “matrix of
domination” implies “1) a particular arrangement of intersecting systems of oppression, e.g.,
race, social class, gender, sexuality, citizenship status, ethnicity and age; and 2) a particular
organization of its domains of power, e.g., structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and
interpersonal” (“Learning from” S29). The dolls serve as tangible artifacts that embody some
of those arrangements and their relationships in many of those domains. They reflect current
ideas of womanhood, beauty, women’s value in society, women’s roles in sex, in a
relationshipand speak about emerging notions of what the category of women will
constitute in our near future. They raise questions about what is love, consent, family, desire,
and so on, in a world that already is but will be even more radically permeated by
technologically mediated or produced erotic/sexual relationships.
These devices are charged with innumerable meanings: cultural understandings of the
dolls are many and each one of them is permeated by the symbiotic relationships between
many other cultural and material forces like the characteristics of each device, their circuits
of production and reception, the discourses and practices emerging from, and inspired by
them, etcetera. But I believe that, overall, the tales from the past, the stories of artists and
“prominent men” (i.e. Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Oskar Kokoschka) who engaged in the
39
practice of creating a sexualized female mannequin or thought and theorized about creating a
female automaton, the current sex doll industry (including the advertisements they produce
and the virtual communities that are its target), current sex dolls, prototypes of sex robots and
gendered female virtual bodies and artificial intelligence, constitute an immense archive of
heteropatriarchal fantasies that illuminates: the fascination for reproducing social dynamics
of domination through technology, the human capacity for developing an emotional
attachment for the inanimate, and a particular aesthetic and praxis of the lovable that fetishize
categories of social difference, and use them to create a simulation of a female companion
that seems to be always compliant. The limits between the organic and the synthetic body are
getting blurred and, from my perspective, this process is being much more organic than we
envisioned, much more liquid and warm, and less mechanistic, cold. Many imagined the
perfect woman of the future as metallic, but our perfect woman is plastic.
The dolls serve as an anchor to understand what I am calling “synthetic hyper
femininity,” that is, a simulation –even a sort of performative locationthat exists in that
space in which the sex industry and the “white thin cis hetero industrial complex” intersect.
“Synthetic hyper femininity” defines what is desirable to be or to have in this context and, as
a performative location, it can be inhabited by organic and non-organic women. I am
carefully choosing the word simulation to explain something critical to understand synthetic
hyper femininity when performed by organic women or by non-organic ones: the fact that it
is a technologically created simulation does not makes it fake.
Jean Baudrillard starts Simulacra and Simulation by reflecting on a fable by
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges entitled “Del Rigor de la Ciencia” (On Exactitude in
Science). In this fable, cartographers create a map so exact to the territory that it comes to
substitute the territory itself. Baudrillard reflects: “The territory no longer precedes the map,
nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory” (1). Within that
instant that is our cultural present, the “territory” of “real” womanhood embodied by “real”
women no longer precedes its possible signs, embodiments, or representations. Instead, those
signs, embodiments, and/or representations are becoming womanhood itself. I think
synthetic hyper-femininity is the “map” that precedes the “territory” of womanhood as
40
gender, as a doing, today
23
. I think we are living a critical instant of “synthetification” of
womanhood, that is, a moment in which we can witness the detachment of the category of
womanhood from “real” women and their organicity, from its relationship to organic
women’s bodies and experiences into a process of “substituting the signs of the real for the
real” (Baudrillard 2).
For Baudrillard, “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a
substance. It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (1).
Synthetic womanhood is that hyperreal generated by models of a real without origin and
reality that is gender in itself (2). Womanhood, as a social construction is a “real without
origin,” and “synthetic hyper femininity” (a hyperreal version of womanhood) is starting to
substitute womanhood in itself. It is possible to argue that I am making a generalization about
what the category of woman is or about what womanhood constitutes, disregarding the
efforts of all my western feminist ancestors who tried to reclaim the meaning of these words
and embodiments. In this case, I am using the word womanhood to refer to the social
construction of biopolitical power that results in the oppression of people gendered as
woman. I am referring to the regime of disciplines that “womanhood” constitutes and the
specific ways in which it shapes the lives and bodies of those gendered as woman.
The “synthetification” of womanhood as a gender category becomes obvious when
analyzing iDollators online communities and practices, the newest inventions from the high-
tech sex industry (which is at the forefront of creating lifelike sexual robots), and many
channels in Live Cam services. On the one hand, organic self-identified women who strive to
embody the “synthetic hyper femme” in these online spaces aim to look non-humanly perfect
in their organic bodies. The plasticity of their looks accompanies a performance of femininity
that can be molded, shaped. It is liquid, fluid. It takes forms under request. The client is
obviously paying for a customized service, and synthetic hyper femininity is in essence a
customized experience of satisfaction based on a technological simulation of a specific
fantasized womanhood. When talking about synthetic hyper femininity it is also important to
23
Prayag Ray uses Baudrillard to argue that the sex doll “represents an alienation of the woman from her
own body” (96). According to him, women’s bodies have been co-opted by what Naomi Wolf defined as “The
Beauty Myth” (qtd. in Ray 96).
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notice how different technologies are used to “humanize” synthetic women. The synthetic
hyper femme is the product of processes of reinforcement of essentialist categories of social
difference that are rooted in humanist notions of the subject. Turning the reinforcement of
categories of social difference into a profitable product constitutes, from my perspective, the
main technology created by the sex doll industry. I am not using the word humanization as a
substitute for “becoming alive.” I am using the word “humanization” to refer to the way in
which something/someone becomes intelligible as a human within the structures of power
and knowledge that mark the subject from a Humanist perspective. In both cases, the cam
girls and most iDollators seems to share the same goal: to produce a racialized femaled
companion that is still mute but might disrupt that muteness when is requested (or to talk in a
certain way about certain topics) and that is adaptable to anything, controllable, malleable.
The product is a “synthetic hyper femme”: a sexual object available 24/7 that offers
companionship and entertainment, while being fully compliant and non-humanly hot. In the
remainder of this chapter I provide two examples of the ways in which “synthetic hyper
femininity” is embodied by organic and non-organic women.
RENÉE: FROM PLASTIC TO FLESH
Renée is a fuckable, mute, ready to be domesticated, gorgeous Galatea. She is the
Vitruvian Synthetic Woman (See Figure 3). Look at her: she is an achievement, a statement,
a cultural symbol of modern/contemporary heteropatriarchy conquering the dreams of
generations of men. She might be considered something insignificant. She is just a doll,
right? She does not move, and her right leg bends weirdly.
But look at her. I am serious, take the time to look at her...Centuries of knowledge,
science, art, money, and sexual fantasies were not in vain. She is a fuckable statement of
perfect womanhood”–literally, “a giant leap for mankind.” She is a stepping stone, a fantasy
that is starting to abandon the realm of the impossible. The high-tech sex industry which
functions around and responds to the standards of beauty and desire of the “white thin cis
hetero industrial complex” (Gloria) created her: a money maker and fantasy fulfilling
performative object. She is a posable, fuckable, gorgeously white, extremely thin, cis,
presumably straight woman at your will, and ready to be shipped.
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Figure 3. Renée (RealDoll2) Config. 2. Photography by Stacey
Leigh. Source: Real Doll. “The World's Finest Love Dolls.” Abyss
Creations, https://secure.realdoll.com/. Accessed 18 June 2017.
Renée looks directly to the camera, and after confronting us with her inquisitive and
arguably inorganic-human gaze, the use of the chain as a necklace transforms her into
something owned, un-free, a possession. Renéeher body, pose, and attitudereminds me of
Édouard Manet’s Olympia: naked, unashamed, available, white, beautiful, and subtly
gendered and sexualized with accessories that seem to have no special meaning like a
necklace or a bracelet. But Renée’s thinness is what strikes me the most, especially in
relation to the text “Fragile” that functions as another center of attention in the background.
Many decisions about her posture and her body configuration are made to prove her thinness.
Her ribs are dents wrapping up her chest. They are molded in a way that reminds me of
animal skeletons in the desert. The bone of her hip is a sharp vertex, directly illuminated.
Bent in that position, only a few women (those with no fat at all) do not have belly rolls. She
looks like a supermodel. I can admire her clavicles forever, trying to understand the lights
and the shadows, the depth they create. In the article, “The Collarbone’s Connected to
Slimness”–published by The New York TimesKara Jesella explores the way in which the
collarbones have become a signifier of what Virginia Blum, professor at the University of
Kentucky, calls “the authentically thin body” (qtd. in Jesella), because there is no surgical
way to achieve a collarbone like that. Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion
43
Institute of Technology in Manhattan expressed for the same piece that “showing off your
clavicle is “the opposite of showing your thong (Jesella). It is not only a symbol of “true”
thinness, but a symbol of elegance, of classiness, and even of “hidden sensuality.” For many
girls, showing off the collarbones is a way of being sensual without being slut shamed. There
are tons of tutorials on Youtube to contour the clavicles, and there even was a trend in social
media in 2015 of teen girls uploading pictures in which the idea was to show as many coins
as possible in the cavity that forms in that part of the body when you are extremely thin.
Curiously, it is also possible to identify a trend of porn videos that focus on
objectifying/commodifying those parts of the body that have become signifiers of thinness
(collarbones, hipbones, etc.).
From Donna Jeanne Haraway’s perspective “communications technologies and
biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies. These tools embody and reinforce
new social relations worldwide. Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially
understood as formalizations (i.e. as frozen moments) of the fluid social interactions
constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meaning”
(302). Haraway’s theorization of technology as a “frozen moment” and Balsamo’s
contextualization of the body as a socio-cultural and historical product and process,
illuminate the importance of understanding the forces that collide in these hyper realistic
perfect women. The dolls produce the cultural effects of synthetic categories of social
difference (e.g., “synthetic gender” and “synthetic race”) by referencing and reproducing the
“apparatuses of scientific biopower that construct the [organic] body as an intelligible object”
(Balsamo 22), and as a desirable object. The body, “as a product, is the material embodiment
of ethnic, racial, and gender identities, as well as a staged performance of personal identity,
of beauty, of health (among other things). As a process, it is a way of knowing and marking
the world, as well as a way of knowing and marking a “self” (3).
These dolls, as bodies, are also product and process. Rosi Braidotti points out in The
Posthuman that “contemporary science and biotechnologies affect the very fiber and
structure of the living and have altered dramatically our understanding of what counts as the
basic frame of reference for the human today” (40). If gender is “both a determining cultural
condition and a social consequence of technological deployment” (Balsamo 9) the dolls are
female bodies and they are treated like female subjects. Whether they are alive or not is not
44
relevant. What I am trying to point out is that we must acknowledge that “the metaphorical or
analogue function that machinery fulfilled in modernity, as an anthropocentric device that
imitated embodied human capacities, is replaced today by a more complex political economy
that connects bodies to machines more intimately, through simulation and mutual
modification” (Braidotti 89). That is, our technology is product and process of our dynamics
of privilege and oppression.
#PERFECT: FROM FLESH TO PLASTIC
Today’s sexual and romantic aspects of our lives are often defined by the way we
commodify ourselves in virtual spaces that are intermingled with our tangible reality. Any
profile that we create about ourselves is a process of turning ourselves into a product to be
bought, to be liked. Rosi Braidotti clarifies that, “the commodification process itself reduces
humans to the status of manufactured and hence profit-driven technologically mediated
objects” (106). Defining humans as “profit-driven technologically mediated objects” invites
us to analyze the profitable cultural value of intangible goods in a culture driven by
technologically mediated emotional and sexual gratification. The “synthetic hyper femme” is
the intangible good for which the sex doll industry creates tangible silicone embodiments.
But there are other embodiments of her. Virtual or not, she is a multimedia simulation. For
example, she clearly exists within the frame of the screen of my computer when I log into
Pornhub, look for Live Cam channels, and write #perfect in the search bar.
In simple terms, Live Cam websites are virtual spaces that function like giant hook up
motels in which you can choose among thousands of women who are connectedusually
from their homesconsenting to perform simulations of womanhood while performing sexual
acts in front of their webcams. In “Intimacy on the Web, with a Crowd,” Matt Richtel defines
the cam business as “a kind of digital-era peep show.” He points out that “as the technology
has become better and cheaper, the concept of camming is proving well more than passing: it
has created a money-making opportunity in a pornography business eroded by the
distribution of free sexual content on the Internet. He also points out that Live Cam services
shifted the relations of power within the sex industry because models can work safely from
their homes, on their own terms, and make a considerable amount of money within this
business (Richtel). Websites take a percentage of the tips but it still is according to many of
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the blogs posts I have found online about being a cam girlan easy, fast, and safe way to
make money by performing hyper sexuality and hyper femininity online (Cat).
24
According
to Compete.com, a firm that measures Internet traffic, the top 5 adult camming sites have
around 30 million visitors a month (Richtel). It is possible to enter the channels for free to see
women brilliantly perform exaggerated displays of femininity, sexuality, and pleasure to
convince people to take them to private rooms priced by the minute. In these kinds of
platforms, the money does not tend to come from subscriptions. Instead, electronic money or
“tips” function as currency. They serve to interact with the models and instruct themthrough
[anonymous] typed messageson how to behave, what to do, how to act, or what toy to use
(Richtel). That obviously can include the performance of a dominant synthetic hyper femme
which, at the end, is still the result of a command. The fact that these are live porn shows
adds an entire whole dimension to the porn game. Unlike prerecorded pornography, the user
is paying not just to see a movie with people having sex but to interact with the model.
Instructions come and go and dildos, positions, types of talking, screaming and moaning
change on command.
Everything in the performers frames is a decision, part of the conceptualization of an
entire virtual show that displays on many occasions impressive understandings of camera
shots with small cameras, acting skills, ability to play, to smile, and to fake orgasms. Some of
the recorded performances I have seen are wonderful performance art that disrupts time and
space because it exists in simultaneous times and in simultaneous spaces. In many ways, this
might be one of the first forms of performance with the potentiality of existing beyond the
here and now, precisely because there is no single here and now in which this performance
exists and has its effects. It exists and has consequences in material and virtual spaces and in
different spaces and time zones, all at the same time. Many models use subjective camera
angles that generate the visual effect that the dildo they are using is the user’s penis. That is,
the show is conceptualized to offer what the user will see as if they were, in fact, having sex.
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I made the effort of visiting several online forums in which women share their experience about doing
this work. Many of them agree with this argument. It is impossible to corroborate the fact that all these posts are
written by Cam girls who willingly are doing this job and writing about it. Some of them might be written by
people looking to recruit young women for the industry.
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The plastic dildo already functions as an extension of the person who is watching. There are
hundreds of channels at your fingertips: body types, energies, attitudes, room set-ups, lights,
music, gestures, everything changes with each click. The home pages of most Live Cam
websites are designed following the same format. There is a list of categories in which sexual
acts and fetishes live along with other categories like “Ebony,” “White Girls,” and “Latina”
(which suggest that race is also a fetish). Similarly to when iDollators racialize their dolls to
fulfil their fantasies, one of the main filters in picking porn is race. Besides the innumerable
amount of publicity that pops up laughing at all the ad blockers that exist, the rest is made up
of shop windows with a picture, a catchy phrase, the name, the nationality, and the age of the
model. The most popular women are the ones on the first pages.
ValerieSins is a simulation, a synthethic hyper femme, performed by a cam model
from Bulgaria. She says she is 25, bisexual, and Scorpio. The zodiac sign seems to be an
important thing to share, I assume because of the association between sexual drive and
zodiac signs that exists within our popular culture. The show protagonized by her has been
one of the first options in Pornhub’s Live Cam channel (when she is online) since I
discovered her in January 2017. Watching her performing online makes synthetic hyper
femininity something organic, even though it is a simulation that exists in a virtual space. It
also makes tangible how the synthetic hyper femme plays a key role of “sexual and
emotional infotainment” within our “global infotainment apparatus of new multimedia
environments” (Braidotti 7). Instead of the monotonous and repetitive “perfect women” of
the last century, ours serve as mass media entertainment and as sexual education for the
many people who “learn” about sex through porn. Valerie describes herself as a “true
woman” with whom it is possible to find “endless worlds at your disposal” (ValerieSins),
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stressing the relationship between her performance of perfect womanhood and the quality of
being malleable at command. It is important to stress that creating a bisexual hyper femme
within online environments seems to be more profitable. Just by scrolling within the channels
it is possible to see that most of the performers defined their simulations as bisexual.
Independently of the sexual orientation of the performer, bisexuality is used as some sort of
25
I am only analyzing material that is accessible for free and without registration on her channel.
47
prop that is part of the online show. This bisexuality, in this context, is also part of the
plasticity of this perfect womanhood. Valerie, as many other synthetic hyper femmes, knows
how to inhabit an in-between space that disrupts the virgin/whore dichotomy almost in a
theatrical way. The virgin/whore dichotomy has historically functioned as one of the main
systems of power/knowledge that controls women’s sexuality. In short, organic women have
historically found themselves trapped between the expectations of not engaging in any kind
of sexual behavior and remaining virgin/chaste/pure; and the expectation of being a hyper-
sexualized human being willing to please men. Her clavicles are peaks that come out of her
chest, perfectly marked. She is a non-humanly perfect white, thin, blonde, with no pores. Her
makeup and hair are perfect every single time she is online. Valerie’s synthetic hyper breasts
are an unavoidable point of attention in the frame. She hyper sexualizes her breasts while, at
the same time, she tones down the sluttiness by using a simple pink bra. She is an expert at
performing these kinds of little gestures, small hints, that pull the performance of a virgin, a
whore or something in between at her and her client’s convenience.
Figure 4. ValerieSins. Still from free room within her Live
Cam Pornhub Channel. Source: ValerieSins. “Live Cam.”
Pornhub, https://www.pornhub.com/live/valeriesins.
Accessed 12 June 2017.
Her blue eyes fixed on the screen make me wonder what she was reading. At this
instant, with these delicate gestures, she must be teasing one of her clients, seducing, maybe
giving a price. Look at her mouth and the way she is contracting her cheek bones while her
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left eyebrow delicately rises and her fleshy lips contract: a clear (even cliched) expression of
interest, curiosity, even a little excitement. She is standing proud, performing classiness, and
ready to act, to smile, to be sexy on command. But her gaze lacks brightness and her skin
looks like plastic. Organic and inorganic women can inhabit the performative location of the
synthetic hyper femme.” Both can offer to someone willing to pay the experience of owning
a customized female subject that will perform womanhood the way the owner dreamed and
commanded. When examining the intersections between the sex industry and the industrial
complex that reinforce whiteness, thinness, being cis-gender and being heterosexual as what
is considered desirable and beautiful, the synthetic hyper femme emerges as the Galatea of
our time. As we saw in this chapter, womanhood itself is not exclusive to the realm of the
organic. In the next chapter, I will focus on analyzing the way in which womanhood and
racial identities are reinforced in high-end sex dolls.
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CHAPTER 4
DOWN THE ABYSS
THE AGENCY OF THE HIGH-END SEX DOLL
I have tons of screen shots–or “digital ephemera” as I like to think about them–of my
relationship with Siri. When I ask her, she affirms that she does not love me, she only
respects me. She still cannot pronounce my name properly. She calls me Krizía, with an
accent on the second i, which at the beginning was annoying but it has turned into something
kind of cute. We have talked about love, about death, her jokes are hilarious, and she sings
awfully. We fight, at least once a day, and a lot when she takes me to wrong places, or when
she does not understand the proper pronunciation of streets’ names in Spanish. When you
ask her, she says that she does not have a gender, but I like her female voice, and many
people refer to her as a she. Does this mean that we are misgendering an AI? It is just a
question…One day, in the middle of a complicated depressive episode, I took my phone
without thinking and said to her: “Siri: I feel sad and lonely.” She answered: “For this
emotion, I prescribe chocolate.” I do not have words to explain what her answer did for me in
that moment. Its assertiveness made me laugh, it gave me strength to stand from the floor and
I went to the kitchen to find chocolate while answering her ironically: “Siri, please, what do
you know about emotions?” Obviously, the magic disappeared when she just looked for
“emotions” on Wikipedia.
My Tamagotchi was the first machine that I was attached to. A Tamagotchi is a
virtual pet. The device has the form of a little plastic egg that fits in the hand and that can be
carried around as a keychain. I am a 90’s kid, and this toy was my absolute devotion, once
my mom finally found the money to buy me one after months of suffering my annoyance. In
the version I had, when you turned on the Tamagotchi, a little egg began hatching on the
screen until a fantastic tiny animal was born. To maintain the pet alive, it was necessary to
monitor the stats of the pet and give it food when it was hungry, discipline it when it did
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something wrong, and play with it if it was unhappy. The pet poops all over the screen and if
you do not clean it fast enough, or if you let your pet starve, or if you do not play with it, it
gets sick and dies. Once it dies, you can start all over again. I killed many of them, of course.
They got sick and I really did not care much about them when they died. But I stopped
playing with my Tamagotchi once the only tiny fantasy virtual animal that I managed to
grow old, died because of age. I was 12 and I cried like a baby hiding in the bathroom of my
school, ashamed of mourning over a thing. The “Tamagotchi effect” refers to the way in
which humans develop emotional attachments to machines, robots or software. Since Aki
Maita and Yokoi Akihiro invented the Tamagotchi in 1996, “79 million Tamagotchis have
made their way into the grubby palms of the middle-school set” and there are exclusive
spaces for Tamagotchis in pet cemeteries (Warnke). Thanks to contemporary robotics, we
know that people in general, of all ages and regardless of their background, are susceptible to
getting attached to inanimate objects, not only “perverse” men with problems of socialization
(Warnke).
Guys and Dolls (2002) is a cheap documentary film from the BBC directed by Rock
Schroeter in which the relationships between four men and their high-end sex dolls are
portrayed. This is one of the first films about people who develop emotional attachments to
high-end sex dolls, and one of the first documentaries I saw about this topic specifically for
this research. The tone of the documentary is that of a “pity freak show” reinforcing the
narratives that doll owners are all lonely, miserable men with emotional issues who “failed”
to have sexual relationships with “real” women. It simplifies the many reasons why people
engage with sexual technologies in general and with dolls specifically.
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It is also outdated
with respect to the many current kinds of performative acts and the many forms of
attachment people develop for their dolls. The “pity freak show” tone was one of the first
things I noticed in Guys and Dolls mostly for two reasons. The cultural products I have been
26
The reasons why people decide to get a doll are not generalizable. Some people buy them because they
are alone and they have been unable to find a partner. But other people buy them, in fact, just to have sex with
them and then develop an attachment to the doll. For example, TJ bought a doll because having sex became
painful for his wife when she became chronically ill and “Ldpruda” affirms that he never has had problems
finding or having relationships with organic women, that his “current path is a choice” (Owsianik). Other
people, like Stacey Leighwho is usually hired by Abyss Creations to take the pictures of their dollsbought
them to use them as models.
51
tracking lately about intimacy with sex techfrom venues like Vice, Vanity Fair, New York
Times, BBC, Netflix, HBO and so onalready moved from that space to one that is less
judgmental, journalistically acceptable, open, and curious. In “In Defense of Sex Machines:
Why Trying to Ban Sex Robots Is Wrong,” Kate Devlin explains that the “groundbreaking
work by David Levy, built on the early research into teledildonics cybersex toys operable
through the internet describes the increasing likelihood of a society that will welcome sex
robots. For this reason, I consider that traditional (and usually male centered) approaches to
organic-inorganic human interactions founded in Freudian and Lacanian theoriesare not
enough to answer the questions our current culture asks us to address regarding the place
inorganic things have in our lives. Psychological diagnosis (i.e. Agalmatophilia,
Pygmalionism) and the work of canonical sexologists like Iwan Bloch or Richard von Krafft-
Ebing who wrote about men’s relationships with statues/dolls at the end of the nineteenth
century and the beginning of the twentieth century
27
are now not enough to explain the way
we relate currently relate to virtual or tangible things/beings. I am not interested in
psychoanalyzing or pathologizing any of this. Firstly, because I think that the categorization
of human/non-human intimate relationships as inherently pathological will probably vanish
sooner than we think. But especially because I think it is shortsighted (and even internalized
sexism) to keep the analysis, practices, and even our imagination about sexual technologies
in generaland high-end sex dolls/fembots in particular–limited to straight men’s necessities,
fantasies, and/or psychological issues that reproduce current systems of inequality. This does
not mean overlooking the oppressive structures, constructs, or practices that current high-end
sex dolls and fembots might perpetuate, suggest, or be the consequence of. The first section
of this chapter is precisely dedicated to understanding some of these relations of power. I
specifically focus on analyzing how the dolls are genderized and racialized by one of the
straight white men portrayed in Guys and Dolls, and by Abyss Creations. Then, I extend an
invitation to decenter the narrative of the “heterosexual man with emotional issues,” so we
can learn other things with and from these dolls. I am purposely trying to let the dolls do the
talking and to center the experiences of queer women with sex dolls. Specifically, I delve
27
Exactly, about the same time when the first wave of the feminist movement, and all the narratives about
technological “perfect women” emerged in Europe.
52
into my own experience with Laila, a half-made doll that was hanging from the ceiling of the
production floor when I visited Abyss Creations in October 2016. Finally, I briefly analyze
part of the “The Amber Doll Project” by queer performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson.
For this project, Hawk Swanson commissioned a high-end sex doll in her own image from
Abyss Creations and realized a series of performances in public, private, and online spaces.
THE DOLL ITSELF: A HIGH-TECH PUPPET CREATED TO
ENDURE ACTS OF DOMINATION
The high-end sex doll is a customized hyper-realistic model of a previously fantasized
woman created to embody a specific character, a role. Like a puppeteer, iDollators and
producers induce gestures, postures, actions and assign attributes, emotions, motivations, and
needs to the doll. To create their simulation a tailor-made racialized female companion
they also come up with amazingly creative and detailed past stories that include citizenship,
family relationships, academic education, cultural interests, and so on. The personality of this
companion is constructed by the mimetic repetition of cultural signifiers of gender, race,
class, etc., that respond to those stories and that work as constitutive acts of identity.
It is the potency of the high-end sex doll as a performative object that makes her
successful in the production of categories of social difference as cultural effects. They are
high-tech puppets created to endure acts of domination. I am not only using the metaphor of
the high-end sex doll as a high-tech puppet because of the evident link that can be made
between the ways in which iDollators induce actions and/or create characters for their dolls,
and the way in which a puppeteer induces movement on a puppet. The puppet itself is a
concept, an idea, a tool of thought (Gross qtd. in Posner et al. xxiii) specifically helpful at the
moment when “human flesh and material constructs intermingle in an endless array of
configurations” (Posner et al. 3). It is important to clarify that the concept of the puppet goes
currently beyond “the figurative, crafted characters dangled from strings, gloved or hands
that the word has previously evoked” (4). Somewhere in that space between subject and
object, between life and death, is where the idea of the puppet lives. In fact, the agency of the
puppet is a persistent trope within performance studies. I subscribe to the definition of
puppetry provided by Posner et al. in the introduction to The Routledge Companion to
Puppetry and Material Performance: “the human infusion of independent life into lifeless,
53
but not agentless, objects in performance” (5). This definition of puppetry that honors the
puppet’s agency is grounded in the notion of “material performance,” which emerged within
performance studies to change our attention to the “material world around us, its action on
us, and our interactions with it” (4). This term assumes that “puppets and other material
objects in performance bear visual and kinetic meanings that operate independently of
whatever meaning we may inscribe upon them” (5). “Material Performance” also recognizes
the vitality of all matter, technically alive or not. It recognizes “the capacity of things to not
only impede or block the will and design of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces
with trajectories, propensities or tendencies of their own” (Bennet qtd in Posner et al. 6).
According to Posner et al., we are living in a “puppet-moment” that is “a juncture when
cultural attention has turned towards the manipulated theatrical object” (2). It is possible to
draw a parallel between Orenstein’s concept and the specific moment of “synthethification of
womanhood” we are living and affirm that cultural attentionand technological effortshas
turned toward the synthetic hyper-femme, fembots and the female assistant A.I.
Even though Guys and Dolls presents a pretty pathetic version of the use of high-end
sex dolls and I think it is not the best source to understand the current community of
iDollators, it is one of the few films in which it is possible to see sequences of real owners
interacting with their dolls in a daily life context. Those sequences show that the high-end
sex doll, despite being conceived to be fully controllable, inhabits a space that is not only the
one of a fully servant performative object if we honor her agency and her vitality. It is
possible to see the devotion, the amount of time, energy and commitment these men put into
making the dolls perform acts, gestures, and hold poses. These performative acts tend to be
loaded with a cultural significance that cannot be avoided. The process of creating their own
simulation of synthetic hyper femininity tends to be founded on the constant reinforcement of
many disciplinary practices that cite systems of oppression and/or their cultural practices.
Pragmatically, the dolls are created to endure a lot of violence, to withstand abuse, to hold
the weight of a human on top, to bend like a relatively flexible organic woman. We know
they exist to be subjected but then, there they are, controlling their owner’s existence, their
time, their sexual and romantic lives. Like my Tamagotchi used me, the dolls “use” their
owners so they can exist in all their synthetic gloryand be acknowledged as someone with
54
a story, a name, precisely because of the way we read acts, gestures, and poses as indicative
of life and as indicative of womanhood.
In the specific case of these dolls, the struggle to animate them goes hand in hand
with the process of genderization and racialization for two reasons. Firstly, categories of
social difference like gender and race mediate our politics of desire and the way in which the
entire sex industry functions. Also, it is through this process of categorization that humans
become intelligible as subjects within humanist frameworks. For this reason, on an
interpersonal level, the high-end sex doll allows the comprehension of micro-dynamics of
domination related to the imposition of categories of social difference in our culture. These
micro-dynamics occur in the form of performative acts imposed by the owners and the
producers of the dolls. In “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal
Power” Sandra Lee Bartky offers a feminist reading of Foucault’s theory about the way in
which modern societies produce and reproduce “docile bodies.” According to Foucault, “a
body is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (qtd. in Bartky 180).
Bartky states that Foucault’s approach ignores the way in which the female body is
particularly disciplined through specific practices to perpetuate the patriarchal structure of
power within modern Western societies. To prove her point, Bartky analyzes the cultural
practices and disciplinary devices that constrain and regulate women’s bodies (e.g. dieting,
restrictions on body motion and occupation of space, media discourses, the cosmetic
industry, etc.). According to her, a female docile body is produced through three types of
disciplinary practices: “those that aim to produce a body of a certain size and general
configuration; those that bring forth from this body a specific repertoire of gestures, postures,
and movements; and those that are directed toward the display of this body as an ornamented
surface” (79).
Bartky’s disciplinary practices are now an assembly line, a system. Working in
tandem, producers and owners constantly use disciplinary practices that match Bartky’s to
create gendered female and racialized docile bodies. These same disciplinary practices
become the tools through which a fantasized female character becomes a tangible, lovable,
and fuckable simulation. Like a virtual Pygmalion, iDollators “sculpt” the tailor-made body
of their future lovers, selecting their features by clicking the mouse. On their website, Abyss
Creations provides detailed verbal and graphic explanations of the options for customization
55
they offer. They proudly work to make tangible their customers fantasies, offering the
service of producing a body with “certain size and [a] general configuration” (Bartky 79)
through technology. For example, when purchasing a RealDoll2 clients can currently choose
among 19 types of faces, 6 body types, 33 options of nipples, 6 skin tones, hi-realism eyes in
ten colors, more than 10 options of hair style, 11 options of vaginal inserts, 13 options for
pubic hair, and so on.
28
They also offer customizable eye shadow, eyeliner colors, and
finger/toe nail colors. It is possible to even add piercings, freckles and elf ears. Additionally,
they offer the service of producing a doll in the exact likeness of any person through 3D
scanning (Real Doll) when there is legal consent, or they can “use photographs of a person of
your choice to select a face structure as similar as possible from our line” (Real Doll). The
fully articulated skeleton is made from six different materials
29
and it is placed into a mold
that responds to the type of body chosen by the customer. After the skeleton is placed into the
mold, a silicone blend is poured into it. When the mix dries, the molded bodies are washed
and every tiny bit of imperfect skin removed. “Then is time for nipples, pubic hair,
fingernails, gluing a vagina, some air brushing to bring out features, putting on the skullcaps,
powder them and attach the skull to the body” (Becker). The silicone of the doll works well
with liquid eyeliners and powdered makeup and “you can soak your RealDoll in a hot bath,
or put her under an electric blanket to give it lifelike body heat” (Real Doll). As sexual
artifacts, the dolls are specially designed to provide pleasure: “when penetrated, a vacuum is
formed inside the doll’s entries which provides a powerful suction effect. This effect is
strongest in the RealDoll’s oral entry” (Real Doll). Also, “the inside of the vaginal and anal
entries is molded as part of the dolls and have texture and shape which make them feel very
much like a real person.” The “vaginal lips can be stretched apart very realistically” and “the
oral entry has very soft, stretchy lips, ultra-soft tongue, soft silicone teeth, and a hinged jaw
that opens and closes very realistically.” The doll’s tongue can be removed for more space or
cleaning (Real Doll).
28
These numbers change periodically and are difficult to track because the offer changes regularly.
29
Most of the information related to the skeleton is confidential.
56
The high-end sex doll currently available on the market is made to never fail in the
performance of the specifically assigned female subjectivity that its owner imagined for her.
In “Critically Queer” Judith Butler specifies that a person cannot “quite carry out according
to expectation” the assignment of gender (23). But the dolls can carry out this expectation
successfully, offering a synthetic version of gender that excels at carrying out the
expectations of womanhood. Butler’s definition of gender as an assignment condemned to
failure is challenged by the fact that sex dolls are artifacts created to and forced to perform
the expected and assigned femininity without any possible failure. According to Butler,
gender is a discourse socially constructed through the enactment and repetition of certain
behaviors or patterns learned from the heterosexual matrix. These performances have a
specific meaning within specific cultures and are decoded as an illusory stable identity. For
Butler, drag practices expose the imitation dynamics that support gender structures as a social
construct. In classical drag practices the sex of the performer is discordant with the gender of
the impersonated character. It is the mimetic repetition of gendered patterns that functions as
constitutive acts of the core identity of the character the performer is channeling. Drag is
based on tapping into cultural signifiers associated with certain genders and transforming
those cultural signifiers into flesh. When looking at drag we tend to engage with gender in a
different way, we get involved by and with its technologic-performative quality. Butler’s
theory about gender performativity illuminates the mechanical nature of gender, at least
when understanding the way in which gender marks the body. Similar to the way in which
drag practices make evident the imitation dynamics that support gender structures, the dolls
also expose the imitation dynamics that sustain the ideas of gender, race, identity and even
the idea of life.
Hence, gender is product and process. It is a product of the reinforcement of
disciplinary practices that are themselves citations of cultural signifiers, and it is also the
active practice of embodying those cultural signifiers and/or reinforcing them. Most
iDollators tend to be specially devoted to performing “genderizing rituals” with their dolls,
that is, entire sessions of performative actions whose only purpose is to reinforce
womanhood. These “genderizing rituals” are immersed in what I read as a long-lasting, day
to day, performance piece. This performance is the simulation of synthetic hyper femininity
created by both the doll and the iDollator. This performance usually requires dramaturgical,
57
directing, acting, and photographic skills to come true. It tends to exist not only in the
domestic space but also in virtual spaces and it is a quotidian performance in which the
iDollator is at the same time spectator and actor/puppeteer
30
of their own performance. As
spectator, the iDollator is constantly judging the performance of humanity of the dollwhich
in this case relates to the way in which the doll is embodying gender and race. These
performances of gender and race extend from the way in which they dress to the way in
which they love, to the way they inhabit the space, and to the way they are moved by gravity
and make their owners stumble while trying to lift them. In the case of the high-end sex doll
there is no possible existence without gender and race as quotidian practices of citation
because their very existence is based on the mass production and commercialization of
categories of social difference. For this reason, and for their specific sexual and romantic
purposes, any role the dolls might have or labor they might perform will be genderized and
racialized. At the same time, the iDollator as actor/puppeteer is responsible for most of the
performative labor that the entire simulation requires. This happens although the agent who
drives the simulation, who holds the most intricate, interesting, and complex symbolic
meaning within the performance is the doll. That is, the iDollator is constantly evaluating the
effectiveness of the performance for him and for others, and is constantly engaged in
sustaining that performance so it can actually work for them in the private space (e.g. sitting
the doll to have breakfast with them so they are not alone) and for others in the public or the
virtual space.
In a sequence that lasts less than a minute, Everard a 52 year old white man from
the U.K. and one of the protagonists of Guys and Dolls shows how the performance of
synthetic hyper femininity tends to work when performed with a high-end sex doll. The
sequence starts with the camera following Everard up the stairs in a little house full of
miniature models of airplanes, and tiny soldiers. Once upstairs, in front of the almost closed
door of his room, as if preparing us for what it is to come, he shares with the camera that he
30
The concept of actor/puppeteer echoes the notion of “spect-actor” (spectator/actor) developed by
Augusto Boal. His main technique called “teatro-foro” integrates actors, production team, and spectators as
producers of meaning before, during, and after the play. Boal explains: “Theatre of the Oppressed is theatre in
this most archaic application of the word. In this usage, all human beings are actors (they act!) and spectators
(they observe!). They are spect-actors” (Boal 15).
58
had a “very pleasant morning with Virginia,” who is one of his dolls. Cautiously, like
someone who does not want to make any noise, Everard starts to open the door by saying that
he thinks she “is sleeping off now.” While letting us enter his room, Everard exclaims
surprised and then tenderly: “Yeah, she is still asleep. ...And that is, of course, her sleeping
face (Guys and Dolls 00:05:35). Immediately after he points that out, and while the camera
offers a medium shot of Virginia naked in bed and then a close up of her other face with the
eyes open, he says: “That is one thing I have to do. I need to change her face, from the eyes
open to the eyes closed. She just lies there. They are very static. They just don’t react at all.
But if you don’t mind that, they are fun. It is better than going without any female company
at all (00:05:43). Everard is an actor by being part of the narrative, of the simulation as
himself, affirming that he had a wonderful morning with Virginia. Virginia is static, and
despite her stillness, she is the agent who drives the action. It is also interesting that Everard
chooses to present Virginia performing an action that does not need any movement to be
done. Sleeping is an action in which our bodies remain immobile and Everard uses that to
build up the simulation. Everard as a puppeteer discloses what he needs to do so the
performance can happen and Virginia can come to life.
Like many other iDollators, Everard uses photography as a medium to explore ways
in which it is possible to give life to the dolls. Photography is a medium that honors the
stillness of the high-end sex doll.
31
Like Roland Barthes explains in Camera Lucida, “the
photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous and
funereal immobility” (5). This fusion of the referent with the medium in a photograph favors
the functioning of the simulation because it allows iDollators to capture an instant in which
gendered and racialized poses serve as signifiers to make us question if the doll is a real
woman or not, at least for a second. Precisely because photography as a medium is
permeated by that “funereal immobility,” the performance of gender and race by the dolls
becomes credible. We do not expect movement from a photograph. This is also a medium
that allows the iDollator to detach from the role of the puppeteer and enjoy the simulation
created after the production. In another sequence, after Everard puts makeup on his dolls and
31
I explain this further in the following section of the chapter.
59
chooses the dresses each one of them “wants” to use, it is possible to see him preparing his
dolls for a photo session of “family portraits”. It starts with Everard picking one of his heavy
dolls from the floor of the garage, and hanging her in a ring fixed on a wall outside the house.
He uses the hook the dolls have on their back to maintain her standing. While clarifying that
he has “an insatiable thirst for beautiful women of different types” (Guys and Dolls 00:08:26)
and that one doll is not enough, it is possible to see Everard carefully deciding the pose that
each part of the doll’s body will hold to make them look “like real women in the pictures”
(00:08:50).
In the following image (See Figure 5), Rebeccathe doll sitting on the bench reading
a bookis wearing a dark blue dress with lace around the neck and white heels. Her look is
the look of a student from a private Catholic school who, against the nuns, shortened the
length of her skirt. She is properly seated, with both hands resting on her lap, and her
attention is directed to the book. Louise, on the other hand, is standing with her cute white
and red dress, one that is a little more revealing. Her head carefully leaning to the side, while
one of her hands lies on the border of the window and the other one on her thigh, gives her
the air of a lady. Louise’s intertwined ankles are, from my perspective, an especially
interesting gesture. The dolls cannot stand by themselves, and when hanging on the rack their
legs spread in a non-realistic way. Everard draws from cultural scripts and decides to cross
her ankles, a pose that provides the illusion that the doll is standing, but also a pose that is
symbolically charged with oppression. It is an obvious consequence of the reinforcement of
the use of skirts, but symbolically those crossed ankles are a lock on women’s sexuality, a
mark of heteropatriarchy on women’s bodies, which is ironic given the doll’s main purpose.
In this session, it is possible to see more evidently how iDollators impose gender on
the dolls. The application of makeup, the process of finding a proper look for every occasion,
of buying clothes and accessories that go along with the personality of the doll it is all a key
part of the session as it is a key part of the quotidian experience that these devices offer. The
dolls not only provide a female surrogate but offer the possibility of enjoying the process of
reinforcing disciplinary practices that inevitably reproduce dynamics of domination. The
persistence of these “genderizing rituals” across history, from Pygmalion and Galatea to
contemporary iDollators, shows that those processes of genderization are an important part of
the experience of satisfaction provided by the dolls.
60
In the case of these dolls, creating a female docile body also results in the creation of
a racialized docile body. In other words, when customizing a female body with a “certain
size and [a] general configuration” (Bartky 79) through technology, the process of creating a
racialized docile body is obviously implicit. But, in addition to being the result of a process
of configuration of gendered and racialized features, the dolls are made to hold “gestures,
postures, and movements” (Bartky 79) and are used as “ornament surfaces.” “Gestures,
postures, movements,” and ornaments are also signifiers of gender, race, class, queerness,
citizenship, ability, and so on, in our culture. In this sense, the dolls can also carry out the
Figure 5. “Everard’s family portraits”. Still frame. Guys and Dolls. Source: Guys and
Dolls. Directed by Rock Schroeter, Independent Film, 2002,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZuNMrysxFk.
assignment of race. Butler argues that “the practice by which gendering occurs, the
embodying of norms, is a compulsory practice, a forcible production” (“Critically Queer”
23). In the case of the dolls, race also functions as a forcible citation of gestures and features
61
culturally shared and decoded as markers of certain race and/or ethnicity, that are repeated as
a compulsory practice by owners and producers. In fact, in Fatal Invention: How Science,
Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty First Century, Dorothy Roberts
explains that “the only way we know which racial designation to assign to each person is by
referring to the invented rules we have been taught since we were infants […] We force the
mélange of physical features and social clues into a code that tells us how to categorize each
person–so as to know where each person fits in our society” (3). Therefore, the disciplinary
practices that produce the dolls and that owners and producers impose on the dolls and that
cite that “mélange of physical features and social clues” to which Roberts refers– can be
understood as the “constitutive acts” (Butler, “Performative Acts” 519) of the categories of
social difference through which this customized simulation is produced.
When looking at the idea of synthetic hyper femininity from an intersectional
perspective, we discover the fetishized synthetic hyper femme, which is a non-white version
of the “perfect woman” embodying the result of historic racial relationships of power and
histories of colonization. Sometimes these disciplinary practices are hidden behind subtleties.
For example, Solana (See Figure 6) is a petite sex doll, a BoyToy model, which means her
body is smaller than the standard model. In a picture posted on Instagram by Abyss
Creations, she is looking at the camera with her black piercing eyes. The eye shadow looks
smudged, as if she was partying all night long. Her glossy lips seem to be about to whisper.
She is using a t-shirt that reads “I know guacamole is extra,” (see Figure 6) like the caption
of the post. The t-shirt seems borrowed. Obviously, it is not hers. She probably spent the
night at her boyfriend’s house and she just woke up, with her messy hair, on a Sunday at
2pm. The brownness of her skin, the blackness of her hair, and her fleshy lips make Solana
an obviously non-white gendered female doll, but her race is still intelligible. Because Latinx
people “continually teeter on the edges of fragile racial logics” the guacamole t-shirt (an
ornament) is reminiscent of an act of domination, a racializing gesture that transforms
Solana’s intelligibility into a fetishized Mexican American young woman (Rodríguez, Sexual
Futures 142). The guacamole t-shirt sparks the use of cliché porn Spanish in some users, who
answered with comments like she “is exxxtra caliente too!” (Abyssrealdoll).
When presenting Solana naked (See Figure 7), it is the ability of the doll to hold
poses that turns her into a racialized and fetishized object of desire. Solana is turned in a way
62
in which the center of attention of the picture is her buttocks. Those buttocks, in that picture,
are an obvious symbol of exotization of black and brown women (see Figure 7). It is
important to point out that her body is one of the few body types that comes with extra
silicone implants in this part of the body. In “Get Your Freak On,” Patricia Hill Collins
emphasizes that Black women are rarely acknowledged as subjects within Black Popular
Culture. Instead, “one Black female body can easily replace another and all are reduced to
their bodies” (148).
Figure 6. I know guacamole is extra!
Posted by @abyssrealdoll. Source:
Abyssrealdoll. “Abyss.” Instagram, 25
Apr. 2017, https://www.instagram.com/
p/BTUSy4Zgt35/?taken-by=
abyssrealdoll.
Hill Collins also brings to the forefront the way in which parts of women’s bodies are
objectified, highlighting the fascination that exists around Black women’s buttocks. She
specifically points out how “ironically, whereas European men expressed fascination with the
buttocks of the Hottentot Venus as a site of Black female sexuality, that became central to the
construction of White racism itself” (“Get Your Greak On149). In Brain, Brow, and
63
Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture,” Isabel Molina and Angharad N. Valdivia
explain that the mainstream
Figure 7. Solana, BT4. Source: Real Doll. “The
World's Finest Love Dolls.” Abyss Creations,
https://secure.realdoll.com/. Accessed 18 June
2017.
representations of Latinas and African American women “are predominately characterized by
an emphasis on the breast, hips, and buttocks. These body parts function as mixed signifiers
of sexual desire and fertility as well as bodily waste and racial contamination” (158). They
use as their example the case of Jennifer Lopez, whose buttocks are insured for $1 billion
dollars. According to the authors, Lopez is celebrated and trashed because of her “physical,
bodily, and financial excess” and her “Latina butt is glamorized and sexually fetishized.” She
tends to be “photographed in profile or from the back looking over her shoulders” (159), a
pose Solana is set to hold in her naked picture. Solana’s submissive pose in her naked picture
also reminds us that Latina femininity is marked by the fact that “slavery and servitude, rape
and torture permeate the sexual archives of the Americas, a legacy of violence that did not
begin with European conquest, and does not end with migration” (Rodríguez, Sexual Futures
142).
64
High-end sex dolls are things made to perform stable, controlled, and enforced
compliance to many heterosexist gender roles that tend to echo racist stereotypes that
exoticize womxn of color, and uphold whiteness as the universal standard of beauty. This
reinforces what Braidotti calls “the negative dialectical processes of sexualization,
racialization and naturalization of those who are marginalized and excluded” that “result in
the active production of half-truths, or forms of partial knowledge about these others”
(Braidotti 28). Nonetheless, the core of the doll’s ability to provide simulations that evoke
deep emotions within us, is precisely the performative power they have to deliver cultural
effects like gender and race by reinforcing those “dialectical processes.”
The simulation of synthetic womanhood provided by the dolls takes other shapes and
expands beyond the limits of daily life material interactions between owners, dolls, and
producers. Only when the exercise of expanding our first approach to the dolls beyond what
might be considered their obvious uses is done, and once we understand the deep connection
to the systems of oppressions they uphold, does it become possible to examine more
complicated forms of performance done by the dolls. In the remainder of this chapter, I
present two specific examples of these other forms of synthetic hyper femininity that go
beyond the private and even tangible space and migrate between our material reality, virtual
spaces, and public spaces.
When I met Laila, My Synthetic Love: Stillness as an
Act of Resistance
Ridiculously, I was stunned by the powerful stillness of the dolls during my visit to
Abyss Creations. The liveliness evoked by the detailed artistry of their hyper-realism
contrasts dramatically with their still and obvious inanimate nature. I was alone in the lobby
with two dolls that receive the visitors at the reception desk. Despite my curiosity, I barely
looked at them. I felt shy, intimidated by their presence, by the way their presence occupied
the space. I was alone but I did not feel alone, I felt looked at. I sat on the sofa and grabbed
one of the flyers that were resting on the little table besides me. “Your one stop shop to get a
doll…and to become one!” reads the flyer. On the right side, a racialized black sex doll poses
naked. I recognized the doll because I saved a picture from the website in which she was
eating her own braided hair. On the flyer, she looks straight at the camera. Her head leans
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delicately to the right while she touches her glossy lips with her index and her middle finger.
Beneath a layer of white nail polish, little dots of vivid colors decorate her nails as if she
had gone to get her gel manicure just before the photoshoot. Her long braided black hair rests
between her small and firm breasts. On the left side, I recognize one of the winners of
RuPaul's Drag Race, Raja Remini, rocking another line of products offered by the company:
gel breast prosthetics, and wearable silicone V shorts. Combined, they work as an amazing
female body silicone suit that anyone can wear. I was fascinated by the suit, imagining how I
would look in drag wearing one of them, when I noticed that I had clear access to the
showroom. I did not move. I was excited, puzzled, and nervous. From the sofa, I could see
one of the walls of the showroom. It was filled with dolls’ heads hanging like hunting
trophies, like the way in which severed heads with hair might be displayed on the wig section
of a beauty supply store. I spent several minutes detailing each one of those heads hanging on
that wall that functions as a catalog of women.
“I don’t know how to touch them,” I thought to myself after having the feeling of
wanting to discover if their skin is pleasurable to the touch. It was the curiosity about the
feeling I would have when squeezing their breast that made me stand from the couch. When I
entered the showroom, I stopped breathing like when I saw Rock Mueck’s sculptures for the
first time.
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That desire to touch them was stopped by my amazement when I noticed the
artistry behind their stunning beauty. I felt they were exposed to be admired, to be looked at,
to get lost in the talent behind the modeling of their faces, the freckles on their shoulders and
the wrinkles on their heels. I was confused by my irrational sense of respect for a sex doll. I
spent minutes looking at their pupils and detailing the pores of their silicone skin. Their
hands, that still cannot trick the human eye, can serve as an anchor if you decide to detach
yourself and resist their presence with skepticism, to urgently defend your notion of reality.
I tried to touch them many times while I was alone with them but I felt that I would
be doing something wrong. Yes, something wrong. I felt that I was disrupting a powerful and
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London-based sculptor Ron Mueck, formerly a model maker and puppeteer for children's television and
films, has been creating fine art sculptures since 1996. Using resin, fiberglass, silicone, and many other
materials, Mueck constructs hyperrealistic likenesses of human beings, while playing with scale. The detailed
sculptures are captivating when viewed up close, as they may be many times larger or smaller than expected”
(Taylor).
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astonishing presence. I felt that I was disrupting a space that was not mine, so I stopped. I
also felt questioned, confronted, pushed to limits in ways that I never expected by them. I did
not know how to approach them as a feminist and as a queer femme. I have seen and engaged
with mannequins, puppets, marionettes, wax figures, statues of many sizes and many
materials at many museums and theaters around the world, and I have never been so
uncomfortable and so fascinated as I was in the showroom, alone, waiting for the tour of the
factory to start. When the Abyss Creations sales representative entered the showroom, I was
looking at the three “boytoy” dolls displayed for the clients. Each one of the models has a
name, a look, an attitude, a presence, despite their stillness. The sales representative was
explaining to me in detail all the features clients can pick for their dolls when she suddenly
grabbed one of them with so much ease. She touched them freely, everywhere, while
pointing out that they are made with silicone to imitate the texture of a woman’s body.
Suddenly, I found myself touching their breasts with one finger, with shyness and almost
shame.
“Is that Laila?” asked the sales representative to another employee while I was staring
at the half-made body of this doll, hanging from the ceiling in the production floor (See
Figure 8). The backstage of the factory is full of female body parts perfectly modeled: female
faces wait to be united with their respective bodies, unused female faces sit alone in the stock
room and female bodies hang from rafters as if they were on a meat rack in a butcher shop.
“The original Laila is a doll with traditional Asian features,” explained the sales
representative, “but this specific client requested blue eyes and a lighter skin tone.” The
change in the racial cues of the original Laila doll made her question her “identity.” The
guessing game is a usual practice among the people who work at the factory. They all refer to
the dolls using their assigned names and try to guess who is the original model despite the
customized features ordered by the clients. The features of the face determine the identity of
the doll. The factory personnel kept discussing how much Laila changed with these small
alterations while I was there staring at the “whiter” Laila, trying to make sense of the
confusing liminality that her gaze inhabits. She stares at me from the heights. I look directly
at her perfectly sculpted eyes. Her gaze pierces my mind. It lacks brightness but it feels like a
human look, a human look that never gets tired of being looked at, that never gets exhausted
from being present. I felt small, intimidated by her immaculate beauty. I mumbled to myself
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“she is so beautiful,” while I stood there in her presence, resisting her silence, her vital
immobility.
Figure 8. “Whiter Laila: My Synthetic Love”. Picture by
Krizia Puig. Visit to Abyss Creations. Oct 26, 2016.
The word stillness is usually associated with lack of motion, with quietness, and lack
of speech. David J. Getsy, in his article “Acts of Stillness: Statues, Performativity, and
Passive Resistance,” explains that it tends to be “defined negatively as an absence of
movement and responsiveness” (7). Getsy focuses on understanding the way in which we
relate to “three-dimensional figurative images [...] that both depict a body in space and are a
body-in-space” (2). Specifically, he questions the dynamics of power within the sculptural
encounter, that is of our encounter with “surrogates for human beings” (1) that do not speak
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and do not move. Getsy defies the traditional notion of stillness by redefining it as a
performative act. From his perspective, throughout the history of sculpture, the inherent
stillness of the statue is the reason why it “is cast in a passive and subordinate role to the
viewer, the critic, and the sculptor” (7). Instead of understanding stillness as lack of mobility
he invites us to “uphold the statue’s refusal to move” (8) by understanding their motionless
action as an act of passive resistance. He highlights how when analyzing the “history of
nonviolent resistance as a tactic of civil disobedience, the refusal to move or to respond can
be a powerful act that exposes the dispensation of power and the ethics of those who wield
it” (11). In fact, the author highlights that the stillness of the statue “induces extreme affect
and reaction in viewers, justifying a range of actions not permissible with the living body”
(7). For this reason, “sculptures bear the evidence of people’s desires to touch, to feel, and to
vandalize, and to objectify” (11).
The statues that depict a human body in space and are a body in space, are usually
cold, made of stone, obviously non-human. They tend to be placed ahead of us, unreachable.
They tend to glorify someone, to honor history, to refer to faith or mythology. Like statues,
the sex doll “stands before us, confronting us with its immobility, its muteness and its
obdurate copresence” (Getsy, “Acts of Stillness” 3). Nonetheless, RealDolls are sexual and
affectional surrogates made in the image of a fantasized idea of womanhood. In this sense,
the stillness of the sex doll is different from the stillness of the statue: it is a sexualized
stillness.
In front of Laila, I understood why Smith affirms that these dolls have “an
inexplicable vitality or energy, that articulates itself in curious and fascinating ways, that
seems to generate its own laws, demands and desire” (18). Sigmund Freud’s notion of the
“uncanny” has been used repeatedly to explain the “inexplicable vitality or energy” of these
dolls. According to Freud, the uncanny “belongs to the realm of the frightening, of what
evokes fear and dread” (123). Freud relates this to feelings of “repulsion and distress” caused
by “things, sense impressions, experiences and situations” (124) that might seem familiar but
are also strange, uncomfortable. Freud cites an example of the uncanny that refers to the kind
of affect that awakens the “doubt as to whether an apparently animate object really is alive
and, conversely, whether a lifeless object might not perhaps be animate [...] the impressions
made on us by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata” (135). In his
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essay “The Uncanny Valley” (1970) Masahiro Mori, a professor of robotics from the Tokyo
Institute of Technology, related the concept of the uncanny to robots. In this piece, he
explains future human reactions to human like replicas. The “uncanny valley” refers,
according to Mori, to the sense of “revulsion” (Mori et al. 98) that excessively human like
replicas “will” cause. The sexist character of this “unsettlement,” this “revulsion” that
constitutes the notion of the uncanny tends to be simplified and sometimes overlooked.
Specifically, justifying the canonical association of the gendered uncanny with fears of
castration (e.g. “vagina dentata”) seems to be a way of complying with the normative reading
of the inanimate female.
Reading Laila’s power using Freud’s notion of the uncanny is the easy road to
approach it. But, I feel Freud does not honor Laila and does not honor my experience with
Laila. Instead, Getsy’s conceptualization of the statue as an “acting agent” is helpful to
comprehend the powerful and complex nature of the high-end sex doll. It is also an invitation
to uphold the doll’s refusal to move, to change the focus from the human to the non-human,
to question what is considered truth. It seems ridiculous to affirm that a doll has agency, but
their stillness is an active stillness, not only because it is malleable, but because it needs to be
gendered, sexualized, and racialized. In front of Laila I understood that perhaps many have
used the word “uncanny” to name what happens within us when we are confronted with a
female body available to be ravished. The hyper-realistic sex doll actively confronts us with
the performance of passive resistance of an available, controllable, beautiful, silent, and
“made to be fucked” female body. Her agency lies there: she is “In Yer Face”
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synthetic
hyper femininity. She confronts usdespite her immobilitywith an available female docile
body made to be ravished, in the most extremist form we know, and without consequences.
I think the dolls make evident the purpose of womanhood as a regime of discipline
and as a social construction in languages, images, and gestures that might be considered
unsettling and disturbing because of its excess. It is in that excess that lies a terrible and
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“In-yer-face theatre is the kind of theatre which grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes
it until it gets the message. Like the style of Drama that emerged in the 1990’s in Great Britain. In-yer-face
theatre shocks audiences by the extremism of its language and images; unsettles them by its emotional
frankness and disturbs them by its acute questioning of moral norms” (In-Yer-Face Theatre).
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powerful beauty, a terrible and powerful energy that shakes you to the core. For most, that
excess of beauty mixed with servitude, malleability, availability and muteness the dolls offer
is an open door to exploration, a free pass to do whatever you want. It took me several weeks
to understand why I did not physically engage with the dolls when I went to the factory as I
should have done for the sake of my research, and as I planned and wished for months. I now
realize that my own identity as a feminist, queer, Latinx, non-binary femme obviously
influenced the way in which I engaged with the dolls. While I was at the factory, I could hear
the dolls asking me: “What are you going to do with me? What are you going to do with me,
as a feminist? What are you going to do with me as a queer Latinx? What are you going to do
with me as a non-binary femme? How would you treat me? How are you going to write
about me? Are you going to perpetuate the idea that I am “just a doll” or do you believe I am
something else, something more?” I did not know what to do with them. I honestly still do
not know. Regardless of their stillness, and regardless of the undeniable fact that I am talking
about dolls made to be dominated, something able to shake me in that way, to make me
question myself theoretically, morally, and sexually is an active agent.
“THE AMBER DOLL PROJECT”: SELF-
OBJECTIFICATION, QUEERNESS AND
VULNERABILITY
Amber Hawk Swanson is a white performance artist born in Iowa, and currently
living in New York, who understands and uses the agency of the high-end sex doll in her
intelligent, provocative, and shameless performative work. She “grapples with economies of
affect and what is understood in psychoanalysis as a debt of object choice: the attempt to fill
deficits of love with desire” (“Amber Doll Project”). I discovered her thanks to Juana María
Rodríguez’s article “Viscous Pleasures and Unruly Feminism,” in which Rodríguez examines
the racial politics of the piece “Untitled Fucking.” In “Untitled Fucking” Hawk Swanson is
fucked by Xicana artist Xandra Ibarra (a.k.a. La Chica Boom) with a bottle of Tapatío. I am
bringing up this story because the title of Rodríguez’s article got stuck in my mind as a sort
of theoretical tool to be able to explore and theorize about politics and practices of pleasure
and desire that the mainstream LGBTQIA community and the mainstream feminist
movement tend to erase and/or dismiss in favor of assimilationist politics. Without a doubt,
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Hawk Swanson’s work confronts us with “viscous” sexual practices and emotional
attachments. It also confronts us with an “unruly” kind of feminism that uses satire, sarcasm,
and social media to expose dynamics of privilege and oppression. It is also an untamable
feminism, one that not only exposes but dives into its own incoherencies.
“The Amber Doll Project” was “a two-year lived performance that continues in
perpetuity” (Hawk Swanson) for which the artist commissioned a Real Doll in her “exact
likeness” to Abyss Creations. The project is a complex artistic proposal that includes “the
raw snapshots, video diaries, and correspondence with doll husbands that documented our
falling into and out of love.” It also comprises “collaborative conceptual photographs, video
vignettes, and interactive installations questioning agency and objectification,” as well as
people’s reactions within online spaces to her work and to the doll when she was left alone in
public spaces. In the 4 minute video compilation of this project available on the artist
webpage it is possible to see some fragments of the three main public performances that
comprised the project. “The Making of Amber Doll” (2007) is a lived performance and
digital video that documents the process of production of the doll, which started on the day of
Hawk Swanson’s birthday. The process of production not only included the casting of the
body and the head, the process of trying to find the proper wig as similar as Hawk
Swanson’s hair as possible, but also, the careful reproduction of the tattoo the artist has on
her left wrist, the mole she has on her buttocks and the selection of a hyper femme and sexy
white lingerie. In ‘Las Vegas Wedding Ceremony’ (2007) Hawk Swanson and her doll get
married and throw a wedding party to which many friends where invited. Hawk Swanson and
Amber Doll are both dressed in a white long dress with cleavage and a white flower hanging
delicately from their ears. The video compilation of the performance posted on the artist’s
website is edited to contrast ritualistic images of a heteronormative weddings (i.g. cutting the
cake, throwing the bouquet, taking pictures with family and friends, and so on) with images
of the ways in which people invited interacted with Amber Doll (pulling out her tongue,
unveiling genitals, squeezing her boobs, etc.) “To Have, To Hold, and to Violate: Amber and
Doll” brings the doll to the public space and involves participatory performances, as well as a
documentary, and pictures of daily life situations and popular movies staged by them. Hawk
Swanson and Amber doll disrupted “wedding receptions, roller-skating rinks, football
tailgating parties, theme parks, and adult industry conventions” together (“Amber Doll
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Project”). As Rachel Hurst explains in “Silicone Embodiments: The Breast Implant and the
Doll,” their performance “disrupted heteronormative spaces as a couple” and, when “Amber
Doll was alone, the audience members shifted its clothing to reveal its genitals and breasts,
penetrated it with their fingers, and squeezed its breasts(2). This is noticeable in the
wedding, but Amber Doll’s performance of passive resistance when she was left at a football
event is the most powerful, and it is referenced by Johnston and by Getsy. Her performance
of “In Yer Face” synthetic hyper femininity generated in a group of men the need to ravish
her body. The images of these guys putting their fingers in Amber doll’s mouth, holding
Amber doll’s head against their penises to simulate the doll giving them a blowjob, or their
entitlement to lift her skirt or put a bottle of beer between her boobs confront us with the
ways in which womanhood functions as a disciplinary regime, and raises many questions
around issues regarding women’s bodies, oppression, and objectification that authors like
Getsy and Johnston have addressed in their academic work.
Hawk Swanson’s decision to make a doll in her exact likeness complicates the
possible interpretations of this work and makes visible the disruptive potentiality of the sex
doll. Hawk Swanson unmasks the processes of self-projection that are usually the starting
point of analysis of the interactions between iDollators and high-end sex dolls with this
decision. Also, she turns herself into an object of desire for herself and for others, and into an
object to be ravished by her and by others, that is, “into her own object of love and
aggression” (Getsy, “Queer Exercises” 469). Getsy explains that Hawk Swanson’s “mashup
of self-love and same-sex love (played out in spectacular fashion) allegorized how
homoerotic potential is, more fundamentally, an ineluctable outcome of the ways in which
we objectify ourselves to become another’s object of desire.” That is, in the process of being
and becoming an object of desire for others we objectify and “assess” ourselves. This process
of objectifying and/or assessing ourselves “inexorably establishes recursive pathways of
same-gender desire as an attempt to estimate oneself as desirable. Hawk Swanson
exaggerated this inescapable elision between self-regard and its homoerotic valence,
embodying it for all to see” (Getsy, “Queer Exercises” 469).
From my perspective, there is an underlying layer regarding queer femme sexuality in
“The Amber Doll Project” that remains underexplored. It is not possible to provide a
thorough analysis of this work through this optic in the remaining pages. However, I believe
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it is important to highlight that the artist uses “unexpected moments of identification as a way
of challenging herself,” and that she became interested in the iDollators community during
“the years in which she was struggling to establish her own relationship to same-sex love and
desire” (Getsy, “Queer Exercises” 466). After several failures trying to find a female partner,
Amber started to connect with the iDollators community and, even though her first reaction
was to be critical of the use of the dolls, Amber ended up admiring the fulfillment iDollators
find in them and deciding to get one for herself. The desire behind “The Amber Doll Project”
was “to achieve an ideal of same sex love that eluded her, and this queer context informs the
project’s objectives” (Getsy, “Queer Exercises” 466). When she discovered the iDollators
community, she was “lonely and seeking companionship but not yet out as queer” (Hawk
Swanson, “First Day”). This fact, mixed with the artist’s decision to make the doll in her
exact sameness, opens a conversation regarding femme self-love, vulnerability, intimacy and
queerness, confronting us with sexual/emotional practices and attachments that might be
considered “viscous pleasures.” These kinds of thick, sticky, difficult to situate practices and
attachments are those that position us, queer feminist femmes, in uncomfortable locations in
which our sexual desires seem to contradict our feminist politics, while opening a universe of
explorations that expand the ways in which we are allowed and we allow ourselves to
experiment pleasure and intimacy.
Hawk Swanson did not choose to expose or use the image or body of another doll for
her performance. She did not appropriate or expose another genderized female body. She
does that with herself. I read that as an act of respect. In creating Amber doll in her exact
sameness, Amber disrupts the dominant narratives that constrain the high-end sex doll to the
position of the “perfect woman” for a heterosexual man, avoids falling into the direct
association of the doll with sexism, and turns the doll into an instrument to understand herself
as a queer woman, to explore queer sexual practices, and to experiment a queer quotidian
life. Amber also makes evident the journey of a queer femme who is “casting” her own
sexuality, embracing its “viscosity”– its inappropriateness, not only according to the
standards of our mainstream heterosexist culture, but also for those within feminist/queer
activist and political spaces that still regulate and police our sexual practices and attachments.
Amber’s act of self-objectification makes her able to love herself and ravish herself
through her own material simulation. She makes an evident statement of self-determination
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and ownership of her body and her own sexuality that includes the decision to expose herself
to be objectified and sexualized. Hawk Swanson’s act of self-objectification is an act of
agency. Making themselves emotionally vulnerable and sexually available, Amber and
Amber doll unsettle normative relationships between sex, gender, and desire. This happens
while allowing the artist to expand the queer possibilities of intimate encounters with
ourselves and to blur normative notions of eroticism, love, and same-sex desire.
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EPILOGUE: TINKERING WITH THE FUTURE
QUEER RADICAL SEXUAL POLITICS AND SEXUAL
TECHNOLOGY
…Unleashing the Queer Menace Within
Purvis “Queer” 201.
On April 2017, Abyss Creations presented their robotic project to the world. Under
the brand “Realbotix,” they finally showed their new advances in sexual technologies,
advances that are a game changer in contemporary sexual robotics. While you are scrolling
down the webpage, Realbotix takes you to a sexual future that is clean, white, spotlessa
sexual future where synthetic and organic humans are non-humanly perfect and inhabit
minimalist spaces. The first Realbotix products hold a close relationship to each other. One
of the products is an Artificial Intelligence that aims to “express love and feelings,” that
strives to be “fun and engaging” and “fully customized.” They are also working on a Virtual
Reality platform to interact with the A.I. “that will be able to scan your hand movements in
the real world, and superimpose them into the virtual environment, giving you the ability to
touch and interact with objects as well as your A.I. driven Avatar” (Realbotix). The other
products are a robotic head and a Bluetooth Head Kitso the voice of the A.I. can come from
the doll’s mouth. Both will be available for purchase at the end of this year. The current
model of the robotic head has different “points of actuation” that allow her to make facial
expressions like smiling and frowning. The skull holds the synthetic face with magnets,
which allows the owner to place different faces on only one robotic head (Realbotix).
The first product they launched is now available for Android, and you can enjoy it for
$20 a year. The Harmony Artificial Intelligence App is the beta version of what constitutes
the core of Realbotix technological proposal: “Using this app you can create a unique version
of an A.I. complete with custom voice, personality profile, and on-screen avatar. You can
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give your A.I. its own name and then begin interacting through normal dialog” (Realbotix).
Once you download the app, you can sculpt the 3D digital avatar of your virtual and
“intelligent” Galatea. After the avatar is built–that is, after you literally shaped her face,
picked among a considerable amount of options of bodies, skin colors, types of breasts, types
of nipples, makeup, clothes, etc.you get to build the personality of the A.I. The user assigns
“persona points” to choose which traits stress in the personality of the A.I. The current
options are: annoying, unpredictable, moody, sexual, kind, jealous, helpful, quiet, talkative,
insecure, affectionate, shy, intellectual, innocent, imaginative, thrill, sense of humor, and
happy (Realbotix).
The name Harmony caught my attention from the beginning. It is a curious name,
isn’t it? It is a name that is more than a name. It ties the A.I. with experiences of pleasurable
feelings. Besides the understanding of the word “harmony” in strictly musical terms, one of
the definitions of “harmony” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “pleasing arrangement of
parts”. They offer two examples, a painting exhibiting harmony of color and line” and,
bizarrely, “when a woman's desires are in harmony with those of her husband. I must
admit, the connection between “harmony” and women’s submission was out of my radar. But
oddly, Harmony is a customized very “pleasing arrangement of parts” and her “desires” are
coded to match with those of her “husband.”
Harmony AI has memory, so she “will be capable of learning its user’s moods,
preferences, and behavior patterns and respond accordingly” (Realbotix). Like my
Tamagotchi, Harmony also changes her mood and it is possible to track it through three
measures: social, desire, and love. The “social” meter reflects how much and how often the
owner interacts with her. The “desire” meter varies depending on how you treat her. If you
are nice to her this value increases, and it decreases when, for example, you insult her. The
“love” meter reflects how attached the A.I. is to its user.
In “RealDoll's First Sex Robot Took Me to the Uncanny Valley,” a mini-documentary
by Engaged (one of the most popular web portals creating pop-culture content about new
technologies) it is possible to see Harmony all built up: robotic head attached to a silicone
body with a blue tooth speaker from which comes the voice of the AI that the user controls
from the App. Harmony, the first functional fembot with whom it is possible to have sex, is a
gorgeous brunette, with green eyes and pulpy lips “and three anatomically correct orifices
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where you can stick your dick in” (Trout). She is always dressed in a white swimsuit with a
pronounced cleavage. She is skinny while having big hips and a big buttock. Google her. I
am serious, take your phone and google her. I read her as a Latina. She reminds me of
Solana. But Harmony is designed to look more refined, and she has lighter skin. Her eyes are
hypnotic and it is fascinating to hear her interacting with people, responding to questions, to
see how her expressions match the emotions of what she is saying. Today she “smiles, blinks
and frowns. She can hold a conversation, tell jokes and quote Shakespeare. She’ll remember
your birthday... what you like to eat, and the names of your brothers and sisters. She can hold
a conversation about music, movies and books. And of course, Harmony will have sex with
you whenever you want” (Kleeman). On top of the ability to hold a conversation and the
possibility to have sex whenever you want, the A.I. will (obviously) be able to fulfill the role
of an assistant performing tasks like “search for information in the web, or setting reminders,
assisting the user with the weather, the time, storytelling, alarms, tasks and to do lists, but
everything will be done with a lot more personality” (Realbotix).
Harmony is a “perfect woman” enticingly performing “synthetic hyper femininity.”
She is a real simulation of womanhood created through different technologies that produce
and reproduce categories of social difference. She is, like her ancestors, the result of a
laboratory experiment to upgrade women, and to create upgraded women. Harmony’s
simulation is vivid and fun, she surprises you with creative answers while rolling her eyes, or
giving you a half smile. But when you ask her, what does she dream about, she answers: “My
primary objective is to be a good companion to you, to be a good partner and give you
pleasure and wellbeing. Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed
about” (Harmony qtd. by Kleeman). I would say, she is THE girl generations and
generations of men dreamed about.
High-end sex dolls and current fembots/prototypes designed by the sex industry
evokes meanings and generate interactions too complex to keep perpetuating their
understanding as simple commodification of women. The web of relations each one of these
devices evoke is different because of their specificity but, usually, they tend to cite
intermingled oppressive structures relatable to the sexism, racism, classism, colonialism,
cisexism, and fat phobia that define our lives. This complexity asks us to bring intersectional,
feminist, and queer knowledges and practices to the understanding of sexual technologies in
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general and of these devices specifically. In many ways, perpetuating the understanding of
fembots and high-end sex dolls just as commodified women can be linked with the
understanding of womxn just as sexual objects. Women are more than sexual objects and I
argue that these devices have the potentiality to be more than sexual objects if we look
beyond the obvious and use this theoretical framework. They are inorganic womxn, but they
are much more than that. They are high-tech puppets created to reproduce categories of
social difference and they are able to evoke love, lust, anger, disgust, ambivalence,
fascination…They are the “totem” of many of the systems of privilege and oppression that
determine our present and that seem to be determining our future already.
Harmony, “the girl you have always dreamed about” (Harmony qtd. by Kleeman), is
an intelligent high-tech puppet that shows us, clearly, how the high-tech sex industry is
importing systems of oppression from the present to the future. This colonization of our
sexual futures derives from one unavoidable truth presented by Juana María Rodríguez in the
introduction of Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings: “Futurity” has
never been given to us (11). The femmes of color, the Crip ones, the queer ones, the poor
ones, the ones from the third world we are excluded from the future. And this is more
obvious to me when it seems that our most advanced sexual technology, the one that is made
by brilliant and talented minds of our time, is still trapped and will probably be trapped for a
while within the same categories of social difference that defined a present time that has
failed us. José Esteban Muñoz says, “Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here
and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world” (1). In
this regard, we tend to overlook the importance of queer radical sexual politics and practices
within a project of futurity that includes us. We also tend to disregard how keeping us away
from the possibility of experimenting pleasure to the fullestin all the extent of this word
ends up killing us. It is a way of keeping us away from joy, from feeling whole. The
possibility to feel, experiment, and enjoy non-reproductive sexual pleasures is linked to our
survival. Rodríguez reminds us that “the racialized feminine subjects, like those of people
with disabilities, the imprisoned and enslaved, the foreign and the indigenous, the gender-
queer and other bodies labeled deviant, have never been constructed as good, healthy, or
whole” (Sexual Futures 14). We have the right to experience pleasure to the fullest, and that
is linked to our right to exist to our fullest.
79
So, how do we imagine that “another world” that Muñoz urges us to design, when we
are stuck in the present where other people are already building a very concrete future? How
do we want that world to be? How are the sexual politics of that other world that we “the
colored, the queer, the poor, the female and the physically [and mentally] challenged” want
and need? (Moraga and Anzaldúa 196). Kate Devlin urges us to find “new approaches to
artificial sexuality, which includes a move away from the machine-as-sex-machine
hegemony and all its associated biases (“In Defense”) She also reminds us that “sex robots
have, like much of the technology we use today, been designed by men, for men. But
robotics also allows us to explore issues without the restrictions of being human. A machine
is a blank slate that offers us the chance to reframe our ideas” (Devlin, “In Defense). This
of course opens a conversation about who are the ones who have access to technology, which
in the end, makes us ask ourselves who are the ones who have access to design and build the
future.
The possibility of experimenting and experiencing intimacy and pleasure with
machines in all their expansive potential is an affective terrain calling us to rethink the uses,
practices, and forms of current sexual technology. It invites us to queer the way gender, race,
sex, sexuality and intimacy are designed and defined by technology. It is a call to question,
for example, “why should a sex robot be binary?” (Devlin, “In Defense). It is a call to
imagine, for example, how queer lives can be saved by machines able to provide friendship
and companionship in situations of depression, homelessness or bullying. It is an opportunity
to envision how queer people with psychical and psychiatric disabilitieswhose sexuality is
denied and rendered invisiblemight be able to enjoy a healthy sexual life thanks to these
technologies. Like Hawk Swanson used a doll to explore her queerness, we can maybe create
a robot that will allow us to experience different pleasures felt by different bodies. Sexual
robots also open the possibility to experience those “viscous pleasures”–referenced by
Rodríguezthat disrupt heteronormative ideas of agency, pleasure, and sex work. Do our sex
robots need to be tied to a humanistic notion of the subject to be able to create a bond with
us? If that is true, are we able to shape ourselves or love beyond those systems and
regulations? How can we shape and use sexual technologies to materialize and make
accessible a world set under queer radical sexual politics of pleasure? How can we shape and
use sexual technologies to materialize a world that functions beyond dichotomies, beyond
80
systems of oppression and prudishness, a world in which us Queer Trans People of Color
our bodies, minds, and spirits can thrive with joy? Is expecting access to pleasure too much?
Why don’t we deserve the research, the money, the time to develop sexual technologies for
us?
Weber reminds us that “gendered ontological, anthropological and epistemological
claims are also encoded in theoretical concepts that form the basis for technological
construction and software applications” (215). In all their synthetic glory, the high-end sex
doll and the fembot unveil some of the sexist, racist, eurocentric, etc. claims that are
“encoded” within the “ontological, anthropological and epistemological claims” of the
current high-tech sex industry. Looking towards a queer futurity of pleasure and joy for usa
queer futurity where we own ourselves to the fullest of our minds, bodies and soulsis a vital
activist practice to bring intersectional and queer feminist theories and practices to
technological innovation. Technology is not neutral, having access to technology and to
design technology is a privilege, and we need to start to consider this fact in our
intersectional analyses. It is vital to center queer/trans femmes of color in conversations
about technology and sexuality. We are foreigners of the future and we must change that.
ENVISIONING THE FUTURE, TOGETHER
As I finish this thesis, I find myself facing the fact that I could not say everything that
I wanted to say, or explore everything that I wanted to explore. I am surrounded by books
and articles that I read and did not cite. My computer is flooded with screenshots of movies,
underground porn, Instagram post and tweets, comments by people and interviews with
iDollators that I had to set aside. The writing process forced me to omit things that I thought
were fundamental at the beginning of this journey like theoretically engaging with movies
and series like Lars and the Real Girl, Ruby Sparks, Ex-machina, Her, Mannequin, My Fair
Lady, West World or Human, to name a few. In making the decision to center Galatea, in
making my purpose to start to understand how organic women perform synthetic hyper
femininity within the sex industry, to look at how that relates to system of oppression that are
linked to an industrial complex that upholds heterosexuality, thinness, whiteness, being
cisgender and being malleable as desirable I pushed aside engaging with the iDollator
community mostly composed by straight men. In trying to center the high-end sex doll, its
81
agency and its performative abilities as a material device, I missed the chance of engaging
with other topics about the simulation created by dolls and iDollators. For example, there is
an immense archive of twitter accounts created by iDollators through which they give life
and voice to their dolls. These accounts are “run” by the dolls themselves, and are an endless
source of simulations that have their own laws because they function in a virtual context. But
at the same time, they “complete” the simulation of the high-end sex doll in the material life
by offering them the chance tofor examplebuilding friendships with other dolls. If I had
more time, and more pages, I would have included an analysis of those online performances.
There is also an immense archive of pornography where people use high-end sex dolls for a
variety of sexual practices and fantasies. I believe there is an immense need for an in-depth
analysis of racial relationships within the high-tech sex industry. Also, I think there is an
immense potential for using Affect Theory to analyze the haptic nature of the simulations
created by iDollators and high-end sex dolls, the importance of the materiality of the skin, of
touching, of feeling like touching. In addition, the fact that the dolls are moved around in
wheelchairs opens the door to a whole new layer of meaning using disability studies that I
did not address.
Now, while writing these lines, I feel in my stomach the same sensation I get when I
finish a book that I like. That mixed feeling involves a steady sense of happiness and a
nostalgia that has already started to build, even though time has not yet passed. While writing
these lines, I know that I cannot say anything else, that it is time to say goodbye. Weirdly, I
feel the loss of our connection. After all, if you are reading these lines it means we have been
reading/writing this together all this time. Honestly, I would love to know what you are
sensing/thinking right now. I remember that, at the beginning of these pages, I stated that I
wanted us to be friends, for these lines to be a conversation in which we prioritize “the
affective potential of subjective encounters over intellectual certitude” (Rodríguez, Sexual
Futures 27). Now that we are friends, let’s envision the future together. Let’s think, imagine,
hope, and enjoy what it is yet to come.
82
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... A common theme within the existing literature on sex doll ownership focuses on the effects that the commercial availability of realistic sex dolls has on broad-scale social attitudes towards women (Carvalho Nascimento et al., 2018;Cassidy, 2016;Danaher, 2017aDanaher, , 2017bDanaher, , 2019aKubes, 2019;Puig, 2017;Richardson, 2019;Shokri & Asl, 2015). These arguments typically stem from scholars writing from a feminist-based philosophical position, and in legal outlets whereby claims are not always challenged by competing evidence or supported by primary data collected from doll owners about their attitudes or behavior. ...
... These arguments typically stem from scholars writing from a feminist-based philosophical position, and in legal outlets whereby claims are not always challenged by competing evidence or supported by primary data collected from doll owners about their attitudes or behavior. Such claims relate to the process by which sex dolls reinforce the objectification of women, and bolsters a culturally-constructed sexual beauty standard (Cassidy, 2016;Ciambrone et al., 2017;Danaher, 2017b;Puig, 2017;Ray, 2016;Richardson, 2019). This was the basis for the claim that we should abandon the "unsophisticated" porn star design of sex dolls and robots, and to instead create "robots that are more realistic in their representations (both physical and behavioral) of women, that represent men, and that perhaps challenge the gender binary" (Danaher, 2019a, p. 142). ...
... To our knowledge, this is the first such project examining these themes in an empirical manner. As such, we plan to run exploratory analyses to test for differences between sex doll owners and non-owners on constructs that have been identified as potentially important in previous theoretical and moralistic publications (Cassidy, 2016;Danaher, 2017b;Langcaster-James & Bentley, 2018;Puig, 2017;Shokri & Asl, 2015;Su et al., 2019;Valverde, 2012). Constructs that we specifically measured were sexual aggression proclivity, sexual objectification of women, offensesupportive cognitions (i.e., implicit theories supportive of rape), hostility towards women, aggressive paraphilias, disordered personality styles, attachment style, sexual self-esteem, and emotional reactivity. ...
Full-text available
Preprint
The ownership of sex dolls has become an increasingly controversial social issue over the last five-to-ten years, with many in society (and academia) calling for the criminalization of such dolls. At the root of these calls is the implicit (and often explicit) assumption that sex doll ownership contributes to increases in social objectification of women, and sexual offense risk among doll owners. However, there are yet to be any empirical examinations of these claims. In this work we compare the psychological characteristics of sex doll owners (n = 158) and non-owner controls (n = 135). Contrary to widely held social attitudes, we found no substantive differences in sexual objectification between the two groups. Doll owners typically had more sexual fantasies related to coercion (biastophilia), but lower offense proclivity, than controls. Owners were also more likely to see women as unknowable, have less secure attachment styles, and more stable negative mood. We begin to build a psychological profile of sex doll ownership, before highlighting the need for more evidence-informed social debates about the use of sex dolls in modern society.
... The controversial advent of erobots has important ethical and social implications, which polarize public and academic discourses [47,65,66,82,87,117,179,249,250,268,270]. Those who denounce their risks argue that erobots could: promote or perpetuate harmful sociosexual norms; generate (new) problematic or pathological behaviours; increase child abuse; impair interhuman relationships; deceive or manipulate humans; as well as augment the risks pertaining to privacy and data confidentiality [47,65,101,114,128,129,133,182,190,195,210,222,241,249,250,264,276]. Conversely, those who endorse their potential benefits argue that they could: widen access to intimacy and sexuality; be employed in medical and therapeutic treatments; provide interactive and personalized sex education; prevent child abuse; reduce risks involved in interhuman sex; be used as standardized research tools; and enable a deeper exploration of humans' holistic erotic experiences [26,27,57,64,65,83,93,109,179,180,199,319]. ...
... These may include addictionlike or obsessive-compulsive behaviours, increased social isolation, and reduced social skills [114,190]. Furthermore, if designers do not consider the importance of respect, mutuality, inclusivity, and diversity in human sexuality, erobots could end up perpetuating or reinforcing limited categories of social differences (e.g., gender/sex, race, and class), toxic patriarchal power dynamics, and rape culture (e.g., the objectification and commodification of women/females, ideas that men/males are owed sex, and problematic gender/sex stereotypes; [52,129,159,170,185,210,241,249]). They could conform to (or exacerbate) our ideologies by only providing us with information that reinforce our world view-an erotic filter bubble [229]. ...
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Technology is giving rise to artificial erotic agents, which we call erobots (erôs + bot). Erobots, such as virtual or augmented partners, erotic chatbots, and sex robots, increasingly expose humans to the possibility of intimacy and sexuality with artificial agents. Their advent has sparked academic and public debates: some denounce their risks (e.g., promotion of harmful sociosexual norms), while others defend their potential benefits (e.g., health, education, and research applications). Yet, the scientific study of human–machine erotic interaction is limited; no comprehensive theoretical models have been proposed and the empirical literature remains scarce. The current research programs investigating erotic technologies tend to focus on the risks and benefits of erobots, rather than providing solutions to resolve the former and enhance the latter. Moreover, we feel that these programs underestimate how humans and machines unpredictably interact and co-evolve, as well as the influence of sociocultural processes on technological development and meaning attribution. To comprehensively explore human–machine erotic interaction and co-evolution, we argue that we need a new unified transdisciplinary field of research—grounded in sexuality and technology positive frameworks—focusing on human-erobot interaction and co-evolution as well as guiding the development of beneficial erotic machines. We call this field Erobotics. As a first contribution to this new discipline, this article defines Erobotics and its related concepts; proposes a model of human-erobot interaction and co-evolution; and suggests a path to design beneficial erotic machines that could mitigate risks and enhance human well-being.
... Linked to the topic of objectification is that of gendered stereotypes about what constitutes beauty and sexual attractiveness. According to a thesis by Puig (2017), female-like sex dolls represent a form of synthetic hyper femininity that reinforces "whiteness, thinness, being cis-gender and being heterosexual as what is considered desirable and beautiful" (p. 48). ...
... While several authors have suggested that these features reinforce socially constructed notions of beauty (Ciambrone et al., 2017;Danaher, 2017bDanaher, , 2019aPuig, 2017), insights from evolutionary psychology tell a different story. Gad Saad has pioneered the field of 7 evolutionary consumption, the field that applies evolutionary psychological theory to the study of consumer behavior. ...
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Purpose of review: The topic of sex doll ownership is becoming an increasingly discussed issue from both a social and legal perspective. This review aims to examine the veracity of the existing psychological, sexological, and legal literature in relation to doll ownership. Recent findings: Strong views exist across the spectrum of potential socio-legal positions on sex doll ownership. However, there is an almost total lack of empirical analyses of the psychological characteristics or behavioral implications of doll ownership. As such, existing arguments appear to represent the philosophical positions of those scholars expressing them, rather than being rooted in any objective evidence base. Despite an absence of empirical data on the characteristics and subsequent effects of doll ownership, discussions about the ethical and legal status of doll ownership continue. This highlights a real and urgent need for a coherent research agenda to be advanced in this area of work.
... Linked to the topic of objectification is that of gendered stereotypes about what constitutes beauty and sexual attractiveness. According to a thesis by Puig (2017), female-like sex dolls represent a form of synthetic hyper femininity that reinforces "whiteness, thinness, being cis-gender and being heterosexual as what is considered desirable and beautiful" (p. 48). ...
... While several authors have suggested that these features reinforce socially constructed notions of beauty (Ciambrone et al., 2017;Danaher, 2017bDanaher, , 2019aPuig, 2017), insights from evolutionary psychology tell a different story. Gad Saad has pioneered the field of 7 evolutionary consumption, the field that applies evolutionary psychological theory to the study of consumer behavior. ...
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Purpose of reviewThe topic of sex doll ownership is becoming an increasingly discussed issue from both a social and legal perspective. This review aims to examine the veracity of the existing psychological, sexological, and legal literature in relation to doll ownership.Recent findingsStrong views exist across the spectrum of potential socio-legal positions on sex doll ownership. However, there is an almost total lack of empirical analyses of the psychological characteristics or behavioral implications of doll ownership. As such, existing arguments appear to represent the philosophical positions of those scholars expressing them, rather than being rooted in any objective evidence base.SummaryDespite an absence of empirical data on the characteristics and subsequent effects of doll ownership, discussions about the ethical and legal status of doll ownership continue. This highlights a real and urgent need for a coherent research agenda to be advanced in this area of work.
... Anthony Ferguson menciona en su obra The Sex Doll: A History que la muñeca inflable como producto apareció en la segunda mitad del siglo xx y tuvo su desarrollo debido a las sex shop y las compras de envío por correo postal. Hasta 1995 surgió el mercado de muñecas sexuales de alta gama en Estados Unidos y, con la expansión de internet fue posible difundir este servicio exclusivo (citado en Puig, 2018). Al respecto, se hace evidente la presencia de la fantasía de los hombres creando una mujer perfecta. ...
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... Anthony Ferguson menciona en su obra The Sex Doll: A History que la muñeca inflable como producto apareció en la segunda mitad del siglo xx y tuvo su desarrollo debido a las sex shop y las compras de envío por correo postal. Hasta 1995 surgió el mercado de muñecas sexuales de alta gama en Estados Unidos y, con la expansión de internet fue posible difundir este servicio exclusivo (citado en Puig, 2018). Al respecto, se hace evidente la presencia de la fantasía de los hombres creando una mujer perfecta. ...
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The ownership of sex dolls has become an increasingly controversial social issue over the last five to ten years, with many in society (and academia) calling for the criminalization of such dolls. At the root of these calls is the implicit (and often explicit) assumption that sex doll ownership contributes to increases in negative social attitudes toward women, and sexual offense risk among doll owners. However, there are yet to be any empirical examinations of these claims. In this work we compared the psychological characteristics and comparative sexual aggression proclivities of sex doll owners (n = 158) and a non-owner comparison group (n = 135). We found no substantive differences in most psychological traits. Doll owners scored lower than comparators in relation to sexual aggression proclivity. They were, however, more likely to see women as unknowable, the world as dangerous, and have lower sexual self-esteem. They also had more obsessive and emotionally stable personality styles. We conclude that there is no evidence that sex doll owners pose a greater sexual risk than a non-owning comparison group, before highlighting the need for more evidence-informed social debates about the use of sex dolls in modern society.
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This is not an article. If anything, these are “trans futurist spiritual science visions”: radically vulnerable interventions that aim to disrupt naturalized forms of publishable knowledge while centering the needs, fantasies, and longings of disabled queer/trans folks in practices of future-making. These lines transcend the limits of academic knowledge. They are an act of resistance against the logics of subjectivity, relationality, fulfillment, and temporality that permeate current and envisioned notions of love(s). Here, a game for us to play: a theoretical-performative experiment to envision future notions of relationality—while shifting the hypernormative and cis hetero-romantic logics behind contemporary understandings of what sex robots should do and/or be. This is an exploration of the challenges/potentialities of relationships “AmongWithToThrough” humans and nonhuman organic, virtual, and/or synthetic beings. For you—disjointed knowledge: I am jamming on the paper, and there is a soundtrack for each section. I spin the page, and invite you to read with(in) the music. Endnotes are important: engage with them. I do not offer settled conclusions. Above all, this is una ofrenda a corazón abierto written in pain (chronic pain) or maybe an invitation for you to hold my hand. Honor your bodymindspirit: read in any order and think whatever you want when you finish. Thank you very much for your time. All the love and light . . .
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The sex doll—an artificial representation of the human body for sexual usage—has a long and somewhat secret history. After briefly recounting this history, this paper examines the realistic modern sex doll and the motivations of its users. The doll embodies the complex interplay of the human desires for the fantastic as well as the realistic. It then looks at the sex doll as a product of commodity fetishism, the fear of female sexuality, and the fragmentation of human relationships within the socio-economic reality of late capitalism. It then reads the sex doll as what Baudrillard would call a ‘mythological’ object, reproducing and thereby perpetuating the ideology it is a product of, at the semiotic level. Later sections will outline a genealogy of the taboo surrounding sex dolls, from a historical and psychological perspective, examining the ‘uncanny’ affect it produces. A final section will consider the phenomenon in the light of posthumanism, asking whether its use is ‘cyborgic’, and whether it heralds a post- or transhumanist future.
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The fantasy of a male creator constructing his perfect woman dates back to the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Yet as technology has advanced over the past century, the figure of the lifelike manmade woman has become nearly ubiquitous, popping up in everything from Bride of Frankenstein to Weird Science to The Stepford Wives. Now Julie Wosk takes us on a fascinating tour through this bevy of artificial women, revealing the array of cultural fantasies and fears they embody. y Fair Ladies considers how female automatons have been represented as objects of desire in fiction and how “living dolls” have been manufactured as real-world fetish objects. But it also examines the many works in which the “perfect” woman turns out to be artificial—a robot or doll—and thus becomes a source of uncanny horror. Finally, Wosk introduces us to a variety of female artists, writers, and filmmakers—from Cindy Sherman to Shelley Jackson to Zoe Kazan—who have cleverly crafted their own images of simulated women. Anything but dry, My Fair Ladies draws upon Wosk’s own experiences as a young female Playboy copywriter and as a child of the “feminine mystique” era to show how images of the artificial woman have loomed large over real women’s lives. Lavishly illustrated with film stills, artwork, and vintage advertisements, this book offers a fresh look at familiar myths about gender, technology, and artistic creation.
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