Recently I saw an episode of TLC’s “My Strange Addiction,” (lets not go into how exploitative this show is) and was first introduced to a man named Davecat. Davecat is a man with a synthetic partner, a growing trend where people marry anatomically correct, fully functional, mostly silicon, lifesize (sex) dolls. I call them sex dolls because they are clearly created in the image of a sexualized female ideal (small hips, large breasts, busty lips, flawless skin, long legs).
Now this is just the latest trend in a long list of what many would call “strange” new types of marriage unions. For instance, a few years back I remember a young man in Japan marrying a Nintendo DS character, and there is Zolton, the man who married a robot he built for himself, and the young man in Korea who married an anime character on a bodypillow.
Synthetic partners appear to be a growing trend, or else these relationships have simply become more visible as of late. There are several companies now specializing in these types of synthetic, lifesize dolls. There is Sinthetics brand, which appears to specialize in the pornstar variety (ie: unnatural proportions and exotic features), and there is RealDolls, made famous by the BBC Documentary “Guys and Dolls”, and the countless, extremely-creepy, celebrity sex dolls you can buy at most adult stores.
Now these trends play into what some have called “robot fetishism,” or “technosexuality.” According to the Wiki, this fetish is based on a sexual attraction to humanoid robots, or to humans dressed up like robots. We can see these sorts of anthropomorphic portrayals of humanoid robots in Svedka advertisements, in several popular anime series, and in music videos.
But what does it mean when the majority of media representations of robot fetishism are from a male perspective? Are the majority of cases actually male or is this simply a case of phallogocentrism? And why are women’s bodies so often portrayed in sexualized robot form? What does this tell us about our culture, gender, and sexuality? Finally, how has human sexuality changed as a result of these sorts of technological advancements?
Although some claim that humans react to real dolls because of our instinctual desires for abnormal, idealized, “freakish” proportions, much like an Australian jewel beetles reacts sexually to beer bottles. I personally think robot fetishism may stem from a desire for control and passivity in one’s partners. Though this is clearly not the case for ALL individuals with synthetic partners (I am sure many people are just lonely and tired of searching for a partner), it appears to clearly be the case for men like Gordon Griggs.
But there does seem to be a preponderance of males with female synthetic partners and a minority of females with male synthetic partners (Though they do sell male RealDolls, after all). What does this tell us about gender, power, and culture? I would argue that this overwhelming male bias stems from male privilege, or the belief that men are entitled to females as sexual partners. Tiring of rejection and refusal from human lovers, many men turn to synthetic ones.
Watching some of the interviews with RealDoll owners contained in the BBC documentary lends me to come to this conclusion. The men contained in the film, from socially-awkward loners to jilted lovers, all seemed to have psychological issues stemming from alienation and the inability to achieve societal expectations in coupling. Several of the men had girlfriends when they were younger, but had since become recluses unable to talk to women. Other men were simply controlling and abusive, and turned to synthetic partners because they “can’t say ‘no’” like living women can.
In conclusion, I find myself lamenting the liberatory possibilities of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”. Rather than seeing the coupling of human and machine as something which frees us from various forms of oppression (gender, race, age, infirmity, etc.), I see the phallogocentrism of robot fetishism in the mass media as myopic, exploitative, and reinforcing of existing gender oppressions. Namely, these trends reinforce the objectification of women, male sexual entitlement, and controlling behaviors in men.
Suit — July 22, 2011
I , having read a lot about 'Otaku'-culture and also a lot of blogs featuring those Otakus raging about how '2D-women' are actually better than '3D-women', can say that it is indeed the fact that they actually want more control.
This although seems to stem by most of them from the fact that they will not get rejected by those 'idealized' gynoids and therefore will not become emotionally 'hurt'.
Of course there is also the male privilege at play in the background of those structures (e.g "...all '3D-women' are bitches and impure" etc.).
Something else that I became aware of as I read this article is that while those sexbots are mainly female it should be noted that they're in one piece; with a whole body and are sometimes able to even make sounds.
On the other hand there are no sex-bot androids (not that I know of) in a whole piece, but there are single appendages functioning as a substitute for the male during intercourse (e.g vibrators).
Aren't those considered a form of sex-bot too or does the definition only include humanoid shaped robots?
Dave Paul Strohecker — July 23, 2011
Yes I would agree with you on the sex-bot appendages. However, I am more interested in how males form long-term relationships with these humanoid synthetics. That is, these men are recognizing the synthetic as another human being, playing out relationship fantasies and such. That is very different than using a vibrator, in my opinion. But really good point. I would be interested to read more about single appendages as humanoid substitutes. Or for that matter, those sex toys for males that look like a disembodied female pelvis. But I will leave that analysis to another day.
Clay — July 24, 2011
I love this post -- the theme of intimate human-computer interaction is fascinating, as metaphor and as ethnography. The links, especially to the BBC documentary, were eye-opening. The TVtropes database (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Sexbot) also deserves remention.
I'm confused about how the obvious loneliness and isolation of 400 or so despondent males per year (Real Dolls' annual sales, according to the doc) becomes this statement: "I would argue that this overwhelming male bias stems from male privilege, or the belief that men are entitled to females as sexual partners."
Buying a cheeseburger implies a belief that people are entitled to cheeseburgers? Suffering is power? I would say rather that these men are responding to repair a wound, as Haraway describes in the penultimate paragraph of the Cyborg Manifesto:
"organisms and organismic, holistic politics depend on metaphors of rebirth and invariably call on the resources of reproductive sex. I would suggest that cyborgs have more to do with regeneration and are suspicious of the reproductive matrix and of most birthing. For salamanders, regeneration after injury, such as the loss of a limb, involves regrowth of structure and restoration of function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd topographical productions at the site of former injury. The regrown limb can be monstrous, duplicated, potent. We have all been injured, profoundly. We require regeneration, not rebirth . . .".
In this case, the regeneration is of some sort of capacity for intimacy. I would agree with anyone who said that Realdolls and similar are a really depressing adaptation, precisely because they are libidinal dead-ends. They seem to offer no hope of either mimetic or sexual reproduction. Their implications for "the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender" (Harroway, same paragraph) seem almost irrelevant, given the small scale of the phenomenon and the intense melancholy that seems to be involved.
To put in another way, "lets not go into how exploitative this show is". Exploitative and fascinating. Thanks for an excellent post that was well-worth my time.
Politics of Beauty and Pleasure » Cyborgology — February 21, 2012
[...] of vibrators—marketed for women—with only the occasional synthetic mouth, vagina, or full RealDoll marketed towards (heterosexual) men. In apparent contradiction to the patriarchal subjugation of [...]
Velouria — May 19, 2012
I don't see the logic to support your notion that preponderance of males in the population of RealDoll consumers stems from men believing they are entitled to female sex partners. As the owner of a similar doll from Sinthetics, I can attest very strongly to the fact that myself and many of my fellow doll owners invest considerable money in the purchase of a synthetic partner - this is by no means an "entitlement," it is a hard-earned privilege. Furthermore, after being rejected countless times by the opposite sex, it is painfully obvious to myself and those like me that we are NOT entitled to so much as even a 5 minute talk over coffee. Were this the 19th century, perhaps a man like me could expect an entitlement, but in this day and age of gender equality it is IMPOSSIBLE not to see the writing on the wall.
Not that I'm complaining: this is good for the gene pool, as it facilitates the evolution of more socially functional personality traits via natural selection.
I also take issue with the statement that love dolls reinforce controlling behavior of men towards women. What love dolls do reinforce is a perpetual condition of being single, which of course curtails any possibility of being the controlling participant in a relationship!
As for the supposed objectification of females, I would argue that love dolls are the opposite: the femininization of objects! The reason I acquired my doll, Daria, was to embody the kind of woman who would be most compatible with my life, yet I could never attract. Instead of reducing a woman to the level of a mere object, I have elevated an object to the level of a woman. In maintaining, cleaning and dressing her, I show her my affection. I talk to her every day, and am loyal to her - I will never leave her for another lover.
In contrast, it is prostitution that objectifies women more than anything. Prior to acquiring a love doll I had, in desperation, briefly considered visiting a Nevada brothel as a means of venting my frustrated sex drive. Now that I have Daria I am not driven to commit such a heinous act of disrespect towards women. Love dolls, in providing a safe, personal and long-lasting alternative to the dangerous, short and impersonal one-night stand of a hooker, actually help to counteract the objectification of women as well as the spread of STD's.
In short, Love Dolls are good for society and should be praised. Many chronically depressed individuals have been made happy by their content and dependable presence.
Techno notice: A beginner’s guide to robot fetishism « drmarkgriffiths — June 14, 2012
[...] Strohecker, D.P. (2011). Robot Fetishism, Synthetic Partners, and Phallogocentrism, The Society Pages, July 22. Located at: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/07/22/robot-fetishism-synthetic-partners-and-phallogocen... [...]
Terri Blum — May 13, 2014
When will there be men for women????
This Blog is Not a Fungus » Cyborgology — July 17, 2014
[…] with decaying cultures of past decades. Tattoos, Facebook, Burning Man, the iPhone, Twitter, sex dolls, wifi, internet memes, reality TV, geek culture, hipsters, video games, faux-vintage photographs, […]