Analyses of the Sex Doll: Performance of Compulsory Heterosexuality and Femininity

Editors Note: I started this article in a class at Vassar called “Gender in American Popular Media”.  It brought me down the path of sex dolls, and when I began my research, I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I was immediately drawn into this world.  I became obsessed.  The growth of demand, the potential for normalization, the online trolls comments on youtube videos critiquing sex dolls.  I couldn’t stop reading, watching, and it became a topic that wasn’t as black and white as I thought.  Because of my identity I chose to focus specifically on compulsory heterosexuality and femininity.

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Assault, Graphic Descriptions of Sexualized Violence, Pornographic Imagery

 

Early cyber feminists wrote about cyberspaces as the fundamental tool for a post-gender world, with the expectation that the digital world would forgo binaries and gender limitations.  But this is not always the case. White men in Silicon Valley occupy the engineering and managerial positions that hold the greatest power and pay the highest incomes, making up 83% of all professional workers and technicians employed1. The creation of the sex doll represents the capitalist-patriarchal culture that has dismantled Donna Haraway’s postgender dream world, and turned it instead into a hyper-gendered nightmare. Sex dolls strip women of their identities and distances consumers from real women in the flesh. The sex doll industry, mostly built by white heterosexual men, diminishes the image of the cyborg as a utopian aspirational icon in the service of feminism.  

Sex robots have commodified primarily cisgendered women’s bodies, positioning women as toys for men to play with. The dolls cost from $4.5k to over $50k depending on what the customer asks for2. Abyss Creations, maker of Real Dolls, has fourteen different styles of labia, twentyseven nipples with ten different colors, a plethora of pubic hair options, and nine different body types that range in shape and size. The doll’s female form is scripted to Western beauty ideals, with Barbie-like proportions and perfectly symmetrical, eurocentric features. This further establishes race hierarchies in which whiteness is normative and dolls of color are either white-passing or incredibly racially stereotyped. The tech industry has tapped into a market of men who want to have complete control over women’s bodies, from what they look like to what they can do to them.  

Sex with a real person comes with responsibilities, such as navigating boundaries and communicating consent. Because sexual violence is a manifestation of power, enacting violence on sex dolls enables men to perform domination on a female body. If sex dolls become a person’s first sexual interaction, there is potential for them to acquire violent behavior because they do not learn the aspects of sex that go along with the physical act.  Slade Fiero, a doll “doctor,” has been fixing and repairing dolls for over 10 years and has received many mutilated dolls.  He tells one story of a client he calls Jack the Ripper (JTR).  JTR is an undergraduate student at a prestigious university in California. His parents gave him a doll so he would prioritize studying over chasing women. Meghan Laslocky features Fiero’s shocking description of the doll in Love in the Age of Silicone:

leg was torn off, revealing the steel hardware of her hip joints; an arm hung by an inch of silicone flesh; two fingers were severed; and the cleavage between her buttocks was torn into a ragged crevasse. ‘Her vagina was so blown out,’ [Fiero] says. ‘I was appalled. I couldn’t believe someone could fuck something like that up so quickly. It blew me away. How could somebody be so callous?’ ‘I was offended in so many ways. He put her feet behind her head and reamed that doll with whatever cock he’s got. He fucked her violently. She was achieving positions she shouldn’t achieve or be forced to try. Her vagina and anus were a giant gaping hole.’3

After fixing the doll, Fiero refused to do another repair for JTR again. It seems this boy who was not taught  there are boundaries when it comes to sex,displaying the detrimental effects of having an object onto which a man can enact their darkest desires without  consequences. The argument that sex dolls can be an outlet for these violent desires only perpetuates the idea that male violence can only be mitigated, not prevented. This encourages a space in which rape is seen as an act of sexual passion and not as a violent crime.

While for some users, Real Dolls are speechless vessels of violence,  for others they provide love and companionship. Davecat lives in Michigan with his parents and his Real Doll wife Sidore According to Davecat’s constructed narrative, Sidore is half British and half Japanese, and her nickname is Shi-Chan. Davecat has been featured in numerous articles and he is incorporated into multiple documentaries. He has become a spokesman for sex doll owners. He provides Shi-Chan with her soul and personality, and is aware that everything about her is a manifestation of his interests and desires. Davecat never had a successful relationship with an “organic” woman, and turned to synthetic love instead because it is more reliable:

Every once in awhile I’ll try and date organic women, but then I realize it’s pretty much a fool’s errand.  prefer knowing the security that Shi-Chan provides me because there are no variables — there’s no bizarreness that may or may not occur. There is always a constant, I like things constant, and you can’t really get more constant than a doll. 4

To Davecat, Shi-Chan is the difference between being alone and being lonely, and allows him to have companionship when he is not capable of developing a bond with a real woman. He describes falling in love with an “organic” as falling for two people: the idea of the person and the actual5.  By being with Shi-Chan, he is able to sidestep the potential disappointment of being with a real person. This allows him to construct his desires and fantasies on the doll without dealing with an actual woman’s complexities and faults.  

But even when “idollators”6 imagine the personality of their dolls, they are perpetuating the objectification of women as vessels for men to project their desires and idealizations onto. The masculine interpretation and projection of femininity that idollators perform on the dolls is a manifestation of their desires to keep women subordinate, to affirm  their dominance and masculinity. Allison Burr-Miller and Eric Aoki’s The Hetero-Spectacle of Idollators and their Real Dolls brings to light the iDollators performativity in the relationship between man and doll:

[T]he narratives the idollators construct about their RDs is precisely this attempt to fabricate a feminine vessel in the service of a legitimately masculine and heterosexual identity formation 7

When idollators like Davecat construct narratives around their dolls, they normalize and reify the gender binary in which heterosexuality relies. Additionally, the controlled masculine performance of the feminine on the anatomically correct plastic vessels reaffirms the idollators’ masculinity and their identity as men. Although they may be categorized as deviants, or outsiders, they still conform to societal gender norms by practicing heterosexual sex on  cisgendered female figures.  

BBC’s documentary Guys and Girls tells the narrative of four men’s sexual origin story and relationship with their dolls. Gordon, one of the men, exemplifies the idollators need for control in the two-sexed system through his inability to trust real women or see them as equals. He voices the classic virgin/whore dichotomy when he talks about his preference for women:

I don’t like thongs, high heels, or any of that stuff. It’s a turnoff to me. Anything that makes what most people consider is sexy or erotic is a turnoff to me because it makes a woman look like she has been had by a hundred different guys. It’s like going to a restaurant and somebody putting a piece of meat in their mouth and spitting it back on the plate, handing it to to you–here you want this? Uh hell no.8

Gordon sees women’s sexual history as undesirable and repulsive, so he turns to synthetic women to reinforce his masculinity. He hypocritically  does not see women as equals because he is practicing what he finds repulsive in devient women in his polygamous relationship with two sex dolls. Furthermore, Gordon has removed all the makeup from his dolls, and dresses them in schoolgirl uniforms and innocent cotton nightgowns.  His perverse desire to have a woman with intact virginal innocence is a disturbing example of infantilization in the service of a male-dominant power structure.

Giving men the ability to live out fantasies that both objectify and devalue women perpetuates damaging and unrealistic expectations. The creation of the sex doll is just the continuation of the growing separation between how women’s bodies are publicized and displayed, and how they are in the flesh in all their multiplicity. As women gain more independence in the real world, the virtual is finding ways to preserve the hierarchy, to maintain masculinity as dominant. The doll resembles compulsory heterosexuality and cisgendered male-centered sex, and the concept that they provide men with companionship really means male satisfaction. The idea that sex is something men get from women or do to them, and not a mutually enjoyable activity shared by two people, desensitizes humans from intimacy.

 

End Notes:

  1. Jipson, Arthur, and Victor G. Devinatz. “High Tech Betrayal: Working and Organizing on the Shop Floor [Monograph on the Internet].” Contemporary Sociology, vol. 29, no. 3, 1999, pp. 9–10. EBSCOhost , doi:10.2307/2653950.Minority women make up 80% of unskilled production workers in Silicon Valley for electronic firms.  These jobs are the lowest paid jobs, with little security, and few benefits.  
  2. Rise of the Sex Robots. UK: The Guardian , 2017. Youtube. April 27, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vN0cs_-RSs&t=179s&has_verified=1.
  3. Laslocky, Meghan. Real Dolls: Love in the Age of Silicone . February 10, 2005.  “A shorter version of this article was first published by Salon.com under the title “Just Like a Woman” on October 11, 2005. Due to debate stimulated by the story, I decided to make the long version, below, available to interested readers” https://www.salon.com/2005/10/11/real_dolls/The shorter article she published, does not include details of violence
  4. Guys and Dolls. Directed by Rock Schroeter. USA: BBC, 2002. Documentary, Short. January 4, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCkULUnVH0&has_verified=1.
  5. Morin, Roc. “Silicone Love: Davecat’s Life with a Synthetic Wife and Mistress.” Vice. February 03, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/znwnpw/silicone-love-davecats-life-with-his-synthetic-wife-and-mistress.
  6. iDollators is the community of people who own high-end, anatomically correct dolls who use them for sex, love, art and companionship.  They have communities online such as CoverDoll, DollForum, DollAlbum, and The Doll Chronicles.
  7. Burr-Miller, Allison, and Eric Aoki. “Becoming (Hetero) Sexual? The Hetero-Spectacle of Idollators and their Real Dolls.” Sexuality & Culture; 17, no. 3 (2013): 384-400. doi:10.1007/s12119-013-9187-0.
  8. Guys and Dolls. Directed by Rock Schroeter. USA: BBC, 2002. Documentary, Short. January 4, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCkULUnVH0&has_verified=1.

 

 

 

 

 

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