Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sex Dolls

A few days ago the Salon published an article on men who buy very expensive sex dolls (with three functioning orifices). I read it then but my thoughts on the topic were in such disarray that I didn't want to write down anything I might later regret. But I took down these quotes from the article for further thinking:

According to Davecat and many other Real Doll owners, sex with a Real Doll is quite good. "For the most part, it's just like sex with an organic woman ... who doesn't say anything and is brimful of Quaaludes," Davecat writes on Sidore's stylish Web site.
When asked how many times each week he has sex with his dolls, Kelly is quick to correct: He doesn't have sex with them, he masturbates with them. Twice a week. When I then ask Kelly how he prepares to masturbate with a doll, he says he pulls one from under his bed and applies makeup to her bare face. While he claims not to have a favorite among the triad, he notes that "Head 4 is very tight orally. It has a small mouth," adding that "if you've got a Head 4/Body 5, like Jazzi, you've pretty much got it covered. Tight as a drum." (Unlike Davecat and many other doll owners, Kelly refers to his dolls as "it" not "she.")
As with Davecat, I spoke and e-mailed many times with Everhard, who is 49 years old and lives in Britain. I learned that his doll Rebecca is old in doll years -- her nipple paint has long since worn off and her freckles need touch-ups -- but to Everhard, Rebecca is young, the 18-year-old daughter of his second doll, Caroline, who he imagines as about 34. In one photograph, the two sit together, both in hats, dressed as if for an English wedding and enjoying flutes of sparking water garnished with lemon. Some of Everhard's other photographic vignettes are downright peculiar: When was the last time you saw a naked 18-year-old girl straddling her naked mother in a pillow fight? Last winter, Louise, Caroline's sister, joined Caroline and Rebecca to round out what Everhard calls his harem. He thought of just ordering an extra face for Caroline's body -- it would have been much less expensive, just $500 -- but ultimately rejected the idea because without a third body, sisters Caroline and Louise would never meet except when disembodied.
Some of Fiero's [the doll-maker's] stories are the stuff of horror films. He once got an e-mail from two garbage collectors who found a Real Doll hacked to pieces in a dumpster. One owner sent Fiero a mutilated corpse of a doll. "The jaw in the doll was still in her skull, but behind her neck. Her hands were ripped off and fingers were missing. Her left breast was hanging on by a thread of skin, like your bra strap," he tells me, gesturing at my shoulder.

Another time, an Asian undergraduate student at a university in California dropped his 1-year-old doll off for repairs. Fiero says the young man told him that his parents bought him the doll so that he would stay at home and study rather than go out chasing women. Fiero's photographs of the damaged doll make me cringe: Her 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 told me. "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 continues. "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."

These were picked to show the range of uses to which sex dolls are put. For example, Davecat appears to see the doll as a "better-behaved" girlfriend, while Kelly sees them as masturbation aids. Everhard has a more vivid imaginary world and does something which might be called playing with dolls. The unnamed undergraduate student may be acting out something violent about sex and women.

Amanda on Pandagon posted about the article right away and got hundreds of comments. The comment thread is well worth reading because it shows the enormous range of fairly strongly held opinions on whether sex dolls of this type are signs of misogyny and if so, whether the society is condoning such misogyny. Many other questions are explored, too, from sympathy towards the men whose lives are so painful that inanimate dolls are seen as a relationship to the correct definition of feminazism.

My own thoughts on this topic are fuzzy. I once attended a baseball game where during the seventh inning stretch some young men started throwing a female sex doll into the air and passing it from one row of seats to another. The doll was very white (and hence visible) and very naked, and as it was passed on its legs splayed out and its head was bent backwards at an awkward angle.

As the doll got nearer to my seat I scouted for the exits. On one level I knew exactly what the game consisted about: having a few beers and bringing out a sex doll as a great joke. On another level something very different and frightening was going through my mind: a symbol of a naked woman was being passed from one laughing man to another and the symbol looked like a dead rape victim. For dolls are symbols; they stand for something else, and in the case of female sex dolls they stand for women. And I am a woman, which means that the symbolic act applies to me, and its effect is to trigger all those hidden fears that a woman may carry about rape and sexual violence in general. But I never complained about the prank or even analyzed its effect on me at the time. The whole incident was trivial, after all, just a little fun, and whatever I felt was probably just the way I am.

Later I learned that the way I felt was most likely shared by at least some other women at that game. But I'm still not quite sure how many men can empathize with those feelings or how many are aware how frequent these sorts of incidents are.

Some of the differences by gender are very clear in the comments thread on Pandagon. It's like a conversation in a room where some people sit facing a door and some opposite them facing a window and where the debate is all about what the opposite wall looks like. Of course it looks different from the two sides of the room. The only way to resolve the debate is to let people move around, and something similar is needed for understanding the debate about misogyny and sex dolls. I'm not certain how it could be orchestrated, though.

Are sex dolls just masturbation aids, no different from the vibrators available for women? I don't think so, because the sex dolls reproduce the whole physical woman (with three orifices). The dolls even have wardrobes and wigs. Unless we view the whole physical woman as a masturbation aid something more is going on with these dolls than just masturbation. Games are going on, games with an imaginary woman or two. These games punch my feminist buttons because of comments like the very first one in this post, comments about the doll being just like an organic woman except for shutting up, really, and because of the dominance aspect that is fairly visible all through the article in the Salon. On the other hand dolls like these might well be therapeutic and even keep some men (like the undergraduate mentioned above) from committing actual violent acts against another human being. Or do they just prepare for such violent acts? Nobody seems to know.

The question I have arrived at in all this thinking is this: To what extent do men, some men at least, generalize from sex dolls or porn start or strip tease dancers to women in general? And if some do, what do they do as a consequence of this generalization. This is what I want to know, for this is the crucial feminist question.