This article contains discussion of sexual violence against woman and girls.
Ricky Ma Wai-kay is a 42 year old male who has invested £40,000 in making a sex robot that looks exactly like the Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson.
The porn dolls company Realdolls, has also cashed in on this idea of selling sex dolls in the likeness of whomever you desire, be that a living or deceased celebrity, ex-partner or crush. Its CEO, Matt McMullan has admitted that one of the most frequent requests from his clients is for a Marilyn Monroe lookalike doll.
Recently, an obsessed fan of Mariana Cristina Fragozo Herazo, a Colombian Playboy model, ordered a sex doll in her exact likeness. She says ‘The strangest DM (direct message) I have ever received is from a fan who has harassed me for years. I blocked him but he continues to create false accounts so that he can write to me. He sent me a photo of a sex doll that looks identical to me and told me he went to a company where they create sex dolls how you would like them to look…he used one of my photos to create a doll. He told me that he did this because he understands that I am ‘unreachable’ to him and that it is the only way he can ‘keep me close’.
The classic ‘Pygmalion’ myth is often brought up to legitimise the male desire to create a fantasy woman. In the tale, the lead character is a sculptor who grows tired of prostitutes and instead carves a woman out of stone. Hardly a positive advert for male sexuality, but it’s repeatedly reeled off as the backdrop to Ma and McMullan’s doll making activities. This desire to make woman as an artefact, a perfectly compliant sexual appliance, has nothing to do with love for women, but rather pressing problems of male sexuality that we need to seriously address. Male sexuality is entering a frightening level of dissociation and disconnection with women produced by the retreat from relationship with women and escapism into porn and technology. The underlying message of male sexuality today is ‘I do not need you to be involved at all’.
Sex doll manufacturers will often liken their work to charitable acts, portraying their efforts as key to ‘helping men who have trouble finding a relationship with a ‘real woman’’. Realdolls owner David Mills has even gone so far as to compare his situation and the ‘stigma’ he has faced in owning sex dolls as equivalent to the extreme discrimination and violence faced by the Black community in the United States. He explains “Women have enjoyed sex toys for 50 years….We have to correct that. I want to be the Rosa Parks of sex dolls. Men are not going to sit in the back of the bus any more.”
Sex dolls in the form of a female (ex-)partner, crush or celebrity are something we should be concerned about. Will sex dolls become big business for jilted boyfriends or men who feel that her ‘no’ or ‘non-relationship’ with him isn’t valid, isn’t important?
“Male sexuality is entering a frightening level of dissociation and disconnection with women produced by the retreat from relationship with women and escapism into porn and technology.”
Sex dolls in the form of women and girls come from a depressing contemporary form of misogyny. It is underscored by male supremacy and a flourishing sex fetish market where males as consumers of commercial sex are increasingly unable to engage in mutual and reciprocal relationships with women. Porn and technology have allowed new forms of female hatred to flourish.
Consider the prevalence of ‘revenge porn’. There are now hundreds of websites that allow men to upload intimate images of their exes, without their knowledge or consent. And the growing trend in South Korea of secretly filming women and girls visiting public lavatories with spy cams and posting them onto porn sites, not only grossly violates their private space but puts their safety in public spaces under threat.
The Counting Dead Women project initiated by Karen Ingala Smith demonstrates the scale of male violence against women. Last year, at least 115 women were killed in the UK and 126 in France at the hands of men, most of whom were partners or ex-partners. In most cases the women wanted to leave the relationship and were trying to escape.
This is the cultural context in which sex robots are being marketed. Ma, Mills and McMullan’s businesses that produce dolls in the forms of women are just another continuation of sexual degradation and objectification. Sex doll porn is underscored by the complete control male buyers can have over these objects. Domination is the whole point. As control, power and dominance over women is reinforced in pornography, it is bolstered by a male dominated tech industry that bombards us with images of women being drugged, incapacitated, tied and strangled.
To advance women’s rights we must address the harms of pornography. But that is only part of the process. Everyone will, at some point in their life, face rejection by someone they love. Many people will never get to have the relationship they want with a person, their love forever confined to fantasy. Such is life and as humans, we need to be able to deal with vulnerability and rejection. But the ‘sex doll of your ex/fantasy/neighbour’ industry lets men bypass these emotions and move straight into behaviour that is controlling and dehumanising.
Strong regulation is needed to ban this practice. But a culture that says it is OK to view pornography and reinforce male supremacy through sex-tech is clearly no ally of woman and girls. We need to be our own allies and find our own tools for moving forward, as for many, this is a matter of life and death.
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