Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

For the Love of Doll(s): A Patriarchal Nightmare of Cyborg Couplings

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

For the Love of Doll(s): A Patriarchal Nightmare of Cyborg Couplings

Article excerpt

Thirty years after the publication of Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto, machine-human couplings have manifested in a subculture of men who love dolls. More than sexual objects, these increasingly lifelike machines serve as intimate companions. Self-identified iDollators offer a case study in the potential mutations of Haraway's vision, revealing what can happen when cyborg technologies are controlled by those invested in conventional social boundaries. The capitalist-patriarchal culture is a stark contrast to Haraway's socialist-feminist utopia. The innovations she hoped would lead to a postgender dream world have instead resulted in a hyper-gendered nightmare.

The centre of iDollator culture is the RealDoll, "the world's finest love doll" according to the website, RealDoll.com. Created by Matt McMullen of Abyss creations, RealDolls are the fantasy of most of the thirty-thousand-plus members registered online with The Doll Forum, "the worlds [sic] largest community of doll owners and admirers" Many members insist that dolls provide companionship, even love. When the website polled users about "the main purpose of [their] doll(s)" the two most popular choices were "sexual companion-primary sex" and "cuddle/hanging out buddy" with 42.68 percent weighing in for the first and 23.17 percent for the second. The word companion is striking and speaks to the emotional intimacy many owners feel with their dolls. Some clients go as far as marrying their dolls, according to McMullen (Reddit), who notes, "I don't know that the marriage was actually legally binding, but ceremonies have taken place"

Ninety percent of RealDoll owners are men and almost all purchase female dolls (Reddit). Standing between 147 and 177 centimetres tall and weighing up to forty-five kilograms (RealDoll.com), the dolls are made of a flesh-like, heat-retaining silicone, with detailed facial features and first-rate replications of female orifices. The vagina, anus, and mouth are all designed to create suction upon use. Male dolls are available, as are special-order mixed-sex dolls, but the quality is noticeably inferior. This year, McMullen announced the launch of Realbotix, which will incorporate virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to animate his creations. The first task is to produce a head with the ability to blink and move its mouth. Eventually, McMullen plans to offer VR headsets to enhance interactions with the physical doll and a Bluetooth-enabled mobile app that will allow owners to communicate with their dolls while out of the house.

The centrepiece of Realbotix will be "the customizable programming of personality--'What is she saying to me while I'm doing this? Is she enjoying this? Does she like making me feel this way?' ... You want to have that illusion that she's actually talking to you and that she's got sentience" explains McMullen. "The hope is to create something that will actually arouse someone on an emotional-intellectual level, beyond the physical" (Canepari, Cooper, and Cott). Yet, for many owners emotional arousal is already in place. Perhaps that is why they are willing to pay between $5,000 and upwards of $10,000 U.S. for a single doll (Gurley), often collecting more than one. The technologically enhanced dolls will retail for as much as six times that amount, but McMullen is confident his clients will pay.

Silicone substitutes: better than being alone

Abyss Creations is not the only company that produces lifelike dolls, but RealDolls are renowned as "the Rolls-Royce" of the industry (Gurley). The company has sold over five thousand of its customizable creations since starting production in 1996 (Cott). Over the last two decades, RealDolls have featured prominently in fetish culture; the Museum of Sex in New York City includes one in its permanent collection. Meanwhile, they have made occasional appearances in the mainstream. The year McMullen began production, he and one of his creations were guests on The Howard Stern Show, with the host proclaiming, "Best sex I ever had! …

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