SU04 realdoll draft

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Are you persuaded that the Playboy/RealDoll comparison is justified? What issues need further elaboration?
Thanks for your comment. I'll see you Friday.

Virtually Sex:
Real Men, RealDolls, and the Transformation of American Masculinity
        Welcome to the exciting world of RealDoll! So begins the introduction to, the web site devoted exclusively to marketing, advertising, and selling the

most technologically advanced “sex mates” available today. In 1996, Matt McMullen

revolutionized the sex toy industry when he introduced Nina, the world’s first RealDoll. Nina

and all of the RealDolls that followed are unlike any other love dolls on the U.S. market.

Weighing between 70 and 100 pounds, each custom made RealDoll comes equipped with steel

skeleton, silicone flesh, high-grade synthetic hair, and functioning oral, anal, and vaginal

“pleasure portals.”1 The dolls have become the centerpiece of Abyss Creations which, led by

McMullen, has spawned an interactive web site, produced RealDoll: The Movie, and been

featured on HBO’s Real Sex 22 and 28.

        By 1998 Abyss Creations was selling nearly three hundred dolls a year, each priced

between four and seven thousand dollars.2 Today the dolls range in price from six and a half to

ten thousand dollars depending upon the chosen body type and the number of optional extras

commissioned. Customers “create their ideal woman” by choosing from nine bodies, fourteen

heads, and eight “special projects and options.”3 Choice of hair, eye, nail, and skin color—fair,

medium, tanned, African, or Asian—remains standard as does the style of pubic hair—natural,

trimmed, or shaved. However, McMullen’s goal to approximate or improve upon the look and

feel of the human form while maintaining a line, however blurry, between RealDolls and real

women, has been somewhat obscured by recent additions to the sex mate line-up and a newly

  The RealDoll website— FORMALIZE CITATION
  Daffyd Roderick. “Well, Hello, Dolly” Time June 4, 2001 Vol. 157 No. 22.
  The RealDoll website— FORMALIZE CITATION

                                                                                                       Patters      2

adopted marketing strategy. Despite or maybe because of these complications, McMullen claims

that when they speak, the dolls will never say, “I love you.”4 Nevertheless, the distinction

between the real world and the world of virtual fantasy is often a tenuous one, and Abyss keeps

one foot on either side of an increasingly hazy line.

        The production, marketing and sale of these dolls speaks not only to the potentially

reductive effects of technology, but also to the intricacies of American masculinity and male

sexuality. Scholars of human sexuality have been conspicuously silent about male autoeroticism

when it is aided by the use of sex toys. Academic feminists repeatedly point to the ways the

vibrator transformed both popular and scholarly discourses about female sexuality, however, the

marketing and consumption of similar products for men receives comparatively little analytical

attention. While a central question of Maines’s groundbreaking history of the vibrator is, who

controls women’s sexuality?, one question guiding a study of men’s use of sex toys might be,

what does male sexuality express or control?5 Responding to this question through an

examination of RealDolls reveals changes in popular understanding of the sex act, gender

relations, sexualized consumption, marriage and fidelity.

        Despite the silence of scholars, critics of the dolls were swift to raise objections. College

newspapers, pop-cultural feminist ‘zines, and mainstream news media were all quick to speculate

about the cultural implications of the RealDoll even as they variously condemned Abyss

Creations, its customers and what they perceived as U.S. society’s dehumanizing reliance on

technology.6 Nevertheless, the sale of the dolls created more anxiety than disgust as

  Roderick, “Well, Hello, Dolly”.
  Rachel P. Maines, The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction
(Baltimore, 1999).
  For early public responses to the RealDoll, see: Leslie Harpold, “I’ve Been Replaced: Smug September, 1997;
“Hello, Dolly” Arizona Daily Wildcat, Feb 19, 1998; Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler, “Plastic Fantastic Lover: Would
You Have Sex with a Doll?” Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture October 31, 1999 V.2; N.3; and Daffyd
Roderick, “Well, Hello, Dolly” Time June 4, 2001 Vol. 157 No. 22
                                                                                                        Patters      3

commentators attempted to resolve the confusion generated by a model of masculinity that

seemed at once undeniably primitive and impossibly futuristic. My investigation of the dolls

connects their consumption not to simplistic models of male domination and hypersexuality, but

to gendered systems deeply rooted in capitalism.

        One critic of the dolls wrote, “This is about fantasy in a way that’s both very basic and

very high-tech.”7 This union of simplicity and complexity that both magnifies and exploits

fissures in American society is one that has accompanied many popularly marketed outlets of

male sexuality since the end of the Second World War. After examining the historical roots of

this phenomenon beginning with the introduction of Playboy magazine and the onset of the

sexual revolution, this essay will use the RealDoll to expose further the paradoxes within a

framework of American male sexuality. It will focus on the ways the RealDoll highlights

transformations in contemporary notions of marriage, fidelity, and economic self-sufficiency and

demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship these cultural changes have with U.S. political

and economic development.

The Culture of Playboy (Real Men)
America has come alive again. And with the social revolution has come a sexual revolution as well. Gone is much
of the puritan prudishness and hypocrisy of the past. But far from being representatives of a moral decline, as some
would like us to believe, we are in the process of acquiring a new moral maturity and honesty in which man’s body,
mind and soul are in harmony rather than in conflict.8

        The sexual revolution is often employed as a vague, analytical catch-all that is signaled

by any shift away from Victorian aversions to the exploration of sexuality. Indeed, Hugh

  Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler, “Plastic Fantastic Lover: Would You Have Sex With a Doll?” Bitch: Feminist
Response to Pop Culture October 31, 1999 V.2; N.3 p.4.
  Hugh Heffner, The Playboy Philosophy, HMH Publishing Co., 1965, Vol. 1, Part 3, p. 17.
The Playboy Philosophy began appearing in Playboy on the ninth anniversary of the first issue (December 1962).
Written as a response to popular distortions of the magazine’s “aims and outlooks,” the 22 part description of
“guiding principles and editorial credo” appeared in installments until May 1965. All parts of the Philosophy were
eventually compiled into a four volumes by HMH Publishing Co., Inc. It is from this sometimes expanded edition
that I quote.
                                                                                             Patters     4

Heffner characterizes it as an almost spiritual enlightenment that rescues those in its path from

the repression of “puritan prudishness.” Paired with the social revolution the presumed object of

which is justice and equality, Heffner’s sexual revolution seeks to achieve no less than physical,

moral, and spiritual liberation at the individual and cultural levels. The libratory ideology he

espouses through Playboy and its Philosophy advocates a redistribution of power, privilege and

space—a call for men to reclaim those things that progress has stolen from them by redefining

the modern rather than exalting the traditional. Using varied rhetorical techniques, Playboy

develops a culture that repeatedly exploits the anxieties of the larger American society even

when such cultural opportunism points to internal inconsistencies. The editors’ strategic and

rhetorical savvy is revealed in the way Playboy markets itself in relation to Cold War

imperatives of scientific advancement, virile masculinity, consumption, capitalism, marriage and

the domestic sphere. Thus, the culture of Playboy and the broader American culture into which

it enters exist in continual conversation, each adjusting itself to exploit the possibilities revealed

by the other.

       Heffner’s call to “moral maturity and honesty” nearly a decade after the publication of

the first issues of Playboy, for example, marked a rhetorical shift away from an unswervingly

secular reliance on science. Initially published in December 1953, Playboy claimed Alfred

Kinsey as its intellectual father. The magazine used his work to establish and cement its hold on

legitimacy. Indeed, The Playboy Philosophy makes no fewer than 35 references to Alfred

Kinsey. Amidst the domestic repression and reorganization spawned by the first decade of the

Cold War, Playboy used Kinsey to lay claim to reason as it located its male clientele within the

peculiar space between tradition and modernity. The magazine’s initial claims to legitimacy and

quasi-modernity were grounded not in its willingness to discuss and display the human form, but
                                                                                                   Patters   5

rather in the editors’ knowledge of scientific currency. In the early years of publication, efforts

to preemptively silence criticism of the sexually explicit content of the magazine did not lay

claim to a moral high road, but instead to scientific and sometimes an educational necessity.

        The cultural stage onto which Playboy entered was one that had spotlighted human

sexuality since Kinsey’s 1948 publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Though

Kinsey was not the first scholar to undertake a scientific investigation of human sexuality, his

body of research was (and remains) the most extensive of its kind. It reached an unprecedented

audience and enjoyed a more favorable reception than its antecedents. “George Gallup reported

that one out of every five Americans had either read or heard about the book, while five out of

six of those interviewed judged its publication ‘a good thing.’”9 The scope and breadth of the

research were not the only factors contributing to the popular reception of Kinsey’s Sexual

Behavior in the Human Male or its 1953 sequel, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.

According to Regina Morantz, “What made Kinsey different—indeed, what made him unique—

was his confidence that Americans were ready for a confrontation with their own sexuality. In

dispassionate prose he laid bare the facts.”10 With considerably more passion and laying bare of

subjects, the editors of Playboy took up what they perceived as Kinsey’s legacy and exploited the

cultural space that his research created.

        On the opening page of Playboy’s inaugural issue, the editors proclaimed, “We

believe…that we are filling a publishing need only slightly less important than the one just taken

care of by the Kinsey Report,” making explicit their connection to Kinsey, his educational and

libratory aims, and the cultural validity his research achieved.11 Like Kinsey, Playboy treats sex

  Regina Markell Morantz, “The Scientist as Sex Crusader” Alfred C. Kinsey and American Culture,” American
Quarterly Vol. 29 No. 5 Winter 1977, p. 564.
   Morantz, 564.
   Hugh Heffner, “What is Playboy?,” Playboy, December 1953, p. 2
                                                                                                          Patters      6

and challenges social control, but the manner in which these goals are understood (never mind,

accomplished) is markedly different. Take for example Kinsey’s stated purpose to:

         bring an educated intelligence into the consideration of such matters as sexual adjustments in marriage, the
         sexual guidance of children, the premarital sexual activities which are in conflict with the mores, and
         problems confronting persons who are interested in the social control of behavior through religion, custom,
         and the forces of law.12

Seemingly altruistic and avowedly intellectual, Kinsey’s research provides data “divorced from

questions of moral value”13 His frank, dispassionate attitude towards sexual matters has little in

common with the ribald treatment given to the same subject by the editors of Playboy. Indeed,

when expressing their attitudes toward sex, the editors announced:

         [W]e must confess at the outset that we do not consider sex either sacred or profane. And as a normal, and
         not uninteresting, aspect of the urban scene, we think it perfectly permissible to treat the subject either
         seriously or with satire and good humor, as suits the particular situation.14

While Playboy cannot be linked with the moralizers Kinsey sought to overcome, its editorial

credo was no less exclusive or dogmatic. That is, those unable to separate sex from the sacred or

profane had no place in a Playboy culture or in the broader society that culture was attempting to


         Unlike Kinsey, Playboy’s intended audience was exclusively male, and its educational

aims were dubious at best. Targeting men between the ages of eighteen and eighty, Playboy

sought to reclaim men’s homes and appetites by providing them with “a pleasure-primer styled

to the masculine taste.”16 The editors created a masculine space, a land for grown-up Peter Pans

who wanted to enjoy adult pleasures away from the stresses of adult pressures. The masculine

community provided by Playboy and enjoyed by adherents to its Philosophy arguably provided

   Quoted in Morantz, 568.
   Alfred C. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, (Philadelphia, 1948), 3.
   Hugh Heffner, The Playboy Philosophy, HMH Publishing Co., 1965, Vol. 1, Part 1, p. 4.
   “What is Playboy?,” the introduction to the first issue of the magazine reads, “We want to make it clear from the
very start, we aren’t a ‘family magazine.’ If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by
mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion.” December
1953, p.2.
   “What is Playboy?,” Playboy, December 1953, p. 2.
                                                                                                 Patters   7

some grounds for the public to turn a blind eye to the sexually explicit content of the magazine or

at least to limit their objections to verbal condemnation rather than legal sanction. Just as its

association with Kinsey—and therefore, science—was directed at American insecurities about

intellectual inferiority, the masculine community fostered by Playboy was aimed at increasing

fears about the “softening” of American men.

           In the aftermath of World War II, U.S. gender constructs were destabilized by a myriad

of developments including public attention to increased female participation in the work force,

increased regulation of visible homosexual communities, and the growing success of campaigns

for social integration. The early years of the Cold War acted as a transitional period that linked

the female dependence on a male breadwinner model with the model of male and female

individuality and self-sufficiency celebrated by Playboy as a cornerstone of modern capitalism.

This new economic individuality was advanced by a limited wave of economic affluence which

placed renewed emphasis on commercial culture.

           The celebrated and feared consumer explosion of the 1920s returned full force in the

post-War years, its critics obscured by the shadow of the Great Depression and silenced by the

roar of Cold War government propaganda. Consumer goods provided an avenue for people to

express their individuality at the same time that they demonstrated adherence to community

standards of beauty, leisure, and status. In this way, consumerism united individuality with

familial dependence and cultural conformity.

           This increased focus on consumerism led to fears that American men were becoming too

“soft.”17 In response, Cold War gender ideals celebrated male dominance and vigor by

promoting participation in activities and membership in communities designed to enhance

normative masculine tendencies. The publication of Playboy bears a contextual link to other
     Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York), 1998.
                                                                                                            Patters   8

developments of the period such as the birth of NASA, increased membership in the Boy Scouts,

and the establishment of several other groups devoted to encouraging boys and men to explore

and/or conquer the world around them in defense of American values (most notably among them

the Peace Corps in 1961). At the same time, popular culture continued to place increasing

emphasis on leisure and sensual gratification. Technology merged with this plurality to create

space for the celebration of a new type of man: the playboy.

        [The playboy] can be a sharp-minded young business executive, a worker in the arts, a university professor,
        an architect or an engineer. He can be many things, providing he possesses a certain point of view. He
        must see life not as a vale of tears, but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as
        the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to
        pleasure, a man who—without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante—can live life to the hilt.
        This is the sort of man we mean when we use the word playboy.18

Playboy, beginning in the early 1950s, and the eventual proliferation of films like American

Gigolo, Shampoo, and Saturday Night Fever by the mid 1970s “advocated a life of pleasurable

consumption,” 19 and showcased this new American man as a product of capitalist democracy.

        The playboy as he was described and understood by his editorial creators existed among a

community of like-minded brethren. In fact, the continued popularity of Playboy magazine

hinged on the community it created for its playboy consumers. Heffner himself recognized the

centrality of community to the Playboy phenomenon even as he acknowledged that consumption

was the central mechanism through which such a community was sustained. In reference to his

customers, Heffner wrote, “They sought, and we gladly supplied, a mark of identity in common

with the publication—the sort of honor a man usually reserves for his fraternity, or a special

business or social association.”20 This attention to creating a fraternal culture for playboys led

historian Barbara Ehrenreich to assert that female nudity was peripheral to the true aims of the

magazine—creating an escape from marriage and (re)claiming the domestic sphere for men.

   BLANK, “What is a Playboy?” Playboy April 1956, ?.
   Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men (New York, 1983), 44.
   Heffner, The Playboy Philosophy, Vol. 1, pg. 1.
                                                                                                           Patters   9

Indeed, the display of women’s bodies functioned not only as a primer for masculine pleasures as

the editors claimed, but also as an assurance to playboys (and their critics) that there was nothing

“soft” or “queer” about participating in this masculine community.21

          Preempting charges of homosexuality was only prudent since members of Playboy

culture performed their masculinity through participation in an all-male group that was defined

by consumption—a traditionally feminized pursuit.

          We first became aware that Playboy was developing into something more than a magazine when readers
          began purchasing Playboy Products in considerable quantities: everything from cuff links, ties, sport shirts,
          tuxedoes and bar accessories to playing cards, personalized matches and stickers for their car windows—all
          with the Playboy Rabbit as the principal design and principal motivation for purchase.22

Additionally, the playboy rejected marriage while embracing intellectualism and the domestic


          Most of today’s ‘magazines for men’ spend all their time out-of-doors—thrashing through thorny thickets
          or splashing about in fast flowing streams. We’ll be out there too, occasionally, but we don’t mind telling
          you in advance—we plan on spending most of our time inside.
          We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood
          music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso,
          Nietzsche, jazz, sex.23

Playboy needed naked women to dispel assumptions of homosexuality in a period when

accusations of perversion ran rampant. “The playboy didn’t avoid marriage because he was a

little bit ‘queer,’ but, on the contrary, because he was so ebulliently, even compulsively

heterosexual.”24 Defining the bachelor as a viable model of adult masculinity flew in the face of

the Cold War emphasis on the nuclear family, while placing him at the center of an exclusively

male community that “liked [their] apartments” and enjoyed entertaining threatened rigidly

   Barbara Eherenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York, 1983),
   Heffner, Playboy Philosophy, Vol. 1, Part 1, p. 1.
   Playboy December 1953, Vol.1 No.1, p.1.
   Eherenreich, 50.
                                                                                                          Patters 10

enforced codes of acceptable (hetero)sexuality. However, Playboy’s transgressive properties

stopped there; the magazine is more aptly described as rebellious than revolutionary.25

        Even as it critiqued matrimony and placed the bachelor within the home, Playboy

embraced capitalist imperatives, reviled communism, and encouraged adherents to its Philosophy

to work for the expansion of the American way of life.

        To some of us capitalism is almost a dirty word. It shouldn’t be. It’s time Americans stopped being
        embarrassed and almost ashamed of their form of government and their economy. It’s the best two-horse
        parlay in the world and perhaps if we were more fully sold on it ourselves, we could do a better job of
        selling it to other countries…For today, in America, a new generation is taking over—with all the upbeat
        spirit, questing impatience and rebel derring-do that are needed to put the United States back in the position
        of world leadership.26

Once again Heffner engages with broader political and cultural conditions, simultaneously

playing on American fears about losing the Cold War (“put the U.S. back in the position of

world leadership”) while celebrating the very foundation of America’s ideological platform and

positioning himself (and his magazine) as the true, unashamed champion of capitalism.

        Playboy engaged with the American way of life articulated by the government through

policy and propaganda which united capitalism, consumerism, democratic institutions, individual

freedom, and the nuclear family in a way that placed Americans in direct opposition with the

drudgery and conformity embodied by the Soviets under communism.27 Indeed, the only

objection the magazine had to this socio-political agenda was over the issue of marriage, and

even that was often framed in terms of anti-Communist individualism.

        [W]e have always stressed—in our own way—our conviction of the importance of the individual in an
        increasingly standardized society, the privilege of all to think differently from one another and to promote
        new ideas, and the right to hoot irreverently at herders of sacred cows and keepers of stultifying tradition
        and taboo.28

   Eherenreich, 50.
   Heffner, Playboy Philosophy, Vol. 1, Part 2, p. 14.
   For more on the ideologies of “American way of life” during the Cold War, see Elaine Tyler May, Homeward
Bound (New York, 1998).
   Heffner, Playboy Philosophy, 3.
                                                                                                         Patters 11

According to Heffner, the playboy—not the married, family man—was the real man of the post-

War era, the man whose intellectual individuality made him an invaluable soldier in the Cold


           The playboy as real man, as uncommon and exceptional specimen is a central theme of

the magazine and its editorial Philosophy.

           The upbeat generation has arrived and its conflict with the old ways, the old idea, the old traditions and
           taboos is evident all around us. After 20 years of Depression-bred and War-nurtured conformity, and
           compulsive concern with security and the common man, the Uncommon Man has at last come back into his
           own, along with a renewed respect for the uncommon mind, the uncommon act and the uncommon

By itself, this, perhaps, would be unremarkable, a mere marketing strategy. However, the editors

of Playboy repeatedly demonstrated their ability to position their magazine and its subjects in

relation to broader socio-political developments. This strategic know-how is evidenced not only

by early celebration of Kinsey and his work, but also in the union of Playboy masculinity with

capitalist democracy, the magazine’s celebration of the individual, and the elevation of the

playboy to intellectual and cultural pioneer. This Playboy approach to constructing and

marketing masculinity and male sexuality through attention to sex, marriage and the domestic

sphere, and individuality becomes the foundation for subsequent post-War attempts to appeal to

masculine appetites.


           By the 1990s, the playboy changed to reflect a younger, hipper, unabashedly

consumption oriented, technologically savvy generation. Hugh Heffner re-married in 1988 not

only forsaking his own “freedom,” but also undermining the playboy credo he began authoring

in 1962. Though Playboy remained enormously popular, in many ways it became passé. Men’s

pornography was augmented by the emergence of virtual culture: realistic vaginas and interactive

     Heffner, Playboy Philosophy, 15.
                                                                                                               Patters 12

computer simulations paved the way for McMullen’s RealDoll. While its playboy consumer

added technology to a list of defining characteristics that already included consumption and

sexual gratification.

         Even as the playboy continued to develop and spread his wings, the broader culture that

once fostered him was in the midst of a hard turn to the right. The resulting cultural anxiety

about masculinity in crisis was evidenced in everything from attention to incarceration rates for

black men to panic surrounding the feminization of the professional [read white] man.30 Instead

of creating space for the playboy’s once rebellious masculinity or solidifying his hold on

fantasies of American virility, these developments pushed him off of the solid ground he enjoyed

from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. Despite the proliferation of increasingly advanced sexual

outlets for men, the pride with which they were consumed was tinged with a kind of self-

conscious defensiveness that was not present in the earlier period. The anxieties surrounding the

union of consumption and male sexuality once again center issues of marriage, individuality, and

economic self-sufficiency. Like Playboy, Abyss Creation’s RealDoll was positioned as man’s

escape from cultural conformity even as it was imagined as pioneering a new cultural order.

Realistic, life-size and beautiful. Elastic flesh, an articulated skeleton and sexy features like no other love doll in the
world. If you've dreamed of a love doll like this, you know exactly what we're talking about. Most love dolls are
made of cheap, inflatable vinyl. They look pathetic and laughable—not loveable. Don't expect to see those goofy
beach toys on this site. RealDoll is the REAL DEAL. 31

         RealDolls are marketed almost exclusively on-line, and the official RealDoll website is

the principal source of information about the dolls, their creator, and their reception.32 Before its

January 2002 facelift, the site’s presentation simultaneously personified and dehumanized the

   Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, (New York, 1999).
   Over the course of 2004, Abyss creations has partnered with Hustler and Heidi Fleiss to display and sell the
RealDoll in two California locations.
                                                                                             Patters 13

dolls. The changes in the site point towards transformations in masculine imperatives and

cultural approaches to sex, and to a lesser extent, marriage. What follows is a summary of the

material presented on the website (before and after the renovation), an analysis of the manner in

which it is presented and the implications of its presentation.

       The first thing encountered after logging on to the pre-renovation RealDoll website was a

warning that the site contained sexual and erotic material that should not be shown to minors.

After certifying that one had reached the age of majority, access to the site was permitted.

Entrance into the body of the website was preceded by a short flash film that welcomed the

viewer into a fraternity of RealDoll enthusiasts by using quotes from doll consumers—“Best sex

I ever had…I did it and I’m proud of it…The only thing better would be two…I can’t take my

hands off her.” The last quote was played overtop of an image of male hands fondling RealDoll

breasts—no other part of the doll’s body was visible. The remainder of the film contained a

montage of disconnected body parts interspersed with text—“I could fall in love…lips so

real…face so real…body so REAL.” The doll’s face was only shown clearly once, and was

never clearly shown connected to its body. The presentation concluded with the following

question, “constructing the perfect woman—silicone and steel, or flesh and blood?”

       Though all flash presentations were removed from the site, this question continues to

underlie the fabrication, marketing, and consumption of all RealDolls. Abyss Creations

promises consumers the perfect woman, but for the fact that it is a doll. Therein lies the

contradiction. Abyss makes it clear that the RealDoll is the perfect woman precisely because it

is a doll. The very things about it that mark it as artificial (measurements, passivity, near

indestructibility) are the things that are celebrated. The perfect woman, then, is a combination of
                                                                                                             Patters 14

a “real,” though somewhat stylized physical form with the lifeless compliance of an inanimate


            As such, the dolls play a critical role in a gender structure that celebrates manly vigor.

As in most essentialist frameworks, the doll is placed in diametric opposition with its male

counterpart. It is weak where the man is strong; it is passive where the man is aggressive; the

man is penetrator, and the doll, penetrated. The physical body assumes a central position in

making distinctions between sexed beings, particularly when the act of sex is vital to the

construction of that gender. This, perhaps, is why the RealDoll website devotes so much space

to detailing the dolls’ physical attributes. (See table below.)

specs               body 1      body 2        body 3      body 4         body 5      body 6/7    body 8      body 9
flesh material:     high grade silicone rubber
skeleton:           PVC w/ steel joints, urethane foam and vinyl components
hair:               synthetic
                    5'7"        5'1"          5'10"       5'1"           5'1"        5'4"        5'5"        5'4"
                    (approx.)   (approx.)     (approx.)   (approx.)      (approx.)   (approx.)   (approx.)   (approx.)
                    80 lbs      70 lbs        100 lbs     75 lbs         75 lbs      80/85 lbs   100 lbs     90 lbs
                    (approx.)   (approx.)     (approx.)   (approx.)      (approx.)   (approx.)   (approx.)   (approx.)
bust:               34C         34D           38DD        34A            34E         34B/C       36C         44FF
waist:              23"         22"           26"         24"            24"         24"         26"         24"
hips:               34"         34"           36"         34"            34"         36"         38"         35"

dress size:         5           3             5-7         1-3            3-5         3-5

shoe size:          5           5             7           5              5           7

hair color:         light blonde, medium blonde, auburn, red, brunette, brown, black
hair style:         select from 10 styles
skin tone:          fair, medium, tanned, Asian, African
eye color:          blue, brown, green, light green, light blue, hazel
eye shadow:         natural, slate, rose, plum, bronze, khaki
eyeliner:           heavy, medium, or light
eyeliner color:     black, grey, brown, or blue
                                                                                             Patters 15

lipstick color:   apricot, pink, red, plum, bronze or natural
nail color:       french manicure, pink, red, burgundy, or bronze
pubic hair
                  blonde, red, or brunette
pubic hair style: shaved, trimmed, natural
vaginal entry:    standard w/ doll
anal entry:       standard w/ doll
oral entry:       standard w/ doll

         Detailed specifications of the dolls are presented for each of the nine RealDoll body

types. The “silicone and steel or flesh and blood” question remains present in the description of

the bodies. Barbie-like proportions are enhanced by lifelike skin, hair, and functionality. The

perfect female body is one that surpasses the limitations of a living human form while

maintaining a sensual and aesthetic hold on being lifelike. The site also displays the fourteen

head options—Leah, Stacy, Celine, Tami, Amanda, Stephanie, Melissa, Angela, Jenny, and

Brittney, along with the “fantasy” Anna Mae and the three non-white dolls, Mai, Nika, and

Kaori—and devotes a photo gallery to each doll. Each doll’s album has shots of them dressed up

and dressed down; all are posed, at least once, fondling themselves, and most are featured

kneeling with their faces obscured and their exposed genitals in the foreground. There is a great

effort, in these albums, to give the dolls distinct personalities—the clothing choice, lighting, and

setting is varied from one doll to the next. This focus places an emphasis on the display of the

entire doll as a unified entity. It turns away from the objectification of the early flash films that

did not have clear images of a complete doll, only pictures of its parts.

         The dolls are marketed as man’s ultimate technological achievement—the creation of

“the perfect woman.” Sex with dolls is better; the dolls are always “ready and available,” and

their bodies are second to none. They are constructed (literally and in their marketing campaign)
                                                                                             Patters 16

to provide all the benefits of a female partner without any of the hassles involved with

interpersonal interaction. Curiously, Abyss Creations’ message is most contradictory when it

relates the RealDoll to women and other sex toys, as if it too is cannot decide where the dolls fit.

It is clear that Abyss wants to make a distinction between its product and others that are

available. The RealDoll is “no inflatable pool toy;”33 it is a life-like model designed to take its

users “to the next level of auto eroticism”34 within a context where the consumer has absolute

control over determining the terms of the interaction. As Leslie Harpold writes, the sexual

stimulation provided by the doll “is tertiary in importance, according to the information

presented, to the fact that this is a sexual partner who will not make demands and requires none

of that pesky foreplay or conversation.”35

        The dolls are so life-like, however, that photographs of them may fail to adequately

communicate their inanimate status (the thing that sets them apart from and above women). That

is, some of the images appear so real, that it is difficult to distinguish between a doll and a living

woman. Moreover, Abyss intentionally furthers this confusion. The dolls are sometimes shown

in pieces, with obscured or expressionless faces, made pliable by their dehumanization. At other

times, however, explicit attempts to give the dolls personality are made beginning with the

naming of each doll. Images of dolls wearing jewelry and clothes, and staged photographs of

dolls “sunbathing” or “entertaining” endeavor to animate the dolls, or, at the very least, de-

emphasize their lifelessness. This may be read as further evidence of an attempt to

simultaneously place the dolls in multiple spheres of existence. The only way to resolve the

contradiction is to purchase a doll.

*Image from Leslie Harpold, “I’ve Been Replaced” Smug September, 1997.
   The RealDoll website—
   Harpold, 2.
   Harpold, 2.
                                                                                           Patters 17

       Further humanizing its image, the website removed all images of the dolls tied up,

stretched out, wearing leather, holding whips (except for the fantasy doll, Anna Mae), or

positioned in other S/M poses after the 2002 face-lift. Still, Abyss continues to publish its

warning that though sturdy, the dolls are “not meant to sustain extremely violent abuse.” A

problematic issue to be considered is the extent to which one can discuss violence as a possibility

with a doll. The warning issued by Abyss is written in language that comes more close to fully

humanizing the dolls than most of the rest of the site. This begs two questions: can violence be

understood in the same terms when applied to a specimen that “can withstand over 300%

elongation” of its “flesh”?, and what is revealed by the fact the most clearly articulated link

between RealDolls and real women is their subjection to violent treatment?

       *Elastic—flesh can withstand over 300% elongation
       *Heat Resistant—can withstand over 300 degrees of heat
       *Water Resistant—solid construction
       *Stain Resistant—nothing sticks to silicone flesh
       *Durable—long life silicone rubber
       *Lifelike—anatomically correct, parts molded from life-casts
       *Odorless and Flavorless
       *Flexible—wide range of joint movement
       *Sexy and Pleasurable—provides effective aid to sexual fulfillment
       *Safe—no risk of disease, non-toxic
       *Convenient—always ready and available
       *Relaxing and Comforting—provides stress-free companionship
       *Affordable—cheaper than most alternatives

       Constructing the perfect woman as a lifeless doll, capable only of sex, is problematic.

Add a “willingness” to engage in any activity, or be subjected to any treatment, and the dolls

further complicate one’s understanding of where and how men and women are placed within this

gendered society. The website’s attention to depicting and addressing violent treatment of the

dolls is framed by a presentation of the dolls as “perfect women.” That is, the doll can and will

withstand nearly any treatment without being injured or killed. Indeed, there is no appreciable
                                                                                           Patters 18

change in the doll because it already has “the poise and relaxed state of a sleeping [or dead]


           The existence of a male RealDoll problematizes this analysis. It cannot be relegated to an

exclusively feminine role of passivity and reception because it has the ability to be the penetrator

within the sexual act as well. (Though, technically, since it lacks anamatronic capabilities, one

might think of the male doll as being enveloped rather than as penetrator.). One can conceive of

it being purchased and used by a woman, though the doll’s lack of anamatronic function suggests

that it is intended for male consumption. In fact, a “45 year old mother of one” wrote to the

company, “I’m looking forward to a male version. I don’t think women will buy many, but men

sure will.”37 Abyss Creations is confounded by its own creation. Apart from a proclamation that

“”the male RealDoll has arrived” and an album of photographs, the doll is left untreated. Indeed,

the website continues to refer to the vaginal entry as “standard.” The male doll has no place in

the RealDoll world. Abyss cannot celebrate the pliable passivity of a male doll at the same time

that it tries to court the masculine virility of its male consumers.

           However, RealDoll is more than a technological and marketing phenomenon. The dolls

reveal a masculinity that is dominated by desire, passion, lust, and, to some extent, emotion.

Historically, these traits have been negatively valued and ascribed to women. To the extent that

they were recognized in men, they were tempered by the use of man’s superior reason and

rationality. Men were not supposed to prominently display their passions, and they certainly

were not to incite them in other men for economic gain. Heffner’s playboy took the first steps

away from these early, stoic models of masculinity and Abyss Creation’s RealDoll customers

completed the journey.

     The RealDoll website
37 September 2004.
                                                                                          Patters 19

The Transformation of American Masculinity

       Since the 1990s, the development, marketing, and consumption of men’s sex toys

revealed changes in the construction of American masculinity and exposed the paradoxes

embodied by the propagation of a rigid gender role that is both in opposition to and achieved by

participation in consumer culture. After World War II, American manhood was defined by two

competing masculine constructs: that of masculinity as innate domination over “others”—nature

(land), institutions (property/capital), women (and children), etc.—and that of masculinity as a

quest to maximize one’s status through the accumulation of material goods. The implicit

contradiction is that men are owners by virtue of their maleness, but that to be a man one must

acquire objects to establish a status of ownership—land (nature), property (institutions), children

(and women), etc. Distinctly masculine ownership constructs, then, are both innate and

achieved. Building on existing scholarship surrounding the “softening” of American men by

consumerism, men’s use of sex toys, particularly life-size, life-like RealDolls can be understood

as a way for them to assert sexual and physical dominance (the traits stolen by consumerism)

within a pattern of commercial consumption (the very thing that makes them “soft”).

       The RealDoll, designed for male sexual gratification and available for purchase,

simultaneously fits into both definitions of American manhood. One could understand the use of

these dolls in one of two ways: as fundamentally repressive because it unites both masculine

ownership constructs, or as liberating because it places primary emphasis on individuality by

allowing men to articulate and experience their masculinity and sexuality alone. This tension

illuminates a central paradox—masculinity not as a status but a never-ending quest for an elusive

and contradictory reward. The process of accumulation that establishes and maintains

masculinity is continuous, and masculinity is so inextricably linked to consumerism that one can
                                                                                                           Patters 20

never fully achieve it. Masculinity is constantly repackaged in the products that act as an outlet

for its expression; there is always a newer, fresher, more advanced masculinity for sale. Playboy

and Abyss Creations both rely on men’s needs to perform their masculinity through continued


       Playboy and Abyss Creations approaches to constructing masculinity exist on a

continuum with Playboy at one end and the RealDoll resolving the inconsistencies and

contradictions of the Playboy position. Both attend to issues of marriage, individuality and

community. Moreover, both are invested in defining the limits of sex. That is, to satisfy the

needs of their constituents, Abyss Creations and to a lesser extent, Playboy narrowly define the

sex act so that the use of their product falls outside of the bounds of intercourse. These

distinctions and continuities are revealed by the testimonials and letters received by both


       The testimonial feedback featured on the RealDoll website waxes poetic about the dolls’

realistic bodies. Each one was written about a female doll, and submissions that explicitly stated

the sex of the consumer were written by men. Howard Stern, who was given a RealDoll soon

after Abyss began selling them, said:

   Best sex I ever had! I swear to God! This RealDoll feels better than a real woman! She's fantastic! I love her!
   This RealDoll is for real, I swear! Better than a woman! My wife isn't as good as that! May God take away all
   my ratings if I'm lying! I'll take a lie detector test! I swear on the life of my children! I did it and it was
   fulfilling! I did it and I'm proud of it! It was great! It was the best sex I ever had! Thank you! It
   was fabulous! I could fall in love with that thing! [Emphasis added.]

Sterns testimonial is typical in that the primary focus is on him. The doll is merely a conduit for

his sexual fulfillment and expression of virile masculinity.

       In Sterns’ testimonial and many of the others featured on the site, one cannot help but

marvel at the rhapsodic tone that is employed.
                                                                                                     Patters 21

           I just got my Real Doll this morning. I think I'm in love! THANK YOU! Man, you guys really
           deliver. If my doll is any example then your site does NOT do your dolls justice. Leah's face is
           SO beautiful and her breasts are AMAZING! How do you do that?! I can't keep my hands off
           her! I must admit that I was a bit worried about the size of the crate, but now I can see why it has
           to be that way and it really did a great job of protecting Leah during shipping'll be happy to
           know she arrived in perfect shape! Leah and I had some wild fun this evening and I've got big
           plans for her this coming weekend. I cannot get over how REAL she looks and feels! You have
           made me one very happy man and I hope you guys go out there and make many more men
           happy! name withheld by request

Still, it is in Sterns’ comments—his declaration of pride and repeated swearing—that a hint of

anxiety bubbles to the surface. The reader must ask why it is necessary for Sterns to assert pride

in consumption, to what assumed challenge is he responding? Though left unstated, the anxiety

implicit in Sterns’ remarks and those of all RealDoll consumers is the very thing that the website

is designed to alleviate. That is Abyss attempts to respond to the unasked question: Why can’t

you get a real girl/woman? And the answer it provides is one that originated in the 1960s and

70s, but rings a bit hollow today—real men can use RealDolls, in fact using RealDolls proves

real manhood.

           Also posted on the website are letters sent to Abyss from the curious, the interested, and

the awed. One of the most striking features of the letters is the parallel of their content with the

first issue of Playboy. Barbara Ehrenreich writes of “Miss Gold-Digger 1953,” Playboy’s first

full length feature article, “from the beginning, Playboy loved women—large-breasted, long-

legged young women, anyway—and hated wives.”38 RealDoll enthusiasts hate divorce far more

than they hate matrimony. However, implicit in the dread of economic ruin through a separation

of property, is the idea that marriage restricts men from freely expressing their sexual selves, and

but for the punitive nature of divorce, all men who made the mistake of marrying would choose

to free themselves from it. Of the marital status of its readers, the first issue of Playboy reported,

“approximately half of Playboy’s readers (48.6%) are free men and the other half are free in

     Ehrenreich, 42.
                                                                                                   Patters 22

spirit only.”39 Here one sees the articulation of a link through similar conceptions of marriage as

sexually oppressive for men, and divorce (or what Playboy refers to as “the whole concept of

alimony”40) as economically ruinous for them.

         The RealDoll, like Playboy, assuages fears of divorce by presenting married men with an

opportunity to have other sexual partners outside of the context of infidelity. Men responded

enthusiastically. The following are two submissions:

         This is hands down THE most incredible piece of functional/functioning art I have ever seen! I'm
         almost speechless.... If I had any extra cash, I would buy 20 of them and leave them around my
         home in various positions of readiness. Why get divorced and give up half of your assets when
         you can invest five grand for one of your pleasure machines?!!!

         I gotta say, I'm impressed!! In all my life I have never seen anything so fascinating. I have often
         thought of infidelity and the consequences surrounding it, (losing half your assets is a bitch!) but
         these dolls could put divorce lawyers out of business! (Not that I would mind!) I'm breaking out
         the Platinum card baby!

One repeatedly reads that marriage forces men to suppress their “natural” sexual drive, but that

economic sanctions make divorce prohibitive. The letters seem to substantiate the angry

accusations of a woman who responded to Playboy’s “Miss Gold-Digger 1953”

         Most men are out for just one thing. If they can’t get it any other way, sometimes they consent to
         marry the girl. Then they think they can brush her off in a few months and move on to new
         pickings. They ought to pay, and pay, and pay.41

The RealDoll extends the possibilities of the celebrated center of Playboy: the playboy. It is a

continuation of trends started in the Cold War that “take back” nature, the home, and the

passions of American men.

         The RealDoll, like Playboy, offers its virile consumers an “alternative” to infidelity if

they are married. This loophole is based on assumptions about the actions and participants that

constitute unfaithful behavior. These men are invested in very specific and narrowly defined

   Ehrenreich, 43.
   Ehrenreich, 42.
   Ehrenreich, 43.
                                                                                             Patters 23

conceptions of sex—intercourse defined by vaginal penetration between two differently sexed

people. Anything that falls outside of this definition (like oral sex or consumption/use of

RealDolls) does not constitute infidelity, and therefore, should not lead to economic sanctions or

moral recrimination. Seen in this light, Clinton’s now infamous, “I did not have sexual relations

with that woman…Ms. Lewinsky,” is just part of a larger move to insulate masculine sexual

desire from prosecution.

       This presents a very interesting contradiction for peddlers of fantasy, virtual and

otherwise. Abyss Creations markets their dolls as approximating or even improving upon

women. The dolls are real; they’re life-like. At the same time, married consumers are invested

in defining the dolls as dolls—inanimate and inhuman—if they are to adhere to their own

definitions of faithfulness.

       The RealDoll is the present culmination of developments in gender construction,

sexuality, and consumerism in America. The dolls occupy an interesting cultural location, and

they may inspire a shift in social evolution. It would be interesting to find out how the RealDoll

is being received in a global context, and to juxtapose its development and marketing strategy

with Babette, Japan’s nine thousand dollar life-like love doll. Additionally, more research is

needed on the implications of a male RealDoll. With more animation on the horizon, it is clear

that the dolls are merely the beginning. The future promises virtual sex and the RealDoll as a

symbol of this breakthrough should prompt us to begin questioning the limits of sexuality.

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