There has been some debate surrounding sex dolls (expensive, life-size, quasi-realistic approximations of humans intended for use as sex toys). On the one hand, proponents claim sex dolls are a useful sexual surrogate for men who are socially challenged and "sexually frustrated", and who want a more "realistic" experience than self-sex (the assumption is these men are not able to find dates themselves). On the other hand, feminists decry these life-like sex dolls (which are predominantly female-shaped and bought by males) as misogynistic, because (feminists claim) they are advocated as a replacement for women and reinforce the stereotypes that women are hard to deal with for men, not to mention being the example par excellence of objectification of women. Which is it? Is it valid to say that these dolls can play a healthy role in a socially challenged persons life, or are these things which reinforce misogyny and should not be promoted or made to seem acceptable?

I guess you're talking about "Real Dolls" and the like, of which Howard Stern seems to be such a fan.

The terms in which you describe this debate seem to me to be highly contentious. I really do not understand why the question whether someone is "socially challenged" or "sexually frustrated" has anything to do with it. I think the sensible, default viewpoint would be that, if someone wants to masturbate, then they should be free to do so in whatever way they choose, either alone or with their partner or whatever. And if they enjoy using sex toys, then they should be free to use them, too. If one of the sex toys they like to use is a "love doll", either of the blow up variety or the incredibly expensive "Real Doll" variety, then so what? Maybe they like to fantasize about making love to super models, and maybe the doll helps with the fantasy. Great! Feminists like Nancy Friday worked very hard to earn all of us, men and women, the right to such freedom.

That said, "so what" could have an answer, and if one thinks realistic dolls are supposed to replace women, then that would count. But look, I can understand the "weird and icky" reaction that some people seem to have to these dolls. Frankly, they look to me like consumer culture gone mad, making about as much sense as $5000 purses and $500,000 loudspeakers. (I own stereo equipment most people would consider outrageously expensive, but even I have my limits!) So yeah, these dolls are kind of weird. But I haven't read anything even remotely sensible that might explain why they are intrinsically bad, or even why they are any more "objectifying" than Fleshlights or anything else made for such purposes. If people with more money than sense want to buy these things, then, well, there you go.

Yes, Howard Stern made some incredibly stupid comments about these dolls that are, on their face, insulting not just to women but to basic human decency. But being stupid and insulting is Stern's job, isn't it? And yes, some highly dysfunctional people may buy these dolls and then declare their love for them and their superiority over real women. Some of them may even star in reality TV shows. But please do not tell me that we're now supposed to regard "reality TV" as actually representative of reality.

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