Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Women's and Gender Studies

Advisor(s)

Peter Hitchcock

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Film and Media Studies | Performance Studies | Photography | Political Theory | Television

Keywords

dolls, woman, sexuality, westworld, feminism, technology

Abstract

This thesis examines the emerging phenomenon of sex robots from a feminist materialist perspective. I explore the current scholarly and popular debates on sex robots, and suggest a reading of sex robots in their machinic, literary and cinematic expressions to move beyond the moral-ethical impasse that seems to dominate sex robot discussions. Employing Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Myth” on a methodological and theoretical level, I argue for an interdisciplinary approach to studying sex robots, which proceeds carefully so as to avoid contributing to sex panic, and which thinks critically about what it might mean to assess sex robots from a feminist point of view that does not resort to gender-essentialism, nor the protection of heterosexuality. First, I argue for thinking about sex robots as an “always already new,” medium and proceed by situating sex robots historically. Second, I identify tropes in the configuration of sex robots, juxtapose them with the image of woman as painted by Walter Benjamin in the Arcades Project, and suggest that these sex dolls/bots embody, in an ideal fashion, the characteristics that have been assigned to and made synonymous with heterosexual femininity for centuries: artificiality, availability, variability, animatability, passivity, and submission. Third, I analyze a community of sex doll users, because these users are often left out of the scholarly literature on sex dolls and bots. Then, through a reading of HBO’s TV-series Westworld (2016), I propose a framework for thinking about sex robots that is rooted in the understanding of sexuality as a program, which I develop from Sara Ahmed’s notion of “compulsory heterosexuality as intentional functionality.” Finally, I argue that sex robots in their representation as an ideal woman companion points towards, and is a product of heteronormativity. Eluding this leads to an incomplete analysis of sex robots, and including it might lead to pleasurable deviant surprises.

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