Book Review: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Expanded Edition, edited by Hope Nicholson (2016)

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

A Love Letter to Geek Girls, Young and Old

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for allusions to rape.)

You know where God lives and God is in paint and ink and pencil and the page: you fell in love and became that love. Transformed, like in a fairy tale. A girl who became a wolf, focused and hungry for only one thing: story.

You never stopped hunting stories. Little wolf, persistent but timid, prowling shelves and stacks; anywhere there were books, that was the forest you claimed. You found a frontier in your school library, rushing inside every morning with exquisite relief because books were home, books were where you were most alive, books were places you could pretend you were brave. Books were walls against everything that frightened you.

– “Ghost,” Marjorie Liu

The Brontë sisters had such lady boners for the Duke of Wellington that they wrote hundreds of pages of fanfiction about the guy.

– “How Fanfiction Made Me Gay,” J. M. Frey

Any project with Margaret Atwood’s name attached is an instabuy for me, so there was no doubt that I’d preorder a copy of the new and expanded edition of The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. (My only question is, where the heck was I when the Kickstarter was open?)

While Atwood’s quartet of four-panel comics is cute and super-relatable, it’s actually not the highlight of the anthology (surprise!). Nope, that honor would have to go to Marjorie Liu’s essay “Ghost,” which is simply breathtaking, threatening to unspool your soul till its innermost bits are laid bare – and then stitch and crimp you back together, stronger and bolder than before. (And all in the space of four and a half pages, at that.) Of course, being a sucker for pop culture criticism, Laura Neubert’s “They Bury You in White” and Megan Kearney’s “Regards to the Golbin King” are close ties for second place.

A mix of short nonfiction and comics (“They Bury You in White” and “Regards to the Golbin King” both fall into this category), the many and varied contributions to The Secret Loves of Geek Girls tackle a wide range of topics, from falling in love with fictional characters to navigating the perils and pitfalls of dating, both on- and offline; exploring and defining one’s sexuality in the pre- and post-digital age; surviving and thriving after a divorce; bonding over shared passions; and the perks of platonic relationships and girly gossip.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu (2014)

Friday, November 7th, 2014

A Study in Slut-Shaming / The Anatomy of a Rumor

four out of five stars

“I’m so glad you want to be my friend,” she laughed. “Even though I’ve had seven abortions and slept with the principal and plotted to have Brandon Fitzsimmons murdered by Mafia hit men before killing him with my dirty texting, right?”

The end-of-the-summer party at Elaine O’dea’s house didn’t promise to be anything special. After all, it was thrown together at the last minute, after Elaine’s parents announced that they’d be spending the night at a friend’s house a few towns over. And for the most part, it was pretty unremarkable: Healy High students sitting around, getting drunk and watching tv. That is, until star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons texted Josh Waverly to brag that he and Tommy Cray had both “done” Alice Franklin in the upstairs guest bedroom: Brandon, then Tommy, then Brandon again.

Almost overnight, Alice is branded the school slut. Slowly but surely, her friends distance themselves from her; she becomes the subject of much salacious gossip, even among the parents; and hateful graffiti starts to pop up in the girls’ bathroom. But an ugly rumor that might have otherwise run its course spirals out of control when a drunk Brandon dies in a car accident – and his drunk passenger and best friend Josh claims that he was sexting with Alice when it happened. Now, Alice isn’t just a slut, but a murderer too.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (2014)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Witty, Subversive, Wickedly Funny – A New Favorite!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Time-stopping sex in public places. Revenge workplace masturbation. A kickass librarian with a can-do attitude, a love of learning, and a magical clitoris. A Robin Hood-style crime spree to save the books. Halloween candy as far as the eye can see. What more can you ask for in a comic book? (Vegan finger food at the fundraiser would have been nice, but. I guess there’s nothing saying it wasn’t vegan, right?)

When I spotted a giveaway for Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick on Goodreads, I figured it could go one of two ways: Either the series would turn out to be a smart and insightful look at human sexuality and all that it entails – or a weak and juvenile excuse to bring the pornification of comic books full circle. And, you know, ogle women’s disembodied parts. I decided to give it a try, because what did I have to lose except for an hour of my time?

I’m so glad that I did, because Sex Criminals? It be bangin’.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Eat Your Heart Out: a novella, Dayna Ingram (2011)

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Layers of Fun!

four out of four stars

Twenty-two-year-old furniture saleswoman Devin is the unlikeliest of heroes: She’s prone to fainting spells. She’s socially awkward and has trouble approaching customers (Her coworker Cherry’s advice? Just picture everyone with a giant penis in their mouth!) or carrying on “normal” “adult” conversations (Scare quotes because who wants to act like a grownup anyway?). She tends to wet her pants when threatened. She’s completely oblivious to the fact that her longtime girlfriend, the improbably named Carmelle Souffle, is cheating on her (and, when she finds out, she immediately faints…and then forgives Carmelle).

And she manages to get herself bit just hours into the zombie apocalypse that sweeps through Buttfuck, Ohio. Sure, she was trying to rescue her big bear of a boss, Biff, at the time, but still. Rookie mistake!

The plot of Eat Your Heart Out: a novella is pretty standard zombie fare: the dead start rising, and so the living try to get the heck out of dodge. Luckily, the plot is mostly incidental to Dayna Ingram’s expert wordslinging. Ingram’s got a wicked fun sense of humor and a delightful potty mouth. The pop culture references are many; the fangirl angle, fun and kind of meta (reminiscent of some of the better episodes of Supernatural, I think); the disembodied, floating penises, epically hilarious; and the lesbian subplots pretty much seal the deal.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Lilith’s Brood, Octavia Butler (2000)

Monday, May 6th, 2013

I’ll never look at an octopus the same way again.

five out of five stars

Lilith’s Brood is one of those books that’s so amazing and epic that I can’t even. As in, I can’t even form a complete sentence, let alone maintain a coherent flow between paragraphs and ideas. And so this is where I break out the bullet points.

* Warning: major spoilers ahead! Also, trigger warning for discussions of rape and violence. *

  • The books in Lilith’s BroodDawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago – were originally published as the Xenogenesis trilogy. Definitely pick up a copy of Lilith’s Brood – it’s easier and less expensive than buying the books individually, and you’ll be hooked after the first installment anyway!
  • The basic premise is this: some time in the unspecified future, earth is decimated by nuclear war. Though it primarily involves northern, industrialized nations, the fallout results in massive casualties and renders the planet uninhabitable. As humanity lingers on the brink of extinction, the few remaining survivors are “rescued” by an alien species. The Oankali transport the human refugees to their ancient ship, where they’re kept in a state of suspended animation as the Oankali work to repair their wounds and rejuvenate earth. A century and a half later, the Oankali begin “awakening” humans so that they can prepare for their homecoming. Among them is Lilith Iyapo, an anthropology student from New Mexico. She was in vacationing in the Andes, grieving the loss of her husband and young son to a drunk driver, when the war started. (Many of the survivors are from the southern hemisphere – South America and Africa – resulting in great racial and ethnic diversity among the characters. Lilith, who has dark skin and curly, “cloud-like” black hair, is African American.) Lilith becomes a sort of “pioneer,” choosing, awakening, and teaching survival skills to multiple groups of humans before she’s allowed to return to earth herself.
  • Though vaguely humanoid (at least in their current form), the humans still find the Oankali dreadfully – repulsively – alien. (So much so that they must be acclimated to their rescuers slowly over time, usually with multiple awakenings and the use of drugs to dull the sense of revulsion.) Bipedal with two arms, two legs, a torso and a head, the Oankali are hairless; their earth-toned skin (in colors of gray, brown, and mossy green) is covered in hundreds of slug-like appendages called “sensory tentacles.” Through these, the Oankali are able to communicate with one another on a neurochemical level, sharing thoughts, pictures, feelings, memories, and even genetic information almost instantaneously, and with one or more people simultaneously. While they’re also capable of verbal communication – they can speak, and are proficient in countless human languages – the Oankali prefer to “hook in” to one another’s nervous systems. This is also how they control the ship, a living, organic creature created especially for intergalactic travel by the Oankali.

    (More below the fold…)

  • Book Review: Thumped, Megan McCafferty (2012)

    Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

    The Sexual Revolution of the Future

    four out of five stars

    It’s 2036 and the world’s population is in crisis. The Human Progressive Sterility Virus has shortened men’s and women’s reproductive years dramatically; starting around the age of 18, fertility swiftly drops off and disappears altogether. Whereas it once was taboo, teen pregnancy is humanity’s only chance for survival. Teens are encouraged to “bump” – either professionally, for profit or as amateurs, for fun and slightly less profit – and give their “deliveries” (never “babies”) up for adoption.

    You might think that these “liberal” attitudes toward sex and childbirth would result in greater freedom and increased options for young women – but you’d be wrong. Teenage girls face unrelenting pressure to have at least one or two children before sterility sets in: propaganda masquerading as curriculum permeates the schools; parents take out loans against their daughters’ future reproductive potential; Surrogettes are treated like celebrities; and having babies is packaged as a form of patriotism. Likewise, women aren’t just compelled to have children, but to give them away – even if this goes against their wishes. Moms-to-be are dosed with drugs to suppress maternal feelings towards the fetus, and surrogate contracts heavily favor the rights of the adoptive parents. “Deliveries” are whisked away before the birth mothers can recover from their drug-induced stupors, let alone catch a glimpse of the human beings they carried and nurtured in their wombs for nine long months.

    During their teenage years, girls are treated like baby-making machines – and, as lucrative a “career” as this might be, even the most valuable object is still just that: an object.

    In Bumped, we meet two young women who are trying to navigate this precarious world. Long-lost twin sisters, Melody and Harmony are alike in appearance only. Raised in the gated religious community of Goodside, at 16 years of age Harmony has already been married off, and to a man she hardly knows. (But hey, at least they’re roughly the same age; this is a step up from so many fundamentalist religious groups.) Now she’s expected to fulfill her wifely duties, which chiefly include subservience to the menfolk and child rearing.

    (More below the fold…)

    Book Review: The Rise of Nine, Pittacus Lore (2012)

    Monday, December 10th, 2012

    Doesn’t live up to the potential of I AM NUMBER FOUR.

    three out of five stars

    * Warning: moderate spoilers follow! *

    The third novel in the Lorien Legacies series (there are also three novellas, each published between books two and three), The Rise of Nine begins where The Power of Six ended. After successfully beating back Mogadorian soldiers, Six flees Spain with Seven, Ten, and Crayton. Their destination: India, the suspected hiding place of a fellow member of the Garde. Meanwhile, John is back in West Virginia, recovering from effects of a Mogadorian force field. With him is the increasingly obnoxious Nine; goofy, lovable Sam is still in the hands of the Mogs. The story follows these two groups as they attempt to make contact while evading the Mogadorian hordes – not to mention, the increasingly hostile US government. Eventually they (re)unite in a government facility (conveniently constructed around a Loric ship!) in New Mexico. Naturally, their party is crashed by archenemy Setrákus Ra; the scene for the final battle is set at book’s end. I find myself apathetic at best.

    While I quite enjoyed I Am Number Four, the later books in the series have been rather disappointing. With a focus on action over storytelling, the constant skirmishes – from which our heroes almost always emerge unscathed, despite overwhelming odds – are at times repetitive and boring. While their shared heritage links them, the seven remaining members of the Garde have lived vastly different lives – yet, the author can’t seem to get a feel for their disparate voices. Through each subsequent book, the characters remain two-dimensional sketches, mere outlines of what – who – they could be. I had hoped that the writing would improve from I Am Number Four onward, but…not so much.

    As with The Power of Six, this story is told by multiple narrators, namely John, Six, and Seven (Marina). Although I was less than impressed with this technique when it was introduced in the previous novel (preview chapters suggested that the POV was changing from John to Marina; consequently, the sharing of narrative responsibilities felt like a nasty bit of bait and switch), I think it’s both a necessary and effective strategy in The Rise of Nine. As the members of the Garde begin to assemble for battle, they travel in two groups: Four and Nine and Six, Seven, Eight, and Ten. Multiple narrators help to tell their separate but converging stories simultaneously. Even so, it can prove confusing at times. The change in narrator is marked by different fonts – easy enough to distinguish when there are just two, this becomes a more challenging task when there are three or more fonts to keep track of.

    The mix of magic and technology, fantasy and science fiction, becomes increasingly complex (in a straining credulity kind of way) as the Garde’s most formidable Mogadorian opponent, Setrákus Ra, appears to them in visions. They discover special communication devices in their chest – corresponding transmitters and receivers – that allow the members to contact one another…in the most inefficient way possible. (And the Mogadorians? Still able to track these communications!) Loric stones are revealed to be teleportation devices. For reasons not fully explained, John becomes convinced that he’s the next coming of Pittacus Lore. And so on and so forth.

    Cheesy elementary school romances abound as the remaining Loriens meet. It seems a female Legacy can’t meet a boy without developing an instant crush – and vice versa. (Apparently gay people don’t exist in this fantasy universe.) The love square between John, Sara, Six, and Sam was annoying enough; keep this up, and by story’s end we might very well be treated to a love octagram! Unless it becomes one huge “free love” polyamorous relationship, thanks but no thanks.

    (Also, I love how these kids are teenagers – sixteen, seventeen – but they speak of “making out” as though it’s some huge thing. So quaint! Either the authors are being overly cautious about teen sex, or this is a peek at what sheltered, lonely lives the members of the Garde have lived. Since the author lacks such subtlety, my vote’s for option a!)

    Marginally more interesting than The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine is a fun enough read, but not much more. Borrow it from the library for your next trip to the beach – or see it in the theater, assuming the sequels ever make it to the big screen.

    (This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

    Book Review: The Power of Six, Pittacus Lore (2012)

    Monday, November 5th, 2012

    Eh.

    three out of five stars

    * Warning: moderate spoilers follow! *

    Having recently read – and thoroughly enjoyedI Am Number Four, I promptly ordered the three other books in the Lorien Legacies series (The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, and The Lost Files). Much to my disappointment, The Power of Six proved underwhelming at best.

    Book #2 in the Lorien Legacies picks up where I Am Number Four left off. It’s several weeks after the epic showdown at the high school. John, Sam, and Six are in hiding and on the run from both the US authorities (which has labeled them terrorists) and the Mogadorians. They flee, they fight; they flee and fight some more. They hide and train. After learning that Sam’s father was an ally to the Garde – and may have stashed valuable information and supplies in an underground bunker – they return to Paradise, Ohio, to retrieve the goods. Unsurprisingly, both the FBI and the “Mogs” discover them; after another skirmish, during which John loses his Chest to the Mogadorian soldiers, John and Sam are apprehended by the police and jailed. Another skirmish, this time with the Mogs laying siege to the police department. After escaping, John and Sam separate from Six in order to retrieve his Chest – most likely stashed in Mog HQ in a West Virginian cave – while Six travels to Spain to help who she suspects is another member of the Garde, under attack from the Mogs. (Now that John and Six have hooked up, the charm is broken.) In the process, John loses Sam but finds and rescues Nine – and Six comes to the aid of Seven, now short a Cêpan.

    And…that’s about it. I’ve never had so little trouble summing up a book’s plot before!

    The “teaser” chapters included I Am Number Four hinted that the story’s narrator might change – from John to Number Seven, otherwise known as Marina. In hiding in a convent in Spain, Marina’s Cêpan has long since abandoned her duties, succumbing instead to the certainty and comfort provided by devout religion. Holding out hope that the Garde will one day reunite, Marina scans the news for any signs of her fellow Loriens – including John Smith. This is how we meet her: a lonely, forsaken young girl, just coming into her abilities, trying to connect with her brethren. Though they share much in common, Marina’s journey has been vastly different from that of John Smith. Through her eyes, a fresh perspective; her words offer a new story.

    Alas, only half of The Power of Six is narrated by Marina. The voices alternate between John’s and Seven’s, sometimes changing chapter by chapter, other times more quickly, usually to impart a sense of urgency. This was a rather disappointing surprise (though not altogether unexpected), as I was looking forward to a new storyteller – perhaps with a slightly different tale to tell, and from a female perspective, at that. I think one could argue that allowing a different member of the Garde to narrate each successive book in the series is an interesting, fresh, engaging strategy. We already know John Smith’s story; why not let Six or Seven pick up the torch?

    (More below the fold…)

    Book Review: Love + Sex with Robots, David Levy (2007)

    Friday, May 4th, 2012

    2012-03-13 - Love & Sex with Robots - 0003

    Welcome to New Earth

    three out of five stars

    I have a confession to make: my BSG OTP isn’t Starbuck and Apollo. Or Starbuck and Anders. It isn’t Lee and Doulla, Saul and Ellen Tigh, or even Captain Adama and President Roslin (as lovely as their relationship was). My favorite coupling in the entire series is Helo and Athena – Karl Agathon and his Cylon wife. She defected to the human side of the war to be with him; he saved the Cylons from certain genocide. Their love survived and flourished in spite of overwhelming odds. The product of this love, daughter Hera – the very first human/Cylon hybrid – joined the first settlers of New Earth, eventually becoming Mother Eve to us all.

    Perhaps, then, I’m not the best judge of David Levy’s Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, seeing as I’m already sold on the idea. (Assuming, of course, that we one day develop sentient, self-aware robots. Otherwise it’s all just physical and mental masturbation, don’t you think?) Drawing upon decades of psychosocial research, Levy – an expert on artificial intelligence and author of Robots Unlimited (2005) – explores two (really three) separate but related topics: 1) Will robot evolution result in androids that are physically and behaviorally indistinguishable from humans and, if so, will humans prove willing to enter into 2) emotional and 3) sexual relationships with them?

    Levy answers these questions with a resounding – if sometimes overenthusiastic – “YES!” Tracing the history of sex toys, Levy demonstrates that humans are already “having sex” (read: masturbating) with technology, and have been for some time: consider, if you will, sex dolls, vibrators, virtual reality, teledildonics, and the like. Whereas sexual aids were a source of shame (and even criminal prosecution) in days past, they’re now sold openly in Western societies. Likewise, many people retain the services of sex workers at one time or another; taking into account their reasons for doing so, robotic sex workers seem inevitable. On the “love” side of the equation, Levy delves into psychological research which parses out the hows and whys of human relationships – and adeptly explains how most (though not all) of these factors would play out in human-android couplings. He points to peoples’ attachment to their robotic and virtual “pets” – such as the Tamagotchi and Digimon – as an example of how we extend attachments from sentient, organic beings (dogs, cats, gerbils) to their artificial (albeit not quite intelligent – not yet!) counterparts.

    While Levy presents a compelling argument, there are also a few missed opportunities. Given that popular culture – movies, television shows, literature, music, etc. – both reflects and influences social mores, I would’ve liked to have seen a discussion of human-robot relationships in pop culture. Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, Star Trek, Wall-e, Futurama, A.I. – there are so many from which to choose! An examination of the audience’s reaction to human-Cylon couplings in BSG, for example, might evince how viewers feel about “love + sex with robots” – in theory at least. Further, a generation of kids weaned on shows that positively portray such relationships is bound to be more receptive to the idea in practice.

    More problematic is Levy’s near-total failure to examine the ethical implications of such relationships. As objects – pieces of property belonging to their human owners – can robots even be said to have sex or fall in love “with” humans? “With” implies some degree of reciprocity, which requires not just intelligence but also free will. If robots are made to order and can be reprogrammed at the owner’s whim, can their “choice” to enter into an emotional or sexual relationship with a human (particularly their owner/programmer) ever be truly consensual? And how can a mere piece of property, with the same legal status and moral standing of a tv or computer, enter into a legal contract such as a marriage?

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    Sweet Spot: A Taste of Things to Come, a catalogue from Hong Kong, lists nearly 70 different models of blow-up doll, including saucy Sondrine, whose hair, nipple, and genitalia glow in the dark; Betty Fat Girl Bouncer, to satisfy the chubby chaser; Brandi Sommer, with ‘super vibrating LoveClone lips’; and The Perfect Date, which is just 36 inches tall and is equipped with a mouth and a cup holder built into her head. There’s even a dairy maid doll who lactates and has short blonde braids reminscent of Swiss Miss. Some of the blow-ups vibrate and, oddly enough, scream.”

    Meghan Laslocky, quoted in Love + Sex with Robots, David Levy (2007)
    ——————————

    Some will argue that a robot can be re/programmed to enjoy whatever fate her owner has chosen for her. If the robot is “happy” with her treatment, then, what’s the harm? Consider the following scenario, if you will. John Smith is a misogynist. He gets off on humiliating, hurting, and dominating women. Rather than rape human women and risk jail time (a slim risk, but that’s another matter), he decides to buy a robot and program her to “enjoy” physical and sexual abused. Is this acceptable? Why or why not?

    But let’s say that John doesn’t want “his” robot to enjoy being treated so poorly; after all, causing a woman to suffer is the best part! Suppose the robot is programmed to merely tolerate his sadism, or perhaps to be traumatized by it. What then? Or maybe John Smith is a pedophile or zoophile. Is “sex with” a child or nonhuman animal somehow more ethical if these children and animals are artificially created? Where’s the line? Is there a line?

    At times Levy describes these future robots as “conscious” and “sentient” without going into further detail. If androids do evolve to the point that they are sentient – capable of feeling pain and suffering – are they not deserving of the same rights that humans enjoy, regardless of how they came into being? (As a vegan, my answer is obvious: I believe that ALL sentient beings have the right to live free of human oppression. Or perhaps “human/oid oppression” is a more accurate phrase, at least in the context of this discussion!) Chief among these is these is autonomy – the right not to be treated as an object, bought, sold, and owned by others. For robots and humans alike, the right to control one’s own body – mind/programming included – is also a basic “human” right. If it’s acceptable to reprogram a sentient android to do your bidding, then what about naturally created humans (a la Dollhouse)?

    These moral quandaries are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – and, while I realize that a satisfactory discussion of these could easily take up an entire book or even series of books, Levy would have been well served not to relegate them to a passing mention in the conclusion. Doubly so since some of these issues go to the very core of his argument: namely, that humans will one day fall in love and have sex with robots. This is only possible if robots are equal partners, capable of falling in love and having sex of their own accord. Otherwise it’s not love and sex – but rather rape, masturbation, and one-way object attachment.

    Given how we treat our fellow earthlings, I think it’ll take the equivalent of a Cylon rebellion to realize Levy’s vision.

    A promotional image from the Battlestar Galactica sequel, Caprica, shows a young white woman holding a rosy red apple, from which she has taken a large bite. the copy reads, “The future of humanity begins with a choice.” The woman? Zoey Graystone, the very first Cylon in the BSG ‘verse.
    ——————————

    On that note, I seriously need to rewatch Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse, stat!

    As always, this review is crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please vote me helpful if you’re so inclined!

    Book Review: The Sex Doll: A History, Anthony Ferguson (2010)

    Monday, July 11th, 2011

    More accurately titled “The Sex Doll: Its Origins and Functions”

    three out of five stars

    (Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

    Upon requesting this title from Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was nervous that author Anthony Ferguson’s discussion of sex dolls would present a view largely uncritical of these increasingly popular sexual aids and, more importantly, their owners/users. (So much so that I was actually relieved when the first copy was lost in the mail!) Happily, Ferguson (a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association – a detail that seems only slightly less odd in light of chapter eleven, which turns to dolls as a common trope in the horror genre!) manages to outline the potential anti-feminist implications of sex dolls while retaining empathy for (at least some of) their users. All in all, the book manages to find middle ground, even if it is at times shaky.

    THE SEX DOLL: A HISTORY might be more accurately titled “The Sex Doll: Its Origins and Functions,” as there’s more theory than fact in this volume. By Ferguson’s own admission, the history of sex dolls is somewhat sketchy – which is wholly unsurprising given society’s conservative and oftentimes oppressive attitudes toward sex and sexuality. Sex dolls present an added complication, as Western religions have historically regarded lifelike representations of the human form (i.e. dolls) with suspicion and distrust. Thus, Ferguson relies less on the historical record and more on the theories and conjectures of philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and ethicists, seemingly indiscriminately and with mixed results.

    While some of the views represented are intriguing (in particular, I’m keen to read David Levy’s LOVE + SEX WITH ROBOTS after seeing several excerpts in THE SEX DOLL), others are nonsensical, offensive, and downright misogynistic. Colin Wilson, for example, is paraphrased as saying that “a subverted worship of women” drives men to rape (WTF!); elsewhere, Ferguson himself extols the “value of war in pre-technological societies as a means of channeling masculine aggression” (never you mind that physical and sexual violence against women is nearly universal, or that rape is commonly used as a weapon of war; also, gender essentialism much?). Naturally, erstwhile misogynist Sigmund Freud and his sex-obsessed, woman-hating theories litter every chapter.

    Likewise, the words Ferguson chooses are sometimes problematic. For example, he uses the terms “transgender” and “she-male” interchangeably, the latter being widely regarded as a derogatory slur within the trans community. Additionally, instances of rape are often referred to using variations on the phrase “had sex with,” implying consent where there is none. (“With” suggests that the sex is a mutually shared experience, which is not the case in rape. In this vein, it’s erroneous to say that one “has sex with” a sex doll, since a doll as an inanimate object cannot consent to the experience. In this case, “masturbate with” is more accurate.)

    In chapter seven, “Sex Doll Stereotypes,” Ferguson analyzes sex dolls – objectified, silent and subservient (representations of) women, the “perfect” partners, if you will – in relation to their human counterparts, namely sex workers such as prostitutes and pornographic actors, as well as other sexually exploitable women, including mail order brides and mistresses. Since each of these topics could easily fill its own volume, the discussion is necessarily brief and lacking in nuance. Rather than add to my understanding of sex dolls, I found this chapter in particular a distraction.

    Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity comes in chapter eight, “The Vagaries of Masculine Desire,” in which Ferguson lets “doll users speak.” Whereas a demographic/psychological survey of doll users would have been incredibly enlightening – who are these people and why and how do they choose to use sex dolls? – Ferguson instead presents us with a Q&A involving just five respondents. It’s rather obvious that Ferguson hand-picked these individuals in order to represent the spectrum of users: they run the gamut, from a single, older disabled man who’s heavily emotionally invested in his dolls, to a sexually active younger man who regards them as just one of many sexual outlets at his disposal. Curiously, two of the subjects – or a full 40% – of the respondents are women, which must surely be out of whack with the actual statistics. (Although we’ll never know, as Ferguson doesn’t offer any such numbers.) Since women are otherwise absent his discussion (Ferguson almost solely focuses on male users of female dolls), their inclusion here is doubly puzzling.

    Ferguson is at his best when looking at representations of sex dolls in popular culture, as he does in chapters ten and eleven (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Orgasm?” and “Revulsion, Lust and Love,” respectively). His discussion of sex dolls and gynoids (female robots) in literature, film, television, music and art is by far the most engaging section of THE SEX DOLL – although his omission of the Cylons in the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot is disappointing at best. (Particularly since it’s in these chapters that Ferguson introduces the question of human-robot love and marriage. Caprica Six! Athena! Hera!) Additionally, while the Terminator franchise is mentioned in brief, Ferguson fails to examine the evolving representations of the cyborgs in this realm; i.e., the possibility of a romantic and sexual relationship with a terminator is only raised when the female cyborg Cameron is introduced in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. This observation might have provided a nice window into the gender dynamics of sex dolls, and how they’re reflected in popular culture.

    Ultimately, THE SEX DOLL concludes that the uses and functions of sex dolls are as varied as are the men who utilize them. For some men, a sex doll represents the “perfect” partner: silent, non-responsive, subservient, powerless, never aging, changing or evolving. For others, a doll is merely a sexual outlet: safe, both physically and psychologically, affordable (perhaps), convenient. It might be just one of many sex toys a man utilizes, or it could be more: a willing companion to socially isolated men. Whatever the case, the fact that feminized sex dolls are visual representations of women – real, flesh and blood women – cannot be escaped:

    “Given that sex dolls are as of now still inanimate objects, they are understandably treated as lacking autonomy, and yet they represent real women and are utilized as substitutes for real women. Despite the fact that some sex doll owners seem to treat their dolls with affection and anthropomorphize them, it is the dolls’ inability to respond, react or reject which most attracts men. This objectification is mirrored historically in the treatment of women, the ‘thing’ most dolls represent.” (Chapter six, page 81, “Consumable Women”)

    (This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

    On "Becoming a piece of meat"

    Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

    Baby Beef Rubaiyat Steak House (Tomato) - Remix

    I originally wrote this commentary as part of my latest intersectionality link roundup, but the stupid is so painful that it quickly morphed into a full-blown post. Head on over to Salon and skim through Roger Thomas’s interview of Julie Powell (yes, she of Julie & Julia fame) for the backstory, as I haven’t included any excerpts here. It’s pretty clear to which statements I’m responding, anyhow.

    Also, while Powell refers only to vegetarians and “meat” consumption in the interview, I’ve taken the liberty of extending her slurs to vegans as well. Clearly, you and I know that the two are not interchangeable, but seeing as the mainstream media usually treats them as such, *shrug*.

    Salon: Becoming a piece of meat; Julie Powell’s racy follow-up to “Julie and Julia” — and why she’s fine turning into the new poster child for S/M

    Dear Roger Thomas and/or Julie Powell:

    1) BDSM and “rough sex” are not even remotely comparable to the exploitation and butchery of nonhuman animals. The former are consensual acts; the latter, not.

    A better comparison is that of rape to “meat” production (and consumption): in each case, the oppressor dehumanizes and objectifies his (or her; women don’t typically rape other humans, but they do engage in, support and defend the exploitation of nonhuman animals) victim, treating her as a “thing” to be (ab)used and discarded at will, rather than the sentient individual that she is. To rape a woman is to treat her like “a piece of meat” – and nonhuman animals are no more and no less “meat”-like than human animals.

    Of course, nonhuman animals are also literally raped as a matter of course in most (if not all) animal exploitation industries, especially animal agriculture. Usually this rape serves a “practical” purpose, i.e., in order to forcible impregnate female animals (or to obtain the sperm of males); other times, sexual violence is used as a means of control or punishment. Whatever its purpose, these violations are no less violating when visited upon the bodies of cows, pigs and chickens.

    [For just several examples of “purposeless” sexual violations, see: PETA’s Iowa Sow Farm/Hormel Supplier Investigation, 2008; PETA’s Butterball Investigation, 2006; and PETA’s Belcross Farms Investigation, North Carolina, 1998-1999.

    While undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses are easy to come by, Googling for specific examples of rape and sexual assault is a depressing and difficult task: the rape and sexual assault of nonhuman animals is rarely referred to as rape and sexual assault. In general, this can be attributed to the attitude (quite pervasive among non-veg/an feminists, in my experience) that nonhuman animals, being the “unthinking,” “unfeeling” “brutes” that they are, cannot be sexually violated; that is, they don’t know enough to perceive sexual violations as such, and thus are not traumatized by rape and sexual abuse. Additionally, many forms of sexual violence are fundamental to the system; without the forced impregnation (and resulting birth) of sows, hens, ewes, nannies, heifers, mares, bitches, etc., our systems of animal exploitation would crumble. Here, the routineness of the violations renders them invisible and unnamed.

    (More below the fold…)

    Green Porno 3.0: Compassion is sexy!

    Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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    Back in June, I raved about Green Porno, a subversive (and delightfully cheesy!) documentary series starring Isabella Rossellini (whom I’ve had a massive girl-crush on ever since her turn as Katya Derevko in Alias). Green Porno examines the sex lives of nonhuman animals – which, oftentimes, are far from “conventional.” To this end, the show has great potential to change how humans view “others”: women, homosexuals, transgendered persons, gender nonconformists – and even nonhuman animals.

    To this, I’d like to add that, in addition to their anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-anti-sex thrust (pun most definitely intended), these shows are anti-speciesist as well.

    While [the] disavowal of animal homosexuality and sexual variety serves to justify and reinforce “isms” directed at humans (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc.), it at also functions at another level. In denying non-human animals the full range of their behavioral, emotional and sexual expression, we rob them of their complexity, their personality – for lack of a better term, their humanity.

    Like us, non-human animals can be complicated creatures, driven by a range of goals and desires. Animals, humans included, aren’t just about reproduction; our sole purpose in life isn’t simply to spread our DNA and produce as much offspring as possible. Sometimes we have sex, mate and form bonds because it’s fulfilling in other ways. Nor do we only nurture and protect our own genetic material: sometimes we act with altruism and compassion rather than selfishness and narcissism.

    By insisting that animals only copulate in order to introduce sperm to egg, we simplify trillions of sentient beings, taking from them characteristics which make them seem that much more human.

    Ironically, in so doing, we also reduce the human species to a caricature, a boring, two-dimensional model which scarcely resembles h. spaiens, in all its diverse, eccentric, animalistic magnificence.

    Watching animal sex play out amidst kindergarten construction paper cutouts and human-sized bodysuits, the viewer (hopefully) comes to see nonhumans as the unique individuals they really are. When one ceases to regard a group of beings as a single, undifferentiated mass of “stuff,” othering them – based on species, sex, sexuality, race, breed or whatnot – becomes a difficult, twisted task indeed.

    Season 1 focused on bugs (spiders, flies, earthworms), Season 2 on ocean dwellers (barnacles, whales, starfish). Both Wiki and I had thought Season 3 would shift focus to farmed animals such as pigs and cows, but it looks Season 3 will continue to examine marine animals. In a subtle shift from Season 2, however, Rossellini’s attention turns to ocean dwellers whom we commonly kill and eat (and oftentimes “farm” as well).

    (More below the fold…)

    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 3

    Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

    I’ve been feeling kind of crappy since Friday, so I all I have to offer is this link roundup. Happy reading…or not.
     


     
    Kelly Garbato @ Animal Rights @ Change.org: Egypt’s Pigs: Beaten, Stoned, and Burned Alive (Part 1) and Religious Discrimination and the Killing of Egypt’s Pigs (Part 2)

    In my second round of guest posts at change.org, I look at the recent pig culls in Egypt, and explain how the mass killings may have less to do with concerns over the swine flu than with religious discrimination directed at the country’s Coptic Christians – as well as “their” pigs.

    I, Bonobo: Guess who’s really at the bottom of the shitpile? and

    Vegan Soapbox: Why Women Should Care About Animals

    Bonobobabe and Eccentric Vegan both respond to a recent piece that appeared in the community section of Feministing. Not surprisingly, the author asserted that animal rights and feminism are unrelated movements, such that the animal rights movement has nothing to contribute to feminism and vice versa. Thus, it’s perfectly acceptable for good liberal progressive feminists to eat meat, wear fur and shit on animal advocates when they complain. I’m taking liberties, of course, but you get the idea.

    Bonobobabe’s reply, in particular, is a must-read. I skimmed it over several times, trying to boil it down to an excerpt or two to illustrate her argument, but it’s all awesome. This about sums it up, though:

    So, while I think it’s fine for a woman who calls herself a feminist to put her time and energy towards women-centered things, I also feel that if a feminist is supposed to be sensitive to class and race issues, that she should also be sensitive to speciesist issues. It’s not OK to say that you are better than an animal. Besides, hierarchies are the invention of men. Being a speciesist, even if one is a feminist, is playing by men’s rules. You’re better than that.

    Hat tip to Stephanie for this one.

    (More below the fold…)

    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 2

    Thursday, June 11th, 2009

    lol jayne - speciesism 101, pot 1

    Kelly Garbato (that’s me!) @ Animal Rights at Change.org: Intersectionality 101: Sexism, Racism, Speciesism, and More and Intersectionality and Animal Advocacy

    Stephanie at Change.org kindly invited me to guest post at the Animal Rights blog; Intersectionality 101 and Intersectionality and Animal Advocacy are my first contributions. This is a two-part post in which I introduce the concept of intersectionality, explain how intersectionality can help us better understand (and dismantle) our exploitation of animals, and argue for the inclusion of other anti-“ism” activism in the animal advocacy movement. Please stop by and share your thoughts!

    Also worth checking out: the new(ly visible) “oppression connections” post category on Animal Rights.

    Briar Levit @ Bitch Blogs: Nicole Georges pays tribute to the Queer Animal Kingdom

    Last week, I noted how media such as Green Porno, by celebrating non-human animals in all their sexual diversity, has the potential to liberate and uplift animals of all species.

    In this vein, Briar Levit introduces us to Nicole Georges, “a zinester, illustrator, and pet portrait artist” (and also a contributor to Bitch magazine), whose latest project is “an exploration of the Queer Animal Kingdom” – as explained in this documentary:

    Nicole Georges 5/1/09 from cat on Vimeo.

    As far as feminist media goes, Bitch seems to be the most animal-friendly magazine out there (with a very vocal – albeit minority – vegan/vegetarian readership!), so if you’re so inclined, you can check ’em out here.

    Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality: Press release about ‘The Running of the Nudes’ and PETA

    Igualdad Animal (Animal Equality) describes itself as “an international non-profit organisation dedicating to gaining equal consideration and respect for animals. Founded in Madrid (Spain) in January 2006 by Sharon Nunez, Javier Moreno and Jose Valle, it is currently active in Spain, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia.”

    In this press release, Igualdad Animal offers its thoughts on PETA’s upcoming annual anti-bullfighting demonstration, “The Running of the Nudes.” Not surprisingly, the group is unimpressed, both with PETA’s animal welfare efforts, as well as their poor record vis-à-vis marginalized groups of humans, including women.

    (More below the fold…)

    Why this vegan feminist is red hot for Green Porno.

    Saturday, June 6th, 2009

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    I’ve heard mention of Isabella Rossellini’s latest project, Green Porno, here and there – ecorazzi, The Colbert Report, CNN even – but never bothered to follow up, seeing as I don’t get the Sundance Channel and all. But an article in Bitch magazine’s Spring ’09 issue (No. 43, appropriately titled “the buzz issue”) made me take a second look.

    In “Wings of Desire: Bug sex as a gender revolution,” Katura Reynolds examines the subversive nature of Green Porno (as well as British evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson’s alter ego, Dr. Tatiana): by depicting (non-human) animal sex in all its kinky, decidedly non-vanilla glory, these projects challenge our traditional views of what “natural” sexuality and gender expression look like in the animal kingdom.

    “Bug sex” is so much more then heterosexual, missionary style pairings: bugs may be male, female, or hermaphrodites; heterosexual, homosexual or asexual; reproduce through sexual activity, parthenogenesis, or an alternative combination thereof; etc. (Some, like the preying mantis, even engage in sexual cannibalism, consuming their partners during coitus.) The same holds true for many animal species, humans included; for example, in his 1999 book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (which I highly recommend, by the way), Bruce Bagemihl reviewed existing evidence which points to observed homosexual behavior in nearly 1500 animal species.

    Green Porno, which is currently in its second season and airs on the Sundance Channel Tuesdays at 9 PM ET, is a bit cheesier and cheekier than its British cousin, – which is so raunchy that it’s not even available on Region 1 DVDs, let alone running on U.S. television. (You can, however, view a few clips of the show on You Tube.)

    null

    Writes Reynolds,

    The eight short films in [season 1 of] Green Porno were written by Rossellini and codirected with Jody Shapiro. They feature Rossellini acting out the sex lives of flies, praying mantises, earthworms, dragonflies, gees, fireflies, snails and spiders. The films are simultaneously hilarious, scientifically accurate, unrepentantly corny, compellingly sexy, and completely bizarre. […]

    Rossellini strives for a simple, childlike atmosphere in the films. She starts each in a bodysuit, saying, “If I were a [type of bug],” and then her costumes gradually build as the film progresses: extra arms, compound eyes, snail shells, you name it. The props and supporting characters are made from giant cut-paper sculptures, like she’s wandered into a kindergarten classroom plastered in giant paper flowers.

    The schoolroom setting is chosen very deliberately – it’s a foil for overtly sexual content. Rossellini gets it on with huge paper models of flies, mantises, and bees; she gasps and moans in orgasmic ecstasy as a firefly and a snail; she runs around waving hands covered in paper cutouts of sperm as a spider. As stated in the press release, “If human, these acts would not be allowed to air on television. [Indeed, Dr. Tatiana’s human reenactments and live non-human animal footage is not.] They would be considered filthy and obscene.” But the silly costumes and absurd props distract audiences from the flagrantly, graphically sexual content. Comedy often serves as a harbor for the unspeakable. By laughing at the silliness of it all, we can disarm the taboo.

    (More below the fold…)

    Arby’s Beef as an Aphrodisiac

    Saturday, December 27th, 2008

    Again with the meat-as-sex meme.

    In this commercial for fast food chain Arby’s, a dutiful wife dresses up as an Arby’s waitress for her husband’s birthday. In the bedroom, if you know what I mean, where she delivers a chicken corpse to her eagerly awaiting hubby. Cue sexxxay, “doing it” music: Boom-Chicka-Wow-Wow! As the wife/waitress slinks into the room – somewhat uncomfortably, mind you, as though she was wheedled into doing this against her better judgment – the Arby’s logo (a red hat) “pops up” over dude’s head while he smiles with hunger/lust.

    (Oh Arby’s, so clever with the double entrendes, you are! Original, too.)

    Here, beef functions as an aphrodisiac and dinner time is sex-ay time. It goes without saying that dude is a REAL MAN because he eats REAL MAN food, i.e., food with a face. No veggies on his plate, nosiree. Except for ketchup, of course.

    Which begs the question: if eating meat is analogous to having sex, is the wife/waitress a living piece of Chicken Cordon Bleu?

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    Tagged:

    Give me virginity or give me death!

    Friday, December 19th, 2008

    Burger King’s latest ad campaign – Whopper Virgins – is a convoluted mess of racism, sexism, speciesism and colonialism, all crammed into a a series of 15-to-30-second ads.

    To wit:

    Let’s dissect, shall we?

    (More below the fold…)

    Not-So-Random Friday Activist Music: Once More, with Teeth

    Friday, June 20th, 2008

    Shane’s in Vegas for the Amaz!ng Meeting this weekend, so last night I took advantage of my night alone to watch Teeth. Which is just as well; the many scenes of gratuitous male genital mutilation probably would have sent him fleeing from the living room in hysterics. Yes, a damn shiny movie, ’tis.

    In honor of a film about misogyny and the oppression of female sexuality, a few videos that celebrate female sexuality.

    Empowerful!

    (In order: Consolidated – You Suck; Salt-n-Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex; and the Divinyls – I Touch Myself)

    (More below the fold…)

    Book Review: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary Roach (2008)

    Monday, April 7th, 2008

    It’s sex-ay (science) time!

    five out of five stars

    (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

    Kegels and paraclitoridiennes and Thrillhammers, oh my!

    Popular science writer Mary Roach is no stranger to the business of taboo-busting; her previous works, STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS and SPOOK: SCIENCE TACKLES THE AFTERLIFE are books one might hesitate to discuss in polite company. (The biology of “human soup” isn’t exactly acceptable dinner conversation, now, is it?) Lucky for us, Mary Roach* is a curious and intrepid soul who’s more than willing tread where many of us would rather not – and then pen a witty, sarcastically humorous account of her journey.

    BONK: THE CURIOUS COUPLING OF SCIENCE AND SEX is Ms. Roach’s latest foray into the dark nooks and crannies of the scientific community’s attic. Starting with the 1800s, the author details the history of scientific inquiries into human and animal sexuality. In its infancy, sexual research was awkward and, at times, nonsensical; as understanding of human biology increased, the field of sexual science evolved. Nowhere is this more evident than in science’s treatment of women and gender; whereas scientists once argued whether women could even have orgasms, they now quibble over the most efficient means of getting the ladyfolk there. Just as the development of sexual knowledge reflects the progression of science and the embrace of the scientific method, so too does it correspond to women’s liberation and gender equality. Thus, a history of sex studies is a history of science and social movements.

    All is not meta with Ms. Roach, however. In fact, her delight seems to be in the details. While her discussion does focus on some overarching topics and themes – including the history of research into and knowledge of sexuality; female and male anatomy and psychology, including the similarities and differences between the genders; the physiology of sex, and how one goes about documenting it; and technology’s impact on sexuality – BONK is full of meandering tangents and interesting side notes. Though the asterisks are many, don’t skip a one. While a few are a bit extraneous even for me, some of the juiciest tidbits are in the side notes.**

    BONK is a popular science book that’s suitable for both lay people and professionals alike. The science in BONK is presented in such a way that it’s accessible and engaging, yet it isn’t watered down, either. Ms. Roach has an engaging writing style and a biting sense of humor, making this a “science of sex” book quite unlike any other. At times sardonic, macabre and morbid, she just has a way of skewering sacred cows – she’ll show you precisely how the hot dog is made before cajoling you into taking a bite.**** Like many gourmet dishes, Ms. Roach’s brand of humor may not please every palate – but this doesn’t make it any less of a delicacy.

    While I enjoyed the book immensely, I do have to offer a caveat. If you’re sensitive to images of animal suffering (more specifically, vivisection and factory farming), read BONK with caution. As with any “history of science” book, BONK contains scenes of gratuitous violence against animals. For example, one early study the author describes involved the decapitation of a female dog – while mating (!) – in order to study the mobility of the male’s semen. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, and while Ms. Roach is for the most part appropriately horrified, some of the more modern abuses are left unquestioned.

    * Even the woman’s name tickles my fancy. “Mary Roach.” Roach clip, anyone?

    ** For example, I bet you didn’t know that perforated postal stamps are a low-tech way to determine whether a man is medically (as opposed to psychologically) impotent. Just wrap a roll around the package in question, and ship it off for overnight delivery. If the stamps are torn upon morning pickup, said package is in working (physical) order.***

    *** The USPS both knows of and endorses the practice, FYI.

    **** Much in the same manner she cajoled her husband into bonking in an MRI machine in the name of science. Or so one might assume.*****

    ***** Pants off to you, Ed!

    (This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

    Friday Random Cuteness: The Kiss

    Friday, February 9th, 2007

    A special menage a trois shot for Valentine’s Day:

    The Kiss

    “The Kiss”, by creativity+

    See? Animals got teh kinks, too!

    Further proof that good things come in threes – this week’s carnival roundup. Enjoy!

    * Carnival of the Green 63

    * Carnival of Hurricane Relief 74

    * Giving Carnival 2

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