Why I’m Campaigning Against Sex Robots

Words by Kate Davis

Kate Davis is an artist and activist exploring the impact modern technologies have on the future of human interaction and intimacy. Her acclaimed project ‘Logging on to Love’, is an exploration of the development of sex robots and virtual relationships and was shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Awards in 2016. For BRICKS voices, Kate opens up about why she’s joined the Campaign Against Sex Robots.

You don’t need to be an expert to grasp the anxieties around sex robots. My interest in them began in 2015 and became the motivation behind my ongoing project, Logging on to Love. I find the idea of sex robots so far-fetched and as a woman, quite offensive. I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t understand the need for them. Although I have grown up in the age of smartphones, online porn and social media, I never would have predicted I would become a member of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Where has it all gone wrong? Why do those who feel lonely? Why do we believe a sex robot will fill the void? And are there no other solutions? 

The ideas behind sex robots aren’t groundbreaking. It’s a reminder of the patriarchal system that constructs our society and reinforces relations of power that do not recognise women as fully human. 

I want Logging on to Love to address a very current topic in contemporary feminism, that of ‘robotic’ and ‘cyber’ women. In so far as it is a social commentary, it does tell a story of the emergence of robots for interaction and intimacy, and the images are my response to that. I intend the images to create an uncanny blend of the real and unreal, that puts the work and the viewer in a challenging space and allows human emotion to enter the frame. I feel strongly about how important it is to create new and alternative ways of engaging with a wide and diverse audience in a visual way and for the discussion surrounding the emergence of sex robots to be ongoing. 

Women have been tirelessly telling society that we are human, that we don’t exist for man’s wants and needs. Today, the ability to enjoy sex as a co-experience where our partner acknowledges our needs, feelings and desires, is a historic achievement for women. This ideal has not been the norm for most of history, nor is it still universally recognised today. The progress of treating women as equal sexual partners is the result of cultural shifts, greater recognition of human rights and the feminist movement. We need to defend it.

I feel as though in response to our new found voices and independence, in an attempt to take back control and power, men have created sex robots and have somehow innocently branded them as some sort of ‘charity case’ for lonely people – but it’s far from it. This notion distorts the fact that the corporations behind these sex machines see them as big business and are commercially driven; human feelings and desires are being exploited to make money. 

For example, let’s look at the porn industry — it is worth billions and PornHub received 81 million visitors per day in 2017 so it’s really no wonder this debate can feel like a losing battle when you’re up against those kinds of numbers and levels of addiction.

The ideas behind sex robots aren’t groundbreaking. It’s a reminder of the patriarchal system that constructs our society and reinforces relations of power that do not recognise women as fully human.

Kate Davis

No matter what creators and consumers claim about the harmlessness or social good of sex robots, they project male entitlement and what they believe women are good for; that sex is a thing men get from women or do to women, not something to be mutually enjoyed by two people. These robots don’t offer men ‘companionship’, they provide men opportunity for complete dominance. 

Sex dolls and sex robots may appear to be the ‘perfect’ woman or the ‘perfect’ lover, but they are not like women in a very key way – they have no voice. They don’t bleed, cry, vomit, feel pain, age and they don’t have memories, thoughts, feelings, desires of their own, and perhaps their biggest appeal to men is that they will never say ‘no’. How is it healthy to encourage a person to create a relationship with something that is so anti-human? 

We don’t seem to talk about love anymore. All we are doing is talking about robots and sex and not about people or love. However, for many, the most significant fear in life is never finding love. In a time when we can connect to people all around the world, why do so many people still feel so disconnected?

Perhaps we have shot ourselves in the foot by having so many choices readily available, or the illusion of them. Perhaps there is more we can do as people, as a society to find solutions to loneliness and unmet sexual needs, than just creating machines to replace us? 

There is a danger, however, that in this debate, we just end up blaming technology, but that isn’t always necessarily the source of the problem; it’s how we use it. If we talk openly and honestly about how to handle technology in our lives, we can better navigate the dangers out there, enabling us to form and sustain loving and healthy relationships. First and foremost we must think about and act upon the ethical problems behind robotics and artificial intelligence before it’s too late. 

I watched the film 8 mile for the first time a few weeks ago (stay with me here) and there is a pivotal moment in final rap battle scene between B-Rabbit (Eminem) and Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie). Eminem’s character adopts the ‘stealing thunder’ technique, which involves anticipating negative information and stories about him before the opposition chooses to reveal it first. By doing so, the negative impact is reduced or even eliminated. 

Rebel Wilson also uses this technique in Pitch Perfect by calling herself ‘Fat Amy’ so, in her own words, “twig-bitches like you, don’t do it behind my back”. These random movie examples do have a purpose. Recently I have been subject to negative backlash due to expressing my concerns about the development of sex robots and my involvement with the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Now, I am fully aware that I am far from the first person, or the last, to receive criticism and sexist remarks on social media opposing my views. 

Just “ignore them,” most people say to me. Although I do try, I would rather prepare myself and steal the thunder from social media trolls, as it all becomes rather predictable. For instance, “These women are stupid. Sex robots are fucking cool”, “Aaaah feminists who are ugly and unfuckable, or sex robots? Tough choice”, “What about vibrators? They are the same thing.”, “Men can’t tell feminists what to do with their bodies, but feminists are the first to tell men what to do with theirs” and “HAHAHAHHA”. 

In my opinion, these kinds of comments just underpin and validate all my concerns and further encourage me to continue doing the work I do and use my voice to raise my concerns about the future for human relationships and intimacy.