Critics of feminism have said that my generation lives in a land of “post-feminism,” otherwise known as “the age of Enlightened Sexism.” With the attitude that the battle for women’s rights has been won, media has encouraged audiences to view sexism as a form of entertainment rather than a system of a oppression. As a result, misogynist messages in popular music and television shows are not considered a threat, and are tolerated rather than challenged.
However, this type of thinking is dangerous territory. I would love to be a post-feminist if we were indeed living in a post-patriarchal world. We’re not.
As a recent single who is quite attached to her iTouch for company, I recently came across apps in the iTunes store that exclaimed boldly, “You will never be lonely again!!” Entranced by the hefty promise I followed the link, wondering why my BBC news app had not informed me of this ground-breaking discovery. My excitement, however, was quickly squashed when I realized that I was looking at a product that was heavily laden with the same sexist principles and oppressive attitudes that had encouraged me to break up with my boyfriend in the first place.
The pocket girlfriend is a virtual application that digitizes the relationship experience, and works like the 1990’s “Giga Pets.” For those of you who (unfortunately) never owned one, they made the perfect pet. Mine was a cat, who required feeding, playtime, shots from the vet, and sometimes a spanking. Not only was it hours of fun for a ten year old, but convenient for my parents. There was no litter box, cat hair, or clawed sofas; and, likewise, the Virtual Girlfriend never gets PMS, is disagreeable, or has an individual thought for that matter. Like I said, the perfect pet.
Unlike the Giga Pet, however, the numerous Virtual Girlfriend apps are personalized for an individual experience. Users can take quizzes describing what they like in themselves and others, which will then pair them with the ideal woman. Stats keep track of how many girls you’ve “dated,” and jobs can be completed to earn money for gifts and dates. Other apps provide only one woman, but with a wider range of activities, which include feeding her lollipops, untying her bikini top to provide a “massage,” and, most disturbingly, shaking your device to throw her to the ground. Finally, a woman who you can abuse without facing a pesky domestic violence lawsuit.
Yet another type of app, known as “Touch Girl,” is more blatantly sexual. This features a scantily clad blonde on a blue fur bed spread, who responds to your “touch” by sensuously moving around and touching herself. Rub her stomach and so will she, but careful! Leave her alone too long and she will fall asleep.
As a feminist, it is easy to look at Apple’s offerings and scream misogyny. However, straight men are not the only targeted demographic, as demonstrated by pocket boyfriend apps such as “Jake the Jock.” “Tired of your boyfriend not paying attention to you?” the ad asks. Jake is only $1.99 and “You’d swear he was alive!” While the same levels of commands are not available, the app is voice synthesized and relays messages like, “You are beautiful” and “I was wrong, again.”
According to Apple, patriarchy is not dead – in fact it is alive and well, and residing with it’s good friend heteronormativity, who works to perpetuate heterosexuality as the norm. The apps are for fun, games meant to be played between class or on the subway, but the message they send speaks a lot louder than an undergraduate feminist like me ever could. They serve as an example of the type of entertainment our culture prescribes to and deems appropriate. But what happens when the young man addicted to this type of gaming decides to pursue a relationship with a real girl? Will this type of influence breed young men who think that “get me a beer” or “bend over and touch your toes” are appropriate methods of communicating with women?
The apps create a cultural climate that informs it’s inhabitants that men enjoy power privilege over women. While apps like Jake the Jock may appear to place this same level of control in a woman’s hands, it is only an illusion. Jake’s marketability comes from the fact that he serves as a marker of male approval, reinforcing to women that this is an important aspect of their lives. It sends the message that a male exclaiming a woman’s beauty is the ideal source her confidence, not her accomplishments or intelligence.
In explaining this concept to my male friends, my dildo has already come up as a comparative “synthetic option.”While I agree that dildos, when used correctly, produce a so-called “artificial orgasmic experience,” there is a key difference, for my dildo has never attempted to speak for men. It does not provide me with examples of how men should use their bodies to portray sexuality, nor has it ever provided me with a touchstone as to how I should view my own societal status.
Clearly, many of the same issues that faced our suffrage grandmothers and sexual revolution era mothers still exist in the technology age today. While the game has changed, literally, the new dynamics do not suggest that the battle for equality has been won. Rather, sexism and gender role expectations have adapted over time, evolved, and are still infiltrating our culture and sub-consciousness. Oppression has grown more adept to camouflage and finds increasingly cleaver places to hide. Now, thanks to Apple, it can reside in your pocket.