In 1977, in “The Arrangement Between the Sexes,” the sociologist Erving Goffman put forward the hypothesis that, in each society, male-female relationships are codified in such a way that they maintain a social order—typically an asymmetrical one. He argued that “gender stereotypes”—which he equates with “beliefs… about masculinity-femininity”—are “in close interaction with actual gender behavior,” basing his remarks on analyses of a wide range of practices: seduction rituals, chivalry, separate toilets, the differential socialization of children, and so on. In all of these, he condemns the assumption that the (strong) man must protect the (fragile) woman—even from mice and spiders. While biological differences undeniably exist, they absolutely fail to explain these practices, which Goffman calls “arrangements.” Working from this starting point, he emphasizes their historical character. They are contingent, composite, and can even function as mirrors for resistance to norms. Indeed, gender stereotypes reveal changes in society and the contradictory currents running through it. In the hands of certain actors, these stereotypes can even become tools for breaking down the gendered order—which is shown by the unusual case of love dolls.
Love dolls (rabu dōru) are produced by a niche artisanal industry, with around a dozen companies sharing the market in Japan. The attitudes of these realistic dolls—which are produced to be life-size in order to serve as sentimental and/or sexual partners—are as puerile or idiotic as the customer wants…
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