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AI "girlfriends": male emancipation at last?
Robot partners won't free men from desire
There’s been a lot of chat recently in the ether about the prospect of AI becoming so advanced it could offer a convincing ‘girlfriend experience’. The pseudonymous author Delicious Tacos put it in characteristically brutal fashion:
Tacos imagine that what men want from women will just be available in purer and less labour-intensive form from digital simulacra, rendering human women a kind of niche interest for hobbyists.
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My sense is that there’s a subset of the online masculinist Right for whom this is unambiguously a good idea. Many in such quarters perceive the contemporary world as intolerably feminised. From this perspective, all of modern life is pervasively imprisoned in what the pseudonymous Bronze Age Pervert calls ‘the longhouse’, which to say a lifeless, de-vitalised, future-less communal existence, stiflingly policed by dour, ambitionless, ugly women in service of endless self-replication stripped of uniqueness, heroism or valour.
Some who embrace this perspective view modern, high-tech atomised life as infinitely preferable to one that’s interdependent with (a condition often perceived as subordinated to) women:
I can see how someone with this mindset might perceive an ‘AI girlfriend’ as genuinely emancipatory for men - on the basis that it liberates men from their ancient vulnerability to sexual desire for women, and all the chaos this can produce.
I’m not male, so I can’t speak to this personally, but this sense of vulnerability is not just matter of observation among men of my acquaintance but a theme that recurs across cultures and throughout mythology. Consider, for example, the Greek legend of the Judgement of Paris, where the mortal Prince of Troy was tasked by Zeus with deciding which of three goddesses - Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite - was the most beautiful.
As famously painted by Rubens in the image above, Hera promised Paris power: all of Asia at his feet. Athena promised him wisdom and victory in battle. Aphrodite promised him marriage to the most beautiful woman in the world. Did he choose power or wisdome? Nope. In perhaps history’s most notorious case of thinking with his dick, Paris chose Aphrodite, setting off a ten-year war in the process. Whoops.
Or think about Lancelot in Arthurian legend: the perfect knight, flawless in every way - except in succumbing to mutual sexual attraction with Guinevere, the wife of his liege lord, and in the process bringing about the fall of the Round Table.
It’s not hard to see how, to someone raised in the modern era to prize self-containment, this might feel like a significant strategic vulnerability. One, in fact, arguably every bit as severe as women’s vulnerability to accidental pregnancy.
And it’s currently asymmetrical. As I argue in Feminism Against Progress, women have since the mid-twentieth century been able largely to escape that vulnerability via a tech innovation: the Pill. This has brought a huge number of emancipatory downstream benefits for women: it’s not a coincidence that women began entering education and public life in large numbers after the Pill was legalised. But it also threw an existing settlement between the sexes radically out of whack.
In effect, the Pill eliminated a significant way in which women were previously vulnerable to and dependent on men in the field of sexuality. Very reductively, the pre-Pill order viewed women as holding a monopoly on sexual access and men as holding a monopoly on resources, with the two sides precariously held together via the institution of marriage - especially romantic, companionate marriage. Post-Pill, though, this has been slowly coming apart.
Women, again very reductively, just don’t need men in the same way any more. Meanwhile, men remain as in thrall to desire as ever. We can argue the toss about whether this is objectively the case across all metrics, and there are plenty of counter-examples. But there’s a subset of men who see women apparently flourishing alone, while they languish professionally and personally - while feeling as burdened as ever by desire for the opposite sex.
The second-order effects of this one-sided emancipation are tremendously complex, but one of its facets is a growing body of men rejected as potential partners by the same women who now out-compete them in the workplace, while dismissing any associated male distress or resentment as “a social pathology of aggrieved entitlement and misogyny”. And my hunch is also that it’s partly this asymmetry that fans the flames of online masculinist resentment about “the longhouse”.
Can “AI GF” rebalance the scales? I can see how such men might see a computer-generated “girlfriend” as offering a way out: something to point that desire at, which doesn’t then use it to wield power over you. But whether it would work out that way in reality is another question. After all, having a ‘relationship’ with an ‘AI GF’ wouldn’t liberate those who embraced it from the grip of their desires - it would just displace dependency from another human onto a set of codes, servers, visualisation technologies and the like. It’s far from clear to me that anyone seeking to escape vulnerability to human women via an ‘AI GF’ would actually be any more emancipated. He’d just have offered up the ancient male sexual vulnerability, expressed in the story of Paris and Aphrodite, as business opportunity for a software company.
I suppose one might argue that if your erotic interactions with women are already commodified via OnlyFans, or some other outpost of the now-endemic online sex industry, the idea of having your libido strip-mined for profit by Big Tech rather than a cam girl isn’t really a difference in kind. But imagine being dumped by a software glitch, or a power cut - like the Japanese man who ‘married’ his ‘virtual girlfriend’ but can no longer communicate with ‘her’, as Gatebox, the software that produced the illusion he ‘married’, is no longer supported.
If there’s a way out of this mess of competing rejections, and competing bids for tech-enabled ‘freedom’ from the mirroring ways that men and women need one another, my hunch is just telling men to go to therapy, man up, etc etc ain’t it. Change will take willingness on both sides to embrace greater vulnerability.
And if the tech transition that freed modern women from dependence on men was the Pill, then (as I also argue in the book) one means for women to express solidarity with men, and a desire to live interdependently with men, might be in rejecting that technology. I’ll say more about this in future posts, as this one’s already long enough. But a woman-led backlash against the Pill is in fact already happening, albeit for now (overtly at least) from a health and wellbeing rather than a pro-relationship perspective. It’s a minority phenomenon at present, but my gut feel is it’s a significant trend, and one with considerable potential for the pro-human defence of interpersonal connection, and especially of interdependence between the sexes.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to leave a comment. And for a bit more on the Pill as the first transhumanist technology, check out my recent short talk at UnHerd on this topic, as part of a debate with transhumanist author Elise Bohan.
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