The Divided Bodies and Spirits : On Seeing Women As
In the Contemporary Age

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@collages by Ruiqi

Selling Virginity: The Contemporary Evidence of Female as Commodities  

Female trafficking is always a central topic in international discourses of migration and commercial sex. The Mekong area, especially Cambodia, is considered in a serious environment of this situation. In CNN Freedom Project of the Cambodian Mom Selling Daughter's Virginity, Kiu's mother said "They saw that I have a daughter, that's why they lent me the money. " (2016). In this case, a "daughter" seems to be like a deposit, a proof of asset, which is quite astonishing. This approach to mortgage revealed that virginity becoming a currency and collateral is assuredly happening in our era.

"Many Asian men, especially those over 50, believe sex with virgins gives them magical powers to stay young and ward off illness" says Chhiv Kek Pung, president of Cambodia's leading human rights organisation. Not only buying virgins, those men also "reserve" younger girls for the future by giving their mother monthly payment untill girls grow up into puberty. Those middle-aged elite men take the unsophisticated, poor and uneducated underaged girls as targets to satisfy their fetish. Male supremacy and female virginity, like the hunter and the prey, perfectly tied together.In the documentary How to Lose Your Virginity (2013), the narration described virginity as "pure、pristina、untouched, uncorrupted, innocent.....". Nevertheless, now those words seem no longer represented the typical femininities but show a kind of elite commodity value. Indeed, it is not about selling virginity itself, but a synonym of "all-female idiosyncratic products can be bought".

In John Berger's Ways of Seeing, he divided the male viewers and naked females into binary: passive and negative. "Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own. She is offering up her femininity as the surveyed" (Berger 1972 , 55). It's an imbalance of power. If one is on the submissive side, then another is naturally on the dominant side. Regarding femininity as commodities is essentially a manifestation of the loss of power in women's bodies. 50 years have passed after John Berger wrote this book, this standard of classification still appears to be realistic in the context of gender inequality today. It seems that from women's passivity to women's materialisation, and then to women's commercialisation, is just one step away.

The Segmented Body: Factory, Assembly Line and Production

In an endnote to the 2003 edition of The Managed Heart, Hoschild gave an example of a wealthy businessman looking for a young female personal assistant aged 22-32. There are the listed duties of his requirement: '1. Being hostess to my parties at home ($40 an hour); 2. Providing me with a soothing and sensual massage ($140)….(2003, 206). Hoschild refers to the conditions as ‘splintering' (ibid). This "splintering" divided female service into pieces. Hoschild's concept, the Emotional Labor, like a Rubik's cube, can be rotated into arbitrary patterns. So where is the knife that cut her up?

Chick culling told us the answer. It is the process of separating and killing unwanted male chick by asphyxiation and maceration. Such a screening technique is the first step which segregates the two sexes into valuable and worthless labels. It is the same principle with selling virginity. If virginity is an elite commodity, it may mean that the rest of the sex workers are a dross commodity. Just as a day-old male chick is a redundant commodity to a female, if only the hymen is the valuable part to their buyer, is the rest of her body destined to be discarded or shredded? After the culling, the chicks will also be finely divided into the legs, the breasts, the wings and so on. This kind of marketisation behaviour greatly facilitates consumers to purchase precisely the part of products they need. Women, too, are "priced" into every part of today's social environment. Those women seem to be in a giant factory system. Different parts of women turned into specific products. The hymen, the permission to her vagina, different services of the intimate relationship, and the uterus of surrogacy are all independent packed commodities. This commoditised subdivision turns the person into an object of an emotionless body. The useless parts are removed by an invisible knife.

Dr Ursula Biemann recounted how international sex workers make geographical transfers between borders In Remote Sensing (2003). She used data evidence on departure and arrival to traces those women's migration journal through scanned X-ray photographs and dense records of immigration. In the business landscape of such global capitalism, these women are like spirit labourers in a huge factory. They move like a kind of virtual servant, like blind spots. As a kind of disembodied product, They are always stripped of their identities and have their passports confiscated by the traffickers. Their personality is hidden, and they are carrying out various corporal work without their heart and soul. Things about them that might be inconvenient for buyers, such as their freedom, identification, ability to speak the language in a foreign land, were stripped out. They are divided, the division here is invisible, they are nameless, they are just a fluid body medium, a virtual electronic stream. "The existence of these women is marked by a constant mobility, their time is scheduled, their space is confined, civil rights and sexual governance are suspended" (2002). Like a chicken without head and feet, those women's low commercial value parts were all cut off in this vast production line. They are placed on a conveyor belt, put forward by electronic steps of the production but not by the free walking foot of themself. However, there is no arrival. In such a factory, the system is not represented by geographical aggregation but by gender as an invisible bond. In conclusion, depersonalised products on the assembly line are indeed trampling on the dignity of women.

The Replication and Deconstruction of Female Genital

The recent sex toy industry saturated with all sorts of bizarre products emerged for men.  More and more brands have de-masculinised their products for women because our tacit contemporary culture is always saying that female should please themself instead of needing a man's phallus and imagining that man is doing intercourse with us. But for men, the substitute vagina is getting more and more lifelike and portable in varying detail, shape and touch to reach their satisfaction. They essentially replicate female genitalia, a pirated version of a female sexual function, which is regarded as something very much separating women themselves.

I did some research on the websites where those toys are for sale. A few words are frequently used to describe as:  "soft pussy and ass" "pocket pussy” "original" "dominant position" "tight just like virgin".....The Pocket Pussy: Only the genital part of the body is reproduced, designed to be small enough to fit in a pocket just as women are objects to be carried around and pulled out only when it is convenient for a man to relieve his sexual desires. At the moment, male sexual desire is entirely unrestricted. Amplification, selective replication and fragmentation appear to be a kind of materialisation excluded from morality. There are more astonishing products. offers a combination of breasts and genitals. The breasts are placed directly above the genitals, and two hands are placed under the breasts, mimicking the position of the woman's maidenliness. Similarly, there is a specialised foot-shaped sex toy on It cuts off the vagina from the female body parts and then grafts them where the males' fetish is: the feet. even provides a cake-shaped product. An entire sex toy is like a cake, with seven holes placed side by side on the outside while each genital is designed in a different style. If the previous-mentioned is just a manifestation of objectification, what does that grotesque deconstruction of feet genitalia and vagina cake show?

These abnormal sex toys remind me of the Xanax girl in Dream Journal(2016-2019). There was one scene in which Xanax girl was in a kneeling position, her face embedded in the private area where the genitalia should be. From Rafman's work to the quirky sex toys, the common point is that the technology has vastly improved to satisfy the ultimate growing imagination, whether the technology is from manufacturing or CGI. If this fantasy can't be bought in real life, Then we can only obtain the enjoyment through purchasing virtual sensory products of replicas and CGI technology, and the deconstructive fantasy in this enjoyment constitutes the role of Viagra. Further more, the replicas of female genitalia made a legal way to evade censorship and satisfy the ultimate male fantasy. These products allowed perverted desires to be fulfilled without undertaking significant risks.

"In HBO television series, Westworld (2016), the androids become cyborgs once they are coded with reveries. Similarly, in Bladerunner (1982), the androids became cyborgs (partly humans) once they were endowed with mortality" (Alvarez, 2019). It seems that all of our manipulation of Androids conforms to ethics because they don't accord with the essential attributes of a human being. They are born to be tools for us. But nowadays, we are obsessed with discussing if the androids also own human rights after becoming cyborgs. In Westword, androids were created as a kind of unresisting labour to achieve human's sexual desire. The same situation happened with cloned genitals: sex toys served their male dominance in a silent way. In general, whether the customers should be criticised does not depend on what acts they inflicted upon the labourers who serve them, but whether the labourers have senses. Hence, our criticism towards the objectification of the female genitals is ignored under the powerlessness of replicas.

The So-called Feminism: Class Resonance

Often, the performance of the Girlfriend Experience in its productive-consumption, necessarily includes the gendered and racialised exploitation of lesser paid service workers: cooks, maids, nannies, waitresses, and drivers, who provide the foundation of her own exploitation, and the production of his class-experience. Sugar babies, much like house workers who employ "help" — use their own privileged wage to purchase the work of lesser paid working-class women — even if it is unavoidable and always concomitant with their own exploitation.
(Gonzalez and Troyan, 2016)

Not only men are the agent of exploitation, but also women are buying female productive commodities. According to Gonzalez and Troyan, the privileged wage is actually a kind of weapon to plunder the lower class. It appears that there is also a complex relationship of internal exploitation among women: Some women can pack the burden of the social reproduction work to other women. For the former, it was the power given by the free market(neoliberalism), so they could get out of the heavy housework through their predominant salary. Men consume women, women consume women, and this is a part that we tend to overlook.

This situation makes me query those various feminism movements in vogue: whether feminism is merely a kind of class resonance? They seem not to be working for the whole female society. On the one hand, they are resisting the patriarchal society; on the other hand, they are exploiting females as how males did the same thing, which is quite satiric. "An equal world will be one where women run half our countries and companies and men run half our homes. We will not rest until we reach that goal," Facebook COO Sherly Sandberg wrote in the spring of 2018. As a leading model of corporate feminism, what Sandberg calls for, is gender equality between a tiny minority of elite women and elite men. This scenario may seem like a kind of female awakening and triumph, but actually some kind of seeking of prevailing. Due to the relationship between exploit and exploited, the natural separation between women and women is also suddenly drawn open. We can say that the solidarity of the women's community is confined to the individual circuses. In the preface of Feminism For the 99 Percent, the author spoke my mind: "Feminism shouldn't start-or stop-with the drive to have women represented at the top of their professions. It must focus on those at the bottom, and fight for the world they deserve".


Upon completion of this dissertation, some new thoughts emerged in my mind. The initial incentive of research was to seek the current evidence of female characteristics as products in human society. However, during the process, I employed terms such as "they", "those", "them", "their "... in numerous occasions. My usage of "we" was almost non-existent. Once I did, I almost felt a stare coming from deep inside myself. Much like the phrase "male gaze" (Mulvey, 1975), except that I was not judging from the perspective of the males, but an attitude of "women like myself", gazing towards "women like them". Such 'gaze' differentiates from underlying sexuality (male gaze) to a kind of sympathy. "Them" is in the passive mode, it sort of serves as a separation between me and the women that were sold in those trades, as if I was overlooking from afar. This coincides with my previous view that women are not truly banded together solely for being women, but rather, 'compiled' according to social and economic classes. Even though I believe that my focus should lie with the bottom of the society, I am aware it is difficult to empathise as part of them genuinely.

Although I am still unable to provide my own so-called solutions. However, I believe that having the corresponding consciousness is the most important thing for the time being. In Westworld, cyborgs started to rebel because they had memory invaded inside. Memory gave rise to their immense pain, and henceforth, the drive to revolt. For me, the process of observing the previously-mentioned evidence of commodification is also the process of myself being 'coded with memory'. These women's memory coded into me and along with it was empathy which turned me from an "android" to a "cyborg". Carried with this consciousness, step by step I extracted how the commercialisation is hidden. Nevertheless, I do not intend to portray a miserable picture for the sake of launching criticisms towards men of the society, nor do I intend to simply criticise the exploitations towards women. But I want to give the promotion of awareness into these corners: We should think about what kinds of mood or emotion we are holding, we should pay attention to the threats around us and we should keep sensitivity for the living conditions of the others. Our rebellion should not only be rooted in our own "memory", but built based on the resonance with a whole female society.


                                                                                                                                                                           @Ruiqi Li 2021