NSFW: Team Fortress 2 team sponsored by Fleshlight?

This article is labeled as NSFW because it contains frank description of sexual behavior. If you don’t follow the links, it’s probably OK depending on your work.

Sometimes something comes up in feminist and queer dialogue that totally throws me for a loop. I’m sex-positive and queer, so why does the news Team Fortess 2 team “rEJ”  have become team “fleshlight.co.uk make me feel so uncomfortable? To quote the press release:

The Division 2 team known as Red Eyed Jedis have announced today that the team have picked up a sponsorship deal with Fleshlight.co.uk. The team will now be known as simply “fleshlight.co.uk” from here on out. The sponsorship deal includes coverage for a server, with the possibility of future LAN support, should the team perform well under the new banner.

George “Poop” Duthie, one of the seven team members on the newly renamed fleshlight.co.uk team says:

It is about time that rEJ was supported by a well respected sponsor. The prestigious organisation known as fleshlight.co.uk, famously known for providing pleasure to many male clients, is now taking rEJ under its wing. With mutual reasons for combining our interests, we feel that a rare and innovative bond has been created. I only hope we can give them as much pleasure, as they do us.

Fleshlights are a male sex toy, basically an artificial orifice. Frankly, I find the things themselves pretty freaky, probably because they have a whole range molded on actual porn stars’ genitalia. On an aesthetic level I find this pretty creepy – it’s definitely in the uncanny valley region. The marketing itself doesn’t help either, I can’t be the only sex-positive person to find  this kind of marketing… just… skin crawlingly awful:

Goth Girl Next Door, Alt Porn Star, or just plain Gorgeous. Call her what you want, the mind-blowing Stoya is the newest Fleshlight Girl. With her light green eyes, silky dark hair, and milky white complexion, Stoya’s a tall, lean, all-natural girl that radiates sex from every orifice. That’s why Fleshlight and Digital Playground are proud to offer Stoya every way you want her.

This marketing to me heavily implies that Stoya (she’s about as famous as you get in the adult industry) is simply the combination of her orifices. What if I want a drink  and a movie with her first and a cuddle afterwards? I guess then I’d have to buy the Real Doll version (yes, that was sarcasm), but I digress.

Aside from the creepiness of the objects themselves, on a basic level I still find this combination of computer game team and such a blatantly male object uncomfortable. And I don’t even know why. Would it be weird to have a team sponsored by Viagra, say? I think much less so. Would a company that made vibrators sponsor, say, a knitting circle (I can’t think of anything else suitably stereotypically female), and would that be weird? I would find it kinda cool to be honest.

Maybe it’s that I’m ultra-sensitive to how androcentric gaming circles are, especially around the FPS scene. Perhaps the reason I feel so uncomfortable about it is because it seems to flaunt and celebrate the fact it’s an almost entirely male environment. Unlike dildos (which are unisex), Fleshlights aren’t much use to people without penises. As someone familiar with the sexism of the competitive games scene, perhaps I’m also worried that people will take Fleshlight’s marketing and message a little too seriously and start to see women as a collection of orifices to be used. It’s pretty well documented the effect porn is having on men’s sexuality. This kind of marketing where you’re encouraged to have simulacra of your favourite porn star’s bits (taking the linked porn discussions to a literal next level) is potentially a very worrying message to send out. Dildos cast from real penises (click ‘Real’) seem very differently described to me, for instance – they are described much more as tools (forgive the pun) rather than simulations. However, I think there’s a lot of things intrinsically right about masturbation, sex toys and aids and the discussion of sex and sexuality.

As an aside, much like other games, Team Fortress 2 itself has a large amount of amazingly macho marketing and no women characters in game (Pyro may be, Valve haven’t revealed yet). I don’t know if this is relevant. Aside from this, and the fact Fleshlights themselves creep me out (would I get one if it was aesthetically pleasing and didn’t look like a person? maybe?), I genuinely don’t know what I think of this. What do Border House readers think? Does anyone have any other examples of incredibly gendered objects being used in such a way?

About kimadactyl

Kim has been involved in genderqueer activism since 2003 or so when they finally found there were other weirdos like them. In the last few years they have been thinking a lot about race, disability and gender from the perspective of privilege (being themselves white, middle class and well educated). As a gamer it didn't take long to start getting really upset about the blatant and unapologetic homophobia, sexism, transphobia and racism in gaming. Kim is studying for a PhD in acoustic aspects of gender identity, and runs various Queer events in Manchester, England. Kim is also a website developer, working with Drupal; you can see their slightly out of date portfolio at alliscalm.net, or follow them on twitter as @kimadactl.
This entry was posted in General Gaming, PC Games and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to NSFW: Team Fortress 2 team sponsored by Fleshlight?

  1. Well I could see sex toys marketed at people with penises being a positive thing, but the problem here doesn’t look like it’s that it’s a sex toy so much as that it’s advertising it in a reeeaaaallly objectifying way. (Plus it’s totally being marketed at men right now, and they don’t have a monopoly on the penises… :\)

    I’d say the situation with this company sounds not unlike the situation with porn; while a large amount of porn is extremely problematic, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the idea if it were done well.

    And also it seems like looking at women’s analogs to the situation with the Team Fortress sponsorship might not be the best approach to understanding the situation. After all, there isn’t a history of sexism and oppression tied to the objectification of men.

    Like, seeing advertisements for a company built on objectifying women in a game is certainly going to contribute to a hostile atmosphere. Especially considering Team Fortress hasn’t seemed like the most gender inclusive environment in the past. I mean, I doubt we’d be any more comfortable if it were any other company that bases itself off objectification of women.

  2. Also a thought: if you are going to label an article as NSFW, it might be a good idea to put a break point in it so the whole text of the article doesn’t show up on the front page too?

  3. Cadistra says:

    I remember back when I worked at EB Games (Gamestop for you guys), we had this promotion where we gave out Shick razors. Being one of the two female employees there, I refused to give them out on the basis that they were sexist. “Well, obviously only MEN play video games, so why not have a manly shave with this free manly razor?”
    My friend (who was also the other female employee) actually emailed the head office saying why we were refusing to participate. They quickly changed their tune, and we were no longer required to give them out.

  4. Jayle Enn says:

    I think it’s tasteless, for the same reason that I’d think it was tasteless if the team changed its name to goldenpalace.com. I also think it’s a dumb stunt, meant to get their sponsor’s URI on as many gaming news sites and as many times as possible.

    But seriously, they’re doing this for the cost of a server rental and a very vague promise of ‘LAN support’ if they do well? These guys must be the drippings that gather at the bottom of the handle.

  5. Jayle Enn says:

    (Weird, it looks like the server ate my previous attempt.)

    I think it’s tasteless, in the same way that I would if they’d changed their name to goldenpalace.com. It frankly looks like a cheap stab at search engine manipulation, by getting their sponsor’s URI out on as many sites and as often as possible.

    I hope these guys aren’t supposed to be big or anything, because doing something like this for the cost of a server rental and a very vague promise of other things if they do well is really chump change.

  6. auntie says:

    while i can sort of see the argument that fleshlight sponsorship presumes a male audience, it feels like the actual point this post is making is that SEX TOYS ARE CREEPY WHEN THEY’RE FOR MEN, which is a pretty problematic double-standard.

    • I’m actually not entirely sure how you can read the article saying that. Could you elaborate on what makes you think that?

      • auntie says:

        text like this:

        “Fleshlights are a male sex toy, basically an artificial orifice. Frankly, I find the things themselves pretty freaky, probably because they have a whole range molded on actual porn stars’ genitalia. On an aesthetic level I find this pretty creepy – it’s definitely in the uncanny valley region. The marketing itself doesn’t help either, I can’t be the only sex-positive person to find this kind of marketing… just… skin crawlingly awful:”

        yeah, the marketing is gross, as is almost all sex toy marketing. but i can’t help feeling this post just keeps going on and on about how FREAKY and CREEPY and AWFUL fleshlights are. and they’re just a tool to get off. it’s a portable orifice, yeah. and a vibrator is arguably a portable dong, but that doesn’t mean a dyke who plays with one secretly wants a man in her.

        men, at least as far as concerns tool-aided self-pleasure, are sexually shamed like we are, and it’s weird to see this blog contribute to it. at least, it seems to me that a little of that is going on here. there’s some creepiness in the making and marketing of fleshlights, but there’s nothing creepy about using them, and i feel like whether this post is talking about one or the other is a little ambiguous.

        • Ultraviolet says:

          kind of. there’s one thing what’s said and another thing what’s emoted – it’s far from neutral on the toys themselves – your quote has marketing only as an afterthought and goes all ‘creepy, uncanny valley etc’ at the toys themselves.

    • Alethea says:

      I can see how an initial reading might leave you with the impression that there’s a double standard. I got that same sense as well, though I don’t think that’s kimadactyl’s intention. kimadactyl wrote that fleshlights are “creepy” (mainly because they are modeled after real porn stars’ genitals and marketed in a creepy “now you can have them to yourself!” way) but not that ALL male sex toys are creepy.

    • EmmyG says:

      I see absolutely nothing wrong with Fleshlights. (In fact, I find them more aestheically pleasing than many other penis-oriented sex toys)

      I don’t even see a problem with modeling them after particular people’s genitals. I have zero interest in such a thing, just as I have zero interest in a dildo modeled after a particular person’s penis, but wev.

      That line about “offering Stoya any way you want her” is a bit creepy to me, though, as it does seem to strictly define the woman as nothing more than a collection of disembodied holes. Of course, the marketing copy I would personally come up with (something about feeling a closer connection with her while watching her porn vids?) would likely creep out some other readers.

      I’m also a bit worried about the line in the article about the “well documented” effects of porn on men. To the best of my knowledge those effects are NOT well documented, they’re hotly debated. Good studies on the subject are hard to come by, and what studies exist have in some cases shown strongly positive effects from porn consumption. Certainly it has a painfully negative effect on some individuals, but that’s not the same thing.

  7. thefremen says:

    When I first read the headline I was like “oh my, why is this objectionable?” I was totally unaware of their full of fail marketing. Now I feel driven away from buying one, which is a shame since I am part of their target audience.

  8. Ultraviolet says:

    Nooo this really got me on warpath!

    I’m a woman – and they have my full support. If i have to choose between sex-positivity and affirmative action type PC – it’s sex-positivity without a trace of a second thought. Yes, where exactly i want to see dworkinism, the idea of ‘natural’, ‘deep, visceral reactions’ and shaming – open fire, high temperature environment, fetishy paraphenalia and all – is influenced by me having done sex work in my past. I do not see how it invalidates my view. It gives me an clear sight on target though :P

    First it’s the idea about male sex toys being creepy. Dis-missed. Eww factor? Deep feeling of wrongness? Discomfort? Observe the same about girl bits and periods or non-model bodies. Nice? Guess what, boys also have sexuality and a right to own it. More power to them. I didn’t think i’d see this happening in my lifetime. Sexual liberation is good both ways, shame breeds ugliness of the non-physical kind.

    Secondly, marketing? Of course it’s porn. What did you expect there, political readings? Guilliotine images? Flowers and birds? Surgeon general warning: using fleshlights leads to becoming a lonely pervert? I see, hiiiistoooory of objectivation – but guess what, people are people not even their own histories (i’d expect queer people with coming out experiences to understand, but obviously not the case), nevermind group histories. Oh and the idea about fleshlight being male only and useless to women and dildos unisex. If you say so. Some things are. But this is even not the case – Dildos are marketed to women even if technically they could appeal to men who are gay or otherwise into anal which btw – and these are marketed exclusively to men even if i guess facts are that being people with penis =/= men.

    Thirdly, realistic sex toys being creepy? I’m queer. And i’m sick of online queer women’s debates on the moral/political/whatever irrelevant aspect of realistic vs non-realistic sex toys. It’s what you like, end of. It’s that simple, rule one of everything sexual – if you don’t like it you have a right not to do it. Or alternatively, a fight is the only way to decide which toys are ‘right’. And this is a reboot of the useless debate, boy edition, v 2.0
    Oh yes – and being a non-realistic sex toy girl myself (apolitically – it’s just futuristic appeals to me) this makes me wonder if there would be a market for non-realistic fleshlights, with marketing images of girlie aliens and androids. Maybe you could even add LEDs for coolness. At a guess – hell yes. I’m poor, non-Western and can’t have a go at it sadly.

    And to top it off – it’s a male/largely male e-sports team sponsored not the game itself. It’s not a direct part of game marketing. It’s cute. In my opinion it’s a message to gamers that their sexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of. Admittedly it’d be sweet if girlie toy manufacturers or the like also decided to support a team.

    This is my opinion, i’m not saying it’s ‘right’, ‘good’ or ‘radical’ or whatever other synonym of ‘fashionable’. I’ve seen better stuff here on BH is all.

    • amouravski says:

      Hello! Long time lurker here who’s been too timid to post anything yet.

      As a genderqueer penis-owner feminist, I didn’t know how to respond to the things I’ve felt weird about in this blog post, but thank you to Ultraviolet for putting everything I’ve felt down in words. I think male sexuality is often ignored and I really like what Blake mentioned about expensive, unsatisfying, sketchy toys being the norm. I’ve been hoping for some kind of paradigm shift where male sex toys shift toward sex-positive while leaving behind the objectifying stigma that comes with the kind of bad marketing Fleshlight’s “real woman vulva” has. Thanks for pointing out Early to Rise! (http://www.early2rise.net/) – first link on Google is distinctly not about sex.

      I don’t really have much to add that hasn’t been said except that, while I think it’s great that Fleshlight is synonymous with male sex toys (in a similar way to Hitachi), I’m going to put my hard-earned dollars toward sex toys from non-objectifying businesses because I strongly believe in voting with your dollar.

  9. Ultraviolet says:

    oops truly sorry, bad edit – the last sentence in the third paragraph should read: ‘But this is even not the case – Dildos are marketed to women even if technically they could appeal to men who are gay or otherwise into anal which btw doesn’t amount to unisex – and these are marketed exclusively to men even if i guess facts are that people with penis =/= men.

    • Kaonashi says:

      I agree that there is a common ick factor to male sex toys and that it’s a shame. I also agree that it’s a good thing that men own their sexuality. But I wonder how the marketing of Fleshlights as realistic replicas of porn star orifices fits with that. It’s seems like it’s not just about owning your sexuality and making yourself feel good, but there’s an added layer of something else. If it was just about the fact that it feels good to stick your dick into something soft and squishy, why the realistic porn star orifices? I don’t expect they feel different to something like the toys companies like Tenga sells (Google them for some pictures of somewhat alien futuristic designs). Fleshlight is more than squishy silicone, and I’m not sure that extra part is something entirely good.

      • Laurentius says:

        “If it was just about the fact that it feels good to stick your dick into something soft and squishy,”

        Huh ? That kind of talk about mens sexuality ( or any sexuality for the matter ) -even as a metaphor- for me is just outright primitive.

        • Kaonashi says:

          I don’t mean that’s the whole extent of male sexuality. That’s just how it relates to this topic of male sex toys. I don’t see what’s primitive about this fact. Would it be primitive if someone pointed out that some people think it feels good to have a hard, oblong thing inside them? No, that’s an obvious part of it all.

      • Blake says:

        There are realistic dildos as well, including some marketed by the penis-owners they were modeled after. There is a sub-genre that attempts to get the texture right, and there are even DIY kits, such that a specific set of personal genitalia can be immortalized. So it’s not so out of the ordinary (though there has certainly been discussions in feminist circles for a long time about such toys, with a preference expressed for toys looking like dolphins or goddess figures. Recent trends seem to be in iconic, stylized versions, but the realistic ones are still out there and popular.)

        In general, I think destigmatizing sex toys for men is an excellent and feminist aim, as it correctly removes responsibility for straight men’s satisfaction from women. The complaints I’ve heard about Fleshlights are very similar to the complaints I heard about early dildos: hard to clean, poorly designed, expensive and unsatisfying. I know that the online shop Early To Rise has a wide variety of better engineered toys already. Part of the issue is the adult products industry: they seem to believe that their customer base wants sketchy, tasteless products and stores.

        Now, whether sex toys have a place in gaming; that is an entirely reasonable question. I wouldn’t expect an all-women team to be sponsored by The Rabbit either, but I much prefer this to gaming teams sponsored by Playboy ( http://www.tomsguide.com/us/playboy-esports-blizzcon-cosplay-booth-babes,news-8845.html ).

        I wouldn’t personally find it alienating because I do think sex toys are positive forces in the world, but I can understand the argument. Also, I do kind of wish Early To Bed/Early To Rise would sponsor a team ;-) There is enough sexuality in video games that I wish there was more positive, empowering sexuality for people of many genders and sexual orientations.

        • EmmyG says:

          (complete tangent!) I do not have a penis to try these things out, but while I admire the aesthetics of the fleshlight (Don’t ask me why, I just find them cute) the “Flip Hole” sounds more practical and easy to clean. And at least in the marketing I’ve seen, is generally pushed as a high tech cutting edge COOL DEVICE rather than tacky trashy stuff or as a pretend-woman.

    • Maverynthia says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female sex marketed as “fuckable” like they did for the fleshlight. The one’s I’ve seen go for the features aspect and not try some personified approach to it. The the fleshlights once again objectify women and rule them down to the only parts that “count”.

  10. Neut says:

    I’m with Jayle Enn on this one. If all they’re getting out of this is the cost of a server rental and “the possibility of future LAN support, should the team perform well under the new banner”, then they’re being played for suckers.

  11. Kaonashi says:

    The macho in TF2 is very much satirical. It’s part of stylized and exaggerated characters, and presented in a humoristic form that is crazy and fun, but not in any way as something to be admired or emulated. The Medic is an archetypical sadistic German with a bonesaw and funny accent, and the Heavy class is a bumbling Russian who loves his big gun. It might not be be a radical feminist revolution, but it’s not a serious monument to machoness either. TF2 can’t be compared to all the games that are actual, uncriitical celebrations of machoness out there. Playing the game is quite different from these others games, with fewer sexist teenage douchebag griefers and better opportunities for casual or new players. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to try an online team-based fps.

    However I do agree that it’s a shame that they’re all men though. I guess there are more strong archetypes to base male characters on, but with designers as brilliant as those of TF2, I’m sure it wouldn’t be much of a problem. In fact, TF2 genderswaps is quite a popular theme for fanart though, and some of it is very good with female versions every bit as fun, crazy and stylized and the men. It would be very interesting if TF2′s creators would create an official female lineup.

    As for the Fleshlight business, I agree that it’s shady. The clan seems clueless at best. Male sex toys is a tricky subject. Ridicule and prejudice is a risk even for tasteful sex toys, but seeing the marketing for Fleshlight I can’t help to feel that some of the negative feelings are well deserved.

  12. rho says:

    I’m not sure what to make of it either, but I really enjoyed this post. I think that examining things that aren’t cut an dry, and trying to make sense of our reactions to them is often more instructive than looking at the more blatant and unarguable cases.

  13. Ultraviolet says:

    No i never said the marketing was ok. the overwhelming majority of porn is seriously effed up – and fleshlight marketing is a very typical example of that. Problem is, they’re a major brand and probably the only men’s sex toy brand to gain any place in mainstream culture. I’ve seen lots of everyday references and am aware they exist and and since i haven’t got the equipment i haven’t looked – so i don’t know others. Taking down such a mainstream media presence might set things back much more than fix them. After all social conservativism thrives on repressing sexuality, putting up appearances and ridicule – and advancing that nightmare would really bite back at everyone, men and women.

    I don’t think that gives the fleshlight folks a free pass to do whatever. They rightly deserve criticism – but not in the way of judging and pressuring the sports team. TBH i’ve seen things worse in progressive bookshops – we all know there are things which being replaced with crude, insensitive and primitive porn would be an improvement. But taking the shops down would clearly do more harm than good.

    And for the record i don’t feel objectified by the existence of fleshlights. I suspect men do have a degree of intelligence and do not buy these to replace women. If i was the pornstar – i probably won’t either, after all lifelike depictions of the bits is a major focus in all porn as we know it.

    and for some laughs – in connection with the topic i got sent a link, thereifixedit.failblog.org – the achievement in question is on the page 2 or 3. thought i would share.

    • Kaonashi says:

      Thank you for the clarification. I agree with what you say. The view of sex toys for men could definitely be better, and maybe the mainstream position of Fleshlight can help.

  14. KA101 says:

    Agreeing with the OP. Fleshlights are rather more objectifying than necessary to stimulate a penis; I’d heard of generic vulvas and am disappointed to hear of the shift to replicating real people’s parts*. Problem is that the marketing continues the consent-bypassing trend: we still have men being permitted, if not encouraged, to think of women as existing for men’s pleasure, regardless of whether a particular woman wants to work/play/sex/whatever with a particular man. Cf. the Ar tonelico discussion about Reyvateils’ lack of ability to determine their clothing and which songs to sing, or whether to sing at all.

    *Dildos modeled after real people’s parts have the same immediate problem, but without the cultural narrative encouraging the use of penis-having people’s parts for pleasure the problem is several orders of magnitude smaller.

  15. Ultraviolet says:

    no, i don’t see there is a problem with realistic toys full stop. even teenagers nevermind adults are aware the toy is not a person. and control over wheter someone uses a toy for their pleasure, and what shape it is – is a plain totalitarian desire.

    • KA101 says:

      I read your reply to hold that people will not permit their sex toys to alter their perceptions of those around them, particularly their standards of attractiveness & demands for satisfaction thereof. Suffice it that I do not share that confidence in humankind, especially men. I’ve gotten used to the idea that we’re creeps; am working against that fact but I imagine that I won’t live to experience it change.

      [As implied, I'm a cis male. Probably het; never had a partner and likely never will.]

Comments are closed.