Bernadette Despujols "Love Dolls" & Raspberry Pistachio Breakfast Bread
Once, when I was in my early twenties, I went to a house party where a guy asked me if I was an actress. Feeling puckish, and not in the mood to engage in vapid flirtation, I told him that I had been in the horror-comedy cult classic Teeth (2007). The film is a modern retelling of the myth of vagina dentata (or “toothed vagina”). With its combination of the monstrous female archetype and male castration fears, I figured associating myself with Teeth would be a quick and effective turnoff.
As Teeth demonstrates, weaponizing female sex organs bestows women immense power: by threatening death or disfigurement to any unwelcome advances, they can decide exactly which people are granted intimate access to their bodies. The work of interdisciplinary artist Bernadette Despujols similarly seeks to destroy the objectification and commodification of female bodies in popular culture and society at large. For her series “Love Dolls” (2015–2018), Despujols produced concrete casts of inflatable sex dolls depicting various body types. The decapitated, amputated torsos resemble classical sculpture, while their vestigial plastic vaginas are a clear nod to the sculptures’ contemporary source material. The pink vulvas are presented in stark contrast to the stony gray material of the casts, creating a jarring contrast. The sculptures’ slouched forms confuse preconceptions about their materiality by maintaining the plump airiness one expects from inflated plastic, while simultaneously acknowledging the weight and solidity of the concrete. By reproducing the sexualized female body but making it impenetrable, the works imagine a ludicrous defense mechanism: self-petrification. The question implied here is, What circumstances would make this evolutionary development desirable? In a recent article surveying contemporary women artists who utilize notions of the grotesque, Tess Thackara writes that “the term is fertile, opening up a womb-like space for new ideas and ethical conundrums to accumulate—a conduit through which cultures can play with taboos and shift the parameters of mores and conventions.”
Despujols’s sculptures also tap into conversations happening now about the benefits and detriments of sexual substitutes. While the dolls employed for this series were the inflatable variety, used both for simulated sex and as gag gifts and props, the sex-doll industry has developed far beyond simple latex or vinyl. Today, companies like RealDoll, True Companion, and Abyss Creations have manufactured sex robots that incorporate touch sensors and artificial intelligence to give their customers realistic experiences, providing the option of “personality” traits ranging from enthusiastic to resistant. For just under $10,000, you can rape “Frigid Farrah” whenever you want. There isn’t yet consensus on whether this is a good or bad thing. Noel Sharkey, professor of AI and Robotics at the University of Sheffield, points out that “some people say it’s better [to] rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”
This uncertainty, regardless of where public opinion may land on the matter, disregards the fact that rape and sexual assault are by-products of a society that routinely objectifies, exploits, and dehumanizes women. We don’t need safe outlets for rapists or more defensive technology for women, we need to teach everyone to respect all living beings. By negating their original purpose as submissive human substitutes, Despujols’s dolls offer a steadfast rejection of any abusive advances. Though vaginal teeth or the ability to turn to stone aren’t abilities human women possess, we all can—and ought to—continue calling attention to acts against individual safety and dignity, whether they’re blatant or unintentional.
Raspberry Pistachio Breakfast Bread
While I was writing about Despujols’s work, I couldn’t help thinking about how misunderstood the female reproductive system is. This also made me think about the ridiculous and often harmful existence of the “female hygiene” industry. Products like douches and scented tampons completely disregard the fact that the vagina is a sophisticated self-cleaning system that, for the most part, can take care of itself. So, in honor of this capitalist holiday that commodifies the notion of romantic love, I decided to bake an ode to one of the vagina’s most wonderful qualities: vaginal flora.
The healthy human vagina hosts a variety of microorganisms, most of which are of the genus Lactobacillus. Another vaginal resident is the yeast Candida albicans, which also lives in the human gut. High levels of C. ablicans can result in a vaginal yeast infection, but it is usually a commensal organism: it benefits from living inside humans without harming them.
To celebrate balanced microbiomes, this recipe sits delightfully between categories of sweet and savory, bread and cake. The tartness of the raspberries brightens the overall flavor, and the fluffy, yeasty dough is fantastically moist and flavorful. I like it toasted with a bit of butter, but if you want extra sweetness, jam would be great too.
This is a tweaked version of the King Arthur Flour Pear and Cinnamon Bread recipe. Mine didn’t rise as much as that recipe suggests, probably because I used milk instead of water and loaded it with nuts. A fine compromise if you ask me.
For the dough:
330 grams Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
25g turbinado or Demerara sugar
1 teaspoon salt
170g lukewarm milk (I used whole)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the filling:
50g turbinado or Demerara sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/4 cup crushed dehydrated raspberries
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
28g unsalted butter, softened
For the egg wash:
2 tablespoons water
Make the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.
Mix for 2 minutes; the dough will begin to come together but still be somewhat stiff.
Knead until the dough becomes more cohesive and forms a smooth ball. It should feel pretty elastic and stretch (rather than break) if you pull it apart. If the dough is too wet, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled.
Make the filling:
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, nutmeg, and raspberries.
Chop the pistachios and set aside
Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
Roll the dough to a 15 x 8 inch rectangle on a floured surface with the short side facing you.
Spread the butter over the dough, leaving 1/2 inch of the far edge uncovered. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the butter, then scatter the pistachios over the dough.
Roll up the dough along the short side, pinching the edge to seal.
Place the roll in the pan, seam side down.
Cover and let rise for 40 to 45 minutes. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Beat the egg and water together to create the egg wash. Brush the wash over the top of the loaf.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If it looks like it’s browning too quickly, cover the top with foil after 30 minutes. The bread is done when golden brown and the center reads 200°F.
Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool it in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Then remove the bread from the pan and let it cool completely (or mostly) before slicing.