On its face, one of the newest NFTs (non-fungible tokens) on the Ethereum network is innocuous enough: Avatars of women, each adorned with differing hairstyles, makeup and clothing, gazing ahead with a neutral expression. But then you realize the NFTs are dubbed “Meta Girlfriends,” and the underlying philosophy of the project becomes a little clearer.
“Meta Girlfriends represent the mature side of NFT Art,” the homepage boasts. “They are randomly generated using over 600 traits, across 20 categories, to guarantee each one comes with a unique personality.”
Meta Girlfriends debuted in November, with a goal of minting 10,000 NFTs, doled out at the current cost of 0.08 Etherium — just around $250, as of the moment I’m typing this. So far, there’s only been 1,642 NFTs minted, but the brand is pushing for greater visibility and has quickly gained a following on social media (it has 10,000 followers on Twitter since logging on in September).
Why “mature”? Because, as the site explains, Meta Girlfriends are intended to be “fully clothed” and only visible “from the waste [sic] up” in public view — but everything comes off in the “Members Only” area, where you can view her “full body” and “private NSFW content” as the owner of the NFT.
There’s a lot to unpack here: the bizarro gamification of NFT ownership to unlock softcore cartoon porn; the lusty, adolescent take on the female form; the mythology of “owning” and “customizing” a digital girlfriend. But most of all, I’m struck by the potency of the male gaze in a cryptocurrency world that’s dominated by a disproportionate number of men — and I can’t help but cringe at the metaphor Meta Girlfriends represents.
It’s not like there’s anything particularly groundbreaking or offensive about the aesthetic of Meta Girlfriends on its own. The notion of playing “dress up” with a sexy avatar reminds me of dirty Flash games from the mid-aughts, hosted on the NSFW corners of sites like EbaumsWorld.com. The big difference, of course, is that you’re not paying $250 when you take the clothes off of a busty digital cartoon on one of countless “porn game” sites that exist today.
Indeed, it’s the idea of ownership that makes Meta Girlfriends such an interesting referendum on finance-bro masculinity — and its creators aren’t shy about building up the narrative of “owning” a girlfriend intended to grow in monetary and sensual value over time. “Our goal is to create and promote value by holding onto your Meta Girlfriends. The longer you hold your Meta Girlfriends, the more private content you’ll gain access to. But should you want to break up with her, the royalties will help us fund additional private content and marketing to continue building value for Meta Girlfriend owners,” reads one statement on the NFT’s official Discord.
There’s a whiff of real-world misogyny that arises from the framing of this relationship, including the narratives of redpilled men who insist that women are all about sexual heirarchy and social currency, rather than complex human beings with independent needs. Meta Girlfriends also brags about being a “deflationary” NFT, meaning there’s a limited number of girls to go around — a number that will decrease over time by design.
Some users have already spent good money to buy multiple Meta Girlfriends and “combine them” in a program called the “Rainbow Room” to make a single unique NFT. This mechanism, along with other microtransactions to upgrade and tweak a Meta Girlfriend, have the goal of increasing each girl’s rank and rarity in traits.
Is this a smart way to increase scarcity and value? Maybe. But is there something unattractive about dudes getting off by controlling the female form through financial means? Also, maybe!
To be clear, there are women who own Meta Girlfriends NFTs, and the development team says that female artists have contributed to the project. But looking through its Discord server reveals a lot of men oohing and aahing over scantily clad illustrations, and taking pride in the fantasies each avatar represents (A typical comment: “My level 3 gf: Play bunny when going out, VR geek at home. Not bad!” one user quips on Discord.)
It’s also hard to ignore the fact that each “girlfriend” has Instagram-model proportions, with a big bust, a tiny waist and thick thighs. For all the options you get on customization, there’s nothing to change the proportions of this figure. Nor, of course, are there any “Meta Boyfriend” options in sight.
NSFW art has a long and storied tradition thanks to literary formats like manga and digital platforms like DeviantArt, which holds a universe of beautiful and bizarre works from the minds of men and women alike. But Meta Girlfriends sits at an uncomfortable intersection of female representation, male horniness and a questionable investment vehicle, all propped up by a craving for profits. It’s about the most on-the-nose creation one can imagine arising from a financial sector dominated by straight bros.
Beyond that, the absurdity of Meta Girlfriends just underscores some very real questions about NFTs, including what they say about the nature of late-stage capitalism and the value of everything, even an inherently worthless illustration on the internet, being commodified to the max. (Especially considering that crypto is pretty terrible for the environment, which is perfect for the climate crisis.)
It makes me think of a statement from software engineer and blogger Aleksandr Hovhannisyan: “The only thing that’s impressive about selling memes as NFTs is that people have managed to get away with it — that there are actually buyers out there who are willing to spend money on these sorts of things.”
NFT lovers, especially owners of Meta Girlfriends, may roll their eyes at this critique and see it as just another near-sighted attempt to purposely misunderstand NFTs, or even deflate their value. But by every measure, NFTs are an abstract plaything of those who either have cash to burn or simply are desperate to make a quick buck — and Meta Girlfriends feed off of toxic tropes about women in order to draw people into a community built on an illusion.
We’re watching NFTs stumble into major issues with fraud, money laundering and valuation crashes. But for now, none of that trumps the inherent importance of illustrated titties. Even ones that cost $250 to look at.