Extremist Sites and Rape Porn: Fear and Disgust and our Mindless Reactions

Mr Cameron is targeting websites which show videos and images of rape – whether they claim they are ‘simulated’ or not.

The prime minister has previously attacked websites which show the material, saying: ‘These images normalise sexual violence against women – and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them.’ (“Rape Porn,” Metro.co.uk)

My response:

Mr. Cameron: these sites do not normalize violence against women. If they normalized it, people wouldn’t find it erotic. It’s erotic because it’s transgressive, i.e. not normal. And if  you really cared about what is poisonous to young people, you’d reconsider issues of school fees and student loans. Because ignorance, Mr. Cameron, is far, far more poisonous to young people.

 

Fear and disgust are deeply wired mechanisms. Visceral reactions to the things we don’t like, things that scare us. I don’t deny anyone their right, as a human – as an organism – to react, to recoil, to turn away from the things in the world that trigger these reactions.

It’s the very common secondary knee-jerk reaction I object to: the equally almost instantaneous, equally mindless need to quash, kill, stifle, smother or ban the object of disgust or fear. And I object to a media that almost wholly validates this secondary reaction. They revel in it, they profit from it, they luxuriate in the serve and return of irrational spectacle that erupts from it.

I’ve spent many years, as a writer, creating stories that attempt to interrupt the mindless snowball that can result from that first reaction of disgust. I don’t want to make my readers like something they find disgusting. I just want to encourage them stop and consider what lies at the root of that fear or disgust, and consider what is really going on, in them, at the moment of that reaction. I try to do this as responsibly as possible, while still respecting that my readers are intelligent adults.  I know I am going to offend and lose some of them. I know that some are going to plunge unflinchingly forward. What really interests me are those readers on the edge of the fight or flight knife.

I wrote the short story “Click” for this purpose. I don’t ask my reader to see the protagonist in a sympathetic light, although some might. I don’t ask people to be turned on by the non-consensual sex in the story, although some will be. Others will be instinctively disturbed and disgusted by it. It’s not a story that romanticizes or eroticizes rape or excuses it. And I’d have to wonder at the ethics of anyone who doesn’t find the story at least a little difficult to read. It was certainly difficult to write.

All I wanted to do in that story is carve a moment of thought, a minute of silence and consideration, for the complexity of the chain of events and for the readers own instinctive, emotional reactions to them. No one in their right mind would excuse ‘Carl with a C’; he’s a rapist. He’s a miserable, fucked up man with a mountain of existential anger that makes him dangerous and cruel. But I did want to invite my reader to pause and consider how he got there. Not to forgive him, just to understand.

Let me be really honest: I don’t like ‘rape porn’. I don’t like porn much, period. I can see how, for many women and men, rape porn might trigger a visceral, instantaneous reaction of disgust. It might even trigger both arousal and disgust. But the fact is that this is NOT REAL. The actors are consenting, the sex is consensual. The ‘rape’ part of rape porn is a fiction. And in the very few instances where what is offered is a documentation of a real crime, there are plenty of existing laws to prosecute that.

I understand this, and still I don’t like it. I think visual rape porn is problematic. Unlike text, which requires the reader to actively construct the imagery in their minds and by its nature engages whatever filters the reader requires, still and moving images are mentally processed differently. Those filters and that active participation are not required in the same way.

And so… I don’t watch it.

Yup. That’s it. I. Don’t. Watch. It.

Simple as that.

No need to make laws. No need to ban it.

If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

If you do watch it and are shocked or disgusted or offended. Please feel free to be, and pledge never to watch it again. You don’t need to go that extra step and ban it just because you have a visceral reaction to it. Your urge to ‘keep the world safe from it’ is not a rational one; it’s a product of your very valid, very unreasoned visceral reaction. Yes, yes, I know it may FEEL like you need to stop the rest of the world from seeing it. But you don’t.

And just before you grope for another justification to ensure the thing that just disgusted you is never seen again by anyone, I’d like to remind you that there are a lot of heterosexuals who have this exact same reaction to homosexual sex.  And no, I’m not equating gay porn with rape porn. I’m simply pointing out the problem. Our visceral knee-jerk reactions of disgust are uncontrollable. How we act upon them IS controllable, and we should act based on real threat, not imagined threat.

 

There is no significant data to argue that porn of any sort causes rape. There is, however, significant evidence that fictive, eroticized rape serves as a metaphor for a host of very complex psycho-sexual issues. I’ve got a post coming on that.

 

  6 comments for “Extremist Sites and Rape Porn: Fear and Disgust and our Mindless Reactions

  1. korhomme
    November 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Cameron and Obama make an interesting, contrasting pair. His response to the ‘rape porn’ problem does seem, as you say, like a knee-jerk; this appears to be his default modus operandi. A few months ago, Cameron was all for bombing Syria, but was stopped by a parliamentary revolt. Obama went and thought about it, and decided not to bomb. It looks to me as if Cameron is a ‘fast’ thinker, and Obama is a ‘slow’ one. Cameron likes to present himself as ‘tough’, though if he has a unified political philosophy it’s well hidden; Obama gets criticised (from the political right) for his empiricism and lack of rapid action. I know which one I’d prefer.

  2. November 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    RM,

    I guess all you read from me is compliments. Here’s another.

    I am NEVER intimidated by those smarter than myself, I love to surround myself with them. I hope some of that gloss of wit will pass by osmosis into me.

    I love the way you never talk down to an audience. Keeping the message simple, so that the greatest number will get the bullet-point you are trying to make. That is politics, not argument, discussion or rhetoric-the beautiful passing game begun in Rome.

    No, you challenge the reader. I gotta read and then read again. Make sure I got it good.

    I’m not saying I agree with every word of the current article, I am deeply concerned by some modern male attitudes towards relationships with females. Then, I am an old man who was born something akin to Lancelot-something modern feminists would find equally as vile as the former.

    You challenge to examine how and why I think. Double-digging the soil of the brain, then adding the compost to nourish the tilth.

    The writing is as sparse as Alistair Cooke. Not many wordsmiths are graced to hold that pen.

    Good stuff, RM. Ra, RA!

    brendan

    • November 28, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      Thank you for the compliment and taking the time to read.

      I agree with you. I’m very worried about attitudes to women. I just think that the root of these attitudes don’t like in anything sexual, but rather that we are all being taught to treat each other like commodities and view every interchange as a transaction. Porn is not what has brought us here, but a belief that everything in the world has a price, can and should be marketed, and that there is no value beyond the quantifiable sort. I am equally disturbed by the attitudes towards men.

    • TFP
      November 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Well said Brendan, well said…

  3. November 28, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    This “secondary” knee jerk reaction seems very much like a sweep it under the carpet mentality…even if it is banned, it will be found by those that want to find it. I have found that it is often those that protest too much over something, that are the ones that enjoy it the most. Maybe Cameron is a secret fan of rape porn?….who knows…he might be another politician to be found alone, hog tied, orange in the mouth and a belt around his neck?!
    I do like your point about, if you feel as though you will be offended by it….then do not watch it…it makes sense and is so simple…it makes me wonder why others have not considered it?!

  4. David
    December 8, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Have to agree with your comments. As someone who grew up in the late 70′s , I thought by now that there would be gender equality and a more liberal outlook towards sex and sexuality. Unfortunately that is not the case.
    There seems to be a new Puritanism flourishing which encourages a backward step in our thinking.
    I thought that the internet would give a freedom that people would be allowed to explore. This freedom is quickly being eroded. Making it more difficult to have full and frank discussions about all aspects of sex and erotica.

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