“Virtual” Fuckery: From Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition to Electrocuting Your Virtual Slave

Posted: 06/01/2012 in Feminism

“But it’s Fantasy, no one is actually harmed” …..and why you’re an entitled apologist asshat if you even think this.

*Trigger warning for frank discussions of pornography and violence against women and children.

Whenever I start to involve myself in discussions of whether or not “entertainment” has a moral obligation to not glamourize violence and avoid explicit material, and whether or not it incites such behaviour in reality, I instantly think of the film Scream, specifically one of the final scenes where one of the killers screams at the intended victim “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!”

For all its simplicity and its intention of humour in the film, this statement seems to be at the crux of popular opinion – and legislation – on “freedom of speech”, particularly in the USA. Depictions of violence are “ok” as long as they’re not “real”, i.e. no real human being or animal was harmed in production. Outspoken opponents of this popular view are often portrayed as coming from what is deemed as fringe elements of society: right wing Christians, social conservatives, your grandma, and – horror of all horrors – radical feminists.

Before I sink my teeth in I want to explain my working definitions of pornography v. erotica:

Pornography: Material that combines sex and/or the exposure of genitals with abuse or degradation.

Erotica: Sexually suggestive or arousing material that is free of sexism, racism, and homophobia, and respectful of all human beings and animals portrayed.

Don’t mean to talk down to y’all, but these terms need to be concise.

First, I must start with a brief explanation of Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition (US lobby group for the porn industry). In 2002 the US Supreme Court sided in favour of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) and abolished two provisions of the Child Pornography Protection Act (CPPA). The FSC had filed a lawsuit against the government under the premise that these provisions obstructed the freedom of speech of pornographers (can you just hear the miniscule violin?)

Outside of the wonderful triumph of this ‘first amendment: pornographers have rights too’ edition, the reality of the amendment to the CPPA was that pornographers would now have the right to depict – through CGI – sexually explicit material involving the visual depiction of children. The previous CPPA provision stated that “computer-generated images virtually indistinguishable from real children in sexually explicit conduct” were illegal, thus with the abolishment of this proviso, pornographers are now free to use their top technology to make sure that the CGI images of children being abused and raped really do look as real as possible for your viewing pleasure. But it’s just fantasy, right?

Another aspect to the amendments is that the CPPA previously banned pornographic material of “any sexually explicit image that was advertised, promoted, presented, described, or distributed in such a manner that conveys the impression it depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct”: i.e. Role plays using performers of or over the age of consent, with one – usually played by a woman – depicting an underage child, through dress, the dialogue of the role play, and the use of baby voices and “childlike” resistance to the sexual advances of the male character or characters.

The amendment of the CPPA thus allowed for the free distribution of the “work” of renowned pornographer and all round skeezy-ass-if-I-met-this-sick-turd-I’d-punch-him-in- the-face-scumball known as Max Hardcore, who had sadly been oppressed until 2002. He could now freely and without hindrance make, distribute and publicly promote pornographic videos of him cock choking, asphyxiating, slapping, verbally abusing, pissing on, fucking, sodomizing, and spitting in the mouths of the female performers. If that wasn’t the enough, while the female performers are physically and emotionally enduring this torture, they also have to dress and act as minors. But it’s just fantasy, right?

So now I hear of this wonderful development in the online gaming world of Star Wars (original article here), where Sith aligned players all come fully equipped with a female slave that the player can abuse at whim AND victorious players have the ability to “have sex with” the wife of their slain enemy (can we just call this what it is? A virtual depiction of rape) in front of their slave. Now I can already hear cries in the distance of “but sexually explicit depictions of children are totally different from virtual she-slaves!!” You know what I say in return? You are an entitled fuckwit.

Again, the alleged issue is that this tortured virtual woman is not real, no actual woman is being harmed, so let’s say it again: IT’S JUST FANTASY, RIGHT?

No. One of the main weapons used by virtual/fantasy/film violence apologists is that research studies don’t find a significant link between increased depictions of violence and actual violence on the streets. Firstly, what would be significant? And secondly, these studies also don’t significantly show that depictions of violence DON’T impact real violence. Here also, I want to add a bit more context, because it’s needed. Am I saying that I want all violence depicted in popular entertainment mediums banned? No, I’m keeping my rant pretty much exclusively focused on pornographic, subservient, abusive depictions of women. Why? Because these fantasy tropes come loaded with historical background and are being positively reinforced.

Let’s face it, the majority of men are unlikely to ever be involved in intergalactic warfare and come into contact with aliens, I get it. It’s fantasy. They are however very likely to come in contact with women. They also live in a society that is, outside of fantasy and very actually, patriarchal. Women have and will continue under current circumstances to be told – as in the game – to “obey” a male. Women have and continue to be raped as an “act of war” by male victors.

*Sidenote*….Ummm…..where’s the fantasy in all this? If creators of fantasy worlds really have a no-holds-barred ability to create whatever they want, why don’t they imagine a world free of misogyny? Oh, that’s right, because the creators are predominantly male.

So, back to it. Creating a subservient female character that can be tortured reinforces the predominant culture currently oppressing women, and glamorizes acts of misogyny under the guise of fantasy. Of a more pressing concern than this, as in the case of pornography, is not the idea that glamorizing violence incites people to go out and commit “real” violence, it is the pure fact that by having such publicly, openly available depictions of violence against women – and creating those depictions in such a manner that a person can actively participate in virtual expressions of misogyny – misogynist acts become normalized.

The idea that one has the right to watch, participate in or sexualize – whether virtual or real – violence against another human being is one of the worst forms of entitlement. It desensitizes people to the fact that other human beings have the right to full body autonomy, sovereignty and agency. Women in our real world exist as slaves and as survivors of rape, male authority and abuse. Women also participate in BDSM activities, sometimes as dominants and sometime as submissives involved in slave/master role-plays. The problem is that fantasy worlds of this kind bypass what is so crucial to women in the BDSM context, their consent. Without that consent we go right back to the normalization of male authority, abuse and rape.

Now do I really think that guys who play this game and torture their virtual slave for more than, lets say, 10 hours a week will go out and attempt to torture real women? For the majority I’d say no, however I refuse to deny that engrossing ones attention, passions and psyches in such activities over a prolonged period will affect some aspect of ones thoughts and actions.

This is evidenced in what can be termed “the era of anal sex”. The porn industry is, economically, oversaturated, as such porn producers go to great lengths to depict something novel in their product. After the gradual reduction of censorship of pornography over the past 7 decades and its eventual mainstreaming, producers were running out of penis-in-vagina (PIV)“novelties”*. Therefore more and more pornography began including anal sex, as this trend grew within pornography an increasing number of men’s magazines began featuring articles on anal sex, such as “how to get it from your girlfriend”. As intrigue increased so did desire, which then mainstreamed to expectancy and a sense of male entitlement to perform the act. Now anal sex features in women’s magazines, encouraging women to “show their men they really care” by receiving it (sadly, no, they rarely talk about giving it…that would just be….what…gay?)

Now I’m not saying that anal sex didn’t exist before porn, that people never engaged in it, or that engaging in it isn’t normal. What I’m trying to say is that it has become normalized, studies show that many western men now feel that they are entitled to penetrating a women anally as part of regular sexual activity. Sexually active heterosexual men have historically always felt entitled to PIV sex, now they additionally feel entitled to PIA sex, because heck! It just looks so mainstream. Supply really can shape demand.

In porn’s never ending search for novelty it is now mainstreaming Ass-to-Mouth penetration (ATM), the threesome – now vanilla – has advanced to the increased popularity of depicting gang-bangs, double, triple, and quadruple penetration and bukkake. Unfortunately for them, women only have so many holes. So where is porn now finding its novelty? Increased violence and humiliation is mainstreaming. The porn industry has made it its mission to further push the boundaries of women as dehumanized objects of aggressive male sexual gratification, violence and abuse are now depicted not only hand in hand with sexual acts but as a normalized, natural component of it. Almost gone are the days when it was enough to call a woman a bitch, slut or a whore while pounding her doggy style before coming on her face to degrade her, now she needs to be choked, hit, urinated on and…..what’s that? Electrocuted!!!

Yes boys, that innocent Star Wars game is pure pornographic misogyny, it glamorizes and normalizes the abuse of women and I don’t give a shit if you think its okay because she’s made of pixels and not human cells. The Daily Mail (eurgh, sorry to source that) also recounts how message boards are filled with men boasting about how far they “pushed” the slave character (sound familiar?), how many virtual electric zaps they gave “her” despite “her” protestations. Yeah dudes, what a fucking triumph of glory.

So, I’ll ask again: Does participating this game or “virtual” anything mean that more men will commit real violence against women? Honestly, I don’t know. I am pretty sure that movies (—enter any mainstream entertainment mediums here) don’t create psychos, but I am also pretty sure that we don’t need the world’s psychos to be any more creative (I don’t wish to link to the story, but googling John Hauff will lead you a pretty explicit, enraging, upsetting example of this and plenty of rape/torture apologist discourse).

What I also know is that men, in their search for thrills, need to find a better fucking hobby than continually trying to push the physical and emotional endurance of women, real or imaginary, and maybe have some therapy to root out why it is they hate women so much. Just because I don’t think you’re going to turn into a rampaging psycho after logging in and playing, doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re a misogynist asshole. If you think CGI depictions of kiddy porn are wrong, then you should probably stop torturing your CGI slave. Is it the same thing? No. But it’s on the same fucking spectrum.

So, finally. It’s just fantasy, no one really gets hurt. That’s fine, except for it’s wrong. I get hurt, my mum gets hurt, lots of women get hurt seeing that there is no better entertainment for men out there than watching other women like us get hurt.

*Sorry I’m generalizing to cis-gendered, hetero, able bodied sex – mostly because that’s what I have experience with and see openly in the mainstream.

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