Have we created a monster? – On #MeToo, FiftyShades and more

Last month, every time I turned on the TV or read the news on the internet, there was some new sexual abuse or harassment scandal being plastered on my screen.

Last year it was the Church of England. Then it was Hollywood. Then it was the Olympics gymnast doctor scandal. Then it was #MeToo. Then it was that Aziz Ansari story. Then it was the President’s Club.

The scale of this uncovering has been huge.

I’m all for evil being exposed, because that’s the only way to be rid of it. But some of these incidents are not all that clear-cut. When lines get blurred, the real evils and injustices become harder to tackle. Worse, we end up preoccupied with the symptoms of a broken system, instead of tackling the root.

Let’s take the Aziz Ansari story, to start with. If you don’t know what this is about, a young woman, ‘Grace’, came forward last month, as part of the #MeToo campaign, to tell her story about her date-gone-wrong with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. You can read her account here (it’s a bit graphic, be warned).

There’s no denying the unpleasantness of this recount and Ansari seems like the kind of douchey guy you really don’t want to date. But if you can detach yourself for a moment from the emotional telling of this story, the facts remain: ‘Grace’ went to Ansari’s apartment willingly enough and, despite feeling uncomfortable, performed sexual acts on him. When she texted him the next day to tell him how she felt, he apologised. He hadn’t understood her non-verbal cues. (Unsurprising. I mean, he’d been drinking).

Whilst unpleasant and uncomfortable, this account does not constitute sexual assault. In the article ‘Grace’ says she felt pressured to do things she didn’t want to do. But Grace was not forced against her will. She could have said ‘no’ and walked away. Even better, she could have refused to go back to his apartment after a hurried first date that she didn’t seem to enjoy.

Stories like this complicate the whole #MeToo campaign with some blurry definitions as to what constitutes assault or abuse, and what does not.

I’m not saying ‘Grace’ should feel responsible for Ansari’s behaviour. But where’s the acknowledgement of her own error of judgement? There’s a difference between feeling hurt and taken advantage of, and needing to publicise the incident to the world. There’s probably more nuance to this but I think it has more to do with why women feel like they need to have sex with someone they’ve just met, than it does about the definition of consent.

Another recent example is the President’s Club scandal a few weeks ago. I won’t go into this in much detail but if the allegations are true, I don’t see them as particularly surprising. It’s sad and gross, especially considering that a lot of those men are probably married with kids. But the women hired to hostess on the night were told to dress scantily and made to sign a 5-page NDA. Didn’t any of them ask themselves why? Being groped by drunk men shouldn’t be part of anyone’s job description. But the mass hysteria surrounding this story was a little disproportionate.

What bothers me even more is that the very same culture that decries sexual assault continues to promote the objectification of human beings without batting an eye.

Why is there so much outcry about #MeToo but very little about pornography, for example? Pornography harms everybody involved: The actors, the consumer and those close to the consumer (and there are a lot of consumers. According to the Huffington Post, porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined each month). Pornography fuels the demand for sex trafficking, one of the most extreme forms of sexual abuse out there. Why isn’t this being taken seriously? Why isn’t more being done to educate young, impressionable teens about the risks attached to porn use?

But unhealthy, hyper-sexualised relationships are not always presented so overtly. They’re just as likely to be packaged attractively with seductive advertising and slick soundtracks. Fifty Shades of Grey is a timely example. Despite the increasing number of people who have called out Fifty Shades for what it is – a ridiculous saga normalising an abusive and controlling relationship – it continues to be advertised as your ultimate Valentine’s date night.

But the problem lies deeper still. It’s not just the glorification of abusive relationships in the media. It’s about the way society views sex and relationships altogether.

If a rom-com doesn’t depict the protagonists jumping into bed almost immediately, is it even a rom-com? Even Friends can’t go without joking about casual sex or porn multiple times per episode. (Not trying to ruin Friends for you. Chandler is life. Just trying to be objective).

The music industry is no better. I’m sure I wrote about this years ago but until the media stops selling music using half-naked women and basically-soft-porn music videos, it needs to shut up about female empowerment. You’re not powerful if you have to take off your clothes and sing about sex to make people buy your music.

Seems bleak right? Well, it’s probably helpful at this point to take a step back and recognise that what we’re seeing is nothing new. Sexual norms in Greco-Roman society were even more permissive than they are today. If you were the master of the house, pederasty (sleeping with your boy slave) was considered A-OK. Fidelity in marriage was looked down upon and your typical Greco-Roman home would be adorned with every-day items covered in pornographic images. Classy.

The spread of Christianity would have been an affront to everything that Greco-Roman culture stood for. Today, as we’ve drifted further and further away from the pattern for sex and relationships that God had in mind for us, we see much of the same.

The progressive ideology that led to the liberalisation of sexual norms is the very same one that has created an environment where sexual misconduct can run rife. Ironically, perhaps, it’s predominantly the political Left championing the #MeToo campaign, when it’s the Left that demanded sexual liberation in the first place.

Our culture is desperately confused. We think more ‘progression’ is the solution but instead we’ve regressed into a situation where sex is cheap; both glorified and debased.

After the whole President’s Club saga, Theresa May vowed to ‘stop objectification’ of women. How exactly is she going to do that? How will it be enforced? Where is the line?

You can’t police people’s thoughts and attitudes. Only by promoting a better, healthier model for sex and relationships can you hope that attitudes will shift.

Nothing I’ve just said presents a real solution to these issues, but I hope that by recognising the correlation between what society promotes, and its outworkings, we can all be a little smarter about what we consume and which narratives we buy into.

Little left to say here except as always, to leave you with some further reading/watching:

For a really accessible resource on healthy sexuality, Moral Revolution is great. Go like them on Facebook or Instagram, they post pretty regularly. 

Fight the New Drug is your NUMBER 1 resource on better understanding pornography and its impact. UK-based The Naked Truth project also does fantastic work!

Also, I saw a new book has just been launched called Sacred Sexuality by Bobbi Kumari. Has anyone read it? Is it good? Does anyone have a copy for me to borrow/review?!

And FINALLY, Christina Hoff Sommers offers some intelligent thought on #MeToo here. 

 

5 thoughts on “Have we created a monster? – On #MeToo, FiftyShades and more

Add yours

  1. Oh wow, you are brave to tackle this! I have to say, I agree that we do need things out in the open, but cases like the one you describe do cloud the issue. Both men and women need to take responsibility. You’ve shared some great resources, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Camilla,

    It’s really hard to engage with everything you’ve brought to this article because there are too many topics that would probably make for blog posts in themselves.

    I will say though that Grace, whoever she is, wasn’t right to call what happened to her assault. I agree with you and many other women on that. I think by doing that she actually undermined a conversation I think we should be having around what is actually okay in relationships. Experiences among people will vary but I have a suspicion that many women grow up thinking or somehow learning, slowly, covertly…that we ought to strive for men’s attention and that we ought to appease situations instead of causing trouble by saying no, for example. I think we need to address those assumptions beyond whatever campaign people in Hollywood are supporting these days. As to what happened between them, I think the reason this particular story is so scandalous is because his public persona is that of all round good guy who understands women. Yes, public personas are often fictions and yes he’s playing a character in Master of None but I think that the way he presents himself publicly has a lot to do with why this story got so much traction.

    I do think that women need to take responsibility for their actions but that doesn’t mean that the guy, whoever he is, whatever his sobriety level, whatever his status, gets to treat you however he wants and then get away with it because you were on his property or because initially you willingly went to his apartment or because you are his girlfriend or wife. This doesn’t mean that mistreatment is assault or that she couldn’t have chosen to leave sooner. I cannot be a judge as to what happened because I wasn’t there. But I have been in situations like this and it is not as clear-cut as many people want it to be; it’s not as simple as “just say no”. It has taken me (and other women I know) some years to learn that we don’t have to behave that way and that there are men who are willing and able to treat us with respect and that they don’t see us just as providers of sexual pleasure. This isn’t something I even thought about when I was 22 (Grace’s age); I am not excusing her of her responsibility to look after herself but I can understand how she ended up in that situation.

    I would have loved to hear some thoughts on what you think we could do about this. How do we promote healthier relationships in a society where these really unhealthy views of relationships seem to prevail?

    I agree that many of our ideas about relationships seem to come from the stuff we consume. I really think people need to be more aware about the difference between fiction and reality. Rom-coms are fictions, Fifty Shades of Grey is a fiction, pornography is fiction. On the porn issue, (I know it isn’t fiction for the people involved) the reality is that people watch it. I don’t think minors should watch it. But, sadly, they do. I don’t believe, on the whole, that you can stop something like porn from existing. We can aim to educate people about what it is and how it isn’t real, how it isn’t like real sex, how most of it is exploitative…but it will keep existing. I haven’t given this much thought but there are people who have and who are doing some things to change it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9LaQtfpP_8
    I have to admit I feel uncomfortable with porn but I believe that only by being realistic about human behaviour we can hope to help people think and shift attitudes. It is sad that teenagers learn about sex from porn but where do they go if they can’t have honest, non-judgemental conversations with their elders? I learnt to think negatively about myself from music videos until I started thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the music videos and not with my body or reserved attitude. Kids go to the internet to learn about relationships and there isn’t a lot of good quality information out there for them: https://fastn.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/LLL-Report-_web.pdf

    I think we can only hope to help people if as well as critiquing the culture, as your piece does, we engage with their questions and provide suggestions and tools for people to make their own decisions about what they consume and what they champion. I find it really difficult to take this position because all I want to do is shout from the rooftops that Fifty Shades of Grey glamourises domestic abuse and nobody should read it or watch it. I want to say that from what I see, too many people have a problem with alcohol and that’s one of the reasons they end up in situations where they hurt others or get hurt because alcohol makes you more vulnerable. But saying that doesn’t change anything; it only shames people. And I don’t think shame is the best motivator for change.

    There are so many more things to comment on but I will leave it there. Some articles you might find interesting on the rules of sex post sexual revolution:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/02/thats-patriarchy-how-female-sexual-liberation-led-to-male-sexual-entitlement
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/david-quinn-lost-in-the-maze-of-sexual-morality-2cd3xf3pf

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    1. Hey Yessica, thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts to this, and apologies for getting back to you late.

      I think you’re right that many women grow up learning distorted views of how they should behave and what to expect in relationships. I can understand why Grace ended up in the situation she did too and of course nothing excuses Ansari’s behaviour – hope I didn’t meant to suggest otherwise.
      I’m not sure though how to stop people like Ansari ‘getting away with it’ – he didn’t break the law, so there is nothing in terms of punishment that could really be applied. What Grace did do was shame him, which I suppose is punishment enough. Do I think she was right to do that? I’m not sure. Certainly, as I said already, her story complicated, and I think somewhat undermined, the #MeToo movement. But going back to Ansari, no it’s not fair that his public persona is so likeable but behind closed doors he acted like a jerk. Sadly I doubt he is the only one, though.

      I’m also not sure that simply telling people that porn and 50 shades is fiction, is enough to prevent those things from influencing us. Some people who watch porn may know very well that what is being portrayed is fiction. But their brains are still being rewired by the content they see, and they will tend to turn to increasingly hardcore material, as the brain’s dopamine response requires more shocking stimuli. I think a lot of people who start watching porn don’t realise that it will have this effect, so yes, education is important. Certainly I think more can be done to protect minors from accessing it as well. I will also say that I watched some of that TED talk and to be honest, that woman is missing the point. Porn takes something private and sacred and makes it profitable – which makes it cheap. Doesn’t matter how ‘pro feminist’ you make it. It comes back to the point I was trying to make in the article. The real problem is the acceptance of liberal sexual norms, distorting God’s original design for sex and relationships.

      I would really like to offer some actual solutions to these issues and certainly it’s something that I will be thinking about. I know that critiquing the culture alone is not enough to actually instigate change, but at least it identifies some of the root causes of the problem. I think that’s the first step towards finding solutions, and I hope if anything I’ve encouraged others to think about how there are links between what we consume and the kinds of behaviours that manifest.

      ETA: Thanks for sharing those links. I think the following in the Guardian piece pretty much summed it up:
      “And ubiquitous female sexualisation has manifested a reality in which young women find themselves in unwittingly sexualised situations all the time. Young women are right to feel that destigmatised sex has enhanced their traditional patriarchal status as sex objects, not liberated them from it.”

      Problem is that I don’t understand what the columnist means by ‘moving forward’. TBH, I think that this obsession with ‘moving forward’ is kind of what got us here in the first place. Women wanted sexual ‘liberation’ but this kind of agency comes with consequences, as discussed.

      Sadly I don’t have a Times subscription so I couldn’t access the other link!

      Like

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