The Troll Phenomenon

I want to talk about trolls and I’m going to grab a few examples from the British press and British public figures as I talk about it. I’ll try to grab a few links and examples here and there but I want to talk about the various reasons why trolling is a problem but also why I can’t see a particular solution to the problems that it causes.

There are several points that need to be tackled but I think the most important one of them all is simply this:

Most trolls don’t believe the things they say and their threats and obscenities are not genuine. They do what they do in order to elicit a reaction not because they necessarily genuinely hold the beliefs that they appear to espouse.

From that fact stems my belief that taking the words of a troll too seriously is counter-productive and obfuscates the real problem that lies behind the racism, sexism, insensitivity, homophobia and other tools they use to get a reaction. The real problem is their antisocial behaviour. The content is just a tool to upset someone and that’s what they ‘get off’ on. When you take the comment as genuinely *ist you are feeding into that pay off.

This isn’t to say that such antisocial behaviour is not damaging. It’s damaging in a lot of ways and harassment, sincere or not, is stressful, hurtful and can really grind people down. We see how this happens in ‘meatspace’ with antisocial youths and problem families. Trolls are the ASBOed of the global village.

Forever relevant

When you post things or when you gain a history or a reputation on various topics, when you address certain topics then you make yourself a target. If you’re a woman, especially if you write about feminist topics, you’ll get misogynistic and hateful comments. If you’re gay you’ll attract homophobic slurs. Simply by expressing yourself you’re going to flag up the things that make you a good target and the trolls will hit at that whatever they personally believe.

Really not that scary.

Why do I suggest that we shouldn’t take their threats and slurs seriously? Well, look at this guy:

This is Frank Zimmerman who sent a huge amount of threats to UK MP Louise Mensch. As a public figure, a member of Parliament and a frequently outspoken feminist, of a sort, Mensch was an obvious target. On the other side of the political spectrum, journalist Laurie Penny gets similar treatment.

Mr Zimmerman, however, is a 60 year old shut in with agoraphobia. For all the nastiness of the things he said, his threats were not remotely credible and so it goes for most internet trolls. Their arena is one of anonymity and hurt from the safety of the internet. When they’re brought to light, they’re like this guy almost all the time.

If you watched the video I appended at the top another troll was tracked down and exposed to be… well, nobody really. Just another seemingly unemployed spod getting his jollies online. In that case he was particularly noteworthy for defacing memorial pages on Facebook with horrible things said about the deceased. He didn’t know them and, of course, he didn’t care.

OK, point, hopefully made that while hurtful and nasty the content of the trolling messages is not genuine and we should not be that afraid of it. What then are the genuine problems when it comes to trolling?

1. People use troll behaviour to support positions that aren’t necessarily true.

If you write a blog about how racist contemporary culture is and you get a ton of comments/emails calling you a racial epithet then your position may appear to be supported. Trolls who may or may not be racist – or whatever else – end up creating an environment that seems to support a contention that may – or may not – be true.

2. Trolls hide behind freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

At least in the UK hate speech is not protected speech. I am not sure of the intricacies in other countries but I’d appreciate comments telling me how it works in other nations. Free expression is a hugely important principle but when trolls dress themselves up in it they devalue it and weaken its importance when it comes to real issues.

3. Trolls destroy useful communication on issues.

If you’re discussing something important that needs to be debated between two points of view a massive amount of trolling disrupts that and makes conversation impossible. Needless to say this is counter-productive. Genuine comments, observations and criticisms often get swept up amongst the trolling as well. It’s too easy to paint any opposition as trolling. Inarticulate and bad arguments, genuinely held, are almost indistinguishable from insincere trolling.

4. Genuine nutters can hide amongst trolls.

It is extremely rare but some genuinely damaged individuals can be nearly indistinguishable from trolls. I personally interacted with the Discovery Channel shooter on several occasions and in the febrile atmosphere of political fora, often rife with hundreds and thousands of trolls, he didn’t stand out. A genuine, damaged, troubled, fanatical individual was lost in a forest of pretend-extremists.

5. Trolls present a threat to internet freedoms.

The presence and existence of trolls, the offence and so on that they cause creates more and more people who are willing to accept less online privacy and the tightening of laws on what used to be a very free, very open forum without the problems of governmental and legal censure. That’s a risk to a global communication medium that has already shown its genuine worth – and the worth of anonymity – in the Arab Spring.

Solutions

I don’t think there is any real solution to this problem or, at least, no ‘magic bullet’ that can put an end to it. There are a few steps that online society can – possibly – take to mitigate the problem but ultimately so long as the internet is a free area there will be trolls. I consider that to be a price worth paying given all the good that free communication and free expression brings to the world.

Nonetheless, I want this to end on a positive note so I’m going to make a few practical suggestions:

a) Remember that they don’t mean it.

Odds are very good that the hateful things that are said are not genuinely held opinions. The troll is trying to get a rise out of you. If you treat their comment as serious, take it seriously, rise to it, you’re giving them what they want.

b) Starve them of attention.

Don’t react. Just block. They want attention. They want people stirred up. They want people upset. Don’t give it to them, deny them access to your comment areas, your blogs, your chatrooms and your fora. Just be sure they are a troll. Maybe people can share info, emails, IP addresses, that sort of thing. We already have spam filters, can we not develop troll filters? They wouldn’t be perfect, but that might help some.

c) If we must react, do it appropriately.

Treat it as what it is. Antisocial behaviour. Pursue it – if you can – offline rather than online.  In both Zimmerman’s picture and the video posted at the top you can see how uncomfortable and worried these people are about being confronted in ‘meatspace’. Of course, anyone with a lick of sense can hide their identity or make up fake email addresses to hide behind and anonymity is an important aspect of net freedom, so this needs to be carefully judged and worked on.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at on these issues and I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Keep in mind, this post is a likely troll target. You have to love irony. 🙂

 

Advertisements

It’s Not All One Way

This is all Paco Jaen’s idea, by the way, before I start.

I thought this wasn’t necessarily a good idea but it has been suggested – by Paco and others – that I talk about the threats and other issues I’ve had around this whole recent flap.

If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, this isn’t for you.

I’m also sure that – as per usual – people will pore over every word I say for something they think is damning and will laugh at me or accuse me of lying on the rest of it. So be it. I want to make it plain that I’m not asking for sympathy in anything here either. I’m also exposing myself by showing where my buttons are which means they’re easier for people to push.

Where to start then?

Well, it’s no secret that I suffer from depression.

I say this not to try and elicit sympathy. If you think I’ve done wrong then you should be able to tell me so regardless of my mental infirmity, just as you should be able to call a guy in a wheelchair on it if he cuts you up and sends you diving into the flowerbed.

Having a disability or an illness doesn’t insulate you from being an arsehole (neither does having a cause or a past trauma come to that).

This whole incident has hammered me back to a bad place and knocked back my recovery – which was going well – by about six months. On Friday I had to get extra medication to deal with what was going on and on the day before that I resorted to self-harm because nothing else was making me feel any better.

Physical pain helps focus and deal with emotional pain. It’s hard to explain to people why. My other option is drinking and, for  various private reasons, I’d rather not. My arm is probably going to scar so I’ll have a nice reminder of this bullshit for the rest of my life.

All terribly emo and pathetic I know.

When you’re depressed criticism bites deeper and praise doesn’t sit so easily. You discount it. My acerbic wit and distancing through intellectualisation are the tools I have used since my teens to deal with these issues, even though I was only formally diagnosed a couple of years ago. To many that can make me seem insulting or superior when I am either genuinely trying to understand them or honestly can’t believe what the other party is saying is meant sincerely.

So I take the piss. Much the same as I mock topics and stereotypes in a lot of my comedic work.

I also don’t like myself very much.

Not because of anything I’ve done or any attitude I hold – before you jump on that – but just because part of the depression manifests as self loathing. What self-worth I have is tied up in my work, my writing capability, and a strong moral compass which, while it may be at odds with yours, strives to do the right thing at all times according to my values.

Attacks on that self-image of being a ‘good guy’ who tries to do the right thing, bite deep. As do attacks on my talent. It is only this last year I’ve found an editor (two in fact) that I can work with safely without taking an emotional pounding. At least where it comes to fiction work.

So, when I’m told I’m a ‘rape supporter’ or get private messages that people are going to track me down and ‘rape me, to see how I like it’, or my wife so that I ‘sympathise more’ or there are accusations that I’m asking people to harass or intimidate. When people think the work I’ve done somehow supports or excuses rape, I understandably get upset, because all of this is entirely antithetical to who I am.

I know the threats aren’t genuine, but that doesn’t stop them being upsetting.

It is my belief that trolls cannot be dealt with so long as we act as though they’re sincere in their threats and that’s what I’ve tried to express regarding the threats to Ms Cooper. Trolls go for what they know will get a reaction, this is antisocial and shitty but it’s NOT misogyny (or racism or whatever other ‘ism they use to get at people).

People have thought I’m brushing off the threats against Ms Cooper, I AM brushing off the threats – they’re not genuine any more than the ones against me – but that doesn’t stop them being distressing and they should not happen. Just as the threats and accusations against me should not happen. It is, though, admittedly hard to feel sympathy for someone calling you a rape supporter or apologist. I’m only human.

There is a difference though. People do genuinely seem to believe the things they’re saying about me, even if the threats themselves aren’t kosher. Ms Cooper herself on her petition calls me a ‘rape supporter’ which couldn’t be further from the truth and is far from the only lie or misquotation. It’s gutting – and telling – that so few people have bothered to check any further than rumour and hearsay.

I am not a rape supporter, apologist (or whatever else) and such a claim is hugely hurtful to me and as well as being libellous. It has managed to reduce me to tears. Something that hardly ever happens.

The accusations of sexism, misogyny etc are particularly hurtful given that many of the works being referenced are 180 degrees from where people seem to think they are. I attack things through satire and humour and to most who have read these works the nature of the books and their satire seems to be obvious. I am forced to think that the people making a fuss either don’t get it or have such a low opinion of men in gaming that they think the things in these books are serious.

Both of those options are extremely worrying and upsetting and potentially very damaging. If people are able to create campaigns, even slightly successful campaigns at that, based on their own misunderstanding of something then we’re all in trouble.

The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamers in particular takes square aim at the stupid attitudes and beliefs about girl gamers that male geeks stereotypically hold (true or not). That’s who it’s attacking and taking the piss out of, the antisocial, inept male geek through the medium of presenting their supposed attitudes and ideas about women, exaggerated to ludicrous degree. If you think any guy seriously holds the ideas in that book to heart, then I’m flummoxed.

To take it as an attack on women is… staggeringly bizarre and misses the point by parsecs. As far as I knew nobody took The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming to be a sincere guide on how to cheat at games, or the Slayer’s Guide to Rules Lawyers as being real so why they would take any of these other works at face value is worrying.

It is very hard for me not to see people who don’t see the subtext and the satire as stupid or being wilfully obtuse. It also makes me feel I’m a failure as a communicator.  This is why my initial reactions have tended to be sarcastic and then I fall back on trying to explain and spell things out that – to me – seem bleedin’ obvious.

Some take this as arrogance. It has been suggested to me that instead I should show the emotional toll that this nonsense has taken on me to show a ‘human’ side.

Perhaps the worst parts of this for me are twofold.

First my sexuality has been brought into it, which is rich coming from people who claim to be all for tolerance. Secondly in the potential threat to my business and the damage to business relationships, along with the betrayal I feel from Mongoose Publishing and the worry I feel that Matt and the Gooser’s are being damaged by this, even though I feel backstabbed.

Maybe I’m a softy for feeling so but it does bother me. This is the same reason I’m not – as of yet – pursuing legal action against Ms Cooper. I don’t want to fuck up someone’s life however much they want to do it to me. It seems petty.

How is my sexuality brought into it?

I’m straight, but I’m also self-admittedly ‘kinky’ for want of a better word. The kind of erotica etc that I like is ‘transgressive’. Apparently this is unacceptable and while I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy others can’t, while transgressive fantasies are permitted to women they are not permitted to men and are ‘abhorrent’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘wrong’ to the point of me getting a huge amount of abuse.

Anyone who knows the importance of consent in the alt/sex and BDSM communities can imagine how heart-stoppingly angering and hurtful that is.

I’ve struggled, myself, for a very long time with my kinks. Raised to be a gentleman it’s hard to reconcile that with a sexual side that, in a very shallow sense, seems to run counter to it. The only thing I can think to compare it with is coming out gay, especially if you’ve been raised to think that’s a bad thing. I’ve got to a more comfortable place with it of late, but when people dig at me in in such a way it opens up those fractures. Plus I feel bad for the other people that I know share these desires and thoughts, many of them women, very creative women, some of them working in erotic writing. They’re being written off by the very people who claim to represent them.

It seems impossible for people to even remotely acknowledge that I might both support women’s rights and free expression at the same time. That I might think rape is a terrible thing (and I now know more people who’ve been raped than I ever wanted to) but can differentiate between the act itself and representations thereof or its treatment in fiction. I can want to eliminate it in reality while simultaneously wanting to preserve it as a dramatic element.

There’s no paradox here.

Sorry but I’m not about to change my libertine and free expression stances any more than you seem likely to relax your positions. At least not without good reason to.

I think these witch hunts – and that is what they are – are far more harmful to the hobby than the things they claim to be fighting. Bit by bit, step by step, this kind of over sensitive – and it is – and hyperbolic rage, is costing resources, goodwill and some of the better gamers of the current and upcoming generations of designers. With Uri Kurlianchik being run off WotC and costing them great articles on gaming with kids and Gareth Skarka getting shit for supposedly racist ‘cultural appropriation’.

It’s not on.

A hostile atmosphere that takes anything and everything too seriously and seeks to stifle it – and it is censorship – is not conducive to good art. It doesn’t allow for a conversation. Fuck knows, I didn’t speak out for the publicity but more than I’m concerned by the kind of mob rule attacking everything from me, to Penny Arcade, to Crystal Dynamics. I do not feel that it’s healthy or right and I think it’s much more of a risk than Pat Pulling or her ilk ever were. Plus it’s not limited to any single medium, it’s happening across a swathe of them.

I spoke up because I think this needs to be a two-sided conversation and at the moment people I regard as bullies are dominating the conversation. It’s ironic that I’ve gotten so much flak for pointing out something that shouldn’t be remotely controversial – the right of a creative to explore things, even dark things, in their work. For speaking up about people getting unjust flak… I’ve gotten unjust flak.

I don’t think that should be remotely as difficult for people to agree with as it apparently is.

Comments not disabled, but won’t be approved. I may alter some of this as I’m not 100% on some of the phrasing and there may be other things I want to touch on.

A Marked Lack of Self Awareness

“It does remain a puzzle why it has been so hard for Americans loudly to defend sexual rights even if they definitely enjoy having them,” says [Dagmar] Herzog. “This creates an echo chamber in which the bullies get to set the terms of debate.” (Talking about gay marriage, but it’s more broadly applicable).

So, this happened.

Then this happened.

One set of shrill and offensive trolls spammed, blogged, defaced, made wild accusations and horribly stereotyped the producers of a game. The same thing also happened later on to  this Tropes Versus Women project.

The difference? Well, the people who trolled Tentacle Bento off Kickstarter could spell and weren’t necessarily being deliberately offensive, though they certainly were doing so by talking about nonsense like ‘rape culture’ and calling people ‘creepy’ or ‘rape apologists’. Other than that the only real difference is that Tentacle Bento got knocked off Kickstarter and Tropes Versus Women certainly isn’t likely to, despite casting its own aspersions about game designers, writers and consumers which are insulting in their own way.

Little wonder, in this hot-button debate, that people who see (articulate) trolling succeeding in removing ‘offensive’ content, try it themselves. Not to mention that things like Tropes Versus Women are irresistible to trolls and almost guaranteed to get a reaction from the people there.

As to the projects themselves, ultimately both have benefited massively from the controversy which means neither set of trolls has actually done what they wanted to. They’ve just made things more inconvenient for people who like either project.

Let’s be clear here, both attempts to censor are equally offensive (and have proven equally pointless). One wraps itself up in pseudo-academia and unproven assertions about offence and one looks like straightforward trolling, but it’s not so simple in either case.

You’re all wrong.

Just let people get on and make things.

And for the love of Mike would someone religious do something as nonsensical as this so I can blog about that instead (Church of England doesn’t count, they’re pretty irrelevant).

Apt Description of god Ends Discussions

At some point in a discussion someone will play what they think is an ace card from up their sleeve which they think displays your inherent bias and that you just refuse to believe in god because you are of ‘rebellious spirit’ or some such bollocks. The thing is, rebels do have to admit that they’re rebelling against something whereas, being an atheist, I don’t even believe in the thing they’re talking about.

Regardless, they’ll ask ‘Would you believe in god if he was proven to you?’ to which the answer from just about any atheist is ‘yes’ but is then followed up with ‘would you serve him?’ to which the answer, at least for me is ‘no, and nor should you’.

The god of the Bible, the Koran and Torah is, for wont of a more apt an succinct description, ‘An ‘orrible cunt’. A murderous, savage, pull-the-wings-off-insects, cosmic-scale dickhead. It would behove any moral being to oppose such a creature. However, describe this – still hypothetical – god in those terms and, strangely, people bring an end to the discussion.

Soooo touchy.

Chance of Reason? Slim & Nun

By this point you’ve all seen this trailer. Right? You’ve heard all the fuss going around about it? The furore has, essentially, created a massive amount of publicity and all the bitching, whining, moaning, complaining and censorious attitudes on show have all but guaranteed that it’ll succeed and that a hardcore of people will buy it simply because other people are being pricks about it. Just as happened with Tentacle Bento.

Is it sexualised? Not particularly. There’s nothing sexual about the violence. The only ‘sexy’ thing is the outfits and it’s clearly channelling the ‘spirit’ of grindhouse cinema for the sequence.

Our Hitman, despite being elite, is shown as vulnerable and weakened. Wounded. In the fight he gets slapped around a bit, stabbed, cut, punched and very nearly shot. His opponents aren’t his equal but they’re capable.

Sex need not be sexist. Violence against women need not be misogyny and, after all, these ladies are out to kill him. Would it not be more suspect on a gender basis if female characters were extended special treatment? Immunity to fictional harm? That would be sexist, would it not? Would an eyelash be batted if the attacking gang had all been men? I doubt it.

From where do we get the assumption that this is necessarily a bad thing? Why is it that the people who choose to complain and fuss about this sort of thing have a harder time differentiating fantasy from reality than the people who enjoy it? Is there actually any evidence that videogame violence (or sexual imagery) has a particularly deleterious effect on anyone?

Various studies seem to say they do not. Attempts to link pornography with rape, or videogames with violence are almost all horrendously biased and better constructed studies show otherwise. The truly damning evidence against the assertion that these things cause societal harm is in the crime statistics for both rape and violent crime.

Regardless of other factors, of which there are many, if violent and sexual video games or pornography had such a dramatically deleterious effect as is claimed then surely this period, when graphically realistic games and the firehose of free internet porn became viable, should see a massive increase in violence and rape and a lack of progress in social issues.

That does not seem to be the case at all.

It’s possible to ‘play’ with previously offensive tropes without believing in them. Papa Lazarou is a horrendous, blackface, wife-stealing monster, but it’s a joke. Grindhouse cinema has been played with by Rodriguez and Tarantino and it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the products of that era of cheap cinema without buying into the negative side of Blaxploitation etc. Howard and Lovecraft were horrific racists but their writing, their books are still classics even if they contain problematic elements.

The entire exercise of censorship by the well-meaning left, and right, seems predicated upon the arrogant concept that the would-be censor is superior to anyone and everyone else who views the material. That they’re somehow immune. Too intelligent, too switched on to succumb in the same way as the hoi polloi. Either god or education or sheer social awareness somehow means they’re unaffected while the rest of us poor slobs are brainwashed.

It’s arrogant, presumptive and insulting.

Is it censorship to try and silence or remove these kinds of expressions? Often those of a censorious mindset say that what they’re doing is not censorship because it’s not governmentally enforced but the definition of censorship goes well beyond the 1984 style governmental nonsense that people think it does. When you’re applying pressure to have something removed you’re attempting to censor. Social shaming is one method. Economic sanction is another. It doesn’t have to come from government on high with the force of law to be censorship.

Can it be justified?

If you can show that these things actually do cause definite harm then, possibly you have a case. By harm I don’t mean ‘This disgusts you’ or ‘This makes you feel uncomfortable’ I mean actual harm.

Otherwise…

“Oh, fuck off.”

Male ‘Slut Shaming’

This is all a bit ‘What about teh menz?’ but it’s important to me and it’s related to factors that have contributed directly to my depression issues.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this issue since it occurred to me to write about it. I’ve agonised over whether to even broach the subject at all because it’s just that contentious and dangerous to do so. It took me three days just to get up the courage to talk to my wife about my intention to write it and what would be in it and we had to negotiate a bit over the content because I tend to over-share.

I want to talk about sexual shaming. Slut shaming if you will.

However, I want to talk about the sexual shaming of men and the demonising of male sexuality, rather than that of women.

Slut shaming gets a lot of press and a lot of attention but the tribulations of expressing male sexuality don’t really get looked at at all, save in a negative light. There’s almost a new… taboo around discussing it. Male and female sexualities are seen very differently and the expressions thereof treated very differently indeed.

I’m going to draw on some of my own experiences to explain some of this. Not to try and claim that my experience is universal but, rather, to make the points relatable and as a jumping off point for discussion. I’m not going to go into as much detail as I could, partly due to my own reticence but also because I’ve been asked not to.

This just further goes to show what a fucked up situation this all is.

I am concerned and worried, deeply so, about the way male sexual interest and sexuality as a whole is treated and reacted to. It seems to me that it is always taken as threatening, as an imposition. You can’t look at a pretty girl, comment that she’s lovely, or even – it seems – ask her for a drink without being viewed as no better than a raiding Viking intent on rape and pillage. Every ounce of concern and thought goes to the lady’s reaction and possible offence and none to the feelings of the guy or the effect upon him of being treated like a criminal.

As a result, as a man, your sexual personality, your interest, gets bottled up, hidden, frustrated. If you’re in a relationship it’s assumed you can’t so much as look at someone else without upsetting them. You can’t ogle someone attractive without being told you’re objectifying or dehumanising. That goes double for pornography and – even more concerning for me – fantasy art.

The disparity in the way the genders are treated in this instance is certainly not in the man’s favour.

If a woman likes porno, erotica, sexy outfits, whatever, she’s seen as exciting, autonomous and in control of her own sexuality. Girls can go out shopping for sex toys and it’s no huge thing. She can go out for attention, being aggressively sexual in a way that would never be accepted for a man and it’s brushed off. If she oversteps his line, no big deal, if a guy oversteps her line, all hell breaks loose. A guy is supposed to be happy with any sexual attention from a woman, or not to let it bother him. Well, it is a bother when someone else’s girlfriend plops her arse down in your lap and tries to kiss you. Even if she is hot.

If a guy admits to buying porn or toys for his own satisfaction he’s creepy, disgusting, a failure as a man because he can’t get laid. A flasher-mac wearing saddo, a panty-snifffing reprobate. Admitting you need something to get you off and deal with your frustrations, or – heaven forfend – that you like it, whether or not you need it, is an admission of failure and – if you’re with a partner – it’s even seen as an insult to them.

If you’re in a relationship and there’s any disparity in desire then, really, there’s little wonder that one partner or the other might seek relief elsewhere. Better that they use porn than have an affair, right?
Typically it’s the male desire outstripping that of the woman, though it can happen the other way around, and if a man resorts to porn then it’s an insult. He doesn’t really love you any more. He doesn’t find you attractive, he’ll be off and away with another woman. Which in all likelihood is bollocks. It’s much more likely he’s just not getting enough and needs an outlet for the tension that doesn’t make him seem like a sex pest to the woman he loves.

For whatever reason these safety valves, these ways of coping, are considered off limits or hurtful to a relationship rather than a way of preserving it and keeping the peace. People break up over it. People are hurt and insulted by it and can’t understand how a man can jerk off over one thing and still find his soulmate sexy in her own right.

If you doubt that there’s a gender disparity here, take the example of Ann Summers parties.

Women can get together, as groups, play dress up in sexy outfits, get the opinions of their peers, buy sex toys etc all in their own living rooms.

Now imagine a group of thirty and forty something men getting together for a ‘Man Summers’ party. Waxing each other’s backs, trying on posing pouches and getting each other’s opinion on what’s sexy.

If you have any reaction to that other than amusement or disgust then I don’t think you’re being honest.

This is bad enough if you have entirely conventional desires and needs. If you just like pretty girls and want to have sex with them you’re already being regarded as some sort of barely restrained (wo)man-eating tiger or something. A pitbull who needs to be muzzled, licensed or ‘done’.
Suppose, though, that you’re a man who happens to be turned on by BDSM or rough sex, let alone anything stronger? Consent is a huge thing for these communities but even so, these sorts of desires are going to be considered beyond the pale for many and admitting them is going to be tantamount to wearing a sign on your head saying ‘Kiddie fiddler’ for all the reaction they’re going to get.

It’s not even as though these sorts of desires are unique to men. According to a variety of studies somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of women have rape fantasies.

It is, rightly, never assumed that this means that a woman wants to be raped.

If a man likes violent pornography, rough sex or rape fantasies the expectation is different. The alarm triggers go off and it is going to be thought they’re a risk. It’s going to be thought that because they enjoy the fantasy they’re going to want to do the deed. They are not afforded the same understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy that a woman is.

Why the disparity? Why is one ‘just’ a fantasy and the other a risk? How is such a person supposed to even dare to articulate their desires, their kinks, their turn ons without getting the kind of reaction normally reserved for homosexuals by the Westboro Baptists. Think of the danger involved in just finding people of similar tastes. The risk to partners, friends, family if you get found out.

It must feel much like it does for people who are gay. Afraid to come out, judging themselves by the standards of others. Shamed, guilt tripped without even saying or doing a thing. Afraid of the reaction to their sadism, masochism, dominance or submission.

I know that, for me, nothing more than a need to use pornography has wracked me with guilt, worry and concern for my partner. It has felt like a betrayal. I have reacted to it as strongly as I would have from having an affair. That’s certainly fed into my depression and self-loathing and exacerbated suicidal feelings of worthlessness.

So, then, from personal experience I can say that shaming of male sexuality and outlets can certainly be directly harmful and is grossly unfair. Because not having an outlet is also psychologically harmful. Just look at the Catholic Church for ‘Christ’s’ sake. We get so caught up in concern for women’s feelings – because that’s what men do – that we just suck up our own hurt, pain and shame and don’t speak up. It’s not healthy and it’s not right.

I don’t particularly buy into this objectification argument either. Maybe I’m some twisted, unique, freak of nature but I’m able to separate the item – the porn, the character, the image, the film, the erotic passage of text – from the person that makes or stars in it. The stimulus is the object, not the person.

I’ve known a handful of people who have worked in porn, fetish modelling or as camgirls. I know another fistful of lady erotica writers. Most of them are wonderful people (hey, they’re people, there are going to be a few arseheads), no different to anyone else, and I don’t treat them or think of them any differently just because I’ve seen them naked, seen them fuck or have read their fantasies written out in explicit prose.

Newsflash.

If you’re even slightly attractive (and even if you’re not) and you have friends or peers of the opposite sex, some of them have almost certainly had masturbatory dreams or fantasies about you to rival any porno. Yet they still treat you as a human being, despite having put you through erotic contortions in the burlesque of the mind’s eye.

Why would it, or should it, be any different for people who’ve done it on film?

You know Christian Bale isn’t Batman. Right? What’s the difference? He beats up the Joker for our gratification, Jenna Jameson takes a facial for our gratification. The entertainment doesn’t define the person.

Maybe it’s because consent is, traditionally, in the hands of the woman and the man is supposed to be the initiator? Is that why male sexuality is seen as dangerous and aggressive because we’re supposed to be the proactive ones? Because it’s on us to make the move?

Why isn’t the harm that sex-shaming does to men being recognised? Can this partly explain the rise in young male suicides? It certainly nearly helped end me.

Why are we expected to suck it up, accept the insults and suspicions? Why should we accept being feared for no good reason? Why should we just suck it up that a woman’s step is going to quicken, or she’ll pretend to talk on her phone if we happen to enter an underpass behind her? Why do always put women’s needs and feelings ahead of our own?

Would you not feel a slight pang of guilt for clutching your purse tighter as you passed a kid in a hoodie, especially if he were black? That would be racist or classist, wouldn’t it?

It doesn’t seem very fair to treat men as foul and slavering beasts. That’s also the rationale behind racial profiling and the stop-and-search laws that have lead to race riots. This kind of profiling creates dangerous levels of resentment and anger.

It doesn’t seem very egalitarian.

It seems more than a little sexist and for me, at least, it makes me unbearably sad and hurt.

If you want to discuss any of the points raised in this post you’re welcome to do so in the comments or privately.