It’s a tough thing to consider: that you might not be a good person. But that’s the position I’ve been in for some weeks now. You see, there are a lot of very articulate people in my twitter feed, and many of them are talking about rape.
I find myself extremely, embarrassingly, overwhelmingly uncomfortable with it all. Each time I read a beautifully expressed column in a broadsheet written by a woman with real insight on the subject of rape and misogyny, I’m left questioning myself. I’m left wondering if I am exactly the kind of man they’re talking about, and I worry that I don’t even know it. The most serious concern is this: if I am the kind of unknowing misogynist these women are trying to address, what do I do about it? I’m going to try to explain. On the way, we’re going to touch on some very real shit.
There’s a very clear reason why the discussions about rape make me uncomfortable. I like to think I’m a reasonably modern, reasonably stable human. I suffered no sexual abuse, I grew up in a strong and supportive family, I developed no resentment for women during my adolescence. But there is often violence in my fantasies – sexual violence. There has been for just about as long as I can remember, certainly since before puberty. And for as long as I can remember, the porn and literature I enjoy most is degrading, rough and dark. Since the discussion about rape (which is of course a small part of a larger discussion about gender equality) has recently been brought into the light had the dust and cobwebs well and truly blown away, it’s forced me to examine my own attitudes.
But let’s not go crazy here; I don’t believe I’m a rapist in the making – nor do I believe I’m misogynistic. But perhaps that’s because misogyny can now disguise itself, slip under the radar in unexpected ways, given new clothes and a new language to position it as something more noble than it really is. I’m talking specifically about male sexual dominance, in the BDSM sense.
I often struggle trying to reconcile my predisposition for sexual dominance with a suspicion that it might be misogyny repackaged. Or put another way, that my inclination for floggers and restraints and choking and roughness might be a sanitised and tolerable expression of my desire to commit sexual violence against women. If this is true, then I’m guilty and, more scarily, I’m getting away with it too. This is a fracturing possibility for me – but one I feel like I need to face, along with any other man who labels himself a ‘Dom’, whatever that really means.
The great lie of BDSM is that misogyny is acceptable if it’s sought out, and consensual. If a submissive woman seeks out a dominant man, and her consent is beyond question, then his actions surely come from a place of empathy and not of misogyny – so goes the lie. I have used this lie to justify to myself the way I’ve expressed myself sexually in the past. I have even argued for it, in a sense, in other writing on BDSM. It is a lie though, because if it looks like misogyny, swims like misogyny and quacks like misogyny, it’s misogyny – even when it’s dressed in fine drapery of empathy.
I’m well aware that many dominant men and their submissive partners will take issue with that. I’m also aware that I have now bundled rape, misogyny and BDSM together as though the terms are interchangeable. That’s for the sake of brevity: of course, the terms are not interchangeable, and I’ve cut some corners and made some abridgements simply to get to the core of the issue. The issue is something that’s not just close to my heart, but something that defines every aspect of my life in a way that’s far more tangible than it is for most people: by day I work for a company that’s working hard for female sexual empowerment, by night I run a company that offers products specifically designed to control and inflict pain on women. I am perhaps the UK’s single most perfect test case for misogynistic male attitudes towards female sexuality – so I need to be absolutely sure that I’m not part of a bigger problem.
So let’s be clear. Let’s get to the meat of what I want to talk about. Is a secret attraction to sexual violence acceptable if it’s expressed only with someone who has a secret attraction to be subjected to sexual violence? How can a reasonably intelligent man reconcile his desire to be sexually dominant with an equally powerful desire to be a good person? Moreover, is this attraction to sexual violence endemic, behavioural, innate, widespread, rare? Is it a symptom of a greater malady? Is it something that can be fixed? Is it something that even needs to be fixed? How can I so easily acknowledge that rape is abhorrent, and yet justify to myself that the things I do in my private life are fine simply because they are consented to? I no longer think “consent” is a strong enough answer to these questions.
The point is this: in all other regards, in every other facet of my life, I am a healthy man. Nonetheless, am I still part of the problem? Does my attraction to depredation make me a destructive force in the struggle for sexual equality? I can only assume that it does – and I further assume that it’s not exclusive to me. I’ve met many women who have such rape fantasies and are keen to explore them – are they also destructive in the struggle for gender equality?
Perhaps I can find some solace in the fact that my attraction to sexual violence is purely sexual, and is not manifested in any other component of my life. Perhaps I shouldn’t even allow myself that concession. One thing I’m very aware of is this: my initial reaction to discussions about rape and misogyny is not sympathy for the victims – it’s fear for myself, and how I’m seen. This blog post is a exemplifies that: how selfish am I that I would write a blog post worrying about my fear of my fantasies, rather than write one in support of victims?
This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written and, as always, I haven’t even come close to doing it justice.
This might come as a surprise to you if you know that I write advertising copy for the adult industry, but I really love the Advertising Standards Agency.
It sounds so boring and sinister. Replace ‘agency’ with ‘ministry’ and Orwell would shudder. “Hello Winston, welcome to the Ministry for Advertising Standards. Now put this cage full of rats on your face until you’ve stopped writing deliberately inflammatory copy. ”
But it’s not like that at all. The ASA are consistently humorous, reasonable, good natured, honest, and have more common sense than all the people who’ve ever complained to them combined.
So imagine my delight when I got my weekly ASA assessment round-up email and saw the brand name “Pussy” in it. I rubbed my hands together, salivating over the prospect of a clash between the public’s THINK-OF-THE-CHILDREN-ing, Pussy’s MWAHAHAHAHA-ing and the ASA’s WILL-EVERYONE-JUST-CALM-THE-FUCK-DOWN-FOR-A-SEC-ing.
But the treat within was even better than I’d hoped. You can read the full assessment here, but here’s the background and the highlights.
Public Complaint 1:
It’s sexually explicit and sexist and offensive and derogatory towards women!
Pussy Response 1:
WHAT!? We’re clearly talking about cats. YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK.
ASA Response 1:
C’mon you guys, you’re clearly talking about ladyflaps here. You’re not kidding anyone.
Running Score: Public 1, Pussy 0.
Public Complaint 2:
THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Children will read the word ‘pussy’ and immediately burst into lust-fuelled flames of pure wickedness!
Pussy Response 2:
Well, we don’t see any children complaining about it. And anyway, if they know what ‘pussy’ means, they probably heard it from their foul-mouthed parents anyway.
(I shit you not, that’s almost exactly what they said.)
ASA Response 2:
Dudes, what the fuck? You’re probably right, but keep it away from schools, yeah?
Running Score: Public 2, Pussy 0
Public Complaint 3:
This advert was near my church and therefore it’s offensive to MY RELIGION!
Pussy Response 3:
Oh yeah? Which religion is that? Since our drink is named after a cat, and they worshipped cats religiously in Ancient Egypt, you and your church can go fuck yourselves. And what’s more, if you hadn’t put your church in such a lovely advertising place, our advert wouldn’t even be near your church. Which means it’s technically your own fault. So go fuck yourself twice.
(I shit you not. Again.)
ASA Response 3:
Yeah, go fuck yourself Churchy Churchison.
Running Score: Public 2, Pussy OMFG A MILLION.
I’ve been smiling all day since I read this assessment. I can barely believe the nerve of Pussy’s response; it has a rare “fuck you, FUCK ALL OF YOU” coolness that I can only respect and admire, albeit jealously. The thing about the Ancient Egyptians? It takes a twisted kind of mind to use that as reasoning.
The simple fact is this: Pussy know they’ve got a naughty name. That’s why they chose it. Lucozade went for a bullshit sciencey approach. Red Bull went for the macho, steroidy approach.
Pussy said “fuck you, drink me”.
Hey, maybe they should put THAT on their next billboard…
You know what’s really useful? A brick. You know what’s not? Samantha Brick.
I’m sorry, y’all. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I told myself to be the bigger man. I convinced myself to ignore the Daily Mail’s obvious trolling and go about my life in the normal fashion. But Brick, well, she’s just too good to resist. She’s too easy a target for me to turn down.
Brick believes she’s beautiful. That’s ok. If her opinion is that she’s beautiful then she is, as long as she doesn’t mind that my opinion is that the right hand side of her face looks like it realised what an utter cock-womble she is and is trying to escape her head via the nearest exit.
This judgement is of course cruel, subjective, pejorative, and totally irrelevant. Brick would approve. In fact, her own looks are not my concern in the least, and I’m willing to accept that anybody is beautiful if they believe they are.
What concerns me most about Senorita Brick - aside from the fact that I don’t think her writing or her opinions are worthy of such broad attention – is her misguided correlation between weight and success. This is poignantly, and rather sadly, because her own life in the public eye seems to be characterised by failure – despite her slimness.
- Her TV production company failed.
- Her previous marriage failed.
- She failed to make an impression on Celebrity Big Brother.
- There are other failures that would be too cruel too outline here.
This is hardly grounds for criticism of course, and not even I would be that big of a turd-badger to rub these factors in her face. The reason I mention them is because, taken together, they paint a very tragic portrait of this bizarrely inwardly-facing human. She doesn’t seem like a success, which immediately negates her implied point that she is successful because she is slim. Failure, it seems, is blind to body shape.
There is a sense of flailing desperation under the quietly meandering surface of her writing. It’s a sad spectacle, and one which the Daily Mail should be ashamed to exploit.
Reading her column on fatness Vs failure, you quickly get the impression that an editor has, at the very least, been putting pressure on The Brick to ramp up the controversy stakes. The headline reads: “Joan Collins is right. Any woman who wants to stay beautiful (like me!) needs to diet every day of her life”. My suspicion is that the parenthesised words “like me!” are not the Brickster’s own. This kind of clunky tone-changing is common in her writing, and it’s indicative of an outside influence either adding, or compelling the Brickmeister to add, little twists of arrogance.
Whatever the truth is behind Bricktop’s writing, I’m all too aware that I’ve taken the bait, and every time her name appears on twitter’s trends I’m aware that many thousands of others have too.
But, ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignoring the bait will not make it go away. Don’t be afraid to take the bait. Take it and fight it. Fight for the sake of good writing, and for the blackened souls of bad people.
When on High
The Heaven had not been named,
As one they lie,
Primordial Apsu tamed
By ancient Tiamat,
She who bore them all,
Her freshwater calm and flat,
His saltwater fast, and tall.
For an era they grew
In age and figure,
Surging forth and through,
Then back – now bigger,
Consuming each other,
Rolling and boiling, now aged eternal,
Absorbing one another
In sins nocturnal,
Until their ethereal form,
Sublimed to infinite height,
In a paroxysm of light.
Their waters now mixed,
Vast energy flamed,
Their elemental love transfixed
In the Heavens unnamed.
Many years ago, I was involved in the creation of a small, online sex toy retailer. I was young, just 22 when I came on board to handle all the forward-facing aspects of the business, from customer service to PR, via blogging, copywriting, social media and more. Times were tight, but we were passionate. Every sale counted, every product could mean the difference between getting paid and going hungry. For a time, we used a lift in someone else’s office building as a makeshift stock room. The lift, incidentally, was made by a company called ‘Schindler’, and was therefore known as ‘Schindler’s Lift’. (“Yes madam, your inflatable dildo is in stock. It’s just in Schindler’s Lift, up on the 9th floor, but should hopefully be down soon.”)
And all the while, as we worked late into the night fighting for every single sale, we fantasised about a time when we would stock EVERYTHING. The breadth of our sex toy range would humble every other adult retailer out there, and our mighty warehouses would sprawl into the verdant Hampshire countryside like surf rolling up a virgin beach.
What I didn’t know, though, was that it’s not the size of your warehouse that matters. It’s how you fill it that counts.
I stayed at that company for around three years and loved it, before taking a big step up to my current position, where I’m still currently sat, smiling to myself about the old days, sharing a warehouse with a company that sold bottled water, the staff of which were incredibly curious about the stock we were holding and suspicious of us as a result. Smiling about how naive I was, how innocent and idealistic.
Recently my partner Annie Player, who also moves within adult creative fields, and I are increasingly contacted by start up sex toy companies, full of good intentions, that disappear again before we can even reply to them. A significant bulk of my twitter followers are probably sex toy start ups that follow a thousand people in a day, tweet twice, and then abandon the account, a testament to how hard it is at the bottom of the pleasure product ladder.
Online at least, the sex toy market is dominated by two or three large retailers and then a bustling pool of smaller retailers. It’s a kind of benign ‘orgasm oligarchy’; the largest share of the wealth divided amongst the elite and the rest is fought for below.
What I’ve come to realise in the few years: I no longer believe that a vast depth of product is truly the right approach, as I had previously believed it was when I was at the bottom of the ladder. Perhaps the right approach these days, if one wants to survive as a retailer of pleasure products, is to define one’s niche up front and stick to it fiercely. A good example that comes to my mind immediately is a company like www.labelleuk.co.uk, which has been around for a good few years now, quietly finessing its website and looking at stock opportunities. I think its survival and success to date is thanks in no small part to its clearly defined manifesto.
As a sex toy consumer, I often find that overwhelming choice is just that: overwhelming, and that’s the major complication of sex toy shopping. The sheer volume of choice, the baffling array of messaging, the indistinct USPs, the fact that all the manufacturers and suppliers are competing with each other and therefore more concerned with one-upping each other than clarity of customer buying decision all make sex shopping an exhausting and vaguely unfulfilling exercise. Which is a shame.
It’s tempting to believe that a virtually limitless breadth of product will attract all customers, cater to all tastes, satisfy all needs. But I fear these benefits are superficial; the temptation is hollow. That’s because, if there’s one thing people shopping for sex toys want above everything else, it’s clarity.
Have you bought a new mobile phone recently? The moment you walk into a phone shop, you’re immediately shouted at by countless different messages, statistics, bullet point lists and arcane technological language. If you’re not pre-armed with knowledge and research, the choice is so baffling that it’s virtually impossible to make a good buying decision right there and then. Now translate a shopping experience like that to something as personal as sex toys, especially for a relative newcomer to sex toy shopping.
What we need, as sex toy consumers, is two-fold: a Which? Sex Toy magazine (and if you’re interesting in helping me make this a reality, please do get in touch) and a more focussed product offering from every major sex toy retailer.