Friday, 22 March 2013

Pranks and Prejudice: Littlejohn versus Christian and Greig

Michael Christian and Mel Greig, in case you've forgotten, are were recently most evil disc jockeys in the world, because they took the piss out of the Royal Family via a prank call to a nurse, Jacintha Saldhana, who subsequently killed herself. That they lost that not-so-coveted position is probably more due to the role of most evil DJ being suddenly and comprehensively taken over by a more deserving candidate, of course. Julie Burchill got herself similarly shoved off the winners' podium in the Great Transphobic Stakes this week by the thoroughly loathsome Richard Littlejohn, again a far more deserving candidate for the post.

It can seem, sometimes, as though gobbing off is a worse crime than actually picking up a lump of wood and having at someone.People who say things, write things, draw things, sing about things in ways which are 'offensive' can get vilified or punished far more than some of the people who actually assault or kill others. The sentences given to Justin Lee Collins and Matthew Woods in the same week would bear that theory out, as I said at the time

On the whole, I've always been on the side of the writers and the speakers and the artists when the views they have expressed have upset someone or other - even if the views expressed have upset me. However obnoxious someone's views, I believe in their right to hold and express those views, and have always maintained that the best way to deal with the public airing of ignorance, bigotry, misinformation or propaganda is to allow room for the equally public countering of such stuff. When something bad happens, someone somewhere always starts insisting that censorship of some kind is the way to stop it happening again, but this is never, ever true. Censorship doesn't stop spite, it doesn't stop ignorance, and it doesn't stop violence.

Holding Greig and Christian responsible for Jacintha Saldhana's death was always ridiculous and wrong. They had no intention of hurting her, certainly no intention at all of driving her to kill herself: they were thoughtlessly pratting about with little or no malice attached. Julie Burchill's notorious rant against transpeople was a piece of fuckwitted bigotry but still only the expression of an unpleasant opinion. Richard Littlejohn's piece about Lucy Meadows, on the other hand, almost certainly led directly to her death. He may claim that he didn't want her to die, but he certainly wanted her to suffer. He wanted her to lose her job, leave her home and be shunned by her community. He said so, in his piece.

There was no justification whatsoever for publishing that piece in a national newspaper. Lucy Meadows wasn't a celebrity, she wasn't a criminal, she wasn't a campaigner seeking recognition for a cause, just someone trying to get on with her life. Her story wasn't 'news'. It had no relevance to the vast majority of  Daily Mail readers, apart from feeding their prejudices. But the publication of that story, according to emails she sent to friends, pretty much killed her by making her life unbearable. Not only were the press hounding her and her family and friends, but enough identifying information was given in the police to allow every knuckle-dragging keyboard warrior in the country to track her down and bombard her with abuse.

Before writing this post, I did a bit of googling based on a vague memory of there being a crime of Malicious Publication ie making someone's private life public for no good reason. Unfortunately, I'd remembered it wrong: at the moment, you only have legal redress if what is published about you is untrue. There should be a law against publicising the details of anyone's personal life for no reason other than to insult or mock them when the person has not in any way sought attention or publicity. The implementation of something like that might be a fitting memorial to Ms Meadows. Well, that and and end to the idea that transpeople are the minority it's OK to hate and laugh at, just because you think they're not like you.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Rape Myths: what are they good for?

In the light of the BBC's recent helpful reminder to the rest of us that men's reputations matter more than women's safety - the DPP announced that false accusations of rape are actually quite rare, the Beeb reported this by yowling and yammering about how awful it is to be accused of rape when you haven't done it. Well, yes it is, though I would venture to say that it's probably a bit less awful than, you know, actually being raped.

Rape myths, however, they can't be that awful, because so many people seem to love them so much. In some cases I can see why: the myths around what kind of women get raped function as a kind of magical talisman to many women. If rapists pick on provocatively dressed, drunk, flirty women who walk home alone, the fairytale goes, then by staying sober, covering up and never going out unaccompanied by your male owner, you will be protected from rape. It's understandable to want to believe that if you are Good and Careful and Obedient, bad shit won't happen to you, but unfortunately it's stupid and wrong. Bad shit happens to Nice Girls all the time. Bad shit happens to nice people through no fault of their own, all the time.

The myths surrounding false accusations are a bit more problematic, though. Yes, sure, there are cases of mistaken identity, when the attacker was a stranger and the police pick up someone of a similar physical appearance, or when the victim is too frightened of the real assailant to name him and therefore accuses someone else. Being falsely accused of a crime is a dreadful thing to experience, especially if the crime is an unusually nasty one, to the extent that being accused of it puts you at risk of vengeance from the victim, the victim's family or indeed the local self-righteous hate mob. People wrongly accused of crimes have every right to battle for a public acknowledgement of their innocence, no problem with that. But this insistence that women are always, or at least nearly always, or at least loads and loads of times, really lying about rape, that's a bit more worrying. 

Sometimes, no one wants to believe a man's a rapist because he's Such A Wonderful Man. Charming, friendly, good-looking, wealthy... Does a lot for charity. Give me a J, give me an I, give me a double M - you can see where that one's going, can't you? I think that sometimes people who want to believe that a woman accusing a popular, successful man of rape must be lying are simply not wanting to doubt their own judgement. They like or even love the man, they would have known if he was a rapist, how could they be wrong about him? Underlying this is also, perhaps, the unspoken assumption that a Wonderful Man is actually entitled to have sex on whoever or whatever he wants, because he is important, and the victims are less so, with the real bottom line being that they are only women, after all. They must be jealous, or mad, or money-hungry, or something else wicked.

The nastier myth is that women accuse men of rape after sex because they are stupid, vengeful or don't know their own minds. A woman will claim to have been raped if the man didn't want to see her again, or went back to his wife, or didn't give her an orgasm, or because she doesn't want people to think she's a slut, or because she was drunk and now she's thinking it wasn't such a good idea to have sex with him - so goes this myth. And it's entirely misogynistic, because it portrays women as desperate, spiteful idiots who are incapable of having sex for the sheer enjoyment of it but use it as a form of currency and then want the equivalent of their money's worth. The thing is, women generally know the difference between crap sex and rape. We've often had crap sex with men - sometimes he promised undying love right up until the moment he took the condom off and then all of a sudden he wanted to go home, sometimes we did get a bit pissed and shag the bloke from the kebab shop when we shouldn't have, sometimes he was just a really rubbish shag and farted all the way through the performance while calling us Mummy or something. But that's just crap sex, we shrug it off, learn from it if necessary and move on. It just seems very likely indeed that the sort of men who insist that women are lying about rape because they can't tell the difference between assault and unsatisfactory sex are the men who are actually raping women and don't see why they should be held accountable for doing so.

(I haven't put any pictures on this one. Maybe you'd like to find yourself some Lolcats or something to lighten the mood a little, the Interweb is not short of them...)

Rape Myths: what are they good for?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bunch of arse - or not?

Yes, I changed the profile picture. Yes, it used to be a picture of my arse, and I decided to remove it.

Oh please, put your tissues down. It was just an arse, and a clothed arse at that. And a very old pic, taken as a favour one night in the old studio around the inception of the very wonderful SharkInfestedWaters website, though I have a feeling the particular image was destined for use on a flyer for a club I was then running. The picture later got re-used as a book cover.

Yes, it was about the only useful and appropriate picture I had handy. And, for a book about shagging, well, it's a picture of an arse, in PVC. And, for a while, for a blog which is, if not about shagging then about sexual behaviour and erotic fiction (when not ranting about general politics, feminism, atheism and market trading) that was also a useful and appropriate picture. 

Only I've gone off the idea of waving my arse at people in a general sort of way. For one thing, I don't want to perpetuate the idea that every woman into kink really really wants to bend over and wave her arse at Her Master. I'm a top, end of. So until I can manage to coordinate a photoshoot of me doing something fiendish to some fit bloke's arse, profile pics will consist of items from the stock cupboard.

And speaking of which, if you fancy buying the book depicted above, please do! It's not a bad little effort even though it's over 10 years old and Of Its Time ie issues that could have been solved by Googling have to be solved by other measures and all that.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Authenticity and the Wank Break

I spend a certain amount of my time pointing out to people that sex is just another recreational activity, and that it's stupid to insist that everything to do with sex has to remain in the ghetto called SEX and be treated as  different, special, dangerous, etc. While it's not at all unreasonable for people to get outraged about the exploitation and shitty working conditions some sex workers experience, it's stupid to insist that the sex industry should be totally banned on the grounds that people within it are mistreated while ignoring the abuse and suffering that goes on in the catering and clothing industries. And no, I'm not whining about being forced to work late and poop-scoop for the creative director's chihuahua if you're a junior fashion PR, I do mean the child labourers locked in their factories sewing pictures of cartoon characters onto jackets for pennies a day, and the cockle pickers who drowned at Morecambe. We should all try to make sure that our pleasures come from a reasonably ethical source, at least as much as we can afford.

When it comes to fiction-writing, though, there's one bit of received wisdom that does seem to make sex a bit of a special category, and that's the wank break. I doubt I invented the concept, but I have certainly peddled it a fair bit over the years. It's this: if you are writing erotic fiction, and you finish a piece of erotic fiction without having stopped for a wank or at least really, really wanted to do so, then what you have written probably isn't very good.

(pic nicked at random off the interweb)

I still think it's true, of course: if you've written an entire erotic story and not had the faintest urge to put your hand in your pants or go and grab a nearby playmate then your story is not likely to be all that erotic. Erotic fiction is still the baby of fiction genres, which means that every unpublishable cash-hungry buckethead thinks that/s/he could 'churn some out' to make some money, and they are all completely wrong. Writing good erotic fiction is like writing good fiction of any kind: you have to care about it and enjoy it or it's going to be unreadable crap. It might, of course, be unreadable crap even if you care a lot, but it won't be as unpleasantly unreadable as the stuff produced by people who really don't care about a word they have written.

Fiction should engage you, make you think, make you care, make you want to do... something. And it's only right that good erotic fiction should make you want an orgasm - but it probably isn't the case that good crime fiction should make you want to go and kill somebody. I used to make faces at the people who asked me if I'd personally done all the sex acts I wrote about, and ask them how many people they thought Agatha Christie or Ruth Rendell or Sara Paretsky had killed while they were writing their (good, honest, satisfying) books. That's probably the only argument in favour of treating erotic entertainment as a special category that I haven't yet found a counter to.