Twitter is not the problem. Porn is.

Twitter isn't the problem.

I stared at the screen, horrified. Sometimes you wish you can un-see words. I had read Vicky Beeching’s recent blog post detailing the some of the Twitter abuse she had received following her support of the #LoseTheLadsMags Twitter campaign. It made my jaw drop to see the extent of the vile and misogynistic tweets. I had read of the appalling response to Caroline Criado-Perez’s bank notes campaign, and had been shocked by it. But this time they were targeting my friend, and it brought it home in a whole new way. I felt sick.
 

These were my questions:
– Why do some men think it’s okay to write obscene things to women and threaten rape?
– Why were there some women who were jumping to the defence of lads’ mags?
 

I had a browse around the underbelly of Twitter, and I got my answer.
 

Scrolling down the tweets of one of the worst offenders, I found a slew of similarly lewd tweets he had sent to other women. They had not protested.
 

One had thanked him. She was a glamour model and had over 50,000 followers.
 

And suddenly it started to make sense. If your entire Twitter interaction with women is to make lewd comments to glamour models or porn stars, it is not that you switch into a different, abusive gear when you interact with a Vicky Beeching or a Caroline Criado-Perez – it is your normal way of being, and a completely reasonable way to converse.
 

In the eyes of the Twitter abusers, it seems the world of women is divided up into two categories: models with big breasts who like to be ‘naughty’ and encourage you to lust after them, versus angry, ugly feminists who resent the models and want to take porn and Lads’ Mags away and spoil everyone’s masturbatory fun. And, really, all women always want sex with you, and if they don’t, well, they should be forced. They need to be put in their place.
 

There are some who say, ‘What’s the problem with Lads’ Mags? It’s just a bit of naughty fun. It’s not oppressing women – the women who are modelling feel great about themselves.’
 

And the answer is this: porn affects all women, not just those in the magazines. It turns all women into objects and depersonalises them. You just need a cursory glance at the Twitter abuse thrown at feminists this fortnight to see that.
 

Jesus once said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45b) If Twitter is society’s mouthpiece, then our collective heart is very sick.
 

*****
 

The destructive lie of pornography
 

Porn is normal, and by normal, I mean that it has become ubiquitous, not that is is healthy. I was once party to a conversation where soldiers’ wives were choosing the best porn magazines to send to their men away at war. One soldier’s mother had helpfully sent a few magazines to her daughter-in-law. They were chatting about it like it was the most natural thing in the world.
 

Studies have shown:

  • There is a strong connection between pornography and devaluing women’s rights in society. The more porn you watch, the less likely you are to be sympathetic to women’s rights.*
  •  

  • There is a strong connection between pornography and violence against women.
    The best-selling adult DVDs have acts of sexual violence on average every 90 seconds. The vast majority of these are men being violent to women. What about non-violent porn? Men – and, surprisingly, women – exposed to non-violent porn for just six weeks thought that rape was a lesser crime and deserved a shorter prison sentence than they did at the start of the study.
  •  

    But what about Lads’ Mags? They’re not so bad, surely? In a recent study, members of the public were shown extracts from articles about women in Lads’ Mags, and quotes from convicted rapists. They found it difficult to tell which was which because they were so similar. Lads Mags and rapists use the same language to talk about women.

     

    Porn tells the lie that women are merely objects for male sexual gratification.
    It tells the lie that sex is something you get, you purchase, you demand as your right; rather than a physical expression and celebration of faithful love, mutually given.
    It tells the lie that it is acceptable to treat women as property, to lust after them, because they enjoy it.
    It tells the lie that women are constantly desirous of sexual attention and will be grateful for it.

    We are in a porn culture, and we’ve believed the lie for so long we’ve forgotten it’s a lie.
     

    ****
     

    What should we do?
     

    Many people were asking: Why should women campaigning about bank notes be the victims of such horrific rape threats?
     

    Perhaps there is something in the timing of events:

     

    The success of the feminist bank note campaign was sandwiched between two stories that target porn. The public are just waking up to the harmful effects of porn, and saying we need to curb it. The offensive tweets came from people who feed that industry – both viewers and models. What Vicky Beeching and others faced in the last fortnight was the backlash of a huge and powerful industry which is starting to feel under threat.
     

    There will inevitably be conversations now about the fear of over-censorship, the right to freedom of speech, and these are important discussions to have. But let’s not get side-tracked. The time has come to fight the spread of porn.
     

    *****
     

    We’re shocked when we see the abusive and lewd nature of the tweets and the threats that feminists have received. We’re right to be shocked, because this is terrible (and sometimes criminal) behaviour. But we shouldn’t be surprised.
     

    Much of the debate has focused on Twitter, and how people respond in a different way when they’re on social media to how they do in ‘real life’. There is definitely a case for this, but we need to remember that these misogynistic and threatening comments do not just happen on Twitter, they happen in ‘real life’. They happen in business meetings, behind the backs of female colleagues. They happen in factories and police headquarters. They erupt violently behind closed doors in respectable looking homes.
     

    Twitter does not cause this horrible abuse: it reveals it. This past fortnight Twitter has held up a mirror to our porn-riddled society. And it is not a pretty picture.
     

    Twitter is not the problem. Porn is.

     

     

    For further reading and excellent analysis of the research into the effects of porn:
    Jon Marlow – Chill out, it’s just porn.

     
    *(71% of men in control group supported women’s rights at the end of the study, versus 48% in the intermediate group and just 25% of men in the ‘massive exposure’ to porn group. It’s worth noting that the ‘massive exposure’ was 5 hours of porn videos per week, an amount which is seen now as ‘average’.)

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    59 Responses to Twitter is not the problem. Porn is.

    1. ed cyzewski 6th August, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

      We need more discussions like this. Thanks for getting it started and keeping it going.

    2. Andy 6th August, 2013 at 6:05 am #

      Great post Tanya – incisive and helpful. It brought to mind research from Surrey Uni made public in 2011 on the blurred lines between the language of “lads mags” and convicted rapists. Link is here: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/mediacentre/press/2011/69535_are_sex_offenders_and_lads_mags_using_the_same_language.htm?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

      The recent outpouring of bile on twitter is a symptom of the reality that the human heart is deeply troubled – but the language of hatred isn’t reserved for women alone but, sadly, sexualised aggression is directed toward all who would challenge the power of the pornified publications. As I’ve tackled some of the men on twitter who’ve posted vile stuff, in the last couple of days I’ve been asked by someone if my opposition to “lads mags” was because I like looking at naked boys and by someone else how well I knew Jimmy Saville, a barely masked attempt to imply I could/should have been raped as a child.

      Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that – Martin Luther King Jnr – is a good reminder of how to respond to this torrent of evil. A better one is “but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That we must do – whilst at the same time working very hard to change the world in which we live and in which we are, from time to time, hated.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:39 am #

        Flip, Andy. I am shocked by how vile the responses were to you. To me, this feels like a peculiarly strong backlash by the porn industry. (As well as exposing the evil that lurks in the hearts of humanity.)

        I love that you embody your last paragraph. Thank you for always seeking to change the world in a way that loves people and honours Christ. You inspire me. 🙂

    3. Abby Norman 6th August, 2013 at 2:49 am #

      YES! That’ll preach.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:44 am #

        Thanks, girl! 🙂

    4. balaam 5th August, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      Porn is degrading to women is something that is often said, but I think the strongest effect of porn is that it degrades men – those who read it. The seeing women as a sex object is a result of being degraded.

      As far as bagging lads mags is concerned, I’m against it because of what happened in the 1970s with porn mags. There was a campaign to get them onto the top shelf away from childrens magazines (before that Playboy could have been next to the Beano.

      The result of getting porn onto the top shelf is that it went hard core, things that could not have been published before became commonplace (though th front covers became tamer.

      I have a feeling that if lads mags get bagged a similar thing will occur, they’ll become more hardcore, and the degrading of the lads that read them become more pronounced.

      Porn degrades the men who read it, the degradation of omen is a by-product.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:40 am #

        Thanks for this – I totally agree that porn degrades men as well as women. Great point.

    5. Alastair Roberts 5th August, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

      There is a lot to agree with here. Porn presents us with a very distorted and poisonous picture of the world and hurts both men and women (actually, I would suggest that it may even hurt men more directly by misdirecting and sapping their libidos). I am firmly in favour of those who use appropriate means to limit its circulation within our society. That said, there a few things that give me pause.

      1. Most research suggests that the overwhelming majority of the male population uses porn. Why aren’t we witnessing a massive explosion of violence against women (some suggest that we are actually experiencing a significant decrease)? The same comment could be made about violent computer games or films. Most people seem quite capable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

      2. It seems to me that some sexual offenders use porn as an excuse for their crimes. We shouldn’t take such ‘the devil made me do it’ claims at face value.

      3. There are increasing claims that the evidence points in the other direction: that wider porn use leads to decreased violence against women. See this, for example.

      While porn’s effects are toxic – and I believe that it does play a role in the actions of such abusive men – there isn’t a straightforward cause-effect relationship. The more direct effects of porn for men probably are sexual desensitization, loss of libido and social confidence, and an increase of weird sexual fetishes and kinks. Lowering men’s drive in such a manner, I would not be entirely surprised if the claim that it leads to decreased levels of violence against women is true.

      Returning then to the correlation between Twitter abusers and porn use that you observe, I wonder whether we can’t give a slightly different explanation. For the porn users that you identified, Twitter was part of their porn fantasy world, and many of the women within it willing to go along with them. In the privacy of their rooms, behind their computer screens, they wouldn’t consider any real world implications of their online actions (we shouldn’t presume that such men would perform such actions in the real world). Interactions with women on Twitter would be framed by such interactions. The women in question were disrupting their fantasy world and were to be threatened with the exaggerated violence, abuse, and degradation of that perverted fantasy world. In most cases, however, these men would have clear distinctions between the rules of the fantasy world and those of the real world.

      The depersonalizing effect, in other words, probably as much to do with the way that they perceive and use the Internet (as a private realm for the entertaining and acting out of fantasies detached from the real world, rather than as a realm where you interact with other real world persons) than it does with porn use per se. I would suggest that we need to see the relationship between certain types of escapist Internet use and porn use as more closely related or intertwined and that this is one of the key factors in online abuse.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:07 am #

        Hi Alastair. I shall respond to your points in turn.
        1. “Why aren’t we witnessing a massive explosion in violence against women?” – we ARE! We are! Oh my goodness! Please visit the Restored website and look at the stats. Sexual violence against women is shockingly high. And the fact that there are so few rape convictions does not mean that rape does not happen, merely that society is less likely to believe women. (Which kinda proves my point).

        2. I don’t think that sexual offenders should use porn as an excuse for their crimes. We are each culpable for our actions.

        3. Alastair – I’m surprised by you – normally you’re really careful with your sources. The article you cite is a little loose, to say the least. It quotes a study on non-violent porn – but violent porn IS mainstream porn. And it ends with ‘there’s no evidence to suggest there’s a link with violence against women – and some people think it helps’ – is not a statement based on research! Some people thinking it might help is not an accurate measure. Whereas the multiple studies I cited (and you can read at length) indicate the opposite.

        Final point – I think there is a case to be said to argue that Twitter and social media exacerbates the issue. But that is not where it starts. Think about the recent case of the girl in small-town america who was raped by teenage boys at a party. There were rape jokes made by the party-goers, both online and offline. This is new. If you walk into any male-dominated business environment, or even classroom, and hear the way that men/boys speak about women there is an alarming amount of sexualised language and the language of compulsion and aggression. This was around twenty years ago, sure, but not to the extent that it is now. There has become a normalisation of it. This is an important issue, and I am disappointed that you are seeking to minimise it.

        • Peter 6th August, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

          Hi Tanya. Thank you for an interesting article, and also thanks to Alastair for his response. The first point here is really crucial. I wonder if you could post a link to some evidence of this “massive explosion”. I had an (admittedly brief) look at the Restored website and could only find statistics of how prevalent violence against women is now, and not how it has changed over time. This would be really useful. Thanks.

          • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

            (New York, December 18, 2008) – “A new government report showing huge increases in the incidences of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault over a two-year period in the United States deserves immediate attention from lawmakers and the incoming administration, Human Rights Watch said today. The statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault.

            The National Crime Victimization Survey, based on projections from a national sample survey, says that at least 248,300 individuals were raped or sexually assaulted in 2007, up from 190,600 in 2005, the last year the survey was conducted. The study surveyed 73,600 individuals in 41,500 households. Among all violent crimes, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault showed the largest increases. Except for simple assault, which increased by 3 percent, the incidence of every other crime surveyed decreased.”

            From http://www.hrw.org/news/2008/12/18/us-soaring-rates-rape-and-violence-against-women

            • Alastair Roberts 6th August, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

              This is only a small window within a period of time within which rates of sexual violence against women dramatically decreased. And, as the article itself observes: ‘The authors say in the report that the higher numbers may reflect the new, more accurate methodology rather than an actual increase.’ Somehow or other, those who claim that porn causes sexual violence must account for the very strong evidence that sexual violence has dramatically decreased over the very period of time in which, according to their theories, it ought to have dramatically increased.

        • Alastair Roberts 6th August, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

          Hi Tanya,

          At the outset, let me make completely clear that I do not want to minimize the problem of porn at all. If anything, I want to show that it is really poisoning our society. I don’t believe that we can consistently feed such fantasies without them having some coarsening or destructive effect and toxically leaking into our actions in various ways. On the other hand, however, I don’t want to exaggerate or misunderstand the effect of porn. There is a huge danger of confirmation bias here, as studies that supposedly demonstrate the case that porn increases sexual violence and the like are latched upon, while many others that do not support or strongly undermine that claim are ignored. We must pay attention to all of the evidence, perhaps especially that evidence that would seem to challenge our claims.

          I have made similar arguments to the ones that you make above in the past. However, the more that I looked around, the more uncomfortable I became with the fact that the evidence was far less straightforwardly supportive of my claims. I started to wonder whether I was being driven by the evidence itself or by my (continued) strong moral opposition to pornography.

          I quite agree: sexual violence against women is shockingly high. However, the key question here is whether the increased consumption of pornography has increased levels of sexual violence. And it is at this point that I run up against the opposition of rather a lot of seemingly contrary evidence. For instance, something such as this article: “The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults. The Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence. The reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence.” This is another piece of complicating evidence, suggesting that, during the period that the Internet use has been continually on the rise, sexual violence against women has decreased 60% in the US (speaking of developments since the 90s in the US this piece observes that ‘Our judgment is that the decline in sexual abuse is about as well established as crime trends can be in contemporary social science’). 60% is huge. If there were a 60% rise in sexual violence against women, those of us who oppose pornography would be shouting the statistic from the rooftops. If violent porn is mainstream porn, shouldn’t we expecting the exact opposite of such social effects?

          We should beware of rushing to judgments upon an entire society based upon extreme events such as the Steubenville rape. In reality, the very fact that most of us have heard of this horrific crime in a small town in Ohio might be a possible sign that such actions are so far outside of the norm that they will be extensively reported around the world.

          When it comes to the perverting of our culture’s imagination, our language, and social interactions, I think that there is a good case to be made for a huge effect of porn use. However, the more typical effect of cultivating this pornographic fantasy life (much like the violent fantasy life of video games and violent movies) may not be the translation of those fantasies into reality, but the disengagement from reality for the fantasy. Porn does desensitize us, but its effect is more likely to be seen in the pushing of the boundaries of the consensual into some unpleasant territory, as women are expected to go along with enacting porn-fuelled male fantasies. Also, as you observe, its effects can be seen in the way that we talk about sexual relations and others.

          The violence of porn is not typically non-consensual, but consensual. This is crucial. Men with perverted sexual fantasies fuelled by porn won’t be enacting them violently upon unwilling women, but will be pressuring reluctant girlfriends to go along with degrading actions, actions that they will consent to, although many would prefer not to. That said, we shouldn’t neglect the effect that such porn is having upon women’s imaginations and sexual desires too. Many love these violent or degrading fantasies. Porn is hardly a male-only problem: Fifty Shades of Grey is the highest selling paperback of all time and the overwhelming majority of its readers are women.

          • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

            There is just as much a danger of ‘wishful thinkingt’ bias as there is confirmation bias.

            Please see the link I gave to Peter. This measures the rate of violence against women since 2006, rather than over 25 years. other crime is decreasing: violence against women is increasing. “The statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault.” Not quite at your desired statistic of 60%, but I think the increase is enough for you to be concerned about.

            Interestingly, other research seems to indicate that sexual violence is increasingly within relationships (women abused by partners or by other people they know). It is not hard to see how porn might be fuelling this. Just because conviction rates are low (and they are notoriously low in cases of domestic violence or date rape) does not mean it is not happening. Even Todd Kendall concedes in his report how porn might be fuelling violence against women. There is, of course, the recent UniLads scandal that indicates that some men are well aware of the low conviction rates and using this to their advantage.

            And you may want to read this. http://www.vawnet.org/assoc_files_vawnet/ar_pornandsv.pdf It includes testimony from sexual offenders and victims of sexual offenders about the role that porn played.

            As regards your last paragraph, this proves my point. Porn conveys violence as consensual, so that then becomes the expectation. Our sexual practices are increasingly influenced by porn because of the peer pressure of ‘this is what it is supposed to be’. This is why there is such a flurry of liberal educators trying to tell school children about the concept of consent. This is not just Steubenville – this is widespread. You may want to read Abby Norman’s excellent blog on this – she is an average school teacher in the US: the day I taught how not to rape. I note the recent adverts on TV ‘if you saw yourself, would you see rape?’ When I was growing up, the equivalent adverts were about HIV and sharing needles. This is the new problem – that men are raping and not recognising it as such. If porn is contributing to women feeling forced or coerced into sexual practices they would ‘prefer not to’, as you so euphemistically put it, then it is questionable whether consent is given. And why you should be defending this, as though it were fine for a men to be pressurising their partners into deviant sexual practices as long as it’s not something they can be charged for criminally, is beyond me.

            • Alastair Roberts 6th August, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

              I already responded to the comment that you left in response to Peter. Perhaps it hasn’t appeared yet.

              And I really must insist that you represent my position fairly: I am not ‘defending’ anything. Quite the opposite. I am firmly opposed to porn, to the idea of reluctant consent, and to the perversion of the sexual fantasies of both men and women (the Fifty Shades of Grey popularity should show that many women supposedly want this more degrading reality too: it isn’t just being forced on them). I have written and spoken against this in the past in various contexts and continue to do so.

              My sole concern here is that we follow where the evidence actually leads, not where we think that it should lead. Also, we should take into account all of the evidence, especially when that evidence is as strong as that pointing to the declining levels of sexual violence in the US in the period during which online pornography was exploding.

            • Chris 10th August, 2013 at 6:21 am #

              I believe we would see a more alarming picture yet of violence toward women when we also consider the explosion of human sex trafficking globally. These victims do not appear statistically as rapes but as missing persons… if at all. Some of us may have unwittingly participated in their miseries courtesy of the internet as some of them are used in the production of porn before being sold on the street.

              Also victims of violence from porn fed men (and even women) that may not appear in the statistics are children who live in shame and silence. When you add to this that exposure of pornography to children has the same psychological effect as being sexually violated, and that the average age of “first exposure” has dropped from 12 down to 5 years old with many becoming addicted… ADDICTED as young children, the problem may actually be worse than we are even discussing.

              • Tanya 10th August, 2013 at 10:50 am #

                Thank you so much for these valuable points. Sex-trafficking is all part of the dark business, and as a mother I find it terrifying that children in our society are being exposed to porn at such a young age. Thanks so much for your comments and these important points.

    6. Margaret @ Felice Mi Fa 5th August, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

      So, so well put. Porn culture is ubiquitous and harms everyone, men and women.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:44 am #

        Thanks so much, Margaret!

    7. James Prescott 5th August, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      Agree completely Tanya – difficult to add anything here, you’ve said it all completely. It’s time porn was brought to the forefront and people realised the harsh truths behind it – violence, abuse, addiction and more. The post you linked to is phenomenal, I’ve read it many times before. Thanks for boldly stepping out and sharing this, absolutely vital post.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:45 am #

        Thank you so much for commenting, and for supporting these campaigns. We need men to say that these things are not okay!

    8. Marie 5th August, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Our whole attitude toward sex and sexuality produces the rape/porn culture. As a society, we have come to regard sex as a “right” instead of a privilege. We no longer celebrate the idea of delayed gratification. And we certainly don’t see monogamy and chastity as positives.

      It’s an evil lie that we’ve bought into. There’s nothing “harmless” about pornography, wherever it falls on the spectrum. Pornography normalizes abuse – of both genders. It sets people up for disappointment in relationships; there is no way a real person can meet the airbrushed, starved, injected standard on the screen.

      My husband once had an issue with pornography (praise God, he’s been delivered). He will unequivocally state that viewing these photos and films was one of the worst decisions he ever made.

      • Tanya 6th August, 2013 at 10:49 am #

        Yes! There are all kinds of wrong-thinking about sex in our society – I couldn’t agree with you more. And I also agree that all pornography has the potential for great harm, though I know there are others who think differently. I also find myself wanting to challenge the ‘porn is inevitable’ culture. It is not inevitable. Plenty of men don’t use porn. It is not a need. We would do well to remember that.

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