3 Nov 2011

Reading The Sun is rarely, if ever, a good idea

...but during an idle moment at work, I succumbed. What caught my eye was not any of the usual breasts, casual racism or right-wing hatred, but the crop of letters on the Letters page. All were roundly condemning the judge in the Joanna Yeates murder trial for not allowing the 'fact' of her murderer, Vincent Tabak's 'obsession' with 'strangulation porn' to be admitted as evidence in court. Never mind that the judge was entirely right to leave this irrelevant and potentially leading information out of the case - it's the supreme irony of readers of a newspaper displaying a bare-breasted 20 year-old on its 3rd page writing in to complain about pornography, that really rankles with me.

These Sun readers see no inconsistency in condemning the judge for refusing to admit the evidence of  'Tabak trawling porn sites' whilst happily airing their views in a tabloid which regularly appears to be little more than pornography itself. One letter writer even says "watching vile films of women being strangled during sex are not the actions of an innocent man". Hmmm. I wonder how many rapists, murderers or paedophiles are Sun readers, or have ever glanced at Page 3? Would that be admissible evidence of a predilection for objectifying and degrading women? Somehow, I'm guessing no.

In the letter-writers' minds, the guy who leers at an undressed girl, usually a teenager, with his cup of tea in the morning, is worlds apart from the 'evil sicko' who watches porn where women are tied up, whipped, strangled or humiliated in some way. Yet no study has ever conclusively established a link between viewing degrading or extreme porn and sexual violence, whereas the cumulative effects of The Sun's shitty attitude towards women is everywhere for us to see in British culture. Competitions to win your girlfriend a boob job, preadolescents dreaming of being glamour models, young girls being taught that their entire worth comes from their bodies and sexual behaviour. It's not 'extreme porn' - viewed and consumed in private, controlled environments by adults who choose to do so - that's causing such contempt for women. It's the British tabloid media.

Without getting too much into the ethical debate over 'extreme', 'degrading' or BDSM porn, I do feel it worth mentioning that as someone who has both watched and engaged in acts that could be deemed any of those things, I resent being judged as perverse or deviant by those I consider far more responsible for degrading women. I certainly trusted my male BDSM partners more than I would trust a man who regularly consumes The Sun, Zoo, Nuts, Playboy or even mainstream porn - which is often pretty 'nasty' and 'degrading' itself, and which lacks the disclaimers and reminders that This Is Not Reality which BDSM porn always displays. If you believe that a porn film can turn you into a violent murderer, then you must also believe that consuming media which encourages you to see women as consumable objects perpetually available for men's sexual pleasure can also make your attitudes and actions towards women vile and degrading.

Violent porn doesn't make men murderers - images on a screen just don't have the power to do that. People seek out the kind of erotic stimulation that they know they are already interested in - I knew I was into BDSM long before I saw any images depicting it. I don't seek out foot fetish websites because I don't find feet sexy, and I don't imagine that going on a foot fetish website would do anything to change my preferences. The interest in a particular act predates the search for depictions of that act. That's why I agree that Mr Justice Field was right to disallow the admission of Vincent Tabak's porn tastes into the Joanna Yeates trial. Hopefully he saw, as I can plainly see, that pornography tastes alone do not create, indicate or guarantee sadistic and murderous tendencies. He also probably realised that this simple assertion is beyond the grasp of many people, who view any sexual tastes out of the ordinary as not just deviant but actually dangerous.

What those people, Sun readers included, don't stop to consider is what precisely is so 'normal' about being served sex with your morning breakfast and being aroused by tits as you eat your toast. It's only because that ritual is considered socially acceptable, due to the dominance of a deeply sexist media, that the sexualised Sun is beyond question whereas alternative sexual practices are apparently beyond the pale. Violent porn did not kill Joanna Yeates. The man who chose of his own volition to strangle her, did that. The jury who found Vincent Tabak guilty were able to see that without needing to hear about his porn tastes. Sun readers would do well to remember this, and also to remember that their own attitudes to women are not beyond reproach simply because they consider their sexual tastes 'normal'.

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