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Twitter is not the problem, porn is

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:

  • 21 July – Cameron announces his ‘opt-in’ scheme to combat online porn, especially ‘rape porn’.
  • 24 July – The Bank of England announces Jane Austen will appear on a bank note.
  • 28 July – Co-Op threatens to withdraw sale of uncensored Lads’ Mags, followed by Tesco on 3 August.

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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