Friday, November 26, 2010

Hypocrisy in Second Life

I need to begin by saying this is a very personal issue for me. Not just the whole "I'm a woman" personal but "knife to the throat let's play games little lady" personal. Stop reading now if that makes you uncomfortable.

I've been at more than one dinner party over the years where alcohol induced conversations got around to men vs women issues and the types of behaviour which men considered acceptable (but made the women noticeably uncomfortable). In one case a man (a senior Corporate executive type) announced there was "no such thing as rape". I asked him what kind of research he had done to arrive at that conclusion. Didn't make me too popular. On another occasion I brought all conversation to a halt by asking if "Mike Tyson would have gotten his boxing license back if he'd been convicted of raping a man". You can probably detect my bias from these examples.

The depiction of violence against women in Second Life has bothered me greatly from the very beginning of my residency. I've tried to convince myself that "consensual" means I should be tolerant but I've never succeeded. A new exhibit has made me stop deluding myself and stop ignoring the topic and has forced me to confront one of the most appalling (to me) aspects of this issue.

Is This Turning You On? is an exhibit by Scylla Rhiadra and utilizes images from inworld groups and shops to address those who participate in violent role play asking them why this type of thing is sexually exciting. You can find out more about the exhibit itself here. It's very powerful and the images are extremely disturbing (and yes at least one involves sexual violence against a man) - be warned, don't go visit if you are very sensitive to this type of display.

Scylla has counted over 400 groups devoted to rape, snuff and Dolcett role play. 400 of them. Think about that. Some have few members but some have upwards of 1400.

One of my biggest problems with this type of activity and the depictions of it in Second Life is the blatant unapologetic hypocrisy it demonstrates. If there was a religious component to what was being presented the outcry would be deafening. The fact that it is just primarily women makes it acceptable. Don't believe me? Put a male avatar wearing a yarmulke in one of those contraptions and have another avatar slice his stomach open with a knife and you'll hear no end of complaints and cries of "OMG this can't be tolerated". Put a swastika on the wall and there would be demonstrations and demands that the person be banned for life. Make it a naked woman and people just shrug.

John Norman wrote the Gor books in reaction to the women's movement of the 60's (he must have felt very threatened). One of the many things the movement achieved was the recognition (in many places) that domestic violence was not a "private family matter". It was finally accepted that society would not tolerate you doing something to a "loved one" that would get you arrested if you did it to a stranger on the street.

I think it's time that we recognize that violence (particularly for sexual purposes) against women and men isn't acceptable ... period. The lack of religious or political motivation does not make it tolerable.

As a final note - I don't consider the "milder" forms of this role play acceptable either. Gor isn't benign - I don't care how many butterflies and "kind" owners there are. Subjugation and "discipline" are degrading and abusive. The next time you see a Master/Slave out shopping or wandering around - ask yourself this ..... If the person crawling on all fours was a Jew and the person holding the chain a Palestinian - would you be so tolerant?


Peyote said...

This is a well written and thoughtful post that I don't agree with.

You are saying to a significant percentage of both men and women who enjoy BDSM in fantasy and in real life, "What you crave in sexuality is abhorrent to me and you should be made to stop."

I think your comparison to racial violence is a fallacy. It's the same logic used by some against gay marriage when they say, "Replace a human with a sheep and freedom to marry who you want becomes a nightmare to society."

By the way, there are race play groups in Second Life, though, for some reason, they tend to not show up in search.

Yes, while I respect your feelings on the topic, I don't think a successful campaign to eliminate consensual sexual BDSM from Second Life improves SL, ennobles society as a whole or in any way helps men and women who have to deal with real nonconsensual violence in their lives.

What it would do is eliminate a safe, well-supported outlet for people who want to explore aspects of their own sexuality in fantasy without being made to feel like they are unacceptably deviant or mentally ill.

Honour McMillan said...

Well personally rape is unacceptably deviant in my mind.

I wasn't "comparing" it to racial violence exactly - what I am saying is that dissing a religion will bring out the torches and pitchforks. Depicting the rape of a man or woman gets you little or no reaction. That to me is an intolerable hypocrisy.

Kathy Waverider said...

It's apparently wrong for upper-class Ivy Leaguers in hollywood to make and sell stories about rape -- so it must be some sort of reaction to uppity regular people that makes it important to put us in our place -- firmly on the bottom, or non-existing, apparently

Peyote said...

Well, as my final rebuttal, I'll agree that rape is wrong.

However, violence is the not a defining property of rape -- it's the missing consent.

Sometimes healthy and satisfying sex is violent and dramatic and passionate.

As an outside observer without context, you can't always tell the difference between rape and sex without knowing if there's consent.

Just because some people enjoy sex in ways that remind you of rape is not a good reason to ask them to stop.

Controlling people, making them conform to your personal cosmology doesn't help to protect anybody from sexual violence. Taking away the right to say yes is the same as taking away the right to say no.

If you really want to help, work to make sure everybody has the power to choose for themselves how they want to express their sexuality.

brinda Allen said...

Hmmmm...The depiction of anything desenitises. If one pretends to do anything long enough and uses infinite detail in that pretend situation the brain "learns" that other words the brain doesn't know or care whether someone actually does a given behavior or just pretended to do it.
I,m a curious person, so I clicked Peyotes name...blank profile...blank blog...interesting that.
Honour, I just might be one of those in Secondlife older than you, I'm 68.
I come from a generation that accepted that what a husband did in the privacy of the home was no ones business.

@Peyote...I have worked the street in a past life. I have abused and been abused. I suspect an attitude of the hypocrisy this post talked about may be behind a comment here.
The bottom line is that:
[A] I will not be abused in any life virtual or not.
[B] The premise is true that display Nazi gear and one is gone.
Display religious violence and your gone. Disembowel a female and it's "ho hum".
Would a campaign to disallow BDSM and other extremist life styles improve Secondlife? I ask... if a campaign to stop all forms of violence against everyone in the "real" world would improve our world?
Is my dream just that? a dream? Yes, is it possible? Not now, but it's importyant to ask those questions.

Scylla Rhiadra said...

Honour, thank you for this excellent post. I am going to disagree with you so far as the issue of censorship is concerned: there is ample proof in RL and SL that "banning" things often doesn't work, and that it sometimes exacts too high a price on individual liberties. My exhibit is premised on a rather different assumption: that by education, discussion, and a certain amount of self-reflection, we can change the attitudes that currently enable the thinking that it is "ok" to fetishize our darker and more violent fantasies.

Ultimately, this is about desensitization and attitudes: whenever a woman hops on a "rape" pose ball, she is implicitly telling her partner that women in fact find rape a real turn on. And whenever her partner goes to a rape, snuff, or Dolcett sim, the implicit message he (or she) is receiving is that the violent side of his (or her) personality is really healthy, acceptable, and should be indulged, if only in fantasy.

Are these messages that we really want to send? And how does one make the leap in logic necessary to accept them? Surely introspection should lead to the conclusion that not everything about ourselves is "good," and worthy of expression? As things stand, it's as though fluffy self-affirmation has been hijacked by the extreme BDSM set.

I do also want to note that the exhibit is actually just part of a much larger event that I am helping to organize in Second Life, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. The SL event, which features a very full programme of art, music, and presentations, and which parallels the "real life" event run out of Rutgers University, is primarily focused upon gender violence in the "real world," rather than in Second Life. A full programme is available here:

Honour McMillan said...

um I meant to talk about the 16 day event but got caught up in venting :) Thank you for doing that!

While I think it shouldn't be tolerated I didn't intend to start dictating what should be "banned" (although I'm all in favour of outlawing adult/children sex play) the fact that I consider something intolerable doesn't give me the right to do that (*grin* mores the pity).

One of the points I was trying to make though was that if it had included religious references there would be a loud call to ban it. I think the threshold of our virtual society's tolerance of gender violence is much higher than it is when religion or politics are concerned and that disturbs me greatly.

Pep said...

Were you describing a Caesarian Section in the middle of that rant?

Pep (supposes you don't approve of *them* either.)

Honour McMillan said...

Dear Pep: I was describing one of the devices referenced in the exhibit.

Peyote said...

@brinda Allen; Yeah, I only use my blogger account for replies, so there's nothing there. I'm Peyote Short in SL and PeyoteShort in twitter and gmail.

Freyja Nemeth said...

Comparing sexual violence and racial violence is apples and oranges in one sense: what looks like sexual violence may be consensual sexual play but I have never heard of consensual racial violence.

No doubt there are people who engage in sexually violent situations in SL who have unhealthy fantasies about actually being sexually violent to a non-consenting partner. But many of them are just engaging in consensual play with a partner who finds it just as arousing as they do.

Women may not want to be raped, but some women do have rape fantasies. If I use a rape poseball in SL with my partner, I am telling him I find that fantasy a turn-on, yes. Not that actual rape is okay.

Women may not want to be treated like second class human beings, but some women still like to be dominated sexually.

The above probably fits men too. I say probably because a) I am not a man and b) I don't know of any studies on rape fantasies and men.

Consensual fantasies have nothing to do with non-consensual violence.

Botgirl Questi said...

First, I want to thank you for having the courage and grace to go out on a virtual limb and speak thoughtfully on such an inflammatory topic.

For me, there are so many facets to the issues touched upon in the exhibit (which I thought was brilliantly done, by the way) that after contemplating your post for a day, I haven't been able to come up with a coherent viewpoint to share. So I'll just throw out a couple of comments on your post and contribute to what I hope will be an ongoing discussion within the Second Life community:

- I have misgivings about conflating actual abuse with consensual BDSM practice and culture. It seems to me that the existence of BDSM RP culture provides a non-abusive channel for those who are attracted to that type relational modality.

- I don't think the comparison between BDSM activity and hate groups is justified, at least outside of cultures where abuse is at least tacitly condoned. Racist role players advocate racism in RL, sexual RPers (outside of rare fringe groups) do not advocate RL rape.

- I'm hesitant to make ethical judgements about sexual preferences or fetishes that I find personally revolting as long as they are consensual, between adults, and not a product of coercive power imbalances such as an employer/employee dynamic.

- Although I am troubled by the reality that some people may become numbed to actual gender violence because of the prevalence of such imagery, I'm not sure whether at least as many people end up being more active in their support of groups working to thwart actual abuse because of their exposure.

Anyway, that's about all I have at the moment. I'll probably weigh in a bit more on my blog next week.

Honour McMillan said...

I appreciate all the comments and I hope discussion continues in various venues. Let me add a few thoughts triggered by the comments I've read and heard - not that I think they're scathingly brilliant but they have been formed and I guess should be verbalized. :)

I'm struck by the thought that because it's in SL the gender violence isn't "real". I assume that those who feel that way also believe role playing pedophiles should not be disallowed.

I'm also struck by the paradox if you will - we have seen in studies and that the brain does not distinguish between "real" and "virtual". I think that means that to their brains (or at least a portion thereof) that orgasm they achieved by torturing/maiming/raping an avatar was a result of all of the same impulses and feelings and actions which would have been required in the physical world - albeit with less effort and minimal cleanup. I'm not saying they might commit those acts in the physical world but we could say the same for somebody role playing hate crimes.

However my most repeated thought is that if gender violence is tolerable in SL because it's just fantasy then political and religious role playing should not be condemned either. Can we honestly say that a person isn't just role playing racial views?

I believe, based on 3+ years of observation, that religious/racial and political behaviour which targets groups in a negative fashion will continue to be considered unacceptable because it is ugly, insensitive and offensive.

The fact that both sexes (although primarily women) are targeted in a fashion which is ugly, insensitive and offensive should meet the same criteria for unacceptability.

The fact that the aggressor can find a "willing" victim does not, in my mind, make the act less vile.

My main point is this - if we're going to condemn some behaviour because we consider it beyond the bounds of decency then all types of behaviour which meets those criteria should be condemned.

Pedophelia is illegal - at least in every culture I know. Hate mongering is illegal in at least those jurisdictions governing most of the residents of SL. Well torture/mutilation/rape and murder are also. I believe we should deal with them all in the same manner.

Freyja Nemeth said...

Some of the points made might have been a little easier to swallow or at least to consider if it wasn't for this:

"As a final note - I don't consider the "milder" forms of this role play acceptable either. Gor isn't benign - I don't care how many butterflies and "kind" owners there are. Subjugation and "discipline" are degrading and abusive."

So men and women who enjoy being subjugated or disciplined are wrong to enjoy this? They are just...misguided because they don't realize they are in fact being abused?

If that is the intent behind that statement, I am afraid I find it incredibly patronizing.

Dale Innis said...

An amazing exhibit; thanks for linking to it.

I also don't have a good consistent opinion on this stuff. I don't think I'd want to hang out with anyone that enjoyed the snuff-sex devices. I also don't think they should be banned. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be protested.

On the other hand there are kinds of asymmetrical power relationships that can be healthy and loving; I'm by no means disgusted by everything that might be called D/s or BDSM.

So there's ick stuff and there's okay stuff, and I *know* it would be hard to draw a bright line between them.

Scylla has done a great thing by just encouraging thinking and talking about this, I'd say. Thanks for helping that along!

Honour McMillan said...

Freya those are your words not mine - and certainly not my thoughts. Obviously people who find enjoyment in that type of activity think differently than I do. But my opinions are just as valid as theirs - and I have the same right to express them. :)

Codester said...

I'm still somewhat new to SL, but after 5 months, I haven't seen examples of how religious, racial or politically offensive depictions, text, images or concepts have been "condemned."

I've seen some pretty shocking regions and parcels devoted to "Old South" slavery plantations and the brutal aftermath of (I guess) disobedient slaves. Lots of folks verbally shouting out the n-word, just for shock value. Several places and groups with loyalties to white supremacy and Neo-Nazism as well as tributes the the Third Reich. Not too much in the way of ridicule towards religions, church, worship, or whatever God someone chooses, but they are there. And tons of slams on both sides of the political spectrum, Democratic Party, Republicans, liberal and conservative alike (not to mention against the former and current Presidents, both).

But sincere condemnation or "outrage" over any of this? I guess I'll have to look a little harder for that. I'm not seeing it.

Age-play is the only thing I consistently see active participation, signage, warnings and guidelines for... and I'd agree with the author, rightfully and justifiably so.

Beth Catronis said...

I'm not a great one for leaving comments on blogs, but I was directed to this one so I read it and the comments. You make some very interesting assertions and I'm interested in reading or seeing the things that led you to your conclusions. You mention the exhibit, but can you direct me to other blogs or articles as well?

"If there was a religious component to what was being presented the outcry would be deafening."
Would be or has been? I would be interested in blogs or articles that have explored this

"The fact that it is just primarily women makes it acceptable." Again - has this been written about, and is there any research around the gender of the people 'running' the female and male avatars involved? I assume that it may be equally the case that the 'victim' may have a male typist and the 'perpetrator' may have a female typist?

"Don't believe me? Put a male avatar wearing a yarmulke in one of those contraptions and have another avatar slice his stomach open with a knife and you'll hear no end of complaints and cries of "OMG this can't be tolerated"." I've certainly been to sims where this kind of thing has happened and was not aware of any outcry (indeed I've seen adverts for devices on the then XStreet depicting this (violence to a male avatar) and am not aware that it has been objected to). Have there been complaints, and if so, does anyone know what the Linden's response has been?

"Put a swastika on the wall and there would be demonstrations and demands that the person be banned for life." Ditto. Is this a ban-able situation in SL and have people demonstrated about Nazism in SL? I've certainly heard avatars boast about 'getting away' with inappropriate symbolism in sims.

"Make it a naked woman and people just shrug." Has anyone done any research into this and made it available? And has anyone looked into whether male typists feel as strongly about this issue when it comes to femdom sims where male avatars are dominated physically and sexually by female avatars?

Thanks for the opportunity, I'd really like to hear more in this discussion

Honour McMillan said...

I'm barely awake and so I'll just provide a couple of examples off the top of my head :)

Jordan River

National Front


Scylla Rhiadra said...

It is wonderful to see this kind of conversation happening, particularly in the context of the 16 Days of Activism (which is currently into Day 4).

@Beth - There are online discussions of this issue, and particularly of "virtual rape," available, although I have found that they are often a bit fuzzy about some important issues, as for example the distinction between consensual role play, and non-consensual sexualized "griefing."

One place where you can find some more direct discussion is the SLLU Feminist Network Consumer Watch. This is actually written by me, and the postings are relatively scant so far, in large measure because I've been diverted by the exhibit itself (the content of which will probably be posted there eventually). The approach the Consumer Watch takes to this issue is a little different, but the content is parallel and overlapping.

Miso Susanowa said...

You know... it's amazing to me how this topic gets muddied and debated and fuzzed and conflated.

Sure, some women have rape fantasies. Sure, some women enjoy the fantasy or even the reality of being tied up.

I do not know one who has ever shared with me the fantasy of disembowelment, physical maiming, being punched or any of the other criminal acts that are depicted in these types of displays.

For the record, I spent a great deal of time in the realBDSM world in Los Angeles. I have first-hand and in-depth information and experience with consensual BDSM play, including "violet wands" and other painful and extreme "sports", and real Masters and Submissives of the most extreme ends of the spectrum.

And yet these types of "play" exhibited never once crossed my path.

So you false "BDSMers"... quit trying to excuse, snow me, throw me, push your agenda or make me think tied up, saran-wrapped, chained or humiliated come anywhere near what are recognizeable criminal acts in any jurisdiction you care to name (unless you are talking about some primeval country like Africa, Saudi Arabia or some CIA prison).

And if some males find this kind of thing exciting, I'd dare them to watch an equal amount of films, drawings and materials doing the same sexual violence to men as is depicted about women.

I'd like to see just how "excited" they are after watching forced and nonconsensual castrations, orchiectomies, geldings or spayings let alone watching someone get a 'Prince Albert" or a circumcision in person and up close.

Somehow I doubt they'd be so excited.

I call bullpoop, out loud and in public (and so would most true Masters I have known). This type of "play" would get you shot or behind bars for a very long time in RL and you know it.

Yeah, that's my opinion and I am sticking to it.

Botgirl Questi said...

Nightflower Morrisey wrote a couple of posts recently that are relevant to this discussion, They are based on interviews with female Gorean roleplayers:

ZenRascal said...

Honour, I applaud your courage in taking on such a difficult topic.

It's not difficult when you've taken a stance and know why. Like you, I find gender-based violence abhorrent.

No, the topic is difficult because it's so complex, because there are so many pathways into and out of any segment of human experience. The comments here illustrate some of that variability.

I think what I find most disturbing is when gender or race or hate violence is organized or sanctioned by a group. Whether it's the KKK or Gor, this is human action at its worst.

GoSpeed Racer said...

We seemed to have been on the same page that day Honour. I had issues with rape themed pictures being posted on my SL Ebony Flickr pool. To make it worse was the complete flippancy and disregard for the big issue among this guy's defenders.

My post can be found here: