I wish I had a more fun, cheeky thing to post on before a holiday weekend, but I can't just let this new sex tape scandal thing slide. In the past, I've suggested that men who film women (with their consent) having sex and then release it (without their consent) are committing a form of sexual assault---not legally rape, of course, but indistinguishable from other forms of rape in that the intention is to use sex as a weapon to hurt and humiliate the victim. I feel that releasing a sex tape without the permission of everyone involved needs to be elevated to the level of a crime, because it has so much in common with other forms of violence against women, and simply making it a matter for the civil courts isn't doing enough to stop this practice. The victim in this case is Kendra Wilkinson, and the story is really illustrative in this case of my point.
I had to look the woman up, because I had no idea who she is. Turns out she's a reality TV star and former Playboy model. As you can imagine, her history in sex work is creating confusion around the issue, due to the myth that sex workers can't be raped. I was frustrated to see this line of reasoning trotted out at Broadsheet without a firm denunciation.
Kendra Wilkinson expects the leak of her private sex tape to be "really hard" -- "probably the hardest time" of her life. It might seem surprising from a woman who has already posed naked in the pages of Playboy and co-dated Hugh Hefner with two other women. Such a woman is expected to gamely catch the wave of publicity and ride it out to her own benefit. It's what she's been working toward all along, right?
I don't think Tracy Clark-Flory sees it this way, but she's also not bringing up the fact that this is the same argument always used against victims of sexual violence, particularly sex workers, the old "non-virgins can't be raped" myth that should really have been put to rest centuries before the video camera was even invented. Again, to be clear, I'm not saying that releasing a sex tape is the same thing as rape, but it certainly falls on the scale of sexual harassment and assault, as far as I'm concerned. And it should be treated as such by criminal courts. If Justin Frye, who sold the tape, and the folks at Vivid, who bought it, were facing criminal penalties for this, I'm sure they would have thought a lot more carefully about violating this woman's right to control her own body and sexuality.
What makes this entire situation more disturbing is the sexual violence aspects may not be limited to the releasing of tape. I was alarmed to read this blog post at Jezebel describing the contents:
Kendra doesn't really want to be videotaped. She says so on quite a few occasions.
"Please don't do it," she says. "Please?"
"Kendra," he says, annoyed. "I'm barely zooming in. Just go."
"Can you not?"
"You'll like it. Trust me. Watch. Go."
Kendra seems resigned to her fate, and, almost instantaneously, she shifts characters, from a very young woman being pressured into a sexual situation she finds uncomfortable to a willing sexpot, grinding obligingly on the bed with a black panther blanket across it. (Jesus Christ.)
As her male companion puts the camera close-up on her vagina, she shuts her legs.
"What?" he whines. "Just do it. Just keep messing around."
She pushes him and the camera away several times after that, each time slipping instantly back into character as soon as he expresses annoyance.
He begins performing oral sex on her. She's not entirely comfortable with this. She wriggles around and clamps her legs close, against his head.
"Keep ‘em open. Keep ‘em open. Keep ‘em open. Open your legs. Open ‘em. Open ‘em."
They have sex. He has trouble staying hard. He's gross, really - a balding redhead in his late teens or early twenties with a pube-hair goatee, bad teeth and a too-large nose - pudgy and pale all over.
He comes inside her, even though she's obviously asked him not to. She makes a face and she rolls off the bed. He acts surprised and upset by her action. She tells him she doesn't like it when he does that. He mutters something about a blow job.
The blogger says that it's not rape, but calls it that "thing" that happens to young women. And maybe it's not, legally speaking. Maybe she affirmed her consent every time the sex restarted after withdrawing her consent repeatedly. I haven't watched it, nor do I think that I want to be a part of all this.
But let's be clear: being resigned after someone overrules your refusal to perform a specific sex act isn't consent. If someone mugs you on the street, and you pull out your wallet and hand it over with resignation instead of fury, you're just as mugged.
Which is why I'm bothered by this:
This isn't a sex tape, really. It's that thing we talk about that happens to our young women. That thing that we, as grown-ups, write about and research incessantly and condemn broadly, but don't remember so vividly. It's right here on video.
It reminds me to some extent of the Paris Hilton sex tape, but even more so here. It's that space where young women have discovered and perfected their sexuality and its value, but haven't yet figured out how it's empowering. They just know that it's something people want from them; it's something people expect from them. Something young men expect from them; something, perhaps, that young men haven't learned how to ask for politely. It's uncomfortable and new and everybody's learning, and what happens, more often than not, is that the male partner's desires come first and more forcefully, and the young woman is disrespected and disempowered and left with a sense that she's less valuable and less capable of demanding respect and control than her male counterpart - a sense than lingers into her twenties and beyond, even though she might not recognize it as such.
It is true that young women are more vulnerable to coercion, sexual assault, and rape because assailants exploit a common fear young women have about standing up for themselves. And that's all very interesting, but it's secondary to my main concern.
What's wrong with a man that, when faced with the words "stop", "don't", "no", "quit it", or any variation of the above doesn't immediately turn off the camera and stop the sexual activity? What is wrong with him that he gets off bullying his supposed girlfriend into performing for him, even though she's clearly opposed to the idea? What kind of evil, twisted fuckhead bullies a woman into sex acts she doesn't like, comes in her without her consent, and then sells the video---again, without her consent---to a porn studio? What kind of twisted fuckers buy it? Even if all this behavior falls short of the official line between rape and not-rape, I still see a bunch of assholes getting off on the fact that a woman's consent is compromised.
Let's face it. We all know the answer to why some men get off on this. They feel powerful. They like the control over women. In this case, I'm sure her Playboy-style looks were part of it---controlling a woman that other men gawk at is a way to feel like a big, powerful man. We all know why men like to impress themselves and other men with their control and mastery over women, their willingness to hurt women.
And if you still have questions about why feminists call ours a "rape culture", I suggest letting the issues raised by this tape and the release of it percolate in your mind for awhile.