(With great homage to the brilliant bell hooks*, I offer these thoughts. They come from a brief speech I gave this week at my campus at an event aimed at eradicating violence.)

The rape, sexual assault, and interpersonal violence that plagues our culture  are by-products of our patriarchal, militarized, and commodified world. Yet, such violence could not continue if we did not allow it

We like to act as if violence happens out there, beyond our control, yet violence is a part of most of our lives. For some of us, it happens regularly in our homes; for all of us, it happens in our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities, our nation, and our world. And, while US culture is good at convincing us we are powerless to change this, we are not – in fact, a key hope for change lies within our daily acts of resistance to violence

One place to begin the process of eradicating violence is within our own desires.

If as heterosexual women desire violent, aggressive men, we are perpetuating violence.

If as men, we are turned on by power, control, and domination, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as parents allow our children to achieve addictive adrenaline rushes by playing grand theft auto and other such games that glorify murder and rape, we are perpetuating violence.

If we as citizens accept war as an answer to world problems, we are perpetuating violence

One place we can begin to change our own immersion in violence and our attraction to it is in our response to popular culture – we can begin by examining how intertwined violence and sexuality are in contemporary society.

We, as citizens of the united states, our turned on by violence – yet, this need not be the case.

Currently, an entire army of 10 to 14 to yes even 40-year-olds are immersed in the Twilight book series, a series that romanticizes violent masculinity and presents sexual assault as proof of love. Vampire and werewolf legends are of course dripping with thinly veiled references to rape, violent sexuality, and sexually motivated murder – they are also predicated on a championing of violent masculinity. Yet, the messages about sexuality and violence these rabidly popular books contain are far from unique – the Hostel film series and other such pornified horror films repeatedly make violence seem sexy while simultaneously presenting violent sex as an extreme turn on.

When youth our encouraged to desire werewolves who sexually assault them (via books like Twilight) and teens are encouraged by Eminem to think homicidal misogyny is cool —and those of us who watch television are so inundated with violent sexuality that we become immune to it, we should not be shocked that our culture is one of extreme violence

We, as largely apathetic bystanders to this violence, must realize that we are actually not bystanders but accomplices- for if we, like bell hooks suggests, fail to refuse to be seduced by violence, we our culpable for all the violence that occurs in our culture.

A first step that we all can take is this – we can vow to be seduced by violence no more.

Whether that means refusing to enjoy films that glorify sexual violence or choosing  not to play video games where you get extra points for committing gang rape, whether that means refusing to stand idly by while the ROTC plans to set up camp on your campus or whether that means intervening when you witness violence, whether it means refusing to listen to songs that construct women as rape targets, hoes, and tricks,  or whether it means reshaping your own desires so you are no longer attracted to violent people, ALL of us can play a role in this – and I encourage all of you, from this day forward, to actively refuse to be seduced by violence.

*hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More,” in Transforming Rape Culture, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993).

18 thoughts on “What if you refuse to be seduced by violence?

  1. I’ve known *very* few people who have been successful at “reshaping” their desires, and great number who have tried. Considering the harm that often ensues when one doesn’t “fit” the desired mold, I think it might be better to consider other options for cases where the desire is not coupled with other issues.

    I wonder if a BDSM model of consent, communication, and analysis might serve us better – with the emphasis on consensuality rather than specific, acceptable intimate activities. (This is a separate issue from dv cases, clearly.)

  2. The violence presented in the Twilight series isn’t any worse than, say,Harry Potter. I think the problem with Twilight (other than weak female characters and poor writing) is that it it glorifies the almost abusive relationship between Edward and Bell which so many young girls aspire to. Maybe I just spend too much time working with domestic violence victims, but this book is full of warning signs- the way Edward follows Bella without her knowledge, controls her every move, fantasizes about killing her…This seems more like a more dangerous message than the blanant sort of violence we see everyday.

  3. Anita,
    I agree that reshaping desire is not easy, and I did think about the BDSM model of consent when penning the talk. Actually, a colleague and I discussed that after the event. I think emphasizing consent is key, but I also wonder if violence would be such a turn on if our culture didn’t present it as such. Ie, is our attraction to violence/domination socially constructed? And, BDSM, though I am FAR from an expert, involves much activity that is not violent – at least not in the same ways that rape, dv, etc are.
    I am more interested in thinking about how we can change not so much our sexual desires, but our desires for violent, sexist entertainment and pop-culture. I know these are not easy to change, yet I feel they do work to perpetuate violence on the one hand, and, on the other, recognizing we have the ability to change this gives all of us the power to do something. This seems a better model to me than blaming victims or demonizing perpetrators.

    Very good point about HP being violent too. I agree with you entirely that Twilight glorifies an abusive relationship – and since our campus event was focused on DV and IPV, I thought it was a fitting critique. As you note, the book is full of classic warning signs and teaches girls to DESIRE an abusive partner. I find the rabid popularity of the series truly horrifying for this reason.

  4. Two points–

    Certainly HP is violent but it is also clearly fantasy. While I haven’t read the Twilight series (and likely won’t after reading {here} about the glorification of violence between the two main characters), my understanding is that the novel is framed as reality. The characters are in an actual high school in Washington state. They are (or appear to be) human. The HP series starts off with a cat turning into a person and shortly after a giant appears on the scene, the characters speed away on brooms, etc. It’s obvious from the onset that the story cannot be real.

    Moving more to the point of the post, I was thrilled to read –out there in print for everyone to ingest–that we can, and must, each do our part to not be seduced my violence. No one can avoid blame by claiming that they aren’t affected or it doesn’t happen to their group or within their community. This common (as in the “everyday” sense)applicability serves as a reality check for those who, knowingly or not, have a sense of entitlement or NIMBY. Now, if only they would read this blog…which I just found, by the way. Thanks.

  5. I loved this post. Yes, we are this strange society that kind of wants peace in that we don’t want world war 2 again and yet we don’t REALLY want peace. That would be too hard, too much effort. I don’t know.

  6. Elizabeth,
    Glad you found the blog and liked the post. Thanks for reading.
    You make really good points about the realism of Twilight verses the HP series. (By the way, your hyperlink doesn’t show up in the comments.)
    I am glad you like the approach that makes everyone accountable for the violence in our society — I think too often we like to point fingers and forget the role we all play in terms of perpetuating the norms of our society.

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, we sure do love our peace sign paraphernalia, but real peace? Not so much. Peace is not profitable, that is one reason it doesn’t work for globalized corporate capitalism…

  7. I am reminded of a sticker I made a long time ago, as part of a women’s studies project. It is hard to describe, but I will try my best. The image was my friend’s; she did pictures demonstrating hierarchy/power/violence, this time with GI Joe seemingly forcing himself on Barbie. But my favourite is the text: “stop eroticizing hierarchy and dominance”.

  8. You’re bringing up some really important points here, PWI — but I have to admit that I’m always wary when people blame media and/or books for violent acts… I’m preparing a literature course that I’ll teach this summer that’s focused on the female gothic, and that tradition (which I’ll teach as a tradition) has been around for more than two centuries — seems like it would be extremely difficult to argue for a causal relationship between texts and violence in this context… My current interest in the gothic/female gothic centers around the way that the emergence/enactment of “abnormal” desire (and taboos, like excessive love and incest) in these texts reveals — and oftentimes resists — structures of oppression.

    So, I guess my question would be, are there ways in which we could understand texts like Twilight and/or video games that enable players to sexually assault others not as inherently wrong (which moves into the problematic territory of moralizing and possibly punishing those who we do not understand), but instead as texts that somehow reflect (and maybe in some ways resist by making explicit) the powerful effects/consequences of systematic oppression?

    Thanks for the compelling post.

    — Lisa

  9. I don’t know which video game you’re talking about. You know the one where you get extra points for gang rape? Yeah doesn’t exist. Sorry mate. Just a pet peeve of mine. If you can find it I’ll give you a dollar. I still (other than Japanese niche market games) have yet to see a video game that actively encourages rape. And usually the people you’re killing in a video game – there’s a reason for it. They do actually have a plot you know.

    Sorry, where was the violent sex in Hostel? Or sexualised violence? I must have been missing that – or maybe I ‘read’ it wrong. Or Hostel two? You know the screwed up thing about that movie, rather than the fact it is a movie is the fact it’s based on a real story – there was a killing factory similar to the one in Hostel in Thailand that would charge US$20 000 to take someone’s life. Although, not in the highly romanticised and sensationalised way in Hostel.

    You would think a rape survivor would have problems with this kind of shit – but, no, I actually find it oddly comforting.

    Other than that – I somewhat agreed with what you’ve written here.
    I found this from a link on one of my WP pages 🙂

  10. I haven’t played Grand Theft Auto myself, but I do know that a group of sex workers were protesting this game (I forget what version) due to a story line that alluded to sexual violence, and the beating up of sex workers versus paying them. (My apologies if I got this wrong; it has been awhile since I read about it).

    I am not sure about a direct causal relationships between such video games and violence/sexualized violence, but I do believe at the very least players are desensitized to these issues, and that these video games contribute to a rape culture, in general. I also have concerns about developing minds (read: children) being heavily impacted to normalize sexual violence.

    As for the Japanese “niche market”, my understanding is that there was a game simulating sexual assault on amazon.com until protestors caused it to be removed. But even if it is only sold in Japan (versus available to the world), that is still enough to be very problematic.


    1. Well, I have played it and I have to tell you it’s not like you can just kill sex workers – you can kill cops, police, civilians and of course other gangs that you have to defeat to complete the story.

      Not only that but it’s what’s called a Sandbox game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbox_game) which is a “world” and killing cops, civilians and prostitutes in game isn’t actually essential at all to game play, in fact, the game encourages you to have girlfriends and treat them nicely to advance the plot. Oh and you have to date them all and treat them nicely to get 100% completion on the game. That’s all incidental.

      On that note, the game is also about a man who’s travelled to America to seek a better life from his war torn country and happens to get caught up in the allure of organised crime & runs into someone who had wronged/betrayed him in war and blah blah blah.

      And as a video game player myself, I kind of take a bit of offense to that. Just because I play games doesn’t mean that I 1) don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality 2) doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own problems with how video games and developed, I feel that like most things they’re really quite ridiculously man-centric and the kinds of attitudes you have to put up with being a female gamer (the whole myth that womyn don’t play games is rampant and rabid) are just bullshit, especially considering we make up 46% in the market, with that number expected to reach 50/50 levels in the next few years (the link for this on my blog :))

      Yeah, that game made me sick, but being a Caucasian from Perth, Australia I don’t really feel …. up to examining another culture which I frankly know little about.

  11. Here: Rape Simulator (stimulator?!?) Game


    Advertisers believe, in fact their entire industry is dependent on, our willingness to repeat/MODEL the behavior that they show us on TV, magazines, billboards, movies, etc. WHY do we think that negative, violent behavior is any different??

    Humans DO what they see. Humans CAN be conditioned; humans ARE conditioned. What we watch, read, and are exposed to influences what we find acceptable…or detestable.

    We MUST refuse to be seduced by violence. It is imperative! And it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to condemn violence.

    If we dream of a more peaceful and egalitarian world, it is also our responsibility to help others see what we have been programmed to deny: that dominance and violence have been sexualized beyond recognition. Too many, waaay too many, people cannot conceive of sex without dominance.

  12. Aileen,

    The concept of socialization isn’t about saying gamers are stupid and don’t understand the difference between reality and fantasy. You are righAll Unread Topicst; it isn’t as simple as that.

    If I may use an example…

    I used to work at an (all women) agency where we were really mindful of not calling women “guys” (e.g. “hey you guys!” to a group of women). Instead, we would say stuff like “Hey women!” I was quite particular and sensitive to this, and “you guys” really pissed me off.

    I work for a different (all women) agency where most people aren’t mindful of this, and I hear “you guys” every day. Even though I heavily dislike this term, I find myself using it.

    Now, I am not at all suggesting that people playing these games are going to go out and hurt women. But I do believe that such exposure desensitizes people to violence against women.

    As for your comments about man-centric names and the industry’s failure to recognize the huge amounts of women players, I absolutely agree!

    1. Mm okay. I’m not sure if I entirely agree with what you’re saying but it does make sense 🙂

      But another question (this is turning into comment tennis isn’t it?) how much exposure will desensitise someone (if it indeed does at all)? Will people be desensitised in the same way?

      For me these kind of violent games and whatnot have made my own recovery a lot easier. I don’t know why, they just have. These games have actually made it HARDER for me to be triggered, instead of triggering me.

      I just find it kind of difficult to believe that this is perpetuating an existing problem. I know we don’t live in a cultural vacuum, but I think saying that this kind of thing desenstises people is a bit one sided and extreme. Who knows, maybe some people have had awareness raised through these kind of games? Maybe it’s just my interpretation but I’m sure I’m probably not the only person that feels that way.

      All I really want out of my gaming experience are less “danger girls” and more Lara Croft’s – eloquent, articulate, powerful, awesome and inspirational female lead characters as opposed to mere eye candy. I think if more games had these characteristics it would be a good starting point. I think then maybe less violence directed at womyn might follow.

  13. Hi Aileen

    Is it possible that these games make it less triggering for you because they facilitate desensitization? (I don’t mean to identify your experiences for you; I am just curious if you think this may or may not be the case?)

    I don’t think we are all affected the same way or that we can come up with a particular amount that will lead to desensitization. On that note, it is probably possible for some people not to be desensitized at all, I suppose. But speaking in generalities, I think it is desensitizing to our culture as a whole, but everyone will be affected differently.

    I agree that we need more strong female characters in games. I play World of Warcraft and the class I like to play is unfortunately extremely pornified – big breasts, little waists. I look at WOW and think “this was designed by men”. It sucks.

    As you have pointed out, there are already huge numbers of women gamers. So it isn’t that we need more women gamers. Perhaps we need more feminist designers? (I would say women, but women could certainly design the same types of games, particularly if they are surrounded by dude culture).

    I would like to say that I appreciate your comments and gaming expertise. I game only a few times a month (most recently, a very violent zombie game. And I will confess that I found the experience of killing zombies very liberating). Is this desensitizing me to violence? Probably. (Just stating my hypocrisy).


  14. I’ve recently decided that I’m “against” all of these crime shows that sensationalize sex crimes against women and children, law and order svu, csi etc because of that addictive violent sexual adrenalin rush that comes with watching them. This kind of entertainment is so pervasive throughout mainstream media.

    Though I’m conflicted, because I like aggressive music about violence, and many of the gentlest people I know also like aggressive angry music. Is music different? I guess not when Eminem is the example, or yes?

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