Social media, power, influence and consequence.

I’m not at all sadden by the arrest of a 41-year-old Sydney man on multiple aggravated sexual assault charges. This man and those like him, embody everything that I despise and everything that frightens me about kink. His attitudes to consent and mutuality make me nauseous and his recounts and fantasies makes my clitoris want to flee my body. (His constant and maybe even deliberate misrepresentation of a “rape fantasy” to sell what it is that gets his dick hard infuriates me. Fortunately, there is some fantastic research out about what exactly a rape fantasy is and how women use the imagery and language associated with the fantasy to create deeply satisfying sexual encounters.) I’m not afraid of men like this but I am afraid of the culture that men like this create for women like me. Women for whom submission lies at the heart of our sexuality. Women who need intense physical stimuli to become aroused. Women who use emotionally and socially laden language to communicate with our intimate partners. Women like me who are forced to create a choreographed dance around illusion and innuendo created by men like this. Women who are the ones who are hurt.

But the thing that frightens me the most about this culture, from which these social media platform “Fetlebrity” are created and are catapulted into extraordinary reputation and influence within the kink community, isn’t that it exists. But that they exist within absolute assent of us all. Yes, this includes myself. Blind obedience. It’s something I lived with in my decades of existing within the Catholic Church. It is something that is instilled into us through fear of being ostracised from community and identity that has meaning for us. It is something that exists because we are conditioned to accept the way that is because it always has been. Blind obedience exists because we are so desperate for connection and belonging that we feel entitled to gloss over that which is uncomfortable.

It is this obedience to what is, this fear of being ostracised and this desperate need for connection and belonging that is destroying what is for so many of us genuine and safe experiences within our intimate relationships.

If blind obedience didn’t exist in kink men like Mr M wouldn’t be able to attain so much power and influence.

The unchecked power of toxic social media fame is becoming more and more of a problem. Most Aussies would remember the infamous Belle Gibson, the so called wellness blogger who was able to spin such elaborate stories around herself that she was afforded immense power over some of the most vulnerable people and to create business relationships with some of the biggest names. Belle built up her reputation over years, as it seems Mr M did. Belle created her online self in a way that provided references and reputation, as it seems Mr M did. Social media fame seems to cause this impenetrable bubble that protects celebrities from question and accountability; until there is considerable harm. Considerable enough to be believed that is. Those who do question and offer up the other side of the story are routinely shamed and shunned. Sidelined for the hype, glamour and inclusiveness. See, these social media stars are fantastic marketers! They understand their target audiences better than most of us understand ourselves. They create self brands and platforms from their authentic voice, but they grow it through their audiences. Ohhh they know how to use disclaimers and “I’m not an expert” tags like the best of us. They sell themselves the way that the latest, must have, beauty products are sold. Always with the fine print written in a way that is intentionally obscured by the glitz and promises of what is being sold.

Social media personalities; of which this man certainly falls, are influential. They use the intimacy that their social media voice enables them to create, what is, for their unsuspecting audience, real relationships. And maybe they are. Maybe I just too cynical to believe that one man can form and maintain genuinely authentic and consensual sexual relationships with women based on his social media fame. Or that one woman can create genuine connections with those suffering deliberating illnesses like Belle Gibson did. These relationships seem to be based on the conventional formats of communication. I speak you listen, and maybe they are just as real as the conversations I have with those off the computer screen.

Maybe the stories and antidotes that Mr M posted on Fetlife were enough for some women to engage in genuinely healthy intimate relationships. Hey, for all I know his writings were all the information necessary for some to have made an informed choice? Who am I to declare their relationships invalid?

I want to dismiss him and the one like him that will come next, and then the one after that, then the next and the next one, as simply narcissistic, power hungry psychopaths who manipulated the power of the social media celebrity to his advantage. It would make things so simple to cast him off as “evil” and “bad”. And in a way he is. He and he alone is responsible for the choices he made on the night of the 21st of August 2015 because he chose to do something that is deemed “bad”.

But can we just, simplistically, assign him a label; say that of narcissist and move on? Is it really that simple to label his behaviour as clinically pathological?

I don’t think so. Have I seen evidence of narcissistic tendencies within his writings and interactions? Yes. But I am not, nor are most of us, in possession of the skill necessary to clinically analyse and diagnose his behaviour, using the DSM. It would be easy, and in all honesty it would be so much more comforting to be able to sit here with confidence and dismiss him as just another sick, pathological perpetrator of male violence against women! Rendering his choices as the consequence of a pathological personality disorder would enable me to “tut-tut” and “see I told you so” while sitting on my feminist high-horse. Without ever having to spend a second in reflective thought about what this means for me. Label him, crediting his choices to narcissism really would let me and you off the hook.

Narcissism is a word that I’ve found creeping more and more into kink online spaces, it seems to be the go to defence of behaviour – ‘ohhh he’s a narcissist what do you expect”? Except to categorise and minimise his behaviour as mere narcissism removes a whole other variable in, not so much this one case specifically (keeping in mind that the full extent of his actions that are being interrogate by the law are still not known) but the overall culture within which this occurred

But that wouldn’t bring us anywhere near identifying let alone understanding the root cause. Let me make this clear, understanding this in the context of the environment it occurred in does not, in any way, diminish the severity of his choices. Nor does it try to create any distance between him and the consequences of his choices. This man chose to act in the way that he did on the 21st of August 2015. No one but he holds any responsibility for what he did. But understanding the social and cultural context within which he was allowed to become to guy now outed in the media as an accused rapist can, potentially, enlighten us to what comes next. Not for him, fuck him, he can do the maximum sentence and then some for all I care. But for the rest of us. He has been, forever, connected to our community, to this website and the Sydney scene. We are, thanks to his choices, connected to him, to this, as long as we associate ourselves with the site and the scene.

Brene Brown wrote that:

“Labelling the problem in a way that makes it all about who people are rather than the choices they’re making let’s all of us off the hook. Too bad. That’s who I am.  I’m a huge believer in the holding of people accountable for their behaviours, so I’m not talking about ‘blaming the system’ here. I’m talking about understanding the root cause so we can address the problems”. (p.22)

                   Brene Brown. Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.

Brene is known for her Ted talk on the Power of vulnerability, and it is amazing! But in her book Daring greatly she takes the idea of vulnerability and moves it into the realm of our behaviours within our environments. Like she says in the above quote it’s not about blaming the system (although as a feminist I cannot extract our subjective lived experiences from the totality of patriarchal power) but it’s about exploring our environments in a way that allows us to go beyond simplistic diagnoses. Like narcissism.

Brene goes on to talk about our fear of ordinary. That we always need to be looking for the next best thing. She writes about how we are all so vulnerable to the messages that sell us the drive to be extraordinary. And what could be more extraordinary that not having consensual sex? What could distance us from those mere muggles of the world than playing hard and to the edge? We don’t want to feel small, ordinary, inadequate right? Especially in our sex lives! We don’t want to be seen as kink light! That would be embarrassing wouldn’t it? I know I feel the need to justify myself and my unwavering commitment to just doing what I need as opposed to flying on the edge of kink. I can’t be the only one?  We need to feel like we are more than just keeping up with the Jones’s, we need to feel like we are surpassing them and living the most extraordinary that we can.

He sold us the lie that he is extraordinary and will bring those worthy into that realm.  That he didn’t need to meet the same relationship standards as the rest of us because he is something unlike the rest of us because he is not like us. He can take one look at you and know exactly what it is that you want. He could make you beg to be a part of his pack and belong to him so that alone becomes the only focus of your choices and reactions. Simply because he is something that you cannot get anywhere else. It, the stepping outside of your own moral compass and disregarding that “gut feeling” becomes your new normal. Simply because you belong to something the rest of us never could. You, out of the hundreds of women who like, love, gush and fawn all over his words, fantasies and his exposes of his sexual adventures, you are the one he is paying attention to right now. You are worth it so what you ignore, put up with and condone is worth it.

I understand how.

His idealised narratives spun around the position and importance of consent aren’t that new. They aren’t actually that different from most of the commentary and advice I’ve seen across most of the PUA crowd.

The idea that “the alpha” embodies the full spectrum of sexual prowess and is able to, with little effort seduce his prey into debaucherously James Bond style, glorious masculine fucking. He recreated it, we brought it.

I understand how.

What girl hasn’t dreamed of the prince upon the white horse, galloping in and just knowing that his true loves kiss will eradicate the spell and lead us to living happily ever after? We are spoon fed this fantasy, this dream of the perfect prince coming into our lives and just knowing everything about us and knowing what to do with us.

Again he recreated it, we brought it.

I understand how.

So where to now?

How can we reposition the social media celebrity, their influence and power in our space?

How can we use what has happened to this victim and to any other to try and minimise it from occurring again? Because to disconnect the power of the social media celebrity from this would be disingenuous. He sold us his snake oil and we offered him up the platform to do so! Ohhh we mocked him and his pathetic prose and grandiose sense of self. But most of us, including myself, didn’t have the balls to stand up and do any more. Ohhh I went to the police with what I knew, but I chose to come back into his space, knowing how he used it. Watching the next part unfold, concluding in this last instalment of “the wolf files”.

We are a product of our culture. We’ve all liked and commented on, watched, read and written ourselves products like his. I have. I’m guilty of participating in this culture that enabled him to believe that his choices were right.

So don’t we all now have a responsibility to challenge our own conceptualisations of kink? To question the messages that K&P, porn, erotica and our own social media usage, are selling us. New and old alike.

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know how to reconcile the need for social media with the overwhelming influence and personality it creates. Maybe there isn’t an answer. Maybe the way that social media catapults ordinary into these positions of power and influence is just something that we are going to have to learn to live with. That people are going to get hurt, women are going to get raped.

But I have to believe that there is something to do next.

 

 

 

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