Men’s Magazine Desires World Without Meaningful Consent

by Cara on December 18, 2008

in marketing, media, misogyny, objectification, patriarchy, pop culture, rape and sexual assault, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women and girls

This image, of a scantily clad woman attached to a video game controller with the caption “Keep on dreaming of a better world,” was posted without comment at Sociological Images.

First of all, it seems pretty obvious to me what the man targeted in this ad (by a men’s magazine) is supposed to use the controller for, and I don’t think it’s making the woman in question do the Chicken Dance for a giggle. The question I keep coming back to is whether this is supposed to be a “real” woman who has somehow been modified and turned into an all submissive sex toy (read: rape victim), or if it’s supposed to be a highly realistic fembot that looks like a real woman for a man’s sexually assaulting pleasure.

Clearly, the former is the worse option, but I’m not sure how much better I would feel about the latter still being upheld as a part of a “better world.”

Of course, I realize that this image is supposed to be lighthearted.  It’s a “joke.”  But that doesn’t make it funny.

I think that images and “jokes” like this really do point out the deeply destructive and misogynistic rape culture we live under, when “sex” is so regularly portrayed in this way.  Few, I imagine, would consider this image to be promoting rape.  But personally, it’s all I can see.  After all, if the woman was willing and truly consenting, a remote control would not be necessary for her to perform the desired acts.  The idea of a completely sexually controlled woman, however tongue-in-cheek, is still promoting as a false-ideal a woman who cannot say no.  And a woman who quite literally cannot say no due to control from outside forces is in fact a woman who cannot give a meaningful yes.

Funny, my idea of a “better world” is one where women are sexually empowered and respected, not enslaved.

cross-posted at Yes Means Yes

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{ 29 comments }

1 Rachel December 18, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I think it might be useful to note – for whatever it’s worth – that the post was tagged “objectification.”

The first comment left there, by Ryan, is interesting and raises some good points – that there are highly sexualized women available in video games now that are entirely controllable by the user, albeit not programmed to complete sexual functions. It’s a strange fantasy, and one I won’t ever pretend to understand.

I’m going to guess that this figure is intended to be a fembot – which is gross, in and of itself. Don’t know if you were ever a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, but this idea of a sexually submissive bot was addressed in the series a few times. Gives me the ickies.

2 Caroline December 18, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Agreed — it espouses a view of sex that has no interest in the desires and pleasure of another person, a view that sees sex not as a collaborative union of two people mutally enjoying each other and towards the use of one person as an object to satisfy another’s desires. Something that I think ties actual rape to the larger rape culture in our society (I’m thinking particularly of sexual harassment and prostitution) is the complete lack of interest by some men in the subjectivity and desires of women. Personally, I can’t imagine desiring or enjoying sexual contact with someone who isn’t also truly enjoying it, and yet that is exactly what happens in rape, prostitution, and sexual harassment. It’s baffling to me!

3 Caroline December 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Gah, screwed up the wording in my previous comment… meant to say “a view that sees sex not as a collaborative union of two people mutally enjoying each other but rather as the use of one person as an object to satisfy another’s desires.”

4 kissmypineapple December 18, 2008 at 1:14 pm

This is something I’ll never understand. If Mr. KMP and I are doing something that he seems even vaguely not into, that’s like a bucket of ice water in my lap. Yet, so many men in our culture, or possibly just Men as a cultural demographic (I mean not to reference individual men, b/c I’m sure there are some or even many who are not this way) hold this as the ideal sexual experience. Why is it still acceptable for our culture to be churning out men who are missing some of their humanity?

5 Rachel December 18, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I think there’s also something to be said for the concept of free will, which is, in my mind, different from desires, etc. Like, the idea that these men are excited by a woman/bot/whatever that has absolutely no free will and has only ever been created to participate in a one-sided sexual encounter – where is the fulfillment in that?

I can understand one partner consenting to perform an action that perhaps s/he doesn’t think is the most fun ever, for the pleasure of the other person, in a mutually respectful relationship. But this vacant, patronizing bot-styled type of sexual encounter is so beyond my comprehension.

I’m not the most eloquent person here; sorry if that was confusing.

6 Anna December 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

KMP said:
“If Mr. KMP and I are doing something that he seems even vaguely not into, that’s like a bucket of ice water in my lap”

You know, me too, and I don’t get why this is different for (some) men. And I’ve never been able to get one to explain it to me. If I’m terribly lucky, I can get them to admit they just “don’t notice”, and I’m left wondering how that is.

7 SunlessNick December 18, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Few, I imagine, would consider this image to be promoting rape. But personally, it’s all I can see.

That’s… I don’t know if celebration could be considered worse than promotion, but that’s the word that comes to my mind: a celebration of rape; rape as something to aspire to.

Ugh ugh ugh.

8 Danny December 18, 2008 at 5:12 pm

A thousand pardons for stepping on toes but I see some of the comments here seem to have a “What could he possibly in enjoy in that?” hint to them. If I may I can explain some of it (and only some because I am only one man).

Rachel:
Like, the idea that these men are excited by a woman/bot/whatever that has absolutely no free will and has only ever been created to participate in a one-sided sexual encounter – where is the fulfillment in that?
The fulfillment comes in getting sexual pleasure.

But this vacant, patronizing bot-styled type of sexual encounter is so beyond my comprehension.
Think about like a sex toy. That toy exists for the user’s pleasure and that alone. I’m sure that most people agree that in and of itself sex toys are not a problem. The problem comes in when people try to impose the expectations of their sex toys on real people. Perhaps the fact that a fembot is closer lifelike than a fleshlight blurs that line…

Anna:
You know, me too, and I don’t get why this is different for (some) men.
Just like any other desire or characteristic it varies from person to person. Some men and women have the inclination towards mutual pleasure, some towards making their partner’s pleasure top priority and some that make pleasing themselves top priority.

9 Cara December 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Danny, your comment disturbs me. There is nothing wrong with putting your own pleasure first. There is a big problem at promoting your own pleasure regardless of whether or not the other person is enjoying it. That is fucked up, and quite often rape.

10 Danny December 18, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Cara:
There is a big problem at promoting your own pleasure regardless of whether or not the other person is enjoying it. That is fucked up, and quite often rape.

My apologies it was not my intent to disturb anyone and that is why I said this:
The problem comes in when people try to impose the expectations of their sex toys on real people.

When it comes to another person you are right and I agree. But please bear in mind that these bots are not actual people. That is why I said that making sex toys appear to be more likelife blurs the line between toys and people. But that does not automatically mean they want to do those things to an unconsenting person.

I think I should have said:
The problem comes in when people try to treat real people like sex toys regardless of their enjoyment/consent.

Again my apologies for the disturbance.

11 Cara December 18, 2008 at 5:53 pm

But please bear in mind that these bots are not actual people.

Well the bots aren’t real either (unless you’re talking about the article I linked to where the guy did create robots that look like women and react with distress when you physically or sexually assault them; I assume we’re’ talking about the image above). It’s a “joke,” to the absolute best of my knowledge. And as I said in the post, it seems entirely unclear to me whether the woman in the picture is supposed to be a real woman somehow modified, or a robot made to look like a woman. I personally lean towards the idea that the image is supposed to depict a real woman somehow controlled with a video game controller. So while not actual people, I think that such an image does reflect attitudes that many hold towards real people, and they’re dangerous and encourage violence.

12 Renee December 18, 2008 at 5:54 pm

When I first saw this image over at the F word it left me speechless. It’s everything that it implies: submissive women for the use of sexual pleasure. Either real or imagined this is wrong. Anything that strips the humanity away of another is not something to be celebrated.

13 Danny December 18, 2008 at 6:59 pm

And as I said in the post, it seems entirely unclear to me whether the woman in the picture is supposed to be a real woman somehow modified, or a robot made to look like a woman.
That would be the blurry line.

I personally lean towards the idea that the image is supposed to depict a real woman somehow controlled with a video game controller.
While a totally understandable conclusion (and given the detail you could be right about the intent) I see it as an object that is not supposed to be real but only look real.

14 Lisa December 18, 2008 at 7:31 pm

I wish I had something more to say other than UGH.

*disgust*

15 SunlessNick December 18, 2008 at 9:59 pm

The idea of a completely sexually controlled woman, however tongue-in-cheek, is still promoting as a false-ideal a woman who cannot say no.

It isn’t just can’t say it – the ideal being promoted is a woman who can’t even conceptualise it.

16 Isabel December 19, 2008 at 3:04 am

I wish I had something more to say other than UGH.

*disgust*

Word. Great post Cara.

17 Paul December 19, 2008 at 5:16 am

Horrible just horrible…

Why would the woman in the picture even agree to pose for such a thing?

Oodles of cash probably :(

18 Mel December 19, 2008 at 11:26 am

I understand why women are offended at the idea that a man’s fantasy would be to control them, but I also understand why some men would fantasize about having control over having sex.

As a woman, I have had experiences with some jerks. But mostly I have known decent (albeit horny) guys who were trying to navigate a world where women are supposed to be the puritan doorkeepers of sex.

Your average, computer-game-playing dude would not likely have a chance to have sex with a woman who looked like that. The fact that they would need a remote says just as much about men’s insecurities and social awkwardness as anything else.

I don’t think it is helpful in a quest for a world without rape to associate a guy who might get turned on by that fantasy with “misogynistic rape culture.”

If we want to end rape camps and domestic violence and quid pro quo sexual harassment, we need all the decent men out there working with us. Vilifying men for what turns them on is counter-productive.

How many of us could really examine what turns us on and not find anything even remotely disturbing (at least to someone out there)?

19 Cara December 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Mel, the idea of women as puritan doorkeepers of sex and men as having to bust down that door is a part of rape culture. The fact that women are taught to be ashamed of sex and to feel compelled to reject it even if they want it is a big problem. The fact that men are taught to keep pestering women when they’re rejected is a much, MUCH bigger problem and it leads to rape. Very, very regularly. Trust me, I know.

We may all have potentially disturbing fantasies, but there’s a big difference between a foot fetish that someone might find gross and a fantasy about raping a woman. Further, while having a rape fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually want to commit rape (or want to be raped), putting the “fantasy” out there in the mainstream as though this is a normal, acceptable way to view women is a part of a misogynistic rape culture. Personally, I don’t give a shit nearly so much about a guy’s fantasies as I do about whether or not he feels that it’s okay to portray women and “sex” in this way in a mainstream men’s magazine. And I care about whether or not he associates this kind of fantasy with what it is, violence.

And no, it does not say a lot about men’s insecurities and social awkwardness. It says a lot about how men are taught that they deserve access to all women, whether that woman is interested in them or not.

20 Ashley December 19, 2008 at 12:38 pm

If we want to end rape camps and domestic violence and quid pro quo sexual harassment, we need all the decent men out there working with us. Vilifying men for what turns them on is counter-productive.

Mel, Cara did not vilify men. Find me the place in her post where she vilified men. She critiqued rape culture, not men.

If any critique of patriarchy is taken as a critique of men, it’s very easy to silence people who speak out against patriarchy by calling them “anti-male.” But patriarchy and rape culture are no better for men than women. The assumption that patriarchy is good for men is part of how that system of social control works. It tricks men (and women) into working against their own self-interest.

We do need men to work with us to end rape culture, and that means that men who are really committed to that task will look very carefully at the parts of our culture that reinforce a lack of concern about women’s consent, and work to change those aspects of culture.

21 Kristen December 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

“putting the “fantasy” out there in the mainstream as though this is a normal, acceptable way to view women is a part of a misogynistic rape culture.”

Or at least putting it out there without the “fantasy” context, indicating that the persons involved are fully consenting to a BDSM game, rather than actually interested in hurting a non-consenting person is a normal and acceptable way to view women.

…To avoid the I’m sure unintended implication that people the sexuality of persons with BDSM interests are not “normal” or acceptable.

Of course that’s probably impossible to do in a picture shown to a world where we have a misogynistic rape culture….But technically…

22 Cara December 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm

…To avoid the I’m sure unintended implication that people the sexuality of persons with BDSM interests are not “normal” or acceptable.

Yes, of course, the consent is key. If two (or more) people wanted to consensually act out this fantasy with precautions (like safe words) in place, whatever, good for them.

23 Danny December 19, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Mel:
The fact that they would need a remote says just as much about men’s insecurities and social awkwardness as anything else.

Cara:
It says a lot about how men are taught that they deserve access to all women, whether that woman is interested in them or not.

Depending on the man in question either one of you could be right. There are plenty of very insecure but respectful men that don’t take on that “teaching” and will not cross the line between acting out a fantasy and taking control of another person. At the same time there are plenty of insecure men that do take on that “teaching”, see the line, and know full well when they cross it.

Mel:
Vilifying men for what turns them on is counter-productive.
I can see where a person who would feel like their being attacked but I’m sure that wasn’t the intent.

24 Anna December 20, 2008 at 6:01 am

I’ve not much of value to add to this, Cara, but I think you’re fucking awesome and thank you.

25 Holly December 22, 2008 at 10:52 am

My knee-jerk impression upon seeing this picture was no doubt totally different than what was intended by the artist or the advertiser, but it’s a liberating reinterpretation of an image that admits of some interpretation, so I thought I might as well offer it up, in the spirit of robbing the original authors of their authority:

It’s a cybernetic sex toy that plugs into your navel and attaches itself to your nervous system, so that your sex partner can stimulate you with a controller.

Obviously I’m not blind to the other readings, which are probably more prevalent, but they didn’t strike me as quickly (and appealingly, for obvious reasons) as the consensual-sex-toy one. I’m more likely to identify with the woman than the targeted audience, and probably more likely to think about sex toys as something you do with each other than someothing you do “to” someone. Plus, in an ironic twist, my reading of a sci-fi-ish image is the version that’s already closest to reality. I guess I’m also influenced by stuff like the plug-in cyber-hallucination creatures created by Jennifer Jason Leigh in eXistenZ, which had a definite sex-toy quality.

26 Cara December 22, 2008 at 10:57 am

I like it, Holly :)

27 Caitlan December 22, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Maybe when it was thought up it was meant to say “in a perfect world you could interact with hot girls as proficiently as you play video games”? But yes, it reminds me of rape.

28 drew July 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

would any of you guys consider making out without the others consent rape
Im only 16 and one of my friends just told me this story and I so wanted to kick the dudes ass
would you just consider any kind of physical contact without the other person’s consent ,rape please give me some kind of feedback I want to know if I should kick this dudes ass because the girl is so skinny and such

29 Cara July 21, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Drew, I would call that sexual assault. And it’s serious, and it’s wrong.

I would not, however, recommend responding to violence with violence. Has your friend told you what she needs from you? Chances are that she told you because she needs someone to talk to, no because she wants you to kick his ass (and thereby ensure that other people are going to learn about it when she might not want them to — that can only be her choice).

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