Journos have never loved their rivals -- but the lines are getting more entrenched

Maybe tribalism is to be expected as the endgame approaches, newspapers die off and the new landscap

Media tribalism has always existed, but now it's more obvious than ever. The BBC's director general suspects there's a whiff of anti-BBC tribalism about the whooping and finger-pointing over the non-existent Frozen Planet non-fakery silliness that spread right throughout the media from the tabloids to the proper newspapers.

As I wrote the other day, the BBC were accused by the Telegraph (among others, kicked off by the Mirror) of misleading viewers about a scene involving polar bear cubs. The BBC responded as robustly as you might expect to what was at best kite-flying on a slow news day, and at worst nasty barrel-scraping.

Is Mark Thompson right? Is there more than a suspicion of anti-Beeb targeting in the stirring up of the Frozen Planet row? I don't think journos have ever really loved their rivals, but the lines are getting more and more entrenched, as more and more journos head down the stairs for the last time with a bin-bag of stuff and a tear in their eye.

Add to that the roaring and finger-pointing at Saint Nick Davies by the likes of Kelvin "The Truth" Mackenzie (I write his name so often I've become tired of it, and will henceforth only refer to him in these columns as "The Truth") and a picture begins to emerge, perhaps. You get the sense that it's tapping into the kind of 'us against them' tribalism that's always been lingering under the surface. "It's all very well telling us how to be journos, Davies," snarl the unlucky ones who ended up ctrl+C and ctrl+V-ing press releases for a living, or writing witless celebrity bullshit about Z-list no-marks on reality TV shows. "But now you've fucked up, and you're not so good yourself."

It might not be the case, as it had been suspected sometime ago, that the News of the World or people in its employ deleted voicemails on Milly Dowler's mobile phone, giving the family false hope, but the phone was still hacked. Davies's error wasn't a vendetta or agenda-driven piece of fact-twisting to suit his narrative, either; it was just an honest error based on the facts as they were known at the time, acknowledged as such and immediately corrected. You know, like some of the other newspapers are supposed to do, but don't, unless the PCC gives them a slap on the thigh with a lump of wet celery, or unless the complainant is rich enough to take the legal option.

You can kick it around and pretend that if only the public knew that the Screws didn't delete voicemails, the outrage wouldn't have been so great, but that's just not the case. A dead girl's phone was hacked. 7/7 victims had phones hacked. That's the top and bottom of why people were revolted: because they had every damn right to be. And still do.

I think the problem is that the silver-topped journos you see getting so worked up about this sort of thing (take a bow, Jules Stenson) managed to live most of their lives without a great deal of scrutiny from the public, or their fellow professionals. Now they're centre stage, and they're woefully unprepared for the experience, trying to fight their way out by shouting and pointing at Nick Davies, saying "Please sir, the swotty kid did something wrong, as well! Punish him too!"

Maybe this kind of tribalism is only to be expected as the endgame approaches, newspapers die off and the new landscape gets drawn. For now, these media tribes are like Titanic passengers fighting each other to the death for a space on a bit of wood. They're going to succumb to the freezing waters themselves, eventually, but they want just that little bit longer before they do.

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.