Leave Delingpole alone

We complain about boring politicians, and then put them on the front page when they make a joke.

I like Delingpole-bashing as much as the next person. No, wait, I clearly like it far, far, far, far more than the next person. Which is why it hurts me to say: leave Delingpole alone.

Not that one, though. The other one.

Dick Delingpole, James' brother, is a UKIP candidate for Worcestershire County Council. Mindful of the fact that the Conservative party is freaking out about a purple wave – not to mention his own higher-than-average media profile, stemming not only from his sibling but also his Telegraph blog about historical re-enactment – he tweeted a joke yesterday.

That was his first mistake.

He tweeted, "I'd better get rid of this old Facebook photo before the Tories get hold of it", accompanied by the above image, of himself photoshopped three times into the background of a photo of Hitler.

It's never great to have to explain jokes, but let's break this down: the joke is that Delingpole is pretending that, just as some UKIP candidates have skeletons in their wardrobes, he was secretly a member of the Nazi party in 1940. And is also secretly one of three identical triplets. The humour comes from the fact that it is obviously nonsense.

But not obvious enough, apparently. Simon Geraghty, the local Tory candidate, complained, and Delingpole ended up on the front page of the Worcester News, and then in the Guardian, where Nicholas Watt writes:

The party apologised for the Photoshopped image and said that Dick Delingpole, a candidate in Worcester who is the brother of the writer and climate change sceptic James, had a "very deep sense of humour".

Dick Delingpole, a businessman who re-enacts scenes from history in his spare time, decided to doctor the image with Hitler to mock the way in which the Tories have been trawling social media sites to find embarrassing pictures of Ukip candidates. He placed a shot of himself on three men in Nazi uniforms standing next to Hitler.

Now, I don't doubt that the reporters at both those papers will correctly point out that what they were doing was reporting on the "row", rather than condemning Delingpole outright. And it is true that there is a row, with Geraghty telling the Worcester News that:

I find it absolutely sickening and abhorrent. I think the vast majority of British people will find this shocking – it's not funny at all, it's dreadful and I can't believe he's done it.

But pretending that Geraghty's absolutely tone-deaf complaint merits filing Delingpole in the same "nazi row" cabinet as the candidate who claimed World War Two was engineered by Zionists is nonsensical.

Next time someone complains about how dull politicians are in Britain, just remind them that that didn't happen by accident.

Delingpole's Hitler pic.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.