What If You Refuse to Be Seduced by Violence?

With great homage to the brilliant bell hooks, I offer these thoughts on how we might actively refuse to be seduced by violence. They come from a speech I gave a few years ago at the campus where I teach and were inspired by my concern over the violent messages in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga that are seducing so many readers around the world.

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The rape, sexual assault and interpersonal violence that plague 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, in reality, it’s 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, our world. While U.S. culture convinces us that we are powerless to change this violence, we are not. In fact, a key hope for change lies within our daily acts of resistance to violence.

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

Currently, an entire army of 10- to 14- to, yes, even 40-year-olds are immersed in the Twilight book series, which 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. These characters also embody violent masculinity. Yet, the messages about sexuality and violence that these rabidly popular books contain are far from unique–the Hostel film series and other such horror films repeatedly make violence seem sexy and present violent sex as an extreme turn-on.

When youth are encouraged to desire werewolves who sexually assault them (via books like Twilight), 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.

As largely apathetic bystanders to this violence, we must realize that we are, in fact, not bystanders but accomplices. One place to begin the process of eradicating violence, therefore, is within our own desires.

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

If men are turned on by power, control and domination, they 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.

If we, as bell hooks suggests, fail to refuse to be seduced by violence, we are culpable for all the violence that occurs in our culture.

A first step: 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 that give 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 intervening when you witness violence; whether it means refusing to listen to songs that construct women as rape targets, hoes and tricks or reshaping your own desires so you are no longer attracted to violent people, all of us can play a role in refusing to unthinkingly be seduced by violence.

See bell hooks’ essay, “Seduced by Violence No More,” in Transforming Rape Culture, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela R. Fletcher and Martha Roth (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993).
Photo from Flickr user Lisa Norwood under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Janine deManda says:

    This piece is profoundly oversimplified and does no honor to bell hooks' achingly complex writing on these issues. Humans have violent impulses, and if we hope to create less violent human societies, we need to do better than admonish repression of those impulses. How is that different from admonishing us to repress our sexual impulses because they are wrong and contribute to the sexual violence rampant in patriarchies? Oh, wait, it's not different at all as the two have been merged in this very article:

    "If heterosexual women desire violent, aggressive men, they are perpetuating violence.

    If men are turned on by power, control and domination, they are perpetuating violence."

    Repression and shame DO NOT WORK. What we need to move forward is to create and participate in ongoing, honest conversations about our impulses toward, rewards for, punishments for, and expressions of violence, both interpersonally and culturally. If I as a – hello – BIsexual woman desire a violent and aggressive man, and I find a man who gets turned on by power, control, and domination, I can use the panoply of communication, negotiation, and safety tools and resources created by the BDSM/Leather community to fulfill my desires. Alternatively, if I have been shamed for my desires and feel massive social pressures to repress them, I'm a helluva lot more likely to get my desire met in unsafe, nonconsensual, and potentially dangerous ways. And that's not even addressing the tired, sexist binary that assumes that there aren't any women turned on by power, control and domination, nor any men or women who find violent, aggressive women attractive.

    I've focused here on the intersection of sex and violence, but all aspects of violence are rife with complications that require more well considered analyses. Seriously, Ms., ya'll keep disappointing the hell out of me with simplistic, reactionary pieces on a variety of topics. I have identified as a feminist for 20 years now, and I have been doing work – political, institutional, and personal – with a feminist bent for as long. I'm sick and damn tired of being cavalierly erased or dismissed or denigrated in some aspect of myself – queer, working class, chronically ill, non-white, switch, polyamorous, fat, femme mama with a JD and a decided lack of interest in a Career – by the very feminist institutions that are supposed to exist for the express purpose of liberating women from such patronizing tripe.

  2. Natalie Rose says:

    I agree that as long as we participate in or allow pop culture to be dominated by violence and violent themes, to glorify pimping and the idea that being masculine means controlling others we, are not bystanders by accomplices. Is it important to speak out against these themes and refuse to consume these movies/music/games/products? Absolutely.

    Where I think one needs to tread lightly, if at all, is when talking about desire. Is the desire to rape and perpetuate violence "OK"? Of course not. But we have to be careful when speaking about dominance (and therefore submission). I do not think it is okay to tell people what they're allowed to be attracted to or turned on by. As long as the acts are consensual, then what people do in their bedroom is not for the public to pass judgement on. Demonizing BDSM themes is a slippery slope and, frankly, anti-feminist. Part of feminism, to me, is being able to take control of your own sexuality, and if that means being dominated turns you on, that's okay. The problem isn't power play, the problem is consent. Dominating a person is wrong if you do not have their consent. Otherwise, to each their own. Sex should be an act in which all parties are enthusiastic participants. That is the message our pop culture is, sadly, lacking.

  3. heatheraurelia13 says:

    What a wonderful post!!!!

  4. Although some Ms. editors won't like me saying it, calling sex abuse a woman's choice is tacit approval of women being immersed in violence. The whole sex "worker" fantasy is wrong, harmful to women, and requires media complicity to survive. Ms. play a huge role in harming women when it gives tacit approval to this women-hating lie, as it has recently, so it's not only obvious misogyny as in Twilight and sex television that shores up this death industry it's so-called feminist media like the Ms. Blog. See: How to respect sex "workers".

  5. Janine deManda says:

    @janey – I see the oh-so-fun notion of “false consciousness” is still alive and kicking. Too damn bad, that. I’d rather the people telling me I’m too stupid to understand my own experiences not be pretending to rescue me, and that holds true whether their zealotry is fundamentalist religion or fundamentalist feminism.

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