This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for violence against women
Emer O’Toole writes for the Guardian. This week she’s writing for the Guardian about BDSM, murder and herself. As usual with Guardian columnists, she centres the article on herself and applies quantum dialectics to re-shape the world around her experience. If Schrodinger’s cat had its own Guardian column it would begin with an exquisite description of the inside of the box and how that explained the Middle East or the shortage of decent smoothy bars in North Clapham.
The McGuffin for O’Toole’s column is the murder of Elaine O’Hara by Graham Dwyer. I will, if you’ll forgive me, eschew any attempt at sidewalk diagnosis except to say that there are aspects of the account given of O’Hara and Dwyer’s fantasy play that I recognise, but that any suggestion of a moral core to Dwyer’s behaviour is entirely absent.
O’Toole says “A woman is dead: another victim of intimate partner violence. And treating her death with due respect should mean an examination of the social context that allowed a man to convince a woman that his sexual desire to stab and kill her was within the bounds of the acceptable. It should mean attention to the cultural mainstreaming of BDSM.”
O’Toole’s greatest error is right there, in that last sentence about the cultural mainstreaming of BDSM. For it to have any resonance or meaning, it must be supported by evidence that BDSM’s cultural position has changed, and that that changed context was directly relevant to Elaine O’Hara’s death.
It’s an odd situation when a man who is avowedly not a feminist has to point out to a women who is that the stabbing to death of women by violent, disturbed men did not begin with the publication of the Story of O. So be it.
O’Toole says “We do not siphon off fiction or play from our social realities. Rather, the values and norms of the fictions we consume or participate in suffuse our world views and influence our actions.” I find it odd that I’m the one arguing that irrespective of what we read, what we desire and what arouses us, each of us has a moral core that makes us accountable for what we do. I am not a sadist because I read deSade, Reage, Moravia, pulp westerns and blacksploitation slavery novels; I am a sadist because it gives me precious time and space in which I am able to be the man who helps other people be who they want to be, whilst being admired and desired.
Now, O’Toole cleverly cites some unpublished and speculative research that suggests certain types of individual might have brain activity that implies an addiction to porn. As evidence for O’Toole’s central assertion goes, this is akin to the old assertion that all alcohol should be prohibited (or the prohibition should be debated) because some people become alcoholics. The language of the slippery slope from one taste of the forbidden liquor, or one puff of weed, or one lash of the cane, to complete moral dereliction as an addict is old,weary and incomplete. Coincidence and causation are different things, and the fact that Dwyer was a murderer who passed himself off as a BDSM player may be no more significant than if he’d passed himself off as a sales rep or a lottery wnner to get access to a vulnerable woman.
I don’t know what Elaine O’Hara was thinking about when she was lured to her death. I don’t know how she felt. I will not speculate. However, I will say that only Graham Dwyer was to blame, that there were clear and evident warning signs, and that, in the absence of clear statistics of more deaths in the context of BDSM relationships he remains an outlier, and Emer O’Toole’s article looks like a trendy attempt to marry up some bad psychology, a notorious criminal case and a bad film in one thousand words of clickbait.
Since O’Toole is some kind ofacademic, all I can say is ‘C- Must try harder to connect assertions to evidence in a coherent argument.’