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Control of the Narrative.


Content not for victim blaming 

One of the ways privilege is exercised is in how the narrative is controlled, so we get people like Tatchell or Bindel insisting they are being silenced, and using columns in the Guardian, or press releases from their foundations to describe said silencing. The very vocal non silent silencing becomes the new narrative, students are unwilling to listen, censorious, small minded, a circle jerk of repeated opinions all ignoring the facts in favour of the dominant narrative. In order to become the dominant narrative you need power, money, and cultural capital. Within LGbt circles its why people like Bindel and Tatchell have become such strident voices. Cultural capital is a difficult quality to quantify, especially since it varies according to where you try to exercise it. However in combination it means seizing control of the narrative back is exceptionally difficult if you do not have these privileges.

I have written before about being The Wrong Type of Victim. the narrative around both sex work and child abuse are very tightly controlled, by those who have far more cultural capital than a survival sex worker. Proximity to respectability is also an issue here, and respectability is whatever the dominant narrative says it is, for example 20 years ago a gay cis white couple was immoral, now they can get married, and thus reinforce the dominant narrative, in doing so they are allowed some small share of respectability. Of course its shaky, and its always amusing in a schadenfreude way when they discover that their thin veil of acceptability can be ripped away at any moment.

Thus it is too with victim blaming and being a survivor. The dominant narrative here is that society supports survivors, feels compassion for them, believes rape and assault are a bad thing. It’s important to point out that the narrative does not have to be true, in fact it very often isn’t, the point of controlling the narrative is that it allows those with power to ignore facts, or even contradict them. This is  part of the way that controlling the narrative is used to exercise power and wider control. It allows a performance of attitudes to take place which are contradicted by actions. It also allows people to make false claims, cite false statistics, which are accepted because they fit with the carefully curated narrative. This happened today in the Guardian, where Catherine Bennett wrote wholescale lies and distortions about the Swedish Model, its harms  and the reality of sex work. This is only possible because not only does she have more privileges than sex workers, but her attitude fits with the dominant narratives towards both survivors and sex workers. That someone can publish barefaced lies about a subject speaks to the power of the narrative, and how often trying to argue against it fails, since we try to argue facts, without understanding the dominant discourse does not rely on them. Indeed very often it is designed to hide the facts which disagree with it.

In another area  we have a narrative that says lovely things about survivors, words like brave and inspiring are used, but the reality is very different. Look at how those with power, and those who benefit from upholding the narrative react to historical abuse. Whilst fine words are said about the terrible nature of childhood abuse, if you fail to report coherently, at the time, and with no black marks against you (don’t for example use drugs to self medicate, get excluded from school, have sex with anyone else, be non monogamous, and of course never ever be a sex worker) then you are moved from the NSPCC poster child to being problematic. A problematic survivor of abuse is one who is probably lying, can be denied the support of society, who doesn’t deserve to be heard. From Hogan Howe saying that the police listened to survivors when they shouldn’t, to failed you tubers blaming victims for not reporting  the narrative is framed around appearing to care about abuse whilst blaming the victims.I hope I do not have to go into all the reasons a survivor may not be able to report, or why blaming them for future abuse is wrong. The tweet is a classic of accessing one narrative (here the idea they give a shit about abuse) whilst ignoring the facts  of what actually help survivors.

With sex work this recursion is constant, a narrative of wanting to rescue poor unfortunates which allows people to advocate for actively harmful laws and policies. Just as blaming abuse victims for not reporting in an acceptable manner, sex workers are blamed for the abuse they suffer. Those who support the Swedish Model then hide behind the narrative of caring, just as the establishment claims to care about the survivors of abuse. Both group use the same tactics, the same masks of concern to hide the reality of their attitudes, and both benefit from upholding the dominant narratives.

Since facts are irrelevant to narrative it can make challenging it difficult. How do you argue with someone about the Swedish Model when they lie about its impacts and harms? Previously a counter narrative was attempted, around empowerment and sex positivity. Whilst tempting it is fatally flawed, as I discuss here. Since sex workers (and to a certain extend survivors) can never access the respectability of those who control the dominant narratives, the counter narratives will always fail. On top of this is of course the fact that any framing around the personal gives ammunition to the cries of “you are not representative”. Instead you need to counter the narrative, to question what positions of privilege it bolsters, asking why someone is presenting this view, how it benefits them, and what uncomfortable facts they are using their narrative to distract from.


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This entry was posted on February 21, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

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