God Is In The TV > Features > Watching porn in public – “Nobody was harmed, nobody was physically harmed”

Watching porn in public – “Nobody was harmed, nobody was physically harmed”

tractor

Conservative MP Neil Parish insists he never intended to intimidate the women ‘or anyone’ who witnessed him watching pornography on at least two occasions in the House of Commons. The news he was doing it at all was received with a sense of shock. And yet, his downfall is the result of a more common activity than headlines suggest.

Men consuming pornography in a public place to make women feel uncomfortable or to mark territory is not unusual. Not by a long shot. Like a dog urinating on a lamppost, it is a way of saying this is not your place, this is not your space, it’s mine. Do not be here. Go away, go home where you belong. I can do this because I am in charge here. What you think or want is irrelevant. From men in a pub loudly discussing the size, shape and pertness of breasts on Page 3 in front of a teenage girl working behind the bar, to watching hardcore porn at work, it all counts, it all adds up. And it’s depressing and exhausting for women, it really is.

On a train to London once, a red nosed man in a suit drinking whiskey, turning the volume on his laptop way up so we could hear the moans of supposed pleasure of a porn actress. He grinned sweatily at discomfort caused. At a gig, a man held his phone up in the air and at arm’s length to make sure us women behind and around were made fully aware exactly of what he was doing. In both cases, the resentment of women’s freedoms, our right to be there, came off in waves.

As feminists and men who are feminist allies we are surely aware of the consequences of the porn industry. The connections with trafficking and drugs, the unpoliced nature of sites and apps results in content often uploaded without a woman’s consent. Some footage is of underage girls. The readily available nature of online porn is hugely problematic, boys and girls ignorant of boundaries, boys expecting girls to succumb to degrading sexual activity both view as normal because they don’t know any different. Or maybe he does but simply doesn’t care. Girls unaware they can say no because the ones on Pornhub never do. The overuse of porn is to such an extent that it can lead to men unable to reach orgasm or even become sufficiently aroused without it, leading to reliance on more extreme material.

But I am a realist. History shows if pornography is not available then people make their own, from homemade versions of One Night In Paris, to Reader’s Wives in jazz mags, to schoolboys etching genitalia into bus stop windows with the sharp end of a compass. Can we change human nature, habits going back since forever? That’s an article for another day.

I’d argue the behaviour of Parish and similar is a way of controlling and policing women. They can’t kick or shove us out of public and work spaces with boots and fists, can’t use their superior muscle strength to literally remove us or stop us from taking a seat at the table. So they seek to embarrass women, make us feel unwelcome and irrelevant, with a side order of unspoken threat. There is a current campaign on public transport systems stating the bleeding obvious that exposure of intimate body parts is an offence. You’d think men wouldn’t need telling this. And fair play, most are aware. But we’re setting the bar very low if we praise men who choose to keep pants zipped up in company.

I was waiting for a bus when news of Parish’s own explanation for his actions was disseminated through a BBC interview. Scrolling though the inevitable tractor-related banter on Twitter I landed on a news piece about a man from Suffolk made to sign the sex offender’s register years back because he had relations with 450 tractors. I felt eyes trained on me as I read. I turned. A woman stood next to me had a disgusted look on her face. I felt like a total pervert. But note this – the words I read did not lead me to search out porn, tractor themed or otherwise.

As I write, a seemingly endless line of the MP’s colleagues and friends are lining up to go on the telly and radio to introduce sympathy into his situation. How easy it is to ‘fall on’ porn websites. He’s not very sophisticated or into technology. He’s a farmer, more used to a combine harvester than a smart phone. The drinking culture at Westminster. The pandemic had had an effect on everyone. How noble he is to resign, he’s doing precisely the right and moral thing. The inference being, it’s ok for women to get distressed and feel insecure and frightened and be reminded of our vulnerability but a man needs kid gloves when admitting his own free will behaviour.

Newsreaders on the telly spoke of the resignation in gentle muted tones lest a firmer approach leads to – what?  Him getting more upset? A classic case of prioritising a man’s feelings above those of women.

The patriarchy is constantly inventing ways to oppress women and it’s playing a blinder this weekend. ‘Nobody was harmed, nobody was physically harmed,’ says a sad eyed man from Parish’s consistency. If anyone really believes that, they are very much part of the problem.

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