The Mirror headline reads, “Woman aged 91 suffocated during sex game with married neighbour.”
The woman’s killer left her with bruising on the face, what the article describes as, “extensive genital injuries,” and lying in bloody sheets. The judge released a neighbour identified through DNA testing on bail as it’s “believed” that the woman died accidentally. Who believes this and why?
A man kills his neighbour then flees the scene. When he’s identified by DNA evidence, he makes up a story that others believe and repeat uncritically about the whole thing simply being an accidental mishap in a “sex game.”
This is how you turn oppression into a titillating taboo that isn’t taken seriously. This is how you turn public health and safety threats like rape, torture, and murder, into “sex.” Which is private.
Talking about sex in public is obscenity. So talking about the way women are threatened and physically abused becomes obscenity and, in turn, becomes “sex.” As a result, everything about women’s bodies and oppression is turned into private obscenity that can’t be discussed like other topics.
The pictures from Abu Ghraib depicted the torture of men, though. No one would believe that men want to be treated that way. It’s obvious to everyone that it was torture. But a 91-year-old woman who’s no longer alive to tell her version of the story? This murder is “sex” to the media, much like it was “sex” to the jury who acquitted the man who stabbed Cindy Gladue in the vagina and convinced the court that it was an act she consented to because he was paying her for sex.
What do you have to believe first to come to the conclusion that a woman could have consented to her own murder when all you have to go on is the word of her killer? Maybe it’s enough to have to have a lifetime of typical cultural exposure to sexualized images of women in what my mother would have called “bad situations.”
A man in chains is being oppressed. A woman in chains is “sex.”
A man being publicly humiliated is being abused. A woman being publicly humiliated is sexy.
A man harassed by another man is said to have been provoked. A woman harassed by a man is said to have been complimented by a sexual overture.
An adult having intercourse with a minor boy, whether he was groomed to “like” it or not, is described as a pedophile assaulting a child. When an adult man has intercourse with a minor girl, everyone from judges to reporters are willing to describe what happened as “sex” and discuss whether the child liked, encouraged, or “consented” to it.
Where do these ideas come from, anyway? The idea that it can be “sex” when a woman is assaulted, possibly fatally, by a man?
This is part of how a woman’s fear becomes something other than evidence of intimidation, as it should be, how instead our fear becomes evidence to men of sex, romance, even love. A man can fear for his life and kill a stranger in self-defense after a single encounter. A woman fears for her life because of a long history of threats or violence, and if she stays, or complies, or even retaliates, her actions will be viewed through a lens that sees fear as a normal part of a supposedly consenting sexual relationship for women. Any injury the man commits will often be seen as her shared responsibility, part of their relationship.