On rape crisis centres and the Third Law of Pornodynamics
The whole point is to make 'no' impossible
This week, JK Rowling announced that she is personally funding a new women’s rape crisis centre in Edinburgh. Beira’s Place describes itself as having been ‘set up in response to demand from female survivors for a women-only service, as one is currently not available in the area.’ This follows some years of bitter battle between gender-critical and trans-inclusive feminists, over whether or not previously all-female crisis services for survivors of rape and domestic violence should admit trans women or remain sex-segregated. Until the launch of Beira’s Place, this had resulted in every rape crisis centre in that city being, in effect, mixed-sex.
There has been plenty of great commentary on the launch already from gender-critical women, which I won’t rehash here. For a fine summary of the story so far, I recommend Julie Bindel’s Monday essay at UnHerd. What’s striking to me about the response is what it reveals about the motivations of (at least some) males in this debate.
For you’d think that having retorted to women protesting about trans ‘inclusion’ in all-female services that they should set up their own, the response to Rowling funding just such a place would be met with applause. Not so; it was met with a wall of rage at Rowling’s transphobia, effrontery and all-round wickedness.
[Herewith the obligatory throat-clearing about “not all men” et cetera.]
Now: there is a subset of males for whom women saying ‘no’ reads variously as an affront or a come-on, or a queasy mixture of both that invites something we might characterise as punitive seduction. I’m willing to bet that most averagely attractive adult women have experienced being pursued through a pub, or down a street, by a man who begins flirtation playfully, but whose ardour seems only inflamed by every ‘no’ and whose advances gradually take on an ever more menacing tone. My contention is that some of the backlash against Beira’s Place is driven by precisely this dynamic and that yes, it’s precisely standing in for more intimate violations.
One of the first Substack newsletters I published set out the Three Laws of Pornodynamics, an exploration of the perverse and sometimes counter-intuitive ways human desire collides with our culture of commodified sexuality. The Third Law is that ‘Every taboo inspires an equal and opposite porn category’. This is, in fact, far older than mass-market pornography. It reflects the fact that human perversity is boundless, human desire is by no means always ordered to intimacy and procreation, and as a consequence whatever is most forbidden will also become, for some, an object of fetishistic desire.
In this context, the liberal belief that anything goes provided there’s ‘consent’ will, inevitably, produce a world of sexual self-expression for some. But it will also produce - as its shadow - a subculture in which some men and women (typically in characteristically gendered ways, but that’s for another post) fetishise the violation of consent - simply because that is now among the greatest taboos.
Gender-critical readers of this newsletter will recognise the phrase ‘the cotton ceiling’. Coined in 2012 by a trans activist and porn performer, it riffs on the idea of the ‘glass ceiling’ that feminists claim holds women back in employment, suggesting that a similar ‘cotton’ one (that is, a woman’s knickers) bars males who identify as lesbians from sexual intimacy with lesbians. I recall, in the days when I identified as a lesbian, how the sheer inaccessibility of same-sex-attracted women made them an object of Third Law fetishisation by some heterosexual men. The categorical ‘no, I don’t fancy men’ inspired not a polite ‘okay I’ll leave you in peace then’ but ever more determined efforts to be the one exception, to break through, to gain access.
In previous ages, nuns were fetishised in much the same way. Female virgins still are. The inaccessibility is precisely the source of the attraction: the louder the ‘no’ the greater the challenge, and more insistent the demand. When I think of the classic poetic trope of the inaccessible female object of desire (see for example Sidney’s 1591 Astrophil and Stella) I’m tempted to speculate that some of what’s at work here is ancient, and possibly fundamental to the interplay of male and female desire.
What’s distinct about the so-called ‘cotton ceiling’ is that (to the justified outrage of lesbians) it reframes this basic pattern, including its perverse pornodynamic outworking, as deserving of a social-justice remedy. I can think of no more vivid example of the transhumanist commitment to arguing human nature out of existence. Thus, in the age of pornodynamics, an ancient pattern is both intensified and given a gloss of ‘rights’ - for, after all, why should we not all pursue the gratification of our every desire?
For some, the first response to reading about the launch of Beira’s Place has very clearly been characterised by this mix of aggression and thwarted desire. The affront is directed at a female-funded and female-staffed institution that has said a categorical ‘no’ to males seeking entry into a protected feminine interior. And yes, that’s meant to be an innuendo, because the parallel is so very clear.
The lesson should be this: there is no reasoning human nature (including the dark outworkings of desire and aggression) out of existence. Nor is there any making peace with the laws of pornodynamics. There’s no reasoning (some, NAMALT etc etc) males out of their desire to enter whichever inner feminine sanctum is most forbidden, because emphasising reason will just make a fetish of mental disturbance. There’s no curing it with consent classes, either, because that will just make a fetish of violation.
The only thing we can do is accept that (to paraphrase Horace) we can drive human nature out with a pitchfork, but still it comes back. And to hold firm: to say ‘no’, and to keep saying ‘no’. Brava, JK Rowling, for making that ‘no’ possible once again in Edinburgh.