Witch hunt! Terry Richardson responds to sexual assault allegations. (Also, libertarianism will be the death of us)

After yet another model* came out with sexual assault allegations against Terry Richardson this past week, the photographer has responded in a letter published over at Page Six. Turns out everyone is a lying liar and Richardson is the victim of a witch hunt! But you knew that, didn’t you. Classic you, society — what with your centuries-old history of burning heterosexual white men at the stake.

Last year I wrote about the “Tyranny of Consent,” arguing:

“In feminism, as well as in other liberal-type circles, we talk about consent a lot. “Anything that happens between consenting adults…” is the mantra. Those who have formed critiques of the sex industry, of course, are well aware of the ways in which this “consent is magic” ethos oversimplifies the concept of consent and removes relevant contexts and larger social (as well as individual) impacts from the conversation.”

Despite the fact that consent is the number one thing one needs in a sexual encounter, the concept has been used in a way that silences critical and dissenting conversations around things like porn, prostitution, sexual assault, and sex and sexuality in general. In that piece, I pointed out that “she signed an agreement” or “she consented” wasn’t sufficient proof that a situation was necessarily ethical. Lots of people agree to things for a variety of reasons — women who are poor sometimes “agree” to perform sexual acts on men because they have no other choice/need the money — is that an “ethical” situation because she “consented?” Is everything that happens in porn a-ok because everyone signed a form? Are we not allowed to have conversations about equality and exploitation and power dynamics because “consent?” This is anti-brain stuff, folks. Don’t fall for it. Repeat after me: thinking is a good thing.

To “using consent as a way to suppress dissent and silence feminist critique” I say: fuck you. You don’t get to use “consent” against us.

But surprise of surprises, Terry Richardson is.

“I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work, and as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases . . . I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do. I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly.”

FREE WILL, YOU GUYS.

Fucking libertarians, man. Here’s something I’ve been meaning to say for some time: libertarianism is not compatible with feminism. The reason for this is that if we make individual freedom the epitome of liberation, we cannot and will not address the systemic oppression of entire groups of people. Because under libertarianism my choice trumps all. Even if said choice might marginalize, oppress, or otherwise negatively impact another. You can forget about ideas like affirmative action, universal daycare, and affordable housing if you want to roll with the libertarians and the situation of women and other minorities simply will not change without addressing systemic inequalities. The hard work and personal choices of individuals will not create an equitable society, as evidenced by America.

Also, as we can see, “free will” and “choice” are used, time and time again, to erase context and silence feminist critique. I mean, anyone can make a “choice” about anything at any given time; but that’s never the whole story. The whole story would include things like power dynamics, class, race, gender, social norms, and any number of other factors. If a woman complains about sexual assault or about feeling exploited and your response is “she signed a release” does that erase the exploitation? Does it erase her experience? Does your dick trump her well-being? (The answer is “yes” if you are a libertarian or Terry Richardson, in case that isn’t clear.)

In the tradition of Woody Allen and the vast majority of famous (and non-famous!) men accused of sexual assault, Richardson’s defense is that everyone is a liar. Because as we all know, it is enormously fun and rewarding (as nobody-women who are regularly told we are crazy, bitchy liars and sluts know) to come out publicly against a powerful, rich white man with allegations of abuse. Always. Ask history.

Like all scenarios that objectify and degrade women (see: porn, prostitution, and burlesque) which society would prefer we consume uncritically, Richardson’s work is “gritty” and “transgressive.” Richardson’s work, according to Richardson, is smashing all sorts of norms. Never before had the mainstream world been introduced to the idea that women’s naked bodies could be used to sell things. Never before had it occurred to us that experiencing a man cumming on our faces was actually “transgressive” (and humourous: HA!).

In reality (as opposed to liar-liar land, population: ladies), Richardson is here for the real victims, to whom we are all doing a disservice. He opines:

“Sadly, in the on-going quest for controversy-generated page views, sloppy journalism fueled by sensationalized, malicious, and manipulative recountings of this work has given rise to angry Internet crusades. Well-intentioned or not, they are based on lies. Believing such rumors at face value does a disservice not only to the spirit of artistic endeavor, but most importantly, to the real victims of exploitation and abuse.”

Page views you say! I wouldn’t suppose anyone who hires Richardson to take pictures of Lindsay Lohan’s ass cares about those! Also, you know what I don’t and won’t buy ever in a million years? That men who are trying to defend themselves against sexual abuse allegations just really care about the real victims. You know what else I don’t and won’t buy ever? That Terry Richardson gives two shits about anyone who isn’t Terry Richardson.

“People will always have strong opinions about challenging images, and the dichotomy of sex is that it is both the most natural and universal of human behaviors and also one of the most sensitive and divisive.”

Listen now, listen. Porn doesn’t challenge anything. Porn reinforces the norm, i.e. misogyny, i.e. the hatred of women, i.e. the idea that women’s bodies and faces exist for men to jack off onto/into. Despite what Belle Knox , aka “the Duke University porn star,” (who identifies as both libertarian and Republican, for the record) tries to tell us, pornography does not “pose a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society.” Rather, pornography reinforces gender norms and messages that tell us not only that men are dominant and women are subordinate but that that dominance and that subordination is sexy.

The images Richardson produces aren’t “challenging” and his “art” isn’t “divisive” because it’s sexual. The images he produces and the way he behaves towards women props up male power, and what does male power “challenge” exactly? Women? OH. Ok. Transgressive.

To conclude, I offer you two points for consideration (kidding, these are the true facts):

1) Terry Richardson is a creepy victim-blaming, rapey man who is trying to use feminist language and ideas to protect himself from accountability.

2) Libertarians can’t sit with us.

 

*UPDATE: 03/14/14, 1:09PM — The previously anonymous model has gone public; there is an interview with her over at Vocativ. She has also contacted to the NYPD about the incident.

 

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Thank you Meghan for a succinct refutation of serial male sexual predator Terry Richardson’s lies and claims. Richardson’s work isn’t ‘transgressive or even radical’ because it is the same old same old male misogyny posing as ‘mens art!’

    His images reinforce male pseudo sex right to dominate and oppress women but as usual he pretends to care about ‘the real victims.’ Really Richardson? You obviously mean ‘victims’ as defined by men and in reality they don’t exist because men believe women aren’t human but merely exist so that men can sexually prey on them with impunity.

    Methinks Richardson ‘doth protest too much’ and by the way Richardson libertarian is a dogma white men created because white men believe they have the innate right to subject any woman, any time to whatever they want. Libertarianism is all about ‘white mens’ rights to have their pleasures satiated irrespective of the immense harm they knowingly inflict on females because women and girls are non-human and hence males cannot subject them to any harm or oppression.

  • Great piece as always, Meghan.

    “People will always have strong opinions about challenging images, and the dichotomy of sex is that it is both the most natural and universal of human behaviors and also one of the most sensitive and divisive.”

    This is so underhanded. Women have come forward about how Terry Richardson sexually assaulted them, enabled by the power dynamics between him and his models. What he’s saying here about his “challenging images” is absolutely bullshit, but it’s also completely irrelevant. A discussion about the real, material harm endured by actual women, with actual human bodies, suddenly becomes a conversation about art/free speech/images/ideas. Just like every other conversation around pornography. Seriously. *Fuck* this shit.

  • Libertarianism is messed up when applied to any area of life be it sex, economics, health, etc. Whenever libertarians defend a “choice” it’s almost always a choice that will kill, injure or traumatise people. In fact if the only argument you can make to defend a decision someone makes is “it’s their choice” then you’re probably talking about a pretty crappy choice.

    “I mean, anyone can make a “choice” about anything at any given time; but that’s never the whole story. The whole story would include things like power dynamics, class, race, gender, social norms, and any number of other factors.”

    To be honest, I don’t particular like this argument. I used to like it and I wouldn’t say that it’s incorrect, but I feel that when people make this argument to libertarians, they’re playing by libertarian rules. When we talk about the context of people’s choices we go along with the libertarian belief that choice is everything. We imply that if someone makes a “real” (non-society influenced) choice, then that choice is now okay, but all choices are influenced by their social context, so this line of argument leaves us trapped and this shouldn’t surprise us. After all we were playing by rules that were created so that we’d lose.

    Instead we got to make libertarians play by our rules, the rules of people who care about humanity and the welfare of people. We have got to talk about how some decisions hurt people, both the person making the decision and society generally. Then we can about how to stop people from doing things that cause harm. This doesn’t necessarily mean coercing people into making better choices. It can mean all kinds of things. In the case of prostituted women, it means provide better forms of employment for women. In the case of drug addicts, it means rehabilitation programs (as opposed to prison sentences). We can also get the libertarians to admit that they’re willing to let people suffer and die in horrific ways in the name of “choice” and then we can pose the question “is this really the kind of liberty we want?”

  • marv

    Since women’s self-determination is a collective right, then no individual or organization can legitimately contradict a right held by the group. Appeals to personal agency and choice i.e., porn, override collective rights resulting in a breach of those inherent and inalienable rights. If freedom of expression trumps the common good we are wittingly or unwittingly elevating liberal ideology above equality for all. This is what economic liberalism does too and look at all the misery (poverty) it has caused. Therefore, you are unquestionably right, “libertarianism will be the death of us” in many respects.

  • lizor

    “if we make individual freedom the epitome of liberation, we cannot and will not address the systemic oppression of entire groups of people”. Yes. Thank you for saying this. It must be said again and again.

    I had experiences many years ago with the likes of Richardson and they seemed to be untouchable in terms of accountability. That was then. Now they are even more immune having been recast as “cutting edge artists”. Max Hardcore was interviewed on CBC radio a couple of years ago and he kept insisting that his production company consisted of a group of highly-educated women who had each chosen to express herself creatively and that it was all one big utopia of collective art-making in the name of freedom. Seriously.

    Feminism, socialism, race critique, conservation – all are getting eaten up by this reconfiguration of self-identity as a special snowflake combination of consumer, entrepreneur and commodity.

    I think Independent Radical’s comment is apt. Anytime I have answered the libertarian position by pointing out systemic inequality, I’ve had a sinking feeling – mostly knowing I might as well have been braying like a bloodhound for all the person could hear. Perhaps stating the simple fact that our actions can and do either hurt or help others might be a better strategy. But ultimately I think you’re right Meghan. If anything is pushing us to the finish line it is this ideology.

  • sporenda

    “But he asserts, “I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work, and as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases . ”

    Even within the “consent” framework, his explanations don’t add up.
    I’d be curious to see where in these releases, his models consent to him ejaculating on their faces.

  • Kat

    “Does your dick trump her well-being? (The answer is “yes” if you are a libertarian” … way to effectively dismiss the voices of any libertarian who has been a victim of sexual assault. Equating misogyny and sexual violence with libertarianism is not only ill-informed, but incredibly insulting and dismissive of the libertarian feminists, libertarian victims of sexual assault, and libertarian sexual violence activists. (Check out the Association of Libertarian Feminists on facebook for starters)

    It is impossible to educate you on all of libertarian theory in one comment, so I’ll leave that to do yourself. Let me just say that 1) Libertarians are against all coercion and violence, including that of the state. The majority of violence has been committed by or aided by governments, including murders and rapes that continue till this day. Libertarians believe that violence is only acceptable in self-defense, and this includes the government. If a victim of rape shoots her assailant in self-defense, that is perfectly justifiable. When a government forces a woman to go through an invasive cavity search (which is sexual assault in my book) in order to be committed to a prison simply for consuming a plant, this is violence that is unacceptable. The state may step in to protect from violence. Otherwise, the state must be kept to a minimum because existing power structures are, and always have been, amplified by the existence of government. 2) It is also completely unfair of you to dismiss feminists like Belle Knox because of her political ideology or profession. If you honesty believe that porn is degrading to all women, then you are victim-blaming. If you think that Belle is just making a misguided, or even coerced, choice, you are stating that you know better than her about her own life. Sure, you may have an informed (or not) political opinion. But you have no right to make choices for other women. The porn industry is problematic, yes. There have been SO many women harmed by it. But we should focus on the stories of THOSE women, listen to them. Focus our energies on supporting survivors, not trying to shame women that enjoy their work. 3) Off of that, in feminist circles the term “republican” (and now it seems, “libertarian”) is a dirty word. Women who do not align with liberal or collective feminism are shamed and silenced. This includes your statement that all libertarians believe that dicks trump well-being. This is insulting This is counterproductive to feminism and to helping women. This is counterproductive to women’s rights.

    There are legitimate arguments that can be made concerning libertarianism. Like any political philosophy, it has its problems. But those arguments should not be made using the story of a sexual assault as a backdrop. That is just cruel. The woman who was assaulted by Terry Richardson is not your prop to use in a rant about libertarianism. Please, don’t use victims of sexual assault as excuses to talk about other totally unrelated things you don’t like.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “… way to effectively dismiss the voices of any libertarian who has been a victim of sexual assault. Equating misogyny and sexual violence with libertarianism is not only ill-informed, but incredibly insulting and dismissive of the libertarian feminists”

      Way to totally ignore my point in order to twist it around to mean something entirely different! The point is that our choices are not simply individual and personal choice is not the epitome of liberation. Oppression happens by groups towards other groups and in order to address systems of oppression we need to think about it in systemic terms as opposed to thinking about liberation as a personal, individual endeavour.

      Libertarianism isn’t compatible with feminism because the feminist movement won’t succeed if it’s primary focus is on individuals making individual, personal choices. We’re talking about the collective liberation of women and ending the system of patriarchy.

      And I most certainly have not dismissed the voice of ANY victim of sexual assault. Your comment is extremely manipulative.

    • “Please, don’t use victims of sexual assault as excuses to talk about other totally unrelated things you don’t like.”

      Aren’t you saying you know better than Meghan what she should be writing on her blog? Aren’t you suggesting that she’s “misguided” in writing what she did? Are you trying to make a choice for her about what to write on her blog?

      Libertarian (or liberal, I think the terms are almost interchangable when it comes to social issues) reasoning is self-refuting. The statement “you shouldn’t tell other what to do” or any variation on it, is itself a statement about what people should do. That is what I was trying to demonstrate in the above paragraph (so don’t take what I said in that paragraph seriously.) I can’t claim to be an expert on libertarianism, but what you said sounds exactly what every other “liberal” porn lover says, so if what you’re promoting is “libertarianism” I dare say that Meghan is as educated about it as she’s ever going to get.

    • lizor

      What an interesting post, Kat. Your response really explains a lot about libertarianism.

      “The woman who was assaulted by Terry Richardson is not your prop to use in a rant about libertarianism.”

      You could only make such a ridiculous accusation by ignoring what this blog is about and deliberately turning your gaze away from the many posts (including very recent – so they appear right no the cover page) that attend with respectful concern as to the well-being of victims like those of Richardson.

      “The porn industry is problematic, yes. There have been SO many women harmed by it. But we should focus on the stories of THOSE women, listen to them. Focus our energies on supporting survivors, not trying to shame women that enjoy their work.”

      What phenomenal double speak! So your prescriptive (telling us what to do! Oops!!!) is to care for the women damaged by the porn industry – those who make it out alive – but without actually critiquing the industry. According to you, we must shut up and not state the obvious: that pornography degrades and dehumanizes women – or should I say cum-dumpsters, sluts, whores, bitches and so on (this is the language of porn, but to call these labels degrading, according to you, is “victim-blaming”). Yup, it’s the feminists who are threatening the whores (I use this term, because I can only conclude that you’re pretty cool with it) in that scenario – not the media makers that rape women on camera and constitute female human beings as disposable receptacles for the contempt of violent narcissist males.

      “in feminist circles the term “republican” […] is a dirty word. […] This is counterproductive to women’s rights.”

      Um, yeah, we’d best not critique the GOP and their outrageous assault on women’s bodily sovereignty. I guess that’s some sort of victim-blaming of the entire female population of the U.S.

      Your arguments are contradictory and do not stand up in any way, given that you purport to have women’s well-being as a goal. This “philosophy”, as you articulate it, reads as little more than narrow-visioned decontextualization of sites of exploitation and oppression. Why don’t you come clean and just write a post ordering us all to cease with any form of social critique that recognizes systematized power structures and social inequality?

    • Candy

      Belle Knox is a feminist? The teenage girl who thinks she’s subversive and giving patriarchy the finger by starring in a Facial Abuse video and saying what she likes best in their videos is the misery in a woman’s eyes? Fuck that. If that’s feminism then count me out.

  • Laur

    “I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.”

    In other words, Richardson is denying the trauma and abuse the women have said they endured.

    One way to know he doesn’t care is that he shows zero empathy for what the women are saying were sexually violating experiences.

    On another note, I am SO sick of “consent culture” being what feminists are promoting. Sure, consent is better than non-consent, but mutual desire is what we should want, I would think.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly. He could care less how those women felt or about whether or not their experiences were traumatic, exploitative, what have you. He cares about defending himself point blank. He cares about his ability to get off — how that happens doesn’t matter to him. Fucking gross.

      “Sure, consent is better than non-consent, but mutual desire is what we should want, I would think.”

      Yes! Consent seems like a rather pathetic aim. Consent doesn’t equal desire, pleasure, enthusiasm, even respect. All it means is some agreed, technically and no matter how begrudgingly.

  • Margaret McCarroll

    isn’t RIchardson’s photography a litttle tired, or is it just me – woman licking a banana – woman licking a sledge hammer – zzzzzzzzzzzz – perhaps his work will become outre and the industry will just not employ him

  • Missfit

    ‘Choice’ and ‘agency’ are used time and again to hide issues of power dynamics. In this case, we have two older men, holding social power and physical strength, against a lone 19 year old woman, and we have this man saying ‘free will’ in an attempt to erase issues of fear and abuse of power. In an attempt to erase sexual assault. The worst is that by saying those magic words, he can still claim to be a feminist because the man believes in a woman’s agency and free will, see?

    Regarding libertarianism and the emphasis on ‘choice’…. I read ‘Unnatural Selection – Choosing boys over girls’, about sex selection. While some might have thought that getting rid of females was reserved for the uneducated poor, and that educated, middle-class women would ‘choose’ otherwise, it was revealed that it was not the case. Educated women who were interviewed indicated that despite the fact that they recognized the discriminatory aspect of aborting on the basis of sex, tradition and the fact that being female is hard resulted in them wanting boys. It’s their choice, they said. And they choose boys. And they have access to the technology to make this choice. Now, a libertarian would see no problem with this situation and would leave the analysis there – ‘choice’. Feminists, taking into consideration the factors leading to such ‘choices’, would want to act on those factors, as these ‘choices’ have real consequences on women, those from poorer regions being sold and kidnapped for prostitution and marriage markets, leaving these poorer regions with the problem of sex imbalance. Libertarians do not care about the consequences of individual choices.

    It’s like when people want to end the debate with the word ‘choice’ in regards to surrogacy. Then show me an upper/middle-class white woman choosing to carry a baby for a poor brown woman. Libertarians might concede that people’s choices are constrained by their economic/social conditions, but they are okay with leaving it at that (never would they want any government messing with the free market of capitalism) while what we want is to change these economic/social conditions.

  • Ugh, This man should have a “go straight to jail” card.

  • sporenda

    “Ugh, This man should have a “go straight to jail” card.”

    A rich and powerful man going straight to jail for sexual abuse? In your dreams!
    DSK, Polanski, Woody Allen: more successful than ever and free as a bird.
    Scarlett Johansson, ambitious young actress that she is, knows when to shut her mouth to get good parts.

    Without handmaidens’ support, male dominance would be a thing of the past.

  • I think the comments above are missing the target on libertarianism. The problem of patriarchy is that it can exist and survive in a libertarian universe. It is what we currently battle right now. Men have the free will to treat women like a piece of meat and women have the right to chose objectification. All hail free will! This arrangement exists because money and power support exploitation in the framework of free choice. All hail free will! The only way advancements in social justice happen is by seeking ways to restrict exploitation. In other words, restricting “freedoms” like denying someone a job because of their skin color. The government is the tool for doing this. If making laws is the only way from getting Terry to stop jacking off on peoples faces, I’m all for it. Bring on the “tyranny of government” if it means that girls have their agency restricted from being creepy guy’s play toy. I’m all of tyranny if it forces employers to even the wage gap. I’m all for tyranny if it stops teenage girls from getting groped on the subway. Libertarians, fuck your fear of government tyranny. Give me a government that responds to the needs of the people. Your ideology that free will trumps all ignores the obvious: exploitation can and does exist in a sovereign that protects choice. Freedom to pay less. Freedom to cum on your face and make a profit. All hail free will!

    • You raise important points here what you write here regarding free will. The way I see it is that all this is masqueraded as free will, patriarchy with its heavy burden economic system capitalism is a well crafted piece in giving the illusion of choice.

  • I think the problem with capitalism is that better choices exist only for those who have the privelage of accessing them. Choice isn’t illusionary when you have a members only card.

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