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.