As it turns out, journalist Kim Wall was not dropped off on shore by Danish inventor Peter Madsen, nor did the 30-year-old accidentally hit her head on his submarine’s 150 pound hatch, causing her to “bleed violently” and ultimately die.
Rather, Wall, who had thought she would be doing “a fun interview with an eccentric Danish inventor who built his own submarine,” was dismembered and decapitated, then tossed into the ocean in a bag full of pipes, in order to make her body sink. Madsen’s DNA was found on her body, as well as stab wounds (in particular, multiple mutilation wounds to Wall’s genitals) and stitches, which were sewn into her torso.
It did not come as a surprise to me when investigators announced that Madsen had “fetish videos” of women being tortured, decapitated, and burned alive on his computer. It was also reported that the 46-year-old frequented “fetish nights” and “sex parties.” Indeed, Madsen attended nights put on by a collective called “Kinky Salon,” which claims to want to “make the world a better place, one pervert at a time.” The website explains:
“Behind this door you can unlock community, creative expression, and sexual liberation, becoming part of a movement to change our culture’s unhealthy attitude towards sexuality.”
Kinky Salon describes their parties as “arty, playful, fun, [and] sex positive” — a “safe space” where “all kinds of people and all kinds of sexuality are embraced” and where people can “explore their sexuality without fear of judgment.”
While blaming fetish parties for men’s decisions to kill women may sound like a stretch, the notion that BDSM porn and the sexualization of violence that is acceptable (encouraged, even) in the “kink community” is harmless strikes me as a dangerous lie. When anything goes and when anything that turns an individual on is celebrated without critique, where is the line? If violence is harmless sex, the idea that violence is sexy becomes an accepted part of “sexual liberation.”
Indeed, the term “violence against women” is never mentioned in Kinky Salon’s “don’t” section. How could it be? “Shaming” individuals for their sexual desires is said to be a repressive practice by those who second wavers referred to as “sexual liberals.”
In the kink community, no fantasy is off limits. From Seattle to Toronto to London and Los Angeles, Kinky Salon explains they are “queer friendly, body positive, accessible, and inclusive,” advertising a “safe space for ALL to pursue the fantasies they seek.” It has become unpopular to suggest there should be limits to the kinds of fantasies people indulge in. The common perspective taken up by liberals, queer activists, and third wavers (echoed by Kinky Salon) is that sex is the thing that will liberate us and that the only possible response to sexual repression is to indulge in anything and everything that comes to mind, free of shame. “Consent” is emphasized, to be sure, but the idea that “consent” can transform an abusive or violent practice into something positive and “liberating” is a questionable one.
No progressive person today would argue, for example, that if a black person “consents” to slavery, slavery can be empowering or liberating. It is irrational (and dangerous) to claim that imagery depicting the torture and murder of women can be “sex positive” so long as the women featured on camera have signed a contract. Fantasizing about torturing women should be viewed as unhealthy, at least, and a sign of an abusive man at most.
Polly Whittaker (AKA Polly Superstar) is the founder of Kinky Salon, and calls herself a “sex culture revolutionary.” In a video taken at her book launch, a number of her guests explain that a “sex culture revolutionary” is someone who “fights against the system that tells us who we should be at the expense of our happiness.” It’s a strange, rather juvenile, certainly hedonistic way to fashion one’s politics, as it centers one’s own personal pleasure over absolutely anything else. It’s also dangerous.
Indulging narcissism is not going make the world a more ethical, equitable place. It is not going to change systems of power or address systemic problems like poverty, sexism, and racism. Positioning our personal desires and pleasure above all else means we can justify anything at all and even politicize indulgence because, according to these “sex culture revolutionaries,” “fucking can change the world.”
The mantra embraced by sexual liberals and articulated by one woman interviewed in Whittaker’s video, that “there is nothing wrong with pleasure” and that it is “all good for you” is not, in fact, true, as many people take pleasure in extraordinarily sadistic practices. Sometimes those practices are harmful to others, sometimes they are harmful to the individuals themselves. Sometimes the practices are harmful to society as a whole. Pornography that depicts incest, racism, and abuse, I would argue, is not good for society, if indeed we wish to live in a society without those things. It is neither “good” or “healthy” to draw no lines between what is ethical and what is not, simply because the thing is pleasurable. Building a society wherein living things are treated with respect will not come from encouraging people (men, in particular — as they are the people who are in a position of power already and socialized to view women as things that exist to provide them with pleasure) to indulge in any and every fantasy they have.
Those of us who consider ourselves to be ethical, progressive people should discourage and condemn the sexualization of violence, regardless of “consent,” just as we have condemned practices like child marriage, sexual assault, pedophilia, slavery, and domestic abuse. When a woman chooses to remain in an abusive marriage, it does not mean the abuse is acceptable, nor do sweatshops become ethical the moment a person agrees to work in one. There is no reason why sex should be the exception when it comes to our ethics and politics, particularly in a world wherein women and girls are sexually abused (and killed) by men every day.
Last week, an indictment against Brendt Christensen was upgraded, alleging the 28-year-old intentionally killed Yingying Zhang, a visiting scholar from China, in “an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner.” The new indictment contends her death involved torture or serious physical abuse and that Christensen kidnapped and killed Zhang “after substantial planning and premeditation.” When investigators searched his phone, they found Christensen had visited a forum on FetLife, “a Social Network for the BDSM, Fetish, and Kinky Community.” The forum, called “Abduction 101,” hosted threads like “Perfect abduction fantasy” and “Planning a kidnapping.”
This is not the first time FetLife has been implicated in allegations of abuse. Yet, according to an article in The Atlantic, the site has a policy that prohibits users of making “criminal accusations against another member in a public forum.” It sounds like the ideal place for a man to go not only to indulge his violent fantasies, but to expand upon them, find victims, and learn new ways to torture and abuse women.
Violence against women happens everywhere, but removing our ability to name it as violence is dangerous. The fact that we, as a society, have labelled things like torture and abuse a mere “fetish” should alarm us, but instead these practices are defended time and time again by third wavers, liberals, leftist men, and the queer community. Any space or community wherein men feel safe and supported in indulging in violence against women needs to take a deep look at their so-called politics — ethics and women’s safety should precede any individual’s sexual pleasure. That men have learned to put their pleasure first has created a world where sadistic men like Madsen and Christensen not only fantasize about hurting women, but make those fantasies a reality.