What will it take to have an honest conversation about the root of men’s sadism?

Either men’s sadism is innate, or it’s learned, and if it’s learned, we can do something about it.

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of What the Everloving Fuck is Wrong With Men?

I feel obligated to warn you that I won’t likely have an answer for you at the end of this investigation, but perhaps a generous brother will be inspired to enlighten us.

Admittedly, I am outside my area of expertise, as I have never orgasmed while suffocating a man with my vagina, nor have I fantasized about having a group of friends over to torture a man until he cries and pukes, all the while, masturbating and calling him a dirty slut. I have never pushed a drunk man into a room and locked the door, covered his mouth so he couldn’t breathe or scream, and fucked him while a friend watched, both of us laughing.

Call me uptight, but hurting other people doesn’t get me off — the idea of strangling or torturing someone makes me feel ill, not turned on. This seems like something you do to someone you hate, not someone you desire. And who wants to have sex with someone they hate, anyway?

Oh…

On August 8, 2017, Justin Schneider offered a woman a ride to her boyfriend’s house, insisting he was an acquaintance, but instead drove her elsewhere, pulled over, and asked her to get out of the vehicle. As she was walking away, he tackled her and told her she was going to die, before choking her until she passed out. When his 25-year-old victim regained consciousness, Schneider had just finished masturbating over her, so zipped up his pants, gave her a tissue, and “told her that he wasn’t really going to kill her, that he needed her to believe she was going to die so that he could be sexually fulfilled.”

The 34-year-old man did not receive any jail time, but his year under house arrest gave him a chance to “really work on [himself] and become a better person, and a better husband, and a better father.”

Great, great, super.

To be clear, I do believe in second chances. I do believe people can change. I don’t believe jail rehabilitates people. I also know that there are a hell of a lot of sadistic men in this world, and it is terrifying. I don’t believe for a second that a year of house arrest cured this man of his sadistic desires, and suspect, as usual, that, now, more women will be in danger of being victimized by this man. And I think enough women have suffered similar experiences to the one Schneider’s victim did — and worse — that it’s time we start looking at root causes instead of serving up ridiculously minor punishments after the fact, allowing men to continue to operate as they always have, but perhaps with more discretion.

It seems obvious to me that, in a society that condones sadism as a healthy sexual fantasy, men will want to act out these fantasies in real life. It seems shocking to me that we all at once treat choking as a fun and harmless way to spice things up in the bedroom, but also expect men not to jack off to choking women.

And I know, I know. I know what you’re going to tell me: Consent, Meghan. Consent is the difference. But I’m not talking about, in this case, what women want (or say they want, because they know it makes men hard). I’m talking about what men want. Because even if a man told me to strangle him until he went unconscious, I wouldn’t do it. And even if I did, because, I don’t know, I loved him so much I wanted to make him happy by choking him until he passed out, because anything for my baby, it wouldn’t make me come.

Last week, we heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford explain that what stuck with her the most about the night, 36 years ago, when she says Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, was the laughter: “The uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, her voice cracking, “and their having fun at my expense… I was underneath one of them, while they laughed.”

I have many memories of young men like these two, who did similar things to my friends, or who tried to do these things to me. I managed to escape similar situations, somehow, crying and traumatized only at being called a “slut,” a “whore,” and a “bitch,” because I wouldn’t go along with the intended scenario. I got very lucky in many situations that could have gone a very dark direction. Many women I know did not get so lucky. What I mean to say is that these kinds of men are not particularly out of the ordinary, though there are many levels to the sadism different men want to — and sometimes do — inflict on women.

On June 9, 2017, Yingying Zhang, a visiting scholar in the United States from China, got into a car with Brendt Christensen on the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign campus. Christensen brought Zhang back to his apartment and held her there against her will, presumably sexually assaulting and torturing her in various ways, before killing her (her body has still not been found). Christensen was a former Ph.D. student at Zhang’s university who used Fetlife, “a social network for the BDSM, fetish, and kinky community,” to access the “Abduction 101” forum, which includes sub-threads like, “Perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.” Prosecutors revealed that Christensen “choked and sexually assaulted” another victim in 2013 in central Illinois, claimed “additional victims,” and expressed a “desire to be known as a killer.” This was clearly a fantasy of his, which he was able to indulge in and plan out via BDSM sites. Christensen was married, and by all accounts, appeared to be a completely normal man, well-liked by his students (Christensen TA’d in the physics department while he was in grad school).

Peter Masden regularly attended “fetish parties,” appeared in two porn movies himself, and sought out violent snuff porn. On the day he met journalist Kim Wall in Copenhagen, who he killed on board his submarine in August 2017, Masden searched the internet for “beheaded girl agony”, and watched a film of a woman having her throat slit. Videos showing women being tortured and executed were found on his computer. The 47-year-old tied Wall up and abused her before killing her and dismembering her body. Madsen was charged with “sexual relations other than intercourse of a particularly dangerous nature” after stab wounds were discovered in and around Wall’s genitals.

There are many more stories like this. There are the Jian Ghomeshis, who perhaps don’t want to go so far as to kill anyone, but simply enjoy punching women in the head while they perform oral sex. There are the countless young men who gang rape women at parties, because hey, it’s a party. And then there are the men who simply watch this kind of thing online while they masturbate, and maybe very politely suggest to their girlfriends that they might consider incorporating this harmless “kink” into their sexual repertoire. For so many men, hurting women is fun. It’s a joke, it’s entertaining, or it’s sexy.

At what point do we draw the line? At what point do we say that it’s ok or not ok for a man to fantasize about hurting women? When he acts on it? When he masturbates to images of women being hurt or degraded online? When it’s too late?

And moreover, where do these desires come from? Why do so many men want to hurt women — why does hurting women make them hard?

I imagine some of these men suffered abuse themselves — maybe sexual. But they likely, for the most part, suffered at the hands of other men. And many of them, of course, were not sexually abused — strangled while being fucked, choked with a dick, called a whore and a bitch while being penetrated in the ass and throat all at once. There is a reason men are doing this to women, and its not because women deserve it, or because women did it to them, and now they want revenge.

Many feel it’s difficult to explain or observe misogyny, but when you think about these crimes and try to find justification for them, it stops seeming so hard.

There is something concerning about our lack of concern for this behaviour, and how many men participate, in various forms. Either we must all admit there is something innate to men that leads them to enjoy torture, in which case, what do we do with men? Or, we must acknowledge that this behaviour is mostly learned, in which case we can stop it. There cannot possibly be so many born psychopaths in this world. (And if there are, why are they almost entirely men, and almost never women?) And considering the non-pyschopathic men we love and live with — the ones who are “good,” and who do not masturbate over women they’ve choked unconscious on the street — also enjoy the sexual thrill of reminding themselves and their partners that they could kill us if they like, but choose not to, and that the power they feel in gently choking their girlfriend is a harmless kink, we must acknowledge that this problem of sexualized violence and domination is not just a problem of psychos and perverts.

According to pornography and “real life,” men want to choke us, cum in our eyes, penetrate us until we can’t breath, cry, or puke — maybe murder us too — and maybe laugh while they’re doing it (Oh, you can’t breathe? But look how hard my dick is!), but can’t manage to figure out what on earth feminists are on about. It’s as if they don’t believe that women know what they watch, what they do, and what they ask for in bed. But of course we know. We all know. It’s just that most of us don’t want to talk about it. It’s too much to acknowledge, and too much to contend with once we do. Do we dump these men? Write them off as evil and incorrigible? Talk to them, and try to explain the harm in their porn habits or sexual practices? I can’t say I have an answer. But at very least, we need to start talking about it, and saying that this isn’t normal, it isn’t ok, and it certainly isn’t harmless.

We can continue to make excuses, turn a blind eye, or shriek, “Stop policing my sexuality, prude!” whenever feminists suggest that maybe, just maybe, turning violence into a turn on might lead men to be turned on by violence, or we can start being honest. Considering the consequences, it seems worth it.

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 The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, 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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