Ireland

Opinion: Why we asked people on the streets of Dublin if they watch pornography

CONSENSUAL NON-CONSENT. CNC. That’s a term you mightn’t have heard before, but it’s one that is common within kink communities.

It’s the technical term for ‘rape fantasy’ – rape that isn’t rape. Dangerous territory, huh? And yet, for many people, CNC is an entirely valid sexual interest. There’s nothing criminal about it, nothing immoral.

Within kink, the practice exists within the strictest boundaries of mutual agreement and constant communication. But it’s still not the sort of thing you’d confess to in, say, a TheJournal.ie article.

This reticence isn’t so difficult to understand – we’re living in a time when male violence against women is a global epidemic, and we’re seeing alarming rates of sexual assault on men, by men.

We need our rhetoric to be consistent. Uncompromising. Unequivocal. 

Sarah Daniels’ play Masterpieces is all of those things. Written in the 1980s, the play responds to a real horror film – Snuff.

That film’s final scene showed a production assistant sexually coerced, dismembered, disemboweled, and ultimately murdered. Styled as found footage, the film marketed the final scene as real content – à la The Blair Witch Project.

Daniels wrote Masterpieces as a defiant response to Snuff, to interrogate the role of violent media, and in particular of violent porn, on ‘real-world’ behaviours. In Masterpieces, porn is prolific, and its presence can’t be separated from the rape and murder we encounter in the play. There’s no grey area in Daniels’ argument. Porn damages women. Period.

So why did I want to stage this play, 40 years after it was written and in a brand new context? The truth is: this one’s personal.

Turning trauma into skit

Being single at 34, it’s probably unsurprising to have a few dating battle scars – the odd horror story that, in retelling, becomes increasingly parodic. I’ve amped up the comedy of experiences that weren’t funny. Not for me. Not at the time.

But turning trauma into skit is one way of creating a space where women can talk about their experiences without creating tension, or provoking outrage from that one man in the room who will feel he’s being personally attacked.

Even our best-intentioned friends will question why we put ourselves in certain situations – caution us not to “do that ever again!” On some level, we do blame ourselves for those close calls. And so we joke about them, make them anecdotes of the modern woman’s stint in the city.

It has been a series of these events that encouraged me to bring Sarah Daniels’ Masterpieces to the stage.

It might have started with my first, juvenile relationship almost two decades ago, and an eventual shove off a pavement after a post-party argument.

Or it might have been the Tinder date just months ago who turned out to be someone I’d previously blocked because he made me feel threatened – someone who argued that my having blocked him was unreasonable. Evidenced, he said, by the fact that I’d agreed to meet his new ‘persona’.

Perhaps it was exposure to the string of high-profile rape trials we’ve seen on this island over the last number of years – trials that have revealed a broken system designed to undermine and rattle victims, interrogating their validity as a person to determine whether they meet some unwritten standard for victimhood.

Or maybe the brutal sexual assault and murder of a teenage girl by two teenage boys just miles from my own front door was the catalyst.

These, surely, are all good reasons for staging a play about violence against women – the certain knowledge that it has happened to you and to many women you know, and exhaustion by being afraid to call it out.

But in fact none of these things were what tipped the scales. What did?

The creeping sense that in being unequivocal, in attempting to shut down platforms for a certain kind of language, a certain kind of imagery, certain kinds of ideas – we are also shutting down women’s right to sexual autonomy, to professional autonomy in some cases.

There are women for whom the world of bondage and consensual violence is their world, those for whom sex work is their profession, those for whom the right to make grown-up decisions about what happens to their body on their terms is something we deny.

I don’t know how to resolve this conflict of ideologies. But I do know we need to start discussing it.

By staging this play, we’re hoping to put this question in front of our audiences: How do we protect women, without censoring them?

We’ve been fortunate enough to involve experts in porn, horror, kink, and assault legislation in this conversation to date – perspectives we’re hosting in a series of short videos you can watch via our website.

Here’s where you come in. We want you to watch the interviews, see the show, then have your say.

To get you started, we took a walk around Dublin and asked people ‘do you watch porn?’ Have a listen to what they said: 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

We hope we’ll see some of you in the theatre, where you can ask your questions, state your case, and make this a conversation that goes somewhere.

Tickets for Masterpieces at Smock Alley Theatre (2 – 7 March) are available online now. € 1 from every ticket sold will be donated to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.