Those who follow current affairs may have long suspected that most politicians are shameless wankers. Last week this suspicion was confirmed in a literal sense thanks to Neil Parish. According to reports, the British MP was spotted by at least two female colleagues watching porn on his phone in the debating chamber of the House of Commons. The news comes amid the referral of 56 MPs to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) following accusations of sexual misconduct. As ever, it seems no matter how successful a woman is in the workplace, some men delight in reminding female colleagues that their true position is ‘prone.’
The member for Tiverton and Honiton claims he initially clicked on a link by accident (of course he does). Asked about a second occasion when he was spotted viewing pornography at work, Parish admitted it was deliberate, though a “moment of madness”. After initially refusing, he has now tendered his resignation, though he still enjoys the public support of his wife, Sue Parish, who said:
"If you were mad with every man who looked at pornography, you would not have many wives in the world”.
Mrs. Parish added that while she understood why her husband’s actions had caused outrage “it takes two to tango. There must be women posing for all this.”
The naive use of her phrase “posing” suggests Mrs. Parish has no understanding of the brutal reality of modern pornography, nor of the business model which pulls users in towards ever more extreme content. Presumably, she has also not considered the traumatic backgrounds and precarious lives of the majority of women trapped in the industry.
“Pornography increases belief in sexist stereotypes, lessens empathy for women, and cements rape myths. Yet porn-addicts sit in police stations, on juries, and in parliament.”
The change from the risqué centre-folds Mrs. Parish is clearly envisaging to the reality of what people watch today is perhaps best summed up by LA-based porn actor Anthony Hardwood. Looking back on how the industry has changed since he started in 1997, he recalled in an interview for documentary Love and Sex in the Age of Porn that “lovey dovey sex” had been replaced by more obviously abusive scenes:
“After three years they wanted to get more energy, more rough, they do like one girl with you know like four guys and they just take over and destroy her.”
From the porn-fuelled fantasies of murderer Wayne Couzens to the increasing number of girls presenting at clinics with fecal incontinence due to the normalization of rough anal sex; the impact of pornography on society is devastating. But because the brunt of this injustice is borne by women, it’s rarely news.
In the media squall that’s followed the identification of Parish as a porn-user, pundits have frothed about sleaze within the walls of Westminster. The more simple explanation is that Parliament simply reflects the sexism of the wider world. Part of the outrage is because we expect better of those we elect to protect our best interests.
Whether politicians consume pornography in public or private, the thought that those in whose hands the future of the nation rests might be masturbating to refugee pornography whilst making laws on immigration is sickening. Cases of abusers in parliament are not uncommon.
Just last month, Imran Ahmad Khan MP was convicted of molesting a 15-year-old boy. Khan had sat on an expert panel offering advice about how to tackle child grooming gangs. After his conviction, Khan was supported by Crispin Blunt MP who called the verdict a "dreadful miscarriage of justice" (he retracted his comments after widespread condemnation).
Some of those who have sought to excuse Parish’s actions have made the argument that pornography use can be a compulsion. Surveys back this up, according to a BBC poll in 2019 around 31% of men and 14% of women who consume pornography admit to struggling with addiction. Speaking on the BBC Today programme about the case, Dr Paula Hall, a sex addiction specialist, acknowledged that pornography changes the structure of the brain:
“The more somebody gets caught up in addictive compulsive behaviours it’s not just a psychological issue - we know from research there’s a biological side of addiction.”
It’s true — successive studies have shown changes in the distribution of grey matter in the brains of habitual pornography users leading to, amongst other issues, degraded impulse control. The upshot is that we are living in a society filled with brain-damaged, porn-addled men (and women). And we know that pornography increases belief in sexist stereotypes, lessens empathy for women, and cements rape myths. Yet porn-addicts sit in police stations, on juries, and in parliament.
“What if, as with soldiers and drugs, random checks were performed on the hard drives and phones of politicians?”
When one considers the prohibition on other dangerous, addictive products which are consumed, it seems fair to ask why pornography gets a special pass. Over the past three years, 1,700 soldiers were expelled from the British Army after testing positive for cocaine. It is accepted that using the illegal drug cocaine compromises the judgement of troops and puts them at risk of blackmail.
But if we routinely drug test squaddies who hold little power, why do we have a different standard for those who use pornography whilst in public office? Why should we accept that men in power will use pornography as a sad fact of life? Perhaps, rather than the Prime Minister wanging-on with furrowed brows about ‘lessons learned’ (until the next time), we deserve more radical solutions.
Instead what if, as with soldiers and drugs, random checks were performed on the hard drives and phones of politicians? Rather than wondering if the man whose name we put our ‘x’ aside saw us as human, politicians themselves would be left wondering if their next click could cost them their seat.
Obviously, there would be an outcry and this suggestion is made with tongue-in-cheek. But it is fair to ask, why is it considered a greater human rights outrage to infringe on men’s privacy than it is to make entertainment from the abuse of women? As is so often the way, the interests of women and girls are second to much loftier concerns about actual human rights (i.e. men’s).
There was a time when men who used pornography experienced shame; they’d scurry away from sex shops and newsagents gripping their ‘girlie mags’ in brown paper bags. Today, filmed sexual abuse of women is just a click away. Pornography has become a constant background hum and those who use it do so without a qualm. What we need is to make men ashamed, to hold them to account. But the reality is, pornography will never be taken seriously so long as those we depend upon to legislate against it are users.
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