This just in: power dynamics exist!

It’s annoying enough when non-kinky people try to pretend power dynamics don’t exist (sticking your fingers in your ears and hollering ‘I don’t see colour’ does not stop Black people from getting arrested/beaten up/murdered, and acting like it will just makes you look like an idiot), but it’s so much more aggravating when kinky people, who are supposedly all about power dynamics try to pretend there is no difference between an older, male, famous photographer and a very young, female, unknown model.

For those who don’t do Fetlife, the gist of that link is that a 19 female model arranged a photo shoot with a very well known fetish photographer (who of course she can’t name publicly thanks to Fetlife’s terms of service and (I’m assuming) a rational interest in avoiding being accused of trying to stir up drama), who then flipped his shit when she tried to bring a friend to keep an eye on her.

The really irritating part for me is that Mr Big Shot photographer and a number of the commentors on that writing all acted like the photographer was at just as much risk as the model and therefore it was completely unreasonable for her to have a spotter but not him (she decided to bring a spotter at the last minute and he didn’t have time to arrange one of his own). Honestly, it’s like they’ve spent their entire lives in a cave on Mars.

First of all, we live in a misogynistic society. This should not be any sort of news if you have ever read a book, watched a tv show, browsed the internet, or gone outside. Thanks to the misogyny we’re all steeped in it would be terrifyingly easy for even an unknown male photographer to dismiss a female model’s claims of inappropriate behaviour by saying it was a misunderstanding, she’s just overreacting/too sensitive/not cut out to be a model/unprofessional/has some mysterious grudge. On the other hand, if he were to accuse her or her spotter of stealing his equipment, he would most likely be believed without question.

We also live in a rape culture. If a male photographer sexually assaulted a female model, many people would fall all over themselves to blame her for her own assault. She certainly wouldn’t be able to go to the police if she were the kind of dirty slut who would would let a stranger tie her up and take pictures of her. If she doesn’t bring three bodyguards, perform an in-depth background check, and interview every model who has ever worked with that photographer, it must be her own fault if he decides to assault her. But if she wants to bring a friend she’s overreacting and as good as taking out full page ads accusing the photographer of being a rapist.

We’re also bad at dealing with the idea that people are not simply all good, or all bad. A brilliant photographer who creates beautiful art can also be an asshole who ignores his model’s boundaries any time he thinks he can get away with it. An activist trying to hold governments accountable for their actions can commit sexual assault. Once someone has done something good, we don’t want to believe they’ve also done anything awful. We don’t want to believe we were such bad judges of character, we don’t want to stop enjoying their art, we don’t want our view of the world to be upended, so we just quietly sweep it under the rug when someone we think is good does something terrible.

Finally, let’s not pretend age doesn’t matter. We all spend our whole childhoods being told to listen to people who are older than we are, but we’re supposed to magically throw all that conditioning off when we hit 19/21/whatever the age of majority is in your country? No, that’s not how people work. It’s hard to tell an authority figure to back the fuck up. That’s exactly why so many predators go after people who are much younger than they are – people their own age won’t take their shit.

So with all those power dynamics in play, where the fuck do you get off saying that both photographer and model are at equal risk? We of all people should understand that power dynamics do exist, that they do put some people at much greater risk than others, and that we need to pay attention to them if we’re going to treat people fairly. Come on everyone, this isn’t fucking rocket science.

7 thoughts on “This just in: power dynamics exist!

  1. Who gives a fuck about “equal” risk? Who can even say what “equal” is? It’s not like there’s some computer calculating that she has a 11.0049284% chance of being sexually assaulted and he has a 5.05948% chance of having his stuff stolen by someone he doesn’t know and hasn’t had time to vet. If either risk was unacceptable to either person without a spotter present, then the game is rained out, and no hard feelings either way.

    What happened here that was a problem was that this photographer was acting like it was some huge insult and problem that this model wanted to bring a chaperone along. There ought to be a presumption among kink folk that “more eyes=safety.” If anything, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the photographer to have a “spotter” too, as a witness in case an accusation of impropriety arises later. Acting like it’s the craziest and most insulting thing in the world for a 19-year old young woman to want someone else around when she’s going to shoot risqué pictures and sleep over at the home of a man she doesn’t know is… well, let’s just say kind of suspicious in a “he doth protest too much, methinks” kind of way.

    • well, let’s just say kind of suspicious in a “he doth protest too much, methinks” kind of way.

      Exactly! Someone in that thread posted a link to an interesting group about the escort debate, and after reading the horror stories about completely inappropriate (why on earth would you bring your mother as an escort to an art nude shoot, that’s just weird) or actively unhelpful escorts I can see why a photographer wouldn’t be completely thrilled about a model wanting an escort, but yeah, acting like it’s some huge imposition for a 19 year old to want a friend around while you tie her up is a serious red flag. It’s not an accusation, it’s just an acknowledgement of the fact that while the vast majority of men are perfectly lovely human beings, we’re not psychic and can’t tell the ones who want to hurt us from the ones who would never dream of it.

  2. That’s AWFUL. And I’m sorry, Stabbity, but I think it’s a waste of time trying to address that photographer’s argument as if it was sincere logic. It’s a red flag, that’s all.

    I recently had an interaction made me decide to pay more attention to early signals. It was a forum run-in with a guy who had frivolous complaints against him in the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, which the creator has said is often a sign that they gave people permission to spam the database with their name. I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, because lots of people dislike that tool, but of course it turns out that he refuses to play with anyone who wants safe calls and a number of people have wanted to report him to his local BDSM group, and he says so himself on his blog. No shame.

    And I really should have known from the beginning that something was wrong with him, because his entire contribution to the forum thread was to defend pick-up artists and negging. Another early signal missed!

    • Oh I don’t doubt the photographer himself is a lost cause, I just hoped I could get through to a few of the people who thought he had any sort of point about ‘equal risk.’

      I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, because lots of people dislike that tool, but of course it turns out that he refuses to play with anyone who wants safe calls and a number of people have wanted to report him to his local BDSM group, and he says so himself on his blog. No shame.

      Wow. That is so very creepy on so many levels.

  3. That’s exactly why so many predators go after people who are much younger than they are – people their own age won’t take their shit.

    I’m 41, but often mistaken for being much younger (like mid-20s, I’m guessing?). It’s hilarious the way a certain kind of smarmy middle-aged dude looks panicked and does a total conversational about-face if my age comes up. One minute he’s standing too close to me and winking a lot and trying to impress me with how worldly he is while talking in a condescending tone just a hair away from actual baby talk…the next minute all of that shit stops dead and he’s talking to me in a normal voice.

    Guys know that young women fall for their bullshit, have a hard time defending boundaries, see them as an authority figure, etc.

  4. Ever stop to consider that the reason this shit works on younger people is the fault of older people who aren’t doing what they should be doing to support the establishment and legitimization of early warning systems like, say, Predator Alert Tool? The reason so many people don’t like that tool is because the person they’re defending against that criticism is themselves?

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