Note: this article refers non-graphically to sexually violent language.
In response to criticism of his misogynist and homophobic views, the heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury has told critics to “suck my balls”. Fury made the suggestion in an interview, after a petition was launched to persuade the BBC to drop him from the shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year, because of previous statements he had made that gay people were comparable to paedophiles, that violence against women could be justified, and that “a woman’s place” was “in the kitchen or on her back”.
The spectacle of a homophobe telling his critics (who include many men) to suck his balls did not go unmocked on Twitter. Many people pointed out the logical inconsistency of Fury’s comments, as well as his bizarre insistence on Twitter that his attitude stemmed from his belief in everything that Jesus said. “Bigot hasn’t even thought through the logic of his bigotry” seemed to be the general verdict, with some justification.
But it’s also possible to see an unpleasant logic in Fury’s comments, one which is shared by a lot of our public discourse around sex and sexuality. Fury simply regards sex as a kind of violence. In suggesting that people he doesn’t like should carry out a sexual act, he is classing them as people on whom violence should be inflicted. His insult is based on the assumption that sexually gratifying another person is a form of humiliation, which should make the person doing it feel ashamed and belittled.
Before we feel too superior to the bigotry of Fury – though surely we should condemn it entirely – it’s worth remembering that our shared language enables him to express this equation between sex and violence. Everyone understood what he meant by telling his critics to “suck my balls”, even if lots of people made a joke out of it. The English language has a lot of words which make the same connection: “fucked”, “buggered”, “shafted”, etc. They’re regularly used in conversation without a specifically sexual meaning, implicitly draw the same comparison between sexual acts and destruction.
Fury’s other comment, that women belong “in the kitchen or on [their] back” is entirely coherent with this attitude. Women are imagined here as passive, the object of activity rather than its subject. When he expressed his supposedly progressive notions about women’s right to work, he gave the example of the ring girls he enjoys watching between rounds, once again linking male activity and female passivity. There is nothing inconsistent about a man who sees woman as the “sex class”, who also thinks that punching them can be justified, and who taunts his critics by telling them to suck him.
These opinions simply continue the same equation of sex with violence which is so deeply rooted in the language he chose to use. As I stressed above, language is a shared system, and the pathology which Fury’s abhorrent comments symbolise runs deeply through our public culture. Friends have told me of overhearing young men in bars talking about how they’d “ruin that girl” or “smash her back doors in”. They were disgusted, and even more so because they knew what these men meant. They recognised the public language of sexuality as violence and degradation.
The crudity of Fury’s jibes is not the point. The assumptions which underlie them are much more serious. Just like the rap in Blurred Lines, his remarks frame sexuality as an arena in which one person damages another. This is the most basic example of what feminists have described as “rape culture”: a shared system of language in which sex and violence are indistinguishable. This is the logic of rape and the sexual exploitation of women, in which male sexuality is a weapon and sexual acts are a means of domination and humiliation.
When sex is described in terms of violence, and violence is described in terms of sex, we see the horrendous consistency of Fury’s comments. When gamers use “rape” as a synonym for “conquer”, or films offer degrading images of women as inherently more sexy, the assumptions underlying rape culture become visible. So Tyson Fury is ridiculous, but his remarks are also a symptom of a corrupt strain in our society’s system of thinking and feeling. He appears to think sex is a kind of violence, and much of our public culture endorses his belief. After all, “on their back” is where a boxer tries to put their opponent.