The Queer Politics of Chatroulette

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8 Responses

  1. Dave Paul says:

    My problem with chatroulette is that it plays into and encourages rape culture against women.

    I have spent much time on chatroulette, usually goofing around with friends, and I notice that the “perverts” who masturbate quickly disconnect when they see they have a room full of guys. As any male will attest, it is quite hard to find a partner to talk to when every other male on the system is frantically searching for a female. And the most common comments I get are “show me your boobs,” which makes me wonder why men looking for porn are spending their time on such an unpredictable and male-dominated space.

    I routinely get homophobic comments followed by quick disconnections by my fellow male chatrouletter’s, probably because of my somewhat non-hetero normative self-presentation. They simply assume I am gay, launch an epithet or two, and switch to the next partner.

    Chatroulette, I argue, is a male-dominated and voyeuristic space. It is a space where men feel free to disrobe and touch themselves because of its pseudo-anonymity. My problem with this behavior is that it plays directly into the larger culture that promotes the voyeuristic consumption of women’s bodies and the overwhelming “freedom” men feel in engaging in sexually explicit behavior towards women. I would argue that the behavior displayed on chatroulette is symptomatic of a larger culture that frowns upon, but does not stop, men who sexually harass women.

    Unfortunately, I do not see chatroulette as a space of sexual exploration and freedom. I see it as a space where men feel quite comfortable masturbating in front of anonymous strangers. And I have to ask, How is this any different from masturbating on a public train? In a library? Or accosting a woman on the street to show her your penis?

    The only answer I can think of is that there is no way for these men to be prosecuted. They feel comfortable disrobing and sexually harassing women because there is no fear of retribution. And in a period when men can simply google porn at will, it begs to wonder why so many men flock to chatroulette to masturbate. I don’t think they are perverts. I just think we found a good way to get our jollies off without getting in trouble… And it is this behavior that I find symptomatic of a larger culture. Rape culture.

  2. nathanjurgenson says:

    -quick correction, i think you mean to say “SEXUAL exhibitionism and voyeurism” instead of just exhibitionism and voyeurism. of course almost all of web2.0/social media is an orgy of exhibitionism and voyeurism of some sort!

    from this – i agree with your point that we are told to be exhibitionists and voyeurs on web2.0 and one logical result is *sexual* exhibitionism and voyeurism. thus, distinguishing exhibitionism and voyeurism from SEXUAL exhibitionism and voyeurism helps reinforce your point here.

    -you do not seem to be disagreeing with pj’s points above, but i disagree with some of your new set of points.
    1-you “wonder why men looking for porn are spending their time on [chatroulette]”, which precisely is the point: if they were indeed “looking for porn”, they wouldnt be on chatroulette. they are looking (1) to be exhibitionists as that is thrilling for them, (2) to connect with a male or female to have a sexual encounter (e.g., the girl flashing for the masturbator), or (3) both.

    2-on rape culture: rape is sex without consent. women need to be able to say no AND yes to sexual encounters. i feel the way you describe Chatroulette obscures women’s consent to say YES to sex. i’ll submit that ANY distancing between females and their consent to sex is troubling.

    females indeed CAN consent to the “voyeuristic consumption of [their] bodies.” if you go onto Chatroulette a second time, you are consenting to a space where sexual exhibitionism is possible, allowed and likely (which is the difference between Chatroullette and ‘public trains, libraries and the street’). i feel that you have not opened room for this consent that women are giving, and to remove women from sexual consent is, again, problematic. in sum, we need to view rape culture as the distancing of women from their sexual consent, and that also includes, at a minimum, acknowledging that women can say yes to sex, too! ~nathan

  3. Charles R says:

    Nathan nailed it. It’s about consent. Chatroulette is a space for consenting to these kinds of encounters: this is the function of nexting. If one does not like what’s being said about your appearance, next until you find a partner who says what you prefer. Sitting there in outrage, under that specific dynamic of freedom, is one’s choice.

    As an online environment it definitely does away with some of the trappings of social etiquette, but created its own: the finger, the thumbs up, &c. And perhaps instead of comparing it to libraries or subway cars, a more apt comparison of what is possible and permissible: bdsm dungeons or sex clubs. In these places, masturbating strangers is commonplace, though certain rules apply depending on management. Some people enjoy being watched and having people masturbate to what they are doing; some people don’t. Some creepers move on; some are thrown out. But even with Chatroulette, the Report function has some sanctioning effect for not playing accordingly. Why jump immediately to the public space of a library and so on (Do people talk and share with one another in libraries? Do they talk and share with one another in subway cars? In just passing on the street, do they?), and why not instead a bar, a dungeon, a sex club?

    Part of the enjoyment for some groups of guys precisely is to see men masturbating and laugh at them. Whether titillation or moral condemnation, the interest is in not only the obscene but the awkward, the unusual, the fringe, the freak, the perverse. It seems, to me, part of how to roll with pjrey’s observation about the idea of the ‘perverse’ is to note how fascination with the obscene and socially shaming it (through joking, mocking, deriding, name-calling, &c) drives much of the interest in Chatroulette. Afterall, are there any news pieces or social commentaries about Chatroulette that do not talk about the sexual exhibitionism in the mode of “There’s also all this sick stuff, too?”

    I take it this is a point made by pjrey. We’re putting already a number of things out there as part of our online social world. Masturbation, something many people do, becomes part of this, and likewise part of this online social world is the hand-wringing and shaming. For some, they also get off on shaming the appearance of online dick.

  4. nathanjurgenson says:

    Charles R
    “It seems, to me, part of how to roll with pjrey’s observation about the idea of the ‘perverse’ is to note how fascination with the obscene and socially shaming it (through joking, mocking, deriding, name-calling, &c) drives much of the interest in Chatroulette.”

    spot on!
    one does not need to look to foucault for this observation because it is obvious (but we sound smarter if we mention how foucault discusses this in hist of sex 1): prohibition leads to an explosion of sexuality, not less of it. it is our very prudish/puritan/(we other)victorian view on sex that creates the taboos that are so “sexy” to break on chatroulette. many kinks and lots of porn center on taboo, and since these taboos are created via prohibition, to moralize about chatroulette is to ensure the continuing “perversity”!

  1. 19th April 2010

    […] the original: The Queer Politics of Chatroulette » Sociology Lens ← 20% of Librarians Have Done It In The Stacks, and Other Sexy Librarian Stats [Librarians] […]

  2. 7th May 2010

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