TRIGGER WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT AND IMAGERY DISCUSSING SEXUAL ABUSE
Yesterday morning I was at the gym when I heard the news headlines for the day. They included the regular stories – the increased cost of living, the budget, the economy, cute little ‘fluff stories’, and of course, the news that another woman had been murdered.
The news report told of a Chinese woman’s body being found naked and injured in Melbourne city, assaulted by a man who had been ‘living rough’ on the streets. She was simply walking to work when she was sexually assaulted and murdered.
Before I even had time to adjust to this news, I was bombarded with more stories of violence against women. Following this report came news updates that Gerard Baden-Clay was still pleading ‘Not Guilty’ to murdering his wife Alison, whom he was cheating on, along with reports that Oscar Pistorius was pleading mental insanity to shooting dead his girlfriend.
And despite the overwhelming daily news reports that violence against women is impacting on millions of women every day worldwide (such as the 200+ Nigerian school girls who are still missing), still it seems that many are too desensitised by a culture of violence, misogyny and sexism, to see that violence against women is a serious issue. If you need more proof, just look at the Elliot Rodger fan pages for evidence.
Perhaps one of the worst displays of hatred toward women that I saw yesterday however, was that of a local Brisbane tattoo artist named Ryan Parsons who thought it would be funny to upload one of his designs to Instagram. The image, which featured a naked woman head first in a dumpster, with her hands bound, her shoes strewn on the ground, and a bird feasting on her genitals, was hash-tagged ‘fuck women’s rights’ and ‘bash women’.
Not one to just focus on women, he also made a homophobic slur, by complaining that “some homo” had reported his image.
Note: image has been censored by myself for this post.
Equally disturbing, was that this was not simply a design – it was a photograph of a real tattoo he had put on someone’s body. I wasn’t sure whether to be more repulsed that someone had brainstormed such an image into existence, or that someone agreed to tattoo it on an individual. I later found out that this image was in fact (according to Parsons) designed by, and tattooed onto, a woman.
Without being able to speak to this woman myself, I will not pretend that I know what is going on in her mind or what this means to her (other than what Parsons himself has disclosed), however I still find the imagery highly disturbing, If Parsons is indeed telling the truth, then I also find it highly disturbing that this woman encouraged him to send out a giant ‘fuck you’ to women and their rights to safety.
Customers and social-media users were outraged, and rightly so.
After many complaints, the image was removed; however Parsons then uploaded the following “community service’’ announcement, with the patronising title “let’s have a little hug” – clearly intended as a follow up to his last post which he was made to remove.
It seems that Ryan views the assault of a woman, left to rot in a dumpster while animals eat her organs, as ‘’satire’’.
Considering the rise in female tattoo customers, it seems odd that Ryan would purposefully choose to alienate and enrage a huge section of his client base – especially since he has a girlfriend whom, it would seem, he cares for and respects very much.
While certain social media users jumped to his defense, labeling him a loving father and “the loveliest person’’, there was no grey-area. Parsons himself, with his comments, hash tags and designs, made it perfectly clear that women, their safety, and their rights are not to be respected.
Individuals such as Ryan are a giant embarrassment not only to society, but also on the Tattoo industry. As many social-media users (including customers) noted, the tattoo industry already has a dubious reputation which it has been fighting to change. It is such a shame that individuals like Parsons are choosing to further this stigma and make it harder for their own industry.
“There are amazing tattoo artists who work there that most likely don’t share the same views as Ryan and have families to feed. They don’t deserve the backlash…” wrote one customer. “[I have been] to the shop multiple times and would hate to see it get a bad rep because of one guy. There’s enough bad reputation around the tattoo industry already.”
Although my initial train of thought was for people to boycott Black Throne Tattoo, I quickly realised that the actions of Ryan Parsons are not necessarily conducive of the business. While the responses I saw online were highly negative toward Parsons and his attitudes, many suggested that Black Throne be given the opportunity to respond to the behaviour of their employee. One girl tried contacting Black Throne on Instagram and received a message from Black Throne Tattoo’s Clint Steele, condemning the actions of Parsons.
“I’d like to apologise for the post and the offence it has caused. Myself and my business partner in no way condone Ryan’s actions and we were the ones that asked him to remove it. My apologies,” wrote Steele.
While it was good to hear that Steele did not support the actions of his employee, iat the time that his comment was issued I found it somewhat disappointing to see that he decided to issue the apology in a way in which noone else would see. Instead of replying to the comment on his business’ page, he went onto the Instagram user’s personal page, chose a random photo, and posted the apology there. In a way, it suggests that Black Throne are not ready to publicly display their condemnation of Ryan Parsons, but are instead only offering ‘discreet’ apologies.
As I had seen a lot of support and praise for Steele and other artists at Black Throne by women in my community, I thought I would give the company the opportunity to share their views before assuming that they supported Parsons. I sent an email to Clint explaining that many in the community were upset by his coworkers behavior, but also making it clear that I understood his actions may not necessarily reflect the ethics of the entire company.
I received the below reply:
Subject: Re: Complaint regarding Ryan Parsons
Date: Tue, 1 Jul 2014 15:24:11 +1000
As one user suggested, perhaps this will help to bring about important discussion and help dispel some myths about the tattoo industry – if it is indeed handled professionally.
“This could actually be an opportunity for the tattoo community to help dispel some of the negativity associated with the industry by collectively saying, ‘Hey! This is not what we’re about and we do not support this. This is awful and should rightly be condemned.'””
I could have taken this story to the media, but at the end of the day, I have been satisfied so far with how BTT have responded. I write this blog not because I want to take down BTT or see their business suffer, but because I want to highlight a dangerous issue, the crux of which is that we live in a culture which excuses rape and violence as ”entertainment”.
It is unfortunate that so many men and women still see VAW as something to joke about… something to tattoo on their bodies…something to serve forever as a reminder that abuse is ‘just a joke.’
So long as individuals such as Parsons continue to post dangerous and harmful messages, there will always remain a need to call-out such behaviour. With so much violence in our world, when will we decide that enough is enough?
End note: [6:47pm] I am yet to see Parsons official apology, but I am hopeful that it will be issued.
[9:00pm] I saw the apology issued by Parsons, and have to say that he proved a lot of people right. His ‘apology’ is barely that, and sounds more like he got smacked by management and issued a ‘I got in trouble so I have to apologise – but fuck you and fuck them’ response. There was nothing in his original post which encouraged a healthy discussion of the problem that is violence against women…it was a one-dimensional post meant to anger women and cause offense. Parsons is so deluded it is not even funny.
If you would like to raise these issues with BTT – please email firstname.lastname@example.org