“Sex negative” and “sex positive” are relatively useless terms with regard to discussing feminist approaches to issues of sex and sexuality. The terms convey the message that “sex positivity” equals support for a vision of sex and sexuality that is defined by patriarchy and one that is primarily libertarian. What’s defined as “sex positive feminism” tends to translate to: non-critical of the sex industry, BDSM, burlesque, and generally, anything that can be related to “sex.” “Non-judgement” is the mantra espoused by so-called “sex-positive feminists,” which is troubling because it ends up framing critical thought and discourse as “judgement” and therefore negative. Since I tend to see critical thinking as a good thing, the “don’t judge me”/”don’t say anything critical about sex because it’s sex and therefore anything goes” thing doesn’t sit well with me.
“Sex negative,” on the other hand, tends to be ascribed to feminists who are critical of prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, burlesque, BDSM and, really, sex and sexuality as defined by patriarchy and men. The reason that feminists are critical of these things is because they want to work towards a real, liberated, feminist understanding of sex and sexuality, rather than one that sexualizes inequality, domination and subordination, is male-centered, and is harmful and exploitative of women. To me, that sounds far more “sex positive” (from a feminist perspective, anyway), than blind support for anything sex-related, because sex.
“It’s the Belle Knox brand of feminism. It says that if an individual woman consents to — or even enjoys — performing in pornography, it must be ok. It says that if an individual woman likes pornography, it must be ok. And not just ok, but potentially empowering. I have no idea why we would assume that only men’s sexualities can be shaped by porn or why, simply because a woman’s fantasies have been shaped by porn that means those fantasies and that pornography is necessarily feminist. I don’t give a shit how many people like porn. I don’t give a shit if you say you like performing in porn (most women don’t, for the record, but there are exceptions to every rule that you’re sure to find if you look). That changes absolutely nothing about what porn is and how it impacts our lives and society as a whole.”—Feminism is the new misogyny: On ‘Belle Knox feminism’ and the new backlash
“The way in which it has become acceptable in some feminist circles to blackball and tar women who fight pornography and prostitution or to ignore and discredit them by calling them “sex-negative pearl-clutchers” — to claim feminists are the ones doing the oppressing because they criticize selfies or burlesque or, really, anything else one might feel attached to — that’s all part of the backlash. Which isn’t the same as saying women are to blame, but it is saying we’ve been had.”—Feminism is the new misogyny: On ‘Belle Knox feminism’ and the new backlash
“Since when does feminism promote the idea that one should not have “feelings?” My understanding was that to accuse women of being “too emotional” or of letting their feelings get in the way of rational (man) thought was, er, kind of sexist? Beyond that, the reason one would get involved in the feminist movement would be literally because one cares about other women. We cares about women’s lives, rights, well-being, and, more generally, their ability to live their lives free from oppression and violence and with dignity. To demand that we “put our feelings aside” when thinking about feminism and women’s issues is anti-feminist.”—No, I will not stop having ‘feelings’ about women’s lives and human rights
“I do consider “rape culture” to be a useful and accurate way of describing the way in which sexual violence has been normalized and sexualized in our culture. There is simply no denying that, when we see male students “joking” about raping female students, as we did recently at the University of Ottawa, when fraternities are untouchable on campus despite the fact that the “Greek scene” is a cesspool of toxic masculinity and sexual violence, when students at Canadian universities participate in “rape chants” during frosh week while fellow students are actually being raped on campus, when violent pornography that depicts sexual violence is defended as “just a fantasy,” or when we learn that acting out rape scenes is a way for us to recover from our own trauma, when women are afraid to walk alone at night, when women are afraid to be home alone at night in their own homes – this is a rape culture. We’re living it, every day.”—On rape culture and what Heather MacDonald doesn’t understand about sexual violence
“That indigenous women — the most marginalized people in Canada — are the ones funneled into this industry, groomed via sexual abuse from the time they are children, offered no options for escape, no housing, no education, no support services, are ignored when they disappear and are murdered, and are dehumanized by men want to think of and treat them as non-human should be one of the most significant aspects of this conversation. It is unacceptable that the voices, experiences, traditions, and realities of these women and girls are left out of debates and decisions around prostitution and prostitution law.”—In prostitution, ‘race, class, and sex intersect in the worst of ways to subjugate Native women’
Here’s something I’ve been meaning to say for some time: libertarianism is not compatible with feminism. The reason for this is that if we make individual freedom the epitome of liberation, we cannot and will not address the systemic oppression of entire groups of people. Because under libertarianism my choice trumps all. Even if said choice might marginalize, oppress, or otherwise negatively impact another. You can forget about ideas like affirmative action, universal daycare, and affordable housing if you want to roll with the libertarians and the situation of women and other minorities simply will not change without addressing systemic inequalities. The hard work and personal choices of individuals will not create an equitable society, as evidenced by America.
1) There are no more excuses. It is not ok to work with this man. The entire fashion industry is enabling him. His assistant appears to be enabling him. Celebrities are enabling him. Everyone who pays for his photographs are enabling him. Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue — this is on you, too.
2) This is porn culture. You hear me? What Richardson is doing is mainstreaming porn. You cannot separate his behaviour from his work. They are one in the same. The work he produces is pornographic. I want everyone — especially so-called feminists — to stop trying to draw lines between the exploitation and degradation of women, pornography, the way women are treated and viewed and how women feel they must behave in this culture. It is ok to say that something is not ok. Just because it’s “sex” doesn’t mean anything goes. This perception of “sex-positivity,” this “No judging! No shaming!” shit that is ever-popular in online feminism and was enabled by the third wave has made space for the culture we are in now and made room for Terry Richardson. And while yes, Terry Richardson is responsible for Terry Richardson, and patriarchy is also responsible for Terry Richardson, the condonation of pornography and the pushing of the idea that women should be cool with objectification (and not just “cool with,” but “empowered by”) is also responsible.
There is such a thing as porn culture and we’re looking at it. There is no separating “fantasy” from “reality.” We can see the ways in which they bleed together. What Terry Richardson is doing he is doing because of power, but he’s also doing it because we live in a culture raised on and saturated in pornography. This is what we learn is sexy — what Richardson is doing is a porn fantasy. He is making porn and he is doing porn to women.
Decades ago, Andrea Dworkin said: “Pornography happens to women.” Get it? Open your eyes.
Is it not ok to work with Richardson now but it never was. And all you feminists out there calling him out for being a sexual predator are great and all, but it’s time to start making some fucking connections.
It’s unsurprising that Paris doesn’t get the point of feminism. She doesn’t understand why it exists and she can’t relate to it. She thinks feminism is about her and her “freedom” to do whatever she likes. But maybe feminism isn’t about you, Paris? Maybe it’s not about your freedom to successfully perform femininity and your freedom to enjoy catcalls, just as it isn’t about women’s “freedom” to self-objectify.
Feminism is about addressing systems of power that oppress women, globally. It isn’t about you feeling cute. It’s about the women and girls who are raped and abused and murdered every single day, around the world, because they are female. It’s about the fact that most of us do feel afraid, despite the fact that you “weren’t raised that way.” It’s about the fact that performing femininity, even though some of us may have learned to enjoy parts of it, isn’t a privilege in a patriarchy.
You have the right to speak for yourself, Paris. Everyone does. You have the right to feel however you like about your experiences, too. But you’re right — you don’t represent all women. And you certainly don’t represent feminism.
Update, 02/28/2014: It’s worse than we’d imagined, sisters.
1) Objectification doesn’t = feminism, 2) Please stop using words you don’t understand.
“I love women and often admire their eyes, lips and other features of their bodies in a sometimes suggestive way.
But I respect and hold what would be called ‘a feminist view’ too. I want to spread the message of the pertinence of women on this planet. It calls for the equivocation of women in society.” - Pharrell Williams
EU Parliament passed a resolution today in favour of the Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, while decriminalizing prostituted people. The resolution passed by 343 votes to 139, with 105 abstentions.
This is thanks, in large part, to the work of Mary Honeyball, London MEP and Labour spokeswoman for women, who drafted the resolution.
“The yes vote formally establishes the EU’s stance on prostitution and puts pressure on member states to re-evaluate their policies on sex work,” writes Maya Oppenheim in The Guardian.
The Nordic model is not simply legislative, but calls on countries who adopt the model to set up exiting programs in order to support women who want to leave prostitution and help them find affordable housing and other employment. “Better education and reducing the poverty that forces women and children into prostitution, are needed to prevent prostitution,” MEPs add.
This model has been extremely successful in Sweden, where the law was enacted in 1999, after 30 years of research into the reality of prostitution. Prostitution has decreased drastically in Sweden and while one in eight men used to buy sex, that number has now been reduced to one in 13. Norway and Iceland have both adopted the legislation (Finland has a lighter version of it), and France recently passed a bill in Parliament in support of the model (which still needs to pass the Senate).
This resolution shows a clear position on prostitution — one that supports human rights and gender equality and acknowledges that prostitution happens because of marginalization and systems of power — not “free choice.”
We’ve learned from other countries that have experimented with legalization, such as Germany and Holland, that the result is increased trafficking, exploitation, and violence. The illegal industry has thrived under legalization, to the point where many brothels and “windows” in the famous red-light district of Amsterdam have been shut down after having been taken over by organized crime. The myth of a “safe, legal industry” as been shown to be nonexistent, as prostitution is exploitative by nature and promotes power imbalances between men and women.
Not only a gender issue, prostitution is something that impacts marginalized women of colour and poor women in particular, both in first world countries like Canada, as well as globally. Prostitution builds on Canada’s legacy of colonialism, as European men were the first to establish brothels in what is now known as Canada, filling them with Indigenous women. The sex industry, in general, profits from and maintains racist and sexualized stereotypes about women of colour and preys on impoverished women and girls, in particular those who come from abusive homes and are groomed for prostitution since they were young.
Canada, as well as other countries, should take note — there are no excuses for ignoring this abhorrent abuse of the human rights of women and girls.
"As a friend pointed out to me, the accusations of ‘whorephobia’ and ‘transphobia’ function as analogues of ‘homophobia’. That is, they are claims that someone’s position is entirely motivated by moral disgust, and that therefore, they, and their position, can be categorically dismissed. On the one hand, it is evident that moral disgust towards prostitutes and transgender people is a very real phenomenon, and is ethically and politically unacceptable. On the other, it is not true that ethical discussions about the possible harms of prostitution or gender-critical discussions within feminism are necessarily motivated by moral disgust. There are a number of major issues (sex work, porn, sex/gender to name the most significant) where feminists have good-faith disagreements. But to reduce such disagreements to an issue of ‘phobia’ relies on the conflation of moral disgust and ethical harm. (And to be utterly clear, I am in no way suggesting that a transgender identity is an ethical harm, or questioning people’s right to exist. What I am suggesting is that wanting to ask if the reification of gender represents a harm to some women can be distinguished from moral disgust. Which is to say that it is possible to ask that question in good faith.)"
"On the one hand, the call-out justifies itself by posing as an educative intervention performed in good faith. (And, just to be abundantly clear, I have seen examples where it is just that.) On the other, the tendency to misrepresent people, and invoke totalizing slurs – often accompanied by violent invective – suggests that there is, actually, no assumption of good faith on the part of the call-outers.
And, to return to our starting point, this raises a question about the call-out’s purported function. Because why on earth would you bother telling someone they have done something harmful, if you are proceeding from the assumptions that people-like-them don’t care about doing harm?
More than one answer presents itself, but Flavia Dzodan’s observations about performativity are pertinent to several of them. Yes, there are examples of good-faith call-outs which are genuinely intended to challenge or inform, but they are relatively rare. More often than not, the call-out is performed for an audience, and is undertaken for the benefit of the person or persons performing it.
As such, it may serve several functions. It demonstrates your political credentials, and (for many white women) launders your privilege. It raises your profile, and nets you allies and followers. It bestows the sweet sense of having-right on your side, of bravely battling against the massed forces of domination and injustice. And, perhaps above all – it’s a great way of dumping all your aggression, and usefully comes with a political narrative that exculpates you from taking any responsibility for that.”
“Is there nothing ironic in demanding that women work for free? Lest they be lambasted? Because women’s work remains underpaid or unpaid today, for the record. And it is unacceptable to expect women to produce work for free because they are feminist. We should be advocating for our sisters to be paid for the work they do. Not tearing them apart for scraping by in what is an extremely difficult, unstable, and unlucrative industry.”—My feminism will reject misogynistic screeds, or it will be bullshit
We were called “media whores” and “turds” who had no ethics, humanity, or compassion (an ironic accusation when stated within a completely unethical post maligning female writers and journalists, dehumanizing them, and calling them a bunch of hateful, sexist names). We were accused of selling out and of the crime of *gasp* being paid for some our work.
The author writes:
"I hate you all Glosswitches, booblediboops [sic], Laurie Pennys, Louise Penningtons, Julie Bindels, Megan Murphys [sic], Michelle Goldbergs and your ilk. The B Classes of white feminism fighting tooth and nail for a place at the table. At our expense. With your writing commissions, the coins tossed in your direction by the men who own the media you so desperately want to be part of."
Not all of the women she lists are paid writers or journalists, for starters, but she the author seems to have a completely deluded understanding of how much money one makes doing freelance writing (hint: not very much!). Beyond that, it is pretty appalling to attack women for being paid for their work. Is that not the very opposite of what we are fighting for?
That journalists and writers (and, more generally, everyone) be paid for their work??
When Sarah Kendzior, who has written at length about the unethical practice of hiring unpaid interns, supports an abhorrently misogynist piece that attacks women for daring to have and publish opinions, ideas, and arguments publicly, and to (sometimes) be (minimally) compensated for the work they do, it is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to call a vicious, unfounded, hateful, slanderous attack, “a powerful critique.” It is unacceptable for progressive and/or feminist writers to encourage and celebrate this kind of behaviour. No excuses.
Does getting paid to write only count as “selling out” or “whoring” if the writer says things we don’t agree with? Or is it just if the writers are women? What are the rules, here?
To be clear (though it shouldn’t have to be said), this is not about “righteous anger” nor is it about people “speaking out” nor is it about “critique.” There is NO critique here. There are no politics here. These are sexist, unethical, manipulative attacks and I am sick to death of fellow progressives or feminists defending them. This is indefensible.
When, all in one breath, one states their deep hatred towards women, calling them “pieces of shit” and “whores,” and in the next assures us that, no, they don’t hate the abusive white man who ripped apart the feminist community — causing us us all to viciously attack our sisters in an effort to see which terrible feminist was most to blame for the abusive, sociopathic, manipulative behaviour of a man (for fuck’s sake) and tear her from limb to limb — the illusion that this kind of attack is politically justifiable or is happening in the name of progress, feminism, or freedom, ceases to be credible.
"Contrary to popular belief, I do not hate Hugo Schwyzer, though. I feel deeply sad for him. Sad at the wasted potential of a man who obviously had the capacity to write and communicate and network and connect with people but became haunted by his own mental health issues and addictions. But I do not hate him. Sure, addicts make a choice to act on their addictions but how many choices do we have when there is a crowd that benefits from enabling the addict? What choices are out there when so many are fighting for the coins thrown at them to enable the addict, to give him rope, to let him hang, to push him further for page clicks and outrage. Like Jessica Coen, among many others, did for him. His actions are his alone but there is a point when people marred by mental health are not always in control of those actions. I can empathize with that. I would never be his friend. I would never share a drink with him. I don’t want him writing about anything that implies getting coins at our expense like his enablers do. But I do not wish him bad. If anything, I hope he can find peace."
Sure, he’s only human — the rest of us “whores” deserve nothing but hate and vitriol.
I am tired of this shit. And I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed that this is what people see when they look at feminist “discourse” online — this woman-hating nightmare. This toxic pit of mean girls-style screed – disagreement used as defense for silencing and verbal abuse. I am appalled that fellow journalists and progressives would support this behaviour and I am amazed to the point of almost finding it funny that people are still desperately trying to frame this behaviour as purposeful or political in any way.
And if people are supporting this behaviour out of fear, it’s time to look at that. Because if you are afraid and staying silent because of it, something is wrong. Because, as the ever-on point Glosswitch wrote, “my feminism is not about being afraid.” Because you know who rules and controls and silences women based on fear? Abusive men. Met any? Recognize that feeling of walking on eggshells, never quite sure when you will become the target of an attack? Yeah. That’s what the patriarchy does. It forces us to live in fear and stay silent because of it. It teaches us to take up as little space as possible in the hope that we will go unnoticed and, therefore, safe from attack. This shouldn’t be the goal of feminism.
Both Glosswitch and I have said it before and who knows how many more times and how many more of us will need to say it again, but if your activism is focused on vicious, concerted efforts to silence women, you’re not doing feminism, you’re doing misogyny. And I promise you — I fucking guarantee you this — supporting bullies won’t protect you. It will not save you from being bullied yourself. Because some day you’ll step out of line and become the target yourself.
And if people are supporting this behaviour out of professional jealousy they may want to think about that as well. If you had a writing job would it be ok for others to attack you in this way? Simply for having a job? Would you be a sellout and a “whore” because you were paid for your work? Would you deserve the abuse hurled at you? Or would you be safe, somehow? Would you be the magical unicorn woman who writes about feminism — who writes that which is unpopular — who challenges the status quo — and isn’t subjected to abuse and wasn’t made to believe you didn’t deserve to either speak or be compensated for your work? I think you know the answer…
Is there nothing ironic in demanding that women work for free? Lest they be lambasted? Because women’s work remains underpaid or unpaid today, for the record. And it is unacceptable to expect women to produce work for free because they are feminist. We should be advocating for our sisters to be paid for the work they do. Not tearing them apart for scraping by in what is an extremely difficult, unstable, and unlucrative industry.
Time to stop fooling yourselves. This is not politics. This is a sick, sexist, joke.
This is not politics, no. This, in the words of Flavia Dzodan herself, is bullshit.
“In the anti account, sex work is less about pleasure than it is about power, but because Gira Grant’s book doesn’t acknowledge the issue of masculine social dominance, she isn’t able to respond to that argument. Where does Gira Grant think power is vested? In the state, acting through the police and judiciary; and in anti-prostitution feminists, who Gira Grant claims are allied with police brutality… They’re also implicitly stated to be white and middle class, which seems a rather sly and false way to shore up the radical credentials of the pro-sex work case.”—Toying with politics: A review of Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore’ by Sarah Ditum
“I don’t consider sex work a wrong to women because I think it affects my sexual value. I reject the idea that any woman should be given a sexual value at all. I consider prostitution a wrong because it places all women within an economic structure that prices them sexually: there is no comparable structure that women can place on men, because women have neither the capital nor the social power to do so. Gira Grant thinks that we must accept the legitimacy of sex work to make women safe; I think that as long as sex work is legitimised, men’s power over women is legitimised by extension, and women are made less safe.”—Toying with politics: A review of Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore’ by Sarah Ditum
The myth that “beauty is power” is actually super destructive because it tricks young women into thinking that if men want them, they will be empowered, which is, alas, not true. Because the kind of “power” that comes from having men lust after you is fleeting and holds no real weight in the grand scheme of things. It might make you feel good momentarily, until you realize that men don’t respect you because they like your boobs, nor will your fuckability bring things like political power and freedom from male violence. As long as women are seen as (and see themselves as) pretty, sexy objects, they will continue to to be viewed and treated, primarily, as sex-holes for men (i.e. not full human beings but the kind of beings who were invented for men to use and abuse and play with and then discard when they get bored).
If we, as a society and as individuals, confront the reality of how prevalent, widespread and so often totally unpunished male sexual violence really is, then we also have to confront the reality of what patriarchy is — how it is an inextricable part of what allows men to continue to get away with so many terrible crimes against women and children. We have to confront the established fact that supposedly “good” men — priests, artists, intellectuals, activists, business people, “pillars of the community” — are just as likely to be sexual predators, pedophiles and violent towards women, boys and girls, as any other men.
“This is a tactic used to silence women, in case that’s unclear — to call victims “crazy,” “jealous,” “unstable,” etc. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to countless other women. It’s no coincidence. It’s the plan. It’s how men continue to get away with abuse — because men are rational, you know, and women are nuts. It’s built into the system — the gender hierarchy — the notion that men can be trusted experts and taken at their word, whereas women should be questioned and forced to prove why anyone should listen or take them seriously.”—Why defend Woody Allen?
“Who can say for sure,” makes it easier for us to continue supporting and celebrating abusive men. Meanwhile, the victim learns she doesn’t matter at all. She learns that her abuser’s art is more valuable than her life.
- Meghan Murphy, from: “Why defend Woody Allen”—Why defend Woody Allen?
There’s this fun thing we’ve been talking about for months and years and decades now, and despite continued conversations and critiques of this behaviour, it rages on… We call it trashing or tearing down or sometimes we call it a witch hunt. And it seems particularly popular in feminist circles. It’s not only a successful way to silence women, but the behaviour is sure to go unchallenged by the masses. (Misogyny never goes out of style!)
If you’ve been the focus of said trashing, you’re likely familiar with the ways in which others readily and willfully misrepresent your words, thoughts, arguments, and life in order to silence you and beat you (virtually, verbally, metaphorically) into submission. An odd preoccupation for the “feminist” movement, to be sure.
Feminist blogger, Glosswitch wrote a post about some of these issues recently, after a tweet of hers was twisted around into an excuse to intimidate and bully her, because, SURPRISE! It’s the internet and it’s de rigeur to hate women on the internet. (The internet isn’t very original).
I do hope you’ll read the post in its entirety (no skimming) because, while I will quote her liberally here, I’m not sure I will quite do her arguments justice.
Glosswitch gets at a lot of key issues at play regarding the toxicity that exists in online feminism, but what it comes down to, it seems, is woman-hating:
“Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.”
Beyoncé brought the words of Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to the masses in her track, ***Flawless, and I think those words are apt: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls ‘You can have ambition, but not too much’.”
Indeed, women are supposed to take up as little space as possible — girls learn not to speak up in the classroom, we learn to literally shrink ourselves, physically, by dieting and fetishizing thinness, we are forced to take up as little space as possible on public transit and, more generally, in public spaces (we are even warned to stay out of public places, lest we be assaulted). We’re not supposed to speak up, stand out, say what we really think, or be proud of our accomplishments or success — in fact, we aren’t supposed to be successful and, if we are, we should feel as though we don’t deserve it and know we will be punished for it either way. To be lady-like is to speak without certainty or to not speak at all. So I can’t help but wonder why it’s become acceptable, among certain feminist circles, to tell one another to shut the fuck up or to focus our efforts on silencing other women.
Glosswitch points to a trend in certain feminist circles that’s bothered me for some time. It seems as though we are expected to divulge every single horrific trauma we’ve experienced, every personal moment of oppression or abuse, every single problem/illness/addiction/struggle we might have faced or currently be facing, publicly and via bullhorn, before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice. Without this outpouring of every-single-horror it is assumed we’ve experienced nothing but diamonds and champagne. Do I need to tattoo “working-class” on my forehead in order to avoid being called “rich” or “classist?” Because I don’t want to. Women shouldn’t have to tell the entire world every gory detail of their stories in order to have a voice. Many women are not in a position to do this, even if they wanted to. (Consider that many abused women, for example, fear for their lives and, as a result, could never speak publicly about their experiences.) Glosswitch points out that, when we don’t engage in this practice, we are seen as deserving of abuse and assumed to have had the privilege of avoiding experiences that few women been lucky enough to avoid. Do we truly believe every woman should divulge her struggles with addiction, poverty, mental illness, or assault in order to be able to speak? Or her history as an abused or prostituted woman? Placing this demand on women by devaluing their voices and experiences should they choose not to divulge, is unacceptable.
“I think, again, this is related to misogyny and visibility and to the idea of women such as me, who don’t succumb to the pressure to create a tragic narrative out of their own twitter bio, as shameless interlopers who deserve a kicking.”
She notices, as I have, the way certain feminists have used this routine as a way to privilege their voices and position themselves as “better” or more deserving of a platform than other feminists:
"I think a skim through the twitter bios of a number of white feminists who consider themselves “more aware” than so-called media feminists makes the continuation of this misogynist impulse glaringly obvious. I don’t list my depression, my mental health history, my sexual history, my precise attitude towards gender, my family background in my bio. But I could. I know the lingo I’d use. It would make me more than ‘just’ a woman, but that’s why I don’t do it. Being a woman who defines herself by her actions and words should be enough."
In reality, this is silencing. And it’s also misogynist. To silence and shame and vilify other women in order to move your career forward or to build a platform is not a particularly feminist behaviour. Neither is telling a woman she has no right to speak. Neither is bullying and harassing women who do dare to speak. Throwing women under the bus in order to shield yourself from misogyny or to get cookies is cowardly. And believe me, treating other feminists as though they should be perfect people (said “perfect” behaviour is decided by a few, mind you) will only make you fearful, as you will become too scared to say anything of consequence, lest someone treat you in the same way you have behaved towards others. Women don’t need to feel more ashamed or more afraid to speak up than they already do. They don’t need to be told to shut the fuck up. That internalized monologue already exists within us and we fight it every day.
Glosswitch points out that this particular form of woman-hating is often represented as educational, as an exercise in “privilege-checking”:
"We don’t allow [feminists] mistakes. We are grossly, rampantly misogynist about them but this form of misogyny is supposed to be corrective, humiliating the privilege out of them."
She points out that there is a long tradition of punishing women who get out of line and who refuse to go along with the status quo and notes that this punishment is reserved for women, not men:
"It’s feminists who have the nerve to put honesty before radical posturing who are unsettling. Those who genuinely claim space, which is then written off as “privilege” (because what is a woman doing there?). Such women might actually make a difference. So into the bridle they go."
The “bridle” she refers to is a contraption used centuries ago to punish women deemed “rude,” “riotous,” or “troublesome” — attributes that are commonly and historically ascribed to feminists.
There’s an air of superiority from those who busily seek to ruin and silence other feminists: “We’re doing it right; she’s doing it wrong.” By pointing our fingers elsewhere we keep ourselves safe from attack. It seems pretty clear, though, which white feminists are using valuable ideas like intersectionality to advance their own careers and gain popularity, without an ounce of interest in movements towards ending oppression and with little understanding of structural inequality.
"As a white feminist, I would say it is easier – much, much easier – to play along with this. You get to enjoy the privilege of being white and appear superior to the “mere” white feminists who just don’t “get it”. There’s an absurdly careerist edge to this. If you view feminism not as a movement for social change, but as the route to a media career you’ve got to admit it’s a competitive arena. Using other people to play at being the best white intersectional feminist has been seen by some as a gap in the market. Donning the metaphorical tin hat to shout down ‘bad’ peers is a USP. When you boil it down, such “feminists” are arch capitalists, seeking to commodify not just feminism but the exclusion and lived experience of others. It is emotionally manipulative and disgracefully self-serving, but it doesn’t involve laying yourself on the line. You get to be a privileged white woman without looking like one."
Rather than working against privilege, though, this tearing down and this vilification of other-feminists-not-you! reinforces it, Glosswitch argues:
"It is easy but morally untenable, insofar as it uses ideas of intersecting oppressions, not to offer context and understanding, but to reinforce privilege by the back door and to silence dissent. I think of it as a form of privilege laundering. I think it is an example of white people exploiting the narratives of women of colour and it sucks."
Attacking women in order to get cookies is a pretty low form of feminism. There are few who will challenge the sport of misogyny. I see feminists throwing women under the bus in order to ally with more powerful liberal white men all too often, under the guise of “intersectionality” and I wonder if they see how deeply misguided they are in their imagined work towards liberation. (Allying with men who work to silence and slander women? You’re doing it wrong.) But maybe it’s not about female liberation after all… maybe it’s just about the cookies…
"But now I am on the other side of that imaginary, exploitative privilege line, I see other benefits to approaching feminism not as liberation, but as a self-interested cookie hunt. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much I shielded myself from misogyny by putting the “bad” white feminists out in front."
It’s just too easy. We all know, full well, that we will receive endless support if we hate on feminists. “Virulent hatred of feminists? We got you.” – The internet. It doesn’t make you brave, it makes you boring.
Let me be clear (not that I think my words won’t be ignored and manipulated as they so often are, despite how clear I am) and say that I am not discouraging critique and difficult conversations. But shaming, silencing, manipulation, defamation and vilification, combined with faux-progressive white-lady (of course the white bros love to do this too, don’t forget) posturing, does not encourage either critique or conversation.
I can’t imagine this summary quite articulates the arguments Glosswitch puts forth, but her righteous anger towards many of the “Twitter feminists” who pat themselves on the backs for being “better” than whomever is Twitter’s current punching bag, felt justified. “How dare you have a platform!” it says, “How dare you speak with confidence.” “How dare you speak about your life and your experiences.” “You clearly haven’t learned how to properly perform femininity and you will be punished.”
"None of you have the right to tell me what my own words mean, to tell me what my thoughts are, to reconstruct my words and reality without my consent. None of you have the right to damage my mental health, make me doubt my capacity to think, to make me feel unable to trust anyone because of the whispering and distortion that follows. None of you have the right to do this just because I’m a feminist and, if flawed, nonetheless a bloody good one too. None of you has the right to expect perfection from me. None of you have the right to place the scold’s bridle on me, to shame and silence me because I don’t fit in with your hackneyed, conservative misreading of revolution."
In our desperation, we’re looking to escape misogyny by participating in it. We all know that trashing feminists will get you far, but know how transparent and destructive this behaviour is. Know that attacking other women is really about your privilege as it works to protect you from the wrath of a culture that abhors and punishes women who step out of line.
Glosswitch coined the term “misogofeminists” to describe “women (and allies) whose primary form of feminist activism is trashing other women.” And along those lines I’d like to point out what should be obvious, but seems not to be these days: if your “activism” consists primarily of witch hunts and concerted, vicious efforts to silence women, you are doing misogyny, not feminism.
Kajsa Ekis Ekman is Swedish journalist and the author of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self,” which was recently translated into French and English. Meghan Murphy spoke with her over the phone from Stockholm.
Meghan Murphy: What led you to write a book about prostitution?
Kajsa Ekis Ekman: Two things: practice and theory. Coming at the subject from two angles is very fruitful and, actually, necessary if you’re going to write about something like prostitution. You have to look at the reality but you also have to have the theory.
When I started writing this book in 2006, the debate about sex work was just kicking off here in Sweden. The law on sexual services was implemented in 1999 and back then the debate was pretty quiet. When the debate began, seemingly out of nowhere, it was immediately huge and heated — suddenly people were saying things like: “This is just a job, this law is moralist, anybody has the right to do whatever they want,” and so on. I saw that feminists and people in leftist movements were catching on to this and changing their opinion, which I found puzzling.
At the same time, I was living in Barcelona and was sharing a flat with a woman who was selling herself on the highway outside the city. So I was seeing everything that was going on first hand. She was staying with a boyfriend who was something like a pimp and who, in the beginning, claimed he was living off bank robberies, though I figured out this wasn’t the case because was never out — he was always at home on the computer or taking her to the highway and back. I soon realized he was living off of her.
I was seeing the reality of this life as well as how others around her were getting into the business of selling sex. Most of them weren’t from Europe — she was Russian and there were some South American women as well. Early on they would claim they were making lots of money but that clearly wasn’t the case. You know, they’d make 10-20 Euros a night, come home, get piss drunk, pass out and then the whole thing would start again the next day.
The reality of the situation didn’t mesh with what was being said in the debate around “sex work” — it was two different worlds. So I started writing about it.
I wrote a couple of articles about prostitution and the response shocked me. I’ve written a number of articles saying, you know: “Smash capitalism now!” and nobody criticized me, but then when I said, like: “You know the laws we have around prostitution? They’re pretty good,” everybody went crazy. I was getting so much hate mail and I thought, “This is weird. You say ‘smash capitalism’ and no one cares – I mean, you’d think that would be radical.” The issue of prostitution seemed to provoke a lot of people. So I decided to focus more on prostitution and began my research, which I did for about four years after that.
M: What was the reaction like?
K: At first I was a bit scared like, “Why me? What do they have against me? I’m a nice person!” And then I realized that the only way to deal with it is to write whatever you believe is the truth. A lot of people reacted by saying I’m a radical feminist. But I’m not — I’m just a feminist. That’s it. I do draw on radical feminist theory, but I’m also using a lot of Marxist literature in my analysis as well — I come at this from a lot of angles
M: Some people believe that if prostitution is legalized it will come out from the underground and somehow be safer for women. What is your perspective on arguments that advocate for legalization as a way to lessen violence against women and to make women in prostitution safer?
K: Well you would have to actually support that assertion with facts and if you look at the reality, at least here in Europe, it hasn’t been the case.
They did a study which evaluated the legalization of prostitution and brothels there, and the study showed that none of these goals had been met. Legalization hadn’t made prostitution safer; it hadn’t provided women with a safe working environment or a steady job and the majority of the women still weren’t paying taxes. What it showed was that, first of all, women stayed in prostitution much longer than they had expected to, and secondly, it had become more difficult for them to leave the industry. If you look at the German experience as well as the Dutch experience you see that it simply wasn’t the case that it had become safer through legalization – in fact it was the opposite.
M: There’s also that idea that prostitution is taboo — which is attached to the idea that sexuality is taboo. Based on that argument, some say that if prostitution was normalized as opposed to “taboo,” it could be sexually liberating. This extends into arguments that say feminists who oppose prostitution are “anti-sex” or prudish or that they are repressing people’s sexualities. What do you think about those arguments?
K: You need to ask: “What is prostitution?” There are two people in this exchange — one of those people wants to have sex and the other doesn’t. That’s the basic criteria. Without this condition you don’t have prostitution. If you have two people that want to have sex with each other – if they’re horny, they’re excited, they’re dying for each other, they’re obviously not going to pay. If you have free sexuality you don’t pay each other.
In prostitution, we’re talking about a kind of “sexuality” where one person doesn’t want to be in a sexual situation and so the other has to bribe her. That’s the basis of prostitution. Now why is it so important we hang on to that? Why is that the height of free sexuality? A situation where one person doesn’t want to be there? And why doesn’t that bother people? Why doesn’t it bother them that one person actually has to be bribed to be in a sexual situation?
M: Especially when it’s coming from feminists who talk about the issue of consent… Some will argue that “it’s consensual – it’s happening between two consenting adults.”
Kajsa Ekis Ekman
K: But what is she consenting to? She’s consenting to the money, not the actual sex. If you say to any prostitute: “You have two options: Either you can take the money and just leave or you can take the money and also stay for the sex,” how many do you think are going to stay for the sex? Not even a die-hard defender of prostitution will claim that most will to stay for the sex. Most of them are going to take the money and leave – which goes to show they don’t actually want the sex – they want the money.
So if you’re so sexually radical or sexually liberal, why don’t you see this situation for what it is? Sex wherein one person doesn’t want sex? How can that not bother you? This is what makes prostitution different from all other types of sexual situations. If you have two people that want it, no one pays and if nobody wants it then obviously there’s no sex at all.
M: I wonder what you think about the idea that prostitution is just a job? For example, the position that says prostitutes simply provide a service like a massage therapist or a hairdresser or a waitress does?
K: Right. So if that’s what we’re talking about then you can just forget the idea that prostitution is about free sexuality — take it away. But if you look at how prostitution is being done, it doesn’t conform to the idea that it’s “just a job.”
I call prostitution a lie. I was interviewing a woman who was in prostitution and she said: “Ok. You can say it’s a job but in that case you know what it would be like? It would be like you jerking off a guy while he’s watching porn. You wouldn’t have to fake it, you wouldn’t have to moan, you wouldn’t have to say anything to him. You would just do it mechanically.” Prostitution is nothing like that. In prostitution, the person who is selling has to pretend that she’s there because she likes it.
The tricky part of prostitution is this: it’s institutionalized a job but at the same time, when she’s paid, she’s going to do her best to pretend that she’s there because she loves it. She’s going to tell him “Oh I’m coming, you’re the best, you’re so sexy, you’re turning me on” and things like that. She’s doing her best to make him forget that he’s paying her.
So sure, make it a job like any other but then we get to just lie there. Let all the women lie there and do nothing and just look at their watches and see how much the men like it. Prostitution is a lie. It’s overly simplistic to say it’s just a job.
In any case, why should we legalize a “job” that has such high rates of abuse, murder, rape, and sexual harassment? Look at the levels of violence and the high mortality rates of people in prostitution – I mean if this were any other job, it would be made illegal from day one. Even in Holland, you see that in the red light district, which is supposedly so safe and so controlled, women are murdered in the actual shop windows all the time. Even legalized prostitution doesn’t confirm to any labour laws or any labour regulations anywhere.
M: In Canada, where I live, feminists and progressives agree that prostituted women should be decriminalized. That is to say that prostituted women don’t deserve to be punished for working in the sex industry and shouldn’t be thrown in jail for doing what they have to do in order to survive. This means that the debate lies in whether or not to decriminalize the pimps and the johns and a lot of people will argue that criminalizing johns further endangers prostituted women or that laws criminalizing pimps will somehow punish family members — for example if a woman is working in prostitution and she lives with her partner or kids, some say that those people will somehow be charged as “pimps.”
K: Are there any statistics? Is that actually a common thing where family members are put in jail for being pimps? They have to show how many actual cases exist wherein family members are jailed on that basis. The problem with this debate is that there are a lot of assumptions and a lot of arguments but no facts. If you want to claim that this law puts family members in jail for being pimps you have to show that. You can’t just state it.
Regarding the idea that criminalizing johns will endanger prostitutes, you have to ask: “Who is committing the violence against prostituted women?” Is it the law? Or is it the clients? And the pimps? Here in Sweden some people make this claim as well. Somehow the law has been made into a physical abuser — the law doesn’t abuse anyone, ok? If there’s anyone who abuses prostituted women it’s the men. And that is the problem. That’s what we need to do something about. There has been no substantial evidence here to show that the situation has become more dangerous after the law. There’s a lot of talk but no substantial evidence to prove that. It’s an assumption. The experience that we have had of the law has been very positive. It’s reduced the number of buyers – one in eight men used to pay for sex and it’s been reduced to one in 13. We now have a very small number of prostitutes in Sweden. Approximately 1500 – 2000 max.
There’s another aspect of the law that nobody talks about and that’s the fact that this law gives some advantage to the prostitutes. Now, women can report a john to the police, but he can’t report her. Say, for example, he treats her badly or there’s something that he won’t agree to or he refuses to pay — she can threaten to report him because what he’s doing is already illegal. He, on the other hand, can’t threaten her with anything because what she’s doing is not illegal. In countries where the prostitute is doing something illegal and he’s not, he has even more power than he already does in what is a very unequal situation to begin with because he can threaten to report her.
M: I’ve noticed that in the U.S. in particular, some of those who might identify as “sex worker rights advocates” will criticize abolitionists for conflating trafficking and prostitution. I wonder if you can talk a bit about that – are prostitution and trafficking connected? Is there a difference between the two?
K: Basically trafficking is the answer to the question of demand and supply and the problem of supply. Trafficking comes in when there isn’t a large enough supply of prostitutes for the demand that exists — if you’re talking in market terms. In the Western world there are never enough women who enter the sex industry voluntarily — there’s always a shortage, to put it that way. The people who do enter the trade are worn out pretty fast and the clients always want “fresh meat” to put it crudely. They want younger women and women who’ve just started. They don’t want the old prostitutes who’ve been in prostitution for fifty years.
On top of that, the high mortality rate and the way it wears on your body makes life in prostitution pretty short. So there’s always demand for more and more people in prostitution. If there were women coming by the millions to the sex industry you wouldn’t need to drag them out of Eastern Europe. I mean, why would you do that? It’s not logical. If there were thousands of women lining up outside brothels saying “Please, let me in to work!” why would the mafia need to drag them across Europe or across the world — there’d be no point. Trafficking exists because there simply aren’t enough women who will go into prostitution willingly. If you want a prostitution industry without trafficking it would have to be a very small industry.
You can’t separate prostitution from trafficking. You would have to decrease demand to such an extent that very few men were actually buying sex. Then you could perhaps be certain that women were there “voluntarily.”
M: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the Swedish model or the “Nordic model,” as it’s sometimes called, and what that entails.
K: What a lot of people don’t know is that this model is the result of thirty years of work and research. People think it’s just a bunch of feminists and social workers who decided to wage a war against men or something. No — they started doing research back in the 1970s and looking into the reality of prostitution. This was the first time anyone interviewed people in prostitution on a large scale. The focus was shifting from prostitution being a case of deviance and instead were starting to understand this as a huge social tragedy involving gendered social relationships, poverty, the way women are raised, incest, etc.
After this research was done, the question of what to do came. The answer they came up with was to criminalize the client and legislation went into effect in 1999. It’s been 14 years since then and you can no longer even attempt to pay for sexual services. The law has been very successful not only in that demand has decreased but in that the majority of the population now understands prostitution as a product of gender inequality. Eighty percent of the Swedish population supports the law, which you don’t hear about very much.
What happened then was that traffickers started finding it difficult to establish in Sweden and moved to Norway. Oslo, the capital of Norway, became flooded with Nigerian mafia and all these Norwegian men started paying for sex, which led Norway to adopt the same law. The traffickers proceeded to move to Denmark, which is why Denmark is currently considering adopting the same law.
M: Do exiting services and other supports for people who want to leave the industry exist? What happens to women who lose their income when they leave prostitution?
K: That’s something I want to stress — if you want to adopt a law like this you can’t just implement it and then do nothing. You have to ensure the law is accompanied by appropriate support services. In Sweden we have something called the prostitution units and they aren’t just exiting programs — they are much more. If you have been in the industry you have access to free therapy, help finding housing and employment, and dealing with things like debt, for example.
What’s different in Sweden is that we have a pretty strong welfare state so unlike in Canada or the U.S. prostitution doesn’t exist as the result of extreme poverty. Prostitution in Sweden tends to exist as a result of early sexual abuse and things like that. Women there tend to need help with self-destructive behaviour rather than escaping poverty.
M: Some argue that criminalization is not a good response or not a viable route towards liberation because the law will never work in favor of marginalized people. This means that some folks who identify as anarchist or socialist might say: “I don’t want to give the police more power than they already have even if it’s over men who buy sex or who are violent.” Do you identify as anarchist? Socialist? What do you think about that argument?
K: I used to be an anarchist – maybe I still am a little bit… But I do believe in the state as an important tool. I mean, the state can be anything – it can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing — and it isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. The state can serve the interests of capital, of the military, or of the people. It depends on the historical circumstances. The state is not in itself limited to one function.”I can understand that anarchist argument as well, but think it’s kind of internalizing pessimism. It’s like saying “things will never change.” And in that case, you know, if nothing will ever change, what do you suggest? How do we abolish prostitution then? Are you and your anarchist crowd going to go demonstrate every day outside of the brothel?
The experience with the Swedish police has been really interesting because in the beginning they didn’t understand the point of the law – they didn’t see buying sex as a crime so the police used to treat the johns like people who were caught for speeding. The majority of men who were buying sex were married, so they would ask that the police send the ticket to their office instead of to their home because if it was sent to their home their wives and kids would see it. The police would say: “Of course we’ll send it to your office, don’t worry buddy.”
An education campaign within the police changed that and made the officers understand that this was about protecting women, not men. If you hear the trafficking unit lectures, you would think they were radical feminists — they’re amazing. The police now troll the streets for sex buyers saying things like: “Did something happen where men can’t control their own dicks? Man, that’s really bad – they need to stop doing this,” and I think that’s really amazing. You have to work with the police force – if you don’t work with them they will have the same attitudes as before, which is that the women are the criminals and the men are just being men.
M: How is prostitution tied to gender equality and how do laws like the one in Sweden impact the status of women as whole?
K: Sex work lobbyists will try to paint prostitution as though it’s not a gender issue but rather just a “buyer” and a “seller.” They’re talking in market terms and I think that’s very interesting. In my book I also study pro-prostitution discourse from 100 years ago and the difference between then and now is that, back then people didn’t talk about selling and buying — it wasn’t a market thing — it was only seen as being about men and women. They thought prostitutes were fallen women and that they weren’t good for anything else, like, if they weren’t in prostitution they’d be criminals. Regarding the men, the idea was that men needed access to prostitutes because otherwise they would be unruly, would rape the “decent women,” and wouldn’t be able to stay in their marriages. In that way, men having this “outlet” was presented as a good thing for the “decent women.” The discourse was very gendered.
A century later, the feminist movement has happened and while people are still defending this institution, the discourse has changed. People don’t want talk about men and women, they want to talk about it in market terms. But it’s still very much a gendered issue — I mean, the buyers are almost 100% men and the sellers, at least here in Sweden, are at least 90% women. It’s just another way of arranging relations between men and women and if we’re talking about sexuality I don’t think we’ll ever have positive or egalitarian sexual relationships between men and women as long as prostitution exists and is prevalent in this society. What prostitution does to men who pay for sex to keep them in a lie. I mean, these men they don’t even know what to do in bed — they don’t know how to satisfy a women and they don’t understand women’s bodies because the women they are having sex with are paid to tell them that they’re the best, that they’re this super lover. So he’s paying her then coming home and doing the same thing to his wife and she’s like, “umm, no…” and he just thinks she’s boring and prudish or that there’s something wrong with her. So he will never learn the truth about how to do things in bed — it just perpetuates a kind of lie.
It also makes women in prostitution conform to a specific idea of what a woman “supposed” to be like in bed. It isn’t about both people in the prostitution contract, it’s about establishing a relationship where sex is about what men want — the man is the buyer so he will get what he wants. It’s not about satisfying her. If you’re a real feminist and if you actually want women to enjoy sex, I don’t understand how you can defend an institution that is all about renouncing any kind of desire that women have and only satisfying his desires.
I listened to one of your recent shows wherein you reference me and my piece, “The Trouble with Twitter Feminism.”
I’m disappointed that you chose to misrepresent my background, my article, my work, my arguments, and my statements, to be sure, but I’m more disappointed that you misrepresented the entire conversation and the issues at hand.
I suppose it’s easier to build a strawman to tear down than to form a real critique, but what’s easy isn’t always what’s right.
My article was not about women of colour or about race. It did not reference any of the hashtags started by women of colour this year and was not even about hashtags, specifically. It was about toxic behaviour on Twitter — mostly behaviour I’ve witnessed from white people. It was about the ways in which folks are ready, willing, and eager to not only misrepresent but to outright lie and then spread around defamatory statements about others, without questioning the statements or source. In fact, since I wrote the piece, this behaviour increased ten-fold; I’ve watched people lie about me without shame, in order to push their message or to position themselves as “allies.” The world is all too willing to destroy radicals and feminists so these efforts will, in fact, take very little effort. I’m an easy target. Such bravery my enemies possess! Armed with snark, iPhones, and zero accountability, they can stand tall on my shoulders, knowing that their empty words and lack of integrity will be cheered on by the masses.
I include myself in my critique of “Twitter feminism” as I argued that the medium didn’t encourage nuance and that, because we are making public statements and because when there are disagreements they happen publicly and are limited to 140 characters, we tend to perform more than we try to understand or build alliances. Many of us behave badly, encourage nastiness and bullying, and forget about compassion when communicating on Twitter. I have behaved badly on Twitter, having felt attacked and having had to respond publicly. I regret many interactions on Twitter and am trying to do better.
I did not, as you claim, dismiss specific hashtags such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen, #notyourasiansidekick, or #notyournarrative. I don’t think it’s “cute or fun” when white people start hashtags, for the record, nor do I believe that, somehow, when people of colour start hashtags they are bullying. I’ve actually never heard that argument made by anyone (if I’ve missed something, please feel free to send it my way) and doubt anyone who’s paying attention would. I spoke with my sisters at Affi3rm this year about their #notyourfetish action because it was an important conversation/critique. The notion that any feminist would dismiss that action as “silly” or “bullying” is ridiculous — these women are powerful revolutionaries. My critique of “Twitter feminism” had very little to do with hashtags at all, and certainly my critiques were directed at white women AND white men. Like yourselves.
You claim I “got feedback” and “freaked out,” calling those providing “feedback” “an unruly mob.” You also say that I said this with specific reference to people of colour. This never happened. I did not refer to anyone, ever, as an “unruly mob.” I did not “freak out.” I responded to some critics (many of whom were white men, jumping on an opportunity to attack me using the excuse of “allyship”) but mostly tried to avoid a purposeless back and forth with those who were intent on misrepresenting or name-calling. To frame defamatory comments, misrepresentation, bullying, and verbal abuse as “feedback” is problematic, to say the least, but to outright state that I said things which I did not, shows an incredible lack of integrity. You might claim you were speaking about someone else, but the implication was that it was me. If someone else said this, state it. Be clear. Speculation does not equal journalism. And if you can’t even be bothered to read the piece you are purporting to critique or to even learn the last name of the author you are trashing, you might consider leaving those statements out of your show.
I have never been on CNN or MSNBC. I don’t write for The Nation, for Mother Jones or, actually, any mainstream media outlets. As a socialist, a Canadian, and a writer whose work is based in socialist and radical feminist theory, there are very few media outlets I have access to. As a working class woman, I don’t have the privilege of moving to New York and making contacts in the industry, attending shmoozy happy hours, nor can I afford to do the unpaid internships one is expected (and practically required) to do in order to get jobs and make contacts in media and journalism. You, on the other hand, DO have access to these platforms and contacts and have taken full advantage of that access. And now you’ve used your platform to misrepresent an underemployed, struggling, feminist writer. “Critique” yourself.
I will never be “in the mainstream” despite my white privilege. And the accusation that critics of “Twitter feminism” are somehow “mainstream,” coming from someone who’s been on Conan, is pretty rich.
To be clear, I am Canadian, not American (as you assumed). Not everyone is American, despite what Americans seem to think. My work and voice is marginalized because it is radical, socialist, feminist, and Canadian. I am not wealthy. I’m not even middle class. It is a struggle to get published anywhere. It will always be a struggle to get published. I can’t afford to rely on freelancing, because I have to work to survive and eventually, I will need to pay off thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
I don’t think Twitter is meaningless. I think it’s very important for many women and I acknowledge this specifically in my piece:
"I don’t want to completely decry ‘hashtag activism.’ It can be potentially worthwhile in terms of consciousness-raising as well as a way to raise awareness about particular issues and events. Many women value the space it provides for their voices and I support women speaking out in whatever ways they can and sharing their stories, opinions, and experiences in ways that suit them. If you need to or find value in doing that on Twitter, I completely respect and encourage that."
I understand that Twitter is a valuable medium for those who don’t have access to other platforms or who, for example, have disabilities or are otherwise stuck at home alone a lot. I know there are many marginalized voices on Twitter. I also know that there are many, many marginalized voices that are NOT on Twitter and who don’t have access to this platform and, for that reason, I argue that Twitter isn’t representative. There are thousands and thousands of voices, perspectives, and experiences that are not represented on Twitter for various reasons: access to computers, understanding the platform, those who are simply too busy to spend their days online, etc. People who are trafficked, incarcerated, homeless, who don’t speak English, who are busy working three jobs to feed their families — these people are not participating in your Twitter conversation. To claim that Twitter is somehow the great equalizer — Twitter — a company whose purpose is profit — seems deeply ignorant to me and, yes, reeks of privilege.
Who has ever said “your Twitter thing is just a game, I’m going on CNN?” Who are these people?? They certainly aren’t anyone I know, work, or ally with — radical feminists, socialists, those in the labour movement, working class women, Aboriginal women, prostitution survivors, those who are on the front lines working with victims of abuse, or those working with underfunded feminist groups and organizations to advocate for change. Are any of us writing for The Nation or going on MSNBC (apart from yourselves, of course)? Are we allied with people going on CNN? No. Of course not. The people I work and ally with are largely invisible, ignored, and erased by the New York/American liberals who DO have access to these platforms. They are largely ignored by Twitter activism. Canada and Canadian feminism and activism is generally invisible to Americans. You complained that you didn’t see any of us on the street during Occupy in NYC — well, that’s because we live in Canada.
For the record, critiques of Occupy, in Canada, were made by the far left and by those engaged with the labour movement — not by rich white people writing for The Nation. They were made by unpaid bloggers.
The Americentrism and ignorance of the conversation you had on your (relatively) huge platform is truly astounding.
Twitter is neither all bad or all good, yet you characterize the argument in this binary way as though that is representative of the conversation. Social media IS amazing, but there are also a lot of problems that exist within, and with the way we behave towards one another on social media. My point was that it wasn’t all one thing or the other but that people treat it in this way. Of COURSE social media is important. No one has argued otherwise.You’ve made so many assumptions about my life and work, stated them as fact, were condescending and insulting, and you completely mischaracterized my article beyond all recognition. Call yourselves allies, journalists, activists, radicals, or feminists all you like — but that’s a hard pill to swallow, based on this display.
The least you could have done would have been to read my piece before discussing it on your show. If you have questions about my life, ask. The irony of your complaints about “factually incorrect” journalism while refusing to include facts or research in your own work is glaring.
I think there have been a lot of interesting and useful comments to this discussion. Since many of them seem to be in response to my response to the OP, I would like to clarify and expand a bit on my views. First, I do not think there is anything valuable or productive about baseless charges of racism leveled for the purpose of silencing a particular critique or political position. Quite the opposite, such attacks are counterproductive and do nothing to advance the interests of anyone, and certainly do nothing to advance the interests of women of color. As Martin pointed out such “critiques” are “often motivated by traditional misogyny and antifeminism.” This does not mean that there aren’t very legitimate critiques of racism or exclusion in feminism that deserve attention and careful consideration. I hope that the fact that there are those who are happy to use spurious charges of racism to silence feminists will not be used as an excuse not to listen to sincere criticisms, which are often based on genuine problems, an understanding of which can lead to a better, stronger, more inclusive feminism.
I was careful in my comment to state that we should listen to women of color when they criticize “white feminism.” I did not say, and I do not believe, that we need to listen to porn-loving dudes (white or otherwise) when they claim that their attacks on a radical feminist are being carried out in the interest of protecting, defending or speaking on behalf of women of color. To do so would be absurd. Many of Meghan’s attackers were those very dudes and they should be quickly dismissed along with their misogynistic ulterior motives. As far as the women of color who made this charge, I believe that had they brought forth an argument, it most certainly should have been considered. However, they proceeded from the very weak premise that any criticism of twitterfeminism was inherently racist because some women of color like twitter. This is a rather bizarre assumption that was never explained and must ultimately be dismissed for lack of substance. It is also quite relevant that most, if not all, of the women making this charge were pro-sex industry.
In the short time I have been following some of these exchanges on twitter, I have noticed that baseless charges of racism against radical feminists are part of a wider strategy to discount radical feminism’s critique of the sex industry by painting radical feminists as a homogenous group of pearl-clutching, bourgeois white women who want to both silence women of color and “rescue” non-white, non-Western women from prostitution. This narrative completely discounts and erases the critically important roles of radical women of color in the struggle against sexual exploitation. For example, in the midst of the frenzied (and mindless) twitter assault on Meghan, the radical feminist group Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) issued a press release condemning the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Bedford case. This press release expressed support for the Nordic model and urged “all those who seek justice, freedom, and equality to view prostitution as a colonial system and as a form of violence against women and girls that must be abolished.” The press release was also published on Feminist Current, but it does not fit with the pro-sex industry lobby that paints radical feminists as only privileged white women so it was ignored by them, as was the position of the Asian Women Coalition ending Prostitution, which also supports the Nordic model and has highlighted the sexualization of racism in prostitution.
When the sex industry lobby paints radical feminism as a bourgeois white women’s movement, they erase Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a woman of color and France’s Minister of Women’s Rights who fought tirelessly to ensure that France adopted the Nordic model; they erase Kamala Devi Harris, a woman of color and San Francisco, California district attorney who has done more than any other official in the United States to educate the public about the reality of prostitution and who passionately opposed efforts to legalize prostitution in San Francisco; they erase the women of Apne Aap, an NGO founded by Indian women in prostitution, which supports the Nordic model and has started a global campaign to oppose the move of some UN agencies’ to promote the decriminalization of pimping and buying sex. The list of women who are erased by the pro-sex industry narrative goes on and on.
Listen to what Alice Walker said in an interview in Ms. Magazine when asked about the resurgence of prostitution in Cuba:
“When I see older white men with these primarily young, educated women of color, it is hard on the spirit. The women are too naive and inexperienced to know that they are engaging in an ancient system that oppresses women. They think of what they’re doing as a lark because it enables them to get a new tube of lipstick or some shampoo. But it’s very dangerous for them.”
Is Alice Walker a moralizing “whorephobe” who is denying young women of color their agency by claiming they are the victims of “false consciousness”? Or is she engaging in a critical and radical analysis of racial and sexual oppression in the institution of prostitution? The sex industry says the former; radical feminism says the latter. But it is in the interest of the sex industry to ignore, erase, or misrepresent, Alice Walker and other radical women of color, because to acknowledge them is to acknowledge that the insights and contributions of radical women of color are vital in the fight against sexual exploitation and that radical women of color bring a critical analysis of racism and colonialism to the discussion that is often otherwise missed.
The fact that this narrative is oft repeated on many corners of the internet is, in my view, not coincidental, but quite intentional. It appeared in the attacks on #twitterfeminism and #sharedgirlhood and reared its ugly head again recently in the hashtag #notyourrescueproject . This narrative means to erase radical women of color. That is its purpose. If the sex industry can characterize feminist opposition to it as coming only from privileged white women who are on a rescue mission, it is much easier for them to claim to speak on behalf of those most affected by the sex industry – i.e., poor women of color.
As you have probably figured out by now I could go on and on, but I will stop here and simply say that for me the erasure of radical women of color is the central issue, as well as the erasure of the voices of survivors, which I have not touched on here but is also critical. I have great sympathy for those who have endured unjustified, defamatory, personal attacks, such as those launched against Meghan and Victoria Brownworth. They were entirely undeserved and both women handled them admirably. But rather than focus on those, I would suggest that radical feminists ensure that the voices of women of color are lifted up in this struggle and that attempts to silence them are called out for what they are – cynical, racist and sexist.”
It’s been a big year for Feminist Current! We have more readers than ever before and are now the most-read feminist blog in Canada! We had the pleasure of publishing some amazing and insightful analysis from women around the world in 2013 and, as always, our commenters add so much to these conversations, providing rigorous and challenging discourse and debate. Big thank yous to all of you readers, writers, commenters, supporters, sisters and brothers in the struggle for our collective liberation from the chains of capitalist, colonialist, patriarchy. To another year of struggle and solidarity!
I love the internet. I really do. And I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other. The phone? Really? Please. Fuck the phone. The internet is magic.
I have found dozens — I’d even be so bold as to say hundreds — of brothers and sisters across the globe who I would have otherwise never found, if not for the ability to connect online.
So I have no interest in blaming technology or social media for people’s behaviour or arguing that Twitter is unequivocally “bad” (or “good,” for that matter). Things are never quite that simple. But what I will say is this: Most days I hate Twitter. And many days I think Twitter is a horrible place for feminism.
While I would never argue that feminists stay off of Twitter and do tend to believe it’s a necessary evil, of sorts, if you are in media/writing/journalism, I don’t think it’s a place for productive discourse or movement-building. I think it’s a place where intellectual laziness is encouraged, oversimplification is mandatory, posturing is de rigueur, and bullying is rewarded. I think it’s a place hateful people are drawn towards to gleefully spread their hate, mostly without repercussion. And more than half the time I feel as though I’m trapped in a shitty, American, movie-version of high school that looks more like a popularity contest than a movement to end oppression and violence against women.
Here is a list of FACTS I hear about myself on a daily basis on Twitter:
- I am a white supremacist
- I am rich
- I am getting rich off of someone’s “back”
- I have some big, fancy “job” that requires me to promote radical feminism and if I don’t make critical statements about the sex industry I will be fired from said “job”
- I love Hugo Schwyzer, am his BFF and his Number One Top Defender
- I am evil
- I hate women
- I hate prostituted women
- I am literally responsible for the rape and murder of women
- I am in charge of feminism
- I hate sex
- I am Satan
Who is this lady!? She sounds like a shithead. Somebody fire her from the internet! LET’S START A PETITION.
Now, that list was hardly comprehensive, but I think you get the point. On Twitter, it’s easy make up whatever the hell you want, put it out into the world, and many, if they so desire, will take it as TRUTH and spread it far and wide.
And it isn’t just me. Many, many women are maligned on Twitter on a daily basis, in much worse ways than I. Just the other day I was informed that Gloria Steinem has been a “catastrophe” for feminism. A catastrophe!
While Steinem may well be problematic in ways, every single feminist (and person!) who ever lived is problematic in ways. But Twitter doesn’t like nuance. Twitter likes statements. Preferably dramatic ones. And once you’ve made said statement, be sure not to back down. Twitter doesn’t like wimps, either.
Lest we get sidetracked by debates on the life and work of Gloria Steinem, my point, to be clear, is not Gloria Steinem. She’s doing fine as far as I can tell. My point is that this is how feminism works on Twitter. We have 140 characters and are making public statements. And this is where the posturing comes in. We are made to care more about appearances than compassion, and more about winning than understanding.
People tend to treat Twitter like they do hockey fights. Because we are fighting in public, we can’t back down, and we get either egged on or booed by fans or haters. We’re all showboating, trying be Most Right, trying to gain fans and supporters, and we have a ridiculously tiny space within which we can do it. We often succeed in being Most Right by proving that someone else is terrible. Winning by default or destruction is a popular Twitter strategy.
Rumours spread quickly, lies and myths become fact. When you question the lie or “fact,” you are chastised: “HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW.” “LOOK IT UP.” ”I’M NOT DOING YOUR RESEARCH FOR YOU.” “DO YOU SEE THIS BITCH. SHE DOESN’T KNOW THINGS THAT I CLAIM TO KNOW AND NOW SHE’S DARED TO ASK ME HOW I ‘KNOW’ THEM. GET HER.”
This response is typical because, generally, the accusers actually have no idea where they’ve received their libelous information, or are just speculating, but are unwilling to admit it. Rather than appear “weak” on Twitter, we like to turn it around on the the other person, preferably in a way that pretends our beef is political.
Honestly, I’m sure I’ve probably engaged in this behaviour myself. I don’t think I’m at my best on Twitter either, which is part of the reason I dislike it so. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s so much to ask that we explain ourselves when we make sweeping generalizations or paint individuals as “Satan,” for example (as I was recently labelled by the editor of The Good Men Project), or as A CATASTROPHE FOR FEMINISM.
Friend, feminist ally, radio guy extraordinaire, and comrade, Ernesto Aguilar (founder and editor of the now defunct People of Color Organize!) told me this, when I talked to him about this piece:
Within organizations, there’s an internal culture and discipline where you have debate, but the goal isn’t to destroy comrades, and the infrastructure keeps debate on fair footing where people don’t get to just bully people. On Twitter, so much of this is left by people’s moods and reactions with no agreed-upon movement standard. Thus, you get the 50 shades of cray we see on Twitter.
Twitter seems not only to be anti-human, but anti-movement.
And speaking of human beings, here’s a thing: The vast majority of people I know, like, in real life, aren’t on Twitter. I’m going to go ahead and say that about 90% of people I know and interact with, in real life, go Twitter-free on a daily basis. The ones who are there maybe follow some public figures or joke accounts, but say little. Beyond that, the majority of women I know who are actually working with battered women, rape victims, and prostituted women don’t use Twitter with any regularity, if at all. The women who built this movement — now relegated to snarky quips by third wavers whose postmodern indoctrination have them believing feminism is a series of made-up words and that identity politics are radical — are not on Twitter.
What does this tell us about representation on Twitter? What does this tell us about feminism on Twitter?
Twitter feminism is all about hashtags and mantras. We all compete to make the most meaningful, (seemingly) hard-hitting statement in order to gain followers and accolades. Invent the right hashtag and you can become a feminist celebrity. While I’m not excluding myself completely from this phenomenon, as I do participate from time to time, I find it all a bit empty.
I don’t want to completely decry “hashtag activism.” It can be potentially worthwhile in terms of consciousness-raising as well as a way to raise awareness about particular issues and events. Many women value the space it provides for their voices and I support women speaking out in whatever ways they can and sharing their stories, opinions, and experiences in ways that suit them. If you need to or find value in doing that on Twitter, I completely respect and encourage that.
But, for the most part, I haven’t found Twitter to be a positive experience. And I’m not just talking about harassment from misogynists, I’m talking about the internal shit. The mean girls-style popularity contest so many of those on feminist Twitter engage in. The take-downs, the bullying, the mocking, the defamation, the snide remarks, and the absolutely endless stream of hate.
And sure, you might say, people behave like that in the “real world.” But the funny thing is that, in the real world, I’m happy. I generally enjoy my life, despite common challenges like rent-paying, work-finding, relationship-maintenance, etc. I don’t feel or see an inordinate amount of hatred among the feminists I know and work with on a human-to-human level. It happens, sure, but not daily. Not constantly. And the vitriol is decidedly muted.
While writing this piece I came across an article by Ngọc Loan Trần which talks about “calling in” instead of “calling out.” He writes:
we have been configured to believe it’s normal to punish each other and ourselves without a way to reconcile hurt. We support this belief by shutting each other out, partly through justified anger and often because some parts of us believe that we can do this without people who fuck up.
While Trần doesn’t suggest we stop calling people on their behaviour, he does suggest that the way we do it might be unproductive and a fear-based response:
in reality, we are just really scared. Scared that we will be next to make a mistake. So we resort to pushing people out to distract ourselves from the inevitability that we will cause someone hurt.
Movement and coalition-building does not happen by attempting to destroy those you disagree with or perceive to have made a mistake. Ernesto told me this:
Often shaming people for their mistakes, tearing down people for perceived failures and so on are really the province of subcultures (recovery programs and religious groups come to mind, as they seem to present that accepting one’s mistakes is a first step in renewal) and not (forward-thinking) political organizing.
For these reasons, I see the trouble with Twitter feminism as two-fold:
1) It is not at all representative of the feminist movement and the actual beliefs of and work done by feminists around the world.
2) It is a, generally, toxic and unproductive place for feminism and movement-building.
We seem to dehumanize one another on Twitter. I understand this is a larger phenomenon online because we aren’t face-to-face, sometimes we are anonymous, and because we are dealing with people we don’t know in real life and, therefore, often don’t see as full, complex, real, human beings. But I haven’t experienced the emotional, mental, and physical breakdowns (yes, physical — being attacked and bullied and called names for days on end is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting), the days and hours spent crying, the nasty mean girls shit, the bullying, the lies, and the attacks, and the defamation, on any other medium, in the way I have on Twitter. And again, this isn’t just from men. Frankly, I don’t give a shit what men think about me. This comes from women. Women who likely see themselves as feminist.
Maybe-probably Gloria Steinem doesn’t give a shit what people say about her on stupid Twitter. And gosh I wish I didn’t care what people said about me on stupid Twitter. But I do. Because surprise of surprises, I’m a real human being with feelings and thoughts and other such frivolities. I don’t have some big fancy job, I don’t have a comfy income, I don’t have the backing of an institution, and when people say things about me that are untrue and/or nasty, it bothers me. When people completely misrepresent my work, my beliefs, my life, and my intentions, it bothers me. People often tell me to ignore it, and I try, but whether or not we take Twitter seriously, no one likes being hated, no one likes being bullied, and no one likes being lied about. No matter where it happens. So I don’t find “just ignore it” to be particularly useful advice.
Twitter is not representative. But we seem to believe it is. Twitter tends to amplify certain perspectives and voices and erase others — either because they aren’t there or because they’re too scared to speak up, lest they become the next target. Thinking about who is on Twitter and whose voices are loudest on Twitter is worthwhile. Are poor women on Twitter? Are people who are busy working on Twitter? Are people who are sick of being harassed and bullied and attacked on Twitter participating in conversations? Who’s there? Who feels safe to speak there? I’m preeeetty positive that marginalized women living and struggling on the Downtown Eastside aren’t all up on #SexWork Twitter every day, for example.
Simply because you see a perspective shared widely on the medium, doesn’t mean it’s representative. And it doesn’t mean it’s right.
We know full well what to say if we want to be popular in internet feminism. We know how to get followers and cookies. It’s easy. Toe the party line, spout fakespiration. If you hate on someone you know others hate, you’re sure to be rewarded for your valiance. If you support those internet feminism have deemed BAD, you will be excommunicated. We all learn the rules quickly.
But as someone who is not only very far on the left end of the political spectrum, who leans heavily on the radical and socialist end of feminism, and who is critical of choice feminism and empty, apolitical mantras, my arguments are never going to be the popular ones.
I’m not trying to turn this into a Meghan Murphy pity party. I don’t feel sorry for myself. There are women who suffer far more than I, online and in real life. The point is not WAH TWITTER IS MEAN (though it often is). This isn’t just about being “nice.” This is about the validity and purpose of Twitter feminism, as well as the toxicity, silencing and take-down culture it not only accepts but promotes. It is about the way we treat one another and the way we encourage others to behave. It’s about discouraging critical thinking, humanity, and going straight for the jugular, while onlookers cheer on the virtual blood bath.
And so my question is this: What is it we think we’re accomplishing with our hashtags and our bullying and our shit-talking? Do we take Twitter feminism seriously in any way? Do we realize that this behaviour has nothing to do with movement-building? Do we recognize that, simply because we don’t completely agree with every single thing a person says or believes or because we don’t like every single person they tweet at or follow or retweet or don’t immediately attack on demand because it’s the bandwagon we’ve all been told to jump on, that it isn’t reasonable to vilify them? Do we realize that bullying people, calling them names, and encouraging your followers to join in isn’t actually activism?
Here are some actual truths, for the record:
- I am not rich
- I am not evil
- I am not a white supremacist
- I don’t hate women
- I don’t hate men
- I don’t hate prostituted women
- Blogging about feminism has never been, nor will it ever be, lucrative
- Freelance writing is extremely difficult, a constant struggle, completely disheartening, a lot of work, and not a feasible way to make a living
- I have never publicly defended Hugo Schwyzer or suggested anyone else defend Hugo Schwyzer. I have been consistently, publicly critical of him, his work, and his teaching, from the moment I was aware he existed. I challenged his involvement in Slutwalk back in 2011, his position as a self-described “male feminist” and a gender studies teacher, as well as his “work” on porn and prostitution. I was friendly with him, periodically, for a short time, on a personal level. I interviewed him once, two and a half years ago. A gross mistake, in retrospect. I hoped his personal tale of redemption was true, at the time (enmeshed as I was in a relationship with an addict who kept promising me change), but did not demand or even suggest others believe this. All the work I produced, then and now, with regard to Schwyzer, was extremely critical. His politics were never acceptable to me and I was loud about that. I was derided for being critical of him, after the most recent shit storm. The myth of my support of Schwyzer came from a bully and it began because I dared challenge her behaviour by saying, as I watched her blame woman after woman for the abusive, sociopathic, manipulative behaviour of a man:
I will never — not now, not ever — apologize for a man’s behaviour. No woman should. To demand such a thing of our sisters is the antithesis of feminism. It isn’t ok to blame the victim. And women were Schwyzer’s victims. I don’t believe Schwyzer is feminism’s fault. I was attacked and slandered and bullied because I asked that we blame a man for his behaviour, not women. And because of that, these kinds of statements have become common place:
Despite what I said, over and over again, those who wanted a reason to hate me or who were too lazy to do their own research, were only too eager to turn me into something imagined, leaving the perpetrator and his actual defenders and supporters, alone. What this told me was that they were willing to side with those they liked or agreed with on other issues, or who they felt had real power in this world, and were attacking me because of my relative lack of power and my unwillingness to kowtow to popular feminism/ts. What was clear was that, in attacking me, they would prove themselves to be the True Best Rightest Feminists — but only in relation to the Wrong Bad Worst Feminists.
Whether or not I’ve made mistakes or had bad judgement from time to time is not debatable. I have. I will likely continue to. As human beings do. But the mythology built around me, my thoughts, my beliefs, and my actions, primarily via Twitter, is quite insane. Especially considering that my entire body of work exists online, for anyone to look at. Those who know my work, know better. Those who don’t care to know better or to know my work, don’t.
What I’ve learned from Twitter is that it doesn’t matter what I do. It didn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’ve said, what I’ve written. My body of work doesn’t matter and my actual thoughts don’t matter. Not to those who have decided to hate me. What matters is to destroy and silence. And that, dear friends, seems to be a goal of Twitter feminism in particular and, sometimes, of internet feminism in general.
It’s one thing to disagree with someone on a point of inaccuracy or ideology, i.e. “You stated _____ and it’s untrue/misrepresentative/inaccurate, etc.” “I don’t agree with you because _____.” But when when the aim is not only to smear, but to marginalize and to say a person’s body of work is to be ignored as a result of the smear, I fail to see the purpose, either in terms of feminism or in terms of human decency.
Twitter is not for nuance or humanity. It is for sharp words, glib remarks, and inspirational quotables — feminist greeting card style.
So as someone who is on Twitter often, talking about feminism, arguing about feminism, and engaging with other women and feminists, my opinion is this: Twitter feminism is, in it’s current form, toxic, unproductive, and far from representative.
That said, I have no solutions to offer, except this: Consider the humanity of those you are tweeting at or about. Consider that Twitter represents very little about real women’s lives and the state of the movement. Consider whose voices you hear the most and why. Consider who isn’t there and who isn’t speaking. Consider that, simply because you saw it on Twitter, doesn’t make it true and that you might consider exploring a women’s actual work before vilifying her. Consider that we are human — neither all good or all bad. Consider that feminists are, most likely, in feminism because they have good intentions, rather than malicious ones. Consider that political disagreement is just that — political disagreement — not an excuse to call another feminist the devil or tar her entire body of work or her very being because so and so tweeted that she was a Rich Elitist Woman-hating Devil Bigot From Hell. Consider that your words impact people in their real lives. Consider that feminism is a political movement to end patriarchy, not a popularity contest.
Ripping women to shreds and piling up the virtual bodies in order to reach the top of the heap may bring you more followers, but it won’t bring us any closer to liberation.
I’m writing this post, not necessarily to change your mind about whatever positions you hold about feminism, but to act in solidarity with other feminists — especially feminists of colour — who find it problematic that so many feminist sites are hailing Beyoncé as a feminist queen. Several articles and blog posts have been published with the intention of silencing the “haters” who do not like Beyoncé. I suppose that being an actual feminist and understanding how feminism has become a commercialized product means that you’re a “hater?”
I wish feminism could take some clues here. We don’t always bring our A-game, since we spend a whole lot of time trying to figure who’s in and who’s out as if that is going to get us anywhere. Time’s out for the WOC feminist meangirls shit. Sometimes folks just be hating. Real talk. Cuz if you ain’t critiquing Katy Perry and Pink and alla dem for being pro-capitalist and in league with the establishment, then back up off Bey.
Over the years, Beyoncé has been soundly criticized for not being feminist enough…So, what exactly is she doing that isn’t feminist? …She’s pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun. Is it a message that will appeal to everyone? No. But then, no one expects any other feminist message to be unilaterally accepted, do they?
Does anyone else see a huge problem here? Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that this debate isn’t actually about Beyoncé at all, but a larger question: What the hell does feminism even mean anymore?
All I keep hearing from popular feminism is that “feminism is supposed to be inclusive.” Seriously? I thought we put that joke to rest. The only reason why feminism is as inclusive as it is now is because no one even knows what feminism is. That’s it. Because we’re afraid of honestly setting some ground rules, all we hear about is “individual choice.”
The notion of individual choice as the epitome of women’s empowerment was not born out of feminism, but out of the confusion surrounding feminism. Instead of fighting for actual rights and systemic change, we’re sitting around gazing at the different types of thongs Beyoncé wears in her music-video series.
I think that when it comes to Beyoncé, popular feminists are conflating way too many things at once. No one is denying that Beyoncé is very talented, that she is rich, and that she is a role model for many. But what does this have to do with feminism? As Meghan Murphy stated in a previous post: “Beyoncé has a particular kind of power in this world, but having power is not the same thing as being a feminist.” Feminism is supposed to be a system of critique, a commitment to resistance of patriarchal, white supremacist values and ideals. But in popular culture, it seems like feminism means the opposite.
Too many popular black feminists are placing Beyoncé on a feminist pedestal because we are so thirsty for some black representation in that space, despite the fact that Beyoncé is the ultimate postracial, postfeminist, sexist icon. In talking about black women’s relationship to feminism, we can’t lose sight of the sexism Beyoncé employs to get to the top.
I understand that in a sexist, patriarchalculture, women oftentimes have to use their sexualized bodies to get ahead; however, we shouldn’t embrace that as feminism. Beyoncé’s hyper-sexualized, sexist image is just proof that we live in a patriarchy. I don’t blame her, as an individual, for doing this because I know there’s a culture of domination surrounding women’s limited choices. The fact that Beyoncé is as famous, rich, and talented as she is, yet still has to resort to a commercialized, infantilized, hyper-sexualized image of herself in a way that her husband doesn’t have to, is a symptom of patriarchy and white supremacy, not a gift from women’s liberation.
We can’t continuously conflate patriarchy and feminism.
Like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, Beyoncé is a brand that needs to sell products. Empowerment is a very, very trendy product right now. Perhaps that’s why so many pop stars are throwing the word “feminist” around. Not too long ago, Miley Cyrus stated, “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything.” (Because that’s apparently what feminism is about—a collection of myths we circulate where women are fearless, goddess-like sexy heroes who have power).
Feminism has merely become another market to tap into. Most actual feminists already know this, so we’re not surprised! Now, every celebrity and their sister is talking about sizeism and positive body image in convenient, quote-like form in the hope that some blog or feminist magazine picks up their “feminist” sound bite.
Feminism shouldn’t be a trend, because trends die very quickly. It’s a system of critique. We can’t lose sight of that. When people like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Beyoncé start talking about feminism, we should all be afraid. In an ideal world, it would be great if they were actually interested in feminism, but in reality, they’re business women. Why would they need feminism if they already made it to the top with patriarchy? They would go for any trend, and feminism, unfortunately, is a trend now. It’s about being sexy and available. It’s about twerking in front of a camera. It’s about feeling individually empowered, which is not what feminism was primarily designed to do. Feminism is not supposed to cater to the most elite, privileged women.
We can’t forget that Beyoncé is in the same boat as these other pop stars, despite the fact that she has brown skin.
In a culture of mass incarceration for black folks as the new “Jim Crow“and in a post-Trayvon Martin, “colour-blind” society, I am generally skeptical of a media culture that showcases black people as deviant criminals, while simultaneously showing Beyoncé as an empowered icon. Beyoncé is an ultra-conformist to a white supremacist, patriarchal culture. Perhaps that is why she is celebrated. Her image is used to discipline blackness, while simultaneously being repackaged as some rebellious, feminist diva.
Having a commercialized pop star claim feminism shouldn’t be a moment of celebration, but a moment of skepticism.
We should always be skeptical of any mainstream outlet that supports women’s liberation in a patriarchy. Patriarchy and women’s lib do not mix.
I recently wrote a critique of Lily Allen’s employment of hypersexualized black women’s bodies in her music video, and I can’t sit here and avoid Beyoncé now when she is doing the same thing. Yes, there are different racialized power dynamics involved, but at one point or another, we’re going to have to have that awkward conversation where we openly state that black women are not one cohesive class or group with the same experiences. That there are differing levels of privilege between black women and, unfortunately, black women can be the source of oppression for other black women. Let’s just remember that. I think Beyoncé’s image can be a source of violence for some black women who are sick and tired of seeing black female sexualized bodies being plastered everywhere.
Liberation and objectification are not supposed to look the same. Feminism is not supposed to be a synonym for sexism.
I get that many black women celebrate Beyoncé because they can relate to her. Her body, her hair, and her slang conjures up a particular nostalgia for our life experiences; however, I don’t get what that has to do with feminism or critiquing patriarchy. Beyoncé has every right to call herself a feminist, just like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez do. But, as feminists, we should be smart enough to understand how this is all a marketing ploy. None of us know Beyoncé, the person, we only know her brand, and I’m highly suspicious of any commercialized, popular entertainer, attempting to re-define feminism.
We can’t be excited every time a sell-out pop star wants to get on the feminist train because they want “empowered” fans to buy their albums. Empowerment rhetoric is the best thing that ever happened to patriarchy… And capitalism.
If we don’t find some way to define feminism, it will forever be an empty signifier that is constantly up for revision by any pop celebrity. This debate isn’t so much about Beyoncé as it is about mainstream feminism growing into nothing, and unfortunately representing all of us feminists who are actually doing work to disrupt patriarchy. I think it’s ALWAYS necessary and important to talk about black women’s relationship with popular white feminism; however, I don’t think that should cloud the fact that Beyoncé is a postracial, postfeminist figure that many black feminists do not feel connected to.
Though I will continue to dance to her music, I won’t necessarily look to her for guiding my political activism.
Aphrodite Kociędais a graduate student in Communication at the University of South Florida and a contributor to the Vegan Feminist Network. Her current graduate research focuses on feminist activism in a postfeminist rape culture climate.
The decision is precipitated by Bedford v. Canada, a legal challenge arguing the current laws are unconstitutional.
It isn’t technically illegal to buy sex in Canada, but many of the laws surrounding prostitution criminalize it: communicating for the purposes of prostitution, operating a bawdy house (brothel), or living off the avails of prostitution (pimping).
Back in March 2012, Ontario’s Appeal Court ruled to strike down the law against bawdy houses but upheld the communication law. The court found that “living on the avails” of prostitution should apply only in “circumstances of exploitation.” The Federal Government appealed the decision and the rulings were put on hold pending a decision at the Supreme Court.
When the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA) announced the release of our new report on the Nordic Model, supporters of the sex industry began targeting our Facebook page.
When I followed up with an opinion piece for The Conversation on the success of the Nordic Model, a handful of men, and one prominent Australian feminist , spent hours trading inaccuracies about the Nordic approach to prostitution policy and disparaging anyone stupid enough to think that a booming industry which trades in women’s bodies is anything but inevitable.
These falsities and fabrications will be familiar to anyone who has written or said anything that publicly criticizes the sex industry. The same claims, usually without reference to relevant evidence, are repeated so frequently in certain spheres that they have practically become mantras. If you say it often enough, it becomes true, right?
In the interests of being able to offer more than 140 character responses to these predictable criticisms, here’s a list of responses to the most common myths I’ve had thrown at me.
1. I’m a sex worker, I choose sex work and I love it
This is one of the most popular retorts de jour and is treated by many who use it as a sort of checkmate argument, as though any one person stating that they enjoy sex work makes all of the other evidence about violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and trafficking in prostitution, magically disappear.
Maud Olivier, the Socialist MP who recently introduced the Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services in France, slammed the “hypocrisy” of such criticisms: “So is it enough for one prostitute to say she is free for the enslavement of others to be respectable and acceptable?” she asked her fellow parliamentarians.
But the “I love sex work” refrain is put forward as a powerful argument because it is seen to counter a supposedly all-encompassing claim by radical feminists and others that systems of prostitution are harmful to women.
This relies on misunderstandings of radical politics, the concept of structural oppression and tired old debates about false consciousness. Just because you like something doesn’t mean that it can’t be harmful (just as liking something doesn’t automatically make it feminist). Radical feminists criticize beauty practices as harmful too, and saying you choose to wear high-heels doesn’t make that critique wrong. Nor does it mean these feminists hate you for wearing high heels (I’ve heard that one wheeled out in many an undergraduate tutorial) or being in prostitution.
Similarly, when anyone practicing radical politics points out that free choice is a fairytale, and that all our actions are constrained within certain material conditions, this does not equate to saying we’re all infantilized, little drones unable to make decisions for ourselves. It just means we’re not all floating around in a cultural vacuum making decisions completely unaffected by structural issues like systemic economic inequality, racism and sexism.
2. Only sex workers are qualified to comment on prostitution
While such exchanges may be part of a wider problem of attempting to spuriously employ personal experience to trump research and disprove wider social trends (sexism doesn’t exist because I’ve never seen it!), there is more to these interactions in the context of prostitution. Repeating that only current sex workers are qualified to talk about the sex industry is an attempt to silence survivor’s voices and pretend that the consequences of prostitution apply only to those in prostitution.
It is true that much feminist opposition to prostitution has focused on the harms to women in prostitution, and rightly so, these harms are serious and endemic. But, as advocates of the Nordic Model point out, the existence of systems of prostitution is also a barrier to gender equality.
As long as women (and yes there are men in prostitution, but please, let’s be honest and admit that using “people” here would only obfuscate the fact that the vast majority of those in prostitution are women) can be bought and sold like commodities for sex is an issue for all women. The Swedes recognized this when they introduced the original ban on buying sex in 1999, and the French women’s rights minister is busy explaining it again at the moment.
The idea that every woman with any experience in the sex industry detests the Nordic Model is tactical claim by a number of sex worker rights’ organizations around the world and it relies heavily on myth number two. This claim is, more often than not, followed by a link to Petra Ostergren’s blog which proves (we’re told) that all women in prostitution hate the Nordic Model and would prefer legalization.
It is clear that there are a number of very vocal opponents of the Nordic Model within the sex industry who have a significant platform. But it can hardly be said that these organizations represent all women in prostitution around the world, or that the odd blog post (light on references or other evidence) proves that the Nordic Model is a failure.
4. The Nordic Model denies sex workers’ agency
One of the things that critics seem to find so difficult to comprehend about the Nordic Model is that it is actually about restricting buyers, not about restricting those in prostitution. That is why it decriminalizes prostituted persons. The Model doesn’t discount the possibility of prostitution by “choice” but rather establishes that the buying of women in systems of prostitution is something that the state should actively discourage.
It’s pretty simple really. The Nordic Model acknowledges that less demand for prostitution and less demand for trafficking = less prostitution and less trafficking ∴ reducing the number of women exposed to these particular types of abuse and creating a better chance of achieving gender equality.
If you think that the state should encourage the growth of the prostitution industry and treat it as a form of gainful employment for women, then you’re bound to disagree, but that doesn’t mean the Model denies anybody’s agency.
5. The Nordic Model conflates prostitution and trafficking.
Many proponents of the Nordic Model adopt the understanding of trafficking advanced by the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children [http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx] (see Article 3a). This is a more nuanced understanding of trafficking than the “people moved across international borders at gun point” version that is popular in much of the mainstream press. Perhaps this is where the confusion sets in.
But even in employing this more realistic, UN-supported understanding of the mechanics of coercion and trafficking, the Nordic Model does not assume that every woman in prostitution is necessarily trafficked.
What the Nordic Model does do is recognize that there is a connection between the market for prostitution and sex trafficking, specifically that the demand for sexual services fuels sex trafficking. So, if you want less sex trafficking, then you need to shrink the market for prostitution.
This logic was further supported by a recent study of 150 countries, conducted by economists in the UK and Germany, showing that “the scale effect of legalized prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking.”
6. The Nordic Model doesn’t work / pushes prostitution “underground”.
It’s also worth considering what “underground” is supposed to mean in this context, as in legalized and decriminalized systems, like some in Australia, “underground” is taken to mean street prostitution. So if prostitution has moved off the streets, where has it gone? Online and indoors, is the assertion of critics, which is quite odd given that advocates of legalization frequently tout the benefits of indoor prostitution.
7. The Nordic Model deprives women of a living.
This myth is the most intriguing because it is actually an admission that the Nordic Model works, directly contradicting myth six. The Model can only deprive women of a living if it does, in fact, reduce the demand for prostitution. What’s more, comprehensive exit programs are a critical part of the Model, involving access to a wide variety of services including retraining and employment support.
Hashtags like #nothingaboutuswithoutus (used by a number of groups, not just sex industry organizations) regularly appear alongside this claim as though the only satisfactory option available is for everyone to accept a flourishing prostitution market because some people want it that way.
Not just any people though, of course – workers – if you buy the “sex work is work” line. Leaving aside the problems with the concept that prostitution is a job like any other, if we accept this premise, then the argument doesn’t follow, as workers in any given industry don’t get to determine whether or not that industry continues.
Take the brown coal or forestry industries in Australia, for example. These are sectors that have been deemed by governments to be harmful in a number of ways and that, as a result – while they are still potentially profitable – they no longer have a social license to continue operating uninhibited. Workers in these industries are often outraged at seeing their jobs threatened, which is why unions advocate for “just transitions,” providing retraining and facilitated access to social and employment services for those workers affected (sound familiar?). For the most part, these unions have given up arguing that the harmful industry in question should continue simply to avoid employment disruption for workers.
If sex work is work, and prostitution is just another industry, then it is open for wider public discussion and policy changes like other industry, including the possibility that governments will no longer want it to function.
8. The Nordic Model has made prostitution unsafe.
First things first, prostitution is unsafe. To suggest that the Nordic Model is what makes it dangerous is disingenuous. Such declarations also ignore research showing that traditional forms of legalization and decriminalization do virtually nothing to protect women in prostitution from very high odds of physical and sexual violence as well as psychological trauma.
Systems of legalization foster greater demand and create an expanding illegal industry surrounding them, so it is a fallacy to pretend that in localities where prostitution is legalized, all women are actually in legal forms of prostitution. In addition, rates of trauma are similar across legalized, decriminalized and criminalized systems of prostitution.
Sadly, even the Nordic Model is not capable of fully protecting women still in prostitution from many of these conditions – as long as there is prostitution there will be harm – but the idea that it makes conditions worse is spurious.
The “more violence” claims mostly relate to a widely cited ProSentret study which found that women in prostitution had reported an increase in certain forms of violent acts from johns, including hair pulling and biting, after the introduction of the Nordic Model in Norway. What is often left out from these accounts, however, is that the study also found women reported a sharp decline in other forms of violence, including punching and rape.
As for women in prostitution not being able to access adequate social services, this may well be a problem on the ground. If so, it absolutely needs to be addressed. But this is an issue of implementation rather than a flaw in the Model itself.
The original version of the Nordic Model, introduced in Sweden, was part of the Kvinnofrid reforms to funnel more government money and support to a variety of services tackling violence against women, including specifically in prostitution. We’ve seen this again in France, with laws decriminalizing those in prostitution brought in alongside measures to curb other forms of violence against women.
9. The Nordic Model is really a moral crusade in disguise.
Despite the evidence-based policy of the Nordic Model being introduced by progressive and socialist governments, the notion persists that this is some kind of underhanded religious or conservative attempt to curtail sexual expression, rather than an effective way of tackling trafficking and violence against women.
But perhaps this all depends on how you define “moral crusade.” If you view the movement for women’s equality as a “moral crusade”, then I suppose it is. It you are determined to dismiss all of the evidence in support of the Nordic Model and instead want to debate this on a “moral” level, then by all means do. Those who think violence against women is a bad thing are bound to win that argument.
10. Academics who research prostitution make money off the backs of women in prostitution.
This is a relatively new addition to the list of silencing techniques used against those feminists who challenge the sex industry. The first time I came across such an accusation was via the comment section here and then in the follow up emails helpfully advising me that I was just like men who rape women in prostitution because I was using the experiences of sex workers without paying.
So let me be very clear: academics conduct research. For many, like me, this often involves collating existing research and, using that evidence, creating an argument that can be defended. That is our job. And it is our job, regardless of the topic or area that we’re researching.
Engaging in public debates about the Nordic Model, and citing relevant research, is in no way an attempt to speak for women in prostitution. It is an attempt to bring the findings of that research to a broader audience. If this is perceived as threatening by the sex industry, then surely that suggests the Nordic Model is effective?
Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in Sociology at Victoria University, Australia. Her research interests are based mainly around the social construction of gender and sexuality. Her work in this area has been published in Women’s Studies International Forum and Women and Therapy as well as several edited collections including ‘Everyday Pornography’ (Boyle ed., 2010) and ‘Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality’ (Coy ed., 2012). Meagan’s first book, ‘Selling Sex Short: The pornographic and sexological construction of women’s sexuality in the West’, was released in July, 2011.
Today is December 6. Twenty four years ago, 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”
Today is also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Though some have been commenting on “gendered violence” today, I prefer a more specific description. This is about male violence against women.
Indeed, this violence is gendered, but to talk about “gendered violence” is too vague. What this term signifies is fear — and, indeed, that fear exists with good reason. Feminists are targeted because they name the problem. We target patriarchy, male dominance, female oppression, and male violence against women. Men are threatened by feminism because we refuse to mask the problem with ambiguous words, tepid critique, and polite requests.
On December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered because a man was afraid to lose the power and privilege he believed he was entitled to. He was so angered by the notion that women might usurp that power and privilege, that he resorted to violence.
He is no anomaly.
Male violence happens to women on a daily basis, throughout the world. Depending on our various locations, economic status, class, and race, we may be more vulnerable. Our Indigenous sisters, for example, are prostituted, abused, and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. Poor women are trafficked daily to satisfy the desires of Western men. Here in Vancouver, on the Downtown Eastside, women with few to no other options are forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive and are subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions as a daily reality.
To be sure, all women are vulnerable to male violence. We know this, as women. We feel it every day when we walk down the street at night, listening for footsteps behind us, assessing the men walking towards us, planning our defense. We feel it when we take public transit and wonder whether we will be harassed or assaulted, trying to plan our response should the man next to us turn out to be a perpetrator. We guard our drinks at the bar, we avoid eye contact on the street, we wonder whether someone will crawl in our windows at night, we fear the cab drivers who we rely on to get us home safely at night. Many of us fear of the very men we live with — our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our boyfriends.
The feminist movement is our response. The feminist movement names men as our attackers and our oppressors. Perhaps not all individual men, but many individual men, and certainly men as a class.
“Gendered violence” is polite. It doesn’t offend. It doesn’t point fingers. It isn’t enough. Male violence against women is the truth.
I was never really a fan of Lily Allen. I went to a predominantly white high school where most of my white hipster friends who thought they were “weird” and “different” would throw her name around to conjure up some type of trendy authenticity. Therefore, I always associated her with the “privileged, white-woman with bangs” crowd. Little did I know that would also become the mainstream feminist crowd.
One of my professors recently told me to watch Lily Allen’s new music video. It’s supposed to be a satire of Miley Cyrus and the growing trend of sexualizing women’s bodies in music videos. It’s called, “Hard Times Out Here.”
Allen’s lyrics are supposed to be critiquing the consistent objectification and fetishization of women’s bodies in popular culture: “I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking. You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen. I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains. Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain.”
Those lyrics become even more problematic when she couples them with hypersexualized images of black women twerking ferociously. Mia McKenzie from Black Girl Dangerous states: “Here’s yet another white feminist throwing black women under the bus because she has some point she’s trying to make about…sexism? I mean, I can hardly tell, probably because my feminism includes black women.”
There appears to be an explicit tongue-in-cheek commentary about signifiers of mainstream hip-hop like chains, cars, rims, and big-bootied women. Though there are problematic elements in commercialized hip-hop, including the hypersexualization of black women, we have to be mindful that we don’t perpetuate violence in our own critiques. It becomes tricky territory when we critique hip-hop because there’s an added layer of complexity, due to racism. We have to be careful that we don’t naturalize tropes of blackness in our critiques of mainstream hip-hop representations.
Allen relies on violent images of black women to critique a type of sexism that she says is not racialized. The black women are used to discuss white women’s objectification, and are objectified in the process. Though Allen is poking fun at sexism, she employs elements of sexism to propel her critiques. This is especially upsetting because the conversation about objectification in popular culture is necessary. Unfortunately, in order for women to be activists, or to critique sexism, they have to sexualize the message.
I get that we live in a Family Guy culture where no one wants to take anything seriously — including racism and sexism. Despite that fact that satire usually references a serious issue, it is not supposed to PERPETUATE the problem. In fact, in response to the criticism Allen received about the video, she stated, “The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture…it has nothing to do with race at all.”
In order for satire to be successful, you need to understand the problem you’re poking fun at. If you fail to realize how sexism is a highly racialized terrain, then you risk perpetuating some of the violence you’re trying to stop. The fact that black women’s bodies are overtly sexualized in most domains is not random or accidental. There’s a particular history attached to the sexualized images of black women, and having to repeat this 400,000 times to white feminists when they could simply Google this shit in less than two minutes, is the depressing job of being a feminist of colour.
Some white feminists and websites have been posting Allen’s video as some new ode to feminism even though, yet again, it’s just another video featuring a fully clothed white person touching the twerking bottoms of black women. It seems like the only prerequisite for being hailed as a queen in white feminism is to say something denouncing the kitchen. That’s it. Then you’re automatically granted feminist status by the white masses, while the feminists of colour have to focus all of our time and energy on explaining why it actually isn’t feminist.
The fact that black women’s bodies are constantly used as markers of authentic sexuality in just about EVERY video complicates and confuses Allen’s employment of their asses as a kind of satirical commentary on sexism. Allen contributes to racial violence by ignoring the racist conditions that black women inhabit, and she fails to locate how her whiteness contributes to those conditions. Race is central to Allen’s employment of black women in the video, so her dismissal of race as an issue is beyond ironic. I guess her smacking the twerking ass of a black woman was accidental. Oh, the accidental racists…
Allen’s racist, sexist video, as well as her post-racial stance on sexism demonstrates how popular feminism is hijacked by whiteness. The consistent removal of race from popular gendered analyses is reflective of the white consciousness in popular feminist media culture. This white consciousness makes it possible for Allen to deny the racialized, sexualized baggage that comes with being a black woman. Admitting that sexism is different for black women would make Allen, and other white feminists, liable for their exclusions of women of colour in their critiques and would force them to realize that they have a type of privilege that prevents them from speaking for all women. In reality, many white feminists are creating violence towards women of colour, and this must be recognized.
I get that white people think black people are cool, man. But, because we can co-exist side by side in music videos doesn’t mean that we experience systemic violence or oppression the same. This is most evident in Allen’s video where we hear her voice but see black women’s butts.
Because black women are conflated with gyrating asses, a white person learning to twerk is conflated with racial solidarity. I am so ready for a post-twerking era.
While Allen gets the privilege of talking about objectification and sexism, black women get the chance to twerk in slow-motion to her lyrics. It feels as though black women’s butts have become the new units of measurement for white success.
Since I have so much faith in popular white feminism, I can only wait for Lily Allen to wear blackface. Until then, I guess I have to keep watching black women ironically twerk in white feminist videos.
Aphrodite Kociędais a graduate student in Communication at the University of South Florida and a contributor to the Vegan Feminist Network. Her current graduate research focuses on feminist activism in a postfeminist rape culture climate.
I saw this Tweet today and, while I don’t completely agree that “Black Friday is a ‘feminine’ Super Bowl,” it did lead me to think about the left’s priorities…
Black Friday is, without a doubt, a fairly horrid phenomenon in the U.S. (now extended into Canada), wherein consumer culture, corporate greed, and anti-labour practices collide. The holiday tradition of over-consumption, beginning on Black Friday and ending at Boxing Day Week, in a mountain of things and post-holiday depression, led Adbusters to attach itself to the promotion of “Buy Nothing Day,” which takes place the day after American Thanksgiving.
There have been a number of smart critiques of Buy Nothing Day (and, more generally, Adbusters‘ focus on consumption and it’s branding of non-consumption) and, while I appreciate the efforts of individuals to avoid participating in the buying frenzy that surrounds the holidays, I find some of these boycotts and actions to be overly simplistic as well as conveniently lacking in gender (and, in fact, class) analysis.
When I think of the anti-consumerist movement, I think about white men. The notion of “not buying” on one particular day strikes me as something that’s fairly easy to do so long as you don’t need anything (food, diapers, whatever). Busy, overworked people — particularly those with families — may or may not have the luxery of picking the days upon which they spend money. It’s relevant to note, also, that for single mothers (and, really, mothers in general — single or not), this “consumption” will rest solely on their shoulders, whether it’s buying gifts for the kids or groceries for dinner. How nice that a bunch of “radical” white men have invented a form of activism that completely ignores the realities of many women’s lives. Women, I suppose, should feel guilty for perpetuating capitalism and consumer culture because they had to use their days off to do their Christmas/grocery shopping. If Kalle Lasn can avoid the mall, we all should!
But beyond the fact that Buy Nothing Day is both a classist and sexist invention, I find it interesting that certain factions of the left focus so much on Black Friday and on consumption around the holidays, but conveniently ignore the sexist, capitalist, violent, ridiculousness that is the Super Bowl — a decidedly male-centered celebration. Watching professional football is now a tradition intricately tied to American Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl, specifically, is basically a holiday for men.
I’m not anti-sport. Yes, I’d rather stare at the wall than watch sports on TV, but I understand that others enjoy watching, and that’s fine. But the NFL is not merely about sport. It’s about profit and it’s about advertisers. And it is, therefore, about consumption. And not just the consumption of products, but the consumption of women’s bodies. Think SuperBowl ads.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the decorative ladies required for “sports.”
M.I.A. gets it, calling the Super Bowl “a massive waste of time, a massive waste of money, [and] a massive display of powerful corporation d–k shaking”
So why does a violent, sexist, franchise that exists for men and is primarily about corporate profit get a pass while shopping doesn’t? Oh right. Dude culture.
It isn’t complicated. The Super Bowl is about celebrating masculine culture, corporate profit, and objectifying women. At least the holidays are for men and women.
I’m not completely mean and no fun. And I’m certainly not defending a holiday that celebrates both colonialism and consumerism all at once. I’m also not literally asking that all you men to stop watching football if you enjoy such banalities; but I am asking that, in your efforts to fake activism, don’t throw women and the working class under the bus. If you can manage to get all up in arms about shopping, you can also manage to muster some energy for commentary around the corporate greed and sexism that is very much a part of the NFL and the Super Bowl.
Women have been so indoctrinated by the idea that male sexuality = human sexuality that we can only understand “sexy” though the eyes of men.
Adult tries to disguise it’s overt glorification of the male gaze by claiming it is “by women” and “for everyone” but the lazy sexism is impossible to miss.
“I want a magazine that is for everybody but feels like it was made by a woman,” says founding editor Sarah Nicole Prickett (of selfies-are-empowering infamy).
“Who is ‘everybody?’” you might ask. Even Prickett admits that a porn magazine by, and supposedly for, women is no different than any other: “all of the people in the magazine — the subjects in the photo editorials are women.” I haven’t gotten the impression the magazine is being marketed as “lesbian erotica” so what Adult seems to be doing is to sell objectified women to heterosexual men and women.
Something new, my ass.
I wouldn’t dare advocate for “equal objectification” — I fail to see how objectifying men will stop us from objectifying women — but to claim the male gaze as our own is foolish, never mind unoriginal.
If all we can come up with, as women, is the same old thing, it should tell us something about the pervasiveness of the notion of “male as human — all others are other.”
That’s not beauty, that’s objectification. It’s not that the female body is “more attractive,” it’s that we see the female body as something that exists for public consumption. Which is all this new (yet old — retro sexism, anyone?) magazineseems to do: perpetuate the notion that women are things to-be-looked at. Sexism isn’t just for men anymore — now women are “free” to join in on the “fun.” Empowerment™.
“When there was a man in the photo, it didn’t totally work,” Prickett claims. Well no. Of course it “didn’t work.” We’re used to looking at women in this way, it makes us feel comfortable. To objectify a man would be to remove his power. That’s why it feels uncomfortable to us. We are accustomed to women portrayed as powerless. Indeed, to try something new, to challenge that easy-to-digest notion of woman as “thing” is difficult. Easy is easy. Obvious is easy.
How Adult is different than just Hustler for hipsters or Playboy for Terry Richardson devotees, I don’t know. Prickett says the publication is “literary” as well, something she claims to value: “If I’m in too much of a literary milieu, I’ll totally freak out about how unsexy everyone is. But if I go to a fashion party, I’m like, ‘Can anyone here read?’” (you’ll find Prickett quoting herself extensively on her Tumblr page, enamoured); but as we all know, everyone reads Playboy for the articles. Black is the new black. Porn is the new porn. Women are the new men.
“So we have some boring soft-core hipster porn mag,” you might say. “Big whoop.” But this particular endeavour is offensive in a way that goes beyond plain old objectification.
The “for women” argument as stand-in for progress is trite, but it fools people. Meaningless words are thrown around to create a fog that vaguely resembles intellectualism to those who don’t know (or don’t care to know) any better.
“…it returns to the first meaning of “radical”–the roots of things, traced below the skin…” the descriptor on Amazon states ambiguously. Smoke and mirrors seem to be Prickett’s calling card — “fake it till you make it,” her motto.
To co-opt radicalism in order to market porn would be ballsy if it weren’t clear that the meaning of the word was lost on the author. The irony of attaching “radical” to “below the skin” in order to sell a skin mag is comical, at least.
That Prickett comes from “a seemingly sheltered background,” as The Daily Beast describes it, is less “ironic” than obvious. She’s still behaving like a rebellious teenager, relating to them in a way that seems envious: “I’ve written essays defending sexting and the selfie. I’m very on-side with teenage girls and almost anything they do on the internet.” If only we could reclaim that self-exploitative childhood we missed out on, as adults… Maybe it’s not too late.
Pornifying women may feel rebellious when we’ve come from a restrictive background. And calling it “porn for women” is sure to draw attention — as we’ve seen, the magazine has received extensive coverage across the U.S., but as philosopher Drake tells us: “Seek respect, not attention. It lasts longer.”
A cartoon in today’s Toronto Sun shows a castrated Rob Ford. While I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to Ford’s castration, this cartoon is indicative of society’s unquestioned belief that penises equal power. What’s the worst we could do to Rob Ford? Emasculate him.
Rob Ford’s sense of power and his absolute certainty that he not only deserves but is entitled to his position as mayor, as well as his belief that he can behave however he wishes and should not be challenged is firmly rooted in his male privilege. That we believe that to strip him of his power is equivalent to castration signifies our cooperation in this system that privileges masculinity and believes that power is a male domain.
In an act of what has to be acknowledged as tremendous, though in some respects entirely typical, rich famous male hubris, Joss Whedon, of comic book and Buffy the Vampire Slayer note, recently gave a talk in which he proclaimed that feminism is a term that he objects to and that he feels should be replaced because, in essence, he does not like it. He does not like it because it is supposedly at variance with his idea that equality already exists as a “natural condition” or for some pseudo-philosophical reasons that are never really clear other than that, frankly, they are rather silly, it must be noted, coming from a man.
The sheer idiocy of a wealthy straight male (or any male of any kind) telling women how they should frame the language of their own liberation movement, however, did not prevent large numbers of liberal men (and, of course, some women) like CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning host Matt Galloway on air, from gushing over it, thrilled, apparently, to see yet another in a long line of alleged male “feminists” talking down to women about just what it is that they are doing “wrong” that men could tell them how to do better.
Like abandoning the very term feminism for starters.
This would all be Buffy-style darkly humorous were it not for the fact that it is indicative of a far broader problem within both the left and society as a whole.
The problem being that, somehow, the notion has arisen that not only are the people living oppression, like women under Patriarchy, not allowed to frame their own discourse without condescension from those who are actually members of the oppressive group socially, historically and right now, but also that people in struggle for liberation against injustice and fighting systemic oppression are regularly labeled as “elitist” or as part of an “Ivory Tower” for doing so.
Often such resistance is called out as “purity” and as an example of “identity politics” that, apparently, indicates that one is an “intellectual” or “academic” who is out of touch with all of those supposed “salt-of-the-earth” leftists.
There are few better examples than the sad and extreme exuberance and exultation that greeted the BBC interview with Russell Brand that some heralded, rather farcically, as the start of a new social discourse or revolution; a notion so facile that it can only be a comment on the left’s desperation that it would actually be believed by anyone.
Russell Brand is at least as misogynist in his personal conduct as rape anthem “star” Robin Thicke, if not worse in every meaningful real world way, but apparently, for some, making a quasi revolutionary rant on the BBC (that the BBC then promptly shared everywhere, of course) absolves one of having to be held accountable for it.
This is an odd version of leftism.
When, entirely rightly, feminist activists and others pointed out that the notion that one should take inspiration from the ranting of a well established misogynist with a long history of ugly, exploitative and violent behaviour towards women, (by his own acknowledgment), is highly problematic, they were often met with the standard line that they were being “elitist”, “putting identity first” or that they were exhibiting what was an example of “posh” leftism, as if any such thing actually exists.
This came from many of the usual suspects of sexist “leftism”, the allegedly revolutionary exponents of the tired old “class first” line, for example, but it was inherently ridiculous given that they were defending the rather minor, in political terms, outburst of a rich, abusive and atrociously self-indulgent white male that was then widely and wildly promoted by the very media that he had supposedly “bested” and called out on his way to a gig as guest editor of the New Statesman! If it is “elitist” to identify, question and condemn behaviour and opinion like Brand’s towards women, behaviour that reflects centuries of oppressive and violent entitlement and social power, and if it is allegedly counter to the interests of the “left” to do so, then there really is no left.
This is hardly an isolated example. Regularly one hears from pundits and politicians, and certainly not only those on the right, that any number of people are now part of the “elite”. Variously unions, anti-poverty activists, anti-racist activists, people of colour, First Nations and aboriginal peoples, LGBT groups, women and feminists are all commonly described as “special interest” groups, despite the obviously reactionary background to this.
It turns actual elitism on its head.
This is going on, right now, with the entire Rob Ford fiasco (the misreading of which by the Left deserves to be the focus of an entirely separate article from this one). Even here we find not only the right but also many leftists framing the Ford phenomenon as a revolt against “elites”; a notion that is demonstrably false. Never mind that his abusive behaviour to women is constantly overshadowed and even ignored in the discourse.
There are very real elites. Industrial, financial and commercial capitalists are an elite. Hollywood stars, comedians, sports players, etc., are certainly an elite and an almost neo-feudal one in the way that they are fawned over by sycophantic “handlers” and servants. The capitalist managerial class and professional upper middle class, including large numbers of the so-called 99%, are an elite. There are others. Never mind whites and men, the beneficiaries of centuries, and sometimes millennia, of systemic privilege, acknowledged and unacknowledged, spoken or otherwise.
A generation ago, as a part of their assault on the gains of working people, women, people of colour, the LGBT community and others, the reactionary right created all of the terms like “Champagne Socialist” or “latte drinker” that are tossed about in an attempt to turn social relations around and make out leftists, feminists and community activists and liberation theories and movements as the new elites. They made it seem as if talking about the injustices and consequences of systemic oppression was an academic exercise or a function of “privilege”.
It is not. Misogyny, racism, homophobia and poverty are a violent and oppressive reality every single day. These institutions of oppression abuse, violate and kill women, people living in poverty, aboriginal and First Nations peoples and members of the LGBT community daily. They cause tremendous and demonstrable inequality and suffering in the lives of real people. They are not an abstraction, and, unlike Mayor Ford in Toronto, for example, people living under the weight of these oppressions are often not given first chances, let alone second ones.
It is bad enough that these views and terms are to be found within society and the forces of reaction. It is even worse that we use these arguments and terms ourselves in our debates and disagreements within the left. Instead of exposing and combatting institutionalized oppression within our own leftist movements, when using this language or logic of reaction activists who do allow them to continue without being confronted and minimize their fundamental importance to the struggle for human liberation. Far from “distracting” from the struggle, you cannot have a radical socialist agenda of any meaning without taking a radical stance against all of these oppressions.
No matter what disagreements leftists may have, it is not elitist to fight racism, misogyny or homophobia. It is not elitist to stand for union or worker’s rights. It is not elitist to acknowledge systemic oppression or injustice.
In reality there is no such thing as a leftist or anti-oppression “elitism”. It is a right wing myth.
Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the Socialist Party of Ontario.
Justin Bieber was photographed leaving a Brazilian brothel last weekend. He was covered in bedsheets, which leads us to believe that buying sex still isn’t seen as a completely acceptable pass time (though our friends on team “sex work is work” are doing their very best to change that).
It’s not as though the Biebs has a shortage of options in the lady department. In fact, the very next evening, he left the club at 3am with a van load of 30 girls. Whatever. I know you don’t care what Justin Bieber does on weekends. My point is this: Why are we still pretending as though prostitution exists for lonely, socially awkward, undersexed men.
The media is in love with the “sex surrogate” story these days. Last year the idea of sex as a kind of therapeutic service for the disabled was mainstreamed when The Sessions, a film about a man who was paralyzed from the neck down and hired a sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity, came out.
We want to pity johns more than we want to shame them. The sad men and their sad penises. But I don’t think Justin Bieber’s penis is very sad… And I don’t think loneliness or disability is a reasonable defense for male power.
The notion that prostitutes exist as an “outlet” for men isn’t new. Over a century ago we believed prostitutes were necessary in order to prevent men from raping (non-prostituted women) and to preserve marriages. Prostitution was seen as a “social service.” Prostitutes were essentially there to take shit from men, so they wouldn’t take it out on the “good women.” You don’t want to be in the position of being an “outlet” for male aggression (something that was seen as natural and is still seen, by many, as innate). Naturalizing male sexuality as uncontrollable or violent isn’t going to help anyone and making a certain, marginalized, class of women responsible for protecting the other, more privileged women is abhorrent. The Romans viewed prostitutes as sexually insatiable deviants, a notion that conveniently erases any abuses those women suffered at the hands of the men who pay to do with them what they will. We cling to all these notions today, repackaging them over and over again in a continual effort to convince the world that this industry is both necessary and deserving of permanence.
The discourse surrounding prostitution has changed in that we’ve tried to sanitize the industry. “A job like any other” makes prostituted women into service providers, no different than a hair dresser or a physiotherapist. What stays the same is the notion that prostitution is necessary because of the poor, sex-deprived men who “need” women as “outlets.” Some women are lucky enough to have other choices besides dick-receptacle. The poor, the abused, the racialized — not so much.
Today, we like to imagine prostitution as a service for the lonesome. We are to pity these men — What, are they supposed to just masturbate? The horror! But examples like that of Mr. Bieber (and the countless other wealthy men and celebrities who pay for sex) show us that prostitution isn’t just about sex. There is no shortage of sex in Justin Bieber’s life — he has access to plenty of vagina, not to worry. Prostitution, it’s clear, is about power. Male power, specifically.
We can recycle as many of these centuries-old defenses as we like. Take your pick:
- Men are naturally violent and rapey and need to ejaculate into or onto women’s bodies in order to remain sane.
- Men are naturally promiscuous and need different vag to keep things spicy. Their wives, after all, have real feelings and personalities which can be annoying and tiresome.
- Prostitutes just loooove sex! You can bet all those johns are really generous in the sack. Really, really skilled in the art of pleasing a woman. They can’t tell the difference between real pleasure and acting, but hey, that’s why they pay. So they can imagine themselves to be the most virile of lovers. It’s no wonder they (supposedly) can’t get laid for free.
We have, after all, been defending men’s right to women’s bodies since the invention of patriarchy. Why stop now?
The Biebs isn’t lonely, desperate, disabled, or socially awkward. So how do you explain his visit to the brothel? I’m going to pass on what I learned about johns from survivor and author, Rachel Moran here: Men buy sex because they think they can treat prostitutes differently than they can treat their wives, girlfriends, and dates. They buy sex in order to project what Moran called “evil arousal” onto a human being, guilt and consequence-free. They buy sex to experience dominance and to make rape and abuse “consensual” (we’ve convinced ourselves that payment = consent). Indeed, most johns derive sadistic pleasure from that power imbalance, Moran says.
Prostitution isn’t about sexuality. It’s about male power, plain and simple. And if you’re a feminist, a humanitarian, or a person who believes, in any way at all, in equality and human rights, it’s time to stop regurgitating defenses of the industry. They are old — so old — and they are incredibly destructive; even deadly.
Let me begin by saying that I am super tired of hearing about white stars or white people accidentally wearing blackface, especially when there have been so many mainstream conversations about this exact topic. White people have gone so far as to dress up as Trayvon Martin.Whoops!
Julianne Hough in blackface
Recently, Julianne Hough decided to dress up as “Crazy Eyes”, a character in the popular show, “Orange is the New Black.”
The character, “Crazy Eyes,” from Orange is the New Black
She’s since apologized, and other celebrities have decided to share their opinions about the event. Actress Martha Plimpton stated “White people: Do not wear black face. Life will still be okay if you don’t ever, ever, ever wear blackface. OKAY? GREAT.”
Plimpton later said that racist trolls were writing on her timeline because of her comments. I didn’t see the posts on her timeline, but I read the comments under another article about Plimpton’s statement and wanted to write this post after seeing how people were responding to her — not because of Hough’s costume.
Here are some examples of what people said in response to Plimpton:
John: “Meh…. The costume was never about blackface. Crazy Eyes is a character on a TV show. People playing the race card in this situation are ridiculous.”
Nonparieldolls: “Could she share her ‘message’ with black comedians and actors? Pretending to be white is ok, but dressing up for Halloween as a TV show character is wrong. Guess no guys out there better dress up as Ricky Ricardo!!! Imagine the affront to Latinos!! Bet Ms. Plimpton is enjoying the attention (BTW — who is she??)”
Conservative in a blue star: “If I paint my face orange, will a pumpkin feel offended??????, Lady, get a life!!!”
Patrick: “Why can’t a white person dress up as a black person??????? I don’t get it?????”
Jennifer: “Simmer down, it wasn’t that bad. Julie has nothing to be sorry for. Overly sensitive people need to apologize for opening their holes over every little thing.”
You can see how these comments showcase a very white supremacist understanding of racism, where race, as an issue, is virtually nonexistent. This is exemplified by the plethora of comments suggesting that black people wearing “white face” is equally asproblematic as white people wearing black face.
Being “offended” by racism is presented as an indicatation that you’re overly sensitive, angry, and uptight. Yet again, people of colour are relegated to the irrational “hyper-sensitive,” “overly emotional” sphere.
Whenever people of colour want to discuss racial injustices, uncritical white folks hijack the conversation to discuss how they too have been persecuted under white supremacy. In trying to become “victims” of white supremacy, uncritical white folks silence the voices of people of colour and allies.
The fact that people are openly defending Hough’s decision to wear blackface demonstrates how twisted and confusing racism is. This is what happens when people don’t understand how systemic racism works. White bodies and black bodies are seemingly interchangeable because hey, we’re equal.
I’m reminded of a recent Dunkin’ Donuts ad in Thailand wherein the company decided it was a good idea to put a woman in blackface to sell their new “charcoal” donuts… Because what screams black donuts better than blackface?
That it’s 2013 and we’re still having these conversations about blackface is appalling.
It’s important to note that critical folks are not necessarily offended because of the black colour. We’re offended because of the context. This isn’t simply a matter of changing colours. Race isn’t 100% just about skin colour, but about the cultural connotations that we’ve constructed around particular races.
I mean, there’s a reason why Crazy Eyes is in a prison outfit in the first place. Blackness is constantly associated with deviancy, so when Halloween costumes capitalize on signifiers of blackness, without problematizing the deviant elements, the people that wear them are merely reproducing these stereotypes. “Black people” Halloween costumes are offensive, not necessarily because of the skin colour, but because of the connotations. When minstrelsy was a hit, the white characters who wore black face changed their mannerisms to act more animalistic and child-like. Black face, which translated to blackness, has always been a signifier of buffoonery.
We shouldn’t lose sight of who Crazy Eyes is and what she represents. The fact that she is a woman of coulor who is a prisoner, in a culture where people of colour face mass incarceration, is a direct result of white supremacy and racism. For a white person to dress up as a black prisoner, situated within the context of a white supremacy, is beyond ironic, especially when they don’t know the history of oppressive black representations that look similar to their costume. To dress up as your favorite character, without even understanding the conditions that surround them, is just plain ignorant.
Additionally, whiteface does not have the same effect as blackface. Whiteface is something that people of colour live daily — The need to perform as a white person to assimilate into white culture is whiteface. Whiteface is the norm for a white supremacist nation.
Though some uncritical folks labeled Tyra a racist, others pointed out that wearing whiteface did not have the same impact as blackface. Tyra was not dehumanizing white people. In fact, one could argue that she was emulating these women as role models. During the shoot, she tweeted: “Four hours of hair and makeup later, I’ve become ubermodel.” Wearing whiteface helped Tyra actualize her attempts to emulate these women. She wasn’t trying to make fun of whiteness or belittle white people.
If you are in denial that black people occupy lower social positions than white folks, then you will never understand why blackface and whiteface are interpreted differently. In a culture where people of colour use bleaching creams to lighten their skin and use lighter-toned makeup on their faces to look more white, wearing whiteface is not systemically offensive to white people. Though white people tan, they do so as a signifier of whiteness. Tanning becomes a classed activity that authenticates white femininity—it is not a quest to become black. In fact, if you tan too much, you are ridiculed.
The fact that women of colour try to lighten their skin-tone and eye colour on a daily basis, whereas white folks want to wear black skin only on Halloween speaks volumes. One tone is desirable, whereas the other becomes a tool to facilitate a funny or silly look.
White people in America have never experienced a time when people of colour controlled imagery and representations of whiteness . People of colour never collectively dehumanized white people or stripped them of legal rights. Black people do not hold systemic power in the ways that white people do. In a culture wherein black peoples’ citizenship as authentically equal Americans is questioned all the time, from Barack Obama and the birthers who question his citizenship, to Trayvon Martin not “belonging” and being “suspicious,” we have to be careful when we wear blackface. It is your duty as a white person to understand the intimate dynamics of racism because your privilege is based on it. Black people are not playing the “race” card. Being ignorant of white history and it’s violence, and then wearing blackface and claiming that you didn’t “know” IS the only race card.
The fact that Hough’s Halloween costume and other similar incidences are occurring in the same year that Trayvon Martin’s murderer walked free is no coincidence. In fact, it further illustrates how pervasive racism is in 2013.
Brad Paisley’s terrible phrase from his song, “Accidental Racist” is an apt expression of the ways racism manifests today. Evidently, it’s all “accidental.” Zimmerman “accidentally” killed Trayvon Martin and “accidentally” profiled him. Hough “accidentally” wore black face; she had no clue there was a history of racism attached to it, despite that fact that this conversation has been happening in the mainstream for decades. Those who are racist merely become repackaged as “victims” of their circumstances… Apparently they just didn’t know.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that black culture is a naturalized fixed entity that cannot change, I am, however, saying that people of colour are dehumanized in the current social order, and we have to be mindful of that. Though race is a social construction that we perform every day, the embodied, lived experiences of race matter.
Yes, Halloween is supposed to be a fun night when we can suspend our social conditions, but that doesn’t mean systemic realities disappear. If that were the case, women wouldn’t feel pressured to dress as sexy [fill in the blank] every year.
Throw a little gasoline on the hipster sexism fire, folks — co-founder of Vice magazine* and “Godfather of hipsterdom,” Gavin McInnes threw a misogynistic tantrum on Huffington Post Live during a discussion about contemporary masculinity on Monday. Little known fact: Gavin McInnes is not only a scientist and knower of all facts, but he can SEE INSIDE OUR BRAINS, ladies. And what does he see? Misery.
McInnes drops so many truth bombs in the discussion that it’s hard to know where to begin, but his basic premise is that male aggression is natural and that feminism has made women miserable by forcing them to pretend to be men. You know how we all do that? Yeah. Well now we can stop. “You’re welcome” – Gavin McInnes.
It’s weird because I don’t have any babies and I hate doing chores, yet… strangely… I… feel… happy… what with my intact vagina, my ability to sleep in and the daily joy I experience when I don’t have to clean up another human being’s poo. I’m pretty sure McInnes would like to chalk me up to “anecdotal evidence,” if not for this little thing some of us like to call “history.”
Inside Gavin’s special little head, feminism has made women miserable. The problem with this argument is that, before feminism, women were miserable. And that’s why feminism was invented.
Let’s go ahead and assume that because one doesn’t need to actually read things in order to know ALL TRUE FACTS ABOUT EVERYTHING, Gavin has never heard of “the problem that has no name.” Don’t worry, little buddy. We’ll help you out on this one.
“The problem that has no name” is what Betty Friedan wrote about in her book, The Feminine Mystique. That book was published way back in 1963! (Seven short years before little Gavin would grace this earth with his omniscient presence.) Friedan surveyed women across America during the 50s (So that’s, like, fifty years ago, Gav. Way to stay abreast of cutting-edge research.) and found they were depressed and unfulfilled and didn’t know why. It was weird because they’d been told that fulfilling their “natural” roles as homemakers, mothers, and wives would bring them happiness. Turns out women had been fed a bunch of bullshit — coincidentally, the very same bullshit spewing out of Gavin’s mouth today.
As a professional scientist who knows all facts about everything, it’s odd that he would argue we go back fifty years and try something that already failed once, very badly.
Despite the millions of women around the world who aren’t supported by a male “breadwinner,” McInnes argues that men, indeed, are the breadwinners “in the majority of cases.” Lucky you, 10 million single mothers of the world! Lucky you, 15 million fatherless children in America! LUCKY YOU, EVERYONE! Gavin McInnes is telling the truth about REAL LIFE AND FACTS that fly in the face of history, statistics, and actual research. The courage it must take to blatantly lie in front of the entire world. *Swoooon* Ahem, I mean *blow jooobs*
Since only men run businesses and since men are naturally violent, it’s only reasonable to conclude that violence is necessary to make a living, which one needs to do in order to feed one’s families. ARE MEN SUPPOSED TO JUST LET US STARVE? That they do is beside the point. Also shush, Gavin is explaining science. Male violence is “crucial to our survival” and, as we all know, men are very, very concerned with women’s lives. Hence all the women murdered and beaten and raped by their loving husbands every day.
As we all know (but were afraid to cop to until Gavin McInnes liberated us just right this second), IT’S BEEN PROVEN that women are all miserable, thanks to what else but feminism (Making Women Miserable Since 1920™). It’s weird how he knows so much about what women think and need and feel, as a man. What’s even more weird is that he doesn’t even need to listen to the actual words that come out of women’s mouths in order to be able to see inside their pretty pink brains and know exactly what they want (spoiler: it’s to grow babies and clean Gavin McInnes’ house).
He exhibits this further by calling Mary Anne Franks, another panelist and a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, a “fucking idiot.” Okay girls, who spilled the beans? Next he’s going to figure out how much we love nonconsensual sex and being put in our place. SECRET’S OUT.
Franks points out that statistics show that both men and women are happier when they accept that there is no such thing as innate “femininity” or “masculinity.” In other words, there’s no such thing as a “male brain” or a “female brain.” Men aren’t “naturally” successful or aggressive just as women aren’t “naturally” passive homemakers.
Panelist, Micheal Addis, author of Invisible Men, aptly points out that what Gavin is doing (besides pounding his fists on the cave floor) is how masculinity works. Men are told they must behave in _____ way otherwise they will be called wimps, faggots, or (worst of all) “girls.” It’s those who define “masculinity” in a particular way who bully others into conforming. “This is called the policing of masculinity,” Addis says.
McInnes, of course, denies doing any of this (NO, NO, STUPID EVERYONE, HE’S DOING THE OPPOSITE) and claims we are simply “ignoring the vast majority of how people naturally behave.” Which is funny because it seems that, actually, Gavin is the one who is ignoring the vast majority of everything that’s actually true, scientifically proven, and statistically correct.
“You’re the ones doing the enforcing!” angry Gavin cries, before taking all his toys and stomping out of the room.
“You’ve got guys whose wives won’t even take their last names, who stay at home while the wife makes money… When you swing the pendulum so far away from the natural world, you all look like a bunch of fools.” Because, as we all know, in the “natural world” a lady orangutan’s father will walk her down the aisle in a white dress before sending her off into a life of domestic bliss as Mrs. Ape.
Gavin’s “gut” has told him that the “majority of women like being domestic and shaping lives,” and if anyone knows the real, inarguable truth about what women “like” it’s Gavin McInnes’ gut.
All joking aside, this guy is the whiniest, most childish, cry baby, bully asshole I’ve encountered in some time. I feel so fucking sorry for his wife. If he behaves this way in public I don’t even want to imagine how he behaves behind closed doors.
*McInnes left Vice in 2007 because of “creative differences.” Good fucking riddance.
As a vocal feminist with many intelligent, lovely male friends, I’m often met with indignance when I choose not to engage with them about feminism. Surely if I really cared about changing our culture of discrimination and inequality, I should be trying to educate men? Isn’t that an activist’s job? Shouldn’t feminists be grateful when men want to bounce questions off us, because it shows that they are at least trying to understand?
It’s both exhausting and diversionary being expected to hash out the basics with men who haven’t bothered to think about their own privilege before. Men are not entitled to expect feminists to educate them. Real change will only happen when men accept that the burden of education is on them, not on women.
Recently, I politely declined to debate with one such baffled male friend, who followed up by sending me some well-intentioned advice on how I could be a more effective feminist. Having never thought much about feminism before, he said, he just didn’t find my social media posts appealing. Too shouty and academic. What I needed was to explain things in a way that appealed to men.
Considering himself as the sort of bloke who “could be part of the solution”, he helpfully sent me a link to a twelve-minute TED talk which contained, in his words, “a basic yes/no test” for misogyny together with proposed steps to solve the problem. In an impressive gesture of hubris, he suggested the next time I was asked to educate a man who was genuinely trying to learn about feminism, I forward this snappy sound-byte resource he had just found for me.
It’s astonishing that 50% of the population are so regularly asked to make a sales pitch for liberation from structural disadvantage and systemic violence.
Here’s the thing about being expected to hold the hand of each individual man as he grapples with the possibility that despite his self-perceived good nature and honest intentions, he is a beneficiary of the structural oppression of women. It actually hurts. Patriarchy hurts women on a daily basis. But even though it can be traumatic to discuss rape culture, for example, we live in hope that by showing men how it hurts us they will begin to understand and become our allies. When men appear to take an interest in feminist discourse it tugs at this yearning. While they can play devil’s advocate and toss around hypotheticals that are utterly disconnected from their reality and then opt out at the end, for women these discussions require revelation and vulnerabillity; they are a sharing of our actual lived experience.
The most common argument is: If You Won’t Educate Me How Can I Learn. This is how it usually plays out. Self-described Nice Guy interjects discussion with earnest appeals for feminists to engage with his personal opinions. Having pushed past his bristling discomfort at feminists being bitter, resentful and combative (but not before pointing out this sacrifice), Nice Guy is bewildered not to have his theories discussed immediately and in a reasonable, non-angry way. Despite the hundreds of resources on the subject which he could, like the rest of us, go off and read, Nice Guy expects women to stop what they are doing, and instead share their experiences of oppression and answer his questions. In an ironic twist, Nice Guy is unaware that by demanding women divert their energies to immediately gratifying his whims, he reinforces the power dynamics he is supposedly seeking to understand.
It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with having basic questions about feminism. Unpacking something as complex and insidious as patriarchy, particularly when it requires an examination of your own privilege, isn’t easy. Where it becomes problematic is when you are so confident that your questions are SUPER! IMPORTANT! that you try and co-opt feminist discussions to have them heard.
To borrow the analogy of another woman:
It’s as if you have walked into a postgraduate mathematics seminar, yelling: “Hey, how can you even use imaginary numbers anyway if they’re not real?” When someone rather distractedly points you to a first-year text-book in the corner, you leaf through the first couple of pages half-heartedly for a few seconds and say: “I don’t agree with some of the definitions in here – and anyway you haven’t answered my question. Doesn’t anyone want to have a discussion with me?!!”
This incredulity is usually delivered with a sound telling-off for being sarcastic, unreasonable, illogical, ungrateful and bitter. Now, as a woman raised under patriarchy I am socialized to respond to men’s praise and approval. Having suffered the consequences of men’s disapproval, conflict is counter-intuitive to me. It’s tempting to give in to the desire to be recognized as a “good” feminist who takes the time to explain things in a polite, fun, sassy way. But here’s the kicker: polite feminism not only doesn’t work, it is actually self-defeating.
Spending time and energy nurturing men through their journey of self-discovery is not only incredibly dull, it actually serves to reinforce existing power dynamics and keeps us from collectivizing as women and enacting real change.
My advice to men who genuinely wish to learn about feminism is this: read and listen to the voices of women when they explain what misogyny feels like and how it operates. Never ask women to find resources for you; seriously, get a library card. Or the internet. Don’t interrupt to disagree or derail by using individual examples of women in positions of power or instances of what you see as “reverse sexism” (here’s a hot tip: “misandry” isn’t a real thing.)
When people of colour are expected to educate white people as to their humanity, when women are expected to educate men, lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world, the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.
If you are in a group that has the structural advantage of wages, safety, health and education – when you’ve basically already won the life lottery just by showing up – it is your responsibility to educate yourself. And really, don’t tell women to be nice. We’re angry. We have every reason to be. Frankly, you should be too.
To say that “your body is for you and your boyfriend” irked me a little for heteronormative reasons but also because it seems frame the female body as some kind of private gift only your boyfriend gets access to. For O’Connor to put herself in the position of “mother” to Miley (“it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love”) is also bothersome because, well, simply because one is an older woman, that shouldn’t make a person necessarily a “nurturing” or “mothering” figure (though I get that O’Connor might feel “protective” of Cyrus in some way). I don’t find the woman = mother stereotype to be particularly useful, progressive, or accurate. Also, Sinead is not by any means Miley’s “mother.” Beyond that, the phrase “young lady” reads as a scolding from your teacher back in 1953.
But to dwell on these flaws is to miss the primary (and the most relevant) point of the letter, which is this: sexualization does not equal empowerment.
O’Connor tells Cyrus that which all girls and young women should know (not just celebrities, though it does impact young women in the entertainment industry particularly), which is that those who encourage you to objectify yourself, those who give you attention because you are appealing to men, those who tell you that power comes from desirability are wrong. Those people don’t care about your well-being and they don’t care about female liberation and empowerment. In Miley’s situation, they care (as O’Connor points out) about profiting off of your naked ass.
The point many are glossing over amongst nonsensical commentary around “slut-shaming” and “judging” is this:
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
Having been in the music industry herself and having lived longer in this world than Cyrus, O’Connor is perfectly in her right to position herself as a mentor of sorts. Of course these days it’s popular to throw older women under the bus, as many immediately did, making O’Connor into your old, no-fun, prudish, mom. This isn’t just a trend that’s popular with mainstream sexists, but with the third wave as well — you may have encountered sexist/ageist attacks on second wave feminists who are regularly accused of being “sex negative” or “stuck in the past” or whatever else we like to say to dismiss women who know more than we do. Sorry, but every 20 year old thinks they know it all. But 20 year olds, in fact, know very little. This isn’t to say that young people must necessarily defer to their elders in all circumstances, but playing to ageist, sexist tropes just makes you sound like a catty, obnoxious, teenager.
Cyrus goes one step further into the misogyny dung heap, accusing O’Connor of being, essentially, “crazy” and making fun of her struggles with mental illness:
Some took the obvious “women aren’t victims!” route, trying to frame critiques of a sexist industry and culture as a form of disempowerment in and of itself.
The rest immediately began to accuse O’Connor of “slut-shaming.” And to those folks, I have to wonder if you even have any idea what you are talking about. Objectification and sexualization have nothing to do with female sexuality. Cyrus is not “doing her own thing FUCK YEAH” — she is marketing a sexualized image for profit. And primarily, as O’Connor points out, those who profit from this image will be powerful men who will remain rich and powerful long after Cyrus has been used up and discarded.
Slut-shaming isn’t a real thing, for starters (it’s just misogyny, lovies), but what we need to understand about this COMPLETELY OVERUSED term is that being critical of a culture that pressures women and girls to pornify themselves and offers them few other options in terms of gaining self-worth and power, is not the same as being critical of an individual’s sexuality. This is an image Cyrus is presenting to the public (or being pressured to present) — it’s about representation. If you can’t differentiate between that and Miley’s private desires and/or sex life, then you may want to tread a little more lightly when entering into conversations about feminism and female liberation.
O’Connor says that which we can all see is true: the music industry will try, with all their might, to exploit young women — to “prostitute” them, as she says; meaning to use their bodies and sexualities to profit.
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked.
From Terry Richardson’s recent photo shoot with Miley Cyrus
And here’s what O’Connor knows that Cyrus, and many other young women (including myself at that age) don’t know: that power you feel — the power you get from having men want you — is fleeting. Further reinforcing this particular kind of imaginary “empowerment” only perpetuates the idea that, without sexual appeal and without youth, women are useless, irrelevant, and invisible.
While disgusting Terry Richardson (who, by the way, is known to be a sexual predator) is busy turning Cyrus into soft-core porn, we’re all busy trying to make sure everyone knows how empowered! and in charge of her own sexuality! Cyrus is; telling anyone who dares to state the obvious that they are judgy slut-shamers. Why not point your busy twitter fingers at the exploitative industry or the pervy Richardson rather than at those who tell the truth, that “the music business doesn’t give a sh– about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted”?
What O’Connor says is (mostly) right: “Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire.” And she deserves to be listened to and respected, not mocked.