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.
It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of burlesque. I think it’s a boring, overplayed example of what you might call neosexism or retro sexism – meaning that the “vintage” veneer and claims of “subversion,” “irony,” or postfeminism are meant to disguise the fact that it’s just the same old sexism that’s been going on for centuries. When it comes to burlesque, and, for that matter, anything that looks like sexism (see: pole-dancing classes, American Apparel ads, and “feminist pornography“) but is billed as not-sexist-because-women-like-it, the most useful tests to apply are these:
1) Are dudes doing it?
2) Are dudes trying to explain to you that it’s actually feminist?
If dudes aren’t doing it but are simultaneously trying to convince you that it’s liberating, empowering, or progressive, then you can count on a 99% chance of sexist fuckery.
Having published the odd critique here and there, and, more generally, mushed burlesque in to the sexism-in-disguise category with the assumption that a phenomenon centered around women getting naked on stage doesn’t need all that detailed an explanation of the ways in which these performances still objectify women, even if these women are enthusiastically participating in their own objectification and the objectification of others, what I’ve learned is this: It doesn’t actually matter what your critique is and how well you articulate it, because the burlesque community will respond to you in the same way every single time.
As such, I’ve compiled a helpful list of every single response you will definitely get, over and over again, every time you say anything marginally critical of burlesque. I’m not sure what the purpose of this list is except to encourage you to ignore these types of responses because there is not a single thing you can say or do to avoid them, as well as to point out the absolute unwillingness of burlesque defenders to engage in any self-reflection or critique of their fav hobby.
While the arguments can be generally summed up as: “But I like it,” I’ve provided you with more detailed responses as well. Enjoy!
1) You haven’t done enough “research”
I’ve been getting this same response for years. No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances ( though I have watched plenty of awkward amateurs, I have also seen the professionals, who are equally as boring and objectified), or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.
What’s the rule here? How many burlesque performaces do we have to sit through before we are allowed to decide that, not only do we never want to sit through another burlesque performance again, but that we have good reason to avoid doing so in the future?
What this argument boils down to is that those who love burlesque refuse to believe that any other human being might not love the thing they love which, to boil it down even further, is to say: “As both the center of the universe and a petulant child, everyone must like what I like. If they don’t like what I like they are wrong and offend me by forcing me to think about the things I like and why I like them, which makes my head feel funny.”
2) You don’t understand
Similar to the “you haven’t done enough research” response, “you don’t understand” stems from an unwillingness to use (or lack of familiarity with using) one’s brain for the purposes of critical thinking. This response translates to: “You don’t agree with me/like the same things I like and I can’t come up with a logical response to your argument.”
“You clearly don’t understand burlesque” is kind of a hilarious response if you think about it, because burlesque really isn’t very complicated. What they really mean is: “You aren’t inside my head/bubble and I don’t care to acknowledge that which exists outside my head/bubble.” Again, it’s that problem of thinking about things when one doesn’t particularly like thinking about things issue.
3) Anything I do that makes ME feel good is feminist! (FUCKYEAH)
Which is not the same thing as saying you can’t like it. I like all sorts of things that aren’t feminist, despite the fact that I am a feminist. I just don’t pretend like my undereye concealer is some kind of radical movement. Patriarchy does not live in my undereye circles, nor will it go away if I appear less tired/sickly.
4) But there are women in the audience! Women erase sexism!
As we’ve learned from things like “feminist pornography” and pole dancing classes, just because women are doing things that are sexist or rooted in misogynist practices, doesn’t negate the sexism.
Women internalize the male gaze. You probably notice the way you look at women on the street — I do. Women sexualize women’s body parts just as men do, focusing on their bodies and appearances in ways we tend not to with men. When we watch things like film, television, and pornography, as well as when we look at ads, we are looking through a male lens. So we all learn to adopt the male gaze. When women’s bodies are objectified on screen or in American Apparel ads, we learn to see women as objects. We do this regardless of whether or not we are men.
The male gaze is still present even when there are women in the audience. Women go to strip clubs too — does that suddenly make strip clubs feminist? Does that mean the women performing at the strip club aren’t being objectified when women are looking?
This argument makes no sense but is brought up again and again with aplomb as though it’s never occurred to us before and will BLOW OUR MINDS into little tiny pieces.
You are welcome to spend an hour trying to explain the male gaze to these people, but at the end of the day I’m not sure they care. If they did they probably wouldn’t be doing burlesque in the first place.
Repeat after me: The exception does not make the rule.
You can reuse this argument in response to classics such as these:
I appreciate the representation of bodies that aren’t skinny white ones. I really do. BUT women who are not skinny and white are objectified and sexualized too. I find it very odd that people think that, somehow, if you objectify bigger bodies or if you objectify women who aren’t white, this is somehow progressive.
In any case, most women in burlesque are still skinny and white. So whatever.
7) If you don’t like burlesque then don’t go to burlesque shows
Ok, deal. I promise to never intentionally go to a burlesque show ever again so long as you promise not to objectify women in order to sell your “art.” No deal? How about I don’t have to stare at ass while reading my local paper? Or how about every single lefty or feminist fundrasier ever doesn’t include a burlesque performance? Also no? Aw man. I feel like we’re going to have to keep talking about this then, eh?
Local “artist” promoting his “music”
8) You are turning me into an object by talking about the objectification of women
This is a tricky one. So, this is the same as telling people who point out racism that they are being racist. In talking about the objectification of women, we are not, in fact, turning anyone into an object. Pointing out that women’s bodies and body parts are treated as and viewed as things which exist to-be-looked-at doesn’t reinforce that phenomenon — rather it is critical of it.
In making this argument (that those who point out objectification are actually doing the objectifying), you are asking people to stop thinking and to stop speaking up about inequality. Which makes you a reinforcer of the status quo. Bad move!
9) I’m not being objectified because I choose to objectify myself
So, everyone makes choices. Sometimes and often those choices are limited by our place in society and the culture and systems that surround us. Choosing to prostitute oneself, for example, does not make prostitution a feminist industry. It also doesn’t mean that you are responsible for patriarchy or men’s sense of entitlement around access to women’s bodies; but simply inserting the word “choice” into a sentence doesn’t actually change the meaning or root of the action or situation. I “choose” to watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and Orange County!). Does that mean that I’m subverting patriarchy from my couch? Just as “choosing” to post sexy selfies on Instagram doesn’t amount to a feminist act simply because you’ve decided to objectify yourself. It doesn’t make you a terrible person either. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, please refer back to point number three.
10) You have to be on the inside to understand/form a valid critique
Ok, so let me get this straight. In order to be critical of anything (and in order for that critique to be legit), you have to actually be the thing you are critiquing? Does this also mean that women who haven’t been abused or raped can’t be critical of abuse and rape? Does it mean white people can’t be critical of racism? Does it mean men mustn’t say anything negative about prostitution because they themselves aren’t prostitutes? Am I not allowed to say that fast food is bad for you unless I eat a bunch of fast food? Drivers shouldn’t run people over! Oh wait — I’m not a driver, can’t say that :(
This is the dumbest argument ever. If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever. Ex: “Capitalism sucks!” “SHUT UP, YOU AREN’T A CAPITALIST. YOU DON’T GET IT. YOU’RE NOT ON THE INSIDE.” See what I’m getting at? Stop this crap. It’s illogical and anti-intellectual.
I also hate sex, men, vaginas, penises, and joy. Can we move on?
But seriously. I have little to no interest in engaging with this silliness because it’s an anti-feminist, cheap, meaningless trope. Accusing feminists of being man/sex-haters because they speak against the exploitation of women is what sexist, anti-feminist men do. If you want to participate in that sort of thing, again, why are we talking? We clearly have different goals in life — yours being to ensure equality and freedom is never a thing, and mine to work towards women having “human being” status some day.
As a general rule of thumb you will learn, if you ever bother writing anything remotely critical about burlesque (which I doubt you will because, honestly, does anyone really give two shits about burlesque anymore? I feel like a broken record at this point…), that people who like burlesque only like burlesque. They don’t bother engaging with other topics yet suddenly develop a passionate interest in whatever they’ve decided feminism is once someone starts talking about the inherent sexism in taking off one’s clothes and shaking one’s boobs for an audience. Your response should be: If you have no real interest in the feminist movement or in liberating women from patriarchal oppression, why are we talking? And then don’t talk to them anymore unless you get masochistic pleasure from being screamed at by people who once took half a Women’s Studies 101 class and left as soon as they heard the word subjectivity.
1) Read as much as you can about feminist issues and feminist critical thinking … and keep reading. Not just mass media either. In fact, with a very few exceptions, reports about feminists and what they do in the mass media are apt to be oversimplified, sensationalised or outright sexist.
2) Talk to women and mostly listen. Or ask questions. Try not to presuppose. Be curious as opposed to critical – for your own education and our good.
3) Think for yourself but do it mostly by yourself. It’s your work, not the work of feminists, to educate yourself. Don’t come to us knowing nothing and acting as if you know everything. We are most often treated by men as if we are in need of their advice and direction and we might just be a little sensitive about this. It’s YOUR job to treat us as true equals – because we are – and because when it comes to women’s lives we know more than you do. It’s true that we’ll make lots of mistakes – just like you. It’s not your job to tell us what they are. We are an exploited and oppressed sex class and it is up to us to define the terms of our own liberation.
4) There are differences among feminists in terms of our analyses and the strategies and tactics we decide are appropriate for our own liberation. Choose those whom you wish to support and then support them by advocating amongst men. Keep your critiques of individual feminists or feminist perspectives to yourselves. As a result of our exploitation and oppression there is horizontal fighting and even bullying between us sometimes. Leave this to us to sort out. Your “contributions” to the fight only make matters worse, divide us further, force us to choose between our supporters, make male opinions the issue instead of feminist opinions and generally stall our efforts. If you think you have some brilliant insight or thought that no woman has had that can save our movement or send us unerringly in the right direction – I don’t believe you. But feel free to send us a secret message via a feminist friend.
5) It’s a fact that you will hear some women/feminists say things that sound negative toward men and about men. Leave it alone. It is the result of our experiences of violence and oppression. There isn’t one single woman who isn’t placed somewhere on the continuum of violence against women either as a direct or vicarious victim. Let us deal with it and accept that a generations-long system of oppression and violence has done its work on some of us. Wait for us. And don’t take it personally – it just makes you sound defensive and it lengthens the time it takes for each of us to come to terms with our lives and the lives of our sisters. Be particularly attentive to this with women whom you know have experienced violence and those of us who work with them.
6) If you feel divided from women and excluded from feminism sometimes, for gawd sakes deal with it. Women are divided from men and excluded from social, cultural, economic and political life in a thousand ways. We have to deal with it. You should be able to do that much. And use it to motivate your actions on behalf of our liberation.
7) If you’re afraid to stand up against sexism, male violence against women and the exploitation of women – how do you think we feel? Speak up and speak out.
As I’ve said before, when it comes to men being feminist allies, “show, don’t tell.”
Now, more than ever before, feminists should be skeptical of men who claim the title of “feminist” or “feminist ally.” We’ve learned a number of things (one would hope) from the HugoSchwyzerdebacle – one of those things being that we should be skeptical of any man who claims to be an authority on feminism (particularly when these men have a history of abuse, but in general as well).
In an interview with activist and writer, John Stoltenberg, published here at Feminist Current this week, he responds to the question of where “pro-feminist men” fit into our movement with this:
“First of all I don’t think any man of conscience—whether self-identified as pro-feminist or not—can or should presume to speak in women’s place or ‘decide what feminism should be about.’ That’s just a baseline principle.”
You would think this would be fairly obvious. But it’s clear, based on the behaviour of many self-described “feminist allies” or “pro-feminist men,” that they are not respecting this foundational principle.
I, of course, see this often as men try to comment here on this site by authoritatively stating “AS A FEMINIST______,” demanding that we lend him more credibility in these discussions because he self-identifies as an ally. These men tend to be become quickly irate when you tell them that their opinion on feminism or what is wrong with feminist ideology isn’t of much concern. This behaviour, quite quickly, outs them as not an ally at all, despite their frustrated insistence.
This past week I’ve had some decidedly off-putting encounters with self-described “allies,” due specifically to discussions around Hugo Schwyzer. Some men joined in on efforts to harass and bully feminists online who they felt hadn’t responded correctly to the Schwyzer issue/incidents, criticizing them for having been duped by a manipulative sociopath. While certainly people, feminists too, should be held to account for their actions and many have admitted and apologized for their failure to condemn Schwyzer sooner, it is not men’s place to demand accountability from feminists. It is their place to demand accountability from other men.
A particularly frustrating example of this came from an interaction with a man who has been covering the various abuses and decidedly unfeminist behaviours of Schwzyer over the past year or so. I’m not angry he’s covering this, at all — in fact, as a man, what he is doing is trying to hold another man accountable for his actions. If he left it at that, it would be perfectly fine.
The problem, for me, comes when those efforts lean too closely towards righteousness and become authoritative or directive. I appreciate men doing the work of holding other men to account — I do not appreciate men telling feminists how they are failing at doing feminism.
I suggested, in response, that “perhaps as someone who self-describes as ‘ally’ it isn’t your job to decide what feminists are doing ‘wrong,’” but the comment was ignored. Which is fine. It’s Twitter. We can’t expect or demand people engage with us on a such an unproductive (in terms of having full, thoughtful discussions — I’m sorry but 140 characters simply doesn’t allow for it, for the most part) and at times overwhelming medium.
I know many men who truly are allies to the feminist movement. But they don’t refer to themselves as such. Simply, it’s obvious based on their behaviour, work, and their interactions with feminists and the movement. They don’t pat themselves on the backs for being allies, nor do they admonish feminists for “not doing enough” or simply because they don’t agree with their various ideologies.
In the midst of finger-pointing (of which, I have to say, there has been a lot of with regard to the Schwyzer issue), when it comes to male “allies,” (and, I would argue, feminists as well) the finger should be pointed squarely at the perpetrator. But also, for men in feminism, a great deal of the work involves looking at their own behaviours, as men, and the ways they roam the world, equipped with male privilege. My friend (and feminist ally) Reece said to me recently that what he’d realized in trying to be an ally was that, at the end of the day he could understand that “because of patriarchy, women have to live in almost constant fear of being raped, even in what may seem like a totally safe place — but I can’t say I understand what that feels like.” Part of being an ally is knowing that you will never fully understand what it’s like to be female, or brown, or poor in this world, if you are not (though you can still work against those oppressive systems).
My desire in writing this is not to “call out” any individual man in particular, but to remind men that the word “mansplaining” came in to being because it’s something women experience so often. Not because men can’t and shouldn’t have opinions or that they must be silent — but because men fall so easily into the role of “expert” — because they’ve learned they are the “experts” — and seem to expect cookies and back pats for doing the bare minimum in terms of being pro-feminist. I’ve fallen into this myself, being so caught off guard by a man actually saying something feministish that I am too easily willing to trust him.
While “show, don’t tell” should be the basic rule, my friend and sister, Elizabeth Pickett, came up with a set of more elaborate and specific guidelines for men who wish to ally with feminists. I think it is excellent and have published it on this site. Please do take a look.
“Outed” by Australian film-maker Kitty Green, she says: “It’s his movement and he hand-picked the girls. He hand-picked the prettiest girls because the prettiest girls sell more papers. The prettiest girls get on the front page… that became their image, that became the way they sold the brand.”
All feminists who are smart and unfooled by the self-objectification-is-empowerment crap and who haven’t come down with a bad case of burlesque-brain like the rest of the third wave also knew better than to fall for the Femen garbage. So now is the time we all join together and rub this news obnoxiously in the faces of every dumbo who fell for this crap. WE TOLD YOU AND WE ARE RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG. FOREVER. Oh do we sound gloaty? Do you not like that? DON’T CARE. Feminism needs smarty-pants gloaters more than porn-loving FEMINISM IS ABOUT LOOKING HOT AND SEXY AND DOING WHAT WE WANT FUCK YEAH mush-brains. Also! Feminism isn’t here to give you a boner. If it is giving you a boner you may want to question whether or not that’s because this “feminism” is actually porn in a verysexy nurse outfit shoddy disguise.
Green, who made a documentary about Femen (which is currently screening at the Venice Film Festival), lead her to discover Svyatski’s influence over the group. He sounds like a real gem, too.
The Independent reports that “Initially, Mr Svyatski refused to allow Ms Green to film him but she was determined that he should feature” and quoted Green as saying: “It was a big moral thing for me because I realized how this organization was run. He was quite horrible with the girls. He would scream at them and call them bitches.” “He is Femen,” she said.
Svyatski admits, in the film, that maybe somewhere in his “deep self-conscious,” he started Femen to “get girls” and seems to think the women are incapable of doing feminist activism without his leadership.
Creepily, one Femen activist in the film is said to have compared the relationship between the women and Svyatski as being like a kind of “Stockholm syndrome.” You know, like when a bond forms between victim and abuser? Or like how people who have been kidnapped develop an emotional connection to their captor?
New headline: “Abusive man sells new brand of feminism under banner of boobs. All media falls for it, as per usual.”
Subhead: “Dear media, stop selling us out. Love, actual feminism.”
Pay close attention to this one, defenders of “Go Topless Day,” Slutwalk, “feminist porn,” burlesque, and sex-work-is-an-empowering-and-sexy-choice-for-sexy-empowered-women. Feminism isn’t a sexy thing to look at. Nor is it a brand. Feminism isn’t fun and sexy despite the fact that many fun and sexy feminists exist. The fun and sexy part is maybe a sidebar, but it isn’t the main event. The main event is a lot of decidedly unsexy activism and law-changing and fighting and hard conversations. The main event is about ending violence against women and rape and incest and objectification and harassment and the practice of men paying to abuse women and girls under the guise of free speech and all that very, very unsexy stuff that dudes don’t like taking pictures of or jacking off to.
Oh man. I just love this video of Kathleen Hanna explaining the origin of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I recently discovered via The Frisky.
Hanna’s rendition of the song is amaaaazing, of course, but what I really loved was the way she was able to point out how ridiculous so many dudes are when it comes to understanding and actually giving a shit about sexism.
Along with the story of how the classic Nirvana song came to be, Hanna shares that, while on tour with her band, in the 90s, she had to get a job as a strip club in order to get enough money together to fix the van that would enable the band to go on tour.
At about the five minute mark, Hanna talks about having to open for a band called “Mutton Chops,” whose lead singer came up to her to ask what “guys can do to help you feminists.”
It was later that night that this band came in to the very strip club Hanna was working at. So she ends up having to strip for these dudes who had, hours earlier, faked a kind of vague interest in feminism until it became inconvenient (i.e when they’re dicks came into question).
Isn’t it all too predictable? Oh yeah, yeah, feminism. Totally into it. So… Strip club?
Sunday was, apparently, “Go Topless Day." According to media coverage of the event in Vancouver, the purpose of the march is to "stand up for women’s right to go topless in public."
CBC’s headline read: “Topless women march in Vancouver for gender equality,” which naturally led me to wonder what, exactly, about fighting for our “right” to bare our breasts in public had to do with gender equality.
First things first. In Canada, women won the right to bare their breasts in public in 1996, so the claims that this march is about gaining rights is a little misleading. Spokesperson, Denise Belisle, said the women participating in the event in Vancouver were fighting for women in other places where going topless isn’t legal: “For the women who do want to go topless, they should have that option. They do here in Vancouver, that’s great, but not everywhere.” How, exactly, women parading topless down Robson Street, in Vancouver, where it is already legal, impacts the law in other places is unclear.
Second, it seems relevant to mention that Go Topless Day is, as The National Post reported, “organized and promoted by the Raelians, a UFO cult founded by former French journalist Claude Vorlihan (i.e. a dude), author of ‘Extraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet.’” The National Post seems to stand out as an exception, calling the event “a publicity stunt,” unlike the many other media outlets who placed it under the banner of “gender rights.” Though this information should be cause for skepticism, in terms of the credibility or relevance to feminism, the media seems to be taking it quite seriously. It’s no strange coincidence that news outlets seem most interested in covering “gender rights” when we’re dealing with either Slutwalk or female nudity.
It is true that there is a double-standard. Aside from the douche-factor, people tend not to pay much attention to men who go shirtless in public places. Women, on the other hand, are likely to be gawked at, harassed, cat-called, or treated as though they are doing something socially inappropriate.
Now, as far as “gender rights” go, near the bottom of the list of concerns I have about inequality is my “right” to go topless. There are very few moments in my life wherein I feel I would be freer or cooler if only I could bare my breasts. That said, the reasons behind the fact that women don’t go topless in public places as casually as men, do matter.
Breasts are sexualized in our culture. In general, women’s bodies and body parts are fetishized in a way that men’s are not. This is why people get so worked up when women breastfeed in public. Because breasts are, we’ve been made to believe, reserved for male sexual fantasies. Feeding babies with sexy sex toys doesn’t fit very well with that notion.
It is for this same reason that The Province covered Sunday’s march with the headline: “Everyone’s a photographer on Go Topless Day in Vancouver.” Because, obviously, a bunch of disgusting pieces of shit felt that a march that (were we not so terribly simple-minded and misguided) could have been about women’s right not to be objectified should actually be about objectifying women.
The National Post reported that “at least one participant had to hold the crowds back shouting ‘You’re too close,’” because, of course, female nudity is an invitation to men to behave rapily. Men think they have the right to access women in public spaces regardless of how clothed we are, but they particularly believe that women’s naked bodies exist for them. What else could they possibly be for?
Of course, the message that this double-standard is sexist (I actually don’t think that was the message, or really that there was any message at all — but let’s pretend for argument’s sake) failed because those behind the march don’t quite get it. The chant, “free your breasts, free your mind,” tells me that the GoTopless folks have avoided looking at the root of the issue. There is little that can be changed at the surface, particularly when we we don’t understand why the inequality exists in the first place. There is also little that can be changed, with regard to the objectification of women, simply by “freeing one’s mind.”
Belisle, said: “It’s an education for men. Men are learning and they’re learning to be more respectful.” Of course, as demonstrated by the behaviour of the men witnessing the event, the exact opposite was achieved. Men did not learn to be more respectful, nor did they learn anything about women’s rights or “gender equality.” The march merely reinforced their belief that women’s naked bodies equate to pornography — they are to be looked at for the purposes of male pleasure.
I find it consistently sad and lazy (many days I simply don’t have the energy to feel angry and am certainly not surprised) that the media and the general public refuses to engage withfeminism”gender rights” unless it can somehow be pornified.
Lovelace was hard to watch. It was hard to be reminded that there was a time when women couldn’t legally testify against their husbands. It was hard to watch a woman trying to escape from an abusive man, but have nowhere to go. It was hard to watch yet another woman’s trust and love for a man be repaid with hatred and violence. But it felt refreshing to see Hollywood deal with the sex industry in a way that didn’t make light of, glorify, or sexualize women’s experiences in it. John Stoltenberg wrote: “cinematic justice has never been so bittersweet.”
Deep Throat holds a significant place in pop culture, pinpointing the beginnings of porn culture. It was seen as fun, sexy entertainment then and is seen more as kitsch today — continuing to be, more often, the butt of a joke rather than a reminder of the brutal reality that is misogyny.
Today the project of mainstreaming pornography that began back in the 70s is complete. Hipster culture loves vintage porn. We’ve brought it back via burlesque and pin-ups, as well as in fashion photography. Our larger cultural attitude towards porn is that it’s an ordinary part of life. Objectification is something fun we do at parties, porn is decorative — something we put up on walls or play in the background at parties. It’s something that brave, open-minded, sexually liberal women do. Feminism had something going there for a while in a solid critique of pornography during the 80s (galvanized, in part, by the publication of Linda’s memoir, Ordeal). But we lost the plot on that one, handing porn over to liberals, capitalists, and pop culture.
Feminism has come a long way and so has porn culture. No longer relegated to dark theatres, no longer a subculture or something that’s purely masturbatory — it’s a look.
We’ve all seen enough American Apparel ads to know that grainy, soft core porn style that’s supposed to remind us of the good old days before breast implants and hairless crotches, as though it’s more ethical to objectify women with real breasts. We don’t see it as sexism, we see it as a throwback. Or art. Or irony. Or something.
But hair or no hair, real or fake breasts, the only thing that’s really changed since the 70s, when Deep Throat came out, is that porn has successfully woven it’s way into our everyday lives. It’s our fashion, our entertainment, our celebrity culture, it’s in the bars and at the parties we go to. That the foundation for our current reality was built, in part, on the abuse and exploitation of this one woman, Linda Lovelace, is not insignificant.
Linda Lovelace was called the poster girl for the sexual revolution, if that tells you anything about the sexual revolution… Women really got screwed on that one (pun acknowledged). Informed of our liberation, we became free to become the public, rather than just private, sexual playthings of men. What was different now that we were “liberated” was that we had to like it. We had to be turned on by our own objectification and enjoy whatever male culture deemed sexy. Our own “liberation” was used against us, to shame us into subordination — albeit with smiles on our faces, moaning and groaning in feigned ecstasy.
Most media outlets covered the film with an appropriate level disgust for and critique of the reality of Deep Throat, the popularization of which turned out to be, essentially, a celebration of abuse and exploitation. “This is the Linda that the world didn’t see and who, even as her body became a public spectacle, nursed her wounds in private,” reads a review in The New York Times. How often do male fantasies come at the expense of women’s lives?
In The Week, Monika Bartyzel argues that Lovelace failed to capture the extent of the abuse inflicted on Linda, saying that the directors “frame Chuck and Linda as some pair of doomed, star-crossed lovers by ending on the note that Chuck died exactly three months after Linda on July 22, 2002.” Bartyzel points out that Chuck began abusing Linda and prostituting her even before they were married, though the film shows the abuse beginning on their wedding night when he rapes her. As grim and as upsetting as it was to watch the film, the reality was actually much worse.
Stoltenberg points this out as well, saying:
The movie makers left out the worst of what was done to Linda, which was abominable and included forced bestiality. Had they not, I have no doubt, Lovelace would have been not only unreleasable but unwatchable.
Even the most tepid version of reality is almost unbearable.
Gloria Steinem, who befriended and supported Linda when she came out about the abuse and wrote the article, “The Real Linda Lovelace,” for Ms. Magazine in 1980, said something similar after attending a screening of the film — that Linda’s life with Traynor and in porn was much more violent than Lovelace let on.
Yet liberals and even some feminists are unsatisfied with that truth. Desperately clinging to the “empowerment” narrative sold to them first by the porn-makers themselves, back in the 70s, and again by third wave feminism today, they continue the victim-blaming that began so many decades ago, questioning Linda’s credibility and asking why she returned to the industry years later. (Newsflash: she needed the money.) They say, over and over again, that Linda eventually rejected the anti-porn movement years later, as though that somehow compares to or negates the abuse and exploitation she experienced in the industry.
In a rather convoluted review at Art Forum, writer Sarah Nicole Prickett accuses the film of painting Linda as a victim (well, I’m afraid she was), calling it “pro-family, anti-porn-industry propaganda.” Angry at the lack of nuance and the perpetuation of simplistic tropes, Prickett sees the film as, “at surface, a morality play” which falls back on the “happy hooker/sad hooker dualism.”
Prickett’s main source of frustration seems to be that the filmmakers painted Linda as a “good girl.”
In 1972, Linda found millions of Americans willing to think any woman would believe that her clitoris was in her throat, and in 1980 she entered a world ready to accept that a woman regretted, without complexity, every sex act she’d ever committed. But this year—what gives? Must a heroine still be proven innocent?
A piece inThe Atlantic reminds us that things are oh so different in today’s porn industry — full of fairy dust and ponies. Whatever you do, make Linda’s story the exception, not the rule, the writer warns us.
Somehow, no matter how many tales of abuse and exploitation we hear, no matter what we actually see in the world around us, we are loathe to point the finger at the perpetrator.
The liberals are angry, no doubt. But not at the gang rapes or the beatings inflicted. Rather they’re mad that Linda wasn’t the “sexual revolutionary” society wanted her to be. Mad that she wasn’t the “happy hooker” or the “carefree if drug-addicted superfreak” that would be so much more palatable (and more titillating) on screen.
We’ve learned to look for nuance at the expense of truth. Grey areas and character flaws don’t alter reality to the point where we can’t say that which is glaringly obvious. We remain so uncomfortable with the victimization of women that we look away — pointing towards Andrea Dworkin and vilifying Catharine MacKinnon, women who supported Linda and fought tirelessly against male violence. Whether or not Linda remained a staunch anti-porn campaigner for life doesn’t change her history in porn and her experiences at the hands of abusive men in her life.
Feminism is an easier target, to be sure. And perhaps if you silence the voices pointing out oppression, it will cease to be a reality for you. Of course the privilege of ignorance will never save those who bear the brunt of our collective fantasy.
A lot of folks have been posting about a “forgotten plus-sized pin-up” named Hilda who was created in the 1950s as she’s more full-figured than we’re used to seeing in sexualized images of women. Hilda was recently rediscoverd by the mainstream and now, it seems, feminist outlets everywhere are celebrating her image, mostly because she’s plus-sized (an expression I hate, for the record).
They’re not critiquing the fact that she is sexualized and objectified in the exact same way as the thin models; they’re just applauding their efforts on being superficially diverse.
Feminist blogs are celebrating Hilda’s image and calling her “beautiful” and “inspiring.” Meanwhile, those of us who routinely critique sexist displays of women in mainstream culture are left on the sidelines confused because we are well aware that the pin-up girl image helps facilitate women’s dehumanization. Okay—maybe I didn’t get the memo, but why, as feminists, are we celebrating the pin-up?
Ok, I get it. We live in a culture where we claim to be post-everything. So, we pat ourselves on the back, acting like we’re so progressive because we hang up sexualized images of large women on our walls instead of thin women. Damn—so many activists!
Pin-ups were not created for women, no matter how many women’s eyes grace the model’s body. I mean, they’re called PIN-UPS. How much more objectifying can you get? They were created for the heteronormative male gaze. The fact that women keep trying to appropriate heterosexist male culture for their own liberation demonstrates a deeper problem.
We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.
That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.
When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.
This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.
If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.
The idea of a woman’s (sometimes nameless) body being on display for public consumption, ironically repackaged as “sexy” and “liberating” for women today, is merely another hint that feminism is being co-opted by patriarchy. I guess this is what happens when the most privileged, women are allowed to decide how feminist sexual empowerment looks. I’m afraid I just don’t understand how we can simultaneously critique sexist media culture, but then subscribe to the idea of pin-ups as feminist.
“Pin-up” images conjure up nostalgia for an era where women were disciplined to be “in their places” and had to comply with men dominating women. This is another example of how “ironic” sexism and hipster culture is impacting women and feminism.
The pin-up girl image replicates some of the most damaging, clichéd, commercialized stereotypes of women’s sexualities — that we exist to invite the male, heterosexual gaze, that we need to “perform” sexiness publicly in order to be viewed as authentic sexual women — that we cannot conjure up any authentic sexual feelings without catering to a man’s desire first.
This kind of binary logic is not liberating. For example, I keep seeing this image posted everywhere:
The issue is not body size—the issue is that beauty standards (regardless of what they look like) define a woman’s worth. Since these “beauty standards” are being created through a white supremacist patriarchy, they will inevitably be exclusionary and limiting. Many fail to realize how exclusionary and limiting the actual concept of a “beauty standard” is — we are stuck in a perpetual battle over which expression of beauty is the most “real” or “beautiful.” The idea that a “real” woman is defined through surface-level measurements, like skin tone, hair length, and body size is merely a manifestation of living in an uncritical neoliberal white supremacist patriarchy where women still do not have access to “defining” themselves.
In fact, I would argue that women are not even viewed as sentient human beings anymore, and the pin-up image helps solidify women’s dehumanization, alongside contemporary porn culture.
In reality, women have become units of measurement to help bolster men’s masculinity; therefore, women cannot benefit from these pin-up images as men do. In fact, it’s impossible to do so in a heterosexist patriarchy.
Even if you individually feel aroused by pin-up images of women as a woman, she is not meant to be your source of liberation. She is meant to be a symbolic tool of men’s oppression towards women. Her image is used as a discursive lesson: that life as a woman can be so easy if you just follow the gendered rules. All you have to do is flaunt your body and use your commodified femininity, and you will be celebrated. What better celebration can there be than men AND women gazing at your sexualized body and hanging your image on their wall for their needs?
We cannot conflate women’s natural sex drives with commercialized institutionalized mass-produced images of “sexy” women by men. If we do, we are being bamboozled into believing that women’s liberation can ever be *celebrated* in a patriarchal sexist culture that takes every opportunity to dehumanize women.
There’s an irony inherent in these “celebrations” of women’s bodies—an irony that’s worth paying attention to. Be suspicious of a culture that has to keep convincing you that you’re free and liberated while profiting off of your enslavement and oppression.
Remember, the pin-up is a distorted expression of men’s sexualities, not women’s. We have yet to have an expression of sexuality because we’re still trying to figure out what sexuality means for us. We cannot “reclaim” or “celebrate” women’s sexuality or bodies because being able to “reclaim” something means that you know what state it is currently in, or who currently possesses it. As women, if we are not aware that our sexuality does not belong to us currently, we will only be reclaiming and celebrating an expression and an image that was designed to keep us oppressed. In other words, in celebrating the pin-up, we are celebrating our own dehumanization.
Now, we can either start engaging in real feminist conversations about the pin-up, or we can just keep staring at the two dimensional images of women, who don’t speak, don’t think, don’t move, don’t eat, but smile.
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.
This interview was done for and posted (in French) on Isabelle Alonso’s website. Isabelle is a French TV personality and ex-president of the “Chiennes de garde”, a well-known feminist group in France. The interview was conducted and translated by Sporenda.
1) The blog, Feminist Current, that you launched last year, is attracting quite a bit of attention. It won “Best Feminism Blog” in Canada and has quite a few followers. Do you explain this success only by the quality of your writing or by a increased interest in feminism?
M: Well, I can’t say for sure. I get the feeling, based on the climate in feminism these days and from connecting with other feminists online, from around the world, that there is a lot of frustration towards and disappointment in the way feminism is represented by more mainstream or maybe third wave sources. The analysis is often quite superficial and it’s become acceptable to advance this sort of derisive attitude towards both radical feminism and the second wave. The smearing of the second wave and of radical feminism, more often than not, is unfounded and comes from those unfamiliar with the theory and the history of the movement. There’s a real lack of critical thinking and an unwillingness to make larger connections around things like the mainstreaming of porn and the sex industry to women’s status in the world and violence against women.
There’s also a kind of bullying (I realize that’s an overused term these days, so perhaps it might not feel like the ideal descriptor to some, but it sure does feel like bullying to me…) that goes on and has become acceptable online, in particular. You have to really toe the party line or risk getting blackballed. It discourages honest conversations and critical thinking. There are these trigger words (often various words attached to “phobia” or “shaming”– “whorephobia,” or “kink-shaming,” for example) that are thrown around and, once uttered, the conversation is done and people are accused of being some kind of “phobic” regardless of what’s actually being argued. Critique is repositioned as “judgement.” People seem to conflate critiques of larger systems of power with critiques of individuals and individual choices. You know, to be critical of the sex industry isn’t to be critical of prostitutes — it’s to be critical of male culture and inequality and oppression. It’s a real problem as well as an excellent way to squash critical thinking and scare people into accepting certain movement mantras and language without thinking or questioning it. It’s a bit cult-like.
So I think when I started writing about feminism online (rather naively, I must admit) back in 2010 and was critical of things that you’re not allowed to be critical of in mainstream feminism — things like burlesque, porn, stripping, prostitution, etc. — maybe people felt a little relieved? That isn’t to say that I’m the only one writing about this stuff, but I know that feeling of relief that comes when you’ve been uncomfortable or unsure about something but you aren’t sure why, and everyone else seems to be ok with it so maybe you should be ok with it too, and then you read something where someone really articulates exactly what was bothering you and it’s like, THANK GOD. You know, there are so few feminists blogging about the Nordic model, for example (in a positive way, anyway). When I learned about it, first from Trisha Baptie, and then from other feminist organizations and Aboriginal women’s groups, and I was like, yeah this is so obvious — this makes sense. But people have been taught the politically correct stance is legalization. Abolition isn’t fashionable.
There’s an incredible backlash when you are critical of the sex industry. It’s not the popular position to take these days — we’ve been so indoctrinated with this idea that if you’re critical of the sex industry, you’re critical of sex (when in reality it’s the opposite) so it’s not an easy thing to advocate for in public. You will really get shit on. So that probably discourages a lot of feminists from supporting that model and abolition in general, publicly. The more of us come out and say this stuff publicly, though, the more other women will feel free and encouraged to explore these ideas without fear of attack and being shut down. They’ll feel like, oh, ok, maybe I don’t have to like porn in order to pretend to be sexually liberated – maybe my discomfort with prostitution is justified – maybe I’m not crazy. So I think that’s why Feminist Current is growing in popularity. I think maybe it’s just a relief to see this kind of discourse happening publicly and see that other women and men want to get on side.
2) From what one reads, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) are big in Canada. Some of them visit your site to attack your posts and try to advance their position – that men are the real victims and are being victimized by modern women and feminists.
Why is it, in your opinion, that there are so many MRAs in Canada? What do you get about these men based on what they post on your site?
M: Oh gosh, I have no idea why Men’s Rights Movement and MRAs are so big in Canada! I think it’s partly that they’ve found a place in AVFM and CAFE, for example. So the existence of those groups, who are putting forth these ridiculously warped and anti-feminist ideas and manipulated statistics, likely reinforce the idea that it’s acceptable for men to go public about their hatred towards and fear of feminists and the feminist movement.
The MRAs who comment on my site (or try to comment on my site) are mostly just kind of confused. They don’t understand what feminism is or what the feminist movement is about. They say the same things over and over again — they think feminism is about advocating for a matriarchy or that it’s all about women having power over men. They really don’t get the idea of patriarchy and the fact that it’s systemic — that it isn’t about individuals. Their arguments are always about how “Men are victims too!” or that men are the real victims in this world, not women. And it’s like, yeah, of course. Of course lots of individual men experience violence and suffer throughout their lives. And, yes, some men are oppressed on a systemic level too, via race and class. But the idea behind feminism is not that everything is rad for all individual men – it’s that women experience oppression on a systemic basis as a result of being born into and socialized based on their assigned social class of “woman.” Because in our society there are two social categories when it comes to gender – men and women – and based on the fact that we’ve decided, as a culture, that women are “feminine” and men are “masculine” and that masculinity equals power, dominance, strength, etc. whereas femininity equals submission, weakness, passivity, etc. So sure, an individual woman might have a specific kind of circumstantial power over an individual man — for example, if she is white and part of the upper class – but that doesn’t change the fact that, in our world, women as a class are subordinate to men as a group and, as a result, are prostituted, abused, murdered, raped, objectified, harassed etc. specifically because they are women and in a way that’s gendered.
MRAs pretend feminists think that being a man is consistently this amazing, perfect thing, but the fact is that patriarchy isn’t necessarily “good” for men either. Masculinity is shitty. It means you’re taught to be violent and aggressive and that you can’t have feelings, that you can’t ever be vulnerable or weak. I feel so sad for men who never learn it’s ok to have and talk about their emotions and be vulnerable. It’s awful.
This is also why things like homophobia happen — you know, because gay men aren’t properly performing masculinity. Part of the thing about masculinity is that you fuck women. If you don’t do that, you’re messing with the whole system. Women are the fuckable ones — Men are the fuckers, women are the fuckees, as it were. So when men are having sex with other men or women are having sex with other women, it challenges that system and that’s one of the reasons some people hate or fear gay people.
Fitting in to these two categories is hard. It’s not natural. We shouldn’t have to be either feminine or masculine. To fit in takes work. It’s bad for everyone. I mean, it’s worse for women in many ways, but really, it’s not easy for anyone.
3) You have underlined that, for women and feminists bloggers, posting their views on the internet can be kind of a double-edged sword, as it’s also the place where extreme misogyny is being expressed, not just through huge amounts of pornography but also through vicious attacks, harassment and threats.
Have you experienced this “free for all” on women? What does it say about men’s feelings toward women and feminists?
M: Well, yes, I experience a lot of vitriol online. Especially because of the things I write about the sex industry, as I mentioned earlier. And it doesn’t just come from men. In fact, I think women sometimes feel freer to attack me in really vicious and hateful ways – even sexist ways (you know, calling me “bitch,” “cunt,” etc.) because they’re women and so it’s ok, somehow? I mean, I get attacked by men too, all the time, but some of the worst has come from other women.
I think maybe this happens because they don’t want to name the perpetrator… It’s often women who aren’t ready or willing to acknowledge that men are the ones out there who are perpetrating violence against not only women, but also against trans folks and, actually, against other men too.
Instead they target me. I’m an easy target. You know, I’m out there, as public person, I’m not protected by an institution, I don’t work for anyone, really, I work for myself. And they know that when they start a pile on, others will be eager to join in. It’s funny, in a way. I mean I’m not exactly raking in tons of cash blogging about feminism. It’s not as though I’m the one committing violence against women, but maybe it’s easier to focus on me than it is to focus on those with real power in this world. Maybe the reality is too hard for people to face. It’s a harder problem to address – widespread violence against women and misogyny. So they tweet nasty things at me instead. I don’t know. You’d think they could come up with something more productive to do.
People want very much to believe that things are ok. That’s why there’s such a concerted effort to pretend as though sexism can be empowering. It’s easier. You don’t have to change anything or confront any of the difficult truths about what’s behind the sex industry and how deeply misogynist it is. You don’t have to acknowledge that, you know, there are probably a lot of men in your life who’ve bought sex and who watch porn and probably your boyfriend goes to strip clubs and tells you that you’re supposed to be ok with it because “all guys do it” and “you’re just jealous” or whatever other b.s. we’re fed with regard to accepting sexist behavior from the men in our lives – so we feel like we have no other choice.
We love our boyfriends and they watch porn. What do you do? Especially when your boyfriend and the world at large keeps telling you that all men do this and it’s normal and that you should be ok with it. Fuck that. First of all, all men don’t watch porn. Maybe most do, but not all of them. Secondly, in no way do you have to be ok with it. We’re told we have no other option. No alternatives. So instead we try to cope. Things like “sex-positive feminism” are coping mechanisms — so, you can pretend you’re empowered as an individual, that women in prostitution just love fucking strangers all day, that you’re objectifying yourself, rather than being objectified. If we can trick ourselves into believing the sex industry empowers us then maybe it will become true! We’re desperately trying to make “good” that which is not “good”. We’re grasping for power anywhere we can.
I think that’s much of what this burlesque-is-empowering-for-women thing is about, for example. You know, it can feel good to get that kind of positive attention. I get that. I’ve been there. Everyone likes to feel desired. But the folks who are doing burlesque and calling it “feminist” or “empowering” aren’t honest about that. They aren’t honest about what’s motivating them to strip onstage for an audience. They want to pretend that it’s some kind of nouveau-feminism when of course, it’s just the same old thing. We’re used to seeing women as pretty objects to be looked at. Getting strangers to watch women strip isn’t anything new… Women get positive reinforcement for shaking their tits on stage and men are stoked that this is (supposedly) feminism! It’s empowering, they’ve been told. So it’s cool, right? I mean, no wonder people are into it. It’s no mystery.
Maybe we’ve become so hopeless about the feminist movement, because there’s still so far to go, that many women have just given up and are, like, ok, let’s just make the best of this. So we end up with “feminist porn”, burlesque, prostitution as “empowerment”. It’s about giving up on something more, something better — real power that isn’t temporary and that isn’t based on our ability to get men to pay in order to objectify us or to get positive reinforcement because we’re shaking our tits around on stage. It’s really sad, actually.
4) One of your most commented on posts underlined that, based on a recent study done in Sweden, the Nordic model not only reduced prostitution (by 85%) but seems to have reduced violence against prostitutes as well (48% less rapes, 38% less physical assaults according to the prostituted women who were polled).
This goes against the prediction made by the pro-prostitution advocate –: that the penalization of johns would increase violence against prostituted women.
Not only did the media fail to relay the results of this study but a “sex worker union,” — Prosentre — even used it to assert that the Nordic model did not work, since prostitutes were verbally insulted more often now (because the johns didn’t dare physically assault them). What do you think of this silencing and twisting of facts by the media and pro-prostitution groups?
M: There is a vested interest in maintaining and promoting the sex industry as “ok” or as simply another form of work. Mostly this happens (obviously) because the sex industry is highly profitable. We live in a capitalist system, which means that anything that is profitable is defended vehemently, at the expense of human lives and of the planet, as we see via the push for pipelines in Canada. I mean, we all know full well that pipelines will inevitably be an environmental disaster, yet these projects move forward despite known consequences. Capitalism is a very powerful system. If it weren’t for capitalism, the sex industry wouldn’t exist. At least not in the same form as it does today and to the extent that it does.
“Sex worker unions” have been shown, thanks to journalists like Julie Bindel, to be little more than lobby groups for the industry. They aren’t about protecting the human rights of women, they’re about promoting the sex industry as being like any other “safe” industry – “a job like any other,” they say. But in the end it’s about profit (at the expense of women) and, of course, male pleasure.
Places like New Zealand are often used as examples by sex work advocates of how legalizing prostitution “works” – but all that’s changed in countries where they’ve legalized or completely decriminalized prostitution is that there’s more prostitution (and more trafficking). Women in the industry are still raped, abused, and murdered. Prostitutes still go missing. What it does is to create a two-tiered system, where a few very privileged women “get” to work indoors in legal brothels (which we are told is safer, despite the fact that women are abused and raped and murdered indoors as well), and everyone else – women of colour, women with mental health and addiction issues, illegal immigrants, trafficked women, etc., still work in an illegal market, most of which continues to be run by organized crime. The danger is still there and it’s still there because of male demand. The only real way to stop violence against prostituted women and to stop the exploitation is to criminalize the men who are doing the harm. Demand is what keeps the industry going, so curbing demand is the most obvious way to stop the exploitation.
The industry finds a few spokespeople – women who will say: “Oh this is great! Everything is fine!” and then those women are touted as representative of all prostituted women. It’s quite disgusting, actually. Because those people know full well that most of the women in the industry aren’t happy and want out. They know full well that the silent women, the women who don’t get to speak their truth and to be public about their lives and experiences, are trapped in the industry – in massage parlours, trapped by poverty, addiction, abusive boyfriends/pimps, etc. To want to keep your job, I get, but I don’t get throwing all these women under the bus in the process.
5) Advocates of prostitution and porn call these Nordic reforms “anti-sex” and “moralistic” but it’s interesting to note that these laws are passed in countries (Sweden, Norway, Iceland) that are known to have the most open, relaxed and non repressive attitude about sex. Your comments on that?
M: Yeah that’s a funny one. I mean, if we’re talking about free sexuality and a real liberated vision of sex and sexuality, you’d think you’d be advocating for consensual sex. But prostitution isn’t about female desire or “enthusiastic consent”, which is supposedly what we’re touting in feminism these days. I mean, sure, sometimes a woman “consents” to letting a man have sex with her or agrees to perform other sex acts, in exchange for money, but she isn’t “consenting” because, you know, she’s really into this guy and really wants to sleep with him. If she did, she wouldn’t have to be paid to do it. That whole argument – the one that says that feminists who are critical of the sex industry are anti-sex, shows a real anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking.
I mean, as you say, the countries that have criminalized johns, banned strip clubs, and are considering banning pornography are the countries that are the most progressive and the most sexually liberated. The US isn’t a sexually liberated country. It’s completely saturated and obsessed with pornography while simultaneously having this huge faction of right-wing, religious groups who think sex should only happen in traditional, heterosexual, marriages for the purposes of procreation (which is, of course, about controlling women’s bodies and maintaining a patriarchal family structure). I find the whole idea that women who advocate for porn and prostitution are “pro-sex,” whereas feminists who advocate against objectification and exploitation and are positioned as “anti-sex,” kind of hilarious and, in many ways, embarrassing. I just picture the next generation of feminists looking back at the third wave with shame. I mean, all these ridiculous women parading around in stilettos and pasties, on stage, pretending they are advancing women’s rights. What a joke. That whole burlesque/sex work is empowering/feminist porn aspect of the third wave is making a mockery of the movement.
6) The proposal to ban hardcore pornography online in Iceland was discussed on Feminist Current. Do you think it’s justified to attack the principle of free speech and promote censorship to advance the feminist agenda? Do you believe pornography qualifies as free speech?
M: The whole “censorship” argument in defense of pornography is illogical. I mean, as a society, we aren’t against censorship. We “censor” child pornography, for example, and are perfectly ok with that form of “censorship.” I don’t understand why suddenly, just because a woman turns 18, it’s ok to objectify or degrade her. The concept of “consent” and the way that the feminist movement has reinforced consent as a crucial part of sex (whereas, in the past, of course, it was acceptable to rape one’s wife – meaning that “consent” didn’t always matter so much to men when it came to sex) isn’t to be scoffed at, but at the same time, it’s really oversimplified the conversation around sex and sexuality in an unhelpful way.
I called it “the tyranny of consent” in a recent post that discussed the way that “consent” is often used to limit the parameters of conversations around sex and force us to accept anything anyone agrees to, regardless of the circumstances under which they agreed. It removes context from the conversation. I mean, it’s not as though, simply because a woman signs a contract or verbally agrees to perform certain sex acts, that’s unequivocally “ok” or necessarily ethical. And, again, what’s the difference between a 17 year old woman and an 18 year old woman? A 17 year old can’t give consent ethically and an 18 year old can? What about a woman who’s been raped and abused and exploited her whole life, since she was a child – suddenly when she turns 18 her, now her life of abuse is erased and she’s simply a consenting adult and therefore her prostitution is A-ok? It makes no sense. People use consent in order to comfort themselves and in order to turn these issues – pornography, prostitution, coercion, inequality, power dynamics, objectification, etc. — into something that’s black and white – as though it’s as simple as consent vs. non-consent. But it isn’t that simple.
Regarding the “free speech” and pornography issue — please. Pornography doesn’t expand the conversation, it limits it. When do we ever talk about corporations and multi-billion dollar industries as being champions of or representative of “free speech” except when it comes to pornography? What a joke. Pornography is about sexualizing the oppression of women. Is oppression “free speech?” Of course not. If we were talking about actually liberalizing nudity and sex and if we were seeing real, feminist depictions of bodies and female sexuality on screen, of course we could talk about freedom of expression. But we aren’t. We’re talking about porn. And porn is regressive when it comes to expanding our understanding of, and the conversation around, women’s bodies and sexuality. It teaches society that women are things that exist for male pleasure – to be looked at and to be fucked. Let’s see some fucking feminist erotica. Let’s see depictions of female sexuality and women’s bodies, on screen, that aren’t objectified and sexualized for the male gaze and then we can have a conversation about “free speech.” But please. Pornography is just about men’s right to hate and profit off of women. Free speech my ass. Men are fully capable of masturbating without objectifying or exploiting women. And if they claim not to be, well, that’s a terrible insult to them.
7) The topic of “grey rape” was discussed on Feminist Current. You told a personal anecdote where a guy who took you back home and with whom you’d had no intention of having sex, finally got you in bed by insisting relentlessly and just wearing you down.
And this guy and his friends were indignant that you deemed his behavior “rapey”– to them, this was normal behavior for a man, certainly not unethical; you were the unethical one by calling it “rapey”.
What do you make of his reaction, and of yours, and more generally, why is it so hard for women to just say a straight no to such men and stick to it?
M: Well actually most of his friends, our mutual friends, that is, agreed that his behaviour was at least sleazy and gross, if not “rapey.” He was indignant because he was concerned about his reputation and because he refused to see his behaviour as problematic or be accountable for it. A relative of his, who I dated years later, accused me of somehow vilifying the “rapey” dude (which I really hadn’t – I’d merely shared my experience with a few friends) probably, in part, because he’d never heard my side of the story and, I imagine, because he also didn’t want to acknowledge that someone he was related to, someone he was close with, could be anything but a “good” guy. Even more likely is that he’d engaged in similar behavior himself at one point or another and didn’t want to examine that more closely.
Many men want to see themselves as the “good guy” – they want rapists to be monsters. They don’t want to look at how they might be complicit in rape culture. They want it to be easy – again, black and white – but it isn’t that simple. That’s why we tell ourselves that it’s fine and natural for men to buy sex and watch porn and go to strip clubs. We draw lines that make no sense. On one hand, we say: “Rape culture is bad. Women are human and deserve respect.” And then on the other we say: “Except for the women that aren’t fully human. Except for the women who exist to be looked at and to be fucked because god knows if men aren’t provided with orgasms on demand, they might die. OR, as some reason, they might rape the “good women” – the women who aren’t “to be fucked” — who are privileged enough not to have been prostituted.” We still seem to want to compartmentalize everything.
In porn there’s no talk of consent. Women are just “up for it” all the time – and somehow we’re still pretending that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture and that “normal guys” aren’t complicit??
I mean, it’s the same thing that happens when women talk about domestic abuse – people say: “Oh but he’s so nice. I know him! He’s so good with my kids. He helped me out when I had car trouble,” or whatever. They want abusive men to be these horrid, creepy, evil, monsters lurking in bushes or in parking lots – but abusive men are just “regular guys”, if that makes sense…
I’ve been in abusive relationships. When I came out about one situation in particular, I couldn’t believe how many people – friends of the man – just refused to believe that he would do what I said he did. They made up any and every reason to convince themselves and others that I was lying. They just couldn’t get their heads around (or didn’t want to) the fact one of their buddies, someone who gave them rides home from parties, someone who watched their kids, could be abusive.
People need to realize that it isn’t fun to go public about rape or abuse. It’s awful. And mostly people blame you and don’t believe you. There’s no reason to lie. I mean, sure, I guess it’s happened the odd time, but please — telling the world that the man you said you loved, and who you lived with and slept with and cooked for and that you called your partner was abusive? It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel hypocritical and pathetic and weak. It shouldn’t, but it does. It’s not something that’s easy to do.
As for why it’s so hard to say no, well, women are taught to be polite and not to hurt others’ feelings. And, like, often we’re attracted to the guys who date rape us – I mean, we went out with them, right? Maybe we even made out with them – but that still doesn’t mean we want to have sex. Sometimes, after a certain point, you’ve said no so many times and it’s like, “Ok fine, whatever.” And clearly I’m not advocating for that but the point is – how many times should we have to say no?? What guy wants sex because he’s had to convince and coerce and pressure a girl into it? I mean, I ask that question with the implication that no man should want that — that ideally we want to have sex with people who are enthusiastic about having sex with us – but the truth is that this isn’t what men learn. They learn to pursue. And women learn to be pursued. We learn to be passive and men learn to be aggressive. So it’s almost no wonder these kinds of situations come up so regularly. Ideas about masculinity and femininity have really messed us up.
8) What do you think of so called “pro-sex feminists”?
M: The term “pro-sex” is misleading. It implies that there is some faction of feminists that are “anti-sex”, which really describes nothing and is wrongly applied to women who are critical of the sex industry. The reason I’m critical of the sex industry isn’t because I’m “anti-sex”, it’s because I’m anti-objectification and anti-patriarchy. Whether or not I “like” or “don’t like” sex is irrelevant.
That said, I do “like” sex. With men (Ack! Am I blowing the pro-sexer’s minds?)! And I know that porn isn’t “good” for sex. It teaches us that sexuality is about domination and subordination and it teaches women that their performance is more important than their pleasure. You know, I don’t want to think about whether or not I look “sexy” while I’m having sex. I want to focus on pleasure and on my partner and on enjoying the actual moment. I can’t have an orgasm if I’m self-conscious or if I’m worrying about what my stomach looks like. Women learn that we are to-be-looked-at and that being “sexy” has nothing to do with our own sexual pleasure. I mean, women get breast implants in order to “look sexy” and, in doing so, often lose sensation in their nipples. So we intentionally numb an erogenous zone in order to look sexy for the male gaze. We’ve made female sexuality into a performance (for men).
So I think “pro-sex” creates an imaginary dichotomy and forces women to believe that, in order to be “pro-sex” or “sex-positive” they must also support the sex industry, which is actually a pretty smart trick the sex industry is playing on us. What’s sad is that some feminists are buying into it. I mean, as we discussed earlier, countries that are far more sexually liberated then the confused and repressed U.S., like Iceland and Sweden, are the same countries that are banning strip clubs, placing restrictions on access to pornography, and criminalizing the purchase of sex. Americans’ concept of “liberated” is completely ridiculous. They think the free market will magically erase exploitation when we know full well that the opposite happens. Prostitution and pornography are not the end all be all of a free society – unless you understand freedom to exist at the expense of half of the population.
9) What are your thoughts on Femen?
Femen. Oh Femen. Well, what to say… They are a little misguided… They seem to mainly be focused on getting media attention and on shock value, which I’m afraid I don’t have a ton of respect for. They have also made some pretty ignorant and offensive statements about feminism: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead,” for example. So it’s difficult for me to take them seriously or feel any allegiance with them.
They’ve alienated so many women and feminists with their statements and actions — their “Topless Jihad”day being a particularly insulting example of this – as though Muslim women will somehow be “liberated” by baring their breasts… It perpetuates this idea that, somehow, women in the West are completely free and liberated because, I don’t know, we’re “allowed” to dress provocatively, whereas non-Western women are all completely oppressed due to their lack of booty shorts and breasts on display. It’s not accurate and it oversimplifies the issues. It also teaches us, in the West, to not look critically at the sexism and misogyny of our own culture, instead pointing to other cultures, saying “Oh those poor oppressed women, we should teach them the wisdom of our ways”. The West has long been completely self-absorbed and obsessed with the illusion of “individual choice” epitome of freedom. Femen plays into that and simultaneously presents a vision of female liberation that looks like a sexy, naked, thin, white, blonde woman. They are making feminism palatable for the male gaze. And of course, for that reason, the mainstream media loves them – which says a lot about the integrity of their message, in my opinion.
10) What do you think of this opinion seen on AlterNet (US radical progressive site): “Feminism is something individual to each feminist”? Do you consider (as some feminists do, Gail Dines for instance) that neoliberalism is presently the biggest threat to feminism?
M: Well, I’m not sure I’ve seen that perspective on AlterNet, per se (though perhaps it has been, just saying I can’t speak specifically to whether or not that perspective is promoted by the site — they seem to publish a wide variety of viewpoints), but I’ve definitely seen that “feminism is just whatever individual women decide it is” thing in all sorts of places. Certainly I agree with Dines’ analysis with regard to neoliberalism. I mean, neoliberalism is destructive to any movement because, at its root, it’s about individualism and movements are about collective liberation (or they should be in any case – that’s why they’re called “movements” and not “this is just what I feel like doing as an individual right this second so screw you guys”).
The idea that feminism is about individual choice has come about, in part, because of an American kind of neoliberal discourse that places individual “choice” and freedom outside a context of systemic inequality and oppression. It’s like the myth of the American dream – that if you just work hard enough, you can make it, and if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault for being lazy or weak or whatever. It removes any responsibility from the state and places it on the shoulders of the individual which is, of course, the basis for the entire American system.
Privatization says “it’s all on you – it’s not our responsibility to take care of you when you get sick or lose your job or can’t feed your kids – that’s your own failing as an individual.” So that kind of thinking has infiltrated the feminist movement and it has many people believing, as a result, that feminism is just about individual women feeling good or feeling “empowered.” This has led to the idea that, for example, burlesque is feminist because “it makes me feel good in this moment.” Of course, feeling good is great but it has nothing to do with liberating women from male violence and oppression. Whether or not you “like” to dance around on stage in pasties or whether or not you “feel good” in stilettos has nothing to do with feminism. I mean, sure, do it if you feel like it, but don’t call it feminism. It’s selfish and ignorant and shows a lack of critical thinking and awareness of the world around you and the global and historical context of women’s collective oppression.
For people with so much money, you’d think they could come up with something a little more creative, no? Justin Timberlake’s new video for “Tunnel Vision” is appallingly boring and blatantly sexist, reminding us, once again, that misogyny has gone, and is going nowhere but up.
It’s difficult for me to express how much I hate this video. Are we literally moving backwards in this movement? Because between this and Robin Thicke’s latest festival of woman-hating, my feeling that we’re losing ground in many areas of the feminist movement is only solidifying.
What is it that people aren’t getting, here? These dudes are literally flaunting the fact that they can get away with whatever kind of sexist fuckery they want, and will continue to be revered, celebrated, adored, and rewarded for treating women like fucking decorations. I mean, are these dudes any different from pornographers at this point? In creating these videos, they’re successfully making millions off of the bodies of women.
Is this liberalism? Sexual liberation? Art? WHY doesn’t anyone give a shit about women anymore? WHERE THE FUCK IS THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT?
And not only are these videos completely, overtly, unapologetically sexist, but they’re lazy as fuck. Timberlake’s entire video is basically shots of him (clothed) alternated with shots of writhing, naked women.
I honestly feel sorry for the women in these videos. And even more sad that these dudes get laid.
It’s days like these where I’m at a loss to understand why women aren’t joining the feminist movement in droves.
The problem with romance is that it seems to give me writer’s block. I can’t explain why it happens, but it always does. It isn’t because I feel overly preoccupied with the source of the romantic feelings (I seem to have finally managed to overcome the frustrating, obsessive-type feelings that always developed in the early falling-for-someone moments, thank god), but somehow that beginning-a-relationship period seems to coincide with a creative dry spell. Once the relationship settles a little — into domesticity, boredom, a comfort zone of sorts — the inspiration returns, but in the meantime I’m often left feeling eerily blank. Not only does it baffle me but it makes me feel like a terrible woman — the kind of woman who gets distracted by men. Which is possibly the last thing a feminist should do.
I never want to admit it, but dating men is hard. It’s hard, in general, because so many men don’t learn how to communicate and treat women as true equals; but it’s harder if you’re a feminist, especially a public one. When I’m single I manage to pretend that it’s ok. I have so many male friends who are such great feminists and I meet so many men who really do “get it” that I start to think it’ll be easy. Dating again, that is. Oh how tricky positive thinking is! Tricky, tricky.
Laurie Penny wrote a really amazing piece recently about the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope and the ways that girls and women try so hard (and are expected to be) these one-dimensional story characters — these male fantasies. They learn to be “forgettable supporting characters” to their male lead: “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s,” she writes.
There was a time, when I was younger — maybe when I was 19 years old or so — when I dreamed of being a high-powered secretary. Though, later I started to say, half-jokingly, that I wanted to change the world, it took me years to gain the drive, focus, and confidence to actually try to do what I really wanted to do with my life and risk intimidating all the men who’d paid attention to me up until then. I still catch myself, to be perfectly honest, answering the “so what do you do” question vaguely — “Oh I write about things on the Internet” I say sometimes. On one hand I’m just tired of having boring, feminism 101-type conversations with people who think their opinion on the empowered stripper is interesting, and on the other, I think there’s something etched into my psyche that says “don’t scare them.”
I assume I will scare men who don’t know me. I meet someone I’m interested in and almost immediately start worrying about the day they decide to add me on Facebook or Google me. I can’t stand that that thought crosses my mind. The obvious thing I tell myself is that, if said man isn’t ok or even *gasp* supportive of what I do, he clearly — CLEARLY — isn’t one I should be dedicating any time or energy towards. And generally men aren’t scared off. Often they’re even interested. Things tend to get trickier as you move further along in the relationship and the men realize you were serious when you said you didn’t want to be in a relationship with a porn-user.
When I was younger I tried to convince myself that I could be fulfilled by male attention. The “high-powered secretary” is, of course, mostly a porn fantasy — you wear sexy outfits, smile and flirt with all the men who have the real power, and are rewarded (supposedly, but not really) for being agreeable, helpful, and sexy, all at once. You are the woman behind the man and, as they say, behind every great man is a woman. Key word: behind. Never out in front. Men aren’t meant to play supporting roles. And because women are rewarded for correctly performing those male fantasies and because those roles are glorified, as a woman, you learn to fantasize about those roles yourself.
But I never could properly play that role. Really, I could never properly play any of those roles women are meant to play. I’m far too head-strong to fake stupidity or passivity for very long. I’ve never been very good at keeping my opinions to myself or playing whatever limited supporting role women are allowed to play and are expected to feel fulfilled by — “the supportive girlfriend” “the groupie” “the trophy wife” “the obedient secretary” “the mother.” Secretarial work always inevitably made me feel angry and condescended to (never mind the level of sexual advances/harassment you are expected to put up as the “young, hot secretary” — a role I tried, and felt I had little choice but to play because I had to make a living and became very quickly trapped in a pink ghetto shorty after I finished high school). The assumption is that, if you’re a receptionist/secretary/assistant, you’re also stupid — a funny role to be in once you collect a whole bunch of degrees, continue to work as a receptionist (who knew feminism wasn’t a lucrative career choice!) and are still talked to as though you are a particularly useless child.
Do men ever consider these things? Do they spend their lives creating and then trying to live out one-dimensional fantasies in order to avoid scaring women away? Do they say “I don’t want her to think I’m too smart… It’ll make her feel unfeminine” to themselves? I assume it’s the opposite. That men try to pump themselves up to appear more successful, more high-powered than they actually are, whereas I catch myself saying “Oh you know, I do a bunch of stuff…” then changing the subject.
Penny wrote that once she became a successful writer she “manifestly had other priorities,” besides men, “and those priorities included writing.” I’m certainly not a “successful writer” at this point because, well, I’m mostly broke and hustling to make ends meet, but when I decided I was going to try to make a living as a writer and a journalist, I was in a relationship. So this person already knew me and I didn’t have to consider what might happen if he found me out, as it were, and got scared off.
That relationship ended for a number of reasons (primarily because it simply isn’t possible to live with an addict, particularly if you aren’t willing to play the role of mother or enabler), but at a certain point I said, out loud, “You are less important than my work and you will always be less important than my work.” I didn’t mean it in a hurtful way; I meant it honestly. I meant that, in order to pursue the life I’d decided to pursue, my relationship was always going to have to take a back seat — That I was never going to make my intimate relationship with a man my number one priority. I’ve never stopped wondering if that was a horribly insensitive thing to say.
It seems like it’s something that men don’t even have to say out loud. Men have always been allowed to put their work first. Any kind of creative work and any kind of work that requires a great deal of reflection and thought also requires a great deal of time and space. If I don’t spend the vast majority of my week alone on my computer, I can’t write. It just doesn’t happen. It isn’t possible. So I’m destined to have a life that women aren’t meant to have — one that isn’t dedicated to a family or a marriage, but that is dedicated to spending a lot of time alone, reading and thinking and forcing myself to sit down and write, even when I can’t think of anything to say.
Penny writes: “You cannot be a writer and have writing be anything other than the central romance of your life, which is one thing they don’t tell you about being a woman writer: it’s its own flavour of lonely. Men can get away with loving writing a little bit more than anything else. Women can’t: our partners and, eventually, our children are expected to take priority.”
Somehow it’s acceptable and even attractive, to women, that a man is dedicated to his craft, whatever that may be. That he will get wrapped up in his creative work. I just don’t know that the opposite is a male fantasy — that one day he’ll meet a woman who is so distracted by her work that he will always come second or even third. That doesn’t seem particularly romantic to men, I don’t think.
I tend to have some pretty direct conversations on those first dates. I have tell people, right off the bat, that I don’t plan on having children or getting married and that work is my central focus at this point in my life. Most men don’t believe you when you say those things. They think you’ll fall in love with them and suddenly change your mind and develop the deep and uncontrollable desire to push a human being out of your vagina. It doesn’t sound rational when you say it out loud, but I tend to think men probably don’t make the body-childbirth connection because they aren’t the ones who have to go through it. I can’t help but think most men just see it as something natural and inevitable. They don’t ever have to fully deal with or understand the consequences of pregnancy and bearing children. No matter how much they may want to understand, they don’t. They can’t.
All this means is that women who make different choices feel, and are treated as, kind of unfeminine. Which is, of course, not a terrible thing at all but is certainly uncomfortable because we all learn we should be “feminine” as women. We’re given the side-eye when we engage in behaviour that isn’t seen as “feminine” (as I have many times, being someone who has always been big on unladylike behaviour) and we aren’t believed when reject the roles of wife and mother — of passive, supporting character to our impressive, driven, and successful leading man.
The fact that now, in my thirties, more confident, far happier, and more fulfilled in my life than ever before, I still find myself avoiding or mumbling “somethingaboutfeminism” in that inevitable first conversation — the “so what do you do?” one — is pretty significant. We’re still feeling guilty about not living up to those impossible fantasies — those tropes. We know that we’ll suffer, to a certain extent, for playing a different role and that, yes, we might be lonely because of it. I don’t feel capable of making a different choice — I couldn’t if I tried — and so I imagine how many women out there are suffering and struggling, trying to figure out why that “sexy secretary” “lead singer’s girlfriend” “hot mom” “perfect housewife” role doesn’t quite fit.
This role fits me better than anything else I’ve ever tried, but it also means I have to stifle a certain level of fear that I’ll die alone, never have the happy relationship I think I want, and that heartbreak is inevitable because I’ll always have to choose me over someone else and knowing that, as a woman, I shouldn’t be so selfish.
I haven’t been able to muster the energy to care about, as everyone else seems to, whether Beyoncé is, isn’t, should or should not be, a feminist. I’m tired of trying to force femalepop stars who think feminism is extremist or off-putting or who don’t really understand what it is to begin with to call themselves feminist. And, more generally, celebrities aren’t my go-to source when it comes to seeking out informed perspectives on political movements.
Beyoncé may well be a “strong” (whatever that means — I don’t find the “strong woman” label to be particularly descriptive unless we are invested in reinforcing some kind of “strong woman” vs. “weak woman” dichotomy, which I am not), successful woman, but that doesn’t necessarily make her a feminist. I’d say she’s empowered but that word has been overused to the point of having lost all meaning and now grates on my ears, so I won’t. Indeed Beyoncé has a particular kind of power in this world, but having power is not the same thing as being a feminist.
While, in the past, she conveyed discomfort with the feminist label, Beyoncé recently said, tentatively, in an interview with Vogue: “But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.” Not exactly the defiant declaration Janelle Hobson, who wrote Ms. magazine’s controversial cover story: “Beyoncé’s Fierce Feminism,” wanted it to be, but fine, if Beyoncé wants to be a feminist, she’s more than welcome to join the movement.
Beyoncé is a pop star. I like her music in the same way I like any other pop music — without much thought or commitment/when it’s dance party time. She either chooses or is pressured to objectify herself and to use her sexualized body to sell her product. Likely it is a more complex combination of “choice” and social/industry pressure/standards which our intellectually dulled, neoliberal we’re-all-special-snowflakes, postfeminist minds can’t seem to get our heads around. We are more comfortable with binaries: choice or coercion, agency or exploitation, victim or survivor. Of course, nobody is just one thing and, therefore, the reasons for Beyoncé’s sexualized image are myriad. They are, without a doubt, cultural. They are, without a doubt, due to a standard set and reinforced by a music industry that, largely, doesn’t allow women who aren’t conventionally attractive and “sexy” success. Ugly men abound in music. Not only do they abound, but they rule (and are rewarded with groupies and “video hos”). Women, on the other hand, have to be hot. There are exceptions to that rule, as there are exceptions to all rules, but it’s still the rule.
So Ms. magazine put Beyoncé on their cover. Mostly, I assume, to sell magazines. Not being either ”for” or “against” Beyoncé, I can’t bring myself to care too much about this decision. Unlike Hobson, though, I don’t Beyoncé’s fleeting girl power messages (“Who Run the World (Girls)”/ “All the Single Ladies”) as feminist and I can’t figure out why we need, so desperately, to force them to be. Sure, I wish every woman in the public eye were a feminist, but that’s unrealistic. It feels desperate to me — trying to drag stilettoed women into our clubhouse by their booty shorts, kicking and screaming, holding them down while we tattoo “This is what a feminist looks like” across their foreheads. I’d rather focus on regular women, working class women, poor women, marginalized women and on my sisters in the movement than on celebrities and pop stars, frankly.
To me, one of the worst things that came from the controversy that ensued as a result of Ms. magazine’s choice of cover model was, actually, the response from Hobson, who says:
what is surprising to me is the level of vitriol and mean-girl over-the-top outrage that accompanied the news of Beyoncé’s cover on the Ms. Facebook page. Whatever one may feel about Beyoncé as a feminist icon, when did it become acceptable to call this married mother of a toddler daughter a “stripper” and a “whore”?
Now, I don’t know what angry internet user called Beyoncé a “stripper” or a “whore” but I reckon (based on their liberal use of sexist slurs) it wasn’t a feminist. Using that as an example of the backlash against the Beyoncé cover seems a tad misrepresentative, unless we are now taking what internet trolls say as legitimate feminist critique (in which case we’re all a bunch of “whores” — sorry ladies, internet says). The fact that Hobson felt inclined to note, in the same sentence, that Beyoncé is a “married mother of a toddler,” as though being a married mother is proof of her status as “good woman” and therefore NOT a “stripper” or a “whore” (sorry, but whether or not a woman is married or a mother has nothing to do with whether or not she deserves to be called those names) was also pretty off-putting.
Hobson’s response was disappointing, as it really only reinforced this “either you can be a slut or a prude” thing that is so prevalent in conversations about the sexualization of women’s bodies. Critiques of the fact that women learn to perform for the male gaze and to make their bodies into products are turned into “pearl-clutching” and represented as attempts to force sexy ladies into buttoned-up blouses. Hobson says the conversation about Beyoncé’s sexualized image is about “policing women’s bodies.” I say it’s part of a conversation about the ways our culture teaches women to value themselves and the ways we allow women to be visible. We feel powerful when we are desired. That power is temporary and without substance. That feminists might be critical of the fact that women have to dance around in their underwear in their music videos while men get to keep their pants on (and have women in their underwear dance dance around them) doesn’t equate to “pearl-clutching” or forced modesty.
Hobson wants to make Beyoncé’s self-objectification about Beyoncé’s own personal version of feminism and turns feminists into oppressors who want to “regulate” women’s bodies, when really feminism is about supporting all the choices women make because feminism is for everybody!
Are you bored yet? Me too.
The point isn’t “Beyoncé: Feminist icon or SKANK”. She’s neither. And for whatever reason (can I get a obsession-with-celebrity-culture?) this conversation has been had to death.
So while everyone else is all up in arms about Beyoncé’s feminism or lack thereof, what I really want to know is: Why isn’t Joni Mitchell a feminist?
In an interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio’s Q, which was mostly wonderful and intelligent and the cause of much swooning in Mitchell’s fans (of which I am one), there was this awkward moment. And I tried very hard to ignore it.
My aural love affair with Joni Mitchell began over two decades ago, with my mother’s records. Blue became one of my all-time favorite albums when I was about 15. So when she told Ghomeshi: “I’m not a feminist,” I quickly suffocated the quote with a mental pillow and stuffed it into a suitcase along with everything I don’t feel like acknowledging (because, as it turns out, everything awesome gives you cancer). “I’m choosing to ignore that,” was my response to other feminists who noted their disappointment in Mitchell’s words. They, like me (though less committed to denial), felt let down by one of their icons.
And she didn’t just say “I’m not a feminist,” and leave it at that. She was downright hostile.
The painful thing about Mitchell’s rejection of feminism and feminists is that she teases us with all of her feminist consciousness. She says, of her album, Blue: “It was a man’s world… The game was to make yourself larger than life.” Mitchell was told she revealed too much of herself on that album, showed too much weakness and, in a man’s world, vulnerability is a bad thing. She brilliantly calls out the bullshit myth that was the “free love movement” of the 60s as being what it was: “a ruse for guys” — a way to get laid. Mitchell doesn’t fake humility, as women are meant to. She doesn’t hide her talent, she doesn’t pretend as though she is unaware that she is gifted and not only gifted, but better, much better than so many (most, even) other artists. Women aren’t supposed to know they are good. At very least, they aren’t supposed to say they are good. Mitchell isn’t afraid of her ego. “I’m too good for a girl,” she says. It made her male contemporaries uncomfortable.
But then — stab-stab-stab — “I’m not a feminist.”
“Where’s that line for you,” Ghomeshi asks. “I don’t want to get a posse against men,” Mitchell responds. Stab-cry-stab.
She qualifies her statement: “I’ve got a lot of men friends.” (more crying) “Too many amazons in that community… The feminism in this continent isn’t feminine, it’s masculine. Our feminism isn’t feminism, it’s masculinism.”
There’s this idea that being a feminist means being more “like men.” It’s a stupid idea, perpetuated, I’d thought, by stupid people and conservatives. Feminism is, of course, about challenging the idea that such a thing exists as “masculine” or “feminine.” It’s about the fact that we learn gender. Neither “masculinity” or “femininity” exists in a biological sense and therefore neither is better or worse than the other. Traits that are typically associated with “femininity” are, of course, seen as “worse” because all things “woman” are seen are “worse” in our culture. Feminism is neither “feminine” or “masculine.” Nor should it be a celebration of either.
It sounds like maybe she’s had some bad experiences with feminists. She says they’ve been nasty. To her, perhaps? I don’t know. But something or some things made her hate feminism.
In an interview done by Ani DiFranco back in 1998, the Mitchell tells her: “I prefer the company of men,” going on “to describe the pleasure of being the only female presence among men.”
I don’t want to have to say “I like men, too, Joni!” “I’ve got lots of men friends, too, Joni! And I think they’re great! AND I’m a feminist! See? SEE??” Because that isn’t the point. And I’m tired of hearing feminists have to say “We don’t hate men, we love them!” as a way to try to sell our movement.
Mitchell’s rejection of feminism doesn’t make me mad, though I understand the angry and frustrated reaction from some of her feminist fans who wonder how this seemingly feminist and highly intelligent woman could take such cliched and ignorant stabs at them — it made me sad. She seems like she’s right there with us, until we get to the movement part.
Joni has been personally disturbed by her own second-class citizenship for many years, as well she should be. It is interesting to study her public treatment, especially in the context of, say, her buddy Bob Dylan. For 30 years, Bob has been surrounded by a wealth of media hyperbole (“voice of a generation,” etc.) that was never lavished on Joni. Only now is she beginning to receive some of the public strokes befitting her contribution to popular music. After all this time, though, some of the praising “rings hollow,” she confided. Why has Bob been so thoroughly canonized and Joni so condescended to over the years? Maybe, in part, because when Joni was uppity, she was considered a bitch, and the media retaliated. From day one, however, Bob could be as uppity as he wanted, and the great mammoth rock press lauded his behavior as rebellious, clever, renegade and punkishly cool. Maybe it’s also because Bob’s songs are inherently more masculine (go figure) and have therefore been viewed as more universal, while Joni’s writing, which has a more feminine perspective, is put in a box labeled “girl stuff.”
Mitchell knows that her experiences in life and in music are gendered. She knows she’s been treated differently in the “man’s world” that is the music industry. Maybe she feels she wants to side with the men because she feels she made it on her own accord. The boys don’t need a movement to make it.
I remember wanting to be one of the boys. I tried, in a number of ways, in various periods of my life, to be one of the boys. I tried playing with He-Man instead of Barbie. I refused to wear pink until about 2010. I tried going to strip clubs and I tried hating girls. But hating women won’t make you one of the boys. Things will never get better for women by rejecting women or by trying to be more “like men.” I have lots of male friends because I like those particular men. I have lots of female friends because I like those particular women. I definitely don’t feel I should go to, or enjoy going to, strip clubs in order to be accepted by men. I no longer want to be accepted by men who go to strip clubs.
I can’t claim to know what led Joni Mitchell to reject feminism in the way that she has. I can relate, because of past experience, to what some might call internalized misogyny (if you’ve ever heard a woman say, or even said yourself: “Oh I just don’t get along with other women,” you might know what I mean) — meaning that when one learns all their life that being a woman is a bad thing, sometimes we take that on and respond not by challenging that socialization but by rejecting and hating women and all that comes along with what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal culture.
I still love Joni. I love her music. I respect her. But I’m sad, not only that she’s rejected feminism but that, in many ways, she’s rejected women. I’m sad that her experiences of sexism made her turn against us instead of develop her feminist consciousness; instead of thinking about and challenging the larger power structures and the ways in which inequality shaped her experiences.
It’s hard to be a feminist. You can’t just go along your merry way, pretending as though your status as “woman” doesn’t stalk you at every turn. But feminism has provided me with lens through which I can see and understand my experiences and the world around me in a way that freed me from anger. Which isn’t to say I don’t get angry. I do. But I know why that anger is there and I know what to do with it. Being more “like men” or being “one of the boys” isn’t going to change the fact that I’m a woman in this world. It isn’t going to stop rape or domestic abuse. Being “strong” and independent isn’t going to save me or any other woman from being harassed or groped on the bus. Objectifying other women at the strip club isn’t going to empower me or the women on stage. Objectifying myself isn’t going to protect me from objectification. Which is why feminism matters. Individual women can try as they might to change their individual circumstances, but they still are part of a social class called “women” and that still means something in this world.
With all of Mitchell’s feminist analysis and all of her experiences, we wanted more from her. But I can’t bring myself to hold it against her. All it does is to remind me how hard things still are, and how tired we all get, struggling to make it, to live our lives, and to not feel a constant sense of rage about the ways that our gender determines our experiences. We don’t want it to be true, but it is. And the awfulness of misogyny isn’t only in the ways women are treated by men, but in the ways we treat ourselves and the ways we see other women. Feminism doesn’t mean we have to love all individual women. I definitely don’t. But it means we don’t hate them because they are women. We don’t hate Beyoncé because she poses in her underwear in magazines — we hate that she has to.
Joe Francis, misogynist extraordinaire and the man who brought us Girls Gone Wild,the soft core porn empire that made millions coercing drunk coeds to flash the camera or even perform sex acts for free is trying desperately keep a sex tape of his own from going public.
OH REALLY, JOE FRANCIS? REALLY IS IT A CRIME TO RELEASE VIDEOS OF OTHER PEOPLE PERFORMING SEX ACTS WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION? IS IT FATHOMABLE THAT PEOPLE MIGHT NOT LIKE IMAGES OF THEIR NAKED BODIES SHOPPED AROUND ON THE INTERNET? Oh. Ok then.
Just so we’re clear, it’s totally fine to convince drunk 18-year-olds to flash the camera and then sell those tapes to the world (because everyone is on their best behaviour and has the ability to make thoughtful and clear decisions while wasted on spring break and being egged on by groups of dude-bros), BUT it’s a crime to release Joe Francis’ sex tape to the world. Because he’s a special flower who deserves RESPECT even though he treats women like a form of currency/punching bags.
Francis went to court in 2006 over claims from two 17-year-old girls that they’d been told by a camera man that he was shooting a “private film” when, of course, he was not and over the the fact that the girls were not of age to consent. He managed to evade charges, though that was not the first or last time he was accused of turning underage girls into porn. He plead guilty to child abuse and prostitution charges in 2008, though he claimed to have “never committed any crime,” saying he only plead guilty in order to get out of jail.
I hate to depend on criminal charges in order to prove a dude is a cretin, because we often end up dependent on the old everything-is-a-ok-so-long-as-there’s-consent adage or on the odd notion that there’s some kind of gaping difference between exploiting and objectifying a 17-year-old and exploiting and objectifying an 18-year-old. I’m relieved, of course, to see Francis charged for something — anything, as he seems to believe he’s not only untouchable, but that he’s doing nothing wrong and is some kind of defender of free speech and the First Amendment, but I wish that we didn’t have to rely on “consent” as the marker of ethical behaviour or wait until he is charged for actually assaulting women before deciding he’s scum.
In any case, no more pretending — this dude is the worst in every way.
It’s abhorrent that this sociopath moves freely among stars and celebs as though he’s some kind of legitimate business man and is viewed as a celebrity himself, though we’ve known for at least a decade that he’s a violent, sexist, pig. Of course this is how things go when we treat prostitution and pornography as just normal, acceptable, harmless parts of life (Here’s looking at you, “sex positive feminists!” Keep up the freedom fighting!).
In any case, I doubt the experience of trying to keep his own sex tape under wraps will cause Francis to make any connections between his own behaviour and how, oh maybe people don’t like their private lives and bodies shared and exploited for profit online, but I can’t help but enjoy the irony of it all.
“Women’s organizations propose a more holistic solution that also addresses the gendered aspect of prostitution. Knowing that it is women who make up 80 to 90 per cent of prostitutes and that the these women experience violence at the hands of male pimps and johns, it is imperative that the solution be a feminist one. Rather than abandon women working the streets (who tend to be marginalized due to factors such as poverty, addiction, a history of abuse, and racism) to the whims of the market, abolitionists are urging Canada to look towards a more progressive alternative, such as the Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchasing of prostitution, not the selling.”—A prostitution solution: Outlaw the customers, not the hookers
It’s the “tiny bikini,” also called the “micro bikini.” Although celebrity gossip blogs are focusing on stars who wear these barely-there bikinis, this trend has repercussions for non-celebrity women as well. If you need evidence, just go to your local beach and I swear that you’ll think you’ve accidentally stepped into a mainstream porn magazine. Has anyone else noticed that bikinis are increasingly transforming into public lingerie? Now that summer weather is approaching fast, it’s becoming more and more evident that porn chic (the glamorization of sleazy, raunchy porn culture) is the hot, new thing in what I’m calling: “the sandy strip club.”
While I’m very much aware that body image is of central concern at the beach for both men and women, this trend of the “tiny bikini” impacts women in particular ways? Swimming gear for women seems to have been co-opted by porn culture.
The “tiny bikini” signifies a shift in the discipline and surveillance of women’s bodies and their habits to maintain sexiness. The labour involved in attaining a “tiny bikini” body is even more extreme. Not only do you have to be “thin,” you have to be completely hairless considering most of these bikini bottoms are composed of string that reveal pretty much everything. Hence the increasingly common Brazilian bikini wax, characteristic of women in porn. Discussion of the sexy hairless body is emphasized in magazines like Cosmopolitan — you know, that super fun magazine for young white women that provides the worst possible sex advice?
One of Cosmo’s writers wrote a piece for their website called, “Bikini-Ready Beauty Secrets,” which was almost entirely focused on getting rid of body hair. Here’s Cosmo’s bikini advice for women:
1) Take Your Time with Hair Removal
2) Get Your Best Shave
3) Epilate for Longer Lasting Results
4) Soften Your Skin
5) Get Your Glow Going
6) Fake it With Bronzer
7) Don’t forget your face
8) Tackle Your Feet
9) Beat Body Acne
In other words: “You’re fucking hideous so change every part of yourself and if you can’t do it, fucking fake it. Don’t you DARE go to the beach looking like yourself! Oh, and black women, make sure you focus on #6!! Oh wait — we’re only writing for white women! Our bad.”
Yet again, the hypersexualization of women is normalized and in order to attain this “Cosmo” sexiness, you better have the time and money to labour for it. Of course this trend also has racial implications considering the space of sexiness and femininity in mainstream culture is generally reserved for thin, white women or exoticized, light-skinned women of colour.
Going to the beach and displaying your “sexy” body for the public gaze is the process within which women are to follow in order to validate their sexiness and sexuality in a postfeminist culture. If there’s no gaze, there can’t be “sexiness.” In fact, the beach provides the perfect public arena for flaunting your successful postfeminist (thin, white, hairless) body. Men can overtly gaze at women’s bodies with no fear of repercussions (thanks to rape culture!) and women attempt to conjure up the male gaze in every space they inhabit (thanks to postfeminism).
In postfeminism, a woman’s success is through her body, which operates off of male approval. Consumption and “choice” serve as the vehicles through which women’s empowerment is actualized. These consumptive behaviors are favored over actual political feminist critiques. Shopping/disciplining your body = fun, intelligent critique = boring.
Bikini retailers are happy to participate. The company, Wicked Weasel is the world’s leading micro bikini manufacturer. Their slogan is: “micro bikinis, barely covering girls since 1994.” Malibu Strings Bikinis is another company that sells micro bikinis. They have had an online competition since 2004. From their website: “We invite our customers to submit photos of themselves wearing our products. We look for photos and video that best represent our products and label and best exemplify our motto ‘Swimsuits for the Uninhibited.‘” Under the photo guidelines, they state: “We are looking for photos taken in public or at a beach or other tropical locale.” Every single photo posted in their competition looks like a scene out of a pornographic film and, of course, almost every woman featured on the site is white. Postfeminist culture trains women to feel the pressure to act sexy in everyspace they occupy. Pretty soon our culture will offer ways for women to be sexy while taking a shit. Women are trained to be constant billboards for postfeminism. Therefore, something as simple as going to the beach and having a relaxing day with the girls is secondary to acting sexy and performing for the male gaze.
Let me state that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be sexy or wanting to feel sexy (although I think the idea of sexiness has been hijacked by postfeminist, white supremacist, able-bodied, porn culture). The problem is grounded in our culture making “sexy” the only option for women and then packaging this “option” as a fun liberating individual “choice.” We are also discouraged from questioning what “sexy” means or looks like. I am not here to tell women what they should do. That’s actually what postfeminist culture is doing to women now — it tells them that they should be sexy in every facet of their lives. I do, however, believe that more diverse cultural images and options must be created for women so that we can go to the beach without feeling forced to perform sexiness.
In creating more diverse options for women (besides just being sexy), we have to critically examine what the actual problem is. If we fail to understand why over-sexualizing women (in every space) is problematic, our solutions risk being uncritical which may reproduce the same problems. That’s actually the issue I have with the xoJane project that aims to empower larger-sized women at the beach.
An online project was created to help “plus-size” (I hate that term) women protest the idea that only thin women can wear and feel comfortable in sexy bikinis at the beach. So, the founders of the project collected photos from “plus-size” women who posed in bikinis and featured them on xoJane, under the headline: “The xoJane and Gabi Fresh Fatkini Gallery: 31 Hot Sexy Fat Girls In Skimpy Swimwear.” Although this might seem progressive on the surface, the creators of this project do not challenge the assumption that women MUST be sexualized in order to feel empowered and they don’t critique the idea that bikinis are used as costumes to conjure up sexiness, instead of something to swim in. Yet again, exhibitionism, for women, is the only way to feel liberated, no matter what size you are. They also fail to question the term “fat” which is problematic itself. It implies that the standard for a “normal” body is a thin body.
Suzanne Scoggins is founder of the activist site,Take Back Halloween, which creates fun (non-sexed up) alternatives for Halloween costumes for women. Scoggins says: “We think it’s cool that there’s one day a year when people can dress up as anything they want. What we don’t think is cool is that increasingly women are only supposed to dress up as one thing: “Sexy _____” (fill in the blank). Sexy Nurse, Sexy Cowgirl, Sexy whatever. There’s nothing wrong with sexy (for adults), and if you want to go that route, fine. Have fun! We just want there to be other options as well.” So, Scoggins is not arguing for thick women to feel sexy in these “sexy” Halloween costumes, she is arguing for us to rearticulate a woman’s experience as being something more than a “sexy” performance.
Just like with Halloween, the whole summer season is hijacked by porn culture and the beach is the epitome of this hypersexualized, postfeminist reality. So, as we know, there’s been a movement to “take back the night,” and now there’s a movement to “take back Halloween.” Maybe now it’s time to take back the beach.
Aphrodite Kociędais a graduate student in Communication at the University of South Florida. Her current research focuses on feminist activism in a postfeminist rape culture climate.
Emily Witt’s recent essay, within which she describes traveling to San Fransisco, where she watches a BDSM porn shoot for a Kink.com series called Public Disgrace, the purpose of which is to show women “women bound, stripped, and punished in public,” inspired a number of responses.
Despite my, probably obvious, criticisms of both porn and the BDSM genre, the piece is a very good read (by which I mean, it is engaging and complex and thoughtful); although very, very graphic (by which I mean, don’t read it unless you wish to read very detailed descriptions of sadomachochism).
There’s no real way to defend the production of this kind of film, the scene for this particular production being one in which, as described by Conor Friedersdorffor The Atlantic, “… a group of San Franciscans crowded into a basement to watch and participate as a diminutive female porn actress (who consented very specifically to all that followed) is bound with rope, gagged, slapped, mildly electrocuted, and sexually penetrated in most every way.”
He adds, accurately, that “the tenor and intensity of the event can’t be conveyed without reading the full rendering.” Granted, the scene sounds rather terrifying and one might ask, on what basis was “consent” given by this young performer. But interviewed after the shoot, the woman expressed genuine pleasure and enthusiasm about the experience. Believably, I might add.
The question that came up for me, and for some others, was this: Regardless of there being “consent” and even pleasure, is the production and distribution of this kind of film ethically defensible? While I have no real interest in exploring the responses that argue this kind of porn is ethically wrong because it’s “uncivilized” or “barbaric” or un-Godly or whatever writers for The American Conservative think about sex that happens outside of marriage and what kind of sex counts as the kind of “civilized” sex God would have, I am interested in the issue of consent and how “consent” is so consistently twisted to mean “ethical.”
In feminism, as well as in other liberal-type circles, we talk about consent a lot. “Anything that happens between consenting adults…” is the mantra. Those who have formed critiques of the sex industry, of course, are well aware of the ways in which this “consent is magic” ethos oversimplifies the concept of consent and removes relevant contexts and larger impacts from the conversation.
Consent is, without a doubt, very important and this drilling of “non-consensual sex isn’t sex” into our brains has changed the way many people engage in sex and communicate with their sexual partners. Consent is also, obviously, still not a given, as demonstrated by the incredibly high rates with which rape occurs as well as by conversations about “grey areas,” so it’s clear we’ve got a long way to go on this one.
Though the consent conversation is imperative, I think we’re doing it wrong.
“You might think we are doing things to the model that are mean or humiliating, but don’t,” said Princess Donna Dolore (the director of the Kink shoot). “She’s signed an agreement.”
She signed an agreement. Meaning, she “consented.” She even enjoyed the scene. I believe she enjoyed the scene. I believe people connect pleasure and pain. I understand how playing with power and subordination and domination and fantasy turns people on. I’ve experienced this. So many of us have and do. I know.
When it comes to the ethics of shooting a video that explicitly depicts violence and degradation and the humiliation of women, though, the issue of consent that’s become so black and white in conversations that happen in the self-described “sex-positive” sphere of feminist discourse, is distorts the issue.
Ethically, of course, there has to be consent. But also, consider that ethics aren’t about individuals. Ethics are about the ways in which our actions and behaviours affect and impact those around us. Ethics are about society. To say “she signed an agreement” — meaning “there was consent,” says nothing about society or the ways in which the production of this kind of pornography impacts women and men everywhere and social relations. So, in this case, this one individual is ok. Maybe. Sure. The performers in this particular film enjoyed themselves this time. Great. But a conversation about ethics doesn’t end there.
To be completely honest, which is something I do try to be, Witt’s descriptions of the scene didn’t upset or disgust me. The scene, as described by Witt, was titillating in many ways. I have, after all, been socialized here in this porny, violent world, along with the rest of you. But I’m certain that, to watch the finished video or even perhaps to have watched the scene in real life, would have inspired a different reaction in me. I contemplated, for some time, actually watching the video, just so I could know for sure and, therefore be better able to describe exactly what it was that changes when we watch this kind of imagery. In the end, after talking about it with a friend, I decided against it. I’ve seen enough porn in my life to know how watching women being degraded or abused on screen makes me feel. I don’t particularly want my sexual fantasies to involve electrocution or fisting or being hit with a belt. I’m not convinced I need to watch a woman wearing a sign that reads “worthless cunt” be groped and prodded and hit by strangers in a bar in order to understand the imagery. Maybe I’m wrong.
Rape fantasies exist for a reason and I’m certainly not shaming women who have them or who even play out these kinds of scenarios in the bedroom (but men who play out rape fantasies on women in the bedroom? Yeah, you go right ahead and feel ashamed). Power is sexualized in our culture. It’s why we think Don Draper is hot. Sexual violence is all twisted up in our lives and psyches. We see images of sexualized violence on TV and in movies all the time. Not in porn. Just on regular old crime dramas and in horror films. It’s part of our history. It’s hard to escape history, culture, and socialization.
So while the issue of why many of us are turned on by sadomasochistic fantasies or experiences should certainly be explored (and has been by many), when we talk about profiting off of the production and distribution of imagery depicting sexualized violence, there is much more to the conversation, in terms of ethics, than simply “consent.”
Witt makes this distinction after talking with Rain, a self-described “24–7 lifestyle kinkster” who works for Kink. Speaking about Princess Donna with reverence, Rain describes the burning, blinding pain brought on by getting cum in your eyes, saying:
“Do you realize the dedication that takes?” asked Rain. “That’s how committed she is.”
Witt asks herself: “Committed to what? To getting guys sitting in their studio apartments to jerk off to you for $30 a month? Not an insignificant accomplishment, but enacting a fantasy of violence for personal reasons was one thing; doing so for money was another.”
Consent is messier than we often pretend it is. It isn’t black and white, though I think we’d like to think it is. “Consensual” or “nonconsensual” are the two choices we’re offered when it comes to ethics around sex and sexuality. And those two choices, as well as our efforts to create straightforward guidelines with regard to sexual ethics, are being used against us. If signing a contract is all we need to determine whether or not Kink is producing pornography under ethical circumstances (which, for the record, they are not), then we need to re-think the ways in which we’re having conversations about “consent.”
“Anything that happens between consenting adults…” can only be the mantra of feminists and liberals so long as we don’t mind our work against rape culture and exploitation being usurped by the sex industry, for profit.
Ethics are neither limited to capital or individuals because how we conduct ourselves would never come into question if not for the “society” factor. It stands to reason that, if we aren’t considering the impact on society, as a whole, with regard to our ethical quandaries, we aren’t really talking about ethics at all. We’re either talking about profit or pleasure from a place of self-interest, in which case “consent” becomes something you get, not because it’s necessarily “ethical” or “right” or “good”, but in order to fulfill the interests of a certain faction of individuals, regardless of social context.
“Consent” is a necessary starting point, but is far from the end of the conversation.
“If there’s something you don’t like about your body, put it into a search engine, put ‘+ porn,’ and you’ll find a whole host of sites that find that’s the most attractive thing about you,” porn producer, Anna Arrowsmith said in an interview with BBC, with reference to a debate she would be participating in, hosted by Intelligence Squared in London.
The debate was centered around the motion: “Pornography is good for us” — indeed, a stupidly simplistic and unanswerable question in and of itself; the debate shone a light on the intellectually void and anti-feminist nature of the delusion that is “feminist” or “queer” pornography.
Arrowsmith begins her argument in a most telling way; describing how, one night, walking through London’s red light district, she realized that, rather than feeling angry, she was “envious” that men’s sexuality was being catered to “in so many different ways.” This feeling is likely familiar to many of us and is also an entry point into pro-porn/prostitution feminism for many women. After all, it’s not particularly unreasonable that a woman might feel “envious” of men’s position in this world. It makes perfect sense to feel as though we’ve gotten the shaft (pun!), as women, as far as cultural and social prioritization of female sexuality goes. But is the answer to take what men have in the sex industry, break off a corner piece, and try to mold it into something marginally less male-centric? Is the answer to exploitation to provide “equal” opportunity exploitation? Is our goal, as feminists, to be more like men and to merely adapt to a male-dominated world as best we can? Are we so unwilling to imagine something different than simply “more porn!”?
“I knew then that it was far more productive and feminist to invest my time in creating something that allowed women to explore their sexuality than it was to thwart men’s freedoms,” Arrowsmith said.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And while you’re at it, be sure to let the men know you’re on their side. They need change nothing — you’re jumping on board with them. Arrowsmith wants to be seen as one of the “good” feminists. Non-threatening. Fun. Sexxxxxy. Alas, the logic and ideology behind her arguments is not only confused, it’s anti-feminist.
Not only does Arrowsmith want to reassure men they are doing nothing wrong, that she’s on their side, that all she wants is a piece of the pie — but she goes so far as to blame feminism (in particular, Andrea Dworkin) for victimizing women: “Such theorists see women as inevitable victims which, in turn, encourages women to see themselves as victims. It is this anti-porn feminism that gave men the power to taunt women with porn…”
It’s all in your head, Arrowsmith’s self-help style, faux-empowerment discourse goes — Just change your frame of mind, and you can change the world. Yet no amount of positive affirmations or standing in front of mirrors, telling ourselves we are not victims and that we are empowered, will stop men from raping and abusing and objectifying us. Feeling good is great. I highly recommend it. But a political movement to end oppression and inequality, it is not.
Feminism hasn’t victimized women. Neither does the word “victim,” victimize women. Perpetrators of violence victimize women. Blaming women for their own oppression is the lowest of the low. Naming the perpetrator is rule number one in this movement.
Still think Anna Arrowsmith is on our side? Still think “feminist pornography” has anything to do with feminism?
Arrowsmith imagines herself to be making a case for female empowerment via the sex industry. That is, if the fetishization and sexualization of everything and everyone is the be all end all of liberation.
She believes that the problem with objectification (which she understands, in her muted and apolitical way, to mean: “seeing someone for their sexual attractiveness alone”) is simply that it isn’t “socially acceptable” for women to objectify men (though they are capable of doing so “just as easily”).
You see, Arrowsmith has limited her vision of female sexuality (and is working very hard to convince us to limit ours as well) to what she sees in a male-dominated world — understandably — this is all we know. If only we could have what they have, that whole injustice thing would fade away. If women, too, were able to objectify men as men objectify women, objectification would cease to play a starring role in the global epidemic that is violence against women.
Just imagine! If a woman had objectified Joe Francis, he never would have made a lucrative career off the backs of young, inebriated women he convinced to “go wild” — Certainly if women could produce similar films, the objectification and exploitation that support his hatred of women would vanish. Certainly Francis’ view of women as objects that exist solely for his financial gain and/or male pleasure had nothing to do with his recent conviction on assault charges. Nope. The fact that if you don’t comply to Francis’ wishes, and you happen to be a woman, he may or may not smash your head into a tile floor, has nothing at all to do with his soft-core porn empire (which he, like all pornographers, presents as “free speech”). He has a long history of exploiting and abusing women and girls. If you should ever need a clear picture of the connections between prostitution, pornography, and violence against women, look no further than Joe Francis. Or Larry Flynt. Or Belgian porn king, Dennis Black Magic. Turning living beings into objects erases their humanity. It’s far easier to abuse an object. Men who don’t respect women, don’t respect women.
Would “queer porn” have changed how Joe Francis saw and treated women? If it were “socially acceptable” for women to objectify men, would Girls Gone Wild have ceased to be an exploitative, woman-hating, dick-fest? If more women with tattoos and real breasts were made into porn, would the billion-dollar porn industry lose a cent? Would it change it’s misogynistic ways? Would those porn producers suddenly start respecting women? What’s the logic behind this?
Cover your eyes and plug your ears, ladies. Objectification is for everyone. This could be your liberation.
Arrowsmith’s arguments outline many of the problems with discourse around so-called “feminist pornography” — One of those arguments being that diversity will address and erase the misogyny that is integral to the industry. So, the argument goes: if we simply include diverse bodies in our porn, it will cease to be sexist. But, if the problem with pornography lies in narrow definitions of beauty, then we’re making the argument that it’s impossible to objectify women who aren’t thin or who don’t have surgically enhanced bodies. Or that somehow it’s more ethical to objectify “alternative” or “diverse” bodies.
This is, of course, not true. Objectification doesn’t only work on hairless, orange ladies whose bodies have been trimmed and buffed and stuffed full of silicone. Oh no. Men are fully capable of objectifying all kinds of women. Rape happens to fat women and disabled women and older women and racialized women, too, Anna. Is the ability to watch “an amputee,” as Arrowsmith suggests, in porn, progressive? Would we feel better if we watched a woman over 40 be gang raped? Would fetishizing cellulite end male violence? Please.
Another key problem, according to “feminist porn” pushers, is that porn is simply misrepresented. Arrowsmith says, for example, that the oh-so-diverse ways in which porn objectifies all kinds of women isn’t represented in the “mainstream press.” But the problems with porn goes far beyond “representation.”
Germaine Greer, who was placed on the other end of this debate, points out that “porn is not a style, and it’s not a literary genre… It’s an industry.” In other words, this isn’t merely an issue of representation. Nor is it an issue of diversity. Today, pornography is just as much about capitalism as it is patriarchy. It’s about the commodification of bodies and of sexuality for the purposes of profit. Under an inherently exploitative system, such as capitalism, I find the idea that porn is about anything liberating or has anything at all to do with democracy (as Arrowsmith calls it: “the democratization of the body”) deeply ignorant. Capitalism’s whole deal is profits before people, so the notion that one who aligns themselves with a movement towards social equality, such as feminism, would advocate for an industry that exists at the expense of women’s lives, is illogical.
Arrowsmith presents the industry as one that caters to women’s needs and lives, saying: “The porn industry is organized around the women who perform in the films as they decide their limits and are hired on that basis.” Ok sure. If you think that having a three year career (which is the average amount of time women last in the porn industry) in which women are pressured to perform more and more extreme acts and, once they do perform those acts, can’t return to the more “vanilla” acts they were doing before constitutes a female-led industry. The ones who get longevity, financially and career-wise, are the men who run the industry. Women get a few thousand dollars, maybe three years, and a lifetime of humiliation as those images follow them around for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps worst of all, Arrowsmith believes that pornography is a useful stand-in for actual sex education: “It’s where most men learn about where the clitoris, A-spot, and G-spot are.” But the fact that porn is actually seen as a kind of sex education and is actually where most boys and men are learning about sex these days is not something to be celebrated. Not only does porn provide a warped understanding of what women enjoy, sexually (being dominated, facials, gang bangs, double-penetration, everything men enjoy sexually, etc.) but it doesn’t teach consent. Instead it provides viewers with the impression that women are always up for anything and, furthermore, that rape is something that turns us on, even if we think we don’t want it.
By far, the most common female character in porn is “teen.” I tend to think that sexualizing teenage girls isn’t best sex education for men. Is this the “diversity” you’re talking about, Anna? Is this the sex education we want for men? Anna Arrowsmith should probably google “teen porn” and then get back to us about this great, pro-woman sex education porn is providing for men.
Ironically, Arrowsmith runs a “campaign website” called WeConsent.org. The site purports to “campaign against moral panics and anti-erotic industry legislation.” Everything from the name to the supposed aim of the site should be raising red flags. The intentionally meaningless language intends to manipulate the public into believing that 1) the porn industry is interested in “consent,” and 2) opposition to the porn industry stems from puritanism and some kind of illusory “anti-sex” position.
I say “ironically” with reference to the name of the site because, in fact, the entire basis for the sex industry is lack of consent. And no, before sex work advocates start manipulating my words to mean that I think sex workers or porn performers can’t be raped, because every sex act that is paid for constitutes rape, that isn’t exactly the argument I’m making. Consensual sex happens when both parties desire sex. If one partner does not want to have sex, and sex happens anyway, that constitutes rape (i.e. nonconsensual sex). In porn, those involved are being paid to perform sex acts. They are paid because the sex acts they are engaging in are not desired. Once you are paying someone to have sex with you, it no longer counts as consensual, enthusiastic, desired sex. Yes, you agreed to perform whatever sexual acts — but you did so because you were being paid. Not because you really, really, really wanted to fake an orgasm while that very special man fucks you in the ass.
“Whatever happens between consenting adults…” is another manipulation put forth by the sex industry advocates. But is this the kind of consent we’re looking for, as feminists? To be paid to perform sex acts and fake enjoyment? Really? It doesn’t sound liberating to me. That doesn’t sound like “free sexuality” to me.
Even more odd is how the pro-porn “feminists” have also positioned themselves as “sex-positive,” implying that there exists a faction of feminists who are “sex-negative.” I’m perpetually amused to have been placed in some imagined “anti-sex” camp due to my criticisms of the sex industry, though it becomes less and less laughable as more and more people seem to be buying into the notion that “pro-porn” equals “pro-sex.” After all, what’s so “sex-positive” about commodified, coerced sex? What’s so “sex-positive” about promoting an industry that encourages an understanding of sex and sexuality that is not only male-centered, but prioritizes profit over the well-being, pleasure, and respect of women?
Greer’s comments, in fact, were the only “sex-positive” thing I heard in the entire debate, who said (and I completely agree): “I’m in favour of erotic art. I’m desperate to find a way to reincorporate sexuality in the narrative that we give of our lives.” That I feel nothing less than elated in the rare moments I’ve seen women’s bodies and sexualities represented onscreen in ways that don’t objectify and degrade shows me how desperate I am for this as well. We’re so accustomed to pornographic representations of sex and sexuality that we can’t even imagine an alternative. We’ve been told that porn equals sex and that, therefore, to be critical of porn is to be critical of sexual expression. That argument is then extended into one that says that, by either criticizing, limiting, or “censoring” pornography, we are repressing people’s sexualities and sexual freedom. But, as Greer points out: “Pornography doesn’t make us less repressed — pornography is a way of making money off of the fact that we are repressed.”
The solution to the massive and insidious impacts of porn on our lives and views of women, men, and sexuality is not “more porn”. Neither will “diversity” resolve the misogynistic and exploitative nature of the porn industry. The fact that Arrowsmith believes that objectifying “an amputee” or women who don’t look like Playboy models is liberating shows a depressing lack of understanding with regard to how the industry functions and the ways that objectification impacts the status of and real lives of women everywhere. The fact that she believes that women will feel better about their perceived flaws because they can find porn that fetishizes said flaws is, frankly, stupid. “Ooooh look! That man just came all over that lady’s tummy rolls! Body-hatred = resolved.”
“Whatever gives you pleasure, gives you power” can only be your mantra so long as power (rather than social equality) is your modus operandi. When Arrowsmith tells us that “whatever interests you, sexually, is what you should practice,” what she’s condoning and advocating for is not women or female sexual liberation, but a model that says that individual desire, whatever that desire may be, takes precedence over justice, equality, and human rights. Beyond that, pornography limits possibilities for, and our ability to explore real sexual pleasure outside the confines set up by the linear narrative of porn which prioritizes male ejaculation over all else and teaches women to focus on their performance (and faked orgasms) rather than their pleasure.
Arrowsmith says pornography is like “a game or a sport,” and she’s right, in a way… The “game” is one of narcissistic conquest wherein, as Anita Sarkeesian reminded us recently, with respect to “the game of patriarchy,” rather than being the opposing team, women are the ball.
Arrowsmith’s “queer, feminist porn” is nothing more than a desire to jump into the court and grab a racket in the vain hope she won’t get hit.
This story is pretty all around gross. Trigger warning for grossness, k?
Because we’ve yet to hear from Danny Brown on the whole incident, aside from his bragging on Twitter, it’s hard to say exactly how everything went down or what the context was for Brown getting a blow job from a fan, on stage, at a recent show in Minneapolis, MN.
The story’s getting a lot of attention, not just because it’s kind of a, let’s say, “salacious” story, but also because rapper, Kitty Pryde, who is on tour with Brown and witnessed the incident, is “mad as hell” that people aren’t calling it “an actual sexual assault.”
Some further context (this is an account from someone in the audience):
"I was right behind the girl and saw everything it was scaring: Okay so this is how it all went down, I was near the front row and all night Danny had been going up to the crowd and having random girls touch his d*ck through his pants. Then this girl in front of me starts flashing him and he goes up to her and grabs her t*ts. Then all of a sudden gets up close pulls his shirt up a little and she start blowing him. Then I’m behind her and I start getting pushed against her by the crowd shifting. It horrible and i hope you guys will be donating to my future therapy sessions but also i came back with a story. He rapped the entire time during too."
In case you aren’t a hip-hop fan, or haven’t heard of Danny Brown, he’s not exactly the most pro-woman of rappers. And I know that isn’t necessarily saying much…. But I think it’s reasonable to say he’s something of a misogynist, in lyrics and in life. (Full disclosure: I included one of his tracks, “Grown Up” in my not-famous-or-even-remotely-something-anyone-cares-about-but-me-and-two-of-my-friends top ten hip-hop tracks of 2012 list, before I saw this conversation between him and A$AP Rocky and decided to leave him off next year’s list…)
Now. I understand, full well, that men can be sexually assaulted. Even misogynist men. Like women (though at lower rates), men, too, are raped (by other men). I’m not saying that Danny Brown isn’t “assaultable”. That’s not my point.
If I were Kitty Pryde, and I was the opening act for another rapper and had to witness him getting a blow job on stage, I would be pissed too. Livid, in fact. But her reasons for being angry about the incident confuse me a little.
She says that her friend, Danny Brown, “like anyone else… wants to be respected as an artist and a human.” Ok. Sure he does. He doesn’t seem to have much respect for women, as “humans,” with lyrics like “Fuck a bitch mouth until her fucking face cave in,” but whatever. They aren’t important. Danny Brown wants our respect, so we should give it to him. Pryde says, specifically, Brown wants to be respected “as a man.” And we all know what that means, don’t we? To be respected “as a man,” particularly in hyper-masculine, pro-misogyny environments, means treating women like holes that dicks go in.
Pryde also says she’s mad that “when two dudes pulled my pants down onstage, other people got mad too, but when it happened to Danny the initial reaction was like one big high-five.” So ok. I’m mad, too. I’m mad that this is part of hip-hop culture and I’m mad that this kind of thing gets Brown props. I’m mad about all the ass-shaking women do for Diplo, too. In general, mad about the way women are marginalized and relegated to being either ornaments or prostitute/groupies in so much of hip-hop (and culture at large!). But I also understand why, when two dudes pull down a woman’s pants on stage, versus what happened to Brown, the reaction would be different. So, what Pryde is “mad as hell” about seems misplaced to me.
If the accounts are true, that Brown was having random girls touch his dick, through his pants, throughout the night and that he grabbed the breasts of a woman who flashed him, and, if you look at the photo of the incident, you see Brown’s hand on the back of the woman’s head and assume it’s a semi-accurate depiction of what went down… I don’t know… I feel like the context for this incident, in comparison with a situation where two men pull down the pants of a woman on stage, is quite different.
I don’t agree that people should be performing sexual acts on strangers without their consent, obviously. And I do think that a culture wherein men are supposed to enjoy it when this kind of thing happens, because they’re men, and they’re supposed to want it all the time, is really, really awful and dangerous. But to be all up in arms that people either don’t care “because a girl did it to a boy” or that people aren’t calling this rape or are unwilling to say that what happened at that show is the exact same thing as two men ripping the pants off of a woman on stage or sexually assaulting a woman on stage seems a bit off base to me.
Brown uses women as objects to prop up his own masculinity — in his lyrics and at his shows. He brags about not missing a beat as a woman blows him on stage. He holds the back of her head as she’s doing it. Is that the same thing as a man raping a woman? And is it true that we “don’t care” because the gender roles are reversed? It’s times like these where I feel that context is important, and that perhaps Pryde doesn’t quite understand the significance of that context.
Now, if Brown comes out and says, you know, “that photo is manipulated and I bragged about the incident in order to protect my masculinity but actually I felt violated,” fine. Maybe we can have a different conversation. But at this point I’m uncomfortable simply switching out “man” for “woman” and saying “it’s the same thing.”
The Court will decide whether or not to keep the current prostitution laws (which criminalize communicating for the purposes of prostitution, running a brothel, and pimping) or strike any or all of them down.
The Coalition will argue to keep the current laws which criminalize men who buy sex, sell women or profit off of prostitution, and to decriminalize prostituted women. Their position is based in the understanding that women enter the sex trade due to race, class, and gender inequality.
The other groups who got leave to intervene in the case are:
Someone messaged me yesterday asking my perspective on Game of Thrones; wondering if I had any feministy links or insights to share with him.
I stopped watching GoT early in the second season, after Joffrey forces one prostitute to beat another unconscious in a horrifically sadistic and gruesome way. I’d already been having a hard time digesting the women’s-bodies-as-wallpaper theme in the show, never mind the sexualized violence, and watching this misogynist man-child force a woman to beat another bloody pushed me over the edge. It was bad enough that, in the very first episode, teenaged Daenerys is raped by her new husband and it was bad enough that the directors feel it’s necessary to include naked prostitutes roaming around in the background of scenes that don’t require porny, decorative ladies there for any particular reason, but this just did it for me. I feel like I’ve watched enough rape and violence and sexed up sadism to last me a lifetime. No more please.
To be clear, I have zero problem with depictions of sex or nudity on screen. I wrote about Lena Dunham’s non-porny nude scenes in Girlsas an example of the difference betweeen pornified objectification and non-sexist depictions of women’s bodies and of sex on screen to show that, yes! it is possible for women to be naked or sexual without turning it into porn. But we just don’t much like doing that these days in mainstream media and pop culture. It’s as though we’ve forgotten how, or are simply too lazy to imagine anything different. Women are to-be-looked-at and we expect women’s bodies, in imagery, to turn us on — We’ve learned that’s pretty much the whole point of women’s bodies.
After receiving this message, I started looking around online to see what feminists were saying about GoT, having stopped paying much attention to commentary on it since I stopped watching the show.
The first thing I came across was this article at Buzzfeed: “9 Ways ‘Game of Thrones’ is Actually Feminist.” And man, am I getting sick of people trying to force feminism into places it doesn’t exist. Last week I read a post over atBitch about how, while the actresses who play Peggy and Joan on Mad Men were reluctant to call their characters “feminist,” they (according to the writer, Yoonj Kim) actually “displayed feminist thinking” and were only rejecting the label because of negative connotations. But both actresses point out that their characters have little interest in any kind of radical movement and while they may want respect, or to get ahead in the workplace, that doesn’t necessarily equate to feminism. Why Kim feels so adamant about pushing the feminist label onto these characters, I don’t quite understand.
I get the feeling that (some) women, especially younger feminist women, really, really want the things they like to be feminist. Which is a nice thought, of course, but is also ridiculous. Just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean that everything you do, think, or watch is, or must also be, feminist. I watch Real Housewives on the regular, for example. I really, really love it. It isn’t feminist. Not in any way. And that’s fine. I’m over it. Why do we feel like we need to look for feminism in places it doesn’t exist?
It’s how we end up desperately insisting that burlesque or porny selfies are “empowering” or even feminist. “IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD RIGHT NOW. PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT ME. I MADE A CHOICE. TO SHAKE MY TITS ON STAGE” has nothing to do with a movement to end patriarchy. It just doesn’t. Feel free to post photos of your cleavage on Instagram all you want, but don’t call it feminism. It just makes me feel sad. Likewise, trying to force feminism on things you like — Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Magic Mike, whatever — doesn’t make it true.
The argument being made by Kate Aurthur, the author of the Buzzfeed article, seems to be that the creators of the show altered the female characters in the books in order to give the characters in the TV series more power and agency, making some of them into more multi-dimensional characters than those which were depicted in the books. And sure, that might be true, but having some forms of power or having moments of agency doesn’t equal feminism. Particularly in a show that unnecessarily objectifies and sexualizes pretty much all of the female characters. Just as, while some individual women may hold power in the world, that doesn’t necessarily equate to an equal world or work towards the collective liberation of all women.
In a post over at The Literati Collective, Elizabeth Mulhall points out that “none of the female characters demonstrate power that is not in some way mitigated by their gender.” So these characters may be allowed to be temporarily powerful in certain contexts, but we’re always reminded of their subordinate status or their role as object of the male gaze. Even in the books, author George R. R. Martin (who claims to be a “feminist at heart” HAAAAAAAAA) obsessively reminds his readers about Daenerys’ young, sexy, lady-boobs, which certainly has translated into imagery in the show. From the books (and inside the mind of a, supposed, male feminist):
“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”
Don’t forget about her boobs, you guys. She has boobs. And she thinks about her boobs whenever she does anything. We all do. As Mulhall points out, “Her demonstrations of power are almost always balanced out by observations about her nubile body and general boob-havingness.” It’s like, ok, we’ll give you some power, but stay sexy. Which is pretty much how things work in real life too, if you hadn’t noticed. Sure, a few of you can have some money and some power, but also pose for photos in your underwear. Deal?
Martin seems to think he did his female characters (and, actually women everywhere!) a favour by letting them be humanish, but I’m afraid that isn’t enough to make the show, or the books, for that matter, “feminist.” Nor does “less rapes,” as Aurthur seems to think.
Not only that, but when confronted with criticisms about the over-the-top sexualization, the show creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss can only muster up defensiveness, saying:
I don’t know why sex and violence get highlighted so much… You don’t hear people talking about gratuitous punch lines and gratuitous politics: It’s all about what belongs in any given scene. We put in the show what we think belongs in the show.
“Wah! We like it!” Is pretty much their response. If you can’t even accept and address these kinds of criticisms, I’m not inclined to put any effort into buying some garbage about how “Oh, but the female characters are human beings!” Whatever. So a girl runs an army. Not only does the ability to kill other people or have some power over a certain number of other people not equate to the liberation of women, like, in any way at all, but if feminists are telling you you’re objectifying women and sexualizing violence and your only reaction is to defend said objectification and sexualization, you lose pretty much all your credibility in feminism-land.
I’m afraid we’re grasping at straws on this one, ladies.
The latest from A Voice For Men’s “activism” files is a smear campaign against a protester they are calling “Big Red.” “Big Red” (nothing sexist about that name) is a woman who dared to speak out (USING SWEAR WORDS, OH NO) against Men’s Rights Activists’ anti-feminist agenda.
For those who are unfamiliar with this situation, earlier in April a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) group called the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) sponsored a lecture at the University of Toronto where there were talks by Janice Fiamengo about how feminism is mean. Specifically, a “mean-spirited bias against men in the humanities.”
There were protestors at the event which CAFE says could be heard shouting during the talk. From their website: “Dialogue confronting sexism proceeds while protestors scream to shut down even.” Paul Elam and friends at A Voice for Men took it upon themselves to celebrate free speech by editing videos featuring Big Red, while Dan Perrins wrote an article entitled: “Little Red Frothing Fornication Mouth” that you can find yourself if you are so inclined. This campaign highlighted Big Red’s protest and compared her practice of disagreement, which however loud and obnoxious is still covered under freedom of expression, by comparing what she was talking about—patriarchal theory and how it affects men—to tactics used by the Third Reich.
First of all, let’s be clear here: No, Big Red was not polite. Yes, she was abrasive and caustic and downright rude. No, neither of the authors of this article would necessarily choose to protest an event that they feel is designed to silence women by yelling shut the fuck up. Yes, we see the irony in the fact that she was screaming over (seemingly reasonable) voices, claiming that she isn’t being heard.
But you know what? As Polonius said: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
She’s not being heard. Those men aren’t listening to her when she’s countering their points about how hard it is to be a man. Those men aren’t listening when she’s trying to explain how feminism is not, in fact, the work of Satan and actually does work to address the issues that they’re bringing up. Those men aren’t listening when she tries to read off a list explaining the actual goals of feminism, but yet they insist she read their list.
Look, Big Red might not the person that we would choose as the poster child for Canadian feminism. Maybe her behaviour isn’t ideal. But we also understand how dealing with men, men who won’t admit to the existence of the patriarchy, men who deny the idea of male privilege, men who hate women, can wear you down until you turn into the screaming feminist banshee that the MRAs thought you were all along, anyway.
Big Red has (naturally) been identified on the Men’s Rights subreddit, where those Hardy Boys of misogyny have used their super sleuthing skills to discover her real name and have pulled photographs from her twitter account and various dating profiles.
This woman, who has been re-christened “Little Red Frothing Fornication Mouth” (so charming!) by A Voice for Men is now receiving death threats, rape threats and, of course, tons of crude sexual commentary regarding her appearance and behaviour. We wish that we could say that we’re surprised, but we’re not.
The fact is that you are fucking kidding yourself if you think that Elam’s Men’s Rights Movement is about anything other than silencing women. And even if it were true that every single individual MRA wasn’t out to destroy all feminists everywhere — the ultimate goals of the movement as a whole is to Teach Women Their Place through whatever means necessary.
Aside from how triggering and painful it is to watch yet another woman be thrown to the internet wolves, it’s also just plain exhausting and demoralizing having to hear the same old song and dance from the MRAs about the evils of feminism:
“Feminists are trying to silence men.”
“Feminists hate men.”
“Feminism has lead to the oppression of men” (seriously, every time someone says that, we want to break out Mandy Patinkin’s old Princess Bride gem: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”).
“Why is it called feminism if it’s for human rights?”
The truth is that, fundamentally, these arguments used against feminism by the MRAs can be applied much more accurately to their own movement.
For instance, how can A Voice for Men demand free speech while practicing silencing and bullying tactics worthy of the McCarthy himself? They mimic the practices of Neo-Nazi website Redwatch, claiming to be suffering from oppression while at the same time publishing personal information about far left and anti-fascist activists in hopes that their supporters will attack them. The constant comparison of feminists to Nazis employed by the author of “Little Red Frothing Fornication Mouth” doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny when you publish on a site that borrows neo-Nazi tactics. Also: Ideologically, feminism is far more closely aligned with communism than fascism. Read a book.
One of the writers of this piece has had the delight of speaking with people who, enraged about her video explaining that feminism is not hatred of men, have mocked everything from her looks to her intellect. Other posts written by feminists are rife with commenters insinuating that our preoccupation with rape belies some deep urge to experience it (RAPE – IT’S WHAT WE ALL WANT, AMIRITE LADIES?). And this sentiment isn’t happening in the periphery of A Voice for Men– not at all. In fact, it’s included in much of the featured content on their site.
Paul Elam, founder and publisher of A Voice for Men, wrote in his June 22, 2011 article, “The Unspoken Side of Rape”: “The concept of rape has a lot of utility for women. One, it feeds their narcissistic need to feel irresistible”. Interestingly, we have yet to hear one single feminist posit that MRAs write about prison rape because it makes them feel desirable or sexy. The difference, they would likely argue, is that the feminists talking about rape are heterosexual women who are talking about heterosexual rape (sidebar – how come we’re all man-hating lesbians when it’s convenient for them, and other times we’re all undersexed heteros?), whereas prison rape is heterosexual men being subjected to homosexual acts. THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. Equating sexual preference with rape is a false comparison. Rape, by definition, is unwanted.
But maybe A Voice for Men’s (intentional) misunderstanding of this fact is what allows them to feel comfortable threatening women with rape — Because in their minds, it’s what we all secretly want anyway.
Unfortunately, Big Red’s case is not the first time that A Voice for Men has used silencing tactics against feminists. Emma (Claire) Kadey is listed on register-her.com along with women the MRAs have listed as pedophiles and rapists, for taking down posters of the U of T students and loudly protesting against the lecture. On June 28th, 2011 Elam gleefully declared “You see, I find you, as a feminist, to be a loathsome, vile piece of human garbage. I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection” (pssst we call that hate speech).
Additionally A Voice for Men has offered $1000 bounties for the personal information of the creators of a (fake) video where a man is shot point-blank and then the females present gleefully dance around his dead body. Do the authors of this article think that video’s fucked up? Sure. And yet, we don’t typically demand the personal information for those who create graphic BDSM videos, or of those who produce the sub-genre of horror known colloquially as torture porn.
A Voice for Men created register-her.com, a fake “offenders registry” of women they’d like to believe are criminals. In AVfM land, criminals are people like Jessica Valenti, Sophia Guo (a protester at MRA god, Warren Farrell’s 2012 talk at the University of Toronto), Katherine Heigl (kind of a weird addition), and Amanda Marcotte.
In short, their “criminals” are feminists.
A Voice for Men can lie all they want about their intentions to expose hatred within the feminist community. They can pretend that they have nothing against women, per se, just that they’re trying to protect themselves against the Evil Machinations of Man-Haters Everywhere. They can go ahead and make trumped up claims about how badly feminists have hurt them, how little power men have, and how very dangerous feminism is (while boasting a terrorist manifesto by Tim Ball calling for police, courts and government to be burned out). They can pretend that they’re on some kind of human rights mission.
But you know what? We don’t understand how promoting human rights equates to lobbing death threats and rape threats at women who dare to speak out against MRAs.
We have never seen a feminist threaten an MRA with any of those things. Of course, in the bottom half of the internet you never know what you will find, but we haven’t seen it. The usual cries against feminist literature “but the SCUM Manifesto—feminists are mean!” Well, Solanas has been quoted as saying “it is a literary device. There’s no society and never will be”. So it is going to be ok! There’s no group of feminists out there plotting mass gendercide. Equality… We want equality.
In all movements there happen to surface voices that we wouldn’t choose to represent the totality of the whole movement. In fact, there are many MRAs who are starting to feel that way about A Voice for Men. Even in the Men’s Rights Reddit there are dissenting voices against A Voice for Men’s tendency to demand free speech while practicing silencing tactics.
The fact is that A Voice for Men promotes rape culture and violence against women, and that’s really all there is to it.
Look. Guys. We get it. A lot of you haven’t had easy lives. You’ve had shitty things happen to you. You need a scapegoat, and feminism is an easy one. You feel that women get a free pass in life, and that men are treated badly as a result. But you know what? The most common complaints that I hear from MRAs are things that came about as the result of the patriarchy.
Historically, patriarchy operates through the disproportionate (sometimes exclusive) conferring of leadership status (and formal titles indicating that status) on men, a tradition characterised by casting all women as naturally unsuited to lead men, no matter what talents and expertise they might possess (unless there are exceptional circumstances resulting from intersections with other social hierarchies conferring high status that gives rare women political authority such as the royal lineage in the British family, or the divine claim to authority of Joan of Arc).
A few examples:
Society has always been better to women.
If by better you mean “for centuries society did not consider them to be people, and thought that they were incapable of doing any work outside the home” then sure. In pre-industrial France a man would take a wife when he couldn’t afford a servant.
Biologically every woman counts in reproduction, where males are more disposable.
Look, we don’t like being walking incubators any more than you like feeling as if you’re nothing more than some kind of sperminator. We don’t want to be treated as if we’re special just because we have the ability to get pregnant! This is actually the opposite of what feminists want.
Courts always rule against men in cases regarding child custody
You know why? Because the patriarchy teaches us that only women can be nurturing, loving caregivers. This is not what feminists want! We want to break down traditional gender roles!
Women are rescued first in any emergency or disaster, lifeboats!
First of all, that’s not true, and second of all: Patriarchy. Patriarchy is what teaches us that women aren’t competent enough to save themselves and therefore have to be given some kind of special priority.
Men work longer hours at more dangerous jobs, men have to fight wars, men are more likely to die violent deaths.
Guess why? Oh right, patriarchy, that’s why! Because traditionally we have been taught that women are not strong or brave enough to work at dangerous jobs or fight on the front lines. These are more gender stereotypes that feminists want to get rid of.
And we don’t want men to die violent deaths, I promise. Pinky swear. We need you to fill our sad, empty wombs with babies. Haha! Just kidding! A little feminist humour for you there. No but seriously, we for reals don’t want you to die.
At the end of the day, the fact is that we should all be on the same team. And feminists want this! I promise! But for that to happen, you (and by you, I mean dudes) need to accept a few things: 1) The patriarchy is real, 2) Male privilege actually is a thing, and 3) That women are still struggling for legal and social equality. We need you to be willing to listen to us, to give us the benefit of the doubt, and actually believe us when we tell you that something is sexist or misogynistic.
We want to work with you. But first you have to stop hating us, calling us criminals, and threatening us with death and rape. You need to take a good, hard look at what the Men’s Rights Movement is really trying to achieve, and decide if those are actually goals that you support. And you have to just plain give us a chance.
Danielle Paradis is a writer and blogger scribbling furiously across the feminist internet on Fem 2.0, Flurt Magazine, Persephone Magazine, and Paradigm Shift NYC. She’s completing a Masters in Learning & Technology at Royal Roads University. Danielle currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta while dreaming of any place warmer. Learn more at Danielleparadis.com
Anne Theriault lives in Toronto with her husband and young son. She spends her days teaching yoga, reading in cafés, and trying to figure out how to negotiate in toddler-ese. She regularly blogs about books, nostalgia and feminism at bellejarblog.wordpress.com
A piece published in the Toronto Star over the weekend may have led you to believe it would, as the headline: “Feminists take opposite stands on prostitution” alludes, explore different feminist positions on prostitution and prostitution law.
The author, Rosie DiManno (“one of the Star’s best and most prolific writers!“), immediately trips all over herself in an attempt to rile up some page views by framing feminist positions on prostitution as “completely oppositional,” following through with a 1300-word story she made up in her head about feminism. Cool story, Rosie! Oh wait, are we pretending this is journalism? Sweet.
As much as the prostitution debates in feminism are divisive, they aren’t “oppositional” (though, I don’t know how many more times I can point this out without feeling like no one really cares to cover these debates accurately). As DiManno may or may not know, the division among feminists (with regard to prostitution law, in any case), is centered around the criminalization of pimps and johns. It’s safe to say that the vast majority (if not all) of feminists advocate to decriminalize prostituted women. It’s also safe to say that all feminists want an end to violence against women, including women working in the sex industry. The value in pointing this out is both to find common ground, because there’s lots of it, but also to avoid falling back on tropes and nonexistant stereotypes. In terms of having this debate with some kind of integrity and with the goal of finding a real and viable path towards equality (which, one would like to presume is a goal of feminism), honesty is useful.
And with that point, the “honesty” one, let’s move back to DiManno. The headline suggests we can expect a fair shake of sorts — a piece that explores two sides of an argument. “Misleading” is a tepid word in this case, as it becomes immediately clear that DiManno’s goal is anything but exploratory, unbiased, or honest. Which isn’t to say I think we must be unbiased in our writing, but rather that it’s reasonable to expect, at very least, some level of truth. Particularly when we are trying to convince our readers we are, indeed, exploring two sides of a debate with integrity. DiManno’s goal, it’s clear, is not only to further divide, but to do so on deceptive ground.
Let’s start at the beginning (maybe take this opportunity to take some Gravol or grab a drink), with DiManno’s explanation of these “dual, completely oppositional feminist perspectives on prostitution”:
"The first operates from a premise that sex for money — the business of prostitutes — is inherently wrong and exploitive. These arguments cleave to a time immemorial moral disapproval, which is why its proponents, though often calling themselves feminists — and by many definitions they indeed are — have a great deal more in common with religious organizations and the family values mob."
OH ROSIE. Let’s try this again. The abolitionist position (is this what we’re talking about? You’ve yet to say exactly WHO it is you are pretending to characterize here) argues that women’s bodies are not things that exist for male use. We argue that women should not have to resort to selling sex in order to survive or to feed their kids. We argue that prostitution exists as a direct result of class, race, and gender inequality. “Moral disapproval” has no more to do with our approach and ideology than socialism is about “moralizing” against the exploitative nature of capitalism. It could be argued that advocating towards an equitable society is about morals, if you believe that equality is “right” and inequality is “wrong”; but I’m pretty sure that’s not where you were going with this. Case-in-point: This line, which claims feminists have “a great deal more in common with religious organizations and the family values mob.”
Well I don’t know, because as an atheist and as a person who rejects the nuclear family model, the institution of marriage, and traditional notions about women’s primary purpose in society as baby-maker, I’ve never felt I had much in common “with religious organizations and the family values mob.” The Christian right doesn’t think prostitution is “bad” because they want an end to male power and to elevate the status of women. They think it’s bad because they believe sex shouldn’t happen outside of marriage or without the purpose of baby-making/maintaining a traditional, heterosexual, patriarchal family. This position is actually “oppositional” (you know that word, right, Rosie?) to the feminist position on, well, everything.
At the most radical end of that spectrum, some might even subscribe to the infamous assertion by the late anarchist Andrea Dworkin that “all heterosexual sex is rape’’
It’s high time (and by “high time,” of course, I mean: Clearly none of you give any fucks about accuracy) people stopped misquoting Dworkin on this non-point. You could try actually reading her work, or you could do a quick Google search for: “Dworkin ‘all heterosexual sex is rape.’’’
Go on. I’ll wait.
Ok. Let’s compare notes. You likely came across a number of entries correcting this common (and intentionally, lazily manipulative) misrepresentation/myth. One of those places was likely a Wikipedia entry which clarifies that, while Dworkin was, yes, very critical of heterosexual sex as both the norm and as a potential space for female subordination within the context of a patriarchal society, there is actually no place in the history of ever where she is quoted as saying “all heterosexual sex is rape” (Quick tip for future reference: Quotations often imply that you are quoting someone). Dworkin herself corrected this misinterpretation a number of times over (for example, in this interview from 1995 — That’s over FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, folks! Think it might be time to put this one to rest?), saying things like: “I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality,” and “Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I do not think they need it.” (Again, this information is available via handy Wikipedia! You don’t even have to do any real reading or research to know what you’re talking about — That should please you immensely, Rosie).
So it’s not actually possible to subscribe to a notion that doesn’t exist, for starters and while, yes, there are some anti-PIV feminists, I nor any of the women I work with in the abolition movement believe that “all sex is rape”.
Now, you got the Nordic model mostly right, Rosie (nice one!) — It’s a feminist model that sees prostitution as a product of patriarchy (and capitalism) and, works towards a society where women have other options than to sell sex while simultaneously teaches men that it is not their right to use women’s bodies simply because they have an erection/cash. There is absolutely no argument that can be made to argue that prostitution is not a gendered industry when 80-90% of prostitutes are women. We are all, also, fully aware that the vast, vast majority of clients/johns are men (even when sex is being bought from other men and boys). The Nordic model targets male buyers rather than female prostitutes because of the gendered (and economic) power imbalance. That is also why we call this model a “feminist” one. Violence against sex workers happens at the hands of men, and therefore the focus should be on the perpetrators. You can call that “aggressive” if you like, provided that you admit that you think feminist ideology is somehow “aggressive” and then provide an argument that backs up the notion that working to end the oppression of, and subsequent violence against, women is, somehow “aggressive.” Be sure to let us all know what you come up with.
Next up: the Bedford v. Canada case.
Bedford v. Canada was initiated by Alan Young. He brought on three women, two of which have aged out of prostitution and are looking to open and brothels, as part of his efforts to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws. Currently the laws in Canada criminalize living on the avails of prostitution (pimping), communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, and running a bawdy house (brothel). On September 28, 2010, Justice Susan Himel ruled for the Ontario Superior Court that these three provisions were unconstitutional and struck them down. That decision was appealed and went on to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
On March 26, 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the bawdy house law, upheld the law criminalizing communication (the law that, in essence, criminalizes women working the streets), and found the “living on the avails” law should apply only in “circumstances of exploitation” (so no real change there as that is, after all, the point of that law).
At this point, the impact of this decision is nil (and would have only had immediate impact on Ontario’s prostitution law, as the laws are decided on a province-to-province basis) and the judgment was appealed and is going on to the Supreme Court of Canada (scheduled for hearing on June 12th, 2013).
DiManno goes on to quote “Jane Doe” who seems to be under the impression that she’s debating someone (evil, imaginary feminists, one might presume?), who says she “rejects outright the moralizing quotient and maintains that keeping solicitation on the books, in fact, furthers violence against women, particularly the most marginalized prostitutes who will continue to work on the streets.”
This statement manipulatively implies that, somehow, there is a “moralistic” faction of feminists who want to criminalize prostitutes, placing the Bedford claimants on the other end of this imagined spectrum which, as noted above, is a lie.
DiManno continues to quote this anonymous person in order to confirm and reinforce all the sweeping and untrue stereotypes she set out to “prove” in the first place — comparing the religious right and radical feminists, and making the mysterious claim that abolitionists believe “prostitution is responsible for all violence against women, but especially sexual assault.”
I will say this again, though I doubt it will stick and imagine I’ll be repeating this for the rest of my life so long as folks like DiManno feel comfortable ignoring facts, research, and ideology; publishing bold-faced lies in order to put forth their arguments (to what end, I have no idea, really, as that which women like DiManno might see as a successful outcome of these misrepresentations — the decriminalization of pimps and johns — has been proven disastrous): Feminists don’t hate sex, they don’t think prostituted women are “bad,” and they aren’t “anti-sex worker.” Abolitionists are far more “pro-sex” (if you want to call it that), than those who believe sex is something that should happen under duress or out of desperation. You want “enthusiastic consent”? That’s not going to happen under a model that treats prostitution as a social safety net. If a woman needs to give blow jobs to pay her rent or feed her kids, that doesn’t count as “enthusiastic consent” — that counts as having no other choice.
And finally, we come to exit programs. An integral part of any system that wishes to help women leave the sex industry if they desire. Jane Doe says:
What the state offers right now are exit programs. The police arrest you and the woman is given a choice — get charged and go to jail or take this exit program. They’ll teach you how to use a computer, how to put your resumé together, and the ill of your ways. I know what I’d choose between those two. They’re completely ineffective and insulting to adult women. They encourage you to get the job at McDonald’s. Women can do that all by themselves, without exit programs.
So actually no. There are no real exiting programs in Canada. Nothing comprehensive or functional, in any case, if what we’re looking at is actually helping and supporting women who want to leave the industry. And the thing is that, if we legalize or completely decriminalize prostitution, we lose any and all leverage we might have in terms of lobbying the government to allocate money for these kinds of programs because prostitution becomes just a job like any other. Do we provide exiting programs for people who work as massage therapists? Or as waitresses? Do you need an exiting program and years of therapy, drug treatment, retraining, safe housing, and treatment for PTSD when you quit your job at the coffee shop? Nope. Think there might be a reason for that?
If we can all agree, which it seems we can, that “the violence is the problem,’’ then we should also be able to agree that it is the source of that violence that needs to be addressed. There’s some common ground for you.
And to DiManno: Lying and manipulating readers via misguided, misinformed, misrepresentative, anti-feminist diatribes is almost as bad as liberally quoting an anonymous source’s misguided and misinformed lies. I don’t know what the Toronto Star thinks it’s publishing, but it isn’t journalism. It isn’t even an informed opinion. Shame.
Tom Matlack is white dude with tons of cash. The Good Men Project is profitable. That he continues to obsess about being victimized by the evil feminists doesn’t make much sense as feminism, and what feminists think about him, very clearly have had little impact on his life (aside from maybe the amount of time he spends instigating and engaging in Twitter wars with feminists). Unless, of course, you place his whines within a Men’s Rights context. Because what Matlack is doing is what all MRAs do — Pretending that white men, who are the single most powerful group of people on the planet (which is different than saying that individual men can’t experience oppression or be victimized — they can — but AS A GROUP white men are not discriminated against on a systemic level) are actually victims of feminism — a movement to end the oppression of women, as a group.
Just today, Matlack published another whiny post that basically equates to “Why me? WHY. (Me)” opining, yet again, feminist “attacks” on men, cloaked in this “I really care about women’s liberation, but women are doing it wrong” thing he’s become so fond of.
When a commenter says the following:
If feminists were truly concerned about equality they would not be seeking superiority. There are more challenges that we as men are facing today that females are not. Frankly society is not stepping up to the plate to bat for us. “They just don’t care.”
Tom responds saying he “couldn’t agree more.” These aren’t the words of an ally. This is MRA stuff, plain and simple.
So here’s the thing, Tom. Feminism doesn’t want you. The last thing we need is some rich, white dude explaining to us how REAL liberation should happen. You’ve proven yourself over and over again to be a sexist douche who thinks feminists are bashing all men simply because they call YOU out on your bullshit. YOU are part of the problem. And anyone with two brain cells can see that a man who goes around calling feminists crazy isn’t of any help to the feminist movement.
So here’s my suggestion: Stop talking about feminism. Stop talking about equality. Stop pretending to be on women’s side. You aren’t. You’re on your side. Your opinion on our movement is irrelevant and we keep telling you as much, yet you continue trying to force your opinions about women and “equality” onto the world and then get all butthurt when we tell you, once again, that you aren’t helping. What do you need from us? You’re already making more money than any of us evil feminist bloggers. Do you need attention? Kind of like a spoiled child? LOOK AT ME. ME. ME. Why not just come out, once and for all, as just another MRA who can’t put together a coherent argument to save his life? The “good man” shtick is such a shoddy cover for your men-are-real-victims M.O. and your desperation for relevance is offensive.
No one proposes ending war by unionizing arms manufacturers. Proposing to end violence against women in the sex trade by unionizing them is likewise untenable. The best way to end violence against women in the sex trade is still to end the sex trade. The unionization strategy is a reformist position – and the position that we would like to live in a world where there is no such thing as prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, while it might seem fantastical, is a revolutionary position and the correct line to have for a leftist who calls herself a feminist. It’s not moralistic hand-wringing to criticize the base assumptions of the military industrial complex; why then, is it just my “personal baggage” speaking when I criticize the sex trade?
First, we should look at the conditions in which women in the sex trade live, and ask ourselves if these conditions could be alleviated by unionization:
Seventy percent of women in prostitution in San Francisco, California were raped (Silbert & Pines, 1982). A study in Portland, Oregon found that prostituted women were raped on average once a week (Hunter, 1994). Eighty-five percent of women in Minneapolis, Minnesota had been raped in prostitution (Parriott, 1994). Ninety-four percent of those in street prostitution experienced sexual assault and 75% were raped by one or more johns (Miller, 1995). In the Netherlands (where prostitution is legal) 60% of prostituted women suffered physical assaults, 70% experienced verbal threats of assault, 40% experienced sexual violence and 40% were forced into prostitution and/or sexual abuse by acquaintances (Vanwesenbeeck, et al. 1995, 1994)… The prevalence of PTSD among prostituted women from 5 countries was 67% (Farley et. al. 1998), which is the same range as that of combat veterans (Weathers et. al. 1993).
All workers including sex workers have the right to:
full protection of all existing laws, regardless of the context and without discrimination. These include all laws relating to harassment, violence, threats, intimidation, health and safety and theft.
access the full range of employment, contract and property laws.
participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma
full and voluntary access to non-discriminatory health checks and medical advice
Here is where we begin to be mired in questions, a case by case judgment of “good” vs. “bad” prostitution. What defines coercion? What defines trafficking? What defines abuse? What defines empowerment? Certainly, the assumption of the IUSW is that the sex industry is a normal, neutral industry wherein women happen to be subject to incredible amounts of violence and poverty, where nearly half (47%) are under the age of 18 when they begin working. The idea of the IUSW and other unionists is that the trade is not the focus – the focus, as we so often find it when discussing sex work, is on the women themselves.
Unions often define themselves by their relationship with management – with the “boss” - but for sex worker unions this is hardly ever the case. As the women are primarily seen as independent contractors for the sake of analysis, the john and pimps are left out of the picture. The culture surrounding the sex trade is not up for analysis, either. It is a neutral, unchanging constant.
The boss is the john, and to take action against the john or the culture that encourages him is to shut down business. Instead, the union is supposed to either challenge the state (to legalize prostitution) or to perform the functions of the state (provide protection, legal counseling, health services). Yet, these are reformist measures that simplyserve to react to the conditions women live in, rather than challenging the very conditions themselves. Lest we forget: women are not raped and abused because of a lack of state regulation (or too much state regulation), they are raped and abused because the john, pimp and cop decide to do so, and exist within a system that shelters them from consequence.
Within the realm of the normalized sex trade, rape and abuse are no longer crimes against the person, but rather occupational hazards. In the blog, “Tits and Sass”, two articles underscore this quite well. The first, about rape, is written from the perspective that “unwanted sex” is still consensual when the woman sees material gain from the process. This agrees with studies of john behavior and attitudes, wherein a full quarter believe that the very concept of raping a prostitute is “ridiculous.”
It’s rare that I give authentic “enthusiastic consent” while I’m working. And that’s how I prefer it.
“Enthusiastic consent” was conceived in an effort to eradicate the so-called gray areas of sexual assault, so it’s hard to talk about without also talking about rape. While I appreciate the centering of desire and consent, it wouldn’t hold that every sexual encounter taking place without the enthusiastic consent of both parties is rape… But I still turn over plenty of work-related questions in my head: what does it mean for a man to keep paying to have sex with a woman who doesn’t give signs of enjoying it?
Another article, entitled “On Stripper Burnout” advises women who are tired of the verbal abuse that goes with stripping to buy new clothes, look at photos of money to boost morale, eat sweets, or work for a cruel booking agent as “fear can be a great motivator.” There is no advice here on leaving the sex trade – emotional, verbal and physical abuse in the normalized world of pro-sex work advocates becomes a grey zone, where the woman’s personal attitude is what determines the difference between occupational hazards and something that might contribute to PTSD – putting the onus of responsibility on the woman rather than on the john.
The practical side of unionization brings us back to the current, atomized-view of sex work in general. It is a localized solutionwhich does nothing to address a global problem.Questions arise: Who do you bargain with? How do we unionize all women? If a woman was in the sex trade and did not belong to a union, would this be her choice? Are johns supposed to solicit union prostitutes out of a sense of guilt, a la consumer activism (fair trade hooking?). Do we really expect johns to spontaneously grow a conscience when they are told women are for sale and it’s okay to buy them? When it comes to women in pornography, the average career tenure is quoted in several sources at being between five months and three and a half years – how then, to unionize these women? Same with prostitutes, who on average enter the trade when they are underage – how to unionize these women? What about pimps and madams, pornographers and mobsters – are they allowed in these unions?
Any leftist worth their red will agree that punishing women is the most counter-productive way to handle prostitution or sex work. Yet unions stop short at criticizing johns who, on the whole, generally acknowledge that women in prostitution experience homelessness, substance abuse and physical and emotional degradation. Johns know, on average, that women enter into it when they are underage and against their will. They buy sex anyway. Unionizing women will not end trafficking, will not end violent deaths – it simply turns what is a societal problem into an organizational problem. Like most unions as they exist under capitalism, a sex-worker’s union’s primary purpose is to keep the more politically-minded in line with the management. We should look elsewhere for solutions that liberate women.
"Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Boston’s Wheelock College and the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, doesn’t believe the selfie is about vanity.
“I think it’s the human desire to be visible,” the scholar and activist told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Men, according to Dines, can gain visibility in a variety of ways. “But for us [women and girls] there’s only one way to visibility, and that’s fuckability,” she said. “To call it narcissism is to take an individual, psychological approach as opposed to a sociological one which asks: ‘What is the culture offering girls and women as a way of visibility?’ ”
Earlier his week, The Gloss featured old photos of prostituted women in order to highlight the fact that being poor and having to service nasty-ass dudes in the early 1900s also involved wearing cool tights. A comment left on the post reads: “Well, I’m obviously going to be an old school sex worker for Halloween this year.” — I can’t tell if that’s sarcastic or not, but I think it shows that The Gloss really made their point.
Of course, I think it’s super awesome that The Gloss, who claims to be “a big fan of both sex workers and women of the past,” is promoting prostitution as an outfit you put on. What I think is even more awesome is Louis Vuitton’s ad campaign promoting “prostitution chic.” Working the streets, hanging out in alleys wearing lingerie, and getting into cars with strange men is super chic and sexy, y’all. Apparently some think “the film is tongue in cheek, and playfully risque,” but I tend to think violence against women isn’t a super cute, playful, sexy joke.
Katie Grand, the editor-in-chief and a collaborator of Louis Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs, has now issued a completely sincere apology that shows how very clearly she understands the implications of glamorizing exploitation and abuse, saying: “It certainly wasn’t my intention to cause offence.” No, no. It wasn’t your “intention to cause offence.” It was your “intention” to sell clothes.
All this does is reinforce my impression of the fashion industry as one filled with vapid, self-centered, bougie hipsters who think they’re artists and, therefore, post-oppression.
Luckily not everyone buys this BS, and a number of lefties, feminists, and intellectuals complained about the campaign, accusing it of “assimilating luxury with the world’s second most profitable criminal activity after drug trafficking.” A letter published in Libération, a leftwing, French newspaper asks if Louis Vuitton realizes “they are promoting violence, pornography and sexual slavery.”
Oddly, a writer at The Glosscomplains about the campaign — Though mostly concerned that it “stereotypes” prostitutes, the author, Jamie Peck, also represents those who spoke out against the campaign as being naive about the fact that the fashion industry (are you all sitting down?) also objectifies women. DUN DUN DUNNNNN.
Peck goes on to say: “So long as you support a capitalist system whereby people are forced to sacrifice their time and bodily autonomy in exchange for food and shelter, you have no business telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do to survive.”
Well true that. I hope no one ever tells the author that most abolitionists are not actually fans of capitalism, that the Nordic model is a socialist model, and that most feminists who advocate for an end to the exploitation of women also advocate for affordable housing and social safety nets (which are decidedly not capitalist concepts), because that might blow her mind.
Anyway, where’s the apology from The Gloss? Do they really believe that being “fan[s] of sex workers” is the same as representing prostitution as fashion choice or a costume?
An article was published recently in The Independent looking at the Nordic model in Sweden. The journalist, Joan Smith, took a ride in a squad car to see how a model wherein the buyer is criminalized and the prostitute is decriminalized actually worked. What she found will likely be met, by any progressive, intelligent, feminist person, with a resounding “Duh.”
Of course the cries of “uptight!” “freedom!” “choice!” “meandmydick!” will likely continue, regardless of facts, because North Americans have their hearts set on buying into ridiculous and illogical notions of liberty that imagine sex and SUVs to be some kind of human right. But here’s how it actually works:
Smith and the squad car pull up to a car park at the top of a hill where johns tend to go with prostitutes. She writes:
What happens next is a textbook example of the way Sweden’s law banning the purchase of sex works in practice. The driver of the car, who’s brought a prostituted woman to the island to have sex, is arrested on the spot. He’s given a choice: admit the offense and pay a fine, based on income, or go to court and risk publicity. The woman, who hasn’t broken any law, is offered help from social services if she wants to leave prostitution. Otherwise, she’s allowed to go.
So, dude pays a fine; the woman is offered alternatives without pressure. OPPRESSION!
It’s so obvious it makes your head spin. Some of the most progressive, egalitarian countries in the world have adopted this model and it’s working. Meanwhile, those who’ve opted for legalization or those like Canada and the U.S. who continue to treat prostituted women like criminals while offering them few alternatives, flail.
Julie Bindel points out that the only thing the Dutch government’s 12 year experiment with legalization succeeded in doing was to increase the market. The illusory labour-based approach, put forth by confused lefties, wherein prostitution is imagined to be “a job like any other” hasn’t worked either:
Rather than be given rights in the ‘workplace’, the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain.
Under the “labour” model, assault and rape is no longer violence against women, but “an ‘occupational hazard’, like a stone dropped on a builder’s toe,” Bindel writes. There’s simply no reason for police to charge men for doing something they feel they are legally entitled to do. Without reeducation and training, which is a key aspect of the Nordic model, the police are unlikely to change their attitudes towards marginalized women, prostituted women, and, more generally, with regard to women’s human rights.
Those who argue that prostitution is dangerous due to “stigma” turned out to be wrong too, as Bindel reports: “Only 5 per cent of the women registered for taxation, because no one wants to be known as a whore — however legal it may be.” The stigma remains, as does the exploitation.
In 2009, the police had to shut down a large number of brothels Amsterdam’s red-light districts due to organized crime having taken over.
Under legalization, trafficking increased, organized crime moved in, and women have continued to be abused and degraded. Is this the “liberation” we’re looking for?
Talking about sex work as work doesn’t help women. It doesn’t help women leave the industry, it doesn’t create gender equality, it doesn’t stop the violence, and it doesn’t destigmatize prostitution. Reframing legalization as ending the “stigma” has not only been shown to be untrue, but it distracts us from the reality that violence and inequality doesn’t happen because of stigmatization — it happens because of male power and systemic injustice.
Detective Superintendent Kajsa Wahlberg, Sweden’s national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings, is quoted as saying: “The problem is gender-specific. Men buy women.” Which is why a feminist approach is needed. And, as of yet, the only legislation that is specifically feminist in nature is the Nordic model.
Smith writes that prostituted women who come to Sweden from the Baltic states or Africa, who have sold sex in other countries say “they’re much more likely to be subjected to violence in countries where prostitution has been legalized.”
Men in Sweden, on the other hand, are afraid to commit violence because they know the women they are buying sex from have more power in the situation than they do. They know they will be charged if the woman calls the cops and so they behave better.
Instead, what’s happened is that “Victoria has created a two-tiered system—a regulated and an unregulated prostitution industry.” There are minimal exit programs for women who want to leave the industry (perhaps a moot point for legalization advocates, as the whole idea of exiting services seems to exist in opposition of the “job like any other” mantra — because what other, just, you know, “jobs” require therapy and exiting services in order to quit? The military, perhaps?), illegal brothels are rampant and trafficking has increased.
These facts fly in the face of the argument that criminalizing buyers will drive the industry underground. It seems that, in fact, legalization encourages the “underground” (illegal) industry. It’s no coincidence that those who wish to operate illegally or as part of a “black market” flock to countries where prostitution is legal.
There is, in fact, zero evidence that shows that criminalizing johns has driven prostitution underground. Under the Nordic model, there’s also absolutely no reason why, if prostitution is “underground” the cops wouldn’t be able to find these industries: “If a sex buyer can find a prostituted woman in a hotel or apartment, the police can do it,” one of the detectives Smith interviews says, “Pimps have to advertise.” Because the police have the resources and a vested interest in charging the exploiters, they have reason (and the support) to look for them.
In contrast, since the Nordic model has been in effect in Sweden since 1999, street prostitution, organized crime, trafficking, and pimping have decreased. The country also has strong social safety nets and exiting programs for women who want to leave the industry.
Legalized prostitution cannot exist alongside the true equality of women. The idea that one group of women should be available for men’s sexual access is founded on structural inequality by gender, class and race.
As far as equality goes, there’s no argument here and we need to stop pretending there is. Prostitution doesn’t promote the status of women. Societies and countries that have been shown to be progressive, egalitarian, and “sex positive” (like Iceland, a place that has a much more open-minded and “liberal” approach to sex and sexuality than the U.S.) are also societies that have adopted legislation that works towards an eventual end to prostitution, supporting the women who are in it in the meantime, and teaching men that buying sex isn’t acceptable. It’s no strange coincidence that Iceland, which ranked first place in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, has also banned strip clubs, is considering a ban on hardcore pornography online, and has adopted the Nordic model.
The argument for the legalization of prostitution is largely about individual rights. But we do, sometimes, have to choose between prioritizing the rights of certain individuals and building an equitable society.
The daily practices of prostitution are portrayed as a romantic world full of mistresses with fishnet stockings and jovial laughs who embody the liberal values of the Dutch, and complaints ring out about the spread of narrow-minded bourgeois values. But not a word is said about the current legislation that has been such a disaster and has contributed to the shocking figures according to which approximately seven in ten prostitutes are victims of violence.
Prostitution hurts some individual women and benefits some individual men. But it is also part of, as lawyer, Gunilla Ekberg says, “a structure reflecting and maintaining inequality between men and women.”
Post points out that “the answer to poor jobs, low pay and harsh working conditions for women is not to consign them to a lifetime of abuse.”
“There is no alternative,” is, after all, what conservative British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher said. The response from the left has always been that, indeed, there is an alternative, and we’re going to fight for it.
Two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty of raping a 16 year old girl on Sunday. They were both convicted of digitally penetrating the victim, and one was found guilty of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
These young men have been both pitied and vilified (but mostly pitied). Anyone who followed the reaction online after the verdict was announced on Sunday will have likely witnessed some of the horrific victim blaming that went on (and continues). Matt Binderdocumented some of the many Tweets arguing that the victim should be charged for underage drinking, that if “you don’t want to get raped, don’t get blackout drunk,” or that “of course the girl is going to cry rape once her parents find out after videos go viral.” It got much worse than that. Two girls were arrested today after sending death threats to the victim.
I don’t pity these boys. For once, men are being held accountable for their behaviour. It’s abnormal, for sure. No wonder people are shocked. After all, we’re used to dicks reigning with impunity. We’re used to hearing stories, whether in the media or in our own lives, about rapes going unpunished. What’s shocking is not that this happened in the first place, but that these young men were found delinquent (the juvenile court equivalent of being found guilty).
But I’m also not interested in vilifying these individuals. What I think we need to understand is that, yes, this behaviour was absolutely disgusting and horrific and that absolutely this must be treated as a crime, these young men are not monsters. They are just regular guys. Regular guys who play football, go to high school, and go to parties with their friends and who have learned, growing up male in a rape and porn culture, that women aren’t real, full, human beings. They’ve learned, as many boys and men learn, that women exist for the entertainment of men; whether on stage at a strip club, on screen in porn, or blackout drunk at a party.
The transcript of the text messages which led to the convictions in the Steubenville rape trial has been posted online (warning — the transcript is graphic). The conversation between these young men is very difficult to read. They ‘lol’ about raping the girl before realizing that sharing the photos of the assault could be incriminating. Their primary concern is not the well being of the victim; far from it. She is mostly irrelevant. A toy to be played with and mocked. The real concern is getting caught. They knew full well that what they were doing was wrong:
Sean McGee to Trent Mays: U shouldn’t have did it if she was that hammered
Trent Mays: Only a hand-job
Sean McGee: I saw the pics, bro. Don’t lie.
Trent Mays: She was naked the whole time but she was like dead
Sean McGee: If she tells someone, it could get back to her parents and then back on u
Trent Mays: She knows what happened
Sean McGee: No, she don’t
The conversation continues:
Multi-media picture message from Trent Mays sent to Anthony Craig and Mark Cole: (picture is that of a naked Jane Doe; has a caption) Bitches is bitches. Fuck ‘em.
The boys try to plan a cover-up:
Trent Mays to Evan Westlake: Deleate[sic] that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.
Evan Westlake: Deny to the grave.
Trent Mays: Her dad knows, and if our names get brought up, if asked, she was just really drunk.
Trent Mays: They knew she stayed at Mark’s. You just gotta say she was asleep by the time you got there.
Trent Mays to Cody Saltsman: Nodi’s running his mouth saying how dead she was. If anyone asks, we just took her to Mark’s, and she fell asleep.
Trent Mays to Mark Cole: Just say she passed out at your house if anyone asks.
Mark Cole: IDK she was fucked up. It was her fault she was fucked up.
Cody Saltsman to Trent Mays: I got you, man. I’ll say that you all were just taking care of her.
They’ve learned the art of victim-blaming well.
My point in sharing this conversation is, again, not to vilify. These boys aren’t monsters. These are men I’ve known. Men I went to high school with. Men I went to parties with. Men who raped my friends. These young men are no anomaly. This is masculinity. This is male culture. Regular, “normal”, every day male culture.
By no means do I intend to say that all individual men and boys behave in this way. They don’t. All men are not rapists. All individual men don’t literally see and treat women as fuck-toys. I know many men, in my life, who I love deeply and who are men who treat women like human beings. But these young men from Steubenville are also not abnormal men. There’s nothing “wrong” with them. They aren’t mentally ill. This is the culture we live in. Where life is a porn movie. Where rape is punishment for getting too drunk. Where sex acts are filmed and posted online so the world can see what women are really for. So women can be mocked and blamed and assaulted simply for existing in a rape culture.
These are men I have known. These conversations documented in the transcript, are conversations that have happened many times over. What happened to this girl has happened many times over. To women we know. If you’ve managed to avoid witnessing masculinity and male culture manifested in this form, count yourself lucky. I can only assume you’ve never been to a frat party, to a strip club, or watched porn. That you’ve never been to high school. Or, if you have, you were somehow protected from this behaviour and these conversations. You’re lucky if this conversation shocks you. It isn’t shocking. This is no seedy underground. This is our life, our world, our men and boys.
About five years ago, I was out and about with some dude-friends. We went to a bunch of bars, danced, drank, etc. I was single and also, therefore, mingling. Flirting, they call it. Eventually when there was no more bar-hopping to be had, we went back to a friend’s house and laughed and talked and made jokes and took stupid photos. One of the men I’d been flirting with, let’s call him Brad*, gave me a ride home. We got to my house, made out, and I said something along the lines of “Alrighty then, see you later!” He said “No, I’m coming in.” I said “No, you’re not.” This charming back and forth went on for a little while until, eventually, he did come in.
So there was no force, no screaming, no violence. I didn’t feel afraid, per se. I “gave in”, I suppose you could call it. I imagine he thought he was being charming. This is likely a game he had played (and won at) dozens of times over. I, on the other hand, felt repulsed. I’d had sex with someone that, while yes, I was attracted to, was flirting with, and even kissed, did not plan on or want to have sex with. It wasn’t part of the plan. It become “part of the plan” because this man didn’t take my “No thanks!” seriously (and was clearly unconcerned with what I wanted) and because I eventually gave in. I didn’t know what to call it when I told friends about it. I think I went with “date rapey behaviour”.
Amanda Hess wrote about the most recent episode ofGirls for Slate. In the article, entitled: “Was That a Rape Scene in Girls?” she describes how the Adam-Natalia sex scene wasn’t one that you might call the cops over; but it also wasn’t consensual in any true or ethical sense of the word. It wasn’t acceptable sexual behaviour by any means. But was it rape?
What happened here? On the one hand, Adam has fulfilled Natalia’s initial requests—he is on top, comes outside of her, no soft touching. On the other hand, he is no longer being “really nice” or taking things “kind of slow.” This time, no one is laughing. What was abundantly “clear” the first time is now muddied. The first time, Natalia communicates with Adam to do just what she wants; the second time, Adam wields her words against her to do what he knows she really doesn’t. So when Natalia says, “No, I didn’t take a shower,” Adam says, “Relax, it’s fine.” When she says, “No, not on my dress,” he comes on her chest instead. “Everything is OK,” except when it’s not.
She goes on:
There is rape—a crime reported to the authorities, investigated by the police, and prosecuted in the courts. And then there is everything else that is not consensual, but not easily prosecutable, either: “gray rape,” “bad sex,” “they were both drunk,” the “feeling” of being “borderline assaulted.” It’s what happens when a person you want to have sex with “has sex with you” in a way that you do not want them to.
It’s muddy, yes. But we all know (or should know), that it isn’t ok. It’s what happens to women. It’s a run of the mill experience for many of us in this culture. It’s not something easily categorized as either “rape” or “consensual”. As many of us know all too well, there’s much more middle ground. And that “middle ground” is often disturbingly comparable to legal rape; but sometimes more difficult to talk about or sort out in one’s mind.
What happened between Adam and Natalia has happened to me before in one form or another. Once, when I was about 19 or 20, with a boyfriend who was angry and blacked out from drinking. I didn’t want to have sex, he did. We didn’t have sex. Instead, he masturbated over me.
Was it rape? Not technically, no. Was I going to call the cops and have him charged? No. Was it acceptable behaviour by any means? No. Was it a show of power? Yes. Did it make me feel sick and dirty and violated? Yes. Was it ‘consensual’? Hell no.
While “’no means no,’” Hess writes, “it is not the only measure of consent.”
After the incident with Brad — the “No, you’re not coming in”/”Yes, I am coming in” incident — I didn’t know quite what to call it. I told a couple of friends, one of them being one of the dude-friends I was out with that night, a friend of mine and of Brad’s. I said that, well, I suppose you would call it a kind of date rape. But no, it wasn’t “call the cops” date rape. It was, “Ok. I guess you’re coming in.” And “Ok, I guess we’re having sex that I didn’t really want to have.” My friend agreed that this was “date rapey behaviour.”
What happened was perhaps unclear in a legal context, but the way I felt about the situation was far from unclear. It wasn’t ok. Those I told about my experience knew it wasn’t ok.
Classy guy that Ford his, when Thomson went public about the alleged sexual harassment, he not only accused her of peddling “false allegations,” but he used feminism against her, saying: “What is more surprising is that a woman who has aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day where we should be celebrating women across the globe.”
A woman called a man out on sexual harassment and he actually had the nerve to use the woman’s movement against her.
I have a point. I’m getting to it.
Life happens in funny ways sometimes and five years later I was (briefly) dating a relative of Brad-the-sleazebag. Let’s call him Dave*. Needless to say, I didn’t tell Dave what had happened. I assumed it would come up at some point, but not on the first, or second, or third date. It became clear, eventually, that he what he knew was that we’d slept together about five years ago and that I had hated Brad ever since.
That relationship didn’t work out and, by coincidence, our mutual friend mentioned the whole “date rape” thing to Brad. He lost his shit and demanded I clear his name, to which I replied: “I don’t think I should have to say ‘no’ more than once. I’m not sure what you believe constitutes date rape, but if you want to avoid being accused of such things in the future, my recommendation would be to respect and hear ‘no’ the first time a woman says it.” He didn’t take that very well. He was enraged, in fact.
In some less-than-friendly parting emails between Dave and I, it became clear that, while I hadn’t told him exactly what had happened, Brad had told him about the “date rapey” descriptor. Via email, Dave accused me of somehow twisting the scenario around in my crazy, crazy head, in the process, “doing something” terribly cruel and unwarranted to poor, innocent Brad. Not only that, but, by describing my experience as one that was not consensual in any way I’d like to understand the word consensual (Let’s talk enthusiastic consent, hey? Not, I-wore-her-down-until-she-eventually-gave-in, consent) I was a bad feminist. Because, I suppose, what good feminists would do would be to pretend as though talking women into having sex with you even though they’ve said a number of times that they’d prefer not, is totally fine. His email was eerily Rob Ford-esque, saying: “given your role as a defender of women’s rights I find the hypocrisy staggering.”
Oh the hypocrisy.
Rather than simply take responsibility for his behaviour and admit that his behaviour was unacceptable, Brad’s primary concern was to defend his sleazebaggery and paint me as an evil liar, out to get him at any cost! He didn’t want to connect what he understood to be rape with his own behaviour and when men don’t want to understand or be accountable for their own behaviour, they accuse women of lying, of being crazy, or, apparently, of setting women’s rights back with their devious and delusional stories.
See, these men think they’re the “good guys”. The bad guys are in movies, climbing through windows or attacking women in parking lots. And those guys do exist, without a doubt, but if men are unwilling to acknowledge their own behaviour as part of a rape culture, women are going to continue to experience these traumatic “gray” areas and not feel able to call it out. If men are more interested in protecting their ingrained beliefs that they are right and good and entitled to behave in these ways, than treating women as more than sexual conquests, they aren’t likely to change.
The comment from Dave was so odd (and hurtful, as it always is when people victim-blame), partly because, as a feminist, what I’d always felt most guilty about was, first of all, that I hadn’t been “strong enough” to stop the sex I didn’t really want to happen from happening, and secondly, that when I described the experience to a few friends, I couldn’t be completely clear. “Date rapey,” I called it. “Not the kind of thing you press charges over but, you know, I said no, he said yes. And then we had sex anyway. I felt gross about the whole thing.” Shouldn’t I be able to name this incident in some kind of firm way? I felt I should know better on a number of levels. And here I was being accused of failing feminism for entirely opposite reasons.
I suppose you could call these “gray rapes”, as some people did with regard to the scene in Girls where Adam tells Natalia to crawl to the bedroom and then says to her: ““I want to fuck you from behind, hit the walls with you,” to which she does not say “no”, but is clearly not enthusiastically on board. He does fuck her from behind and then pulls out and masturbates over her. She says: “No, no, no, no, not on my dress!” Her face conveys how disturbed and unhappy she is with Adam’s behaviour. The lack of consent isn’t really confusing. He comes on her chest. “I don’t think I like that,” Natalia says. “I, like, really didn’t like that.”
Is she going to call the cops? No. Will she press charges? No. Will she even say that what happened was date rape? Probably not. Was she violated? Most definitely.
… though terms like “gray rape” help some people talk about assault outside of the context of the legal system, they shouldn’t be used to excuse the aggressor—they should help raise the standard of what we all consider acceptable sexual behavior, whether or not the cops are called.
It’s scenarios like these that leave us without words to describe our experiences. They also leave us open to accusations of “crying wolf” or making “false accusations”.
But we know what our experiences are. We know when there is not consent and yet we can’t call it rape in a legal sense. These experiences leave us vulnerable to being silenced, blamed, and disbelieved. They leave us feeling unsure of ourselves. We ask ourselves what happened — Was it rape? Was it “borderline assault”? Was it just a bad experience that most women probably have? Should we have said “no” more clearly? Loudly? Firmly?
Certainly it’s something more than just a “bad experience” or “bad sex”. And yes, it’s muddy, but only because we live in a rape culture, where the line between consensual, nonconsensual, and legal rape are horribly blurred.
What is postfeminism? Allegedly it is the space where we can move past feminism, where feminism no longer holds appeal to women and where it can even be harmful to women. As Melissa Gira Grant writes:
The patriarchy’s figured out a way to outsource hatred of prostitution. They’re just going to have women do it for them.
Grant, who has two last names and is a former sex worker (to be specific: a prostitute, not a pimp) claims that patriarchy, an amorphous “they” not rooted in material reality, has outsourced the oppression of women to women themselves. This is an argument made by many who claim that women are the ones who cut other women in other parts of the world, who participate in forcing early marriage or abuse other women in the family. Then Grant gets more specific:
I wouldn’t advocate for a feminism that’s buttoned-up and divorced of the messiness of our real lives. Your feelings are your feelings, but you’re not going to litigate your feelings about my body. The feminist ethics that I signed up for were respect for my bodily autonomy, that my experience is my experience, and that I’m an expert in my own life.
What is postfeminism? It is a desire for control over one’s destiny. It is the hope that someday, no one will call you any names or discriminate against you based on your sex. Yet, when this individual oppression ends – the oppression against prostitutes, against trans women, against my right to choose, against me, will this have achieved female liberation?
The postfeminism of today is deeply rooted in neoliberal atomization. A single female’s experiences are just as valid as any other female’s experience. A wealthy white woman who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute – her choice is equally valid as the poor woman of colour who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute. Postfeminism promises the liberation of individual women, but not females. These individuals are fighting against “patriarchy”, a concept that is not individualized or even rooted in material manifestations. Rather, it is as amorphous as its own concept: a male slapping a woman, a man cat-calling a woman, or a man who makes a sexist remark at work is patriarchy rearing its ugly head from the aether. Yet a culture of objectification, where women are plastered up like slabs of meat for sale in phone booths, where women dance for money, where women continue to make $.70 on the dollar; this is not considered a war against women. After all – a woman may now make the individual “choice” to engage in these acts, in these careers, may make the individual “choice” not to bear children to get ahead in business. Acts of violence against my body are crimes against women – but larger systems of oppression suddenly become more complex, more bogged down in uncertainty as we must learn to understand that these systems are made up of individuals who have the capacity to make “choices”.
It astounds me that leftists who might otherwise deride the idea of free choice under a capitalist system make all sorts of room for women like Grant to write privileged accounts of the system of oppression called the “sex trade”. Broader women’s movements such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network might feel as though an abolitionist stance on prostitution is right and good, but, as Grant would say, they are “privileged” in that their voices are louder than hers – the voice that enjoys prostitution believes that sex work is feminist work. Indeed, the other voices aren’t heard as loudly as the abolitionists “because they’re working”. This amorphous group of women who are pleased as punch to be working as sexual objects for sale are quiet, a silent majority cowed into silence by angry groups of feminist women who claim that 90% of women want out of prostitution.
If the voice of a “queer woman who dates women in her non-sex-work life and has sex with men for work” is not heard as much as the loud majority of feminists who want an end to prostitution, this is because women who “choose” sex work, who come at it from a political perspective of “empowerment” are in the extreme minority. But the individual reigns supreme over the masses in postfeminism just as it does in neoliberalism. When a woman demands her “right to choose”, she is demanding her right. She is situating feminism in a sphere where she does not feel fettered by her sex, where she personally has the ability to pursue whatever she wants. If she is a stripper and a man touches her inappropriately, this is a battle in the war against male domination - but the very institution that shapes his thinking is not in and of itself oppressive. Male domination is boiled down to the individual, becomes a question of one human exerting his will over another’s in an unfair way. It is no longer about systems of oppression, cultures of abuse, or industries of suffering. We are boiled down once again to our individual experiences.
A single person cannot change the world because change is the prerogative of the people. There is no such thing as a mass movement of individuals – they might all be walking in the same direction, but they are checking their smartphones and turning off onto a side street the moment they are required to check their egos at the door.
Melissa Gira Grant’s views are not just dangerous because they blame women themselves for their own oppression – either as angry sex-negative feminists or individuals who just make “bad choices”. They are dangerous because they shift the blame away from male violence and domination and continue to trump the experiences of a privileged few over the many. Why won’t these leftist blogs and magazines run a counter article to this kind of perspective?* Anything else would be hypocritical. Perhaps it is simply not what leftist men want to hear: that their individual enjoyment is not the purpose of female liberation.
Taryn Fivek is a writer in New York City.
*Editor’s note: This article is written from an American perspective and it should be noted that there are some leftist and progressive publications in Canada who publish diverse, feminist perspectives on the issue of prostitution, such as rabble.ca
The wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle, said that when she later delved into her husband’s electronic chat history, she found he had been communicating with others about plans to torture and kill women, including herself.
“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit, and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me,” she said, sobbing repeatedly through her afternoon on the witness stand.
He has now been charged with “plotting on the Internet to kidnap, rape, kill and cannibalize female victims.”
The Times article asks an interesting question, similar to one I asked back when photos were discovered of an RCMP officer who had been involved in the Pickton investigation that simulated violence against women: “When does a fantasized crime become an actual crime?”
Valle didn’t actually go through with his plans. While the prosecutor argued that the officer was plotting real crimes, Valle’s lawyer claimed it was all just a fantasy. The ‘fantasy’ argument didn’t provide much comfort to Mangan-Valle, who also found conversations about elaborate plots to have friends “raped in front of each other” or burned alive or about “putting women on a spit, and cooking them for 30-minute shifts, so they could be tortured longer.”
These were pretty specific plans for something that was just an innocent fantasy. There is documented negotiation of specific details and a payment upon delivery to a co-conspirator: “Valle insisted upon a price no less than $5,000 and assured CC-2 that Victim-2 would be bound, gagged, and alive when he delivered her.”
There is no doubt that violence against women is sexualized in our culture. But when Ginia Bellefonte published a piece called “Remember Misogyny” in the Times wondering why there was so little concern from feminists about this fetishization of violence against women, Jessica Wakeman responded, in The Frisky, with derision:
“Focusing on the craziness of a couple of mentally ill folks instead of larger systemic injustices seems like a poor use of time,” she argues. “Maybe….cannibals eating women isn’t really feminism’s most pressing problem?” Why so defensive? Visiting fetish sites that feature women being tortured, sometimes to the point of death, seems fairly misogynist to me.
Bellefonte quotes Jane Manning, a former sex-crimes prosecutor and currently the legislative vice president for the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter, who notes:
“There’s an odd confusion in the feminist movement,” she added. “We’ve all accepted the idea that speech is protected when it’s speech. But that seems to have extended to the notion that there shouldn’t even be social condemnation attached to incredibly horrifying misogynist speech.”
Violence against women continues to be one of the most urgent and pressing issues for the feminist movement today. And I would say that sites that fetishize mudering, raping, and eating women are, in fact, a little more serious than simply “a couple of mentally ill folks” who like to surf the internet and whatever everybody just relaaaax OK? So, a man who fantasizes about hanging his wife from her feet while him and his friends “take turns sexually assaulting her before slitting her throat and cooking her” isn’t misogyny? OK. Got it.
We’re at a place in feminism where we are so desperate to either not be perceived as ‘prudish’ or to defend any and every activity as simply an individual ‘choice’ or behaviour that calling what is clearly misogyny (is there any more literal manifestation of the sexualization of violence against women than fetish sites dedicated to torturing and murdering women?) has become off-limits because it counts as ‘kink’. The desperation to individualize, legitimize, and depoliticize absolutely everything is frightening. Particularly because it seems we are most intent on doing this with relation to anything that could possibly be connected to sexuality.
I get the feeling that we’re not calling this kind of thing out because we don’t want to admit that, sometimes, misogynist ‘fetishes’ aren’t simply ‘fantasy’. They’re actually misogyny.
Now, before the ‘don’t kink-shame me’ folks start railing on me, I will reiterate that, I really don’t much care about whether or not you want to dress up in latex costumes and play silly games in the bedroom. It isn’t particularly interesting. The only people who really care about ‘kink’ are people who care about ‘kink’. So get over the idea that you’re so bad and the rest of the world is just too ‘vanilla’ to get you. You like role-playing, other people don’t. So what. Move on.
That said, there are a couple of issues surrounding ‘kink’ that do concern me. The first is the unwillingness of feminists to call out misogyny when they see it simply because we have to protect the sensitivities of the fetish folks. The second is the delusion that ‘kink’ is an identity that designates ‘kinky people’ as some kind of oppressed minority group. Kink and BDSM can certainly enter misogynist territory and it isn’t your right to force the world to pretend that it doesn’t in order to defend your sex life.
Awkward, indeed. The real life rape and torture of real life people isn’t just a sexy game; but when presented as ‘kink’ it becomes innate part of our sexualities, completely divorced from larger culture.
The tricky part follows: “Political advocates for BDSM see themselves as successors to the gay rights movement. They cite Lawrence v. Texas. They call themselves “sexual minorities” and depict kink as a “sexual orientation,” Saletan writes. Get it? If being ‘kinky’ makes you part of some kind of minority group, anything that counts as fetish is off-limits in terms of critical discussion. It can’t be misogynist, I was born this way! It’s sex, not misogyny!
I mostly agree with Saletan’s assessment: “BDSM isn’t an orientation. It’s a lifestyle.” And, for the most part, whether or not you like to play out fantasies or wear leather or do fancy things with ropes or dress up as a sexy nun in order to rebel against your Catholic parents as part of your sex life isn’t something anyone else has a say over. But that really isn’t the point. There is misogyny and violence and abuse that happens as part of BDSM and we should be able to call it for what it is without being accused of attacking a person’s ‘sexual identity’.
The ludicrous notion that this lifestyle should qualify a person for protection under the law,on account of being a part of some kind of oppressed minority group defined by ‘kinkiness’ is an insult to actual minority groups.
This kind of hyperbolized, perverted use of identity politics as a means to stifle feminist discourse and critical thought is a serious detriment to the movement.
I supposed once we’ve completely quelled our ability to discuss anything outside individual choice and identity and are forced to discuss all actions and behaviours as neutral and void of context, we’ll truly be free.
I’m a socialist. Let’s just start with that, OK? I’m anti-capitalist and I’m feminist and I’m living in a capitalist, patriarchal world. I am working class and I will likely always be. I hope to be able to survive and live comfortably some day, while also doing ethical, feminist work. But God forbid I become successful, lest I join the ranks of the much-maligned ‘career feminists’!
Now, I haven’t read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s soon-to-be published book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, so I’m doing what several others have already done, which is to write about a book I have not (and will probably never) read. What I’m most interested in, though, is not the content of the book, but the backlash against Sandberg and, more generally, this attack on successful women and on women who may profit or make a living from doing feminist work. The so-called ‘career feminists’.
Sandberg was accused, by Maureen Dowd, of using “the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself.” Melissa Gira Grant wrote in The Washington Post that “this is simply the elite leading the slightly-less-elite, for the sake of Sandberg’s bottom line,” to which Michelle Goldberg says “makes sense if you believe that a woman worth hundreds of millions of dollars would go into feminist publishing for the money.”
Goldberg’s quote is key. No woman goes into feminism for the money. As much as I agree that, often, those who have wealth make it on the backs of the marginalized, I also can’t get behind the knee-jerk reaction to attack any woman who is both successful and a feminist. That, my friends, equates to shooting ourselves in the knees.
Sandberg wrote a book that, quite honestly, doesn’t much interest me. I have no desire to join corporate America. But I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse to rip her to shreds for not addressing every single feminist issue ever in a book that is about how women can get a seat at the table in workplace.
Sandberg first address[es] the “chicken and egg” problem of gender inequality: the chicken being that “women will get rid of the external barriers once we achieve leadership roles,” and the egg of needing “to eliminate the external barriers to get women into those roles in the first place”. Sandberg declares that both are crucial, and after detailing the many structural impediments women face and saying she supports the efforts of feminist policy-makers, makes clear that the purpose of this book is to address the chicken. She pens a call for women who need policy change but also need to make their lives better now, telling us that we can take a seat at the table, expect more from men, and stop beating ourselves up for not “having it all”.
To be clear, I don’t believe that *just* putting more women in positions of power will necessarily translate to an equitable world (but it is absolutely crucial). I don’t think the goal is for women to simply be ‘equal to’ men. But I also want feminist women to be ambitious and to be out there, having their say, having an impact and taking up space in traditionally male-dominated arenas. And, when they get there, I want them to speak out for the rights of other women and act as mentors.
Sandberg is straight-up about what she is arguing for in this particular book. She didn’t write a book about poverty in America or about women in Third World countries. And while I may not be able to relate much to it, I think the backlash is anti-feminist. As Nisha Chittal points out:
The twisted reasoning behind women tearing down Sheryl Sandberg is that we have so few examples of powerful women that we hold the few that we do have — like Sandberg — up to impossibly high standards and expect them to represent all women everywhere. We never expect a powerful man to represent all types of men in all demographics and income brackets and personal circumstances.
And it’s not just a simple ‘how to get ahead at work’ book, from the sounds of it. Sandberg gets at that which the feminist movement has been working to address for ages — the fact that patriarchy is something we internalize. While we absolutely must change the system and legislation in order to gain equality, we also have to deal with the fact that women learn, all their lives, not to ‘act like men’. Meaning, they shouldn’t want power or success or a voice:
In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are also hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. (via The Guardian)
I have a really hard time seeing what’s so feminist about ripping apart women who, while yes, may be in positions of power, are making feminist arguments, simply because they have privilege (and no, I am certainly not arguing we must agree with every argument any self-described feminist makes). I also have a really hard time understanding what the point of the backlash against Sandberg’s book is. What should she have written about? Should she have written nothing? She is successful in her career, should she not try to help other women with the platform she has?
I’m sick of women being attacked for wanting power or success. I don’t support people gaining power by stepping on the backs of others, but I also fail to see how Sandberg sticking up for feminism and other women is either selfish or a good career move. Feminism is rarely a ‘good career move’.
As women and as feminists, we might question our eagerness to take successful women down a notch and why we don’t see men being treated in the the same way.
Chittal writes that “Sandberg’s philosophy encourages women to “lean in” to their careers and pursue their ambitions.” Are we really going to discourage women from doing this? It seems counterproductive to me.
We all need to survive in the world we live in. Encouraging women to be ambitious is a completely feminist thing to do. The reality is that women have careers and are working in business. Are those women all to shut up about feminism? Or step back and let the men run the show because to desire success is not becoming of women?
Even I, a person who, yes, has an education and an apartment and have had some opportunities in life others have not, struggles to pay my rent and my bills and don’t have what you might call disposable income, have been accused of being a ‘career feminist’. I’ve been criticized for being too driven or for wanting success on my own terms by other feminists. Really? Is this really what we’re doing in this movement? Attacking women for ‘acting like men’? It’s essentially like saying “sit back, shut up, get back in your corner.”
No. The world is hard enough on women as it is. If a woman with a voice speaks out for other women and is doing feminist work, even if she’s compensated for that work (because God forbid any of us make a living), our job is not to tear her down.
I have no interest in hearing feminists accusing one another of wanting book deals or jobs or an income. Go sneer at someone else. You’re not helping.
The Nation and Tom Dispatch published an epic, historical look at the successes of the feminist movement over the past fifty-odd years and the long road ahead by Ruth Rosen yesterday.
In the article, Rosen points to various male “behaviours” like rape that, while once were viewed simply as “custom” were redefined, thanks to the feminist movement, as crimes.
Not so long ago, you may or may not recall that there was no such thing as rape in marriage. Husbands were entitled to sex, with or without the consent of their wives. Not so long ago, date rape was a common and unspoken experience for women. There were no conversations about consent when it came to sex. It simply wasn’t relevant.
Rape still happens far more than most would like to acknowledge or imagine and we still have a long way to go towards ending violence against women, but things have changed and things must continue to change.
Lately the issue of banning pornography has been a hot(ter) topic of debate due to the fact that Iceland is considering banning online pornography. Tracy McVeigh noted, in her article for The Observer, that Iceland, one of the most progressive countries in the world, ranking in first place in Global Gender Gap Report 2012, that the ban is widely supported among police, health professionals, educators and lawyers.
In anticipation of the typically silly and ignorant responses from libertarians and pro-sex industry types claiming critics of sexualized violence against women are simply prudish, conservative, freedom-haters, McVeigh quotes Halla Gunnarsdóttir, adviser to the interior minister Ögmundur Jónasson, who says, about the prospective ban:
We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech
In other words, this is a feminist initiative.
Now, talk of bans or of criminalization of things like pornography often lead to people to say things like: “FREE SPEECH!” “RIGHTS!” “CENSORSHIP!” But these people are stupid.
We live in what is commonly known as “a society”. Within said “society” we tend to rely on things we call “laws” in order to help us function in a way that is conducive to living in said “society”. This isn’t to say that all laws are necessarily good laws and, often, criminalization targets the marginalized in disgusting and oppressive ways.
This is not the case for feminist laws that prevent men from abusing women.
Much of the work the feminist movement has done in terms of making the world a more equitable one, has been with regard to legislation. Without changes to legislation, women would still be owned by their husbands and wouldn’t be able to do things like vote or have jobs or get a university education or say no to sex. Laws aren’t bad. Criminalizing certain behaviours is also not (necessarily) bad.
Let’s reflect on the behaviours we’ve criminalized in our society: murder, rape, domestic abuse, animal abuse, advocating genocide, and creating, buying, or selling child pornography. There are other behaviours we’ve criminalized that are silly, like doing certain kinds of drugs, but that’s a whole other political can of worms.
The point is that, as a society, we support the censorship of things we believe are deeply harmful to individuals and to society as a whole. Many of us, particularly feminists and other progressive types, support the criminalization of behaviours that are violent and abusive. Whether we like it or not, laws do shape our behaviour and agitating for changes to legislation and been hugely successful for feminists (though there is much, much more work to do).
There is no need to share “information” that encourages and perpetuates and supports the oppression of women. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would count as some kind of hate speech. Pornography encourages and perpetuates and supports both rape culture (so, violence against women) and the oppression of women.
True freedom and true freedom of speech would exist in a society without systemic oppression. In a world wherein male violence against women is an epidemic, it is not reasonable to say that we live in a free society. It is also not reasonable to defend behaviours that perpetuate oppression and violence on account of “freedom” and “freedom of speech”. Those who argue this are stupid, narrow-minded jerks who’ve spent too long eating American freedom fries and only care about “rights” in as much as those “rights” provide them with access to the sex/money/power they believe they were born entitled to.
To those who argue that it’s impossible to ban pornography because it’s so popular, universal, or “normal”, well, so was marital rape at one time. So was smoking in hospitals. So was owning slaves.
What’s “normal” and acceptable today likely won’t be in 20 or 50 or 100 years. Banning pornography won’t lead to an immediate disappearance of all pornography, just like the illegality of murder hasn’t stopped murders from happening. But it does set a standard and it does teach us what is acceptable behaviour in society. The fact that we’ve criminalized rape has led us to understand that sex should not happen without consent (lest it become ‘rape’ and not ‘sex’).
Changes to legislation won’t solve everything, but is necessary.
Now, pornography is not “good” for society and it isn’t “good” for women (it isn’t even “good” for men!). Because of the internet, it’s readily available to children which means that this generation and all those that follow learn that women are to be fucked and to be humiliated and to be degraded from the beginning.
If you think change isn’t possible then you have no place in any progressive movement, conversation about equality, or, really, in a democratic society. If you think your “freedom” should come at the expense of half the population, then you’re the problem and your protests will fall on deaf ears, your cries of “censorship” growing ever more quiet as the rest of us move towards emancipation.
Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. I’ve got to write something, I tell myself. But what can I say? Inspirational messages aren’t really my bag, but neither is hopelessness. In truth, I’m a romantic. A skeptical romantic, but a romantic nonetheless.
Romance is awkward for feminists. It’s defined by bullshit like proposals and lingerie and heterosexuality and money. So being a romantic and being a feminist can feel incompatible.
I don’t want diamonds. I don’t want babies or showers or proposals or my husband’s last name. Nor do I want a husband, actually.
But I want love. Monogamous, forever, love.
This confuses people. I suppose it is a little confusing. Rational me (which unfortunately tends to be a little different than romantic me) thinks ‘forever’ is a bit of a joke. Rational me thinks monogamy is a bit of a joke, too. Who, really, can spend their whole life with one person?? And why bother?
Yet, I’ve always been monogamous. And it hasn’t been difficult. The relationships? They’ve been difficult. The men have been sociopaths, addicts, alcoholics, abusers and morons. There have been jocks and frat boys and rockers and rappers and anarchists and oldies. And hey, I’m no walk in the proverbial park. But monogamy was never a problem. Love was never a problem. I may have bad taste, but I don’t I don’t get bored. I don’t leave because I fall out of love. I leave because of assholes.
As much as I would like to find ‘love’, in the barfiest of senses, I don’t prioritize dating. My goal isn’t to find a man. There are a number of things in my life that are more important to me than a romantic relationship, including: my dog, my sleep, my writing, my happiness, my space, my private afternoon dance parties, and my sanity. But I want it.
I want someone to be with and someone to buy groceries with and plan life with and to think I’m the best. I want someone to do my laundry but also stay out of my way. I want a partner to live with who doesn’t live in my house. I want someone to give me advice I’ll probably never take (because, in the end, I know what’s best). I want someone to argue with even though we both know I’m always right. I want someone to cook for, not because I want to take care of someone but because I get sick of leftovers after the second day and cooking for one is a bunk deal.
When I tell people I don’t want to get married they assume it’s because I want to remain single. And I suppose I do, in a legal sense. I want to push back against cultural norms that force us into useless institutions built at the expense of women’s freedom. I don’t like the idea of signing a love contract and marriage no longer is meant to be (supposedly) a financial arrangement.
If this is all about romance, then why cling to the institution of marriage? And if it isn’t about romance than why all the white, sparkly, flowery, showy, bells and whistles? Why not just call a spade a spade (and you can tell me what that spade is, whether it’s fear of being alone, fear of being broke, or fear of what being unmarried means for your social status and self-esteem, particularly as women)?
And listen. I get the desire for a wedding. Weddings are the best. There’s no other occasion that you can legit force everyone you know to come to one place, stare at you admiringly, buy you gifts, and talk about you for hours on end. The dreaminess of the wedding is not lost on me. I, too, love parties and drinking and dancing with my friends. Weddings are happy fun times and I’m grateful for those who have them because 1) Free booze, and 2) When else do I get to buy a new dress?
What bothers me is not the celebration of love. Cynic that I am, I do think love is wonderful. What bothers me is the commitment to conformity.
Make as many excuses as you like but there’s no reason to get married before having kids (unless you’re concerned your male partner might leave you high and dry, in which case there’s something bigger to consider besides commitment, and that’s gender and economic inequality). There’s no reason to take your husband’s name (unless you find patriarchy romantic and think ownership represents love). There’s no reason to follow traditions like having your father give you away or wearing a white dress or exchanging crazy-expensive blood diamonds (unless you see yourself as a commodity to be traded from man to man, think virginity is a gift to your husband, or think tacky jewelry is impressive). There’s no reason your kids need to take your husband’s name. They aren’t going to get ‘confused’ if they have a different name than their mom or their dad. Kids know who their parents are.
I like romance. I like love. I want the stupid romantic comedy forever and ever bullshit, just like you do. But the rest is just a thinly veiled excuse for a, still, unequal society and for social acceptance in that society.
No judgement (ok, some judgement), because I understand what draws women, especially, to the romantic industrial complex. Count me among the hoards of women who feel excited and, yes, more valued, when their partner buys them flowers (which are, for the most part, pretty useless, wasteful, and unethical). Sadly, I will forgive all sorts of fuckery if someone buys me flowers. When I was 22, my silly, 6’7”, basketball-playing boyfriend bought me the tiniest diamond ring you could buy. Just because I wanted a diamond ring. Actually, he bought me two of them, as the first was lost in a tragic toilet flushing accident. It’s embarrassing, but true. I still have it (pictured). I, too, like wearing pretty dresses and parties thrown in my honour. I want someone to tell me they love me in front of a whole bunch of people. I want to put all of my friends in a room and make them dance to R Kelly songs. I want a big cake and a trip to Hawaii. I want happily ever after.
But I’m not getting married just to have those things.
There’s something messed up about the fact that so many women are still taking their husband’s names and defending it on account of what? Romance? Tradition? Simplicity? It’s none of those things. Not by a long shot. There’s something wrong with the fact that we associate romance with patriarchy and simplicity with making men (and men’s families) feel comfortable. It isn’t our job, as women, to make women feel ‘like men’.
There’s something messed up about the fact that *some* women think having children will fulfill them, as women. Sure, have kids if that’s what you’re into. But don’t excuse your decision (if it was, in fact, your decision) with some kind of ‘it’s my feminine destiny’ crap. You can be a woman — happy and fulfilled and full of love — without growing and expelling a human being from your body. If you have to adopt, you’re still just as much of a woman. If you don’t have kids, you’re the best. And bully for your vagina.
On my 33rd birthday I had dinner with some friends. I’d already had the party-till-dawn-party that weekend and now it was a Wednesday and I didn’t much care if I celebrated the day or not. I had received a heartbreaking email earlier that day and cried for hours, feeling all the more sorry for myself because it was my birthday and how could he. The man who sent it didn’t know it was my birthday and, in his defense, I deserved to be heartbroken, because even feminists behave badly sometimes. That night at dinner I got the impression my friends would have rather been anywhere but out for dinner. Maybe I was projecting. Maybe eating after 8:30PM is a little too wild and crazy for a weeknight. Or maybe my friends and I have as much relationship baggage any 20+ year relationship might have.
I sat through dinner listening to women who were once my closest friends talk about babies and pregnancy and their husbands or husbands-to-be. Their lives. But not my life. They complained, just as I’d found myself complaining, while in a relationship, about their partners. Their boyfriends/husbands weren’t domestic enough. They had the wrong friends — Friends who didn’t have kids and still wanted to have beers and jam on the weekends and go out to shows and come home at 2:00am and I thought: “I’m your boyfriend.” “I’m your annoying husband.” “You’re complaining about me.” I still want to go out on Saturday night and party with my friends and I still want to hang out with people who don’t have babies and I still want to be myself, even when partnered. Once you have babies and get married are you to stop associating with the yucky singles? It felt like we were changing in very different ways.
I didn’t tell my friends about the day I’d spent sobbing and hating myself for ruining what could maybe have been something good with someone good. The day I spent mourning the loss of potential romance, thwarted only by my bad decisions. They didn’t ask. I listened to them talk about babies and complain about their partners and knew I would have been happier and less lonely-feeling at home with my dog. It was depressing. The combination of getting older, having lost a maybe-love, and realizing that I had little in common with some of my oldest friends, was rough. Spending time with people who you feel like you can’t relate to is lonelier than being alone.
I read an incredible essay about online dating recently by Emily Witt. Though, in the end she gives up on OkCupid, realizing that computer technology isn’t the ideal way to build chemistry and, in the end, bodies are required, she concedes that:
In the depths of loneliness, however, internet dating provided me with a lot of opportunities to go to a bar and have a drink with a stranger on nights that would otherwise have been spent unhappy and alone.
So here’s the thing. I’m not lonely. I don’t get lonely. Part of that may be that I have a few social circles there when I need them, but the rest is, I think, that most days I very much like myself. I enjoy spending time alone and rarely feel like I need someone else around. It hasn’t always been this way, not by a long-shot. But there it is.
My desire for love isn’t because I feel as though I have an empty space I need to stick someone in. It isn’t because I think it will make me feel more normal or whole or fulfilled. It’s about having someone in your life who knows you. Like knows you well enough to know that you’re kind of a shithead sometimes, but likes you anyway. It’s about having someone to look out for you and stick up for you and care about your well-being too — but mostly I think it’s just about wanting someone to really understand you.
I wrote this because of Valentine’s Day and because I felt like I should say something…feminist? I wrote this because I’m not really anti-romance. As much as I don’t mind being single, I hate the fact that so many people around me are pairing off into boringsville. I’m anti everyone turning 30 and suddenly feeling like they’re caught in a race to some kind of heteronormative finish line. I don’t understand the fear that leads women to change their names and start panicking about their boyfriend’s proposals or about getting pregnant. I just can’t relate. But I can relate to stupid, irrational, dreamy, fantastical love. I can relate to wanting a partner in life, and not just because I need help with my chores (but I really, really do need help with my chores).
I’m not anti-romance or anti-love. Love is human. Institutions aren’t. Choose love and lose the bullshit. I think our lives are worthwhile regardless of diamonds and proposals and babies and our husband’s names. Men seem to have managed just fine without any of it.
After all my frustrated and repetitive attempts at trying to explain the difference between porn and images of naked bodies and the difference between objectification and images of female sexuality that aren’t exploitative or sexualized, Sunday night’s episode ofGirls basically did it all for me.
Go watch it, if you can, but here’s a super brief recap for those who missed it: Hannah meets a hot doctor dude (Joshua/Patrick Wilson) who comes into the coffee shop she works at to complain about the shop’s garbage ending up in his trash cans. Hannah, being the secret culprit, goes to his place to apologize, kisses him, and they spend the next two days humping. Good times.
The point I’m often trying to make with regard to pornography and pornified images of women is that objectification defines pornography and, in large part, explains why pornographic imagery contributes to the oppression of women. The thing about objectification is that, though we very much like to pretend that it’s somehow ‘natural‘ or unavoidable, it isn’t. It isn’t necessary for women to be objectified onscreen and simply seeing women’s naked bodies or being attracted to a woman doesn’t necessarily mean those women are or must be objectified. It is possible for there to be depictions of sex and sexuality on television and on film and it is possible for female bodies to exist on screen (even naked!) without those images constituting pornography or exploitation.
It isn’t about skin or sex or even voyeurism. It’s about the choices made with regard to context and, essentially, camera angles. The camera is responsible for putting the audience in the position of the objectifier and of forcing us all to see women onscreen through the male gaze. The camera can make different choices. Directors can also make different choices about the kinds of bodies (friendly reminder: all bodies can be objectified, so objectifying less conventional bodies is not radical, per se, BUT putting non-conventional/imperfect bodies onscreen and not making those bodies the butt of a joke is a good thing) that are depicted onscreen and the contexts within which those bodies are depicted.
So while everyone on the internet is busy talking about whether Hannah/Lena Dunham could bag a dude like Joshua/Patrick Wilson in real life, they’re missing the actually interesting and revolutionary (yes, I realize I may be a little overexcited about a whitey TV show about rich kids in NYC, but let me have this one, please?) aspect of the show, which is NAKED FEMALE BODIES THAT AREN’T PORNIFIED. It’s possible and it happened.
Yes, dudes are choked because WTF is up with women on screen that aren’t just masturbatory material and actually look like normal, real, people, but this, of course, is a sign that Dunham is doing something right. You want proof? David Haglund and Daniel Engber thought it was the worst episode ever. I, on the other hand, thought it was the best episode ever and felt swoony inside my cold, black heart after watching.
I’m pretty positive that the way to be absolutely sure that we’re doing something right as women is if a bunch of internet dudes are pissed off about it.
I’ve become increasingly frustrated by what feels like a barrage of articles coming from self-described progressives claiming that feminists are the real enemy of sex workers. It seems as though some of those who position themselves as ‘sex worker rights activists’ are intent on creating rigid divisions among women, placing the prostituted woman in a category of her own and placing feminists in some illusory moralistic war against sex.
A key factor is that many writers on the left either misunderstand or misrepresent the abolitionist approach as a moralistic one, leading them to draw unfounded conclusions based on what could easily be resolved by having a simple conversation.
I’m disappointed that journalism, the left and the feminist movement has come to manipulating ideology in order to further a rather self-defeating cause, but here we are.
There are a number of recent examples of this distortion. Reason, a libertarian print and online magazine, recently published an article called “The War on Sex Workers.” The author, Melissa Gira Grant, criticizes the criminalization of prostituted women in the U.S. — a righteous endeavor, no doubt. But rather than challenge an unequal and oppressive system that offers marginalized women few viable options outside the sex industry and then criminalizes them for doing what they have to in order to survive (essentially criminalizing poverty) and a porn culture that positions stripping and pornography as empowering professions for women, Grant blames feminists.
Not all people who do sex work are women, but women disproportionately suffer the stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers. The result is a war on women that is nearly imperceptible, unless you are involved in the sex trade yourself. This war is spearheaded and defended largely by other women: a coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even some human rights activists who subject sex workers to poverty, violence, and imprisonment—all in the name of defending women’s rights.
This “war on women” is not imperceptible. In fact, one of the ways in which this ‘war’ is glaringly obvious, is in the fact that the sex industry is a gendered one. Women make up the vast majority of prostitutes (statistics say approximately 80 per cent) and, beyond that, women of colour are overrepresented. In Vancouver, B.C.’s notorious Downtown Eastside, Canada’s so-called ‘poorest postal code,’ where at least 60 women went missing over about 20 years, 70 per cent of prostitutes are First Nations women. Considering that First Nations people make up about 2 per cent of the total population in Vancouver and 10% of the population on the Downtown Eastside, this number is significant.
It doesn’t take involvement in the sex trade to know that prostitution and violence against women in prostitution is the result of a very effective combination of racism, poverty, and patriarchy.
Feminists have been working against these intersecting oppressions for decades; so why are progressive writers so unwilling to cover the prostitution debates accurately?
Jacobin, a magazine which is being credited with ‘mainstreaming Marx’ has taken up the topic of sex work a number of times. Seemingly invested in ‘sex as work’ line so many leftist publications favour, discussions of the issue either erase the abolitionist perspective completely or simply misrepresent the arguments.
Laura Augustin, for example, writes: “Most of the moral uproar surrounding prostitution and other forms of commercial sex asserts that the difference between good or virtuous sex and bad or harmful sex is obvious.” She frames dissenting perspectives as repressive and prudish – people who have limited their understanding of sex to the marriage bed — a sentiment that is the antithesis to decades of feminist work that deconstructed notions of romance and monogamy and placed sex firmly within a political context.
Augustin muddies things further by stating that “there is nothing inherently male about exchanging money for sex,” as though this has been argued. “By whom?” one might ask. Indeed this is what feminists have been arguing for decades – that there is nothing ‘inherent’ or ‘natural’ about men buying sex from prostitutes, rather it is a product of our unequal culture and male power.
By ignoring feminist perspectives on sex work and erasing the gendered nature of the industry; by focusing only on the ‘work’ aspect of sex work, women and the feminist movement are done a huge disservice, as is the reader, who is left with a completely confused and inaccurate understanding of the reality of the industry as well as the discourse.
Another piece at Jacobin follows this progressive effort to look at the issue of prostitution through the lens of ‘work.’ In his article ‘The Problem With (Sex) Work,’ Peter Frause argues that “the issue with sex work is not the sex, it’s the work.”
This is a mistake many socialists make while trying to approach the subject, as they assume that using a labour analysis will necessarily translate into a leftist one. While Frause notes that there are problems with the end of the debate “that revels in sex work as a source of independence and self-expression while glossing over its less glamorous aspects” because it “can neglect the coercive and violent parts of the sex,” he glazes over the abolitionist position (that is, feminists who want to work towards an eventual end to prostitution) as though it were irrelevant. In this effort to make prostitution just a job like any other (possibly crappy) job (as Frause writes: “it’s work, and work is often terrible”), the left abandons women to the whims of men and of the market, something you’d think we who desire a more equal world would want to move beyond.
Grant also published a piece in Jacobin discussing her frustration at those “who have made saving women from themselves their pet issue and vocation, [who] are so fixated on the notion that almost no one would ever choose to sell sex that they miss the dull and daily choices that all working people face in the course of making a living.” But this argument fails to understand both that choice exists on a spectrum and within a context of inequality and that the sex industry is part of a larger system that sexualizes the oppression of women.
The argument that feminists are trying to “save women from themselves” is a dangerous one that can easily be applied to, for example, feminist activism around domestic abuse (what if she wants to stay with her abusive husband?) and extended into an overzealous defense of individual women’s ‘choice’ to objectify themselves. We want so desperately not to be victims that we try to turn oppression into empowerment.
Misunderstandings about feminist perspectives on prostitution are perpetuated explicitly by articles like Grant’s but further reinforced when other writers aren’t willing to do the work of fairly representing the arguments.
Fuse magazine published an article in their Abolition issue by Robyn Maynard, criticizing what she calls ‘carceral feminism’. She cites the Bedford case, which challenged Canadian prostitution laws as unconstitutional, as an example of ‘sex worker-led’ opposition to ‘prohibition’, as she mistakenly calls it.
Maynard claims that this case is one led by marginalized women, in doing so, erasing the fact that First Nations women’s groups across Canada support the abolitionist movement and have made the point numerous times that the prostitution of Indigenous women is as a direct result of colonization.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) recently passed a resolution that supports the abolition of prostitution, stating that: “prostitution exploits and increases the inequality of Aboriginal women and girls on the basis of their gender, race, age, disability and poverty.”
NWAC goes on to state:
Aboriginal women are grossly overrepresented in prostitution and among the women who have been murdered in prostitution. It is not helpful to divide women in prostitution into those who “choose” and those who are “forced” into prostitution. In most cases, Aboriginal women are recruited for prostitution as girls and/or feel they have no other option due to poverty and abuse. It is the sex industry that encourages women to view prostitution as their chosen identity.
Another organization, Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) states that they recognize the sex industry “as a continued source of colonialism and harm for Indigenous women and girls worldwide” and stand against “the total decriminalization, legalization, or normalization of the sex industry.”
In her piece, Maynard conveniently ignores the fact that the Bedford case is not, in fact, a ‘sex worker-led’ case, but rather was initiated by a white man, Alan Young, whose interest in terms of winning this case is not to decriminalize street prostitution but rather to legalize brothels. With the knowledge that the most marginalized women tend to be the ones working in street prostitution and that these women would likely not be offered the ‘privilege’ of working inside any legal brothel, the argument that, somehow, this case is fighting for the rights of marginalized women is simply not true. It’s worth noting that the legalization of brothels in places like Amsterdam has been a complete disaster and has only worked to increase trafficking and organized crime.
For some reason, even some feminists have begun to participate in these wrongheaded portrayals.
Laurie Penny, whose progressive, feminist analysis is generally spot on, seems to have lost the plot when she wrote for the New Statesman that feminists who were critical of the sex industry were simply anti-sex, opposing prostitution and trafficking on moral grounds:
“This is because it’s the “sex” part of those activities that really causes knickers to be twisted in the icy corridors of bourgeois moral opprobrium.”
In reality, abolitionists make a case against prostitution based on a combined class, race and gender analysis, as well as, of course, on the basis of defending women’s human rights. This has nothing to do with either ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ sex. That feminists are buying into and perpetuating an anti-feminist stereotype invented by sexist men — that feminists either just need to get laid or that they hate all men/sex/fun — shows the strength of the backlash. Now we are fighting ourselves. We’re buying what the patriarchy is selling.
Penny writes: “In reality,sex work isn’t stigmatised because it is dangerous. Sex work is dangerous because it is stigmatised.” But she’s wrong. Sex work is dangerous because of those who commit violent acts against prostitutes — that is, men.
A key success of the feminist movement has been to name the perpetrator. Andrea Dworkin was one of the first to do this; to say that the problem is men. In doing this, she created a foundation for legal approaches to domestic abuse, for activism against cat-calling, sexual assualt and victim-blaming. We don’t pretend as though we don’t know who sexually harasses women or that it’s a mystery who is, in large part, raping women. We know better than to blame women for their own assaults – regardless of what they wear or how much they flirt or drink. Why are we so uncomfortable naming the real cause of violence when it comes to prostitution? Why are we blaming women?
The goal of feminism is to end patriarchy. The goal of socialism is to create an egalitarian alternative to capitalism. Prostitution is a product of patriarchy and capitalism. With that in mind, abolitionists have been advocating for a model based on true equity. Sometimes described as ‘the Swedish approach’ or ‘the Nordic model’, Sweden, Norway, and Finland have all adopted versions of this feminist approach to prostitution that decriminalizes prostitutes and criminalizes those who commit the violence: the pimps and johns. The model combines exiting services with an already strong welfare system and education programs for the police that teach them that prostituted women are not criminals. It isn’t simply a change in law, it’s a political vision that has gender and economic equality as a goal. As feminist lawyer Janine Benedet told me, it’s “a state commitment to offer something better and not to use prostitution as a social safety net.”
A Norwegian study looking at rates of violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model was recently released in English. It showed that, since 2008, reports of rape and other forms of physical violence against prostituted women has decreased.
The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years. We know that the criminal justice system often blames the victim, particularly if they can argue: “Well, he paid for her.” The most feasible way to address this violence is to decriminalize prostituted women, criminalize johns, and educate the police to this regard. If pimps and johns are criminalized, sex workers will at least be able to go to the police if they are raped or assaulted and the police will be able act easily.
We know that it isn’t feminists who are perpetrating violence against sex workers. We also know that feminists don’t blame the victim, meaning that this is not a debate about the morals of women in the industry. Why are progressives obfuscating the perpetrator by blaming feminists and misrepresenting the abolitionist movement?
Feminists are not the enemy. Rather, it’s men who treat women as disposable objects who are to blame. It is both unproductive and dishonest to claim that feminists advocate to criminalize prostituted women, as one of the few things feminists and those who advocate to end violence against prostitutes can agree on is that decriminalizing prostituted women is key.
The women who I call my friends and allies are women who have worked in the sex industry; they are women who work tirelessly in shelters, as outreach workers, as lawyers, as academics, and as activists. The women I admire and have learned from — women who have shaped the movement — women like Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, and Andrea Dworkin — are being positioned as being on the other end of some kind of ‘war’ against women.
These women deserve more than inaccurate and meaningless labels like ‘anti-sex’ or ‘prohibitionist’. These feminists don’t hold prostituted women in judgment; they are women who want the abuse, the rapes, the beatings, and the murders to end. I believe those who call themselves ‘sex worker rights advocates’ or ‘sex worker allies’ want this as well. I have no interest in creating unnecessary or dishonest divisions.