The tyranny of consent -
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 Friedersdorf for 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.
In pornography, there’s literally a market for everything: Why ‘feminist porn’ isn’t the answer -
“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.
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.
Was Danny Brown sexually assaulted on stage? -
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.”
Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution granted leave to intervene in Bedford case -
The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a pan-Canadian coalition of equality-seeking women’s groups, has, as of today, been granted leave to intervene in the Bedford case, scheduled for hearing on June 12, 2013 at the Supreme Court of Canada.
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 consists of: Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC), Le Regroupement Québécois des Centres d’Aide et de Lutte contre les Agressions à Caractère Sexuel (CALACS), la Concertation des Luttes contre l’Exploitation Sexuelle (la CLES), and Action Ontarienne contre la Violence faite aux Femmes (AOcVF).
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:
4) Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
9) Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution/Asian Women for Equality Society (AWCEP)
The groups who were NOT granted leave to intervene were:
For more on the abolitionist movement, check out the Pan-Canadian Campaign We Want More Than Prostitution for Women, which calls for the abolition of inequality, poverty and prostitution.
Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist: On Game of Thrones’ imagined feminism -
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 Girls as 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 at Bitch 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.
Men’s Rights Activists advocate for ‘human rights’ with rape and death threats -
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
Is this journalism? A response to DiManno and The Toronto Star's falsification of the prostitution debates -
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.”
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 claims that “neither side was happy” with the Court of Appeal’s decision (because it left the communication law intact), but that’s actual bullshit. Both Young and his clients were elated by the decision, calling it a “emancipation day for sex workers” and a “victory.” This is because the primary purpose for the case was not to decriminalize street prostitution, but to legalize brothels. Bedford herself is quoted as saying: “I was mainly concerned with winning the bawdy house law because of what happened to me at Thornhill” (Bedford’s “Bondage Bungalow” in Thornhill, Ontario was raided in 1994 and she was charged with keeping a common bawdy house, which is what lead her to get involved in this case).
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?
In Sweden, one of the progressive countries that’s adopted the Nordic model, when the police come across a john and a prostitute they offer the man the choice of admitting the offense and paying a fine, based on income, or going to court (but then risking publicity). The prostituted 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.”
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: Victim of feminism -
Tom Matlack, who I’d pretty much forgotten about because, well, because he’s irrelevant, is at it again. And by “at it” I mean, of course, whining about the mean, mean feminists. It’s his thing.
Some history on me and Tom: Back in January, Matlack, who is the co-founder of MRA-lite site, The Good Men Project, wrote a blog post for The Times as part of an incredibly inane “debate” about whether or not makeup “helps or hinders a woman’s self-esteem.” I responded to his post, entitled “Women Should Do What They Want” (oh gee, thanks for the green light on that, Tom!), by saying, basically, that nobody cares about what Tom thinks about what women should or should not do with their faces. Tom got super choked that I would DARE criticize his nice-guy stance but claimed that “personal attacks bounce right off [him]” and that what he’s really upset about are “the attacks on The Good Men Project as a whole,” which are, according to Tom, “unfair and unjustified.” But the thing is that they’re not “unfair and unjustified.” Not in the least.
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.
He goes about this in a super-sneaky way; reminding us over and over again that he’s on OUR SIDE you guys! He’s a “good man,” after all. If we would just stop “attacking” poor Tom, the feminist movement would actually be able to get somewhere. He says things like: “I am all for equality. I am all for women’s rights. What I am not for is making this one giant zero sum fight in which men get bashed.” He pulls the classic “we’re just being honest,” card, as though “being honest” is an excuse for being a sexist mansplainy moron. He thinks feminists are getting in the way of feminism, which is something he is an expert on.
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.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about unionizing arms manufacturers? On the idea of sex worker unions -
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).
From Farley et. al. (2003) “Prostitution in Nine Countries”
Is this staggering violence a result of lack of unionization? Let’s see what the International Union of Sex Workers is fighting for:
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.
Taryn Fivek is a writer in New York City.
'Putting selfies under a feminist lens' by Meghan Murphy via The Georgia Straight -
“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?’ ”