Meghan Murphy's op-ed at Al Jazeera English today: "Creating gender equity: Lessons from Iceland"
The truth about me (and Steve) *TW for sexy times
‘Prostitution Chic’ is a thing now -
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 Gloss complains 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?
The Nordic model is the only model that actually works. ‘Duh,’ says Sweden -
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.
Crime statistics show that trafficking has decreased since the Nordic model was enacted in Sweden. Places like Victoria (Australia), where prostitution has been legalized since the 80s, adopted the model in order to “contain the rampant growth of the highly visible brothel and street prostitution trade, eliminate organized crime, to end child prostitution and sex trafficking, and eliminate harmful work practices.”
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 South Auckland, NZ, where prostitution has been legal (fully decriminalized, meaning that running a brothel, living off the proceeds of someone else’s prostitution, and street solicitation are all legal — which is what some are advocating for in Canada) since 2003, street prostitution has increased dramatically and recent reports show child prostitution is on the rise. Just like in Victoria and Amsterdam, illegal prostitution has increased.
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.
In a recent debate about the legalization of prostitution, hosted by New Internationalist Magazine, human rights lawyer, Diane Post begins her argument by saying:
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 popular position among some American feminists and progressives is to pretend as though prostitution is simply something open-minded people do “on the side” for kicks. This is to pretend gender, race and poverty don’t factor in. But prostitution isn’t merely a “zoning” issue. It isn’t, either, about fashion. To these people, I point you to commentary from Margriet van der Linden, chief editor of the feminist magazine Opzij, who said, in left-liberal daily De Volkskrant:
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.
The Steubenville rape case: This is masculinity -
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.
The allegations against the young men, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, came after a series of photos, videos, texts, and social media posts were brought to light last August. One photo showed the victim “lying naked on the floor at a party, with semen from one of the defendants on her chest.” Another, widely circulated, showed the two young men carrying the passed-out girl by her arms and legs. Mays and Richmond have been sentenced to at least one year in juvenile jail, but can be held until they are 21.
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 Binder documented 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.
On ‘gray rape’, Girls, and sex in a rape culture -
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 of Girls 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.
On International Women’s Day, Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, allegedly told transit advocate and publisher of the Women’s Post, Sarah Thomson that she “should have been with him because his wife wasn’t there.” And then, she says, he grabbed her ass.
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.
No, being ‘kinky’ does not grant you minority status -
You’ve likely heard about the ‘cannibal cop‘ by now. He was a New York police officer whose wife discovered a website open on his computer displaying a photograph of a dead girl. The officer, Gilberto Valle, had been visiting a ‘fetish sites’ (because murdering women is a ‘fetish’ donchaknow) which “show[ed] women in various stages of forced duress, including one that offered images of women who did not survive.“ There was a cannibalism element to his ‘fetish’ and “the FBI analysis of Valle’s laptop yielded a video of a naked woman hanging over an open flame and screaming in agony.”
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.
William Saletan pointed out, in an article for Slate, that :
Every article about BDSM now includes the obligatory professional woman who’s secure enough in her feminism to admit she likes to be flogged. It’s great that we’ve come that far, but the message is awkward. While reformers in India battle a culture of rape, Indian BDSM advocates extol the bliss of female masochism. While human rights activists denounce caning and waterboarding, BDSM lecturers teach the joys of caning and waterboarding. Abduction, slavery, humiliation, torture—everything we condemn outside the world of kink is celebrated within it.
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.
We are always asking ourselves “What happened to the momentum?” and “Where are all the young feminists?” Well, I think we’re finding the answer. In the final segment of the recently aired documentary, MAKERS: How Women Made America, a three-hour look at the history and evolution of the women’s movement in the United States, Letty Pogrebin said, of the “Why don’t young women care about feminism?” question: “If they lose their rights, then they will wake up.” And I don’t think she was talking about the right to be spanked.
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.
For the record, accusing women of being ‘career feminists’ is sexist -
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.
So what do we make of a woman in a relative position of power who writes a book about feminism and the business world and who advocates for “[g]overnmental and company policies such as paid personal time off, affordable high-quality child care, and flexible work practices”?
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.
Jill Filipovic wrote for The Guardian (in what is the best review I’ve read of the book so far) that:
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.
You want proof that criminalization works? Look no further than the feminist movement -
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.