Posts tagged patriarchy

It’s unsurprising that Paris doesn’t get the point of feminism. She doesn’t understand why it exists and she can’t relate to it. She thinks feminism is about her and her “freedom” to do whatever she likes. But maybe feminism isn’t about you, Paris? Maybe it’s not about your freedom to successfully perform femininity and your freedom to enjoy catcalls, just as it isn’t about women’s “freedom” to self-objectify.

Feminism is about addressing systems of power that oppress women, globally. It isn’t about you feeling cute. It’s about the women and girls who are raped and abused and murdered every single day, around the world, because they are female. It’s about the fact that most of us do feel afraid, despite the fact that you “weren’t raised that way.” It’s about the fact that performing femininity, even though some of us may have learned to enjoy parts of it, isn’t a privilege in a patriarchy.

You have the right to speak for yourself, Paris. Everyone does. You have the right to feel however you like about your experiences, too. But you’re right — you don’t represent all women. And you certainly don’t represent feminism.

If prostitution isn’t about lonely, undersexed men, what is it about? (Or, Justin Bieber doesn’t need to pay for sex) 

Justin Bieber was photographed leaving a Brazilian brothel last weekend. He was covered in bedsheets, which leads us to believe that buying sex still isn’t seen as a completely acceptable pass time (though our friends on team “sex work is work” are doing their very best to change that).

                   

It’s not as though the Biebs has a shortage of options in the lady department. In fact, the very next evening, he left the club at 3am with a van load of 30 girls. Whatever. I know you don’t care what Justin Bieber does on weekends. My point is this: Why are we still pretending as though prostitution exists for lonely, socially awkward, undersexed men.

The media is in love with the “sex surrogate” story these days. Last year the idea of sex as a kind of therapeutic service for the disabled was mainstreamed when The Sessions, a film about a man who was paralyzed from the neck down and hired a sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity, came out.

We want to pity johns more than we want to shame them. The sad men and their sad penises. But I don’t think Justin Bieber’s penis is very sad… And I don’t think loneliness or disability is a reasonable defense for male power.

The notion that prostitutes exist as an “outlet” for men isn’t new. Over a century ago we believed prostitutes were necessary in order to prevent men from raping (non-prostituted women) and to preserve marriages. Prostitution was seen as a “social service.” Prostitutes were essentially there to take shit from men, so they wouldn’t take it out on the “good women.” You don’t want to be in the position of being an “outlet” for male aggression (something that was seen as natural and is still seen, by many, as innate). Naturalizing male sexuality as uncontrollable or violent isn’t going to help anyone and making a certain, marginalized, class of women responsible for protecting the other, more privileged women is abhorrent. The Romans viewed prostitutes as sexually insatiable deviants, a notion that conveniently erases any abuses those women suffered at the hands of the men who pay to do with them what they will. We cling to all these notions today, repackaging them over and over again in a continual effort to convince the world that this industry is both necessary and deserving of permanence.

The discourse surrounding prostitution has changed in that we’ve tried to sanitize the industry. “A job like any other” makes prostituted women into service providers, no different than a hair dresser or a physiotherapist. What stays the same is the notion that prostitution is necessary because of the poor, sex-deprived men who “need” women as “outlets.” Some women are lucky enough to have other choices besides dick-receptacle. The poor, the abused, the racialized — not so much.

Today, we like to imagine prostitution as a service for the lonesome. We are to pity these men — What, are they supposed to just masturbate? The horror! But examples like that of Mr. Bieber (and the countless other wealthy men and celebrities who pay for sex) show us that prostitution isn’t just about sex. There is no shortage of sex in Justin Bieber’s life — he has access to plenty of vagina, not to worry. Prostitution, it’s clear, is about power. Male power, specifically.

We can recycle as many of these centuries-old defenses as we like. Take your pick:

- Men are naturally violent and rapey and need to ejaculate into or onto women’s bodies in order to remain sane.

- Men are naturally promiscuous and need different vag to keep things spicy. Their wives, after all, have real feelings and personalities which can be annoying and tiresome.

- Prostitutes just loooove sex! You can bet all those johns are really generous in the sack. Really, really skilled in the art of pleasing a woman. They can’t tell the difference between real pleasure and acting, but hey, that’s why they pay. So they can imagine themselves to be the most virile of lovers. It’s no wonder they (supposedly) can’t get laid for free.

We have, after all, been defending men’s right to women’s bodies since the invention of patriarchy. Why stop now?

The Biebs isn’t lonely, desperate, disabled, or socially awkward. So how do you explain his visit to the brothel? I’m going to pass on what I learned about johns from  survivor and author, Rachel Moran here: Men buy sex because they think they can treat prostitutes differently than they can treat their wives, girlfriends, and dates. They buy sex in order to project what Moran called “evil arousal” onto a human being, guilt and consequence-free. They buy sex to experience dominance and to make rape and abuse “consensual” (we’ve convinced ourselves that payment = consent). Indeed, most johns derive sadistic pleasure from that power imbalance, Moran says.

Prostitution isn’t about sexuality. It’s about male power, plain and simple. And if you’re a feminist, a humanitarian, or a person who believes, in any way at all, in equality and human rights, it’s time to stop regurgitating defenses of the industry. They are old — so old — and they are incredibly destructive; even deadly.

How to be a (male) feminist ally 

By Elizabeth Pickett

1) Read as much as you can about feminist issues and feminist critical thinking … and keep reading. Not just mass media either. In fact, with a very few exceptions, reports about feminists and what they do in the mass media are apt to be oversimplified, sensationalised or outright sexist.

2) Talk to women and mostly listen. Or ask questions. Try not to presuppose. Be curious as opposed to critical – for your own education and our good.

3) Think for yourself but do it mostly by yourself. It’s your work, not the work of feminists, to educate yourself. Don’t come to us knowing nothing and acting as if you know everything. We are most often treated by men as if we are in need of their advice and direction and we might just be a little sensitive about this. It’s YOUR job to treat us as true equals – because we are – and because when it comes to women’s lives we know more than you do. It’s true that we’ll make lots of mistakes – just like you. It’s not your job to tell us what they are. We are an exploited and oppressed sex class and it is up to us to define the terms of our own liberation.

4) There are differences among feminists in terms of our analyses and the strategies and tactics we decide are appropriate for our own liberation. Choose those whom you wish to support and then support them by advocating amongst men. Keep your critiques of individual feminists or feminist perspectives to yourselves. As a result of our exploitation and oppression there is horizontal fighting and even bullying between us sometimes. Leave this to us to sort out. Your “contributions” to the fight only make matters worse, divide us further, force us to choose between our supporters, make male opinions the issue instead of feminist opinions and generally stall our efforts. If you think you have some brilliant insight or thought that no woman has had that can save our movement or send us unerringly in the right direction – I don’t believe you. But feel free to send us a secret message via a feminist friend.

5) It’s a fact that you will hear some women/feminists say things that sound negative toward men and about men. Leave it alone. It is the result of our experiences of violence and oppression. There isn’t one single woman who isn’t placed somewhere on the continuum of violence against women either as a direct or vicarious victim. Let us deal with it and accept that a generations-long system of oppression and violence has done its work on some of us. Wait for us. And don’t take it personally – it just makes you sound defensive and it lengthens the time it takes for each of us to come to terms with our lives and the lives of our sisters. Be particularly attentive to this with women whom you know have experienced violence and those of us who work with them.

6) If you feel divided from women and excluded from feminism sometimes, for gawd sakes deal with it. Women are divided from men and excluded from social, cultural, economic and political life in a thousand ways. We have to deal with it. You should be able to do that much. And use it to motivate your actions on behalf of our liberation.

7) If you’re afraid to stand up against sexism, male violence against women and the exploitation of women – how do you think we feel? Speak up and speak out.

8) Your primary job is with men. And yourself.

*This piece was written with the input of women at Feministas of Canada.

Elizabeth Pickett is an internet-based feminist freedom fighter, a mother and grandmother, a blogger, and a poet, seething in Whitby, Ontario.

The trouble with male allies 

As I’ve said before, when it comes to men being feminist allies, “show, don’t tell.”

Now, more than ever before, feminists should be skeptical of men who claim the title of “feminist” or “feminist ally.” We’ve learned a number of things (one would hope) from the Hugo Schwyzer debacle – one of those things being that we should be skeptical of any man who claims to be an authority on feminism (particularly when these men have a history of abuse, but in general as well).

In an interview with activist and writer, John Stoltenberg, published here at Feminist Current this week, he responds to the question of where “pro-feminist men” fit into our movement with this:

“First of all I don’t think any man of conscience—whether self-identified as pro-feminist or not—can or should presume to speak in women’s place or ‘decide what feminism should be about.’ That’s just a baseline principle.”

You would think this would be fairly obvious. But it’s clear, based on the behaviour of many self-described “feminist allies” or “pro-feminist men,” that they are not respecting this foundational principle.

I, of course, see this often as men try to comment here on this site by authoritatively stating “AS A FEMINIST______,” demanding that we lend him more credibility in these discussions because he self-identifies as an ally. These men tend to be become quickly irate when you tell them that their opinion on feminism or what is wrong with feminist ideology isn’t of much concern. This behaviour, quite quickly, outs them as not an ally at all, despite their frustrated insistence.

This past week I’ve had some decidedly off-putting encounters with self-described “allies,” due specifically to discussions around Hugo Schwyzer. Some men joined in on efforts to harass and bully feminists online who they felt hadn’t responded correctly to the Schwyzer issue/incidents, criticizing them for having been duped by a manipulative sociopath. While certainly people, feminists too, should be held to account for their actions and many have admitted and apologized for their failure to condemn Schwyzer sooner, it is not men’s place to demand accountability from feminists. It is their place to demand accountability from other men.

A particularly frustrating example of this came from an interaction with a man who has been covering the various abuses and decidedly unfeminist behaviours of Schwzyer over the past year or so. I’m not angry he’s covering this, at all — in fact, as a man, what he is doing is trying to hold another man accountable for his actions. If he left it at that, it would be perfectly fine.

The problem, for me, comes when those efforts lean too closely towards righteousness and become authoritative or directive. I appreciate men doing the work of holding other men to account — I do not appreciate men telling feminists how they are failing at doing feminism.

I suggested, in response, that “perhaps as someone who self-describes as ‘ally’ it isn’t your job to decide what feminists are doing ‘wrong,’” but the comment was ignored. Which is fine. It’s Twitter. We can’t expect or demand people engage with us on a such an unproductive (in terms of having full, thoughtful discussions — I’m sorry but 140 characters simply doesn’t allow for it, for the most part) and at times overwhelming medium.

I know many men who truly are allies to the feminist movement. But they don’t refer to themselves as such. Simply, it’s obvious based on their behaviour, work, and their interactions with feminists and the movement. They don’t pat themselves on the backs for being allies, nor do they admonish feminists for “not doing enough” or simply because they don’t agree with their various ideologies.

In the midst of finger-pointing (of which, I have to say, there has been a lot of with regard to the Schwyzer issue), when it comes to male “allies,” (and, I would argue, feminists as well) the finger should be pointed squarely at the perpetrator. But also, for men in feminism, a great deal of the work involves looking at their own behaviours, as men, and the ways they roam the world, equipped with male privilege. My friend (and feminist ally) Reece said to me recently that what he’d realized in trying to be an ally was that, at the end of the day he could understand that “because of patriarchy, women have to live in almost constant fear of being raped, even in what may seem like a totally safe place — but I can’t say I understand what that feels like.” Part of being an ally is knowing that you will never fully understand what it’s like to be female, or brown, or poor in this world, if you are not (though you can still work against those oppressive systems).

My desire in writing this is not to “call out” any individual man in particular, but to remind men that the word “mansplaining” came in to being because it’s something women experience so often. Not because men can’t and shouldn’t have opinions or that they must be silent — but because men fall so easily into the role of “expert” — because they’ve learned they are the “experts” — and seem to expect cookies and back pats for doing the bare minimum in terms of being pro-feminist. I’ve fallen into this myself, being so caught off guard by a man actually saying something feministish that I am too easily willing to trust him.

While “show, don’t tell” should be the basic rule, my friend and sister, Elizabeth Pickett, came up with a set of more elaborate and specific guidelines for men who wish to ally with feminists. I think it is excellent and have published it on this site. Please do take a look.

Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke: Using their power to keep women down, down, down (NSFW) 

For people with so much money, you’d think they could come up with something a little more creative, no? Justin Timberlake’s new video for “Tunnel Vision” is appallingly boring and blatantly sexist, reminding us, once again, that misogyny has gone, and is going nowhere but up.

It’s difficult for me to express how much I hate this video. Are we literally moving backwards in this movement? Because between this and Robin Thicke’s latest festival of woman-hating, my feeling that we’re losing ground in many areas of the feminist movement is only solidifying.

What is it that people aren’t getting, here? These dudes are literally flaunting the fact that they can get away with whatever kind of sexist fuckery they want, and will continue to be revered, celebrated, adored, and rewarded for treating women like fucking decorations. I mean, are these dudes any different from pornographers at this point? In creating these videos, they’re successfully making millions off of the bodies of women.

Is this liberalism? Sexual liberation? Art? WHY doesn’t anyone give a shit about women anymore? WHERE THE FUCK IS THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT?

And not only are these videos completely, overtly, unapologetically sexist, but they’re lazy as fuck. Timberlake’s entire video is basically shots of him (clothed) alternated with shots of writhing, naked women.

I honestly feel sorry for the women in these videos. And even more sad that these dudes get laid.

It’s days like these where I’m at a loss to understand why women aren’t joining the feminist movement in droves.

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.”

Well I don’t know, because as an atheist and as a person who rejects the nuclear family model, the institution of marriage, and traditional notions about women’s primary purpose in society as baby-maker, I’ve never felt I had much in common “with religious organizations and the family values mob.” The Christian right doesn’t think prostitution is “bad” because they want an end to male power and to elevate the status of women. They think it’s bad because they believe sex shouldn’t happen outside of marriage or without the purpose of baby-making/maintaining a traditional, heterosexual, patriarchal family. This position is actually “oppositional” (you know that word, right, Rosie?) to the feminist position on, well, everything.

Next paragraph!

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.

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