Posts tagged the sex industry

Porn teaches men they are gods. Pop culture teaches men that the epitome of success is to be surrounded by naked women, fawning over you. Prostitution exists because we, as a culture, very much believe that women exist to pleasure men. We tell women that they have to “work” in marriage, to keep their men happy, to keep them from straying — buy sexy lingerie, try threesomes, try anal, perform every porn fantasy he has — he needs it, he deserves it, it is your job.

We can continue to skirt around these truths — that the sex industry and our patriarchal culture breed men like Rodger — but expect more violence, more deaths, more rape, and more abuse. Our world is rife with Elliot Rodgers. We create them every day. They aren’t going anywhere.

It’s the Belle Knox brand of feminism. It says that if an individual woman consents to — or even enjoys — performing in pornography, it must be ok. It says that if an individual woman likes pornography, it must be ok. And not just ok, but potentially empowering. I have no idea why we would assume that only men’s sexualities can be shaped by porn or why, simply because a woman’s fantasies have been shaped by porn that means those fantasies and that pornography is necessarily feminist. I don’t give a shit how many people like porn. I don’t give a shit if you say you like performing in porn (most women don’t, for the record, but there are exceptions to every rule that you’re sure to find if you look). That changes absolutely nothing about what porn is and how it impacts our lives and society as a whole.

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.

Interview: Meghan Murphy on the sex industry, individualism, online feminism, and the third wave 

This interview was done for and posted (in French) on Isabelle Alonso’s website. Isabelle is a French TV personality and ex-president of the “Chiennes de garde”, a well-known feminist group in France. The interview was conducted and translated by Sporenda.

1)  The blog, Feminist Current, that you launched last year, is attracting quite a bit of attention. It won “Best Feminism Blog” in Canada and has quite a few followers. Do you explain this success only by the quality of your writing or by a increased  interest in feminism?

M: Well, I can’t say for sure. I get the feeling, based on the climate in feminism these days and from connecting with other feminists online, from around the world, that there is a lot of frustration towards and disappointment in the way feminism is represented by more mainstream or maybe third wave sources. The analysis is often quite superficial and it’s become acceptable to advance this sort of derisive attitude towards both radical feminism and the second wave. The smearing of the second wave and of radical feminism, more often than not, is unfounded and comes from those unfamiliar with the theory and the history of the movement. There’s a real lack of critical thinking and an unwillingness to make larger connections around things like the mainstreaming of porn and the sex industry to women’s status in the world and violence against women.

There’s also a kind of bullying (I realize that’s an overused term these days, so perhaps it might not feel like the ideal descriptor to some, but it sure does feel like bullying to me…) that goes on and has become acceptable online, in particular. You have to really toe the party line or risk getting blackballed. It discourages honest conversations and critical thinking. There are these trigger words (often various words attached to “phobia” or “shaming”– “whorephobia,” or “kink-shaming,” for example) that are thrown around and, once uttered, the conversation is done and people are accused of being some kind of “phobic” regardless of what’s actually being argued. Critique is repositioned as “judgement.” People seem to conflate critiques of larger systems of power with critiques of individuals and individual choices. You know, to be critical of the sex industry isn’t to be critical of prostitutes — it’s to be critical of male culture and inequality and oppression. It’s a real problem as well as an excellent way to squash critical thinking and scare people into accepting certain movement mantras and language without thinking or questioning it. It’s a bit cult-like.

So I think when I started writing about feminism online (rather naively, I must admit) back in 2010 and was critical of things that you’re not allowed to be critical of in mainstream feminism — things like burlesque, porn, stripping, prostitution, etc. — maybe people felt a little relieved? That isn’t to say that I’m the only one writing about this stuff, but I know that feeling of relief that comes when you’ve been uncomfortable or unsure about something but you aren’t sure why, and everyone else seems to be ok with it so maybe you should be ok with it too, and then you read something where someone really articulates exactly what was bothering you and it’s like, THANK GOD. You know, there are so few feminists blogging about the Nordic model, for example (in a positive way, anyway). When I learned about it, first from Trisha Baptie, and then from other feminist organizations and Aboriginal women’s groups, and I was like, yeah this is so obvious — this makes sense. But people have been taught the politically correct stance is legalization. Abolition isn’t fashionable.

There’s an incredible backlash when you are critical of the sex industry. It’s not the popular position to take these days — we’ve been so indoctrinated with this idea that if you’re critical of the sex industry, you’re critical of sex (when in reality it’s the opposite) so it’s not an easy thing to advocate for in public. You will really get shit on. So that probably discourages a lot of feminists from supporting that model and abolition in general, publicly. The more of us come out and say this stuff publicly, though, the more other women will feel free and encouraged to explore these ideas without fear of attack and being shut down. They’ll feel like, oh, ok, maybe I don’t have to like porn in order to pretend to be sexually liberated – maybe my discomfort with prostitution is justified – maybe I’m not crazy. So I think that’s why Feminist Current is growing in popularity. I think maybe it’s just a relief to see this kind of discourse happening publicly and see that other women and men want to get on side.

2) From what one reads, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) are big in Canada. Some of them visit your site to attack your posts and try to advance their position – that men are the real victims and are being victimized by modern women and feminists.

Why is it, in your opinion, that there are so many MRAs in Canada? What do you get about these men based on what they post on your site?

M: Oh gosh, I have no idea why Men’s Rights Movement and MRAs are so big in Canada! I think it’s partly that they’ve found a place in AVFM and CAFE, for example. So the existence of those groups, who are putting forth these ridiculously warped and anti-feminist ideas and manipulated statistics, likely reinforce the idea that it’s acceptable for men to go public about their hatred towards and fear of feminists and the feminist movement.

The MRAs who comment on my site (or try to comment on my site) are mostly just kind of confused. They don’t understand what feminism is or what the feminist movement is about. They say the same things over and over again — they think feminism is about advocating for a matriarchy or that it’s all about women having power over men. They really don’t get the idea of patriarchy and the fact that it’s systemic — that it isn’t about individuals. Their arguments are always about how “Men are victims too!” or that men are the real victims in this world, not women. And it’s like, yeah, of course. Of course lots of individual men experience violence and suffer throughout their lives. And, yes, some men are oppressed on a systemic level too, via race and class. But the idea behind feminism is not that everything is rad for all individual men – it’s that women experience oppression on a systemic basis as a result of being born into and socialized based on their assigned social class of “woman.” Because in our society there are two social categories when it comes to gender – men and women – and based on the fact that we’ve decided, as a culture, that women are “feminine” and men are “masculine” and that masculinity equals power, dominance, strength, etc. whereas femininity equals submission, weakness, passivity, etc. So sure, an individual woman might have a specific kind of circumstantial power over an individual man — for example, if she is white and part of the upper class – but that doesn’t change the fact that, in our world, women as a class are subordinate to men as a group and, as a result, are prostituted, abused, murdered, raped, objectified, harassed etc. specifically because they are women and in a way that’s gendered.

MRAs pretend feminists think that being a man is consistently this amazing, perfect thing, but the fact is that patriarchy isn’t necessarily “good” for men either. Masculinity is shitty. It means you’re taught to be violent and aggressive and that you can’t have feelings, that you can’t ever be vulnerable or weak. I feel so sad for men who never learn it’s ok to have and talk about their emotions and be vulnerable. It’s awful.

This is also why things like homophobia happen — you know, because gay men aren’t properly performing masculinity. Part of the thing about masculinity is that you fuck women. If you don’t do that, you’re messing with the whole system. Women are the fuckable ones — Men are the fuckers, women are the fuckees, as it were. So when men are having sex with other men or women are having sex with other women, it challenges that system and that’s one of the reasons some people hate or fear gay people.

Fitting in to these two categories is hard. It’s not natural. We shouldn’t have to be either feminine or masculine. To fit in takes work. It’s bad for everyone. I mean, it’s worse for women in many ways, but really, it’s not easy for anyone.

3) You have underlined that, for women and feminists bloggers, posting their views on the internet can be kind of a double-edged sword, as it’s also the place where extreme misogyny is being expressed, not just through huge amounts of pornography but also through vicious attacks, harassment and threats.

Have you experienced this “free for all” on women? What does it say about men’s feelings toward women and feminists?

M: Well, yes, I experience a lot of vitriol online. Especially because of the things I write about the sex industry, as I mentioned earlier. And it doesn’t just come from men. In fact, I think women sometimes feel freer to attack me in really vicious and hateful ways – even sexist ways (you know, calling me “bitch,” “cunt,” etc.) because they’re women and so it’s ok, somehow? I mean, I get attacked by men too, all the time, but some of the worst has come from other women.

I think maybe this happens because they don’t want to name the perpetrator… It’s often women who aren’t ready or willing to acknowledge that men are the ones out there who are perpetrating violence against not only women, but also against trans folks and, actually, against other men too.

Instead they target me. I’m an easy target. You know, I’m out there, as public person, I’m not protected by an institution, I don’t work for anyone, really, I work for myself. And they know that when they start a pile on, others will be eager to join in. It’s funny, in a way. I mean I’m not exactly raking in tons of cash blogging about feminism. It’s not as though I’m the one committing violence against women, but maybe it’s easier to focus on me than it is to focus on those with real power in this world. Maybe the reality is too hard for people to face. It’s a harder problem to address – widespread violence against women and misogyny. So they tweet nasty things at me instead. I don’t know. You’d think they could come up with something more productive to do.

People want very much to believe that things are ok. That’s why there’s such a concerted effort to pretend as though sexism can be empowering. It’s easier. You don’t have to change anything or confront any of the difficult truths about what’s behind the sex industry and how deeply misogynist it is. You don’t have to acknowledge that, you know, there are probably a lot of men in your life who’ve bought sex and who watch porn and probably your boyfriend goes to strip clubs and tells you that you’re supposed to be ok with it because “all guys do it” and “you’re just jealous” or whatever other b.s. we’re fed with regard to accepting sexist behavior from the men in our lives – so we feel like we have no other choice.

We love our boyfriends and they watch porn. What do you do? Especially when your boyfriend and the world at large keeps telling you that all men do this and it’s normal and that you should be ok with it. Fuck that. First of all, all men don’t watch porn. Maybe most do, but not all of them. Secondly, in no way do you have to be ok with it. We’re told we have no other option. No alternatives. So instead we try to cope. Things like “sex-positive feminism” are coping mechanisms — so, you can pretend you’re empowered as an individual, that women in prostitution just love fucking strangers all day, that you’re objectifying yourself, rather than being objectified. If we can trick ourselves into believing the sex industry empowers us then maybe it will become true! We’re desperately trying to make “good” that which is not “good”. We’re grasping for power anywhere we can.

I think that’s much of what this burlesque-is-empowering-for-women thing is about, for example. You know, it can feel good to get that kind of positive attention. I get that. I’ve been there. Everyone likes to feel desired. But the folks who are doing burlesque and calling it “feminist” or “empowering” aren’t honest about that. They aren’t honest about what’s motivating them to strip onstage for an audience. They want to pretend that it’s some kind of nouveau-feminism when of course, it’s just the same old thing. We’re used to seeing women as pretty objects to be looked at. Getting strangers to watch women strip isn’t anything new… Women get positive reinforcement for shaking their tits on stage and men are stoked that this is (supposedly) feminism! It’s empowering, they’ve been told. So it’s cool, right? I mean, no wonder people are into it. It’s no mystery.

Maybe we’ve become so hopeless about the feminist movement, because there’s still so far to go, that many women have just given up and are, like, ok, let’s just make the best of this. So we end up with “feminist porn”, burlesque, prostitution as “empowerment”. It’s about giving up on something more, something better — real power that isn’t temporary and that isn’t based on our ability to get men to pay in order to objectify us or to get positive reinforcement because we’re shaking our tits around on stage. It’s really sad, actually.

4) One of your most commented on  posts underlined that, based on a recent study done in Sweden, the Nordic model  not only reduced prostitution (by 85%) but seems to have reduced violence against prostitutes as well (48% less rapes, 38% less physical assaults according to the prostituted women who were polled). 

This goes against the prediction made by the pro-prostitution advocate –: that the penalization of johns would increase violence against prostituted women.

Not only did the media fail to relay the results of this study but a “sex worker union,” — Prosentre — even used it to assert that the Nordic model did not work, since prostitutes were verbally insulted more often now (because the johns didn’t dare physically assault them). What do you think of this silencing and twisting of facts by the media and pro-prostitution groups?

M: There is a vested interest in maintaining and promoting the sex industry as “ok” or as simply another form of work. Mostly this happens (obviously) because the sex industry is highly profitable. We live in a capitalist system, which means that anything that is profitable is defended vehemently, at the expense of human lives and of the planet, as we see via the push for pipelines in Canada. I mean, we all know full well that pipelines will inevitably be an environmental disaster, yet these projects move forward despite known consequences. Capitalism is a very powerful system. If it weren’t for capitalism, the sex industry wouldn’t exist. At least not in the same form as it does today and to the extent that it does.

“Sex worker unions” have been shown, thanks to journalists like Julie Bindel, to be little more than lobby groups for the industry. They aren’t about protecting the human rights of women, they’re about promoting the sex industry as being like any other “safe” industry – “a job like any other,” they say. But in the end it’s about profit (at the expense of women) and, of course, male pleasure.

Places like New Zealand are often used as examples by sex work advocates of how legalizing prostitution “works” – but all that’s changed in countries where they’ve legalized or completely decriminalized prostitution is that there’s more prostitution (and more trafficking). Women in the industry are still raped, abused, and murdered. Prostitutes still go missing. What it does is to create a two-tiered system, where a few very privileged women “get” to work indoors in legal brothels (which we are told is safer, despite the fact that women are abused and raped and murdered indoors as well), and everyone else – women of colour, women with mental health and addiction issues, illegal immigrants, trafficked women, etc., still work in an illegal market, most of which continues to be run by organized crime. The danger is still there and it’s still there because of male demand. The only real way to stop violence against prostituted women and to stop the exploitation is to criminalize the men who are doing the harm. Demand is what keeps the industry going, so curbing demand is the most obvious way to stop the exploitation.

The industry finds a few spokespeople – women who will say: “Oh this is great!  Everything is fine!” and then those women are touted as representative of all prostituted women. It’s quite disgusting, actually. Because those people know full well that most of the women in the industry aren’t happy and want out. They know full well that the silent women, the women who don’t get to speak their truth and to be public about their lives and experiences, are trapped in the industry – in massage parlours, trapped by poverty, addiction, abusive boyfriends/pimps, etc. To want to keep your job, I get, but I don’t get throwing all these women under the bus in the process.

5) Advocates of prostitution and porn call these Nordic reforms “anti-sex” and “moralistic” but it’s interesting to note that these laws are passed in countries (Sweden, Norway, Iceland) that are known to have the most open, relaxed  and non repressive attitude about sex. Your comments on that?

M: Yeah that’s a funny one. I mean, if we’re talking about free sexuality and a real liberated vision of sex and sexuality, you’d think you’d be advocating for consensual sex. But prostitution isn’t about female desire or “enthusiastic consent”, which is supposedly what we’re touting in feminism these days. I mean, sure, sometimes a woman “consents” to letting a man have sex with her or agrees to perform other sex acts, in exchange for money, but she isn’t “consenting” because, you know, she’s really into this guy and really wants to sleep with him. If she did, she wouldn’t have to be paid to do it. That whole argument – the one that says that feminists who are critical of the sex industry are anti-sex, shows a real anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking.

I mean, as you say, the countries that have criminalized johns, banned strip clubs, and are considering banning pornography are the countries that are the most progressive and the most sexually liberated. The US isn’t a sexually liberated country. It’s completely saturated and obsessed with pornography while simultaneously having this huge faction of right-wing, religious groups who think sex should only happen in traditional, heterosexual, marriages for the purposes of procreation (which is, of course, about controlling women’s bodies and maintaining a patriarchal family structure). I find the whole idea that women who advocate for porn and prostitution are “pro-sex,” whereas feminists who advocate against objectification and exploitation and are positioned as “anti-sex,” kind of hilarious and, in many ways, embarrassing. I just picture the next generation of feminists looking back at the third wave with shame. I mean, all these ridiculous women parading around in stilettos and pasties, on stage, pretending they are advancing women’s rights. What a joke. That whole burlesque/sex work is empowering/feminist porn aspect of the third wave is making a mockery of the movement.

6) The proposal to ban hardcore pornography online in Iceland was discussed on Feminist Current. Do you think it’s justified to attack the principle of free speech and promote censorship to advance the feminist agenda? Do you believe pornography qualifies as free speech?

M: The whole “censorship” argument in defense of pornography is illogical. I mean, as a society, we aren’t against censorship. We “censor” child pornography, for example, and are perfectly ok with that form of “censorship.” I don’t understand why suddenly, just because a woman turns 18, it’s ok to objectify or degrade her. The concept of “consent” and the way that the feminist movement has reinforced consent as a crucial part of sex (whereas, in the past, of course, it was acceptable to rape one’s wife – meaning that “consent” didn’t always matter so much to men when it came to sex) isn’t to be scoffed at, but at the same time, it’s really oversimplified the conversation around sex and sexuality in an unhelpful way.

I called it “the tyranny of consent” in a recent post that discussed the way that “consent” is often used to limit the parameters of conversations around sex and force us to accept anything anyone agrees to, regardless of the circumstances under which they agreed. It removes context from the conversation. I mean, it’s not as though, simply because a woman signs a contract or verbally agrees to perform certain sex acts, that’s unequivocally “ok” or necessarily ethical. And, again, what’s the difference between a 17 year old woman and an 18 year old woman? A 17 year old can’t give consent ethically and an 18 year old can? What about a woman who’s been raped and abused and exploited her whole life, since she was a child – suddenly when she turns 18 her, now her life of abuse is erased and she’s simply a consenting adult and therefore her prostitution is A-ok? It makes no sense. People use consent in order to comfort themselves and in order to turn these issues – pornography, prostitution, coercion, inequality, power dynamics, objectification, etc. — into something that’s black and white – as though it’s as simple as consent vs. non-consent. But it isn’t that simple.

Regarding the “free speech” and pornography issue — please. Pornography doesn’t expand the conversation, it limits it. When do we ever talk about corporations and multi-billion dollar industries as being champions of or representative of “free speech” except when it comes to pornography? What a joke. Pornography is about sexualizing the oppression of women. Is oppression “free speech?” Of course not. If we were talking about actually liberalizing nudity and sex and if we were seeing real, feminist depictions of bodies and female sexuality on screen, of course we could talk about freedom of expression. But we aren’t. We’re talking about porn. And porn is regressive when it comes to expanding our understanding of, and the conversation around, women’s bodies and sexuality. It teaches society that women are things that exist for male pleasure – to be looked at and to be fucked. Let’s see some fucking feminist erotica. Let’s see depictions of female sexuality and women’s bodies, on screen, that aren’t objectified and sexualized for the male gaze and then we can have a conversation about “free speech.” But please. Pornography is just about men’s right to hate and profit off of women. Free speech my ass. Men are fully capable of masturbating without objectifying or exploiting women. And if they claim not to be, well, that’s a terrible insult to them.

7) The topic of “grey rape” was discussed on Feminist Current. You told a personal anecdote where a guy who took you back home and with whom you’d had no intention of having sex, finally got you in bed by insisting relentlessly and just wearing you down.

And this guy and his friends were indignant that you deemed his behavior “rapey”–  to them, this was normal behavior for a man, certainly not unethical; you were the unethical one by calling it “rapey”.

What do you make of his reaction, and of yours, and more generally, why is it so hard for women to just say a straight no to such men and  stick to it?

M: Well actually most of his friends, our mutual friends, that is, agreed that his behaviour was at least sleazy and gross, if not “rapey.” He was indignant because he was concerned about his reputation and because he refused to see his behaviour as problematic or be accountable for it. A relative of his, who I dated years later, accused me of somehow vilifying the “rapey” dude (which I really hadn’t – I’d merely shared my experience with a few friends) probably, in part, because he’d never heard my side of the story and, I imagine, because he also didn’t want to acknowledge that someone he was related to, someone he was close with, could be anything but a “good” guy. Even more likely is that he’d engaged in similar behavior himself at one point or another and didn’t want to examine that more closely.

Many men want to see themselves as the “good guy” – they want rapists to be monsters. They don’t want to look at how they might be complicit in rape culture. They want it to be easy – again, black and white – but it isn’t that simple. That’s why we tell ourselves that it’s fine and natural for men to buy sex and watch porn and go to strip clubs. We draw lines that make no sense. On one hand, we say: “Rape culture is bad. Women are human and deserve respect.” And then on the other we say: “Except for the women that aren’t fully human. Except for the women who exist to be looked at and to be fucked because god knows if men aren’t provided with orgasms on demand, they might die. OR, as some reason, they might rape the “good women” – the women who aren’t “to be fucked” — who are privileged enough not to have been prostituted.” We still seem to want to compartmentalize everything.

In porn there’s no talk of consent. Women are just “up for it” all the time – and somehow we’re still pretending that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture and that “normal guys” aren’t complicit??

I mean, it’s the same thing that happens when women talk about domestic abuse – people say: “Oh but he’s so nice. I know him! He’s so good with my kids. He helped me out when I had car trouble,” or whatever. They want abusive men to be these horrid, creepy, evil, monsters lurking in bushes or in parking lots – but abusive men are just “regular guys”, if that makes sense…

I’ve been in abusive relationships. When I came out about one situation in particular, I couldn’t believe how many people – friends of the man – just refused to believe that he would do what I said he did. They made up any and every reason to convince themselves and others that I was lying. They just couldn’t get their heads around (or didn’t want to) the fact one of their buddies, someone who gave them rides home from parties, someone who watched their kids, could be abusive.

People need to realize that it isn’t fun to go public about rape or abuse. It’s awful. And mostly people blame you and don’t believe you. There’s no reason to lie. I mean, sure, I guess it’s happened the odd time, but please — telling the world that the man you said you loved, and who you lived with and slept with and cooked for and that you called your partner was abusive? It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel hypocritical and pathetic and weak. It shouldn’t, but it does. It’s not something that’s easy to do.

As for why it’s so hard to say no, well, women are taught to be polite and not to hurt others’ feelings. And, like, often we’re attracted to the guys who date rape us – I mean, we went out with them, right? Maybe we even made out with them – but that still doesn’t mean we want to have sex. Sometimes, after a certain point, you’ve said no so many times and it’s like, “Ok fine, whatever.” And clearly I’m not advocating for that but the point is – how many times should we have to say no?? What guy wants sex because he’s had to convince and coerce and pressure a girl into it? I mean, I ask that question with the implication that no man should want that — that ideally we want to have sex with people who are enthusiastic about having sex with us – but the truth is that this isn’t what men learn. They learn to pursue. And women learn to be pursued. We learn to be passive and men learn to be aggressive. So it’s almost no wonder these kinds of situations come up so regularly. Ideas about masculinity and femininity have really messed us up.

8) What do you think of so called “pro-sex feminists”?

M: The term “pro-sex” is misleading. It implies that there is some faction of feminists that are “anti-sex”, which really describes nothing and is wrongly applied to women who are critical of the sex industry.  The reason I’m critical of the sex industry isn’t because I’m “anti-sex”, it’s because I’m anti-objectification and anti-patriarchy. Whether or not I “like” or “don’t like” sex is irrelevant.

That said, I do “like” sex. With men (Ack! Am I blowing the pro-sexer’s minds?)! And I know that porn isn’t “good” for sex. It teaches us that sexuality is about domination and subordination and it teaches women that their performance is more important than their pleasure. You know, I don’t want to think about whether or not I look “sexy” while I’m having sex. I want to focus on pleasure and on my partner and on enjoying the actual moment. I can’t have an orgasm if I’m self-conscious or if I’m worrying about what my stomach looks like. Women learn that we are to-be-looked-at and that being “sexy” has nothing to do with our own sexual pleasure. I mean, women get breast implants in order to “look sexy” and, in doing so, often lose sensation in their nipples. So we intentionally numb an erogenous zone in order to look sexy for the male gaze. We’ve made female sexuality into a performance (for men).

So I think “pro-sex” creates an imaginary dichotomy and forces women to believe that, in order to be “pro-sex” or “sex-positive” they must also support the sex industry, which is actually a pretty smart trick the sex industry is playing on us. What’s sad is that some feminists are buying into it. I mean, as we discussed earlier, countries that are far more sexually liberated then the confused and repressed U.S., like Iceland and Sweden, are the same countries that are banning strip clubs, placing restrictions on access to pornography, and criminalizing the purchase of sex. Americans’ concept of “liberated” is completely ridiculous. They think the free market will magically erase exploitation when we know full well that the opposite happens. Prostitution and pornography are not the end all be all of a free society – unless you understand freedom to exist at the expense of half of the population.

9) What are your thoughts on Femen?

Femen. Oh Femen. Well, what to say… They are a little misguided… They seem to mainly be focused on getting media attention and on shock value, which I’m afraid I don’t have a ton of respect for. They have also made some pretty ignorant and offensive statements about feminism: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead,” for example. So it’s difficult for me to take them seriously or feel any allegiance with them.

They’ve alienated so many women and feminists with their statements and actions — their “Topless Jihad”day being a particularly insulting example of this – as though Muslim women will somehow be “liberated” by baring their breasts… It perpetuates this idea that, somehow, women in the West are completely free and liberated because, I don’t know, we’re “allowed” to dress provocatively, whereas non-Western women are all completely oppressed due to their lack of booty shorts and breasts on display. It’s not accurate and it oversimplifies the issues. It also teaches us, in the West, to not look critically at the sexism and misogyny of our own culture, instead pointing to other cultures, saying “Oh those poor oppressed women, we should teach them the wisdom of our ways”. The West has long been completely self-absorbed and obsessed with the illusion of “individual choice” epitome of freedom. Femen plays into that and simultaneously presents a vision of female liberation that looks like a sexy, naked, thin, white, blonde woman. They are making feminism palatable for the male gaze. And of course, for that reason, the mainstream media loves them – which says a lot about the integrity of their message, in my opinion.

10) What do you think of this opinion seen on AlterNet (US radical progressive site): “Feminism is something individual to each feminist”? Do you consider (as some feminists do, Gail Dines for instance) that neoliberalism is presently the biggest threat to feminism?

M: Well, I’m not sure I’ve seen that perspective on AlterNet, per se (though perhaps it has been, just saying I can’t speak specifically to whether or not that perspective is promoted by the site — they seem to publish a wide variety of viewpoints), but I’ve definitely seen that “feminism is just whatever individual women decide it is” thing in all sorts of places. Certainly I agree with Dines’ analysis with regard to neoliberalism. I mean, neoliberalism is destructive to any movement because, at its root, it’s about individualism and movements are about collective liberation (or they should be in any case – that’s why they’re called “movements” and not “this is just what I feel like doing as an individual right this second so screw you guys”).

The idea that feminism is about individual choice has come about, in part, because of an American kind of neoliberal discourse that places individual “choice” and freedom outside a context of systemic inequality and oppression. It’s like the myth of the American dream – that if you just work hard enough, you can make it, and if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault for being lazy or weak or whatever. It removes any responsibility from the state and places it on the shoulders of the individual which is, of course, the basis for the entire American system.

Privatization says “it’s all on you – it’s not our responsibility to take care of you when you get sick or lose your job or can’t feed your kids – that’s your own failing as an individual.” So that kind of thinking has infiltrated the feminist movement and it has many people believing, as a result, that feminism is just about individual women feeling good or feeling “empowered.” This has led to the idea that, for example, burlesque is feminist because “it makes me feel good in this moment.” Of course, feeling good is great but it has nothing to do with liberating women from male violence and oppression. Whether or not you “like” to dance around on stage in pasties or whether or not you “feel good” in stilettos has nothing to do with feminism. I mean, sure, do it if you feel like it, but don’t call it feminism. It’s selfish and ignorant and shows a lack of critical thinking and awareness of the world around you and the global and historical context of women’s collective oppression.

The tyranny of consent 

Emily Witt’s recent essay, within which she describes traveling to San Fransisco, where she watches a BDSM porn shoot for a Kink.com series called Public Disgrace, the purpose of which is to show women  “women bound, stripped, and punished in public,” inspired a number of responses.

Despite my, probably obvious, criticisms of both porn and the BDSM genre, the piece is a very good read (by which I mean, it is engaging and complex and thoughtful); although very, very graphic (by which I mean, don’t read it unless you wish to read very detailed descriptions of sadomachochism).

There’s no real way to defend the production of this kind of film, the scene for this particular production being one in which, as described by for The Atlantic, “… a group of San Franciscans crowded into a basement to watch and participate as a diminutive female porn actress (who consented very specifically to all that followed) is bound with rope, gagged, slapped, mildly electrocuted, and sexually penetrated in most every way.”

He adds, accurately, that “the tenor and intensity of the event can’t be conveyed without reading the full rendering.” Granted, the scene sounds rather terrifying and one might ask, on what basis was “consent” given by this young performer. But interviewed after the shoot, the woman expressed genuine pleasure and enthusiasm about the experience. Believably, I might add.

The question that came up for me, and for some others, was this: Regardless of there being “consent” and even pleasure, is the production and distribution of this kind of film ethically defensible? While I have no real interest in exploring the responses that argue this kind of porn is ethically wrong because it’s “uncivilized” or “barbaric” or un-Godly or whatever writers for The American Conservative think about sex that happens outside of marriage and what kind of sex counts as the kind of “civilized” sex God would have, I am interested in the issue of consent and how “consent” is so consistently twisted to mean “ethical.”

In feminism, as well as in other liberal-type circles, we talk about consent a lot. “Anything that happens between consenting adults…” is the mantra. Those who have formed critiques of the sex industry, of course, are well aware of the ways in which this “consent is magic” ethos oversimplifies the concept of consent and removes relevant contexts and larger impacts from the conversation.

Consent is, without a doubt, very important and this drilling of “non-consensual sex isn’t sex” into our brains has changed the way many people engage in sex and communicate with their sexual partners. Consent is also, obviously, still not a given, as demonstrated by the incredibly high rates with which rape occurs as well as by conversations about “grey areas,” so it’s clear we’ve got a long way to go on this one.

Though the consent conversation is imperative, I think we’re doing it wrong.

“You might think we are doing things to the model that are mean or humiliating, but don’t,” said Princess Donna Dolore (the director of the Kink shoot). “She’s signed an agreement.”

She signed an agreement. Meaning, she “consented.” She even enjoyed the scene. I believe she enjoyed the scene. I believe people connect pleasure and pain. I understand how playing with power and subordination and domination and fantasy turns people on. I’ve experienced this. So many of us have and do. I know.

When it comes to the ethics of shooting a video that explicitly depicts violence and degradation and the humiliation of women, though, the issue of consent that’s become so black and white in conversations that happen in the self-described “sex-positive” sphere of feminist discourse, is distorts the issue.

Ethically, of course, there has to be consent. But also, consider that ethics aren’t about individuals. Ethics are about the ways in which our actions and behaviours affect and impact those around us. Ethics are about society. To say “she signed an agreement” — meaning “there was consent,” says nothing about society or the ways in which the production of this kind of pornography impacts women and men everywhere and social relations. So, in this case, this one individual is ok. Maybe. Sure. The performers in this particular film enjoyed themselves this time. Great. But a conversation about ethics doesn’t end there.

To be completely honest, which is something I do try to be, Witt’s descriptions of the scene didn’t upset or disgust me. The scene, as described by Witt, was titillating in many ways. I have, after all, been socialized here in this porny, violent world, along with the rest of you. But I’m certain that, to watch the finished video or even perhaps to have watched the scene in real life, would have inspired a different reaction in me. I contemplated, for some time, actually watching the video, just so I could know for sure and, therefore be better able to describe exactly what it was that changes when we watch this kind of imagery. In the end, after talking about it with a friend, I decided against it. I’ve seen enough porn in my life to know how watching women being degraded or abused on screen makes me feel. I don’t particularly want my sexual fantasies to involve electrocution or fisting or being hit with a belt. I’m not convinced I need to watch a woman wearing a sign that reads “worthless cunt” be groped and prodded and hit by strangers in a bar in order to understand the imagery. Maybe I’m wrong.

Rape fantasies exist for a reason and I’m certainly not shaming women who have them or who even play out these kinds of scenarios in the bedroom (but men who play out rape fantasies on women in the bedroom? Yeah, you go right ahead and feel ashamed). Power is sexualized in our culture. It’s why we think Don Draper is hot. Sexual violence is all twisted up in our lives and psyches. We see images of sexualized violence on TV and in movies all the time. Not in porn. Just on regular old crime dramas and in horror films. It’s part of our history. It’s hard to escape history, culture, and socialization.

So while the issue of why many of us are turned on by sadomasochistic fantasies or experiences should certainly be explored (and has been by many), when we talk about profiting off of the production and distribution of imagery depicting sexualized violence, there is much more to the conversation, in terms of ethics, than simply “consent.”

Witt makes this distinction after talking with Rain, a self-described “24–7 lifestyle kinkster” who works for Kink. Speaking about Princess Donna with reverence, Rain describes the burning, blinding pain brought on by getting cum in your eyes, saying:

“Do you realize the dedication that takes?” asked Rain. “That’s how committed she is.”

Witt asks herself: “Committed to what? To getting guys sitting in their studio apartments to jerk off to you for $30 a month? Not an insignificant accomplishment, but enacting a fantasy of violence for personal reasons was one thing; doing so for money was another.”

Consent is messier than we often pretend it is. It isn’t black and white, though I think we’d like to think it is. “Consensual” or “nonconsensual” are the two choices we’re offered when it comes to ethics around sex and sexuality. And those two choices, as well as our efforts to create straightforward guidelines with regard to sexual ethics, are being used against us. If signing a contract is all we need to determine whether or not Kink is producing pornography under ethical circumstances (which, for the record, they are not), then we need to re-think the ways in which we’re having conversations about “consent.”

“Anything that happens between consenting adults…” can only be the mantra of feminists and liberals so long as we don’t mind our work against rape culture and exploitation being usurped by the sex industry, for profit.

Ethics are neither limited to capital or individuals because how we conduct ourselves would never come into question if not for the “society” factor. It stands to reason that, if we aren’t considering the impact on society, as a whole, with regard to our ethical quandaries, we aren’t really talking about ethics at all. We’re either talking about profit or pleasure from a place of self-interest, in which case “consent” becomes something you get, not because it’s necessarily “ethical” or “right” or “good”, but in order to fulfill the interests of a certain faction of individuals, regardless of social context.

“Consent” is a necessary starting point, but is far from the end of the conversation.

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.

Revenge porn is about porn 

If you haven’t yet heard about revenge porn, you’re lucky.

Notorious dickbag, Hunter Moore, is big into the revenge porn game. He can be credited with mainstreaming the concept of punishing your ex by posting their nude photos online without their permission via his website, IsAnyoneUp.com.

Doesn’t take much to get rich these days, just a complete lack of anything resembling a soul.

Not only would Moore post the photos, but he would also post the person’s name, location, and link to their social media accounts, also helpfully facilitating comments under the images critiquing the person’s appearance. Innovative, right!

Eight months after his original site shut down, Moore, committed as ever to cretin status, announced he would be launching a new site: HunterMoore.TV.

Of course, the fact that he manages to keep this up this seemingly “legally questionable” endeavour begs the question: “How is this actually legal?” explains, in an article for The Guardian, that (in the U.S.) under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, “website proprietors are not liable for content that is submitted to them by third parties.”

Even with that loophole, it’s clear that these sites aren’t going to get off scot-free.

Another revenge porn site (Gosh, it’s just a mystery why degrading women via porn is so popular!), Texxxan.com (and their hosting company, GoDaddy.com) is being sued by approximately two dozen women on the basis that the site was “significantly designed to cause severe embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress.”

The deal with revenge porn is that someone you once trusted enough to let take a photo of you engaged in a sexual act or text a photo of yourself naked to, now hates you enough to want to seek ‘revenge’ by turning you into publicly consumable porn.

Now, while the purpose of revenge porn is indeed, as Jill Filipovic writes for The Guardian, “to shame, humiliate and destroy the lives and reputations of young women,”(i.e. not just about masturbation), I would add that the existence of revenge porn is very much a result of a porn culture.

When we look at the ways women and girls are harassed and abused online, we see that it often isn’t just about words, rather it is often about porn. We see this in the Amanda Todd tragedy which happened back in October. While Todd was bullied and harassed, both online and by kids at school, she was also a victim of porn culture. As many feminists pointed out after she killed herself, Todd was not only ‘bullied’, as most of the mainstream media put it, but she was harassed in a completely misogynistic way. What many news outlets failed to mention was that Todd was turned into porn. A man she’d been chatting to online coerced her into showing her breasts via a webcam, later threatening to share the image with her friends and family unless she gave him a “show.” He followed through on his threat, circulating the image of Todd, who was in grade seven at the time, online.

Sound familiar?

It isn’t possible to separate what happened to Todd from this ‘revenge porn’ phenomenon, which is also why it isn’t possible to separate ‘revenge porn’ from ‘porn’.

Revenge porn is about degrading and humiliating women. It doesn’t work on men because men aren’t hated on a mass scale, as women are, and because men’s bodies are not used against them, in order to punish them.

Just as revenge porn isn’t simply about naked bodies, neither is mainstream porn. It’s the power dynamic that’s ‘sexy’ and it’s the degradation that separates both revenge porn and ‘regular’ porn from straight-up nudity and sex. When women are objectified, they lose power and men gain power. The male gaze is a disempowering one.

The fact that pornography is being used as a means to publicly harass and degrade all women (regardless of whether or not the woman in question was compensated for her image and/or the use of her body) should tell us something about pornography and about our misogynistic culture. It tells us that porn isn’t ‘just about sex’ or about ‘loving women’s bodies’ and that it isn’t somehow completely neutral.

The fact that 12-year-old girls are being pressured to text ‘sexy’ photos of themselves to boys and men (as well as older girls and women) is as a result of a porn culture. Porn cannot be separated from larger culture; isn’t something relegated to ‘adult only’ sites. It’s what we’re all supposed to be, as women, and it’s used against us. Feminists say ‘porn harms’ and often the public isn’t sure what that means. Well here’s an example.

Men like Hunter Moore grew up in the same culture that the man who harassed Amanda Todd did and in the same culture boys are growing up in today, learning that to coerce girls to turn themselves into porn gives them power.

It should be clear by now that porn is not about loving women.