EDIT: I’m sticking this post to the front page of the blog as this petition is so important. The blog will be updated regularly as normal, so please scroll down for new posts.
In the UK, more than half of women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted. The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London is 12 times the national average.
Merseyside police declared crimes against sex workers hate crimes in 2006. In 2010, the conviction rate in Merseyside for crimes against sex workers was 84%. The rape conviction rate was 67% (the national average is 6.5%).
The National Association of Police Chiefs recommends the Merseyside model be adopted by all police forces.
In a report commissioned by the Mayor of London, Andrew Boff (Conservative Member of the London Assembly) recommends it.
We want the Merseyside model for crimes against sex workers to be compulsory in every UK police force.
Please don’t be put off by use of the term ‘sex workers’, the woman who set up the petition is interviewed here, she says:
Police need a huge amount of training, and a massive attitude change at ground level and above, to begin to make an impact. The Nordic model would be great, but we do not have robust enough attitudes of zero tolerance in our culture to achieve that yet. In the absence of such radical change, the police need to protect individuals from harm immediately.
This is potentially a real change that can be made far more easily and quickly than a change to the Nordic Model, and it will make real differences for women in prostitution.
Bart (1983; Bart and O’Brien 1985) has identified a heterosexual sex-rape continuum. At one end is consensual sex (both parties equally desire sex). At the other is rape. In between are altruistic sex (one party submits out of guilt, duty, or pity) and compliant sex (one party submits because the consequences of not submitting are worse than those of submitting). Using Bart’s conceptualization, Kelly found that most women “felt pressured to have sex in many, if not all, of their sexual relationships with men” (p.56). Yet she found that women perceived sex as coercive only when physical force or the threat of physical force was used.
Dee Graham, Edna Rawlings & Roberta Rigsby. Loving to Survive: sexual terror, men’s violence, and women’s lives. NYU Press. July 1 1994. (p. 15)
Some readers may object to our use of the word “victim” as compared to “survivor”. Like Diana Russell (1986), we use “victim” in order to emphasize the victimizing situational factors impacting on the person, whether or not she or he survives, manifests good survival skills, and responds as a victor. We hope this wording will help reduce victim-blaming by increasing our appreciation of the powerful impact of situational variables on people’s psychology. Use of the word “victim” can help remind us (assuming the theory is correct) that it is the situations creating victimization that must be changed, not the victims themselves (see Caplan and Nelson 1973).
Dee Graham, Edna Rawlings & Roberta Rigsby. Loving to Survive: sexual terror, men’s violence, and women’s lives. NYU Press. July 1 1994. (p. 1)
I have largely avoided writing about trans issues on this blog. There are two reasons for this, the first is that, although this is a radical feminist blog, I want it to be available to everyone as an anti-porn resource, and writing about trans issues would just have been a confusing diversion to anyone who was uninitiated into what was, until fairly recently, an esoteric subject. Secondly, and more selfishly, I didn’t want to draw a shit-storm down upon myself, but I survived my previous forays into this subject practically unscathed, and the subject has become too mainstream, and too important, to stay quiet about.
We are now at the stage where trans activists, with the full support of liberal feminists, collaborate with MRAs (‘men’s rights activists’), to try to stop FAB (female assigned at birth) women meeting and organising as a political group.
We also see trans activists and liberal feminists make threats of violence, rape and death against radical feminists (and any other woman who is unfortunate enough to be branded a ‘transphobe’) and their children, behaviour which is indistinguishable from that of MRAs, and misogynists generally.
Whether or not trans women are ‘real women’ (whatever that means) is irrelevant to me; what matters is that I, and every other FAB woman out there, are being told that we are not allowed to recognise that being assigned female at birth means something, and that it will have an effect on how we are treated and what our life chances are. What matters is that it is becoming more and more difficult to organise politically with other people who are in the same socio-political group as us.
Recognising that being FAB means something is not the same as biological essentialism (the favourite accusation of trans activists), there is a difference between a normative statement and a descriptive statement.
A normative statement says things must or should be a certain way, a descriptive statement is an observation of the way the world actually is, for real, right now. Observing that being FAB means that certain things will happen to you, that you will have a certain set of experiences, is not the same as saying that women should be x, y, or z.
The term ‘phobia’ in the context of, say, homophobia, means a deep-seated fear, loathing and hatred that leads to discrimination and violence. All one needs to do to be branded a ‘transphobe’ is to not believe that gender roles are hardwired into our brains, or to believe that gender roles are oppressive rather than liberatory, or to recognise that a penis is a male sexual organ, or refuse to put a trigger warning on writing about menstruation.
An accusation of ‘transphobia’ is like an accusation of witchcraft, no real evidence is needed, because none can be given, and no defence can be made, because there is nothing a woman can do to defend herself from such an accusation, except grovel and beg for forgiveness for her ‘inherent cis privilege’ and beg for forgiveness for being born into the ‘oppressor class’ of female.
There are many things wrong and dangerous about trans activism and trans theory (for example the targeting of gender non-conforming children for chemical castration and a lifetime of medical intervention, or ‘trans inclusive’ guidelines that make it too easy for an abusive man to get into women and children’s safe spaces like changing rooms and homeless shelters), but what I wish to discuss here is how trans theory offers a model of ‘oppression’ and ‘privilege’ that makes understanding how the world actually functions impossible.
Trans women are oppressed, and trans women do experience a huge amount of violence and discrimination, and that is a bad thing and shouldn’t happen (see, that’s a normative statement), but they are not oppressed by ‘cis’ women, they are oppressed by men, and by patriarchal society, and this refusal to name the agent, this re-labelling of male violence as ‘cis violence’ makes actually combating this violence impossible.
As Cathy Brennan said at RadFem 2013, FAB women and trans women do have a common cause in opposing male violence.
But trans activists aren’t interested in talking about male violence, they are like sex industry advocates, who refuse to name the agent when it comes to violence against prostitutes, and instead insist that the real problem is radical feminists and their reality altering opinions that cause the actual harm, rather than men and patriarchy.
It should be easy to work out who actually benefits from these pseudo-feminist movements that both refuse to talk about male violence, it should also be easy to work out why both movements have so much traction with the mainstream and liberal press, and within academia, they both prop up the status quo, and both make it easier for men to carry on abusing women and children.
Women as women are not an oppressor class, being female is not a privilege, and when trans activists talk about ‘cis privilege’, they are creating a model of oppression that bears no resemblance to any other recognised axis of inequality.
‘Cis privilege’ places FAB women and girls into an oppressor group for the ‘privilege’ of having a female body, and being ‘allowed’ to be feminine. This assumes that no FAB woman or girl ever feels bad for having a female body (despite the endless mainstream media telling us we are disgusting in our natural state), and that we get some kind of reward for being feminine, rather than femininity being something that is forced upon us, and then used against us as proof of our second-class status.
Oppression is not about wanting something somebody else has. Anti-poverty campaigners do not want to make themselves rich, they want to end massive inequalities in income so that there are no rich or poor anymore.
I, as a radical feminist, do not want what men have, I do not want to be able to commit physical and sexual violence and get away with it, I want there to be no more physical and sexual violence.
A disabled person is not oppressed by the existence of able-bodied people, they are oppressed by the lack of even basic services and facilities that would allow them to fully participate in and contribute to society (and it would be very insulting to disabled people to suggest that they spent all their time wishing they were ‘normal’).
But trans theory tells us that FAB women are privileged over, and oppress trans women because we are born female and have what trans women want, a female body, even though having a female body is not recognisable as a privilege under any other understanding of the way the world works.
To many people, particularly parents, the spread of ever more violent pornography is a huge concern, though Attwood and Smith [editors of the Porn Studies journal] don’t buy the idea that it is getting more violent, or even that it is a huge concern. Smith puts it in the context of previous “moral panics”. She says: “The idea the boundary is constantly being moved in one direction isn’t necessarily accurate because there’s so much pushing back. There isn’t a clearly discernible movement of more and more stuff becoming more and more permissible.”
To say that this is a contentious position is a massive understatement. And it’s one of the reasons why 880 people have signed an online petition questioning the integrity of the journal and accusing it of bias. They’re calling on Routledge, the respected academic publisher producing the journal, to answer questions about its “intention and focus” and its “editorial board which is uniformly pro-porn”.
Behind the petition are the campaigning group Stop Porn Culture, who refer to themselves as “a group of academics, activists, anti-violence experts, health professionals, and educators”. While they “agree that pornography and porn culture demand and deserve more critical attention” they claim that the journal is operating “under the auspices of neutrality” when it has a pro-porn bias and “further fosters the normalisation of porn”.
I ask Attwood and Smith if they were surprised by the petition. “We knew that there would be some reactions against the journal, because it’s a controversial area,” says Smith. “But there have been far fewer than I expected. I think one of the things that I’ve been really pleased about it is how little antagonism we’ve had from other academics.”
Well, not that little. When I ring Gail Dines, a British professor of sociology at Boston’s Wheelock College and a major figure in porn academia (she is author of Pornland and a co-founder of Stop Porn Culture), she is spitting. Attwood and Smith are “akin to climate change deniers,” she says.
“They’re leaping to all sorts of unfounded conclusions. It’s incredibly important that we study the porn industry, porn culture, porn’s effect on sexual identities. It’s become a major part of our lives. But these editors come from a pro-porn background where they deny the tons and tons of research that has been done into the negative effects of porn.
“They are cheerleaders for the industry. And to offer themselves as these neutral authorities is just laughable. Have a journal but you’ve got to have a plurality of voices on the editorial board and there simply isn’t. There’s a pornographer on it, for God’s sake [Tristan Taormina]. There are so many studies out there that show how porn is getting more and more violent, which show that the more porn boys watch, the more traditionally sexist attitudes they develop towards women.
“And yet these women editing the journal say, ‘Oh the research isn’t there.’ Yes it is! There’s tons of it. They just haven’t read it.”
What’s apparent is just how passionately held the views are on both sides, or as Attwood puts it: “We operate in an area which is really bifurcated.” They defend the make-up of the editorial board. Yes, they do have a “pornographer” on the board of a peer-reviewed journal, but she’s a “very well-known figure in sexuality studies”, says Attwood. She’s a sex educator, has edited a book on feminist pornography as well as making porn films, she adds. Smith says the rest of the board reflects “people we know that we’ve worked with in the past, but it’s not about politics. They’re enthusiastic about the journal and want to get it off the ground. But the editorial board is not fixed. These things change over time.”
Routledge has also defended them in the face of the attacks: “The proposal for Porn Studies was reviewed by six experts in the field, and we have every confidence that the editors and board are equally committed to our values.” What’s more, Attwood and Smith say it’s inaccurate to call them pro-porn. I point out to Smith that she has made pro-porn statements. “There’s a quote for example where you say that you’re ‘politically motivated’ to show that porn can be enjoyed.”
“Porn is important to people on all kinds of levels, but, if you want people to be honest or to tell you things about their engagements with pornography, you have to be prepared to listen,” she says. “I am politically motivated about the fact that people who look at porn are not all lizard people.”
She’s right, of course. The sheer numbers involved mean that of course, it’s not all “lizard people”. And they both say that figuring out why people enjoy porn “and what they are doing and feeling and thinking” is essential.
The problem, says Attwood, is that “so many things have become accepted as true but actually there’s no hard evidence. It’s become accepted that girls now shave off all their pubic hair because they’ve seen porn films, that porn is becoming more violent to women, that everyone under the age of 10 has seen it. There’s very little evidence, solid, robust evidence, but it’s become part of the conventional wisdom that we know these things. We don’t know these things.”
Dines practically blows her top though when I tell her this. “That’s complete crap! Why are young girls taking off all their pubic hair? We know it’s because of porn. Because boys can’t bear it. Women’s mags are telling them every week to be clean down there. I talk to counsellors and anal rape is almost as prevalent as vaginal rape on campuses now. Where is that coming from?
“There is so much evidence about the effect that porn is having. We know that it’s becoming more violent. The definitive piece of research from 2010, which analysed the top 50 sites and DVDs, found that 90% of all content included physical or verbal abuse against women. That’s proper empirical evidence-based research. But that is not what these women do. Their research is not evidence-based.”
It would be easy to write this off as a spat between academics, but Fiona Elvines of Rape Crisis South London, who has been campaigning to amend Section 63 of the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act – which deals with extreme pornography – and to include relationships education on the national curriculum, says that the sort of statements Attwood and Smith make fly in the face of “the lived experience of real women and men on the ground”.
She’s had her own personal experience of the academic porn wars. “I have been at conferences where Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith have challenged stuff I’ve said. We work with survivors, and we are seeing the harms of pornography every day in our work and they say, ‘It’s not in the research.’ But this is practice-based evidence from frontline services.
“We are having lots of women talking about being raped and being filmed and that being used as a method for silencing them, but that will take a while to make it into the research papers.
“They’re told that, if they go to the police, the footage will be posted online. We see porn being used by child abusers to groom them. My concern is the kind of knowledge we have isn’t seen as valid because the editors have a pro-porn slant and it will silence dissenting voices.”
“Rape culture is a culture in which people who have survived a violent crime are asked to laugh about it because other people think it’s funny.”
Rape culture is a culture in which people who have survived a violent crime are asked to laugh about it because other people think it’s funny.
TRIGGER WARNING for the images below the fold, these are examples of the sexism and misogyny men display with impunity, often under their real name and with their picture attached, on social media.
The fact that Laurie Penny is considered by the mainstream press to be at the ‘forefront’ of feminism, just shows what a terrible state feminism is in
Who is Laurie Penny, and why does she matter? She is an Oxbridge graduate who squeezed every last cm of copy from her time as a ‘sex worker’ (she was a ‘burlesque’ performer for fun), making sure we knew all about her “taut 18-year-old curves”, and set herself up as a socialist and a spokeswomen for feminism. Unfortunately the mainstream press is more than happy to enable her in this.
Does she contribute anything of worth? No. She recognises the problems of the sexualisation of girls and sexual bullying (except she doesn’t, having written a ‘controversial’ post defending padded bikinis for prepubescent girls), and anything useful she may have said on the way women are ‘performing’ sexuality in a way that is inauthentic to themselves, has already been said many times before by radical feminists.
She is included in last weekend’s Observer article on ‘new wave feminist activists’ (which includes some great women, but also Caitlin Moran, who is even more pointless than Penny), and this is, apparently, the best, most representative quote they could find from her:
There are a lot of people who think either populist feminism or the other extreme is nonsensical, who want to demean sex workers or to protect their rights, and what the internet means is that we can’t ignore each other.
This is so poorly written. Penny is, I’m assuming, trying to place herself in the ‘reasonable’ ‘middle ground’, and at the same time say that there are two polarised opinions on the sex industry; what she has actually written though, says that there are people who think “either populist feminism or the other extreme is nonsensical”, and that these people can’t make up their minds as to whether they want to “demean sex workers or to protect their rights” – one needs a degree from Oxford to write this badly?
Penny sets up a massive straw woman with her false dichotomy, if you’re not for ‘sex worker rights’ as defined by sex industry advocates (meaning the complete decriminalisation, expansion and normalisation of the sex industry), you want to “demean sex workers”.
She is also being incredibly cynical, to imply that she wants there to be dialog – “we can’t ignore each other” – then to completely misrepresent the abolitionist stance.
She’s also hypocritical, as being pro-sex industry is the populist stance, being pro prostitution and pro porn is the mainstream, is ‘fun feminism’ that will never be truly critical of anything if it means men might get upset, and will justify anything and everything in the name of ‘choice’ and being ‘sex positive’.
The only people who don’t believe in the human rights of ‘sex workers’ are the ones committing sexual and physical violence against them; that’s the johns, the pimps, the traffickers, the pornographers and the corrupt police and other officials.
Abolitionists (advocates for the Nordic Model, which criminalises the johns while decriminalising the prostitute her or him self), believe in the human rights of ‘sex workers’, that’s why we are abolitionist.