I am not actually being (entirely) sarcastic here; one small patch of the earth has been found where men are not getting paid as much as women for equivalent work, and an employment tribunal will hopefully fix that, so equality and justice will be served.
Radical feminists are not actually against equality, we just recognise it as a limited concept that doesn’t cover most of the causes of women’s oppression, and that liberation is a far more useful focus for radical feminist analysis and activity.
For example, we will have achieved equality when just as many men have eating disorders as women, but nobody will have been liberated from body-tyranny.
Also the fact that women can’t be equal with men in any meaningful way when women are not free from male violence. We have equality on paper, and sometimes that results in justice, but liberation is bigger than that.
I’m quoting from and linking to a 2008 article from Vice magazine. As the name would suggest, it’s salacious, sleazy and sarcastic, and elsewhere it reports approvingly on the sex industry (click through to any link at your own risk), but I believe that this article is worth reading, with qualifications.
Incoming traffickees are processed in Vancouver and spat out across the continent’s vast labyrinth of massage parlors, hostess clubs, and underground micro-brothels. Within the industry, there are two broad categories of victims: older, street-smart semi-professionals who know what they’re getting into and younger girls who have no clue that they’re about to have their lives and their futures turned to shit by monsters.
So, what exactly is the difference between the “older, street-smart semi-professionals who know what they’re getting into”, and the “younger girls who have no clue”? My guess is the only difference is time; young abuse victims age into ‘semi-professionals’, in other words, they have been abused for a length of time, so they can no longer be thought of as ‘innocent victims’. After being trafficked into the sex industry, held in it for several years through threats of violence, and finally worked off the illegal ‘debt’, what other options do such women have available to them? They are now ‘semi-professionals’ who have ‘chosen’ to do it!
I recently got to know some of the women suffering under the yoke of sex slavery and they’ve told me their stories. One of the first women I met, who goes by the name of Yo-Yo, shares a dingy ground-floor apartment with her sister where they sleep on couches in the living room and turn tricks in the bedroom. Hailing from a quaint village in rural China, Yo-Yo enjoys spending her extra dough on Hello Kitty paraphernalia. She told me that when she isn’t providing what she refers to as “girlfriend experiences,” she sits around and watches pirated DVDs because she’s not allowed to leave the apartment without her pimp’s permission.
The pimps depersonalize them by assigning them cartoonish names like Cherry, Apple, Bobo, or Gigi. The typical workweek tends to last around 84 hours. Many girls end up working for gangs that run numerous brothels within walking distance of each other. When a trick calls up for his weekly taste of strange, the mama-san will answer the phone, check a master schedule to see which girls are free, and then direct him to the corresponding brothel. When he rings up to begin his 45-minute session, it will be the first time he speaks to the girl. From that point on, she is responsible for delivering $120 to the management, no matter how creepy, abusive, or filthy her client happens to be.
When I met Candy, a 20-year-old girl from Taiwan, she had just come up to Vancouver from San Francisco the month before and was holed up in a brand-new condo downtown. She seemed elated to meet a Canadian who wasn’t planning on getting off, and gleefully agreed to meet me for a coffee at the Starbucks around the corner the next day. When we met, she was wearing a pink velour jumpsuit and looked like she hadn’t slept or showered.
Although she had to make an abrupt exit after receiving a call from her pimp, Candy seemed relatively free to do as she pleased during downtime. Her disorientation and mental fatigue were painful to witness, as were the bruises on her wrists. She was proud of her Gucci watch and showed it off with a smile, and even though she wasn’t able to attend school like she was promised, she still studied English vocabulary in her spare time. We went for coffee once more the next week and chatted a bit about her favorite movie stars, but the next time I called, her phone was dead. I never heard from her again.
Now here is where the article is useful, as it demonstrates that a woman doesn’t have to be chained to the floor in a basement in order to be enslaved. Trafficked women may be able to move around to a certain degree, they may even own luxury designer goods, but they are still, very obviously, enslaved.
One day, after chatting with Yo-Yo for a while, I got up to leave. She panicked, begging me to phone her boss and explain why I didn’t go for full service (45 minutes of “anything goes” sex for $120). After calling up the management and voicing her plea, Yo-Yo passed me the phone:
“What wrong you no get full service?” a woman rattled out at me.
Not wanting to explain to her that I’m actually a journalist investigating her fucked-up slavery empire, I tried to sweet-talk her a little.
“Yeah… didn’t have time today, so I just went for a bit of a back massage. She’s a great girl though, I’ll definitely be back.”
“You call me next time before, OK?” she barked and then hung up.
It’s this Porn Studies journal, but it’s still potentially a useful read.
Grab it while you can, I don’t think it is going to stay like that permanently.
I intend to write about it at some point, but can’t make any promises regarding when.
I recently stumbled across this piece by gay male porn performer Connor Habib.
He is under the impression that the majority of people hate porn and porn performers.
This does not clearly explain how porn is a bigger industry in the US than all the arts put together, but never mind. He’s had relationship problems directly linked to his being a porn performer, also, he put ‘porn’ in a news search engine, and all but one of the results were negative (I would posit that this only proves that news stories are mostly negative, and doesn’t tell us anything specific about attitudes to porn).
Also, he gets to lecture occasionally at US colleges, and sometimes, afterwards, students have the temerity to ask him questions that suggest they weren’t entirely convinced by his arguments, that suggest that they have concerns (about sex trafficking, about the abuses women suffer on porn sets) that go beyond his own individualised experience; apparently, questioning Habib in any way is proof that you ‘hate’ him.
I’m sure that lots of people do actually hate porn performers, and the majority of the people doing the hating will be the heterosexual men who consume porn. They hate women generally, and they hate the women in porn because of misogyny, not because they’ve read something by Andrea Dworkin.
Some people will hate Habib personally, because of homophobia, because of racism, but not because of radical feminism.
Saying that those with an anti-porn stance influenced by radical feminism (as opposed to influenced by misogyny, religion, conservatism, homophobia) ‘hate’ porn performers, makes about as much sense as claiming vegans hate animals.
Radical feminists don’t hate porn performers, even the ones still in the industry, we hate the sex industry as a whole, and the patriarchal, capitalist society it replicates in miniature; we hate all sexual violence regardless of who it is committed against and where, we do not accept the patriarchal notion that society ‘needs’ a sacrificial underclass of women and children (and men) to be chewed up and shat out by the sex industry.
What he is really complaining about is that radical feminists, and others, won’t buy the ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’ lines with regards to the sex industry, and may point out that his experiences as a college-educated gay man doing gay porn might not actually tell us all that much about the experiences of the majority of women in the porn industry (but hey, he knows ‘countless’ female porn performers who say they love their job, so ignore the fact that the majority of women who exit the sex industry say they had to tell themselves they chose it at the time, in order to survive).
He calls this ‘hate’ because it is a nice emotive response that shuts down rational thought, and will terrify some people into silence.
The whole article is straw (wo)man bashing, that requires us to ignore completely the testimony of women who’ve exited the sex industry, ignore that women who are trafficked into prostitution are also used to make pornography, ignore that pornographers go to the Global South to make porn because it’s easier and cheaper to exploit women there, ignore that any filmed rape becomes pornography.
We also have to ignore the way that pornography is warping young people’s ideas about sex, to the detriment of women and girls, and also warping ideas about women’s bodies, so that labiaplasty is on the rise.
It’s a long article, and I’m not going to go through all the points he makes, but I will respond to a few of them:
But actually, let’s really get to the point here, because I have another question.
You might not like it.
See, because I’m stuck on the whole thing about what you’re imagining:
A young child, a little girl or boy sitting alone in a room illuminated by a computer screen. The child is totally innocent (but knows how to use the internet, of course), and suddenly, without any warning, there’s an image so intense that it penetrates his being and ruins his childhood. It traumatically destroys his innocence and nothing is ever the same. That’s the foundation of why you hate us. So let me ask:
Why are you always fantasizing about children being raped?
You can tell, from the delivery, that Habib thinks this is so clever, he thinks it’s a killer line, it’s his trump card, a big ol’ gotcha! to the anti-porn brigade.
you’re concerned about how porn affects children, that means your thinking about a child being violated, and thinking about something bad happening is exactly the same as fantasizing about it. Gotcha!
This is so obviously, breath-takingly wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s take it to its obvious conclusions: parents can no longer tell their children not to get into strangers’ cars, because that means they’re fantasizing about their children being abducted, raped and murdered; police can no longer investigate sex crimes, because that means they’re fantasising about rape; campaigners around the world can no longer fight to end FGM, because that means they’re fantasizing about little girls having their genitals mutilated.
If I am walking home after dark, and a strange man is following me, I can’t think about how that man may be a danger to me, because if I do, then I’m fantasizing about being raped, and therefore ‘asking for it’; if I take any kind of evasive action, for example, crossing the road to get away from him, that shows him that I’m thinking about how he is a potential threat to me, and therefore telling him that I am fantasizing about him raping me. He now has a great line of defence in a criminal trial, not that there would be one in Habib’s Brave New World, because no one will ever talk about sexual violence again, ever, because then they will then be accused of fantasizing about it.
Habib also drags out this old canard:
Don’t worry, I won’t get into all the facts about porn being the one place where women are paid at a consistently higher rate than men.
This is simply not true. All the money in porn is behind the cameras, in production and distribution, and that area is dominated by men. It’s no coincidence that the few women who last any length of time in the LA based porn industry do so by setting up their own production companies and keeping control of the images; these women are the exception, not the rule, most women in the LA based porn industry are chewed up and shat out in less than a year, and they have to survive by ‘escorting’, so that the porn itself becomes merely the advertising of the prostitution.
Are we really supposed to believe that the women who were paid once to take part in Porno Dan’s ‘Fuck a Fan’ live stream were somehow making more money than Porno Dan himself did from all the subscriptions to the live feed, and from having ownership of the resulting images that could then be re-released, edited, and sold on forever?
They were, this time, paid more than the men they ‘performed’ with, because those men were fans who had won their place on the porn set in a competition; if they needed to be paying subscribers to enter the competition, they effectively paid to be there, and this illustrates perfectly the difference between male and female performers in ‘mainstream’ het (ie aimed at heterosexual men, but not ‘femdom’ fetish) porn: men and women are doing fundamentally different jobs, and are therefore paid differently; the women are the ones being penetrated, the ones being grabbed and slapped, the ones getting ejaculate in their eyes. It is not the same as being a male performer; pornographers know that they could get almost any random dude in off the street, and he’d be happy to do it for free, that’s why male performers in het porn are not paid the same as women.
There is also this slightly strange statement:
Because you hate us, we’ve absorbed your anger.
So sometimes we hate each other. The people who wear condoms in porn hate the people who don’t use condoms. The kink porn stars, the daring kids on Xtube, the indie porn stars aren’t “real” porn stars. The “normal” porn stars aren’t challenging or queer enough for the “queer” porn stars. The porn stars who don’t escort hate the porn stars who do. Sometimes, if there’s fear of HIV, everyone hates everyone for a second. Eventually that fades away and we get back to it. But during that flurry of fear, wow.
So you see, for many of us, your anger and fear are too much to hold. It’s too much of a burden. To get rid of it, we direct it at each other.
It’s that reality-altering power of radical feminists’ opinions again! Our brainwaves are so powerful that we can literally transmit hate! Our thoughts are responsible for all the bad things in the world! We have so much power! How can we explain the fact that patriarchy still exists despite these amazing mental powers we have!
Even if porn performers are internalising the hatred society directs at them, that hatred does not come from radical feminists. As I said before, the biggest demographic for hating (female) porn performers is going to be the heterosexual men who consume porn.
If that didn’t work, he also accuses us of hating men (the horror!) and of hating male sexuality:
Men are too enthusiastic about sex. They like it more than women do. They don’t know how to control it. They’re like stupid babies about it. And when they get that way, all horny, they turn other people into objects.
Of course yes, we’re anti-sex prudes who don’t want men to have a good time! Let’s ignore rape culture, lets ignore the wall-to-wall sexism and harassment that women suffer on a daily basis, let’s ignore the shockingly low rape conviction rates, let’s ignore that in main-stream public discourse, false rape allegations are believed to be more common than actual rape, let’s ignore the attacks on reproductive rights around the world. No no no! We just don’t like it that men get horny!
How about this: Aren’t we part object? Isn’t there a part of us made out of stuff? What’s so wrong with appreciating that aspect of ourselves? Why is that “dehumanizing”? I’m not sure why you think bodies are such an unimportant part of being alive.
If you like neuroscience so much, isn’t that also objectification? In fact, it’s even more objectifying than porn. It tells us that love is chemicals. Emotion is just motion. Matters of the heart are just matter. We’re biological robots. But you’re not complaining about that.
This is another breath-takingly stupid statement that Habib probably thinks is really clever: We’re made of stuff! We’re already objects!
What it does demonstrate is that he hasn’t bothered to look up a single definition of ‘objectification’ (or if he has, he’s decided not to show it). Let’s go with Martha C. Nussbaum’s definition, as I think it is the most useful:
[W]e need to ask what is involved in the idea of treating as an object. I suggest that at least the following seven notions are involved in that idea:
1. Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her own purposes.
2. Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
3. Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
4. Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.
5. Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
6. Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
7. Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
You will notice, I hope, that this is a political definition, and it relates to how people are treated by other people in society, not to any scientific understanding of how the (human) body works (lab mice certainly are objectifed by scientists).
But fine “Science is the most objectifying force in the world”, so let’s stop all research into new treatments for cancer and HIV, because that’s reducing people to ‘stuff-ness’.
A list of people who’d been discriminated against in their jobs, communities, schools, and relationships because they’d been in porn.
Notice that this can happen to all ex or current porn performers, regardless of whether they say they enjoyed being in porn or not. The world is not run by a secret cabal of radical feminists, this is the result of patriarchy, not radical feminism. In parts of the US, child victims of commercial sexual exploitation can end up with criminal records that keep them in poverty for life, this is not the result of radical feminism, but of misogyny and patriarchy.
So, all-in-all, Habib’s article is another good example of how sex industry advocates refuse to even understand radical feminism and refuse to talk about male violence, particularly men’s sexual violence (all in the name of being ‘sex positive’ of course).
I could also title this post ‘why third wave ‘feminism’ is barely worthy of the name’, since it was third wave ‘sex positive’ ‘feminists’ who gave him a platform in the first place.
Schwyzer became a gender studies professor by accident when he filled in for a colleague who was on maternity leave from Pasadena City College, a two-year junior college. With his Ph.D. from UCLA in British medieval history, he was hardly qualified. His only background was two women’s studies courses he’d taken as an undergrad at UC Berkeley. In the years since, he had done no research or scholarly papers on gender issues. But the college let him teach the class. Right away Schwyzer discovered that he enjoyed the attention from his young students, particularly the female ones. At the time, the mid-’90s, men who built their identities around championing equal rights for women weren’t exactly prevalent. Sensing this could work in his favor, Schwyzer began creating a persona for himself as a male feminist.
Schwyzer required his students, most of them minority women in their late teens and early twenties, to keep journals. He urged them to share their feelings, their family experiences, and their struggles with sexual identity. One student I spoke to thought this was a little unusual, but she said, “Hugo felt like a very safe person.”
In reality he used the journals to suss out potential sex partners, he told me. If a student addressed him as “professor,” he learned, she wasn’t interested. If she wrote “you,” she probably was. Within months Schwyzer began sleeping with his students—sometimes, he says, conducting several affairs at once. During one student lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., in April 1997, he says he had sex with four coeds, three of them at the same time. This was a period when he was also drinking heavily, abusing cocaine and prescription drugs, and swept up in a stormy relationship with a woman in her twenties.
They mostly came from anonymous Twitter accounts. Somebody called “DepressedSaintsFan” names her and then says: “We need to get a hit out on this bitch.” Another calls her daughter “a cock-hungry slut”. But it’s just the tip of a larger, altogether nastier iceberg: phone calls, a strange car that turned up in her street, and dozens of abusive, barely literate threats and insults and libels against Laws, her daughter, her husband. This is the price you pay, it turns out, for taking on a 27-year-old website owner called Hunter Moore, or, as he came to be known, the “Most Hated Man on the Internet”.
This is, given the internet, and what is on it, quite a title; it was bestowed by a BBC reporter back in 2012 and subsequently adopted by Moore as both a badge of honour and a handy marketing tool. If you traffic in human misery, it’s the kind of endorsement that will bring in a few thousand more Twitter followers, more hits, more advertising revenue. Because Moore’s website, isanyoneup.com, operated in the murky world of “revenge porn” – a modern-age phenomenon that almost makes you long for crinoline skirts and steam-powered engines.
Moore’s schtick was publishing compromising photos and videos of women (and some men) together with their full names and as many identifying details as he and his followers could find: their geographic location, their occupation, their address. It was, like Facebook, he claimed, perfectly legal “user-generated content”. It was usually their exes who sent him the photos, though others were mysteriously “found”. Ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands, some ex-girlfriends out to humiliate their one-time partners. To compromise their jobs. To professionally embarrass them and personally hurt them. To reveal their most personal, intimate details to the world. And in some cases – the women who were judged not fit mothers because of pornographic content on the internet, or who were sacked from their jobs – to ruin their lives.
Moore called himself “a professional life ruiner”. He compared himself to Charles Manson. And Charlotte Laws didn’t just take him on. She mounted a two-year investigation into his activities, compiled a dossier of evidence from more than 40 victims all over the world, and then led the FBI to his front door. In January he was indicted for conspiracy, unauthorised access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft. He faces up to 42 years in prison. “Unless he gets off,” says Laws. But she doesn’t really want to talk about that possibility. There are potential repercussions either way. Hunter Moore has “followers”, people who identify themselves, after Charles Manson, as The Family. It’s unclear what they are or aren’t capable of.
It’s two years since Laws first heard Hunter Moore’s name. Her daughter Kayla, then 24, was an aspiring actor who was working as a waitress in a restaurant, and her email and Facebook accounts were hacked. Nine days later a friend told her that a topless photo of her had been published on the internet, alongside her name, her location and her Facebook and Twitter IDs. Minutes later, she was on the phone to her mother. “She was freaked out; she was in tears. She said: ‘Something horrible happened’ and she came home and she didn’t want to come out of her room. It was embarrassing and humiliating and all her friends knew and the picture was passed around her workplace. It just… kind of circulates, you know?”
For Charlotte Laws it was an unexpected, unwelcome entrée into a seedy underworld that until that point she’d known nothing about. For an 11-day period back in 2012, she threw herself into getting Kayla’s photo off the internet. She wrote to Moore and asked him to remove it in accordance with the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He ignored it. She wrote to his attorney. To his hosting service. To Facebook. To his internet security company. She tried to find an expert to take the case on. But, she says:”I quickly realised there were no experts.” She had no choice but to become the expert.
She contacted the LA police who “basically said Kayla shouldn’t have taken the photo”, and in desperation rang the FBI. “If a hacker hadn’t been involved, there would have been no case to answer and the site would still be up. But because there was, they took it seriously,” she says. Eleven days later, her husband spoke, attorney to attorney, to Moore’s legal representative and told him about the FBI investigation, and the photo finally came down. Basically, says Kayla, “they messed with the wrong mom”.
“Revenge porn” doesn’t cover the half of it, she believes. “It’s pure misogyny. It’s about hating women. It’s about hurting them. That’s the whole purpose of the site. It wasn’t about the pictures. There were hundreds of people self-submitting photos, but they’re not victims because they are saying: ‘Hey, you can post my nude picture.’ But that wasn’t interesting. The thing is humiliating people. The kind of people who would never post their photo on a site like that, and who have a lot to lose. Who have high-profile jobs, or could have their entire life destroyed. That’s what he found enjoyable. That’s what his followers found enjoyable.”
While I think what Charlotte Laws has done is great, and it’s great that there are laws being drafted in the US to try and stop this, there is something very limited about ‘stop revenge porn’. I hope to write about this in more detail at some point, but to summerise my uneasiness, what is happening with this is that women are being split into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ victims. ‘Revenge porn’ affects ‘good women’ who never chose to be turned into porn, the ‘bad women’ who ‘choose’ to do porn (regardless of their socioeconomic situation at the time), and who have it used against them later when they have a mainstream job, well, they aren’t ‘deserving’ victims. The same with prostitution too, a child victim of commercial sexual exploitation can end up with a criminal record that means they can never get a good job and have to spend the rest of their life in poverty, but so what? They aren’t nice middle-to-upper class white girls whose father is an attorney and whose mother has the time and resources to fight for her.
BBC Radio 4′s Weekend Woman’s Hour, on right now, had a segment where johns talked about prostitution. One man who used on-street prostitution/was a curb crawler, called it the ‘budget end’ of prostitution, and compared it to a ‘hunt’, and admitted he wasn’t sure if some of the women he’d had sex with were trafficked or not, or were under age or not. Also a man who used the internet to find prostitutes, and insisted all the women he’d had sex with did it because they enjoyed it – but what else is a prostituting woman going to tell him under those circumstances?
All the men had a sense of entitlement, and saw sex as a commodity/service to be payed for one way or another, or as something they ‘needed’. They also saw the exchange of money as making it all ok; one couldn’t understand how it would be possible for him to be prosecuted (even if the law changed to an abolitionist model), because he was paying for a service.
But, although there is the opportunity and potential to democratise pornography, he says, it won’t necessarily happen. “Those same types of sociality are still being used to uphold some very misogynist views,” he says. “We need more than a technological platform to make those ideological shifts.”
I’ve just finished listening to The Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4; the subject this week was proposed changes to the law regarding drug use and prostitution (you can read what I think about the usefulness of such a comparison here), the programme is available on BBC iPlayer here. I find the format of this programme very limited and unsatisfying, Dr Finn Mackay did her best within the time and questioning allowed, but I find the whole ‘debate’ format stale, nobody ever really changes their mind about anything, no one involved is actually interesting in working anything out or coming up with new ideas.
As an aside, I know men are supposed to find women’s voices ‘nagging’ or whatever, and to just tune women’s voices out, but Michael Buerk, the programme’s presenter, has the most annoying, hectoring voice on radio, it’s unbearable! How can anyone listen to him, let alone hear what he’s saying!?
What I want to focus on for this blog post is the claim from one of the female panellists that the abolitionist approach to prostitution (it was never actually labelled as such during the programme) ‘took away women’s agency’ and ‘turned women into victims’ (this may not be the exact wording, but I can’t be bothered to listen through it again right now).
‘Agency’ is becoming an overused term that effectively means nothing. We have agency all the time, a person with a gun to their head told ‘eat shit or die’ has a choice and therefore has agency; they don’t have any good choices, and a person in that situation is not free in any meaningful way. Oppressed people have agency, they always have, what goes wrong with the concept of ‘agency’ is that it is used to deny oppression; ‘sex workers’ have ‘agency’ therefore there is nothing wrong with ‘sex work’! ‘Agency’ has become a shield to hide behind, and a way of shutting down critical thought: ‘you’re taking away sex workers agency!’ by noticing that something bad happened – so ‘agency’ is this all powerful force, until a radical feminist observes the situation and her reality-bending mental powers ‘turn women into victims’.
The claim that opposing oppressive practices (in the case of the programme, the sex industry which turns women into objects) ‘turns women into victims’ is a strange one, and this, along with the ‘agency’ rhetoric, only tends to be used in relation to women/feminism, and this is in no way an accident; imagine if a panellist on the Moral Maze (or whatever) where to challenge a development worker by saying: ‘by calling a lack of food oppressive, you’re turning hungry people into victims.’
Ridiculous isn’t it? The observation of oppressive circumstances does not create the oppression; if every radical feminist in the world were to turn mute overnight, women would still be oppressed. There is this tendency among liberal and pro-sex industry ‘feminists’ to blame radical feminists for ‘turning women into victims’, rather than blame the oppressive circumstances themselves (because that would involve, y’know, actually challenging the status quo and those in power). The result is a brand of ‘sex positive’ ‘feminism’ that is highly victim-blaming, and treats victimisation as a pathology, a personal failing of the individual woman, and nothing to do with the system itself.