Short piece in the Observer magazine today, about how, in Ghana, leg, chest and facial hair (but not under-arm hair) are considered attractive in women.
This bride had chest hair – lots of it. On her budget, the epilation options would doubtless have been numerous, but she had shunned them. I looked around, wondering if anyone else was a stunned as I. No one batted an eyelid. Since then I have become an amateur collector of mental images of Ghanaian women who flaunt their body hair with pride. It is becoming a rather crowded library. It’s getting to the point where if I see a pencil-skirt suit and stilettos without a generous layer of leg hair, it feels as if something is missing.
It just goes to show how arbitrary beauty standards actually are, and how much bull-shit ‘evolutionary psychology’ (the ‘just so’ stories that have replaced religion as a means of justifying the status quo) explanations are.
Unfortunately, it looks like the trend may be dying out, due it colonial, homogenising beauty standards.
This stretches far back into Ghanaian tradition, older ladies have told me. They tend to lament the trend among younger women to wax and shave and pluck. And I can see why – even though I still do a double-take at bridal chest hair, I’m realising there is something tragic about the growing number of women who embrace the razor, feeling so ashamed of their own cultural heritage. “In my ignorant younger days of raw cultural beliefs, hairy legs (eek!) were the beauties,” a Ghanaian convert to shaving wrote on her blog. Her disdain almost transforms women who leave their body hair intact into the poster children for a radical act of post-colonial defiance.
And, of course (since Ghana is hardly some feminist utopia), there is a double standard at play:
flaunting facial hair is a dangerous line to tread. While some men find it beautiful, others take it as a signal that a woman is a witch.
The same thing could easily be said about lip-stick, or body piercing – the point is that this is a game that women can never really win.
I’ve been in a long, unpleasant ‘discussion’ with sex industry advocates on Laura Agustin’s blog here. In the original post she compares a homeless child (she uses the terms ‘child’ and ‘teenager’ interchangeably, and repeatedly refused to give a lower age limit on how old she thinks it is acceptable for a child to be prostituted) engaging in survival prostitution with a child’s sexuality, and says that anyone who is against child prostitution is a prude who is against the sexuality of children and teenagers (and babies and toddlers as well).
The issue of young people on the street who have a home somewhere they don’t want to live in – runaways – is always charged because of a widespread refusal to accept that everyone has a sexuality – babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, old people.
This comment is particularly odd, as the rest of the post is talking about shelters that help homeless children and teenagers avoid survival prostitution.
Agustin has barely taken part in the comment thread, instead leaving it to some sex industry advocate thugs to argue for her (and if you decide to read through the comments, be aware that one of the men is particularly violent and abusive in his language).
The comments on Agustin’s blog are not moderated, except for hot-links, and when I first left my latest comments, 10 days ago, they appeared on the thread (I saved the page as a pdf for reference, so I am not simply mis-remembering), but now, they are ‘in moderation’ (see below).
I’m not arrogant enough to think that anything I’ve said could have got to Agustin (like all the women who make it their life’s work to keep other women in prostitution, she displays a high level of callousness), so I don’t know why she’s suddenly decided to censor my comments.
This is my comment in full (I left another short comment further up thread, that is now ‘in moderation’ too).
In one of your posts about the Irish Anarchist Bookfair (lauraagustin.com/i-am-not-michael-oleary-and-other-meditations-on-public-performance) your response to a criticism of your attitude to capitalism implied you prefer: “Practical, pragmatic arguments about the here and now.”
Dealing with the here and now means dealing with states, laws and law enforcement. Practically every group that wants to bring about meaningful changes, whether that’s stopping deforestation in the Amazon, banning pesticides that kill off honeybees, or closing tax loop-holes, uses the law, and, inevitably, law enforcement.
But according to you, anyone who tries to use the law to get justice with regards to sexual violence against women and children (and men too for that matter) is ‘crying to daddy’ – everyone else can use the law, but we alone must hobble ourselves by not doing so.
And that’s some really nice trivialisation of sexual violence there; any raped woman who wants justice is a baby crying over a broken toy.
But actually that attitude fits in perfectly with your neo-liberal worldview, where human beings are reduced to economic units, and all human interactions are economic transactions, and economic transactions are always rational, selfish and good. Under such a worldview, a ‘prude’ is anyone who attaches any emotional value to sex, and all sex is good, even the ‘sex’ of a homeless thirteen-year-old engaging in survival prostitution. Under such a worldview, rape can’t be a big deal, it’s just theft, just ‘unrecompensated sex work’.
You try to ‘sex up’ your work, by calling yourself ‘the naked anthropologist’ and aligning yourself with so-called ‘sex positives’, but it’s hard to come across as ‘sexy’ when your worldview allows for no emotional elements at all.
Tell me, what does the sexuality of a baby or a toddler look like to you when you view all human interactions as economic transactions?
“So a sex worker who is raped by a client in Sweden or Scotland will likely be told that what she did was illegal – prostitution – and to shut up and go home, in spite of the law’s supposed orientation to protecting women.”
This is getting kind of sad and desperate on your part; maybe the police in your part of the world are 100% corrupt 100% of the time, and can just make up the law as they go along and no one can do anything about it, but in western Europe, we manage a little bit better than total corruption. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but we manage a little bit better than 100% corruption 100% of the time.
It’s also rather patronising to ‘sex workers’. Maybe a prostituted child or a woman trafficked from abroad wouldn’t know what the law was, but an adult citizen of a country operating the Nordic Model (where the prostitute her or himself is decriminalised) would know what the law was.
“This is what I find to be the most ludicrous point of Ploddies’ position and that of other radfems: they don’t look at what cops actually DO with these laws they want to enact. This is a particularly grevious error for people who claim to understand that the state is a tool of the patriarchy.”
We know very well, that’s why we spend a lot of time, as activists, and as professionals in the legal system, trying to get the police to investigate rape and domestic violence and stalking properly, to treat victims properly, to get the courts to try cases properly, and to counter the cultural myths and biases that can affect juries.
“And feminists? They are essentially destroying the concept of consent when it comes to sex and women’s bodies.”
That line only works if you think acquiescence is the same as consent, and that it’s only coercion if there’s a knife to someone’s throat.
“Radfems, my ass. Liberal, middleclass, white kids with daddy issues is more like it.”
‘Issues’? That’s really funny coming from a guy who thinks only 0.01% of sex is enjoyable, even for men, and that that’s ok and normal!
From Agustin’s blog today:
From my saved pdf of the blog post:
More girls have been killed in the last FIFTY years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in ALL the battles of the 20th century.
More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any ONE decade, than people were slaughtered in ALL the genocides of the 20th century.
Nicholas Kristof, Half the Sky
Found via Next Years Girl
I think gynocide is a better term than gendercide, as ‘gendercide’ implies that girls are being killed for their feminine behaviour, rather than for being female. Also gendercide implies that, somewhere in the world, there are boys being killed and male foetuses being aborted simply for being male, and as far as I know, mass killing of baby boys hasn’t happened since ancient Sparta, and that was in a sense ‘gendercide’, as they were killed for being weak (ie defective males), rather than simply for being male.
There was a report in yesterday’s guardian about a woman who forced her 14-year-old adopted daughter to inseminate herself with donor sperm until she gave birth at the age of 16.
The incident is, of course, shocking, but it is very likely to be a one off – this is not something women are regularly doing to their daughters. How many hundreds of thousands of men in the UK alone rape and impregnate their (adopted/foster/step/biological) daughters? How many sabotage their female partner’s contraceptives in order to get them pregnant and therefore control them? How many women in the Global South are dying or being seriously injured in the poorly regulated ‘surrogate’ motherhood industry?
But why bother reporting on men’s everyday violence when you can demonize a woman?
I guess it’s a rather naive view one might have when young, if one thinks about it at all, that education and academia are somehow ‘pure’, that they somehow map onto the ‘truth’.
The hard sciences, while there may be major disagreements over methodology and interpretation of the results, probably do have some connection to how the world actually is.
But it’s bitterly disappointing to realise how distorting, partisan, biased, corrupt and self-serving academia can be. Academia has given us Catherine Hakim, Satoshi Kanazawa, Steven Landsburg, Joelle Ruby Ryan, Laura Agustín (to name but a few), and, of course, Hugo Schwyzer:
I really do despair for young people today.
This blog will be five years old in May. Anti-Porn London started up as a response to the opening of the Playboy Store on Oxford Street in London; the store closed down in 2008 (I think), but unfortunately we can’t claim any credit for that, the Playboy ‘lifestyle’ brand simply wasn’t economically viable.
Looking back, it all seems rather quaint, this was back in the days before ‘sex positive’ tumblr-tots cried ‘kink shaming’ when criticised for asking a rape survivor if ‘her video’ was available on line, before BDSM went completely mainstream with Fifty Shades of Shite and Hollywood-star backed pseudo-documentaries on kink.com.
So anyway, why not sit back and nostalgically enjoy the Rabbit Trilogy? It’s practically like watching an episode of Mad Men!
Inspiring story from India, where a group of women from a slum have grouped together to learn self defense and to challenge, violently when necessary, the epidemic levels of sexual harassment and violence women in their community face every day.
It’s worth making a comparison between this, and two recent popular movements in the West. ‘Slut Walks’ tried to challenge rape culture largely by ‘reclaiming’ the word ‘slut’ and giving young, middle class white women the opportunity to have some naughty dress-up fun, and has been almost entirely co-opted by the sex industry. Challenging rape culture, and ‘reclaiming’ ‘slut’ are two separate, and largely incompatible things, and it’s main achievement seems to have been to create a means for sex industry advocates to propagandise to young, impressionable women who’s idea of feminism doesn’t extend beyond ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’.
The other if Femen, who are women activists who get topless or completely naked, with slogans written on their bodies, in order for said slogans to be photographed and to get into the media. Femen at least have a radical stance on things like pornography and prostitution, but have received criticism for their overly-simplistic stance on Islam (I am of the opinion the ‘the veil’ is something of a red herring that distracts Western feminists from the things that are more of a priority for Muslim women themselves). The Femen women are always young and conventionally attractive (at least the ones whose photos make it into the papers, it was only after reading this article by Kira Cochrane that I was made aware that there were any women in Femen who weren’t young and conventionally pretty), and they are trying to ‘reclaim’ nakedness, which seems somewhat futile to me. Getting attention isn’t the same as being heard, Femen are treated like a side show, even in ‘liberal’ papers like the Guardian, and I can’t help being cynical about how much their tactics actually achieve.
So it is very refreshing to see a group of women getting together and doing something concrete to protect themselves and other women in their community, and with far more risk to their personal safety than the average ‘slut walker’. What they are doing isn’t ‘empowering’ it’s powerful
The male tormentor of the young women of the Madiyav slum did not spot the danger until it was too late. One moment he was taunting them with sexual suggestions and provocations; the next they had hold of his arms and legs and had hoisted him into the air.
Then the beating began. Some of the young women lightly used their fists, others took off their shoes and hit him with those. When it was over, they let him limp away to nurse his wounds, certain that he had learned an important lesson: don’t push your luck with the Red Brigade.
Named for their bright red outfits, the Red Brigade was formed in November 2011 as a self-defence group for young women suffering sexual abuse in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, 300 miles south-east of Delhi. Galvanised by the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi last December and the nationwide protests that followed against a rising tide of rapes, they are now gaining in confidence.
The Anti-Porn Activist blog has reported on a non-scientific study of the porn industry, carried out by a porn-loving dude. It is interesting, because, even if not up to ‘peer review’ standards, it does give an indicative snap-shot of the porn industry (or at least the US/Los Angeles based porn industry), and, since it’s carried out by a porn-loving dude, it can’t be accused of a negative bias. Anti-Porn Activist does a good dissection of it, but this is the thing I would like to draw attention to:
Note that the author of the study questions the validity of this well-known quote below:
“Most girls who enter the porn industry do one video and quit. The experience is so painful, horrifying, embarrassing, humiliating for them that they never do it again.”
- Luke Ford (former pornography gossip columnist), speaking on CBS News.
The study author questions that statement because it doesn’t match with his informal study results of the unofficial website (IAFD [The Internet Adult Film Database]) he based his study on that is maintained by a “handful of international contributors.” (I.e. Some porn fans.) But isn’t it possible that IAFD doesn’t include ALL porn titles, especially some of the NEWEST ones with the LEAST WELL KNOWN performers that don’t have any “fans” yet, because it is their first time? We think that might be possible…
In any case, the study author concedes that it might instead be THREE films that are done before the majority of women quit porn: 53% do 3 films or more, which means that 52% of all female performers (the majority of women in porn) do THREE FILMS OR LESS. This is still not exactly a ringing endorsement for the industry, especially in light of how much porn often pays in the very beginning — for “fresh faces.” So again, we can’t help but ponder…. If pornography is really that awesome, and women just LOOOVE having all that degrading brutal sex on camera, why would so many young women quit so quickly??
I’m not exactly sure how she got to 52% of women doing three films or less, unless she’s drawing from a more detailed break-down of the numbers I haven’t seen (‘three films or more’ and ‘three films or less’ are over-lapping ranges), or if that was the percentage given by the porn-loving dude. If 53% of women do three or more films, then 47% (almost half) do one or two films before quitting the porn industry – which, as she says, suggests it’s not such great ‘work’ after all.
Magnanti was a ‘high class escort’ for 14 months, she now had a post-doc job in “cancer biostatistics, genetic epidemiology and forensic science”. She has an income from her books, is a paid public speaker and has a regular gig writing about sex in the Torygraph.
Her telephone number is taken to the top of any 999 summons list, which is something most stalking victims can only dream about.
So why is she calling herself a ‘hooker’?
This is offensive and damaging on many levels. The term ‘hooker’ itself is offensive, and if radical feminists used that kind of language, we would be attacked for it.
One of the stated aims of the term ‘sex work’ is to remove the stigma from prostitution by making it ‘work’, the term ‘hooker’ is stigmatised, and Magnanti, who has the privilege to ‘play’ with this stigmatisation, makes it harder for the women who are trying to exit the sex industry without her level of privilege.
Mangnanti, who is no longer a prostitute, calling herself a ‘hooker’ implies that if a woman has ever been involved with prostitution, she is marked for life with that ‘identity’; for the vast majority of women, being unable to escape the label ‘hooker’ has a massive negative effect on their lives, they may have criminal records, they may be seen as unsuitable for employment, they may be harassed by their family and community if they can’t keep that ‘identity’ hidden, they may be told that prostitution is all they are good for.
Another of the stated aims of the term ‘sex work’ is to emphasise that it is ‘just work’, not an identity, something you do, not something you are, but Magnanti negates this by continuing to call herself a ‘hooker’, and instead reinforces the idea that ‘prostitute’ is something women are on a deep-seated level.
This is obviously harmful for women generally, as well as women in prostitution, because saying that some women are ‘hookers’ as part of their permanent identities tells the lie that prostitution exists because of the women themselves, not because of men, because of male demand, or women’s social and economic inequality; turning ‘hooker’ into an identity invisibilises male violence against women.
(To pre-empt the same-old pro-sex industry/funfem attacks), the stigma attached to prostitution is caused by patriarchy, not by radical feminism. Radical feminism is not the reason why prostitutes are seen as less human than ‘normal’ women. The abolitionist (Nordic Model) approach to prostitution calls for the decriminalisation of the prostitute herself (including the removal of any previous criminal record related to prostitution), something that sex industry advocates always deliberately and cynically ignore.
Well, the obvious answer is yes, she does, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to do her day job properly (she is, according to her Guardian profile “a scientist in child health at Bristol University, where her areas of research include cancer biostatistics, genetic epidemiology and forensic science”).
So why, then, is she spouting such rubbish in the Guardian? It’s obvious why, she is a sex industry advocate who wants to see the decriminalisation, normalisation and expansion of the entire sex industry – the real question is why the Guardian is giving her space to do it, but then, sexy ‘sex work’ sells.
For comparison, I became a call girl at the age of 27. For every one of me, to arrive at an average of 13, you’d need someone aged minus one. Or five 10 year-olds. Or ten 12 year-olds. You get the picture. Not impossible, but not apparently happening in the UK and very unlikely to be going under the radar if it was, despite the protestations of what anthropologist Laura Agustin calls the rescue industry. The Comic Relief site continues: “The UK is a major destination country for trafficked young people. They are at a very high risk of being sexually exploited.”
That may be mathematically correct if one uses the mean average, but if one used the mode average, all that would be needed to balance out one 27-year-old entering prostitution is two 13-year-olds entering prostitution.
The Rochdale and Oxford cases show that very young girls being exploited in prostitution isn’t some ‘rescue industry’ fairytale, it’s real, and the sex industry as a whole couldn’t function with out a steady supply of abused girls to chew up and shit out.
Confirmed trafficking cases in the UK are more likely to enter other jobs like agriculture, hospitality, and domestic service than they are to become sex workers. Forced labour of any kind is a concern, more so when young people are involved. Which is why getting trafficking efforts right matters.
Trafficking into prostitution is real, and if you look at any successful sex trafficking prosecution, it is obvious that there is an infrastructure in place to facilitate it, an infrastructure of gangs, people smugglers, brothel keepers happy to help keep a woman captive, and johns happy to pay-to-rape an obviously abused woman. The idea that cases of trafficking could be one-offs, and the rest of the time the gangs, smugglers, pimps and johns are just benign employers, is ridiculous.
There are many reasons why there are few convictions for trafficking into prostitution, police incompetence being one, anti-immigration policy that would rather treat a trafficking victim as an illegal immigrant is another. Also, the particular nature of being trafficked into prostitution (as opposed to, say, agriculture) would make it very hard to get a conviction. The woman may have trauma bonded with her boyfriend/pimp, or the stigma attached to rape and prostitution may mean she has no home to go to; her family may have sold her in the first place.
This figure comes from a paper that surveyed only street-based sex workers, who represent less than 20% of prostitution in the UK.
This is why ‘sex work’ is so incidious and obfuscatory a term (especially when it becomes interchangeable with ‘prostitution’ so you can say ‘prostitute’ when you are actually talking about the much wider category covered by ‘sex worker’, and so that when someone says ‘sex worker’ an average member of the public will think they are talking specifically about prostitutes). Anyone even tangentially involved with the sex industry can call themselves a ‘sex worker’, which means pimps, pornographers, brothel keepers, academics, telephone sex line operators, the people who sit behind the till in a sex shop, sperm donors and porno-comic book illustrators all can and do call themselves ‘sex workers’.
It’s obvious how this obfuscation benefits those on the exploitation side in the sex industry; the bigger the number of ‘sex workers’ becomes, the smaller the number of women and girls abused and exploited becomes by comparison, so you can interview 99 pornographers and one street based prostitute, and conclude that 99% of ‘sex workers’ love their job.
And let’s have a quick lol at the fact the Guardian had to add a footnote because Magnanti was basically lying about the nature of a particular campaign group – but then a big glossy celebrity charity like that has the resources to defend its reputation and representation, which is more than can be said for any sex industry survivor, or any woman or child currently trapped in prostitution.
it is worth remembering that the bigger the charity, the more likely money is to go somewhere you weren’t expecting. Just ask donors to Bono’s ONE Campaign, many of whom did not realise the group’s thrust was awareness-raising for hunger and health causes, that is, glossy events and big media campaigns rather than on-the-ground help [see footnote].
[Footnote:] ONE has asked us to point out that it does not raise funds from the general public and does not run on-the-ground programmes. It says it is not correct that any donors have not realised that its main purpose is advocacy and campaign work, as is made clear on its website.