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?
The first man to take Rachel Moran into his car for £10 hand relief in 1987 didn’t care that the 15-year- old was homeless after being thrown out by her mother, who had schizophrenia and was addicted to prescription medication. He didn’t care that her mentally ill, gambling-addicted father had taken his own life. He didn’t care that the social care system had failed her.
He didn’t ask why a child was selling sex on Benburb Street in Dublin 7, or why she had been so utterly abandoned that the homeless 21-year-old pimping her was all she had to hang on to, her only friend in the world, even though she’d known him only a few days. “Take it easy on her, it’s her first time,” the pimp said – rather hypocritically, considering he knew her age was an asset.
All that first punter cared about, and the thousands after him wearing wedding rings and with baby seats in the backs of their cars, was that Moran was 15. Underage sex was, and is, a turn-on for many of the thousands of men – one in 15 – who prostitute 1,000 women and girls every day in Ireland.
“I know of girls of 13 being prostituted today,” says Moran, who is now 37 and whose book, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution , will be published next week, with rights already sold in Australia and negotiations under way in the UK and US.
In a week when Real Men Don’t Buy Girls , a social-media campaign by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, was launched in response to the trafficking and prostitution of young girls, Moran’s experience shows that such exploitation is not new to Ireland but that it has grown with the opening of European borders.
Men who prostitute women want to express their hatred of them by hurting them in ways no other woman would endure, Moran says. She recalls a middle-class man, who could be anyone’s husband, calling her to his home and then imposing violent sex on her on his marital bed, in a room whose walls were covered with photographs of his wife and children, as he aroused himself by spewing “disgusting and demeaning” insults about his wife. (In retaliation, and as a message to his wife, Moran rolled her own lipstick under the bed.)
Paid For is no titillating call-girl memoir perpetuating the popular myth of The Happy Hooker , the Pretty Woman redemption, the sexy student enriching her future by being prostituted to pay for her education.
If you want to combat poverty, empower women. There are few uncontested arguments in social policy, but this is one of them. Give women control of their fertility and overpopulation and undereducation will fall. Give women financial independence and they will have the means to free themselves and their children from dangerous men.
Everyone accepts the proposition that, in general, mothers are more likely than fathers to spend money on children. Even the British government accepts it after a fashion. But religious bigotry, rightwing prejudice and bureaucratic convenience have made the coalition determined to forget what it already knows.
The Conservatives and – for we should not forget the organ grinders’ monkeys – the Liberal Democrats are prepared to stop paying child tax credits direct to mothers. They can keep child benefit but everything else must go. Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit packages child tax credit together with other benefits into a single means-tested lump. The government’s opponents haven’t protested too loudly yet about the effects on women’s living standards because they have had so much else to worry about.
They can see that Duncan Smith has learned nothing. He is proposing to implement universal credit with the help of yet another gargantuan Whitehall IT project, even though history shows they invariably do not provide the promised efficiencies, when, that is, they work at all. The peculiar genius of Whitehall allows universal credit to cost the taxpayers more, while simultaneously leaving 400,000 of the countries’ poorest families poorer. As the Chartered Institute of Housing puts it, households that earn £247 or less a week will see a fall in real income in 2015, and lone parents will be worse off, whatever their circumstances.
Misogyny may not therefore be the only reason why the plight of women has not received attention. Like a low hum in the background, it cannot be ignored, however. I suspect the hum will grow louder as the magnitude of what the coalition is attempting becomes clear.
The right has always accused leftists of wanting to be the “engineers of human souls” who seek to coerce the crooked timber of humanity into unnatural shapes. Conservatives flatter themselves into believing that they are not slaves to an ideology but commonsensical men and women who go with the grain of human nature, even if they do say so themselves.
If they were the realists they claimed to be, they would not stop at saying that a strong family is an incontestable blessing. They would accept that relationships break up because men can be domineering and worse, and resolve to do nothing to hinder women who are looking for a way out. But the right is just as ready to fantasise as the left and just as ready to believe it can sweep away the unworthy and morally incontinent British and replace them with a more respectable alternative.
The benefit changes have been designed to “reinforce the traditional male breadwinner model”, in the words of the Women’s Budget Group, an alliance of academics and trade unionists, which fights a determined, if often hopeless, battle to defend poor and working-class women. Reinforce the patriarchal male and, inevitably, you restrict women’s independence.
The coalition’s stated reason for “reforming welfare” is to make work pay. The universal credit will indeed increase the incentive for one member of a couple to move into employment. Incentives for many second earners will be less than they are now. The “second earner”, as you can probably guess, is more likely to be a woman devoting more time to child rearing.
The best reason to dismiss the notion that Duncan Smith is a decent man who is genuinely concerned with relieving poverty is to look at who he is directing money to and why. At present, the state pays child tax credit to the child’s “main carer”, who is almost always the mother. From now on, a couple will “decide” whose bank account should receive the money. The worst type of man – not just abusive partner but the guy more likely to go to the pub than buy nappies – will have the power to insist that the money is directed to his account and that he scoops the pot.
This is a story about intersectionality. It’s going to displease a few people who don’t know what intersectionality is, annoy a few people who do, and enrage a load of people who don’t use Twitter. But I checked with my privilege, and my privilege said it was OK. (Don’t know what “check your privilege” means? This might turn out to be a problem for you, too).
In January, an argument on Twitter started in the manner characteristic of, possibly unique to, that medium. Someone called historian Mary Beard a racist. Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, asked what made Beard a racist. A small but persistent Twitter intersectionality-core rounded on Lewis, accusing her of mindlessly defending the establishment against outsiders, effectively using her platform in the mainstream to defend racists within feminism from the critical voices whom feminism ought properly to champion and defend.
That precis doesn’t quite evoke the tone of the attack: another Twitter feminist defended Lewis later with: “It is never OK to call another woman a vicious rancid bitch.” The fact that this needs to be said, in an argument between one feminist and another, makes me chuckle, though of course I won’t be chuckling if (when) it is said to me.
A racist feminist just wouldn’t make sense. You can’t fight for equality on the basis of one innate characteristic without signing up to the precept that we’re all born equal. The problem was – and this happens quite a bit on Twitter – a mistake at the outset. Beard is not a racist. Lewis got annoyed and left Twitter this week, though only temporarily.
It could be taken as an unfortunate misunderstanding, except for the obvious pattern; Suzanne Moore left Twitter after essentially the same argument, though it started not with perceived racism but with a remark that was taken to be transphobic.
Times columnist Caitlin Moran got on the wrong side of intersectionality when she said she “didn’t do race”. This made her a racist; also the mindless beneficiary of middle-class privilege, said critics. I weighed in, and said that not all feminists had to represent every perspective of feminism all the time. And middle class? She was raised on benefits. She’s rich now, came the reply, plus she has a platform; ergo, she’s part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied, cis(gender) hegemony. To remain a true and respectful feminist with those privileges (never mind check them, it will take you long enough just to count them), your work must essentially be an act of atonement to all the people who are more marginalised than you are. As a feminist, you are occupying the space of the marginalised; to do so thoughtlessly is an act of trespass.
What makes me doubt this idea is its striking similarity to a technique of the right, the hyper-individualisation of every argument. Unless you are penniless right now, this second, you can’t complain about inequality. Even more exclusively, unless you were born poor you can’t take the side of the poor. I dislike the argument because it’s anti-intellectual, dismissing reason and systems – all the tools of discursive progress – and attempting to replace them with the power of personal testimony.
But on a purely pragmatic level we can all see, presumably, what the real goal is in this ad hominem play: if only the authentically poor are welcome on the left, that considerably depletes our numbers. If only the truly marginalised can speak as feminists, that depletes our numbers too. And if people “with a platform” are disqualified for being part of the power structure, that leaves us without a platform. This criticism started on the right for a reason – because it withers the left. We should think a bit more strategically before we internalise it.
Banjit* has horrific first-hand experience of being controlled by a female trafficker. Arriving in the UK from Thailand in 2005 to support her impoverished family by working in a brothel, she says: “I knew I would be provided with food and accommodation in the UK, and would have to repay £27,000 to a Thai woman, but I was unsure as to how much that actually was.”
On her arrival in the UK, Banjit was introduced to Atchara Nualpenyai, who housed her in a flat in east London before taking away her passport to stop her running away. She then told Banjit that she would be able to pay off the debt within two to three months by providing “services” to buyers such as anal sex and sex without a condom.
Banjit was sent to work in brothels all over London and made to work seven days a week, even while menstruating. All her money went to Nualpenyai. Realising she would never be able to repay the debt, Banjit eventually ran away without her passport and turned to the police for help. They subsequently discovered that Nualpenyai had been exploiting a number of other women in brothels around London. In 2011 Nualpenyai was imprisoned for six and a half years for trafficking for sexual exploitation, and controlling prostitution.
The UK is considered fertile ground for traffickers. Police admit there is little scrutiny of the off-street sex industry, and that detecting the crime is difficult and costly. A report by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), published in 2010, revealed that at the very minimum, 2,600 women were confirmed to have been trafficked into England and Wales and forced to work as prostitutes, and that an additional 9,200 women in brothels and other premises were considered to be “vulnerable migrants” who had possibly been trafficked. There are an estimated 5,890 brothels in England and Wales.
John O’Brien, Detective Sergeant at the Metropolitan Police Trafficking and Prostitution Unit, says that women often commit trafficking offences. “On many occasions the [perpetrators] have previously been sex workers themselves who have realised the financial gains that can be made from these criminal enterprises.”
The idea of victim turned perpetrator is backed up by the prevalence of women as sex traffickers suggested by a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which revealed that women make up the largest proportion of such criminals in about a third of the countries that provided information on the gender of traffickers. “In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm,” it said. There is also anecdotal evidence that increasing numbers of female traffickers are involved in the trafficking of the most vulnerable victims, the under 18s, as well as low-ranking activities that have a higher risk of detection by police.
One Albanian woman told me that the only way she could escape her own trafficker after five years in a London brothel was to agree to return home and bring back fresh victims. “I had to go to my town and tell the girls there that I knew from school that there were great opportunities in the UK for them, you know, as waitresses and even as dancers,” says Elda*. “They were poor and desperate like me, so they wanted to get away. I felt like I had stuck a knife in my own stomach, knowing what I was taking them to, but I could not stand one more day [in the brothel].”
Full article here.
There have always been women who act as low-level enforcers of patriarchy, that doesn’t stop this being a problem of male dominance (and male demand). As the account of the Albanian woman suggests, many female traffickers are doing the only thing they can to ameliorate their own abuse, and they are only one rung up the ladder from the women they are abusing. As the article goes on to say, women traffickers can lull their victims into a false sense of security, and the big (male) bosses know that.
QotD: “Girls’ nascent sexuality, their needs, their rights, have always been subordinated to those of boys”
Two weeks ago, a speaker at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers voiced a need to teach pupils about the dangers of internet porn. A few days later, deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz announced the launch of new research to find out if boys understood the meaning of girls consenting to sex after another report found that 100% of 14-year-old boys in one school had accessed porn on the web, and that 50% of girls had seen it, too – usually at the boys’ behest.
I might dismiss this as scaremongering if I didn’t know that my mother retired from a long and varied career in community sexual health three years ago, just as her colleagues who went into schools started reporting a rise in STD outbreaks concomitant in the rise of boys coaxing (cajoling, bullying, forcing – draw the line where you will) girls to service the lot of them in turn so they could film it on their phones.
And I might still hope there was more smoke than fire if I hadn’t been told a story by a friend about teaching sex ed classes in a big west London comprehensive – for which the otherwise mixed school was separated into gender groups; she took the girls. She was halfway through her planned lesson and ground to a halt when she saw a roomful of faces gazing blankly, where she had expected giggling and ribald commentary at least. She questioned them and then light dawned. “You do realise,” she said hesitantly, “that you’re supposed to enjoy it, don’t you?” Incredulity and a buzz of interest broke out. She threw away her lesson plan and they talked for the rest of the time about this new and fascinating idea. Then she came home and cried.
Girls’ nascent sexuality, their needs, their rights, have always been subordinated to those of boys. The only way to change that is to ensure that they are born into a world that is truly fair and equal, and grow up with an inviolate sense of selfhood, asserting themselves as naturally and painlessly as breathing.
Alas, the only advantage this strategy has is that it is still easier than clearing the internet of porn. Until then, we can only follow the example of my early adviser and my teacher friend, and speak truth to the disempowered.
An anarchist group in Spain has been sending bombs to prominent Roman Catholics, hiding the explosives inside packages containing vibrators.
At least two such mini-bombs have been sent by a group that calls itself the Anticlerical Pro Sex Toys Group, according to Spain’s state-owned EFE news agency. One device exploded at a postal sorting office, slightly injuring the woman who was handling the package.
I’m willing to bet all those anarchists are more socially privileged than the post office worker who was injured by their bomb.
The greatest trick the patriarchy ever pulled on feminism is to convince women that religious sexual values were the ultimate manifestation of patriarchal gender roles rather than one puritanical aspect, so rebelling against those by calling ourselves sluts and pretending that porn is empowering because social conservatives hate it is a middle finger to all of male domination, instead of realizing that woman as sex object for sanctified reproduction and marital servitude and woman as sex object for free use and entertainment are two sides of the same disgusting coin.