Boston Cream Thigh, Peanut Butter D-Cup, Chocolate Fudge Babes – these attempts by a Hollywood porn maker to scoop profits with titles based on Ben & Jerry’s ice creams has ended in a meltdown.
Caballero Video got a chilly response from the Vermont dessert maker when it launched a series of videos under the banner of Ben & Cherry’s with names based on Ben & Jerry’s products and a logo that mimicked the clouds and cows seen on its ice-cream packaging.
Ben & Jerry’s launched a court case in 2012 claiming 10 titles by Caballero besmirched its name and infringed its trademark. Caballero was ordered by a US federal judge to freeze its marketing and take the movies off the shelves while the case was decided. It has now agreed to scrap them permanently, according to the Los Angeles times.
Ben & Jerry’s has not been averse to cheeky product names itself, marketing flavours such as Karamel Sutra and Schweddy Balls, as well as putting out ice-cream in containers carrying the tagline “Size Matters”. It released a Facebook matchmaking app called “Wanna Spoon?” to market its Greek frozen yoghurt.
Irish people were offended when the Unilever-owned company released a Black and Tan flavour. The black and tans were a notorious British militia responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre of 12 people at a Dublin football match in 1920 and other brutality during the Irish war of independence.
The Guardian published on Monday a rather disjointed, poorly thought through pro-prostitution article, written by SA Jones, and republished from Overland, an Australian website. It’s still worth going through and pointing out all the flaws, as these arguments aren’t going to go away:
I feel uneasy about sex work. I worry that it objectifies women and compounds our difficulties in carving a place for ourselves as cerebral and corporeal, as full persons. But here’s the thing: it’s not about me.
However sincere my concerns, however fluently I may be able to quote Andrea Dworkin, such views tacitly align me with the slut-shamers and the conservatives who do such a good job of “othering” sex workers, of making them a thing apart – alien and aberrant.
Two paragraphs in and she’s already dragged out this battered old straw feminist; if you’re not for ‘sex worker rights’ as defined by sex industry advocates (that is, the pimps, pornographers, johns, and those who make a career out of keeping women in prostitution) you’re on the side of the ‘slut-shamers’ and ‘conservatives’, and you hate ‘sex workers’ – and those are the only two options available.
The existence of the sex industry, in it’s legal and illegal forms, is incompatible with the human rights of the women and children and men it chews up and shits out, and it is incompatible with the human dignity of all women and girls – so it is about her, because it’s about all of us.
Jones says later in the piece that most of the ‘sex workers’ she knows are white, middle-class and well educated, with lots of choices. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it, the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base, the minority of women at the top who get to pick-and-choose, and make a lot of money, and have a great time, are doing so on the backs of all the women and girls who don’t get any real choice.
But Jones is only really interested in talking about the tiny minority who get to make any kind of real choice; talk about the very real lack of choice most women and girls in the sex industry have and your ‘othering’ ‘sex workers’, as if prostitution itself, being reduced to a commodity, isn’t ‘othering’, as if being so poor that prostitution was your only ‘choice’ isn’t ‘othering’.
This othering means that when a sex worker is murdered – as happened in Melbourne’s St Kilda suburb last week – our outrage is muted. Yes, we think it’s awful and we hope the assailant is caught, but she was putting herself at risk, but she knew the dangers, but she didn’t “keep herself safe” – as if what Tracy Connelly experienced in the last moments of her life was any less horrifying for her than it would be for us. Or as if her family and friends grieve differently, or her partner is any less traumatised by finding her body, or her assailant will confine their violence to sex workers so the rest of us can live without fear (Adrian Ernest Bayley, anyone?)
Who is this ‘we’ she is talking about exactly? The mainstream certainly, but radical feminists and abolitionists don’t think prostitutes’ lives are worth less than the lives of ‘normal’ women (but Jones wants people to think we are, by jumping from a reference to Dworkin who was a prostituted woman herself in one paragraph, straight to mainstream callousness in the next).
It’s worth pausing here in my analysis of Jones’ article, to look at what happened to Tracy Connelly, as it is being used to call for the legalisation of street sex work. According to the press reports Connelly was a homeless 40-year-old woman, who had been prostituting for over a decade, and was murdered inside the van she had been living in for the past month.
Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, has legal brothel and escort service prostitution, perhaps Connelly’s life-style was too chaotic for her to be employable in a brothel, or perhaps she couldn’t deal with the 10 hour shifts and the fines for refusing to service a john.
The classic line on street prostitution is that legalising it (providing zones etc) will make it safer, as if any woman can spot a potential abuser in 5 minutes. Both Steve Wright (the Ipswich serial killer), and Stephen Griffiths (the “crossbow cannibal” killer), were regulars who were well known to the women they targeted. The fact that there was no forced entry into Connelly’s van, implies that her killer may have been known to her as well.
Any meaningful abolitionist approach needs to acknowledge that exiting is not easy, and it does not happen overnight, and that short-term harm-reduction measures are going to be needed as well, but what women like Connelly need are real options, real choices; Connelly wasn’t making any kind of empowered choice to be a prostitute, and it’s a safe bet that Jones’ middle-class ‘sex worker’ friends aren’t choosing to sell sex the way Connelly was forced to sell sex.
This is what I mean by disjointed, it’s all about ‘choice’, but confronted with a woman like Connelly, Jones doesn’t want to talk about Connelly’s lack of choices. Instead she would rather use her as an excuse for bashing ‘sex negative’ feminists, who are, apparently, the cause of violence against prostitutes, rather than talk about the actual men committing the violence.
So, then, back to Jones’ article:
Feminism has always been conflicted on the question of sex and sexuality, inheriting as it did two such different traditions. One tradition is devoted to protecting women from the laws and customs that subjugate them to men and men’s bodies; and one argues for the reclamation of the female body and its pleasures. For various reasons, my own politics tended towards the former for a long while. The problem with this position is that it so easily falls prey to the model of men’s sexuality as rapacious and threatening.
Well, at least she actually has some kind of basic understanding of what radical feminism is (she is right about us wanting to get women out from under men), the problem, though, with the dichotomy she sets up, is that ‘reclaiming sexual pleasure’ is impossible while we are still under that subjugation; individual, already privileged women (women who can pass along the abusive sex to a ‘sex worker’), may be able to achieve it, but feminism isn’t about individual women, it is about all women. Liberation from men’s sexual violence has to come first, and we don’t have to theorise about what this ‘reclamation’ looks like without liberation, we can just look at so-called ‘sex positive’ ‘feminism’ which is about celebrating every cruel, violent, degrading thing that ever got a man (or woman) off, never ever criticising what men do, and ‘prude shaming’ any woman or girl who isn’t into eroticising her own dehumanisation.
Many women do experience male sexuality, as it exists, for real, in the real world, under patriarchy, as violent and threatening; it doesn’t have to be that way, and radical feminists, not ‘sex positive’ ‘feminists’ are the ones actually saying this. What ‘sex positive’ ‘feminism’ does is victim-blame any woman who doesn’t find sex under patriarchy enjoyable; men don’t have to change, women do, and women are told that sexual liberation is to be found, not through changing the status quo, but through embracing it.
A former professor of mine, the late Patricia Crawford, referred to this as the “sex or burst theory”, whereby men’s sex drive is an unsophisticated hydraulic system requiring periodic release, or catastrophic consequences will ensue. Sex workers and porn are socially positioned as providing this “release valve” that supposedly keep the rest of us (good) women safe.
Radical feminists don’t believe that men are animals who are incapable of controlling themselves, we believe that it is a function of male supremacist power that men don’t have to control themselves, so they don’t, and the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls, inside and outside of the sex industry, are testament to that. Many mainstream men and women do believe that men have sexual ‘needs’ and that these ‘needs’ have to be met, and that a sacrificial class of prostituted women is the best way to meet those ‘needs’, but radical feminists do not.
How does Jones think the sex industry came about? It’s hardly as if it exists only because a handful of middle-class women want to be ’empowered sex workers’, it is driven by the twin forces of male demand and female poverty – and the demand (and, therefore, the motivation for the traffickers and pimps) would still be there even if we really tackled poverty, without tackling patriarchy as well.
The objections to this model are manifest, not least in that it sets up a dichotomy between men and women, where (gendered) desires are oppositional and women whose sexual experiences fall outside a fairly narrow, vanilla band are cast as aberrant. Even mad. It makes black and white what in reality is the complex, messy and contestable nature of desire. It means we agree to sacrifice “release valve” women like some kind of human shield. It reinforces sexual double standards whereby sex amplifies men but diminishes women. So the same act makes men studs or virile or magnetic, whilst rendering women sluts or needy or a bit pathetic, with sex workers the ultimate example. Throw in all our baggage around sexual competition and fears about fidelity and there’s a potent recipe for women’s hostility towards sex workers.
“Women’s hostility towards sex workers”? Dear oh dear, Jones has fallen in with the sex industry advocates line that it’s women who are causing all the violence against ‘sex workers’, rather than the men who are actually committing the violence. Men are the ones beating and raping and murdering prostitutes, not women, and they are doing it because of patriarchy and misogyny, not because of women’s ‘sexual baggage’.
How does an article that talks about the real murder of a prostitute, which I am 100% certain was committed by a man, suddenly start talking about “women’s hostility”? Why does Jones not want to name the agent in violence against prostitutes?
Perhaps it is because bashing a straw woman (whether that straw woman is a ‘conservative’ or a radical feminist) is easier than actually confronting and challenging men, male supremacism, and patriarchy? It’s far easier to talk about a phony ‘war’ against ‘sex workers’ than actually talk about men; it’s far easier to talk about radical feminists being ‘sex negative’, than to actually confront men’s systemic sexual violence.
Loved Caroline Lucas’s teeshirt stunt in the Commons, and her quick-witted connection between this modest white teeshirt, deemed offensive, inappropriate dress, and the half-naked “glamour models” relentlessly assaulting us, from the pages of a national newspaper. . . and then I remembered an article I read in last week’s New Scientist, called “Landscape of Fear”. It was based on an animal behaviour survey in Yellowstone Park, meant to see how the elk population was responding now wolves have been reintroduced. The received theory is that predators keep prey species in check by eating them. The discovery was that the process works by intimidation alone. Where the elks can smell wolves, where they can see signs of wolves, they can’t thrive. Physical condition suffers, reproduction rate suffers, population goes down. Young elk don’t play, stressed adults leave the meadows, and retreat into the forest, where food is harder to find. “it was like looking at two different countries” says the scientist. “One at peace and one at war.” Conclusion: top predators don’t have to kill, their kills are relatively infrequent and isolated events, compared to their mere presence. They just have to be around, being scary. . .
This is what men do to women, I thought. They don’t have to rape and kill (and if actual violence against women were aberrant behaviour, it would hardly have the same impact). It’s the relentless, “harmless” low-level intimidation that keeps women “in their place”, that’s what does the trick.
I remember how I felt in the Seventies, and even the Eighties. How close change seemed, how I could walk with my head up; how sure I was that the men I counted as friends in sf genre understood what equality meant, and could be trusted. But after a while, I knew had to change my mind. I knew it would be much harder than I’d thought, because nobody, ever gives up entrenched privilege and unjust powers without a long, dogged struggle. And it had to be a non-violent struggle, this dogged one step forward two steps back mission to make the world a better place, whatever form it takes, and no matter how long it might take, because once the weapons are out, everybody loses. And then it was September 2001, and I knew that women the world over, not only in the overt warzones, would be living in a landscape of fear again.
I am so proud of the young women of today, the ones who stand up, who speak out, even in this landscape of fear; even despite the endless intimidation.
I have such respect for them.
QotD: “Everywhere that prostitution has been legalised/brothelised there has been a dramatic increase in both the legal and illegal sectors.”
Everywhere that prostitution has been legalised/brothelised there has been a dramatic increase in both the legal and illegal sectors. In Australia, one year after legalisation, the illegal ‘sex industry’ had more than doubled (Sullivan & Jeffreys, CATW). In Amsterdam, children’s charities reported a 300% rise in child prostitution following legalisation (ChildRight). It is common business sense that traffickers and pimps will target countries where it will be easier for them to operate, where they can advertise freely and run no risk of criminalisation. And correspondingly, that countries which have outlawed the buying and selling of other human beings will be less attractive. This is the case in Sweden, where in 1999 a law was passed which decriminalised all those involved in prostitution and instead criminalized the buyers. At the same time the Government directed large sums of money into providing exit services, housing, education, legal advice, welfare and health care etc. This law is being credited with a reduction in child prostitution and trafficking and a decrease of over a third in the number of pimps operating brothels.
Prostitution Is Violence Against Women
Labour Left Review, November 2007
Children have witnessed massacres, mothers seen their sons killed, families watched their homes looted and burned. But there is one act of violence that refugees from the Syrian crisis will not discuss.
The conflict has been distinguished by a brutal targeting of women. The United Nations has gathered evidence of systematic sexual assault of women and girls by combatants in Syria, and describes rape as “a weapon of war”. Outside the conflict, in sprawling camps and overloaded host communities, aid workers report a soaring number of incidents of domestic violence and rampant sexual exploitation.
But this is a deeply conservative society. The endemic violence suffered by Syrian women and girls is hidden under a cultural blanket of fear, shame and silence that even international aid workers are loth to lift.
Dr Manal Tahtamouni is the director of the Institute for Family Health, a local NGO funded by the European commission that was among the first to open a women’s clinic in Zaatari refugee camp. When asked, she says, most women will not admit to being raped. They will say they have seen others being raped.
“This is a conservative area. If you have been raped, you wouldn’t talk openly about it because you would be stigmatised for your entire life. The phenomenon is massively under-reported,” Tahtamouni says. Only after a long process of building trust through one-on-one counselling sessions might a rape survivor talk. Of the 300 to 400 cases her clinics receive in a day, 100 are female victims of violence, mostly domestic.
In the day, the camp bristles with the economic and social buzz of a resilient society attempting to reclaim normality. Under the broad blue skies of the Jordanian desert, groups of women in full black veils peaked with sun visors shop in a makeshift high street of UN tents. At night, when gun battles raging at home can be heard across the border, the atmosphere darkens.
Even “Abu Hussein”, a local boss of Zaatari’s brothel and bar district, has requested that UN officials launch patrols to control gangs of young men wreaking havoc in the camp and harassing women. Groping and lewd name-calling during food distributions and in the public latrines are common. Rapes have been reported.”There is a tendency to think that once [women] have crossed the border, they are safe,” says Melanie Megevand, a specialist in gender-based violence at International Rescue Committee charity. “But they just face a different violence once they become refugees.”
What the hell? This is a refugee camp but there’s a ‘local boss’ (read gangster) running brothels in it, and he’s asking the UN to police the streets outside his brothels? How many UN ‘peace-keepers’ are these brothels servicing? How young are the women/girls in these brothels? Are they there through poverty or more direct coercion? Why is this just reported so matter-of-factly? Does prostitution not count as violence against women? Is rape ok as long as the rapist pays money for it?
When I first read this, I though it must mean the red-light district in the adjacent town or something like that, but no, Zaatari, the refugee camp, is a city in it’s own right, complete with brothels, because goodness knows, men might get really nasty if they couldn’t pay-per-rape, except whoops, there’s still endemic violence against women and girls, even with the ‘outlet’ of prostitution.
In a reversal of the cultural norm, many families here are headed by women. Fathers and husbands have either been killed or gone to fight. At least three-quarters of these families don’t live in Za’atari camp but in nearby towns, where they quickly disappear beyond the reach of aid workers and their resources. With no means to support themselves, they are vulnerable.
Um Firas has lived in Mafraq, near Zaatari, for more than a year since escaping Homs. She rarely leaves her home. Her husband disappeared years before the war so she is alone, accumulating an enormous debt to cover her rent. She still believes her family is better off in debt than inside the camp.
She is particularly concerned for her teenage daughter, who took to sunbathing until her skin burned in Syria. “She told me, ‘If I turn black, the Shabiha [pro-government militia] might not want to rape me,” she says. “They were targeting women. Iranian and Hezbollah fighters came into our neighbourhood with their swords drawn. The women they found, they raped. They burned our homes,” she adds, too exhausted by grief to stop crying.
“I saw maybe 100 women stripped naked and used as human shields, forced to walk on all sides of the army tanks during the fighting. When their tanks rolled back into the Alawite neighbourhood, the women disappeared with them.”
In Mafraq, her landlord wants to evict her. He had offered to let the family stay only if Um Firas allowed his 28-year-old son to marry her 16-year-old daughter. Beautiful young Syrian women are in high demand. She refused.
The Rev Nour Sahawneh leads the community effort to help refugee families in Mafraq. He has noticed with alarm a growing number of men flying in from the Gulf states to take Syrian girls from their desperate families.
“Their pale skin, the way they talk, cook – it’s a fantasy for them, even if she is only 14,” Sahawneh says.
“Yesterday I heard a man I know accepted 9,000 dinars [£8,420] from a Saudi guy for his 15-year-old daughter. He will take his ‘wife’ to a flat and stay with her for a few months then go home without her. It’s illegal to marry women under 18 in Jordan. Saudi men cannot marry non-Saudis without permission. She is not a wife but for sex only.”
In the past three months, a bridal boutique has sprung up in a small tent in what residents ironically call Zaatari’s Champs Élysées. It offers a choice of six elaborate, bedazzled bridal gowns to rent for 2,500 Syrian pounds (£15.80). The average age of the wearer is 15.
Rihab, 19, is marrying her 27-year-old camp neighbour tomorrow. Five months ago she met his sister, who made the match. Surrounded by the groom’s female relatives and shaking with nervy excitement, Rihab strips out of her niqab to try on the strappy dress only her husband will see her in.
Her family had refused the marriage initially, the boutique owner explains under her breath. It’s going ahead now only because the groom’s family have arranged for the new couple to be “bailed out” of Zaatari to start a new life in Jordan. Jamilla, Rihab’s future mother-in-law, looks on, pleased. She married her 15-year-old daughter to a man in Amman last year and already has a one-year-old grandchild.
“Isn’t it better that they are married, that she is protected by her husband? I am marrying off my daughters as quickly as I can. They are young. They don’t know any better,” she says with a laugh.
There is no time to ask how the bride is feeling. The dress has been bagged and she is being hurried out into the bustle of the camp. As her veil falls back over her face it covers a startled, wide-eyed expression of excitement – or fear.
Based on fact, Eden is the nom de bordel imposed on a Korean-American teenager (Jamie Chung) abducted in New Mexico by an appalling gang of sex traffickers, among them army veterans, pimps, drug dealers, a leathery old madam and a middle-aged US marshal. They keep her as a slave along with other prostitutes at a brothel outside Vegas until she turns the tables on them. It’s chilling, convincing, matter-of-fact realism
When the trafficker came knocking on the door of Elaina Kujar’s hut on a tea plantation at the north-eastern end of Assam, she had just got back from school. Elaina was 14 and wanted to be a nurse. Instead, she was about to lose four years of her life as a child slave.
She sits on a low chair inside the hut, playing with her long dark hair as she recalls how her owner would sit next to her watching porn in the living room of his Delhi house, while she waited to sleep on the floor. “Then he raped me,” she says, looking down at her hands, then out of the door. Outside, the monsoon rain is falling on the tin roof and against the mud-rendered bamboo strip walls, on which her parents have pinned a church calendar bearing the slogan The Lord is Good to All.
Elaina was in that Delhi house for one reason: her parents, who picked the world-famous Assam tea on an estate in Lakhimpur district, were paid so little they could not afford to keep her. There are thousands like her, taken to Delhi from the tea plantations in the north-east Indian state by a trafficker, sold to an agent for as little as £45, sold on again to an employer for up to £650, then kept as slaves, raped, abused. It is a 21st-century slave trade. There are thought to be 100,000 girls as young as 12 under lock and key in Delhi alone: others are sold on to the Middle East and some are even thought to have reached the UK.
Every tea plantation pays the same wages. Every leaf of every box of Assam tea sold by Tetley and Lipton and Twinings and the supermarket own brands – Asda, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the rest – is picked by workers who earn a basic 12p an hour.
If it says Fairtrade on the box, or certified by the Rainforest Alliance or the Ethical Tea Partnership, it makes no difference: the worker received the same basic cash payment – 89 rupees (£1) a day, a little over half the legal wage for an unskilled worker in Assam of 158.54 rupees. To place that in context, a worker receives about 2p in cash for picking enough tea to fill a box of 80 tea bags, which then sells for upwards of £2 in the UK. The companies say they know the wages are low, and they are trying to make things better, but their hands are tied by the growers. The growers, who set the wages by collective bargaining, say it is all they can afford.
But there is a price for keeping wages so low, and it is paid by the workers who cannot afford to keep their daughters. When the traffickers come knocking, offering to take the girls away, promising good wages and an exciting new life, they find it hard to say no. “He said he would change our lives,” says Elaina, now 20. “The tea garden was closed when he came and my parents were not working, so my father wanted to send me.”
The trafficker had promised excitement and glamour: instead she started work every day at 4am and worked until midnight, and though he promised to give her 1,500 rupees a month, she was never paid. He kept her as a prisoner, unable to leave the house or contact her family.
“His wife was suspicious about what was happening. I told her he had raped me but he denied it and told me to shut up my mouth,” she says. “After that, I was always crying, but he kept me locked in the house. I was afraid. I had no money and he threatened that I would end up in a brothel.”
She was saved only when he sent her to a new owner who, on learning her story, sent her home.
Elaina’s is not an isolated case. Rabina Khatun, now 18, discovered she had been sold into slavery when she agreed to go to Delhi to work as a maid. A woman from the village had tempted her with the promise of 3,000 rupees a month. “She said, ‘Come and see Delhi. It is bigger than your village’,” she says. She was 14: it was two years before she was allowed to go home. When she complained she had not been paid, she was sold on again to three men as a plaything. “I was taken to a house and they locked me in. Then they raped me. Afterwards they took me to Old Delhi station and left me there with no money. I was physically and mentally ill from what had happened to me. I want the men to be punished. I am never going to Delhi again. I am very angry. I want to kill them.”
Both Elaina and Rabina gave the Observer written permission to identify them as a way of exposing the trade.
Indian government figures show 126,321 trafficked children were rescued from domestic service in 2011-12, a year-on-year increase of nearly 27%. But many anguished parents have no idea what has happened to their daughters. According to India’s National Crime Record Bureau, a child goes missing in India every eight minutes, and more than a third are never found.
For the parents of the missing, the pain is hard to bear. Saphira Khatun carefully places the picture of her daughter Minu Begum on the table in front of her. There are tears in her eyes. Minu had been doing well in school and wanted to join the police. But her head was turned by promises of money from a female trafficker in the village. “She had big dreams,” says her sister Munu, 20. “Any 12-year-old wants to go to the big city: it is more exciting than the village.”
One evening, Minu failed to come home. Her family have not seen her since that day four years ago. “Nobody does anything to stop bad things happening to poor girls,” says her 17-year-old sister Nadira. “Please help us to get our sister back here. Wherever she is in India, please give me my sister back.”
Arjun and Mukti Tati’s daughter Binita would be 17 now. She was 14 when the trafficker took her away with promises of money and a better life. But a year passed, then another, and no word came. They went to plead with the trafficker to help find her, but he refused. “She was a very gentle girl, always playing, very happy,” Mukti says. “We went to him 100 times but he always said he had no information.”
The traffickers live openly among the other villagers. They argue that they are victims too. Shobaha Tirki, 50, worked in the tea gardens for years, rarely earning more than 500 rupees a month. One day he met a big trafficker who promised him good money if he would send girls from the village to his placement agency. “I took maybe 20 girls from here to placement agencies in Delhi. A lot of them came back but five or six did not.” He gets 10,000 rupees per girl. It is not hard to convince them to go with him, he says. “I tell them about Delhi and how it is good to go to a big city,” he says. “I tell them they will have a room of their own and a bathroom of their own.”
The girls who come back and have been cheated of their wages head straight for his house, he says. He tells them to talk to the agency. “They never get their money though,” he says.
Many of the traffickers are women, who find it easier to convince the girls to go with them. Kusma Takri, 27, gets 4,000 rupees for every girl. She says she needs the money. “This is my job. I know the Delhi placement agencies are bad but I am caught between the placement agencies and poverty.”
Rama Shankar Chaurasia, chair of child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan, says the scale of the trafficking is immense. “They are kept as slaves, their wages are withheld and taken by their placement agency or supplier, their employers are told not to pay them directly because if they do the girls will run away.”
The going price for a maid can be as much as 60,000 rupees, he says. “The person who pays that feels they have purchased the girl. But the rising demand from the ever-growing middle class must not be at the cost of slavery for hundreds of thousands of children.”