As many of you may know, Andrea Dworkin and I conceived and designed a law based on the politics of the women’s movement that we thought we were part of and fielded it with others who were under the same illusion. It is a sex equality law, a civil-rights law, a law that says that sexual subordination of women through pictures and words, this sexual traffic in women, violates women’s civil rights.
This was done in feminist terms: as if women mattered; because we value women; because it wasn’t enough only to criticize oppression, and it wasn’t enough only to engage in guerilla activities of resistance, although they are crucial. We wanted to change the norm. To change the norm, we looked for a vulnerable place in the system. We looked for something that could be made to work for us, something we could use. We took whatever we could get our hands on, and when it wasn’t there, we invented. We invented a sex equality law against pornography on women’s terms.
To no one’s surprise, especially ours, it was opposed by many people. It was opposed by conservatives who discovered that they disliked sex equality a lot more than they disliked pornography. It was opposed by liberals, who discovered that they liked speech – i.e., sex, i.e., women being used – a great deal more than they liked sex equality. Then came the opposition from a quarter that labeled itself feminist: from FACT, the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force. At this point, for me, the women’s movement that I had known came to an end.
In an act of extraordinary horizontal hostility, FACT filed a brief against the ordinance in court as part of a media-based legal attack on it. They did what they could to prevent from existing, to keep out of women’s hands, this law, written in women’s blood, in women’s tears, in women’s pain, in women’s experience, out of women’s silence, this law to make acts against women actionable – acts like coercion, force, assault, trafficking in our flesh. Pornography, they said, is sex equality. Women should just have better access to it. Using the debased model of equality-as-sameness that the women’s movement we used to know was predicated on criticizing, they argued that pornography must not be actionable by its victims because, among other reasons, “the range of feminist imagination and expression in the realm of sexuality has barely begun to find voice. Women need the freedom and socially recognized space to appropriate for themselves the robustness of what traditionally has been male language.” Men have it; FACT women want it.
Thus, “even pornography which is problematic for women can be experienced as affirming of women’s desires and of women’s equality” (emphasis added). This is a subquote from Ellen Willis in the brief, “Pornography can be psychic assault,” – get it, that rape only happened in your head – “but for women, as for men, it can also be a source of erotic pleasure… . A woman who enjoys pornography, even if that means enjoying a rape fantasy, is, in a sense, a rebel.” From what is she rebelling? Their answer: “Insisting on an aspect of her sexuality that has been defined as a male preserve.” Now who can’t tell the difference between rape and sex? Rape has been a male preserve. But to insist on being defined by what one has been forced to be defined by is, to say the least, a rather limited notion of freedom. And choice. And a women’s movement that aspires to inhabit rapist preserves is not a women’s movement I want any part of.
You might be wondering what the FACT response to all the knowledge, data, understanding, and experience of women’s sexual victimization presented in support of the ordinance was. What their response was to all the women who wanted to use the law, the women who had the courage to speak out so it could exist, who put their lives, their reputations, and, yes, their honor on the line for it. Mostly, FACT did not even mention them. They were beneath notice. Coerced women, assaulted women, subordinated women became “some women.” In fact, the FACT brief did what pornography does: it makes harm to women invisible by making it sex. It makes harm to women into ideas about sex, just like the right-wing male judge did who found the ordinance unconstitutional. On the bottom line, the FACT brief was a pure address to the penis. It said, “We like it. We want it. All we want is ‘in.’ Want to watch?”
Liberalism and the Death of Feminism, Catharine A. MacKinnon
Each week in Victoria, more than 60,000 men buy women in prostitution. Thanks to investigations like those carried out recently by The Age and Four Corners, we know that some of the women they buy have been trafficked.
Sex trafficking in Australia should not come as a surprise. Sex industry businesses find a burgeoning market here. According to the business research company IBISWorld, the Australian sex industry has ballooned over the past decade. High growth has forced pimps to forge international supply routes to source their “product”, which, in the case of the sex industry, is mostly women and children. Asian women in particular are a consumer favourite.
“Customer review” websites set up for buyers of women in prostitution reveal just how popular Asian women are in the Victorian sex industry. One forum dedicated to reviews of women in legal brothels contains hundreds of comments about Asian “working ladies”, or WLs. Users complain that these women speak “barely intelligible English”. One contributor notes that “Korean WLs never look happy”, and another encourages readers to check out the “Korean chicks” at one particular brothel because they are “very young”, and “work for a matter of months before disappearing”.
Website participants are mostly unconcerned about the possibility the women they use might be trafficked. The token measure taken by Consumer Affairs Victoria last year to get these men to report trafficking – by putting up warning signs in brothel waiting rooms – doesn’t seem to be working.
Consumer Affairs licenses brothel and escort agency businesses. Prostitution was legalised in Victoria in 1984 to tackle three problems: illegal prostitution and police corruption, harm to women and street prostitution. More than 15 years later, these problems have grown worse, not better.
Estimates from police and the legal brothel industry put the number of illegal brothels at 400 in Victoria, four times the number of legal ones, and legal brothels are being used as fronts for illegal operators and criminal activity. Brothel owners have been caught bribing local government officials to warn them of licence checks.
Legalisation has not made women safer. A 1998 study found 40 per cent of clients do not use condoms. A woman in a Blackburn brothel this year was threatened by a client with a gun after she refused sex acts without a condom. Three academics who interviewed women in legal brothels in 2011 found that “physical safety” was one of their biggest concerns.
Violence in street prostitution is just as bad, and the author of a 2011 report commissioned by Inner South Health wrote that he collected “25 pages of short excerpts from interviews” where 89 people in prostitution in St Kilda described their experiences of “violence and rape”. The Attorney-General’s Street Prostitution Advisory Group in 2002 estimated 300-350 people were engaged in prostitution in St Kilda over the 12-month period. At least two have been murdered – one in 2003 and one in 2004.
I look like a woman but actually I identify as a human being.
In Hunger Strike, Susie Orbach describes the way in which refeeding programmes imposed on anorexia sufferers betray a desire to “normalise” women not just physically, but socially: “The general consensus is that the patient has recovered when the normal weight is reached and appropriate sex role functioning is achieved.” Yet, she goes on to point out, “if the body protest statement could but be read – be it one of fatness or thinness – it would be seen to be one of the few ways that women can articulate their internal experience.” I look back on the force-feeding to which I was subjected and see in it a type of conversion therapy. Womanhood, I had decided, was not for me. I sought to roll back puberty and remain stuck in time. The medical profession said no, you must go forward. And so I did, but it hurt because the world I went into remained one in which femaleness and personhood are not always permitted to co-exist.
This is one of the reasons why I am a feminist. I do not identify as a woman but it remains the social class into which, by virtue of having a female body, I have been shoved. I do not think I am the problem. I do not think my body is the problem. Still, as this body still confines me – as it is me – it remains a site of personal struggle.
Speaking to BBC Radio Women’s Hour, clinical psychologist Dr Bernadette Wren describes how “we live in a world where people alter their bodies, surgically or otherwise, and this freedom is available for people as they get older”:
Maybe we just have to be acknowledging that that is a liberty that people have, that these things are possible, technologically, and people will avail themselves of those things. It’s not really for us to approve or disapprove.
Wren is referring to the fact that rapidly increasing numbers of children and young people, most of them female, are being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. As far as she is concerned, it is neither a moral nor a political issue. If female people are unhappy with their bodies then they should have the right to change them – albeit if, and only if, the problem is located internally, with no seepage into an outside world riven with gendered power imbalances. I find such a viewpoint not only naïve, but somewhat terrifying.
For a long time I have felt a parallel can be made between eating disorders and gender confirmation surgery as forms of self-harming body modification. It’s not a comparison I make lightly, just for the hell of it. Indeed, every time I’ve made it, I’ve had to put up with the ritual public Shaming of the TERF, alongside the trivialisation of a condition which led to several long-term hospitalisations against the “realness” of true gender dysphoria. It’s been suggested to me that anorexia is an attempt to “express your feels” as opposed to the real suffering of “having a skin that metaphorically itches all the time” (as if anyone who’s ever had anorexia would not understand that!). A piece I wrote about the inappropriateness of positioning female body hatred within the context of “cis-ness” got me to Level 2 on the Blockbot. According to the official narrative, anorexia is at best mental illness, at worst vanity; transness, on the other hand, is politically radical, unquestionably authentic and quite incomprehensible to “the cis”.
A woman who starves puberty into remission is sick, so sick you can section her, decree her officially incapable of knowing what her own body needs. One who drugs puberty into remission is not sick; she is, on the contrary, a mystic emissary from Planet Gender. Her – his, their – word is law. A woman who, like me, tries to kill herself because no amount of starvation will make her breasts fully disappear is considered mad. One who merely threatens to kill herself should no surgeon be willing to slice off her breasts for her – well, that person is merely a victim of medical gatekeeping.
Why is this?
Why is breast binding an acceptable form of self-harm when self-induced vomiting is not? Why is the permanent removal of female flesh so much more palatable than what may only be a temporary withering? Why is one person’s visualisation of their breastless “true” self authentic and another’s merely delusional? Above all, why is a rejection of female flesh only acceptable in those who reject any identification with womanhood altogether?
The difference is not in degrees of pain and suffering, nor does it lie in an ability to “prove” that one’s beliefs are real. The difference is political. What matters is not how much you hate the skin you’re in, but how you frame it within a broader context of gender and sex-based inequalities.
Women like me are told that the political framing of our own dysphoria makes us dangerous and evil. Women who take a different tack are permitted to exit womanhood only if they leave their politics at the door. So many women, expressing so much unhappiness, and we think it progressive to ignore the social context. If your breasts offend you, chop them off! But whom does the female body really offend? And when do we get to be human, all of us, every part, every single inch of flesh?
Is Montreal Canada’s Las Vegas? A film by Ève Lamont called The Sex Trade (Le commerce du sexe) reveals that the situation in Quebec is much worse than many had imagined (myself included) — more women are sold in prostitution in Montreal than anywhere else in North America.
Lamont interviews pimps, johns, strip club owners, law enforcement, porn producers, and, of course, the women who work in the clubs, the massage parlours, on the street, and out of apartments and hotels in la belle province. A police officer explains that Montreal has 30 strip clubs and 200 massage parlours, never mind the escorts and street prostitution. In most all of these places, trafficking and underage prostitution exists. All this has made Montreal a sex tourism destination for American men.
One woman explains that, at 16, she worked at four clubs, two of which were full service, meaning they offered “contact dances,” blow jobs, and hand jobs. Prostitution in strip clubs is rampant and is often (if not always) connected to organized crime.
“Men go to strip clubs to have, not to see,” the woman says. A john, with his back to the camera, confirms, explaining that, sure, there’s porn, but what men really want is women “in the flesh.” That’s why men go to strip clubs. “And the girl wants it,” he adds.
Indeed this lie is key. Men who buy sex not only believe the women they pay are enjoying themselves, but also feel they are doing the women a favour by paying. Victor Malarek, journalist and author of The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It, explains that johns convince themselves the women they pay want to be there and that because she’s “consented,” everything is A-OK. “Once he hands over money, he has no conscience to worry about,” Malarek says.
Indeed, one man explains, “I always felt I was helping them by paying them. I told myself I was a good guy — I wasn’t violent — until you realize the whole system.”
“The whole system” being that the women who sell sex and work in strip clubs rarely profit from prostitution. The clubs make thousands off of the women who work there, making them pay an $70 or $80 “bar fee” at the start of their shifts, never mind all the income the club receives from the men who pay cover and buy overpriced drinks. As one woman who has been working in strip clubs since she was a teenager says, at least 80 per cent of the women in the clubs are working for pimps.
The men who go to strip clubs go with an incredible sense of entitlement no different than any other sex-buyer. Even those who don’t pay for sex are there for their egos — to be hit on by women who would otherwise ignore them.
Lamont finds that massage parlours in Montreal hire girls as young as 15. “They never asked me for ID,” one woman says. She had answered a “non-sexual massage parlour” ad, but was immediately expected to give men hand jobs. Another woman said her boss told her hand jobs were no different than touching an arm or shoulder.
And, of course, there is more than just hand jobs that goes on in these “massage parlours.” Because the women are rated by johns on websites, it’s understood that if a woman or girl doesn’t do what the man wants, she and the business will lose clients. A police officer tells of one woman who refused to do anal sex, but the man wouldn’t take no for answer. She informed the madame of the rape and was told, “I expect you to satisfy the client.”
There’s this idea that, while “forced prostitution” is completely unacceptable, there is this fantasy “upscale escort” (reinforced by television shows like The Girlfriend Experience) who travels the world, making thousands of dollars, living in luxury. The reality is, of course, nothing like that. Many of those women have been coerced in less overt ways than society is willing to understand.
“They promised me a lot of money to go out of country,” one woman explained. “But after you pay for everything: the plane ticket, the high-end clothes, the $700-a-night hotel, dinners, you have nothing left.”
The attempt to divide “forced” from “voluntary” becomes all the more ridiculous when you understand how pimps work.
One pimp interviewed in the film explains that he and his crew would seek out “damaged women” — the ones who say their fathers abused them. You don’t look for women “who are in a good place,” he says. The “force” isn’t visible to the naked eye because the coercion happens through “psychology,” another ex-pimp explains. “They aren’t forced, but manipulated,” a police officer confirms.
The context of abuse mentioned here is ever-relevant and ever-erased by those invested in normalizing the sex trade. “Did I end up in prostitution by accident? No,” says one woman. “My grandfather started abusing me when I was four. He was part of a network of pedophiles, so he let his friends start raping me when I was five.”
She worked both as a hotel escort and on the street, saying her time as an escort was much worse. “You’re in a room, the guys are often wasted when you get there, and they think because they’re paying they can do whatever they want,” she says. “They get mad because you won’t do a golden shower or whatever.” She compares this to the men who picked her up on the street and “just want to come and go home,” whereas “the guy in the hotel wants to realize his fantasies.”
Many prostituted women echo these sentiments, saying that johns pay for sex so they can play out the degrading fantasies they wouldn’t (or can’t) subject their girlfriends and wives to.
Porn is inarguably a factor here. In a talk by Gail Dines featured in the film, she says that “porn drives prostitution.” Men watch more and more extreme stuff and lose the ability to get erections with “real women.” They want to play out the stuff they are masturbating to online, and even the most basic porn today is violent and degrading. Most women, of course, don’t want to have painful anal sex, be gagged with their boyfriends’ penises, or called degrading names by their husbands. So where do men go for “porn sex,” Dines asks? “You’re only going to go to those women who can’t say no. And who are those women who can’t say no? Trafficked and prostituted women.”
There is a more literal connection too, as pimps film the women they prostitute and sell the tapes for profit.
Porn producers recruit women just like pimps do: on the street, in clubs, and through social media. “We do anything and recruit everywhere,” one porn producer says. “You can see it in a girl’s eyes — she’s kinky, she likes it, it doesn’t bother her.” He explains that his business is helped by the fact that cable companies like Quebecor and Shaw allow porn to be distributed on television.
The man, jarringly, sees porn through the same lens many liberals and leftists do — void of empathy or context, as though labour standards resolve the abuse and degradation that exists in porn, as though “consent” renders the treatment of women in porn fair. “Some scenes take longer to shoot than others,” he says. “If there are eight guys around her, that’s eight dicks to deal with. At a certain point, she’s had enough. Her eyes start watering. So we take a break until she’s ready to go again… The girl isn’t there to be abused.”
At UC Davis, where student activists still hope to oust Chancellor Linda Katehi, critics of their activism are using concepts like “safe space” and “hostile climate” to attack it.
The student activists had occupied a small room outside Katehi’s office, planning to stay until their chancellor resigned or was removed from her post. By the time they left 36 days later, a petition that now bears roughly 100 signatures of UC Davis students and staff were demanding that they prematurely end their occupation, criticizing their tactics, and alleging a number of grave transgressions: The signatories accused the student activists of sexism, racism, bullying, abuse, and harassment, complaining that many who used the administration building “no longer feel safe.” The student activists say that those charges are unfair.
The conflict illustrates a pattern that campus observers are likely see more and more in coming years: Insofar as progressives succeed in remaking campuses into places unusually sensitive to psychological harms, where transgressing against “safe spaces” is both easy to do and verboten, confrontational activism will no longer be viable.
[The] anti-activist backlash is relevant to those trying to understand campus politics and to activists who care enough about righteous causes to avoid derailing them. The 100-some critics of the campus activists began their statement as follows:
Some of us agree with the broader issues of the protesters, like greater transparency and more dialogue between the students and campus administration. But we write to strongly condemn the tactics of the protesters, including sexist and racist behaviors, threatening and bullying of staff, students and faculty who come to Mrak Hall to work. We feel that these actions undermine not only the values of our campus community, but also the ideals which the protesters claim to defend. Several students and staff have been treated abusively by the protesters.
It’s worth pausing here to note that, this being a group petition on a college campus, what’s characterized as “threatening” and “bullying” and “abuse” may describe behavior that others would call “harassing” or “annoying” or “irritating.” Concept creep has robbed us of linguistic clarity or precision in these matters.
That said, the first specific allegation is disconcerting:
Several protesters took to shouting that an employee was a “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) for being a Latina who works for UC Davis.
Since my days in college, when I first heard a friend attacked as a “banana” for challenging a belief of a campus Asian American group, my blood has boiled at the tiny but noxious subset of leftists who stress the importance of identity in politics, then try to exclude people of color from their own respective racial groups–– often using slurs––to evade an inconvenient reality: Neither African Americans nor Latinos nor Asian Americans nor Pacific Islanders nor women are ideologically monolithic. Social-justice progressives do not speak for many in those groups.
The statement continued:
Several students and staff were stalked for a period of time after leaving a meeting with the Chancellor. Many students and staff who are supposed to work in Mrak no longer feel safe. Staff and student workers have been also filmed without their permission. For the sake of the daily operations of UC Davis, we call upon the Mrak Hall protesters to move their protest to a location that does not lead to these aggressive disruptions of UC staff and student work spaces in case they have plans to continue this protest.
Again, I suspect my threshold for what constitutes “stalking” is higher than that employed by the authors of this letter. What’s beyond dispute is that a group of protesters followed Katehi and a small group of students and staff she was speaking with across campus, filming them without their consent, snarking at Katehi, making her companions visibly uncomfortable—as almost anyone would have been in similar circumstances—and coming off … well, you can judge for yourself.
This was petulant and self-indulgent. It was an excuse for two or three activists to peacock and self-aggrandize. The fact that it was posted publicly, as if those who took the footage thought it reflected well on them even in hindsight, astonishes me. The female activist who shouts her head off across campus, literally serenading her chancellor with insults, claims at one point that she is being silenced!
But the part that struck me most is when, at roughly 6:25, one of the student activists reacts to the apparently unplanned arrival of an adult black male, who is friendly toward Katehi, by accusing the chancellor of “doing what they usually do, which is grabbing a person of color as a shield—that’s a tactic that the chancellor likes to use.”
This for merely talking to a black person who approached.
That activist couldn’t see the black man as an autonomous subject—only as a white person’s prop. The offensive jump makes sense within a highly stylized ideology wherein Katehi is “the oppressor” and all black people are “the oppressed.” By that logic, the only possible reason she would be doing something as enlightened as cordially interacting with one of “the oppressed” is if the black man was functioning not as a person, but as a “prop” and a “tactic,” never mind his agency.
The whole encounter is dripping with dehumanization.
It’s ironic, this recurring feature of campus protests: Time after time, activists wield phone cameras, intending to publicly discredit any adversary who lets so much as a “microaggression” slip. And in doing so, they inadvertently reveal prejudices that spring predictably, though quite unintentionally, from flaws in their belief system.
The civil-rights movement, the free-speech movement, the anti-Vietnam protests, and protesters on both sides of the gun and abortion questions have all deliberately tried to make others uncomfortable, intellectually if not physically. They’ve all shouted, insulted, provoked, and tried to deny their opponents “safe spaces.”
Today’s strain of campus progressivism has a more ambiguous relationship with traditional liberal values, finding them too viewpoint neutral and rough-and-tumble.
Still, most campus protests are left-leaning. And administrators cannot help but realize that almost all of that activism is, on some level, about confrontation—that it frequently involves a lot of shouting or chanting or marching or banging on drums. Now, any time such protests challenge the interests of the administration, or make their jobs marginally harder or their lives marginally more inconvenient, they can always pinpoint some folks who are earnestly upset or unnerved by all the ruckus.
They can always undermine the activists of the moment by finding the students experiencing “trauma” from all the conflict; the staff members who feel “unsafe” around protesters, the community member who, in the new paradigm, somehow feel “silenced.”
As best I can tell, this does not worry leftist activists yet, perhaps because they mostly operate on shorter time-horizons than other campus power brokers, or perhaps because they see themselves as marginalized and mistakenly believe these standards will never be applied to them, even though it’s already happening.
Bazelon’s claim that she’d known nothing of this topic or debate prior to beginning work on this piece seems even stranger as I discovered her connections to George Soros, a billionaire whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) not only is a major donor to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HWR), and UNAIDS, but a number of sex work lobby groups across the world. Soros and OSF funded the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which was revealed to be a front for a pimping operation last year, as their vice president, Gil Alejandra, who served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work & Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking. (Bazelon spoke to the president of NSWP for her piece, but didn’t mention the trafficking conviction, though she had been made her aware of it by another interviewee, Rachel Moran.) The man who appears to be the biggest financial backer of the pro-legalization lobby in the world, whose organization is overtly pro-legalization and funded reports Amnesty International relied on in order to support their position also has longstanding ties to Bazelon and her family. Bazelon herself was a Soros Media Fellow in 2004 and her grandfather’s foundation, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Emily’s sister and mother both serve on the Center’s board), receives over a $1 million in funding from OSF.
Bazelon says that it was only Amnesty International’s recent vote to adopt a pro-industry position that led her to support legalization. But this claim is hard to believe when we consider the bias she conveys in the piece, her connections to Soros, and the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO did not simply “discover” a grassroots “sex worker movement” independently, leading them to push for legalization. Rather, these organizations, alongside Soros’ OSF, have been working with pimps, traffickers, and industry lobbyists to develop policy for some time.
The report by Kat Banyard, which points out that NSWP was appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS “Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work” in 2009, explains:
“UNAIDS is the international body responsible for leading global efforts to reverse the spread of HIV, and the advisory group was established to ‘review and participate in the development of UNAIDS policy, programme or advocacy documents, or statements.’ Alejandra Gil is also personally acknowledged in a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report about the sex trade as one of the ‘experts’ who dedicated her ‘time and expertise’ to developing its recommendations. NSWP’s logo is on the front cover, alongside the logos of WHO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.”
How can reports and policy funded by a billionaire who is specifically invested in the legalization of prostitution and that were developed in consultation with pimps and traffickers be either unbiased or be considered connected to “grassroots movements” in any way? The “movements” Bazelon references as having inspired Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO to develop these policies and positions are, in fact, organizations funded by Soros himself.
Bazelon’s dismissal of the Nordic model is yet another mistake made in her efforts to cling to neutrality. In an interview on the Diane Rehm show, she repeats erroneous claims that, while street prostitution appears to have decreased in Sweden after the implementation of the Nordic model, the purchase of sex did not, based on the increased number of ads online. But reports from Sweden say the ads are unrepresentative, as many of the ads posted are duplicates and/or posted by the same person. From the report:
“Authorities who have studied escort ads in the past have noted that one and the same seller of sexual services is often found in several advertisements. This finding is also indicated by the internet surveys, mainly in the form of the same telephone number cropping up during a search of several advertising sites. The overlap between the number of advertisements and escort sites and the duplication of many ads is shown by both surveys. This is also confirmed by other authorities working the field. Against this background, there is nothing indicating that the actual number of individuals engaging in prostitution has increased.”
While she admits that abolitionists are “oppos[ed] to arresting” prostituted women, Bazelon adds, “But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.” She fails to explain what she means by that and quickly moves forward to paint support for the Nordic model as something clueless American celebrities and ideologues do: The “man” vs the little guy, is the impression we are meant to get… The “man” being Gloria Steinem and Meryl Streep, and the “little guy” being, of course, the so-called “sex worker.”
Bazelon casually throws out the term “carceral feminism,” quoting Elizabeth Bernstein, a sociologist who studies “sex work,” who explains that abolitionists “have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of ‘justice,’” going on to imply the history of abolition is connected to “faith-based” and “evangelical” groups who worked with George W. Bush to raid brothels for American TV audiences. She continues to connect abolitionists to Bush and to evangelicals throughout the piece, failing to acknowledge that the feminists who support the Nordic model today do so through a socialist lens and have always been part of an actual independent, radical, grassroots feminist movement.
Ignoring the decades-old grassroots women’s movement and the ongoing, tireless work of underfunded working-class women and women of colour who have been fighting prostitution for years is one of Bazelon’s most suspect choices. She discusses organizations funded by Open Society Foundations and the Gates Foundation, many of which have ties to pimps and traffickers, without question but erases or misrepresents the work of movement women who have nothing to gain from their fight against prostitution but a better life for women and girls and a more equitable world in the future.
Bazelon’s claim that decriminalization will make “people’s lives better, and safer” is not only untrue, but is based on money, not facts… The money that supports efforts to legalize is vast and passed around among sex industry lobby groups, civil liberty and human rights organizations, and, apparently, journalists. The incentive to support decriminalization is very clearly financial — prostitution is yet another billion-dollar global industry. It is unconscionable to ignore that reality when discussing key players. Support for decriminalization is also rooted in a deep desire to believe that a situation that is clearly not “okay” by any means can somehow become “okay,” despite ample evidence showing that this will never be the case.
Like the cover photo, which aims to convince the reader that “diversity” was a priority in Bazelon’s reporting (but, in fact, only featured those who both identify as “sex workers” and live in three American cities: New York, San Fransisco, and Seattle), the entire story intentionally removes or distorts the perspectives of abolitionists and survivors, positioning sex work advocates as the diverse expert voices that legitimize her piece.
While Bazelon claims the view she presents (which is, to be clear, her own) “poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism,” she’s ironically ignored the fact that Indigenous women and women’s groups say that prostitution never existed in their cultures until they were colonized by the West. Beyond that, almost all liberal American publications (many of which claim to be feminist) support the legalization of prostitution, as do, of course, privileged men. These are the voices and publications that dominate Western discourse and have the funding to promote their views. Men are the people who, at the end of the day, benefit from prostitution — their power is reinforced through its existence.
Bazelon herself is nothing if not a voice for Western privilege and liberalism, based on her Ivy League education, career, connections, and the ideology she supports. After all, is there anything more “mainstream” than the commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies? Certainly there is nothing more “traditional” than patriarchy itself.
Over the weekend, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times, published an article called “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” What she didn’t say was that she had already answered her own question, and that she chose to distort (or outright ignore) facts and interviews in order to push a narrative in support of full decriminalization, under the guise of neutral reporting.
Her bias becomes clear early on to anyone who is familiar with the politically loaded term, “sex work,” which she adopts uncritically, claiming this is “the term activists prefer.” While Bazelon admits that most of those who speak publicly as “sex workers” are white and very privileged in comparison to most women in the industry, she doesn’t challenge the language.
The piece centered itself around Amnesty International’s recent decision to adopt a policy supporting the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Due to the choice of organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and Amnesty International to advocate for the legalization of prostitution, Bazelon is able to claim this as the “human rights” approach to prostitution legislation, without acknowledging the unethical ways these organizations came to this advocacy, the hypocrisy of this position, and without fairly representing the opposition. In fact, defining decriminalization as the “human rights argument” is a distortion tactic itself as, by comparison, those who oppose the legalization of the industry are positioned as not being onside with human rights goals. In truth, prostitution itself is defined as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” by the UN, meaning that organizations like Amnesty International and HRW defy their own mission statements, core values, and responsibilities by advocating for a system that accepts and normalizes prostitution.
Bazelon claims that “sex work” activists are “fighting the legal status quo, social mores, and also mainstream feminism,” leading me to wonder who and what, exactly, Bazelon believes “mainstream feminism” is…
Feminism is a radical movement that fights a system of oppression called “patriarchy,” so to call it “mainstream” is strange, in and of itself. But I myself have, admittedly, used the term from time to time, in reference to the large, mainstream, liberal publications that promote a version of “feminism” that is pro-capitalist, pro-objectification, pro-sex industry, and that fail to challenge male power at its root. This is to say that, when I have used the term “mainstream feminism,” (which I have, in the past, used interchangeably with other terms such as “Playboy feminism,” “liberal feminism,” and “corporate feminism”) I don’t mean “feminism” at all. My perspective is that feminism is not, as celebrities like Matt McGorry and corporate beauty magazines like Cosmo and Glamour claim, a thing that happens any time a woman makes a choice about anything at all, nor is it something that is not specifically about “women’s liberation” but rather about “gender equality,” nor is it something that must necessarily be inclusive of men. No. Feminism is a movement that is focused on ending the oppression of women under patriarchy and on ending the male violence women are subjected to within that system.
That Bazelon positions those fighting for men’s right to legally buy and sell women as “fighting mainstream feminism” confirms either ignorance with regard to what the feminist movement actually is or a strong bias.
But Bazelon not only doesn’t acknowledge a bias, but denies one, saying in a video conversation posted to Facebook shortly after the article was published, “Six months ago, I really knew almost nothing about this topic.”
This claim is hard to believe, even without considering the perspective put forth in the piece, which left out testimonies from survivors, distorted quotes from abolitionists, presenting them as out-of-touch conservatives, irrational ideologues, and misogynists, and provided false information about both the Nordic model and decriminalization.
In one case, Bazelon writes, “Melissa Farley, a psychologist who received Bush funds, wrote in 2000 in the journal Women and Criminal Justice that any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically — ‘enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature.’” The actual argument from “Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature” reads:
“Pornography, for example, is a form of cultural propaganda which reifies the notion that women are prostitutes. One [john] said ‘I am a firm believer that all women… are prostitutes at one time or another’ (Hite, 1981, page 760). To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature, that is to say, she is a prostitute (Dworkin, 1981).”
The argument being referenced here is Dworkin’s, which says that normalizing prostitution or saying that women freely choose to work in the sex industry because they “enjoy it” leads to the conclusion that women, in fact, enjoy being dominated and raped, as this is what we see both in porn and in prostitution.
Likewise, Farley does not argue that she believes women enjoy rape and domination, but that buyers (johns) believe this and that men who buy sex have antiquated, sexist notions about gender and accept male sexual aggression and entitlement as “natural.”
For Bazelon to read all that and then to rewrite Farley’s words, framing her argument as one that says “any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically” and that “enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature” is deeply disturbing in its overt dishonesty.
While Bazelon centered her piece around the perspectives of those who support a legalized sex industry, she intentionally left out stories of survivors who would have disrupted the chosen narrative for her story. A woman named Sabrinna Valisce who was involved in the sex trade in New Zealand on and off for many years, both before and after decriminalization, told me she spoke with Balezon for the piece, but that her interview was cut. Valisce was a volunteer with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) until about two years ago and had advocated for full decriminalization until she experienced its results firsthand.
While the Prostitution Reform Act was meant to make the industry safer for women in it and enforce safe sex practices, it’s done the opposite, Valisce says. Women were suddenly expected to engage in “passionate” kissing and oral sex without protection (called “NBJ” or “Natural Blow Job”) — things that had previously been viewed as “a betrayal of the sisterhood” and internally policed by the prostituted women themselves. “All that has gone by the wayside [due to] high competition and lowered rates,” Valisce says. “Girls are also now expected to let men cum as many times as they can within the booked time. It was never that way before. They paid once and received one service.” Under decriminalization, Valisce’s efforts to institute exiting programs were rejected full out.
Not only that, but a kind of routine violence was normalized by johns. “I’m not talking about punching and beating… [though this still does happen] I’m talking more about the everyday violence of gagging, throttling, spanking, hair pulling, rough handling, and hard pounding.” Valisce says there has been a notable rise in men’s sense of entitlement and a normalization of abuse since the new law came into effect.
Just weeks after decriminalization was implemented, Valisce says just about every brothel in the country rolled out what they called “all-inclusives.” This meant, she told me, “that women couldn’t negotiate their own fees or services, nor could they decide what their boundaries were.” The reason she had supported decriminalization, Valisce said, was because she wanted “the power in the hands of the people who work in prostitution” and to ensure that women weren’t getting arrested or ending up with criminal records. She was told that decriminalization was the only way to go.
Her goals remained the same, but she realized the only way to address the problems she was seeing under decriminalization was through the Nordic model.
Regardless of the real effects of decriminalization and contradictory testimony from survivors, Bazelon parrots Amnesty’s claim that legislation in New Zealand and Australia places “greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organize in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments.”
When I spoke to her over Skype, Valisce said she had told Bazelon that she had worked alongside trafficked women post-decriminalization. Trafficking was hard to track, as it had been rebranded as “sex worker recruitment,” but it still went on. Nonetheless, Bazelon reported that “the New Zealand government has found no evidence that sex workers are being trafficked,” and left it at that. Bazelon’s desire to paint a rosy picture of decriminalization in New Zealand seems to have led her to expunge Valisce’s testimony from the record, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she was the only person Bazelon interviewed who had worked under decriminalization in New Zealand.
“The things she’s said about decriminalization in New Zealand are absolute falsehood,” Valisce said.
Everything Valisce told me, she also told Bazelon. Which makes her statements about New Zealand and the benefits of decriminalization all the more shocking, and Bazelon’s choice to leave Valisce’s testimony out of the story all the more telling.
QotD: “Radical feminism centers female human beings and views everything through the critical lens of how it affects women and girls”
since it evidently bears repeating, yet again-
radical feminism centers female human beings and views everything through the critical lens of how it affects women and girls. it is the polar opposite of my-choice-is-the-right-choice-because-i-made-it, don’t-think-too-hard, stop-if-your-feelings-get-hurt, never-examine-anything-too-deeply, this-subject-is-sacred-and-exempt-because-it-makes-me-uncomfortable-to-see-it-analyzed, individualistic choosey-choice liberal “feminism”. it will not hold your hand. it will not make exceptions for the men and boys in your life just because you want those exceptions made, just because you want a class-based means of analysis to take into account you and your feelings.
it doesn’t feel good to be challenged in that way, to be met with critique that hits close to home, but if you find yourself unable to reconcile with that–or if you ever find yourself on tumblr using lines like “radical feminists are out to get het-partnered women/mothers/etc.”, which is so patently ridiculous i have trouble even writing it here as an example–take a second to examine why you’re calling yourself a radical feminist in the first place.
it’s a real shame we’ve been robbed of being able to just say “i’m a feminist” and have ourselves understood, because now a whole host of women have felt the need to adopt the term radical feminist just to be differentiated from corporate endorsed, pro-porn liberal feminism and then they find out later on that they aren’t actually radical feminists, they are not seeking radical analysis or action and they do not want to see radical change take place because it might challenge their personal choices and up-end their comfort. and we see this play out here, on this awful blue website, with self-proclaimed radicals in outrage when confronted with analysis that does not assure them that everything they are thinking, feeling, wanting, and doing is empowering and feminist and requires no further examination whatsoever.
QotD: “Gender is internal to patriarchy. There is no meaningful continuation of gender outside of patriarchy”
you aren’t a marxist leftist if you don’t believe in sex oppression and reproductive exploitation of the female. marx was a fuckin terf, engels was a fuckin terf, you loons. you vapid goofs. literally that is the basis of collectivist-communalist political theories, the bourgeois exploitation of female reproductive labour as a way to serve the maintenance of a large proletariat wage slavering workforce
the tie is inextricable and this ‘soft queer radical communist’ tripe has no actual basis of intelligent, coherent thought behind it
liberalist tarrycock…neocaptialist idiocy
why have the queer cabal co-opted all of the edge with none of the analysis? this is starting to become more and more apparent to me and is disconcerting. it is a real obstacle to liberatory direct action when identity politics take precedence over materialist analysis.
if your identity is dependent upon the capitalist consumption of goods engineered to perpetuate the oppression of the marginalized sex caste (females), you aren’t a fuckin marxist leftist. you’re a che fanboy with a gun fetish and a fat wallet.
I’ve seen the argument a few times now that the oppression of women isn’t based on reproductive exploitation, and I have to ask, what was it based on then? Do you think it was just a random choice, one gender had to be oppressed, and women just drew the short straw?
Exactly. I have my own theories on the origin of patriarchy but it always comes down to our existence with female reproductive organs and male exploitation thereof.
I meant this post half-jokingly but only in tone. This is a serious blindspot in contemporary leftist politics that is intentionally constructed to prevent female activists from realizing their right to liberation outside of misogynist control.
Genderqueer theory even ruined Marxist thought and praxis. Sigh…is nothing safe from their Jonestown-esque garbage?
patriarchy isn’t simply gender with a malfunction. it’s not an unfortunate accident, it’s not gender misapplied. it’s not a problem you solve by “teaching respect for all genders”. gender is internal to patriarchy. there is no meaningful continuation of gender outside of patriarchy.
and by extension gender is internal to capitalism. gender abolition isnt possible w/o abolishing capitalism, and vice versa. patriarchy, and gender, is a deliberate function of class society.
Because patriarchy was built on the exploitation of women’s assumed reproductive ability if we can’t critique reproduction and sex that has reproductive potential then we can’t really critique patriarchy at all.