For instance, if instead of paying for sex a landlord would rather receive sexual favours from a tenant living rent-free, would that really be so bad? Well, yes, actually it would, at least according to recent reports of landlords making this very offer. Apparently, this is an appalling example of the current housing market allowing predatory men to exploit the vulnerable.
Only if this is the case, why is paying for sex not viewed with the same horror? It’s the same marketplace, the same bodies, the same needs. All sex for rent does is cut out the symbolic means of exchange in the middle. Yet far from decrying the exchange of sex for money, supposedly progressive organisations such as Amnesty International and the NUS, in addition to mainstream political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are pushing to liberalise attitudes towards the purchase of sex. Why are these two things seen so differently?
True, live-in work carries with it particular risks and uncertainties, but do any of us feel the same qualms about housekeepers or nannies getting to live rent-free? And aren’t many of us doing jobs we’d rather not do, only a pay check or two away from eviction? So why should sex for rent be seen as especially problematic?
If it’s to do with the fact that it’s sex and not, say, cleaning or childcare, shouldn’t we be able to pinpoint why this is? And yet few are willing to do so, silenced by the thought-terminating clichés – “sex work is work”, “my body, my choice” – that have come to dominate the left’s approach to sex and gender.
I’d go so far as to suggest the mainstream left has no real right to be shocked about sex for rent. After all, it’s only the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminist politics which refuses to engage fully with power and labour redistribution, choosing instead to talk in circles about the right of individuals to do whatever they like with their own bodies while bypassing any analysis of why one group seeks to control the sexual and reproductive lives of another. It’s politics for the unthinking and the privileged, yet it appears we can all afford to be unthinking and privileged when it’s only the bodies of women at stake.
“My body, my choice”, a perfectly appropriate slogan when used to mean only a pregnant woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy, has been expanded ad absurdum. Yet the point about abortion is that the only alternative to it is the work of pregnancy; there’s no possible third option, whereby the already-pregnant individual gets to go through neither. The same is not true of sex work or poverty. It is possible for there to be alternatives to exploitation or destitution. That for many women there are currently none is not least down to a politics that values unlimited sexual freedom for all – an impossibility – over a fairer redistribution of limited choices for everyone.
If we regard women as full, equal human beings, then we cannot have a world in which there are no limits placed on men’s access to female sexual and/or reproductive labour. “Sex work is work” and “my body, my choice” simply don’t cut it when it comes to deciding where to draw the line. We should all face restrictions on what we can do with our own bodies, just as we should all have duties of care towards the bodies of others. The problem with patriarchy is not that it prevents women from having the same physical freedoms as men due to some inexplicable, knee-jerk “woman-phobia” –it’s that it shifts most of the necessary physical restrictions and duties attached to reproduction and care onto women, leaving men with the belief that liberation means no one ever saying “no” to you.
Such a belief – at heart pro-capitalist and anti-feminist – has seeped into supposedly pro-woman, left-wing thought and activism, yet anyone who points out the absurdity of it is treated to a Victorian asylum-style diagnosis of prudery and whorephobia. To claim, on the one hand, that one is anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal, while insisting, on the other, that no woman is without means as long as she has orifices to penetrate, is not progressive. On the contrary, it’s ultra-conservative. It shifts the baseline of our understanding of need and it does so dishonestly, masking coercion by repackaging it as free choice.
If anything is for sale – any body part, any experience, any relationship – then the poorest will be stripped bare. If you accept the principle that there is nothing wrong with buying sex – or ova or breastmilk or babies – how do you ensure supply can meet demand? Only by making sure there are always enough women with no other options. There is no other way. There are not enough female bodies to meet male sexual and reproductive demands without any form of coercion; that’s why patriarchy, with all its complex systems of reward and punishment, exists in the first place.
If sex work is work, poverty is necessary. The alternative to patriarchy isn’t a world in which everyone gets to be a de-facto patriarch, free to make whatever sexual and reproductive choices they want, safe in the knowledge that there will always be willing bodies to meet their demands. The postmodern fantasy that an underclass of coerced, poverty-stricken females can be replaced by an underclass of willing, always-up-for-it, cisgendered females, while charming in its naivety, remains just that: a fantasy.
She is the leader of the Women’s Equality party (WEP), a new political force committed to furthering the cause of gender equality, but which has yet to make inroads electorally.
He is a Tory MP who tried to derail a bill to protect women against violence, and told a conference hosted by an anti-feminism party that “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it”.
Now, in what is likely to be one of the most fascinating clashes of the general election, Sophie Walker and Philip Davies are to face off on the campaign trail as other opposition parties consider giving her a free run in her attempt to unseat the Shipley Conservative MP.
The developments in the West Yorkshire constituency come as attempts to engineer a broader “progressive alliance” gather steam. On Monday the leftwing pressure group Compass will launch a website to help maximise the anti-Conservative vote in constituencies around the country, and bring together activists from the three main opposition parties in a new political movement.
Walker, a journalist who became the WEP’s inaugural leader in 2015 and has been at the forefront of its campaigns for equal representation and pay in working life, said: “Philip Davies basically is a sexist misogynist who puts his own ego ahead of his constituents. His anti-equality agenda in Westminster threatens the rights and freedoms not just of women but also people with disabilities, BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) and LGBT+ communities. I think that Shipley deserves an MP who will prioritise representing them and the issues that are important to their constituency, rather than using parliament as a stage to play out attention-seeking performances.”
The Green party approached the WEP with the offer to stand aside, according to local Green activists in Shipley, who have yet to rubberstamp the idea but are supportive of it in theory. The idea has not so far been floated widely among local Liberal Democrats, who meet on Thursday, but there is strong support already among some officials.
However, while the idea of Walker’s candidature has been discussed by WEP and Labour members of Shipley Feminist Zealots, a local group, some Labour members are eager to field a candidate. Local chairman Joe Wheatley said that Labour had shown itself as the “most effective” opposition to Davies, who racked up a 9,624-vote majority over his Labour runner-up in 2015.
The Brexit-supporting MP will be boosted in a constituency that mirrored the referendum’s national result. Walker, a Remain supporter, wants an “equality impact assessment” of any final Brexit deal, and the chance for MPs to vote it down if necessary.
We are a grassroots group of women and men in Shipley, West Yorkshire, working for gender equality.
We started with a cake stall in August 2016, when our local MP Philip Davies notoriously said “Feminist zealots want to have their cake and eat it” and also complained of “politically correct males who pander to this nonsense”. He is also a well known supporter of Trump and opponent/filibuster of equalities legislation – despite currently sitting on the parliamentary committee for women and equalities.
We run cake stalls raising money for Bradford Women’s Aid and CALM (a charity working to prevent male suicide) and we organised the Shipley Sister March on 21st January.
The book is called Why I Am Not a Feminist, which is, of course, a lie as well as a provocation, for its author’s feminism runs through her veins like blood. Crispin’s principles, however, have their roots, radical and angry, in the second wave of feminism, not the third: she, for one, is not about to renounce the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, whose uncompromising books she has, incidentally, actually read.
What she disdains, then, is what she deems lifestyle feminism: a bland, ultra-inclusive marketing exercise that demands absolutely nothing from those who buy into it save for to ask that they use the word “feminist” as frequently as possible, preferably while looking utterly adorable. “Dior has this $600 T-shirt that says on it: ‘We Should All Be Feminists’,” she tells me, when she talks to me on Skype from New York (where she is ill and rundown, her pink kimono almost matching the colour of her feverish cheeks). “But what does that say about the person wearing it other than: ‘I can afford a $600 T-shirt’? Feminism has been entirely co-opted by consumerism.”
The new feminism, which is not really feminism at all, is by Crispin’s telling as shallow as a martini, and a good deal less good for you: “This is a T-shirt you can wear in order to cloak your bad behaviour, to let you think of yourself as some kind of political hero or rebel without you actually having to do anything.”
What, she wonders, is the end result of so many younger women choosing to call themselves feminists? “It’s about individualism, and self-achievement. It’s about pop stars and television and narcissism. It’s not about subsidised childcare, or institutional and structural social change. It’s meaningless.” This self-obsession and ideological laziness extends, she thinks, even to their reading matter. “Roxane Gay [the US feminist writer] is on the record as saying that she hasn’t read Andrea Dworkin [the anti-pornographer campaigner], and that we don’t have to, either. Really? Isn’t there work and sacrifice in being a political person?”
Crispin looks out at the world and sees a hyper-masculinised realm in which women must mimic men if they’re to survive, let alone to rise in an upwards direction. “I realise that using words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in this way can get you into trouble these days,” she says. “But where are the [feminine] values of community, care and empathy in our modern world? Their absence doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people.”
“Good intentions are nothing against the system,” she writes sombrely. And then, more terrifyingly: “The system is older than you. It has absorbed more venom that you can ever hope to emit. You will not even slow it down.” She would also like it to be known that not getting what you want is not, by any stretch of the imagination, oppression.
The Women’s Marches which followed his inauguration seemed to her to lack focus. “This is a repeated problem with the American left: the lack of clear goals. Those marches were celebratory. They were good for the heart. But we’ve had [municipal] elections in the US since then where the turnout was, like 15 to 20%. During the Women’s Strike [on 8 March], I saw a journalist ask a woman what she was going to do instead of working. She said: ‘Oh, I’m just going to do something empowering like watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer!’ I mean, come on! Let’s do something, here.”
Well, now I’m going to have be a little tough myself. If our marches are pointless and our workplace aspirations without worth, what should we do instead? She can’t be allowed to get away with writing a feminist manifesto with no plausible suggestion for the society of the future.
“You can start by all divorcing your husbands!” she says. For a moment, I wonder if she’s joking. But, no. “There does have to be a process of understanding the way you participate in these systems of oppression. Marriage’s history is about treating women as property, and by being married you’re legitimising that history.” Another good start would be to remove your money from the big banks and put it in a small, local credit union instead, “even if you only have $80”. Above all, maybe women should start listening to one another again.
‘Making Sense of Modern Pornography’ by Katrina Forrester, is a long, fairly well balanced (with a few exceptions, see below) article published by The New Yorker in September last year, about the current state of the porn industry, and also a review of a book called The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Shira Tarrant, I would recommend reading the whole article.
Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age – the period, in the sixties and seventies, when adult movies had theatrical releases and seemed in step with the wider moment of sexual liberation, and before V.H.S. drove down production quality, in the eighties. Today’s films are often short and nearly always hard-core; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were “anal,” “amateur,” “teen,” and – one that would surely have made Freud smile – “mom and son.” Viewing figures are on a scale that golden-age moguls never dreamed of: in 2014, Pornhub alone had seventy-eight billion page views, and XVideos is the fifty-sixth most popular Web site in the world. Some porn sites get more traffic than news sites like CNN, and less only than platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal.
The millions of people using these sites probably don’t care much about who produces their content. But those who work in porn in the United States tend to draw a firm line between the “amateur” porn that now proliferates online and the legal adult-film industry that took shape after the California Supreme Court ruled, in California v. Freeman (1989), that filmed sex did not count as prostitution. Since then, the industry has been based in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, where its professional norms and regulations have mimicked its more respectable Hollywood neighbors. In “The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford), Shira Tarrant explains how that industry works in the new age of Internet porn, and sets out to provide neutral, “even-handed” information about its production and consumption.
It’s not an easy task. Since the “porn wars” of the seventies and eighties, when feminists campaigned against the expanding pornography industry (and other feminists sided with Hustler to defend it), talking about pornography in terms of mere facts has seemed impossible. The atmosphere of controversy makes it hard to avoid moral positions. Even to suspend judgment may be to take sides.
Linda Lovelace’s performance in “Deep Throat,” in 1972, made porn mainstream; later, her denunciation of the movie, which she characterized as filmed rape, made the idea of the porn star as victim mainstream, too. In the mid-eighties, the revelation that Traci Lords had been underage in her most famous films led to the prosecution of producers, agents, and distributors under child-pornography statutes, and new legislation resulted in stricter age-verification requirements for porn actors. But by the time [Jenna] Jameson arrived on the scene the industry had become an efficient star-making machine. It had distributors and advertisers, production teams and industry magazines, shoots requiring permits, agents who sold the talent and trade associations who represented them. Jameson quickly achieved her ambition, becoming the industry’s biggest star and most reliable brand. By 2005, her company, ClubJenna, had an annual revenue of thirty million dollars.
Things are different now. Much online porn is amateur and unregulated. It’s hard to tell how much, because there’s little data, and even larger studios now ape the amateur aesthetic, but applications for porn-shoot permits in Los Angeles County reportedly fell by ninety-five per cent between 2012 and 2015. Now most films have low production values, and they are often unscripted. Sometimes you can hear the director’s voice; apparently, many viewers can make do without the old fictional tropes of doctors and nurses, schoolgirls, and so on—the porn industry itself having become the locus of fantasy. Where performers like Jameson had multi-film contracts with studios like Wicked or Vivid Entertainment, such deals are now rare, and most performers are independent contractors who get paid per sex act.
Tarrant’s book sheds useful light on the bargain-basement world of contemporary porn. In 2012, one agent claimed that the actresses he represented received eight hundred dollars for lesbian scenes, a thousand for ones with a man, twelve hundred or more for anal sex, and four thousand for double penetration, but there’s reason to think that these figures are inflated. Stoya, a well-known performer who has written about her life in the industry, has cited a rate of just twelve to fourteen hundred dollars for double penetration. Wages have declined across the board. Tarrant estimates that a female performer filming three anal scenes a month would make forty thousand dollars a year.
Riskier acts are incentivized. According to one analysis of an industry talent database, women entering the business now will do more, and more quickly, than they once did: in the nineteen-eighties, they would wait an average of two years before a first anal scene; now it’s six months. Jameson famously never did anal (though one of her most viewed Pornhub clips is “Jenna Jameson accidental anal,” which shows, in slow motion, that on the Internet there’s no such thing as never). From 2000 on, she had only one onscreen male partner—her husband. “I look at these new girls today and I think, What the hell are they doing?” she said in 2004. “These girls don’t know that you have to start slow, baby, and make them pay you more for each thing you do.”
Today, most porn actresses don’t stick around long enough to start slow. The average career is between four and six months. Performers work long hours with no benefits and they have to cover significant out-of-pocket costs. Tests for S.T.D.s can be as much as two hundred dollars a month. Add to this grooming, travel, and the usual freelancer expenses and it costs a lot to be legal in the porn industry.
In a context of declining wages and rising costs, attempts at regulation are unpopular. In 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, a law mandating condom use in porn shoots there. Advocacy organizations for performers have resisted the measure, saying that it ignores the preferences of their workforce and would compel performers to use not only condoms but also safety goggles and dental dams. More important, perhaps, it also ignores consumer preferences: in an age when few pay for porn, producers don’t want to alienate those who do. The regulated industry has developed other ways to avoid condoms—preëxposure treatments, production moratoriums when infections are detected, and, in some gay studios, a working assumption that performers are H.I.V. positive. Other producers, rather than comply, have left California for Nevada or Florida. The industry may have created the norms that dominate online porn, but it’s being squeezed into irrelevance, and preferences have taken on a life of their own.
It would have been good to point out that these ‘advocacy organisations’ are representing the interests of the porn companies over the interests of the porn performers, that porn performers have nothing remotely resembling a real union to protect them at ‘work’, and that in any other industry, bosses arguing that workers ‘don’t want’ Personal Protective Equipment would be seen as exercising unequal power compared to non-unionised gig-economy workers. There is also no other industry were frequent, deliberate contact with another person’s body fluids is seen as just part of the job.
Whether you see porn as just another sector disrupted by the Internet or as a still powerful engine of profit-driven exploitation depends on a thornier set of debates that shape how pornography is understood. To talk about porn purely in terms of costs and incentives is not, as Tarrant suggests, neutral. Even to stress the work involved is a political move.
When America’s pornographic secrets have been publicly aired, they have usually taken the form of First Amendment issues. In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling against Hustler that had awarded damages to the evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, the founder of the conservative organization the Moral Majority. (The magazine had published a satirical ad in which Falwell described his “first time” with his mother.) Flynt became an unlikely liberal hero, cementing a coalition between free-speech defenders and pornographers. After California v. Freeman, the Adult Film and Video Association of America renamed itself the Free Speech Legal Defense Fund, and, later, the Free Speech Coalition.
Remember, the ‘Free Speech Coalition’ is the organisation portraying itself as a grass-roots movement by and for porn performers.
But, in the famous phrase of the legal scholar and anti-pornography campaigner Catherine MacKinnon, pornography is not “only words.” The feminist campaigns of the seventies against rape and violence against women condemned pornography not on the ground of obscenity but on the ground of harm. It wasn’t a private matter but a political expression of male power. As MacKinnon wrote, with the anti-pornography feminist Andrea Dworkin, pornography was “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women.” Dworkin described it as a form of sexual slavery.
Thirty years later, porn is more pervasive than ever, but it’s also more diffuse—and so are the debates. There are new organizations like Stop Porn Culture, led by the feminist Gail Dines, which campaign for porn’s abolition, and against the industry’s hypersexualization of women and the “pornification” of culture. Old coalitions have reappeared, deploying new rhetoric: in April, Dines supported a Republican bill in Utah that declared pornography not a moral threat but a “public health hazard.” Critics worry as much about men’s health—porn addiction, erectile dysfunction—as they do about violence against women.
Ah yes, the old you’re in league with religious fundamentalists! argument. Coalition building on single issues is a normal part of mainstream politics; nobody would complain about, say, an environmental protection bill supported by Republicans/Conservatives, nor do pro-sex industry advocates balk at working with the right when it suits their aims, it’s only radical/abolitionist feminists who are expected to meet such an unrealistic level of ideological ‘purity’.
Pornography’s defenders still lean on ideas of sexual freedom and empowerment. “I am a pervert,” Sasha Grey—the only recent star to rise anywhere near Jameson’s heights—declared in a 2009 interview. “I want to tell young women that sex is O.K. It’s O.K. to be a slut. You don’t have to be ashamed.” In a “mission statement” she wrote when she entered the industry, at eighteen, Grey said that she was “determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone’s fantasies.” She was no Lovelace: “If I am working out any issues through porn, it’s anger at society for not being open about sex.”
It would have been a good idea to mention that, it turned out Sasha Grey was being violently controlled by a much older boyfriend/pimp when she entered the sex industry.
Performers now often defend porn using the language not of freedom but of work, and begin with the idea that [prostitution] is a form of work like many others. Sure, working in the sex industry is exploitative and precarious, but so is work in other industries. The porn workers who do their jobs well enough that you buy their performance are giving their consent, but they likely do so only as other precarious workers do: they need the money and have limited choices. To an older generation of feminists, this defense sounds hollow: it concedes that sex and intimacy can be bought and sold. For a younger generation, the idea that they can’t is a misunderstanding: sex has long been monetized, and today there’s nowhere that the market doesn’t go. To reflect this, many younger feminists want a sexual politics that restores a tradition of labor organizing predating the porn wars (when even Playboy bunnies had a union), and seek to protect performers from profit-seeking managers.
Are they really? When sex industry advocates are happy calling bosses ‘sex workers’ and trafficked women ‘migrant sex workers’, and hardly ever criticize any aspect of porn production, I’m dubious about ‘younger feminists’ commitment to real change in the sex industry, beyond ‘centering alternative voices’ (whatever that actually means), and harassing lesbian pornographers for refusing to work with pre-op trans women. Also, let’s be realistic here, the Playboy bunnies were not being subjected to double-anals in front of a camera – any real workers rights in the modern porn industry would render porn production impossible.
At the fringes of the industry, performers are trying to change it from the inside, in the name of fair pay, better conditions, and more enjoyable sex. The aim of companies like Pink and White Productions and TrenchcoatX is to challenge the tube sites’ monopoly and to overthrow the racist, sexist categories that silently shape preferences. Their hope is that making inclusive, diverse porn—in which the performers’ pleasure is authentic and the orgasms real—will change sex for the better. The defense of this artisanal approach to porn pulls in contradictory directions: it at once argues that porn is work and not pleasure, and also that the pleasure it captures is authentic. Tarrant, despite claiming neutrality, is subtly allied with this view, and compares campaigns for ethical porn to those for organic, fair-trade food. In reality, it’s a harder sell. Few people want ethics with their porn.
When it comes to sexual practices, too, statistics are open to interpretation. Anti-pornography campaigners frequently cite the widely reported increase in the practice of anal sex among heterosexuals as evidence of porn’s influence. (In a 2014 study of anal sex among young British heterosexuals, a majority of young men surveyed – described as “teen-age boys” by the anti-porn camp, and “emerging adults” by the pro – admitted “persuading” their female partners to try it, with reluctant or little consent.) The campaigners insist that teen-agers are reënacting humiliations they’ve learned online. But that assumption leaves out other explanations. The British study suggested that the rise of premarital sex has meant that “conquest” narratives, which once fetishized the taking of virginity, now require a new focus. Equally, it might indicate a severance between reproduction and sex, or a straight acceptance of gay sexuality.
This last argument makes no sense whatsoever, anal sex is not ‘gay sex’, sex between two or more men is gay sex. Anal sex is not compulsory, even for gay men, and before the 1970s, it was not even a widespread practice among gay men. If the increase in heterosexual anal sex was about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why the coercion and lack of enthusiasm among the teen-aged girls? If it’s really about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why are we not hearing about an increase in heterosexual teen-age boys being anally penetrated by their girlfriends using strap-ons?
Sometimes, though, porn’s defenders overcompensate. They are too ready to interpret the lack of unequivocal data about porn’s impact as unequivocal proof that there is no impact. In a field as hard to measure as sexual behavior, this seems unwise. Pornography may be more likely to turn us into solipsistic masturbators than violent rapists, but it’s hard to imagine that it has no effect at all. The pro-porn argument, which insists that pornography is changing but denies that it changes us, appears contradictory. It inverts the anti-porn mistake of seeing porn as the key engine of transformation, instead giving it no power whatsoever. But sex is always changing, and, though porn can’t explain it all, its role can’t be ruled out, either.
QotD: “This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity”
Like most fairy-tale heroines, Belle doesn’t have a mother. One presumes her mother must have died while engaged in some second-wave, biologically essentialist activity such as giving birth. Thankfully Belle doesn’t need an older female role model – or indeed any female role model – because most women are rubbish, lacking the imagination even to question their fate. If they’re not fancying Gaston, they’re faffing about with babies or getting old.
While I doubt the creators of Beauty and the Beast had been reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (published in 1990), I think the overall shift in mood is obvious. This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity. It’s not for rubbish women, who marry local heartthrobs and have babies and get old and shit. It’s only for special women, like Belle. This makes it more inclusive (no, I don’t know why, either). More importantly, it makes it more marketable. Sod the sisterhood; as long as you have the right accessories, liberation is yours.
Structurally, it turns out there’s very little Gaston wants to do to Belle that the Beast doesn’t actually do. However, the latter is excused because he does it while being a beast and hence has identity issues. Not only that, but the Beast’s sexism isn’t as clichéd and common as Gaston’s. If the latter reads FHM, the former reads Julia Kristeva. If Gaston stands for the easy-win, obvious, pussy-grabbing misogyny of the right, the Beast stands for the left’s more refined, complex, long-wordy woman-hating. It’s not for Belle to challenge it, but to listen and learn from it.
This is, I think, one of the most insidious aspects of Beauty and the Beast, and the one which marks it out as a fundamentally third-wave project: it remarkets femininity – by which I mean female accommodation, empathy, self-sacrifice on behalf of males – as not just a female, but a feminist, virtue. Belle is sneeringly dismissive of the Bimbettes’ adoration of Gaston, yet quite prepared to embrace self-effacement for a more unusual male in a more unusual setting. Why, then it starts to look like empowerment! Watching this now, I can’t help recalling my own feelings about leaving behind the “coarse and unrefined” men of my own town to go to university, where I met men whose sexism I chose not to see. I associated misogyny with a lack of education and an uncritical embrace of stereotypes. Surely men who looked different and read books couldn’t hate women, too? Perhaps all they needed was a woman who understood them.
Feminism makes no sense without a meaningful analysis of work and class. I didn’t realise this back in 1991. As far as I was concerned, sexism was simply a massive, global misunderstanding, the unfortunate outcome of the mistaken belief that women were inferior to men. It never crossed my mind that it might all be the other way round: that the dehumanisation of women could have arisen as a means to justify their exploitation, an exploitation upon which countless social, political and economic structures depended. That would just have been too depressing, not to mention terribly second-wave.
As she keeps on reminding us, Belle wants more to life than unpaid domestic labour. While second-wave feminists had an annoying tendency to remind us that such work never actually goes away – someone still has to do it, and surely it should be everyone – third-wavers had a better idea: pretend there still exists a class of people who are born to do all the boring old tasks no one else wants to do, only this time, said class doesn’t have to include you personally. This is the solution to which Belle turns.
The likes of Betty Friedan may have fretted over how to liberate middle-class women from domestic servitude without piling the labour onto other women. One solution Friedan didn’t count on was an enchanted castle, with the staff who claim to “only live to serve”. In modern feminist terms we would call such people “cis women” (singular version: your mum). Such women’s relationship with their class status is not conflicted; on the contrary, they apparently identify [with] it. This means feminists don’t have to challenge an exploitative hierarchy after all. Rather they only need ensure that they – as individuals wanting “more than this provincial life” – don’t find themselves wrongly positioned within it.
Do you really believe … that everything historians tell us about men – or about women – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.
Moderata Fonte, pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo (1555-1592). She was an Italian writer from Venice who wrote religious and romantic poetry. Modesta is best known, however, for the posthumously published The Worth of Women: Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men
Check me out, front and centre! This photo made international news!!
We had a collective of about 20 radical feminists marching for International Women’s Day in Melbourne, and there were enough of us that we could do our own chants and everything (we did a call and response chant of “name the problem” “male violence!”)
There were some anti TERF/SWERFs trying to antagonise us but we just ignored them and stood strong. Really felt like a victory for the radical feminist movement in Australia :~)
Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.
When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought and expression, for example, without harming other people. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.
When we confront a system of propaganda, our first task is to decode it. This begins by interrogating its sacred value. Whenever we hear the word freedom, we should ask ourselves, “freedom for whom, at whose expense?”.
At a time when both science and feminism are under attack, there are welcome signs that neuroscience is showing new openness to critiques of research into sex differences. Mainstream journals increasingly publish studies that reveal how misleading assumptions about the sexes bias the framing of hypotheses, research design and interpretation of findings – and these critiques increasingly come with constructive recommendations, discussions and debates.
For example, we, together with other colleagues, made recommendations in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on best practice in sex/gender neuroscience. Some of the errors and traps we identified included human neuroimaging studies with small sample sizes, and the common “snapshot” approach, which interprets neural associations with sex as a matter of timeless and universal male and female essences, without taking seriously the fact that biological associations might as easily be the effect of social differences as the cause of them.
For example, a study reporting female-male differences in spatial processing should take into account that women and men have different life experiences, on average, that can build such skills – such as practice with aiming at targets that comes from certain kinds of sports and video games. We also expressed concern about studies that draw on and reinforce stereotypes, even as they slip and slide regarding specific predictions about sex differences in the brain, and what findings might mean for how women and men think, feel, and behave.
For those who care about the quality of scientific research, this interaction is all to the good. It’s about generating better hypotheses, producing more reliable data, and considering a wider range of variables when interpreting findings. More generally, it’s how science is supposed to work: through robust debate within the scientific community, existing assumptions, models and methods are replaced with better ones. That’s why it’s important that these kinds of contributions to science are listened to in the scientific community.
But misplaced fears of the effects of feminism on science potentially threaten this. Late last year, in response to a new editorial policy by the Journal of Neuroscience Research mandating consideration of sex as a biological variable, a number of news articles reported that scientists had been ignoring medically critical sex differences in the brain, for fear of being labelled sexist.
Both before and since these pieces, we and our colleagues have been named as “anti-sex difference”, and thus some of the prime culprits in creating this situation. This is like accusing the people who invented airbags as being “anti-seatbelts”. We are all aiming for better science.
These charges would only make sense in a world without shades of grey, in which neurobiological investigation of sex – from basic cellular neuroscience to social neuroscience – is either good or bad. In this worldview, if you’re “for” investigations of sex influences, you will never criticise any of it, ever: otherwise, you’re “against” it.
Obviously, this isn’t how science works, which is what makes it science rather than dogma. The simplistic view is evident in a recent piece in Commentary Magazine, in which Claire Lehmann presents quotations from Cordelia Fine’s work criticising popular misrepresentations of sex differences in the brain – such as the claim that working mothers have “overloaded brain circuits” – as evidence that Fine is “anti-sex differences”. Lehmann maintains that we have a “wish to deny the self-evident truth that the biological differences between men and women … would have second-order effects on health, the metabolisation of medicines, and the way diseases work inside the body”. This entirely misses the point.
When previously charged with being “anti-sex differences” by UC Irvine neurobiologist Larry Cahill in 2014, we and our colleagues responded that: “[W]e all believe, like Cahill, that sex matters; that is, that genetic and gonadal sex can influence brain development and function at every level, that useful information may arise from investigating such processes, and that this may be especially critical in understanding pathological development. Indeed, numerous explicit statements to this effect can be found in our work.”
More recently, we described the new Journal of Neuroscience Research editorial policy mandating consideration of sex as “a welcome step forward”, then offered recommendations for avoiding common pitfalls. While Lehmann dismisses our work as “obscurantism”, the journal editor apparently disagreed, incorporating some of our suggestions into editorial policy.
This article is in the Observer today, and it is completely one-sided reporting, from the use of the euphemistic ‘escort’ as well as the obfuscatory ‘sex worker’, to the lack of reporting of the opposite side of the story. It reads more like a regurgitated press release from the sex industry.
Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.
Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.
But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.
Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.
“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.
This sounds like a pretty weak argument to me, as if there isn’t CCTV, credit card receipts and plenty of other ways to trace whoever rented the hotel room. If the police really cared about violence against prostitutes – something we all want – they would be able to track these men down.
Where do these ‘bad johns’ go under full decriminalisation of the sex industry? They go to the women who are trafficked, who are desperate, who can’t afford to pick and choose.
What these comparatively privileged woman in the sex industry are fighting for (aside from the sex industry itself) is better conditions for them, the ones at the top of the pyramid (the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base); decriminalisation increases demand and lowers standards, it is clear from Germany, and the cracks are beginning to show in New Zealand as whistle-blowers come forward.
Lee seems to be leading a jet-setting activist life-style – subsidised by Amnesty International perhaps? – how much actual ‘escorting’ is she fitting in around the legal action and the public speaking?
Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.
“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”
This is just lies, the Nordic/Abolitionist model decriminalises the prostitute her/him self, what they are actually referring to is the criminalisation of pimps:
In Norway we found evidence that sex workers were routinely evicted from their homes under so-called ‘pimping laws’. In many countries of the world, two sex workers working together for safety is considered a ‘brothel’.
We need to remember, AI deliberately chose to look at Norway, a country that had only recently enacted abolitionist laws, rather than Sweden which has had the law in place for over a decade – if the way a law is enacted doesn’t follow the intention of the law, as described above, that can and should be addressed, changes in the law always include re-educating the police and changing the culture, as happened in Sweden.
There is this very dishonest argument from sex industry advocates, that the abolitionist approach doesn’t improve the relationship between prostitutes and the police – if the police hate prostitutes that much, what difference would decriminialising the whole sex industry make?
Decriminalising the whole sex industry is the main goal of sex industry advocates; the proof is there that decriminalisation increases trafficking, and lowers working conditions, the real beneficiaries are pimps and brothel keepers (and the hand-full of already privilidged ‘sex workers’ at the top of the pyramid).
AI’s own research found no evidence of police violence against prostitutes in Norway, so the idea that full decriminalisation of the sex industry is necessary for a good relationship between the police and prostitutes has no foundation. In the UK, the ‘Merseyside Model’ was enacted only by a change in police culture, and no change in the law.
Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.
“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.
From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”
And, of course, there is the dishonest lumping together of feminists and the religious right; I am confident no radical feminist has told her to burn in hell, or said “I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game” (although they may have asked her how she would feel about her daughter entering the sex industry, not exactly the same thing).