December 18, 2009
Recently I overheard a conversation in which a woman stated that because she’s a feminist, she opposes prostitution. Another woman chimed in, stating that she, too, opposes prostitution, and that no woman ever chooses to be a prostitute. Those were actually the words she used: “no woman, ever.” She went on to say that a woman might become a prostitute voluntarily to try to escape poverty or what have you, but that that’s not really a free choice.
I thought of that conversation today as I reflected on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which was yesterday. I agree with Jos of Feministing when she says that the notion that “sex work cannot really be a chosen profession, regardless of what sex workers themselves might think . . . leads to the continued criminalization of sex workers rather than efforts to make it a safer, non-exploitative job.”
Also, quite frankly, I think convincing oneself that no woman would actually choose to be a prostitute—and nevermind how that framing erases prostitutes who aren’t women, and sex workers who aren’t prostitutes—ultimately enables one toward seeing sex workers as less than human, “disposable persons,” as Michael from Sex in the Public Square put it yesterday. He used the phrase in a paragraph wherein he makes some important points:
We also need to consider the way violence against sex workers is customarily framed as situational or predatory, or how when sex workers are the victims the job and not the person becomes privileged, and the crime becomes portrayed as just another disposable person. What is not conveyed by such reporting is how it is the state itself that becomes the agent of violence, creating the structural factors that shape and facilitate the observed violence. Similarly the agents of social control, policing and criminal justice, are the major determinants of much of the violence. We must also realise that the agents of social control are just tools by which society disciplines subdominant cultures and that equally destructive is the violence of stigmatisation.
The memorial Radical Vixen participated in yesterday sounds like an excellent way not only to memorialize fallen sex workers, but also to focus on their humanity. I recommend checking that particular piece out, as well as the writing she’s done in the past and will do in the future about her fellow sex workers.
(I’m a bit concerned, though, that all of us are sort of preaching to the converted. How might we go about getting this message out to the public at large? How do we go about changing the dominant culture?)
October 16, 2009
I haven’t spoken in this particular venue on the subject of Roman Polanski, largely because others have said what I think so well already. Furthermore, I find myself wondering, partly, what’s left to discuss? A 44-year-old man in a position of power drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. There was a shitty plea bargain and some legal shenanigans, and the man served a little time, but fled the country to avoid serving any more, and has lived in Europe ever since. The fact remains, though, that he raped a 13-year-old girl, and justice was arguably not served on that point. Now he’s been re-apprehended, and what I’ve simply been dumbfounded by is the pundits and celebrities who want to discuss not whether the re-apprehension itself was shady, not the aforementioned legal shenanigans and/or the problematic nature of plea bargains, not whether California’s limited resources might be better spent on other things—but whether or not what Polanski did was really rape and/or was justifiable.
This week, William Saletan made a foray into the rape apologism surrounding the Polanski case. Now, I know that Saletan has given feminists every reason to ignore what he says outright, but I stumbled upon this round of garbage via a Think Progress e-mail and it incensed me enough that I had to write about it. Read the rest of this entry »
March 20, 2009
[ETA: I originally learned about this from Cara (to whom I should have given a hat-tip in the first place, but I got distracted by linking to another post of hers), who has now taken her post down. I don't normally read Jezebel, so I didn't realize I was tapping into a bit of a hornet's nest there. I'm going to leave this post as it is for now, largely because I'm just not sure what to do about it, how best to edit it if I ought to, etc. In the meantime, though, I think this post from Ilyka is very much worth reading.]
= Any variation on “let’s not throw the word ‘rape’ around, hmm?” (With the obvious exception of when the subject at hand does not actually involve forcible sexual contact in any way, shape, or form.)
Is there a lifetime limit on the number of incidents one can refer to as rape? Does it really make sense to think that calling any non-consensual-sex rape will somehow cause people to take the “worse” acts of rape less seriously? (Because, honestly, does western culture even really take some of the more extreme cases all that seriously to begin with?) And in what universe does calling “surprise”-non-consensual-anal-sex rape qualify as “throwing the word ‘rape’ around”? D’you think that maybe the fact that feminists like me insist on calling non-consensual sex RAPE means not that we don’t take rape seriously, but that we take ALL non-consensual sex incredibly seriously and believe in calling a spade a fucking spade? Read the rest of this entry »
March 3, 2009
Also, a dear friend of mine has a pertinent guest post up on Sex in the Public Square regarding human remains found on Albuquerque’s West Mesa. A snippet:
Thus far, two sets of bones have been identified. They belong to Victoria Chavez and Gina Michelle Valdez. Both young women had a history of drug use and prostitution; this is the one point the media coverage has not failed to announce, and it has defined for investigators the profiles of the remaining dead people. Any other features of these people’s lives is rarely worthy of mention, which leads me to believe that if it’s not salacious-seeming, it’s not salient, right?
Go check out the whole piece!
December 17, 2008
December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This event was created to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers all over the globe. Originally thought of by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and started by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in . International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from over cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations will be staging actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. The assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers must end. Existing laws prevent sex workers from reporting violence. The stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by the prohibitionist laws has made violence against us acceptable. Please join with sex workers around the world and stand against criminalization and violence committed against prostitutes.
The site goes on to list a number of ways people can participate; perhaps most notable is the march in DC.
As things currently stand in this country (and elsewhere in the world), this is what often happens if sex workers attempt to report the violence done to them:
Back in April, a law student at the University of Michigan who was doing sex work to put herself through school was hired by Yaron Eliav, a professor there. She agreed to let him spank her, but then without her consent, he whacked her in the head twice, hard enough to give her temporary vision problems.
Not only did the police decline to go forward with charges, they charged the victim with a misdemeanor for the sex work.
Sex workers are human beings (I can’t believe I even have to say that!), and therefore sex workers’ rights are human rights. Again, the assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers must end.
December 4, 2008
Last night I dreamt I had a one-night-stand with Neil Patrick Harris.
I’ll give you all a moment to stop laughing at me (don’t worry – I’m smiling as I type this), because I actually have a point here. (Sort of. Partly I just think it’s amusing that I dreamt about a hook-up with NPH, and thought I’d share. )
The evening in question didn’t actually happen in the dream. It was a nostalgic dream; I’d been watching TV and came across a news broadcast or talk show upon which NPH appeared briefly, and I sat back in my chair and remembered with a contented half-smile our encounter*, which had happened a year or two previously. EB had been out of town, so I’d taken myself out to dinner. NPH had been heading through our town for some reason or another, and was dining by himself, as well. We noticed each other, got to talking, one thing led to another, yadda yadda yadda, we had a really good time. (I only got brief glimpses of the actual sex through my memory, but it seemed like it was pretty awesome.) It was a pleasant memory, and while the incident was a lot of fun, it didn’t change either of our lives. It was clear from the fact that I was sitting in the kitchen of the same house I’d lived in before the incident, from NPH’s appearance on television, and from our apparent lack of contact since then, that the evening had not changed either of our lives, at all.
Overall, it was just a kinda goofy but pleasant dream. It got me thinking today, though, about the hand-wringing we often see from right-wing and/or religious groups about the “hook-up culture,” and how it harms young people in general (maybe just people in general? Or is it families?), but especially women. (For example, this topic was mentioned recently in an episode** of RH Reality Check’s Realitycast.) And I know that I’m maybe a little more chill about sex than many other women or people my age – and I also know that what I’m about to say is probably going to evoke a big ol’ DUH from many of the people reading this – but isn’t it possible that if hooking up does indeed cause harm (predominantly mental/emotional), might that be more because our culture tells people (predominantly young women) that hooking up is bad? (See: slut-shaming.) Again, this is not a novel concept, but I figured it’s also not something that becomes less true the more we talk about it. Maybe it’s hedonistic of me, but if one reserves sex solely for marriage — and often solely for procreation, at that – mightn’t one be cutting oneself off from some great one-time experiences, like the one my dream-self shared with dream-NPH?
*Yeah, it was totally a “Jean-Luc” moment.
**Is an individual offering of a podcast called an episode? If not, what should it be called? Hmm.
June 12, 2008
Hello my lovelies! Here are some links for you, since I haven’t been writing. I started a new job on the 2nd, and it’s currently sapping nearly all of my energy. Here’s hoping that changes once I adjust to the new schedule.
- Wolfrum at Shakesville points out that Bush declared June to be National Homeownership Month: “During National Homeownership Month, we highlight the benefits of owning a home and encourage our fellow citizens to be responsible homeowners.” Recent events in The Realm make this proclamation a bit akin to a nice paper cut with lemon juice poured on it, but even if that weren’t the case this would be infuriating. “Hey, folks, sorry ’bout your forclosure, but don’t forget the benefits of owning a home!”
- Jennifer Podkul guests posts at Feministing to explain the problems behind defining all commercial sex as human trafficking, with further discussion in this post by Juhu Thukral, Esq.
- Via Our Bodies Ourselves, which was linked in Feministing’s Weekly Feminist Reader (lots of other good reading there, naturally), comes a great post at Shapely Prose: 28 Days to A Bikini Mind. The workouts sound difficult, but worthwhile.
- Cara has a good roundup, with additional thoughts, on “Protest the Pill Day ’08: The Pill Kills Babies.” With LOLPILLS!
- Shark-fu takes down the idea of mere tolerance and the phrase “I don’t see color.” It was only a little over a year ago when I first encountered resistance to the idea of tolerance. Having reached adulthood in the late 90s (the 80s and 90s being a time when “tolerance” was quite the buzzword), it took me a bit to get it: “But isn’t tolerance a good thing?” Once it was linked to the root word “tolerate,” it clicked for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Shark-fu in my blog reader to reinforce the idea.
- Hey, Boston Herald: partners =/= “galpals.” Thx.
- A guest poster on Shakesville, Annaham, does some myth-busting on the topic of Fibromyalgia. I’ve known several people with the condition, one of whom is very dear to me and was just diagnosed last year, and I can assure you that their pain is very real.
- Gina at the Pet Connection discusses pit bulls, PETA, the Human Society of the United States, and stereotypes.
March 11, 2008
I like what Samhita of Feministing had to say about the discovery that the governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, used the services of a prostitute. Here’s an excerpt:
The over-reliance in the US political system for our politicians to be heterosexual and vanilla in the bedroom is like a recurring nightmare of puritanical ethics that continually allows for anti-sex, anti-gay, and anti-kink legislation to continue. If anything what these “outing” episodes should teach us is that everyone should be allowed to have the kind of sex they want and have the proper education about it, so we should stop pretending we are all “Republicans” in the bedroom. This story in particular, along with, the DC Madam drama, for me is an opportunity for us to talk about the rights and conditions of sex workers. Spitzer may get a slap on the wrist and be asked to step down, but sex workers nation-wide will continue to be subjected to harsh criminal proceedings, high incarceration rates, drug use, violence, lack of health-care and no protection from violent, retaliatory pimps.
I was also interested in Cara’s open letter to Governor Spitzer:
I believe in decriminalization and regulation of prostitution. But that is to help keep sex workers safe — not because I believe that men have a right to buy sex. As a woman and a feminist, I’m offended that you would speak about women’s rights out of one side of your mouth and then use the other side to buy sex from women including “things . . . you might not think were safe.” This holds true particularly because I’ve never heard you speak out in any way about how prostitution should be legalized and sex worker rights granted. In fact, as Attorney General, didn’t you bust a prostitution ring, yourself? Oh wait, it was two.
And if you’re curious as to sex workers’ reactions to the situation, Radical Vixen’s got you covered. Here’s some of what she had to say:
But on the other hand, I’m tired of prostitutes being a scandal. Prostitutes fulfill a need and there work is vital to society. In his press conference Spitzer said the situation was a “private matter”. I agree. His meeting with prostitutes should concern only one person-his wife. If he feels shame it should be shame in dragging his wife through this mess, not in seeing a sex worker.
As these scandals pile on top of each other I find I’m tired of the rhetoric. The shamed person drags himself through the media circus. Sometimes a resignation happens and sometimes not. Remember, despite his gay scandal Larry Craig is finishing his term.
What I’d like to see come out of these scandals is progress. Prostitutes are not going to go away no matter how many politicians are caught with one. Why not talk about the need for legal prostitution? Why not talk about the difficulties prostitutes face because their work is illegal? Why not talk about the benefits to both prostitutes and their clients if prostitution were decriminalized?
Incidentally, Sex in the Public Square recently held a forum to discuss sex work, trafficking, and human rights, and the summary statement contains a number of points that I think are apropos to the Spitzer situation, such as the following:
Politicians and media personalities scapegoat sex workers and their clients in such a way as to direct attention away from larger social and economic problems like poverty, consumer culture, racism, sexism, and the growing gap between the wealthy and everybody else.
Quite. It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.
December 20, 2007
(*relatively speaking, of course)
WordPress is a bit limited in terms of its statistics gathering: at the moment I can only see the number of overall hits a particular post has gotten if the title is short enough. So, I think my number-one post in terms of hits is my Bridge to Terabithia post, but I’m not certain. If I’m right about that, then this post, a quick hit on the movie Hounddog and the Catholic League’s reaction to it, is rapidly closing the gap. WordPress does show the search terms people use to find my blog; enter “rape scene in movies” or “porn rape movies” into Google, and that post is the seventh item down. With “rape porn movies,” my post is fourth. (And I’d always thought word order didn’t matter in search engines!) With “rape porn movie,” I’m second.
What I find disquieting about the attention that post has been getting is that I suspect the people entering those search terms aren’t trying to find the random musings of a progressive twenty-something. I can’t even bring myself to click on most of the links those searches bring up, and I’m hardly a prude. I’m familiar with Rule 34, and I think there’s a similar rule when it comes to fetishes/sexual proclivities. Maybe there aren’t too many people who get off on slurping orange jello while sitting naked on a metal folding chair and watching “TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” but I bet they’re out there. What consenting adults do by themselves or with other consenting adults is none of my business, and they’re welcome to all the orange jello they can handle, as far as I’m concerned.
That’s the thing, though — there are two very important words in that previous sentence: CONSENTING and ADULTS. Rape obviously doesn’t fit into that equation. Even porn gets to be a bit of a sticky situation (if you’ll pardon the pun): if I had to pick a label to describe my feminism I suppose that label should include (though not be limited to, if I have anything to say about it) “sex-positive,” but I’m nonetheless aware of the power imbalance when it comes to women in the porn industry, and I know full well that much of the porn out there is degrading to women. So, then, pornography depicting rape as an act that’s meant to titillate makes me very, very nervous. One of the links I did click on when performing the previous searches was an article from Slate stating that Internet porn reduces sex crimes. Would that still apply to rape porn, though? If someone has fantasies of raping another person, is pornography geared toward that person likely to sate that desire, or is it more likely to stir it up further?
And I wonder about supply and demand in these situations. I suspect that kind of porn wouldn’t exist if there weren’t an audience for it, just as I can’t imagine child pornography existing if pedophiles weren’t already out there. That makes me think of a parallel: I assume (read: desperatey hope) that most of the rape porn that’s easily accessible is simulated — does simulated child porn prevent pedophiles from acting on their desires in real life?
I don’t have answers or solutions to any of this. And it’s sort of painfully funny to think that posting these musings is going to put a whole lot more of those search terms into play. I guess all I can do is hope, like I often hope, that my words will make someone think, perhaps even consider their behavior in a new light.
What can I say — I’m an optimist.
November 2, 2007
Okay, so we’ve established that abstinence-only programs don’t work, right? Right.
So what the hell is Congress doing approving a $28 million increase for the Bush administration’s abstinence-only programs?
[h/t to Pandagon]