Friday, August 11, 2006

Right now, some vast uncountable number of women are exchanging some sort of sexual activity for money.

I have no problem with that in itself. I've exchanged all manner (and I mean all manner) of sexual activity for things I've needed - a hot meal, a ride home, a kind word and shelter from the elements - how is that any different from exchanging the same sexual activities for the money needed to purchase such things for myself?

Regardless of how I feel about prostitution in the abstract, right this very minute some vast uncountable number of wretched and miserable prostitutes wish they could get into some other line of work. Right now, some vast uncountable number of women and girls are being sold into sexual slavery all over the world.

That's awful, if it's true - and I believe it to be true. I'd love to do something about that. I'd feel good about that - like I really helped women. I would love to put some time and money into helping them. I'd feel righteous and proud and good about myself if I did that.

Except I really can't feel all that good about myself, can I? I can give resources to the cause, yes, but maybe I shouldn't let myself off the hook that easily, not until I convince my own body and my own mind that what I perceive as pleasure and desire is really pain and shame. Not until I surrender to the pressure to recast my own sexual experience to fit with current theories of oppression, to rewrite my own history. Not until I admit my own complicity as a running dog of the patriarchy and denounce all the other sick fucks who refuse to accept The Truth.

I can't speak for every so-called sex-positive so-called feminist, but I know that I spend a lot of time and mental energy responding to the pervasive vapor of martyred superiority that clings to legitimate radfem critique - like a thick fog, it's nowhere and everywhere at the same time, the gaseous cloud that mists over every innocent, sincere, and even true statement with "I care about Class Woman and you don't." "I know the truth and you don't." "I don't need what you need." "I don't degrade myself like you do." "I have more integrity/self-esteem/inner strength than you do." "It's not really your fault that I'm better than you, but I'm better than you."

It's hard not to come away from such a conversation without my mind being dominated by a single question:

"So you think you're better than me?"

90% of blahblahblah? whatever. Thousands of women blahblahblah? whatever. Suffering-bleeding-false consciousness-patriarchy? whatever. I don't come away educated or enlightened from these interactions. I come away with a bigger chip on my shoulder than I had before.

I imagine innumerable impatient eyerolls from the blogiverse - "That's your baggage." "You're reading too much into it." "Nobody ever said that." That's the subtle and perverse beauty of it though - nobody has to (or dares to) come right out and say "I'm better than you." But it's there, woven between and through the lines. Self-righteous superiority: you're soaking in it. And before I can even begin to learn from, or even understand, the antiporn/antiprostitution/antiBDSM position, I feel like I have to tell its adherents something:

How you fuck, or whom you fuck, or whether you even fuck at all, does not make you superior to me.

Marching in the army of an ideology does not make you superior to me.

Rhetorical skill does not make you superior to me (though it will certainly make you more entertaining).

You know what would make you superior to me? Kindness. Consistency. Humility. Ability to see through or rise above the all-too-human frailties that I can't seem to overcome. Committment to understanding instead of indifference and contempt.

To that I would surrender.

To where do I send flowers and other tokens of tribute?

Seriously, that last line just slayed me.
I live to serve, sly. ;)
Well put.

btw, if one wants to hear from a real live person who works in the "sex industry" and does not paint an especially rosy picture of it; doesn't have much truck with the whole "yay, stripping is fun and empowering!" line either (which she sees as pretty much dilettantism, I think--as always, it comes back to class); is pretty bald about it being about the money, and that yes aspects of the work can have a numbing effect on her own off-job sexuality; and yet doesn't bear much resemblance to the poor voiceless waif-y powerless naif that one gets the the impression of from anti-"pornstitution" folks, go here:

btw, she kicks ass, literally; be sure to check out how she dealt with a garden-variety street harasser.

and still lays claim to her own sexuality in a way that would probably make a lot of the "antis" blanch.

and apparently has a book coming out.

On the whole she makes stripping sound like pretty dehumanizing and ill-paid; otoh in many ways the way she talks doesn't make it sound all -that- different from any number of (certainly not all) ways in which people make ends meet in this crappy-ass economy/culture, particularly as an "independent worker" who wants to/does write or work in the arts.

for that matter, a lot of "arts" jobs themselves.

someone in the comments compared her cynical look at "breaking in the new girl" with what happens with the "newbie" substance abuse counselor.

and oh yeah. no health insurance.

goddamit, if we could all just drop all this fucking bullshit about who shaves and who sucks and who doesn't and put -half- that energy into -getting health insurance for everybody-, that, THAT would be nice.

and frankly, more feminist than all the bullshit thrashes put together.
On Monday I'm leaving for Thailand. When I tell people I'm going one of the first things they comment on is the sex industry. I had it in my head that I'd pull a Garp; I'd do what John Irving's character did and talk to a prostitute to get a day-in-the-life perspective then write about it. It's a life so far removed from my own, I'd never be able to illustrate it as well as I might with real time information. Thankfully, I came to my senses before inflicting my anthro-curiosity on anyone with such zeal. Most of these men and women -and definitely the children, whom are prevalent- are not in it because it's their vocation or a savvy career move. This is entirely different than prostitution in Amsterdam or Vienna where they do have socialized medicine thus health plans and state-mandated medical exams to prevent the spread of disease. Those women I could look in the eye and talk shop with. But how do I - spoiled by the privilege of freedom or lucky enough to have escaped such a fate - have a conversation with someone who's been enslaved or oppressed into their role, who arrives there by desperation or force - and then walk away with a clean conscience, without doing something? I've got my story now! What. an asshole. Maybe it's when we stop thinking about it as a life so far removed from our own that we can make the necessary changes to our attitudes and ultimately society. S/he's a human, I'm a human, we're all a human fundamentals. That concept is entirely lost in today's political climate. Even suggesting that we do so is regarded as impractical and idealistic. I'm having a hard time addressing the feminist aspect when we can't even honor one another's basic human rights.
And that's the point. This doesn't just affect women.

The radfem desire to improve ONLY the lives of women, and push women into lives lived totally apart from men and children...

It's immoral in the face of human suffering.

Professionally, I worked for a living providing direct services to street gang members. It was a somewhat dangerous job, but I loved it. As a woman and a feminist, should I have said: "I will do this work, but only for young women. The thirty young men who will die this year at each other's hands in my city alone...simply don't matter...because men are the oppressors."

How could you?
See, I'm not even sure that it's that vast a divide between Amsterdam and Thailand. at any rate I've been reading about massive problems with the way the "red light district" works; and in Thailand, well...

I hear you about not wanting to become the amateur anthropologist.

What I see happening (I don't just mean you, I mean across the boards) is this kind of...-otherization- of Thailand. because see that is a -Third World- country; and, well, ummm, they're...different.

when they were talking about Thailand specifically over at Reclusive Leftist, I did some 'Net research and found a few pieces that were interesting.

Somewhere in there, not finding this particular link right now alas, a collation of Thai scholars who came together to discuss prostitution and/or feminism from a Thai perspective; one of the main points in the intro as I remember it was that part of the problem is that most research thus far had been from people who -don't actually speak Thai.-

so, the colonization hangover works in a number of ways, is what I got from that.

I'll see if I can find that again. Meanwhile:

This is a Thai-based info clearinghouse that pretty much deals with prostitution as a "problem:"

Here's an article on the "race" dimension in trafficking.

An interesting piece called "Western feminists' 'wounded attachment' to the Third World prostitute.

Here's an article that tangentially touches on the subject of prostitution as it talks about feminism w/in the context of the Thai Buddhist influence.

A PDF piece on "Shifting sexuality among Thai lowland women."

Here's an article on how "gay" works in Thailand, which never seems to get covered at all in mainstream feminist discussions of prostitution, gay male/"third gender" prostitution; and seems especially relevant in Thailand, since there are so very many "katoeys."
re Thai -- not to mention a whole 'nother attitude about sexuality. ars erotica. i mean, it depends on what kind of prostitute you are, just like here. only there, there is a whole tradition of this being about religion.

e.g, an american who visits a thai bar to pick up a bargirl will often go back to a room. he's undressed and she puts him on a air matress and basically gives him a big bath by rubbing him with soap using her whole body.

couple of reasons: cleanliness is important here *and* because she can inspect the guy and get a sense of who he is. if she thinks something up, she's out of there.

men can buy women so cheaply, they don't always pick them up to bang them for ten minutes. the hire them for long times, which means all kinds of things, including having what would seem like regular hold sex, cuddling, snuggling, him going down on her and making her come.

as i pointed out at PUnkass today, I'd forgotten about my neighbor from Guam who had a "boyfriend" who visited on business. He'd hire her for an entire month and go on picnics with her parents. I mean, when you buy someone's time for a week or two, what the hell. it's not like they banging away 24.7.

and so they basically end up have a two week fling, except she's actually paid for her time. and she even may get something otu of it, as much perhaps as the women who has a two week fling just for the sex.

but you'd never know this sort of thing went on because the focus is constantly on the victimized women who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution, drug addled, etc. etc.

But the problem is, people defnitely WANT to believe this because they are asian.

and, of coruse, no one ever wants to hear that men actually treat them as human beings. in fact, part of what goes on is an elaborate attempt to feel as if money doesn't exchange hands. for some men it is fucking embarassing to have sex this way. but they are very lonely. some of them are disabled. there are men with asberger's syndrome that have a hard time relating socially. etc.

but it's all one uniform blog of men who want to stick their dicks in moist warm holes and women who are down to their last buck and have no choice.

lemme tell ya. i bin down to my last five bucks. there's always a choice: a choice to beg, a choice to plead with distant family members, a choice to do something for quite a bit less money and never feel like you'll get out of the hole.

this "no choice" biz drives me utterly batshit some days because the people who say it have never been done to their last five bucks. had they, they'd know that even when you have five bucks to your name and its chrismas and you have a can of refried beans and stale taco chips, even then: there's choices.

Damn, Bitchlab, that was fascinating!
The feeling of superiority gets to me too. Seriously. No, when it comes to the realm of feminism or what ever I am not the most well read. I don't have the time to spend hours hunting down statistics and quotes. What I do have is "life experience"...and apparently that just does not cut it when defending ones self, feelings, or career. Image that.

Well, it's particularly weird when that happens in a -feminist- context, as we've been saying. It's like; okay, you're gonna talk about your rape/abortion/abuse experience, and absolutely, no one gets to question it, diminish it, say it doesn't "count" or counter you with statistics or call you a liar or say you must be doing something wrong, etc.

but when it comes to -this- experience,- well, suddenly, -now- we break out the stats and the belittling?

and mind it's not even the stats that's the problem, here.
The radfem desire to improve ONLY the lives of women, and push women into lives lived totally apart from men and children...

What complete, total and utter abject nonsense.

This is what you think radfems believe and are working for?

You're wrong.
Sorry; private discussion; this is the Men's Room. Can't you see the sign on the door?
belledame - that was wrong.
funny, but wrong.

that said, what is separatism but improving the lives of women ONLY?
perhaps w-w didn't see the YL post TISL is coming off of.

or perhaps there's some other way to interpret her whole deal, YL, other than a call for de facto separatism for all who would call themselves feminists, or at least -good- feminists.

i guess i missed the subtle part.

but i sure am feeling the urge to go immerse myself in yet more radfem theory, seeing as how well some of the people who are upset about being misrepresented here have returned the favor: you know, -not- mischaracterizing and/or clearly failing to self-educate about even the barest rudiments of any other branch of feminism, least of all sex-pos; or queer theory; or pomo; or...
but yeah: for the record, TISL, most of the radical feminists here are not in fact actual separatists -or- lesbians. many live with men. i believe a couple are married.

why someone who lives with, partners with, and presumably loves a man thinks it's a big ol' slur to compare someone to a MAN, BABY; and/or where she gets off bitching about anyone else givin' all their "energies" (is that like the "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove," p.s.) to men as opposed to the sisterly sisters, well, those are, erm, separate questions.
why someone who lives with, partners with, and presumably loves a man thinks it's a big ol' slur to compare someone to a MAN, BABY; and/or where she gets off bitching about anyone else givin' all their "energies" (is that like the "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove," p.s.) to men as opposed to the sisterly sisters, well, those are, erm, separate questions

belledame222 - I am increasingly of the opinion that you're mad! (In the nicest possible way, of course :))

I love a man. I live with him. I have a son and I love him, too. What I HATE is patriarchy. I HATE what patriarchy does to both men and women. I don't hate men per se. Show me a radfem who does.

You don't understand that much about radical feminism at all, for all your bluster, do you?

I'm increasingly liking you - against my better judgement, it has to be said - but, hey.
The society we live in functions by keeping sexism alive and well. Radfems seek to change this. Discussing the individual's right to prostitute themselves is at best irrelevant to our aim.

If/when we do live in an equal society, when the Patriarchy ceases to exist, then it would be worth examining the benefits or otherwise of prostitution as a career choice.

Until then the focus needs to be on eliminating the oppression of women, children and some men, and one of the manifestations of this oppression is prostitution.
Hey AP, luck you, they're sorta putting you through the ringer at witchy-woo's place. Fuck that bullshit and the keyboard it rode in on. I am so goddamn sick of all this shit.

As someone at Feministe said the other day...

Sweet creamy Christ on a cracker.
Oh, now..look who's jumping into this argument now!!

Funny that when I called you out directly, W-W, you accused me of butting in...but you reserve the right to do the same when it serves your interests???

And I especially love the fact that the radfem caucus would NEVER allow criticism of antiporn feminism to pollute their blogs or discussions, are so ready to invade sex-positive blogs to "correct" them on the "lies" about radicalfeminism...and they have the gall of accusing us of shutting them down???

Yeah, right.

Nice try, W-W, but still no sale. We understand "radicalfeminism" all too well.

Y'know, I'm confused. Is it "radical feminism" or just plain "feminism" (as in, ALL of it)? that we're not understand/representing properly, I mean? I was under the impression that they were one and the same, reading some people. Huh.
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oh, and that sounding like a bunch of MEN was an insult. and that we must all put Class Women first, else be labelled traitors and fraudulent. hence my curiousity about het women using this line.

o well. lather, rinse, repeat, I guess. whee!
What you’re describing is a naked ‘abolitionist’ (the term itself is a lie) attempt to seize the Moral High Ground. They mean to shame everyone else into accepting their false version of reality & their brittle moral certainty. They want to bully sex workers out of defending themselves against defamation & legal oppression, as if that somehow harmed a single hair on the head of a single trafficked woman. The weird thing is that anyone lets them get away with it.

I’m sure they imagine they’re superior, but there a lunatics who think they’re Napoleon. They’re not. Their description of the world is risible & they deal with disconfirming evidence without the least hint of intellectual integrity. Their ‘data’ is a farrago of confusion & tendentiousness. And note how they treat women who dare disagree, esp. sex workers, members of a despised & abused class: contemptuously, contemptibly.

I begin to wonder how deeply they really care about trafficked women, to suspect that their misery is just a convenient excuse to indulge the usual idées fixe, a convenient cudgel – an object – to use against their enemies, men & the women who fuck (collaborate with) them. If their concern were really only with trafficked women, they’d behave differently. They wouldn’t use trafficking mostly as an opportunity, a means to pursue what they really most want, a new consensus within feminism on the whole range of sexual issues, as some forthrightly say they do. They’d spend their time discussing practical ways to help trafficked women, not bullying women who aren’t. They might even consider entering an anti-trafficking coalition with sex workers – who knowledge would be useful – instead of the one they’ve made with the likes of the Concerned Women of America. Above all, they’d welcome scrutiny of their preferred solutions, to ensure that they really achieved their stated goals.

I have for years been around, if not trafficked women, then truly wretched street hookers: addicted, abused, half-crazy, light-fingered, homeless. I’ve taken them in, fed them, gotten them medical care, gone to their funerals, done what I could. So it personally offends me to be scolded about my selfish indifference by fanatics who wouldn’t touch these women with a barge pole, who’ve never deigned to get any closer to them than you get by re-reading some Cheetos-encrusted copy of an old Dworkin text for the 33rd time. Why does anyone let them get away with this kind of naked self-regarding pretense? Is it really so hard to tell the difference between clarity of moral purpose & heedless fanatic willfulness?
Oh, i just love the world...

Know what? Whp honestly gives a shit if any of us have "the facts straight" on how radical feminism really thinks. I am willing to bet most of us would listen to the way it is supposed to work, but what we have instead to draw our conclusions from is the fire and dismissal and mocking contempt and superior, smug attitudes we all seem to get thrown our way by the rad fems every time we bring up a topic or comment on anything. Half of these proud flag-waving Rad Fems seem incapable of being rude to anyone who dares to disagee or question them. Flat out rude.

So no, maybe I do not know the true theory about the tennants of radical feminism...but alot of its subscribers are enough to turn me off the rad fem ideal completely.

Sorry, I cannot deal with, let alone work with, anyone who refuses to see me as a human being and act with at least basic civility. Arrogance masked as cause-driven outrage gets old real quick.
gods my brain is fried...that should be incapable of NOT being rude
>They might even consider entering an anti-trafficking coalition with sex workers – who knowledge would be useful – ...

Well, yes, that's where the rubber really meets the road for me. Look, I understand having misgivings about the whole thing, especially based on one's own experience. But man alive, how can you possibly be against working with the actual workers? I guess some people do; but I know others won't; and further swear up down and sideways that unionization, decrim (unless we simultanously penalize the johns, a la Sweden), -anything- that isn't "get them out as fast as possible, full stop"--won't help. I'm sorry; but if more people who're actually doing the work think it -does- help, then by God, it helps.

What'd BL call it? "savior feminism?" it's bogus.

someone mentioned SAGE as a good org that didn't lay conditions on the women they were helping; someone else, French Kiss was it? had some criticisms to level against 'em based on the woman who runs it? dunno, didn't really follow.
to be fair, I think some of "these women" do work directly with abused women, no doubt including street workers; and a few have done it themselves.

I still don't think it's okay to treat women who -don't- need to be rescued as vile traitors. What does this accomplish? Seriously.
"have done it" meaning have done sex work, on or off the streets.

and apparently had really abusive/degrading experiences of it.

which, you know, I completely get why you'd not want to hear any sentiment of "sex work, yay!"

all the same I gotta say: y'know, I think in a lot of cases there's more going on here than the abuse that happened within the industry.

and that maaayybe (cringe) political battling isn't the world's best way to heal one's wounds, at least by itself.

this has been my problem with "consciousness raising," anyway; it's just close enough to therapy in some ways, it can -be- therapeutic, ain't therapy. and sometimes this uh group process can do more harm than good, I feel. at least, done in some of the ways I've been seeing.
‘… and that maaayybe (cringe) political battling isn't the world's best way to heal one's wounds, at least by itself.’

I wonder. Women coming out of really terrible experiences (which usually are of a piece with disheveled earlier lives) are going to be spending some considerable time coming to terms. Is the best way to do that to throw oneself into a totalistic ideology that denies one’s agency, pretends one was entirely a passive victim, & is organized around a Theory of the Enemy (here, Class Man)? You can see unsettling evidence of where this leads in some women’s autobiographical writings. I really don’t know the answer. If it were helpful, I’d be all for it as therapy, but therapeutically helpful illusions aren't usually reliable guides for public policy.
Well, I look at the way Andrea Dworkin ended, and I think: ooh, ow, no.

apparently she did finally start going to counselling late in life, but. She was apparently never much of one for introspection per se.

yeah, I think that's the problem, ultimately--it's not so much "the right headshrinker can fix everything;" clearly that's not the case.

but the thing about politicizing everything to that degree means that you have what's called an "external locus of control." that is, you always look outside for the cause of whatever-it-is.

And of course if you have a background as traumatic as Dworkin's, well, no surprise: who could blame her, really? For much of her life it was really true: she -did- have no control, she -was- at the mercy of cruel and unpredictable forces.

So she found a framework that helped her to make sense of it all--so, in a way, that -is- getting a sense of control where there was none before.

but there's still no, umm, sense of *self*-control, ultimately. I think is maybe what happened there.

And yes obviously she had some awful physical stuff going on as well; but I...well. I have my own beliefs about the mind-body connection; they're not always completely consistent, but I do often think there is something. especially when the mental and physical states are both so obviously agonized.
btw, reading a really interesting book called "Deadly Innocence" by a Christian feminist who is/was heavily involved in the peace/anti-nuke movement. I had some quotage over at BL's some days ago. basically her thesis is that (this is my paraphrase/interpretation) the feminism she knew and believed in (she talks more about Daly than Dworkin, doesn't really go into individual theorists so much) took the millenia-old "Western" burden of "sin" and shame heaped on women--the Eve story--and overturned it. but in doing so, or rather in clinging to the notion that women are "innocent of history," we fall into old and new traps...

among other things. really lucid and well-written. I'll have to post about it soon.

oh and also her seeing feminism as a faith that she's more or less lost (in the same way as she talks about Christian faith) is really useful as well, I think. the Christianity angle is really fascinating for several different reasons.
and KH, thank you for clarifying what I hadn't quite re: therapy vs. public policy. yeah, exactly. look, do what you need to do, but leave the rest of us out of it, will you?
On the distinction between policy & other stuff: Most of the arguments offered as reasons not to decriminalize really are something else. In a non-totalitarian society, not all moral judgments are written into criminal law. All of us can think of practices we find distasteful, not esp. enlightening, etc., but which aren’t & shouldn’t be illegal. I needn’t be in love with sex work to think it’s wrong to use force to break it up. But many critics of decriminalization offer only reasons not to be in love it. Sometime more is required to justify writing their tastes into law.
Hey AP, luck you, they're sorta putting you through the ringer at witchy-woo's place.

heehee - yeah, I checked back there...they forgot lazy, ugly and disrespectful...

seriously - some comments brought up some interesting ideas (Jo, I'm looking at you!) and I'm thinking good and hard about a reply that is both thorough and fair, now that the first flash of rancor has subsided.

So, if anyone thinks I'm slacking or chickenshit, they're right...but not about this.
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