When news of a murdered woman hits the headlines in Australia, people sit up and take notice. Unless that woman happens to be a sex worker. Invisible Women tells the stories of 65 murdered sex workers – all of whom are somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister – whose identities have been erased. Why do we see some lives as less valuable than others, and what price do we all pay for this disgraceful lack of care? These amazing stories of incredible women are both deeply moving and shocking in their insight and clarity. And definitely way overdue.
I read Invisible Women on a flight to New Zealand a couple of weeks ago. (One advantage of spending a lot of time in the air is uninterrupted reading time). It was a grueling read. What first hit me was the table of contents – so many names of women whose lives – and their end – are acknowledged and recorded in this book. And an even longer list of names in the Index of Victims: Missing and Murdered Since 1970.
Invisible Women is a forensic work, giving names to the dead, situating them as women who had families, children, personalities, who laughed and struggled. The works lifts them out of and above the dismissing common responses that they were ‘just prostitutes who deserved what came to them’ (One Queensland journalist described dead women in his state as the ‘bottom feeders’ of the sex industry).
The authors unpack vulnerabilities, backgrounds of poverty, family breakdown, addiction, marginalization, sexual abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and mental health issues which contributed to the women ending up in the sex industry. The drivers that “keep street-based sex workers enslaved to a lifestyle they don’t want, but can’t find a way out of.”
This is a road for women who may have fallen through the cracks of our society, Women who, as children, found themselves in the confusing world of foster care; a world where, far too often, paedophiles are circling, ready to groom, persuade and abuse those least equipped to tell, or to fight back. Women who don’t remember the first time they were sexually assaulted. They were too young. And it happened so often, accompanies by words of love – or threats of punishment and pain. Those women know sex means nothing now; it’s a tool, a weapon, a way to get what they need to survive. Other women … made excuses the first time their partner hit them, when he controlled their money, when he isolated them from their friends, from their family. Women who, as children, lost a parent, a sibling, a friend and who stayed too quiet, bottling up their sadness until one day they were introduced to a drug that – for the first time in their young lives – took their pain away…Women with no money, no networks of family or friends, very poor job prospects…Sometimes it is about mental illness and the scarcity of support…It is these women: the homeless, mentally ill, abused, assaulted, drug-dependent members of society who are most at risk of having to become street-based sex workers. They are the women society has discarded, de-funded, disowned. It beggars belief that when they are injured or killed, people proclaim that it is their own fault, that they put themselves at risk.
Wykes and Fox point out that the average age of starting out as a street-based sex worker is 13. They cite studies showing that “80 percent of street-based sex workers have experienced some form of violence in the last six months of working…Sometimes the violence leaves a woman so badly injured she is unable to work for days or weeks. Women are abducted for days at a time and held as sex slaves before being released.” And of course crimes against women in prostitution are rarely reported. They are accessible, easy prey, that they have gone missing may not even be noticed. The authors note the case of ‘Jenny’ and ‘Susan, whose badly decomposing bodies were found in a bedroom in a Sydney apartment in 2008. Nobody seemed to know anything about them or their murders – despite the fact they died a brutal death in an apartment share with 11 others.
I’m with the authors in that we need funding of outreach programs and safe houses “to help deal with the complex, and incredibly difficult task of helping to affect change” in the lives of women in the industry.
(Tickets to our session have told out however you can add it to a ‘wish list’ in case tickets become available through cancellation).
And here’s the Canberra Writers Festival session – MTR on sex trade violence
PODCAST: Survivors speak out in new book about the sex industry
MTR, along with Prostitution Narratives contributors Simone and Charlotte, were interviewed by the inimitable Meghan Murphy at Feminist Current about our new book.
As prostitution and the legislation that surrounds it has become an increasingly heated debate, the voices of women who survived the industry have grown louder and stronger.
This year, a new book containing testimonies written by survivors was published by Spinifex Press. Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, bust myths, reveals the trauma experienced by those who are used and abused by johns, and raises hope, as we hear from women who turned the personal into the political, and are fighting back. This week, I spoke with co-editor, Melinda Tankard Reist, and two survivors who shared their stories in the book, Simone Watson and Charlotte, over Skype. Listen to the podcast:
Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade was edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard-Reist and is now available in Canada, the US, and Mexico from IPG Books.
Simone Watson shared her story in our new book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the sex trade. Here she challenges the dominant narrative on ‘sex work’ in a powerful piece on Feminist Current.
In the spirit of the popular “sex workers are underrepresented” stance, repeated by liberal media and prostitution advocates, ad nauseum, Daily Life has published yet another article repeating the myth. The author, Kate Iselin, aside from being a self-described “sex worker” and published writer, is also “furious.”
This time, the article targets the Melbourne Writers Festival for not having a “sex worker” on the panel, “Invisible Women” — a panel about prostitution featuring Melinda Tankard Reist, Meagan Tyler, and Ruth Wykes.
Pro-sex trade voices are so ubiquitous that even calling prostituted children “sex workers” has become entrenched in the media and public psyche.
“Sex workers” are so far from being ignored that when writers who expose the dark side of the sex trade appear on a panel to talk about their work and research, a “sex worker voice” is published in Daily Life opposing it.
The pro-sex trade are so far from being ignored that Amnesty International is pressuring their membership of some four million people (and just about every so-called leftist I come in contact with) to support the full decriminalization of the sex trade.
Prostitution survivors constantly hear “Prostitution is just ‘sex work’ — a job like any other? Anyone who says different is just a pearl-clutcher,” from both the media and the public.
What Iselin really means is not that “sex workers” are being ignored, but that her particular voice and the voices of those who unequivocally support the full decriminalization of prostitution are not on this particular panel.
But why must every discussion of prostitution include the voices of those who support the trade? Would a panel of socialists arguing against capitalism be expected to include a billionaire to represent pro-corporation voices? Would a panel of environmentalists arguing against fracking need to invite an oil worker on stage to discuss the fact that they personally support the industry?
Scarlet Alliance, a pro-decriminalization lobby group, were, in fact, offered an entire session at the Melbourne Writers Festival but they declined. I guess unless there is an opportunity to attempt to discredit feminist authors, “sex worker voices” aren’t really worth their time. By comparison, as a prostitution survivor featured in the book, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, the festival declined to have me on the “Invisible Women” panel and I wanted to be there.
Arguing this is not the first time a festival has ignored “sex workers,” Iselin points to the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which didn’t have a self-identified “sex worker” on its panel, “Women for Sale.” In order to remedy this, pro-prostitution journalist Elizabeth Pisani invited a “sex worker” to take her place on stage during the panel. This orchestrated stunt provided the audience with the voice of Scarlet Alliance’s then-“Migrant Project Manager,” Jules Kim. (According to Scarlet Alliance’s website, “The Migration Project” is focused on “migrant sex workers” –also known as trafficked women…) Kim is now the CEO of the organization, replacing Janelle Fawkes who, like Kim, calls herself a “sex worker,” despite the fact there is no evidence that either, in fact, sell sex. (I don’t doubt that some members of the government-funded group, Scarlet Alliance, sell sex, or used to, but the media and the public need to be wise to the fact that many members do not and never have, despite the fact that the organization claims to be “run by sex workers, for sex workers.”) In other words, the push for “sex worker voices” is not about accurately representing marginalized voices — it’s about political maneuvering and creating a scene wherein the audience is made to accept arguments made in favour of decriminalization, unchallenged, because a so-called “sex worker” says so.
Iselin is not “furious” about there not being a “sex worker” on the “Invisible Women” panel, she is merely furious that feminists, Tankard Reist and Tyler are, and will be speaking to the harms of prostitution, rather than working to neutralize and normalize it.
Iselin is clever enough to pay some politically correct lip-service to the survivor testimonies in Prostitution Narratives, going so far as to say she thinks our stories should be “believed, trusted and amplified.” But I wonder if Iselin would have a go at the festival because they declined to include me on the panel?
You see it is, in fact, the voices of prostituted and formerly prostituted women who are speaking out against Iselin and Scarlet Alliance’s agenda to expand the sex-trade that are actually “excluded, stigmatized, and marginalized.” Voices like Iselin’s and the Scarlet Alliance are not. In the U.S., for example, a lengthy article published in New York Times Magazine purported to ask the question, “Should prostitution be a crime,” but featured almost solely self-described “sex workers” from the organization, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), yet another pro-decriminalization lobby group.
Iselin is “furious” that our survivor voices were included in a book and that a feminist publisher and two editors were brave enough to publish our testimonies. And believe me, in this pro-sex trade climate it is incredibly brave — those who don’t support the rights of men to buy women to use as their personal sex toys are repeatedly vilified and discredited by pro-sex trade voices who want to push their agenda at any cost.
Iselin’s piece is manipulative and disingenuous. She says she doesn’t doubt the veracity of our testimonies, but dismisses us, taking aim instead at the women who actually did listen to survivors and amplify our voices, claiming they are just headline grabbers. By reducing Tankard Reist and Tyler’s exhaustive research, intelligence, and courage to “tragedy porn” or some evil “anti-sex worker” agenda, she erases the realities and voices of survivors as well.
The actual stories of prostituted women are not “tragedy porn.” It is truly callous to claim to support a group of people who have suffered torture, abuse, and degradation, then imply we are just a few who happened to have been dealt a rough hand and don’t represent the majority, when, in fact, we do. Research shows that prostituted women suffer from PTSD at the same rates as combat veterans, and most have suffered ongoing sexual, verbal, physical, and psychological abuse.
Iselin may have paid survivor testimonies lip service, but because she goes on to paint us as sad but nonetheless unreliable dimwits who simply fell under the spell of dodgy anti-sex worker advocates, her efforts at displaying empathy fail.
The message Iselin sends is that voices of survivors and advocates who oppose the system of prostitution shouldn’t be “believed, trusted and amplified” after all. In fact, unless we highlight and include pro-industry voices, we are, apparently, unreliable narrators and our work is illegitimate. While certainly everyone has a right to an opinion, it doesn’t mean that all opinions must be heard at all times. The promotion of prostitution gets more than enough air time throughout the world, through media, pop culture, and in leftist and liberal discourse. The idea that Iselin’s perspective is “ignored” is nothing more than a tactical lie. Like so many liberal media outlets, Daily Life fell for this too. Quelle surprise.
Simone Watson is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia, and the Director of NorMAC (Nordic Model in Australia Coalition). She is a prostitution survivor and a contributor to the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist. (Reprinted with permission).
It’s in the Ignorance: Paying for Sex
…The prostitute is dependent, for her trade, on this very performance. Even if the punter actually knows that she is unlikely to be enjoying it, he nonetheless wishes her to perform the enjoyment all the same. Both, one imagines, because he is capable of a superficial postponing of reality in order to get his sexual fix, but also because the idea that she would perform for him out of need, gives him a feeling of self importance that he would not experience in mutual interaction.
The punters who are made the most out of by women who say they love the Game, however, are those who want her to pretend she is enjoying it, and want to pretend that to themselves too. Make no mistake, if they want to buy sex, they will, no question. However it suits some punter’s fragile and dissonant selves to recalibrate the interaction in their mind as intimacy. He will look out for superficial signals that the women he is renting will have the capacity to fancy and desire him, or at the very least, offer an all encompassing nurturing of his needs. Of course, anyone with half a shred of wisdom would understand that it is not possible to know what a prostitute really feels about him whilst he fucks her, as it is her job to keep this from him. To protect him from any uncomfortable truths lurking behind the red curtains…Full piece here
Manufacturing Consent: The Sex Industry Nobbles Australia’s Future Policy Makers
Caroline Norma lectures in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.
The Australian National University is the country’s only institution listed in the top twenty-ranked universities internationally, according to the QS World University Rankings. Its new vice chancellor is a Nobel laureate who publicly promotes the ANU as an “elite” Australian tertiary institution akin to Harvard.
ANU graduates, even more than graduates of Australia’s other G8 universities, have the world at their feet. Australia’s diplomatic and public services draw on them disproportionately, and Australia’s political and journalistic class is filled with their numbers.
While, even among the ANU cohort, there are students facing poverty and discrimination, it’s safe to say ANU students are likely victims of these hardships at lesser rates than other young people in Australia.
Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade (Spinifex Press) has been launched at packed-out events in Melbourne, Gold Coast and Toowoomba. Next up: Adelaide July 31. My co-editor Caroline Norma and I will address the event along with four sex industry survivors. We hope Adelaide friends can join us for this special event – especially to support the brave women who are speaking out about the realities of life in the industry they’ve now left.
Francine Sporenda, an independent journalist based in France, recently interviewed me about Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survivor in the Sex Trade, for her website Revolution Feministe. The interview is in French and appears here. (a little taster above). If you are like me, you didn’t give high school French the attention it deserved and as a result can’t read it. So here’s the English version.
Interview of MELINDA TANKARD REIST
By Francine Sporenda
Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls. Co-founder of “Collective Shout: For a world free of sexploitation”, Melinda’s books include: Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (2009) and Big Porn Inc.: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry (2011, co-edited with Abigail Bray).
F: Why did you decide to publish these testimonials of survivors of prostitution?
M: We felt the time had come – indeed that it was overdue – to hear the voices of women who had once been in the sex industry and were not glowing in their praise of it. We wanted to provide a space where survivors could bear witness by sharing the reality of commercial sexual exploitation and render visible the harm done to them.
In any discussion of the prostitution industry it is mostly those with vested interests in ‘business as usual’, that we hear from. This billion-dollar industry seeks to persuade everyone that prostitution is a service like any other that allows women to earn vast sums of money, and to travel and enjoy life’s luxuries. Women in sex businesses are presented as ‘escorts, hostesses, strippers, dancers, sex workers’. Prostitution is euphemistically described as ‘compensated dating’ and ‘assisted intercourse’ with women who are ‘erotic entrepreneurs’. There is almost no mention of the damage, violation, suffering, and torment of prostitution on the body and the mind, nor of the deaths, suicides and murders that are common. The reality of the harms of prostitution has to be denied because to know it would interfere with the business of sexual exploitation. So we wanted to re-dress this imbalance and provide a platform for other voices to be heard.
F: Considering the negative impact that being able to purchase women as commodities has on the way men view women, do you think one can be a feminist and be pro-prostitution?
M: No. Being a feminist means to advance the status of women and to address their differential position in the world. Prostitution is not pro-woman or consistent with the humanity and dignity of women. It is an industry built upon the backs of real women and girls. The fact that there are millions of women and girls being used in this industry globally is hardly a sign of feminist success or advancement. It demonstrates we have failed women. The 20 survivors, in very personal accounts in Prostitution Narratives, describe the lack of choices which led them into the industry, vulnerabilities including past and present sexual abuse, poverty, and economic disadvantage, marginalization. They were preyed upon by the industry which used predatory recruitment tactics. ‘Choice’ was so often compliance with the only option available.
As Annabelle wrote in our book:
To say that a woman enters the sex industry by ‘choice’ is a lie. To make a choice you need to have the facts about what you are choosing. I believe all prostituted women are held captive, not just physically as in the case of trafficked women, but by the lies of the sex industry. The industry knows once you’re lured in it’s hard to get out. I don’t believe any woman would choose to emotionally, physically and spiritually cause herself the amount of trauma that the industry left me with.
Jade was prostituted in New Zealand. She describes how she wanted to get out but was given no help.
After five years I wanted out of the sex industry. Twice I tried to go to school…I wanted to be a youth worker. But I couldn’t study due to drugs and sex work. None of the sex work advocacy agencies ever offered a contingency to get me out of the sex industry. They supplied lawyers, health checks, lube, condoms and dams but nothing to help me get out.
As another survivor has written:
Without exiting programmes, without long-term counselling, without a safe place to live, without a real job or route to a job, without knowing prostituted women can keep their children – we are just abandoning those inside the sex trade.
Anyone reading the accounts of brutal violence suffered by our contributors should hesitate to ever associate true feminism with the sex industry again. It is also hardly pro-woman when the sex industry has all the power and money and there is barely any public funding (certainly not here in Australia) to help women who actually want to get out of the industry. A woman who once worked for the peak sex industry body here in Australia was forced to tell the large numbers of women who called seeking assistance to get out of the industry that this was not what the organization was there for – they could help women stay in, not get out.
The goal of a ‘society without prostitution’ (as expressed by the French National Assembly) – a dismantling of the ‘system of prostitution’ – is the only authentic feminist position.
F: Tanja Rahm thinks that “if it had been a crime to buy women for sexual pleasure, then I would have known that what these men were doing was wrong”. Why is it so important for young girls that laws criminalizing prostitution are passed?
M: Tanja expresses it so well. We need to listen carefully. A society which has laws in place such as the Nordic Model (criminalizing the buyers of sex, not the prostituted person) sends a strong signal that this is not legitimate work, that men who think they should be able to buy women and girls will not be given societies stamp of approval. One of the big strengths of the Nordic Model is that it doesn’t just say ‘this is wrong’. It has provisions for financial and other support and reparations to help women make a new life out of the industry. This conveys a message to women and girls –it is wrong for you to be used like this: you are worth more and we will provide what you need for a new life.
The hand of women in the sex industry is strengthened when buyers are at risk of criminal penalty. When prostituted women are free of any legal sanction, but their pimps and customers are not, this puts them in a better position in terms of police assistance, and coming forward to receive public service help if they wish. While prostitution is viewed as work, these kinds of public services aren’t established, because there is seen as no need for them.
The recently passed French law also requires programs to educate young people and raise public awareness that prostitution is linked to the commodification of the body as “a form of violence against women.” This works in concert with the other measures to send an even more powerful message – to the victims of prostitution, to those at risk of entering the industry, to the buyers and society as a whole, that prostitution is an intolerable human rights violation.
F: Jacqueline Lynne says that when she worked at a drop in center for prostituted women in Canada, most of the women in the room were of native ancestry. In Europe, most prostituted women come now from Nigeria and other African countries, from China, etc. Is there a fundamental link between racism and prostitution and how does racism plays out in pornography?
Here in Australia my co-editor Caroline Norma has written powerfully about the ‘asianisation’ of the sex industry and the expansion of ‘Asian-only’ brothels. Our newspapers are full of ads eroticizing Asian women as young, petite, fresh, compliant, willing to provide anything a man wants. They know their place (unlike white western women, being the inference). The eroticization of Asian women combined with the recycling of stereotypes about their desire to ‘please’ and their nymph–like qualities, illustrate how the industry exploits race for profit. Of course racist stereotypes abound in the marketing of women from other ethnicities. The racializing of bodies is particularly apparent in pornography, where we see a contempt for people of colour. Black women are insatiable ‘ghetto hos’, who gets what’s coming to them for being ‘mouthy’. They are popular in Gonzo genres where they are made to endure body punishing sex acts. Latino women are ‘sluts’, etc. At a time when racist epithets are more generally frowned on, they are alive and well in the sex industry.
F: “Any man that walks into a brothel has no respect for women” claims Jacqueline Gwynne in the book. Would you agree with this statement, and why?
Again, it is important to listen to those ‘on the ground’ who saw first-hand the behavior of men. I agree with it because I believe what the contributors have written and acknowledge their lived experience.
F: Caitlin Roper states that we are seeing now an increase in male sexual entitlement due to neo-liberalism and the global sex industry. Is it also your opinion?
M: Of course. Neo-liberalism has benefited the proliferation and globalization of prostitution and pornography because Governments generally support what is profitable – and from which it derives benefits from taxes and other charges – and have thus taken a ‘hands-off’ approach to the sex industry, allowing a free-market approach to reign.
Boys are being trained to think that women exist for their use and pleasure. They are learning early, from pop culture, media, advertising, music, violent hypersexualized video games and the sex industry, that they have a right to do what they want. The sex industry has moved into mainstream popular culture so boys imbibe its messages from the day they are born. Hardcore porn eroticizing violence against women is a click away, with boys as young as 9 and 10 absorbing a message that violence is sexy. In a piece that has become the most read ever published on the ABC Religion and Ethics website, I documented the sexual attitudes and behaviours girls are having to put up with. The sex industry – and its multiple manifestations in mainstream culture – endangers all women and girls everywhere.
‘A form of political gaslighting that pathologizes dissenters’: Sex trade survivor Rae Story
Rae Story worked in prostitution for a decade, primarily in the UK but also in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand. She exited prostitution last year and has subsequently written critically on the contemporary, libertarian push for full decriminalization and the concomitant project of sex industry sanitization and legitimization. Find more of her work at In Permanent Opposition. Rae tweets @raycstory.
When you read this extract from the interview I am sure you will want to read the whole thing.
FS: You’ve discussed the way in which the pro-prostitution lobby has strategically presented itself as progressive and the underdog, while defending regressive values and working to silence survivors. Can you tell us more about this behaviour and these strategies?
RS: Well as I described earlier, there is a tone to this debate that reframes those who engage in prostitution as having an “identity,” like an ethnicity or sexuality, so fighting for decriminalization becomes a human cause — an issue of civil rights — rather than being about the rights of commerce. It’s effective because those who disagree with them can then be labeled “bigots” or “SWERFS” (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists). Quite what self-identified “sex workers” imagine they are being excluded from, I don’t know… In fact, prostitution is a material reality that relates to circumstance and to gender and economic inequality not personal politics. The desire for full decriminalization is about the right of businesses to expand without state intervention or consideration for the collective.
The term “sex worker” is a political term, not a mere descriptor. It is used to legitimize the sex industry as a morally-neutral business and is akin to referring to those exploited by the sweatshop industry as “textile workers.” Added to which, it collapses the differences between different kinds of “sex trading.” So, those who run brothels can call themselves “sex workers” and put themselves on the same turf as those who actually have to deal with smelly old men’s dicks for a living. Even pornographers and glamour photographers can lay claim to the title.
The superficial usage of the language of civil rights and the use of the “sex worker” concept is a form of political engineering. Pro-decriminalization activists with even a vague relationship to the industry can be called a “sex worker” and ensure their opinion be considered of higher value on that basis. Someone else who has relationship with the sex industry who disagrees with them must be undermined in some fashion in order to discredit their opposition. This is where I think it gets sinister. Whenever I have been confronted by a pro-industry advocate, the veracity of my testimony has been rather nebulously questioned or I have been called an outright liar. Another tactic is to deploy the “I’m sorry you had a bad experience” method to imply that any negative feelings I have are isolated anomalies. The most insidious was the accusation that any mental health problems I suffer from are a result of personal failings or weakness and are not endemic to the industry.
This is a form of political gaslighting that pathologizes dissenters. The most grievous example of this was the method used to pathologize slaves who attempted to escape — their slavery was considered inherent to their personhood and trying to escape this personhood was considered an illness.
The people who employ these tactics are not progressives in theory, nor are they, generally, in practice.
Despite its definition, “revenge porn” is almost never used to describe commercial pornography. Indeed, the rush to decry “revenge porn” implies that commercial pornography is somehow not about harm, degradation, and humiliation.
It is taken for granted in many of these public discussions that all women in commercial pornography have freely and willingly consented, not only to the sex acts that have been recorded, but also to their global distribution. Beyond that, the stories of abuse from within the commercial pornography industry are largely ignored.
Women involved in all aspects of the porn industry, from the so-called “soft porn” of Playboy and the “free choice” of amateur, to the harder forms of gonzo, have spoken publicly about violence and coercion. I also recount a number of their stories in Selling Sex Short. The filmed recordings of these assaults and abuses of trust are still in circulation for a mostly male target audience to access for the purposes of sexual arousal.
Even the inclusion of specific abusive incidents in the commercial industry as “revenge pornography” is still very limited. The analysis remains stuck on an individual level and offers no meaningful context of consent. Most understandings of “revenge porn” hinge on the idea that the person in question — almost always woman — has not consented to the distribution of her image and that the purpose of publishing the image is to degrade or humiliate her in some way.
We need to understand that questionable consent, along with humiliation and degradation, are hallmarks of the pornography industry itself. Firstly, women’s inequality — economically, socially, political and sexually — contributes to a kind of cultural coercion into pornography production in the first place. There is little sense in suggesting that commercial pornography is all about “free choice,” as though consent exists outside the context of a capitalist-patriarchy or pornified culture.
Secondly, there is the representation of women in pornography. Sexual violence and sexual aggression against women in mainstream, commercial pornography is extremely common. The ways in which particular groups of women are depicted in pornography also shows that humiliation and degradation exist outside obvious sexual violence.
Racism, too, is pervasive in mainstream heterosexual (and gay male) pornography. As Gail Dines explains:
“Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and still resonate, on a sub-textual level, with the white supremacist ideologies, that continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of colour.”
Dines demonstrates how sexism and racism intertwine with common tropes such as Asian women constructed as petite and submissive and black women constructed as poor, or “ghetto,” and easily pimped. Pornography not only reinforces male dominance and white supremacy, it sexualizes them: it makes inequality something to get off to.
Furthermore, the pornography industry fundamentally requires sexual objectification in order to function. As Kathleen Barry argues in The Prostitution of Sexuality, the increasing proliferation of pornography has been, at least in part, about publicly reducing women to sexed bodies for the male gaze. She states that, in post-industrial societies:
“[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual subordination that follows women into the public world.”
In this sense, at a class level, all porn is revenge porn. Instead of an individual man benefiting at the expense of an individual woman — as in dominant understandings of “revenge porn” — this is men, as a class, benefiting at the expense of women, as a class.
The situation is similar with other aspects of the sex industry, as Sheila Jeffreys explains in The Industrial Vagina:
“The boom in strip clubs can be seen as a counterattack, in which men have reasserted their right to network for and through male dominance without the irritating presence of women, unless those women are naked and servicing their pleasures…[Strip clubs] provide an antidote to the erosion of male dominance by institutionalizing the traditional hierarchy of gender relations.”
As women have increasingly asserted their equality with (and autonomy from) men, the sex industry — including its most pervasive and profitable arm in pornography — has become a form of patriarchal compensation, or even revenge. It is a way of reclaiming hierarchies founded on racism and sexism.
We’ve had several decades worth of feminist theorizing and activism about the harms of pornography. It is 24 years since the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance put forward the idea that women should be able to hold pornographers who profit from their abuse civilly accountable. It is an ordinance that would have been well suited, in many ways, to addressing revenge porn today.
There is little need to reinvent the wheel in understanding the harms of revenge pornography. There is, however, an urgent need to re-engage with feminist critiques of pornography, sexual inequality, and consent if we are to have any hope of redressing such harms.
“The realisation that on issues related to poverty and sexual exploitation, there is no solidarity from Australian feminists…
“…I had wrongly assumed that those leading the charge against sexism would examine how ethnocentrism and economic disparity have created and maintained conditions, policies and norms under which exploitation of women is inevitable.”
“Yet an expanding sex trade only results in more women trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence. Rather than opening up new opportunities, women in the sex trade are far less likely to live to see 40 years of age due to the violence, illness and disease to which the johns expose them…”
“Vulnerable women’s voices are blocked out of feminist media in order to preference a few wealthy women in the Australian industry”
“I’ve come to realise that if anyone couldn’t care less about the countless Asian girls being exploited at home and abroad, it is Australian feminists.”
Amber Rose’s Slutwalk is the natural pinnacle of Slutwalk
“The kids of Slutwalk readily embraced anti-feminist stereotypes of second wavers and chose to distance themselves from the movement, selling out for media coverage and male support. And where did it get us? Well, you see young, privileged women today advocating for prostitution and pornography as liberated choices for women using the same language the Slutwalkers did: “My body my choice!” “I do what I want, fuck yeah!” You see efforts to encourage men to vote against Stephen Harper by offering blow jobs or exchanging nude photos for votes. “Sluts Against Harper” [NSFW — feel free to report this Instagram account for pornography] is direct evidence of Slutwalk’s impact on young people’s understanding of politics today. All women can offer, in terms of advocating for change, are their objectified bodies. While leftist men have long encouraged women’s subordinate status, only considering men’s liberation and equality something worth fighting for, it’s new for self-described “feminists” to glom on to this blatant sexism.
The neoliberal, self-centered, enormously deluded notion that if women simply “choose” objectification or commodification, it becomes empowering, now underpins mainstream feminism. We seem to have fully embraced the idea that “reclaiming” misogyny and making it our own is the best we can do. While it’s clear to those of us in the movement that this is anything but feminism, those engaged don’t see it that way, nor does the media. “
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts
Ja feel men’s fashion label: corporate sexual predator promoting non-consensual sex acts.
Australian company, Ja feel, promotes the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls (as well as pornographic imagery and racist stereotypes) all in the name of marketing their “lifestyle brand.”
The Perth-based retail company, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
You can see how committed they are to promoting rape culture based on images from their social media accounts. Read more
We feel you need to be shut down
Just when you think it can’t get worse…
How is this Australian company allowed to promote the sexual abuse and degradation of women and girls in this way? Perth-based Ja feel, which promotes itself as a clubbing and music festival label and ships its misogyny worldwide, is, in reality, a corporate sexual predator.
Here are some images from their social media accounts.
See how committed they are to promoting rape culture (if the meaning is unclear, the reference below is to a man shifting from vaginal to anal penetration without consent then pretending to be sorry about it).
See how they love giving women the pornified treatment and teaching boys they are entitled to women’s bodies. (#TittyTuesday and #ThongThursday are among their popular hashtags).
See how they feature even a young girl in a sexually suggestive way, with the elephant’s trunk as phallic symbol (there’s a popular porn- themed racist stereotype in this one too).
And, here are stickers, complete with instructions on sticking them on a woman’s breasts.
Echoing rape culture slogans, migrating porn images into every day advertising, grooming a whole generation of boys to prey upon women because that’s what ‘men’s lifestyle’ means now, Ja feel is building the scaffolding which reinforces sexist attitudes creating an environment where violence against women is flourishing. We feel your hate.
UPDATE: California Kisses removes paedophilic ‘pop that’ ads after Collective Shout pressure
In April Collective Shout ran a piece by Jemma Nicoll (first published on MTR) exposing the harmful online practices of global dancewear label California Kisses (CK). The company’s homepage advertisement featured three models aged 12-16 posed alongside the slogan ‘Pop That’, a popular porn-inspired phrase referring to the ‘popping’ of her cherry, or the taking of virginity.
The article called CK to account on its unmonitored social media activity- almost 300,000 followers, mostly teenage girls, were exposed to online trolls posting abusive, paedophilic comments on the images of CK child models.
On 29 April, Collective Shout wrote to the four Australian dancewear retailers that stock CK, including Showcase- the licence-holders for on-selling the label in Australia. We invited stockists to respond by removing the label from their stores and letting the company know, until CK decided to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and ethical online practices.
Showcase did not respond. Out of the other retailers contacted – Tu Tu Cute Dance Supplies, Pirouette and Daisy Dancewear -Collective Shout received only one patronizing email reply from Tutu Cute Dance Supplies in Perth, WA which showed complete disregard for the online safety of young girls and ethical practices in children’s advertising:
CK did not respond directly to the accusations made in the piece or to the general outrage expressed on social media in response. However we note that the company has since quietly removed the ‘Pop That’ slogan from their on-line advertising. CK’s Instagram account is currently clear of paedophilic comments.
Thanks to all who helped us put pressure on CK to stop borrowing from a porn genre in their dance wear advertising.
Our investigation continues: Dancewear company does nothing to stop men posting fantasies about young dance models
Two weeks ago I ran this piece by Sydney dance teacher and writer Jemma Nicoll, about the sexification of young dancers inside Australia’s booming dance studio scene.
It became one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever published here at MTR.
In this continuing investigation,Jemma has now uncovered more about the seedy underside of the industry, including sext-up styling and posing of girls in ads for dance wear.
Pop a 12 year-olds virginity says global dancewear company
The girl on your left is 16.
The one in the middle is 14.
The one to your right, she’s 12 years old.
And the dancewear company they model for think it’s OK to exploit them for male paedophiliac fantasies.
‘Pop that’. For those who are unaware, this is a porn-inspired phrase referring to the ‘popping’ of her cherry – taking her virginity. It’s a popular porn genre.
It is also the phrase superimposed over the three child models on the homepage of California Kisses (CK); a popular American dance wear label currently advertising for new Australian stockists. The dancers featured are posed coyly in CK’s renowned crop and booty short combinations.
In a recent advertisement for the label, CK feature a girl who appears to be around 5-7 years of age dressed in a brief French Maid’s outfit.
The brand currently supply to four Australian stockists including Showcase: the largest dance competition event in the country. Together, Showcase and CK held the ‘California Kisses Australian Model Search’ in January, with the crowned winner receiving an all-expenses paid trip to the U.S for a modeling shoot with the company.
The parent company of Showcase is Global Events & Entertainment Pty Ltd, which holds the exclusive license to on-sell CK stock in Australia. Last week they invited all Australian dancewear retailers to submit an application to stock the CK label.
CK has a global following of over 278,000 users on Instagram. On reading the comments that flood their account daily, their audience can be compartmentalised into two: dancers as young as 10, and older men who blatantly express their gratification at the little girls posing in the CK range. Here is a sample of what the company allow on their page for thousands of girls to see.
‘Give me a blowy’
‘F*** her right in the pussy’
‘Nice body for f***’
‘Nice position for f***’
‘I enjoy this photo’
‘Small as breasticles’
‘[Too] flat chested. What’s the reason to wear that if there’s nothing?’
‘This b**** is anorexic’
‘So cute girl’,
‘I want to marry her’, ‘
Hey how old are you?’
After clicking on a serial commenter who appreciates many of the company’s images, I arrived at the profile of a middle-aged man smiling proudly alongside his wife and two sons.
After pasting one of many foreign comments by Middle-Eastern men into Google translator, I can now say ‘absolutely gorgeous’ in the Farsi dialect.
Among the pedophiliac comments are those of thousands of young girls despising their own bodies and publicly shaming the faces, bellies, breasts and thighs of others. ‘I’m so fat I don’t stand a chance’ says one, with crying face emoticon and a gun pointing towards it.
With advertising and online practices like these, we call on Australian dancewear companies to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and not go near the CK brand. Current Australian stockists should remove the CK brand.
California Kisses needs to clean up its act and do right by the thousands of young girls that follow their every move.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.
Pathologizing disagreement is an intellectually dishonest way to cope with challenging arguments.
The MTR blog is fast becoming something of a shrine to the work of prolific and award winning blogger Meghan Murphy. Here’s her latest, from Canada’s Globe and Mail.
Meghan Murphy is a Vancouver writer and journalist and founder of the website Feminist Current.
Talk about “safe spaces” has been spreading amid a high-profile series of incidents at universities in North America and Europe, leading many to argue that today’s students need to develop thicker skins. These debate-free zones are presented as a way of protecting individuals from potentially traumatic experiences, but the reality is much more pernicious – and the issue extends far beyond campus politics.
We’re not talking here about the kinds of private spaces that allow individuals to organize, heal or meet among themselves on their own terms. Female victims of rape and abuse, for example, need access to “safe spaces” that are free from men and abusers. People of colour should have every right to meet privately among themselves. These are basic tenets that marginalized groups ascribe to when struggling against systems of power. But these are limited, designated spaces – it’s another thing altogether to appropriate wider public places or events, college campuses and public social-media forums, such as Twitter.
As a feminist, I understand that ideas and words are not harmless. But the recent pushback hasn’t targeted people pushing racist or misogynist doctrine. Instead, people are arguing that the very act of questioning positions they consider to be “right” constitutes hate speech. Academics and journalists, even ones who are advancing long-standing feminist and anti-imperialist arguments, are finding themselves blacklisted because their ideas challenge a liberal status quo.
There are a number of recent examples from the prostitution debate alone:
English journalist Julie Bindel was removed from a London panel discussing a documentary about a prostitution survivor because of protests by groups that want to legalize the sex industry. (Ms. Bindel advocates for the Nordic model of law, recently adopted in Canada but opposed by many mainstream feminists.)
After Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges wrote an article condemning the sex industry as “the quintessential expression of global capitalism,” the organizer of a Vancouver conference about “resource capitalism” was threatened with a boycott if the journalist’s keynote speech – scheduled for delivery Friday night – was allowed to proceed.
Feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmiths, University of London, was cancelled last month due to complaints about her position on prostitution. Ironically, it was free speech, not prostitution, that was to have been the focus of her show.
The Cambridge Union was asked to withdraw its speaking invitation to feminist icon Germaine Greer, who was accused of “hate speech” because she said she wasn’t sure she believed transphobia was a thing.
It’s not just campuses, though, where people are using the “safe space” concept to silence those they disagree with. The Block Bot is an online incarnation of “safe space” – it’s a website whose service aims to protect Twitter users from “trolls, abusers and bigots.” Put aside the point that any Twitter user can already block anyone they wish at any given time – the way the application has been put into effect shows that its professed purpose does not match its actual impact.
Rather than weeding out users who aim to harass or threaten, the application seeks to compile a list of political dissidents, labelling users who step out of line with a variety of slurs. I myself was added to “Level 2” for expressing polite disappointment that a sexual-assault centre had taken a position in favour of decriminalizing the purchase of sex.
Thousands of others, including noteworthies such as New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, physicist Brian Cox, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, are listed on the Block Bot – guilty not of trolling, harassing or abusing but of having opinions “blockers” disagree with. The entire site, as a result, has recently faced libel warnings.
What’s troubling about efforts to silence those whose beliefs we find distasteful is not just the implications of censorship and libel, but the dishonesty of it all.
Claims that particular conversations or debates will cause us to “feel unsafe” are, in these contexts, little more than an excuse to shut down dissenting points of view. It puts those dissenters in the awkward position of having to dispute their accuser’s mental stability or claims of emotional trauma instead of allowing them to respond to the real issue: political disagreement. You can argue with someone who says “I want to ban this particular speaker from a panel because I disagree with her position,” but it’s more difficult to challenge someone who says “This person makes me feel unsafe.”
Pathologizing disagreement is an intellectually dishonest way to cope with challenging arguments. It certainly doesn’t support critical thinking.
It also creates a culture wherein people are afraid to express dissenting opinions or question the party line. This is ironic, because many of those under threat of being silenced are people who are speaking out against abuse, harassment and violence. While some may hold “controversial” opinions about how best to do it, they are just that – controversial. Throughout history, our heroes and radicals have held controversial opinions. How often do tepid opinions and fearfulness change the world for the better?
It’s time proponents of this kind of “safe space” start being forthright in their accusations. It’s okay to disagree, but not to frame differences of opinion as abuse. Those working to silence the disagreeable might imagine the day they question peers themselves, then ask whether they are prepared to choose between silence or blacklisting.
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