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.
The rape T.shirt is a micros example of the normalisation of rape culture in fashion and pop culture. Laura McNally highlights the global currency of sexual violence against women, below.
Stop glorifying rape and violence. Abide by your Content Usage Policy by moderating content before it goes live on your site.
Powered By Girl
Last week we found a product on CafePress titled “Rape, Christmas Long Sleeve T-Shirt.”
Other recent products include “RAPED Oval Decal” sticker, “Feeling raped Ash Grey T-shirt” and a mug printed with the words “I could rape a cup of tea.”
These are just a few examples of many products that have featured on CafePress that trivialise rape and sexual violence.
Products such as these are always removed quickly for breaching CafePress’ Content Usage Policy [this one is still there]. But they shouldn’t be on its website in the first place. It is no use removing a product promoting rape after a survivor of rape has been triggered by it, or some viewers have already internalised it as “normal” and acceptable. The damage has already been done.
We’re calling on CafePress to remove all content that glorifies rape and violence from its website, and ensure that it adheres fully to its Content Usage Policy in the future, by moderating content before it goes live on the site.
Cafepress is an online shop where anyone can create and sell content, from t-shirts to phone-cases. It’s fantastic that we have a free platform to create content, but not when this content violates the rights of others and trivialises rape and violence.
Rape is not a fashion accessory. Although some content uploaders on CafePress obviously seem to think that it is. Rape is a horrific act of violence that devastates thousands of people’s lives. A popular website like CafePress should not be endorsing products that glorify it.
Cafe Press’ own Content Usage Policy lists the following under “Prohibited Content”;
Content that may violate the rights of any person or entity, including moral rights and rights of publicity or privacy.
Content that glorifies hatred, violence, racial, ethnic or religious intolerance.
Content that promotes illegal activities.
Content trivialising rape violates all 3 of these policies, and therefore CafePress has a responsibility to ensure that it is not on the website. Rape is immoral and promotes illegal activity. Worst of all, this content glorifies hatred and violence.
Christmas is fast approaching, and while it may be a happy time of year for many of us, violence against women increases dramatically during the Christmas period. Considering this, it’s disgusting that any website could be selling a product titled “Rape, Christmas Long Sleeve T-shirt.”
We’re calling on CafePress to abide by its Content Usage Policy and remove all content trivialising rape and violence. We’re asking CafePress to adhere properly to its Content Usage Policy so that we never see content glorifying rape and violence on its site again. Sign petition
The victims of anti-rape campaigns: Men on sexodus
By Laura McNally
If we consider that rape in marriage was legal up until recent decades in most OECD countries, or that rape is a necessary product of the global sex trade, or that rape is a systemic tool in war, or that rape convictions are near enough to nil in most countries, then it should be clear that ending rape would require a massive shift in global relations.
Between the pulling of Grand Theft Auto V from Target Australia and the increasing number of women who want to be treated like humans, men are under attack like never before.
A widely-read article by Milo Yiannopoulos, published at Breitbart, recently decried the excruciating oppression facing men, who, with the advent of women’s right to work and vote, are no longer able to use “girls” to solve their problems. A travesty of the highest sort. The author quotes one man:
“[it] wouldn’t be so bad if we could at least dull the pain with girls. But we’re treated like paedophiles and potential rapists just for showing interest”
These men claim they are earning less money, have less retirement funds and now, have to deal with “girls” who expect to be treated with respect. It’s unthinkable, really.
These men cannot even shop safely at Target anymore, knowing their right to prostitute and murder women within their gaming world is being scrutinized. What’s next? Equal pay? This madness has to stop.
Yiannopoulos informs us that women, surely, are the driving force behind decreasing social mobility, political disillusionment, and the fragmentation of the liberal democratic system. Presumably women’s rights are also to blame for the melting of the polar ice caps and the declining number of wild bees.
Apparently if women had never started with this “right to vote” bullshit, none of this would have happened.
The author has surely confused “feminism” with rampant capitalism, advanced globalization and the dearth of state governance. Undeterred by his errors, the author presents his case for why men are the real victims of the systems they created in order to maintain their own supremacy.
I agree with him on one thing: the pale male purveyors of globalized capitalism have shat in their own nests. But it’s not because of women that the systems underpinning capitalism are crumbling from the inside out.
The global economic system and its political counterparts are in a crisis of their own making. Women rallying to end rape have very little to do with this.
Yet according to Yiannopoulos, they do. Those pesky anti-rape seminars at American colleges are ruining men’s willingness to rape and with it their entire lives and the social fabric of society. Ironic then that he accuses women of hysteria…
The idea that rape is a central feature of the broader economic system is actually an important one. Yet the author fails to engage with this in any meaningful way (obviously).
If we consider that rape in marriage was legal up until recent decades in most OECD countries, or that rape is a necessary product of the global sex trade, or that rape is a systemic tool in war, or that rape convictions are near enough to nil in most countries, then it should be clear that ending rape would require a massive shift in global relations.
Ending rape, then, requires a radical revisioning of the systems that govern society and an acknowledgement of women as co-creators.
The idea that women may no longer be passive recipients of male-centric political, legal and economic systems is likely to unsettle those men who pin their egocentric notions of self-worth on traditional power relations over women.
Men who’ve sat at the pinnacle of such power relations may be disillusioned by the growing complexity and diversity around them. Perhaps they are asking “Why are black people in my workplace?”… “How could this woman be my manager and why can’t I force her into sex?” Apparently, some men have found themselves directly confronted by the notion that men should not rape. In fact, the author goes to the extent of calling new anti-rape law “unworkable, prudish and downright misandrist.”
Unsurprisingly, Yiannopoulos fails to provide any actual data to back up his woman-hating rhetoric. First person narrative from his bros who can’t be bothered with “chicks” anymore is enough to justify his hysterical claims that the world falling to pieces because “rape law.”
As luck would have it, this freshly-laid pile of anecdotal excrement is well-received by thousands of readers, none of whom seem to notice the stark lack of substantive evidence.
This stands in contrast to any article ever written on women’s rights, which is immediately torn apart by commenter-turned-statisticians who question the limitations of methodology, the lack of strength in p-values and repeat the only thing they remember from the research methods course they took in first year — “correlation is not causation.” Strangely, few seem to care for empiricism when it is women’s rights under fire.
We live in a society so accustomed to misogyny that the slightest move in favour of women’s human rights is misinterpreted as female supremacy. If precedent is anything to go by, these new misandry-laden rape laws will still see only a very small percentage of rapists ever being charged — hardly female supremacy at work. And the removal of GTA from a few retailers does not actually censor the world of depraved gaming, it merely sends a message about social responsibility.
The fact is that sex crimes against women are on the rise in many countries, self-harm, suicide and eating disorders in girls are burgeoning, and sex trafficking of the vulnerable is a booming business. Young women are under more sexual coercive pressure from men than ever before. There is no male ‘sexodus’ and in fact research suggests quite the opposite. The idea that men are now somehow suffering because rape laws make them feel rejected is surely hysteria at its peak.
Next week Breitbart has a special follow-up feature: “Why women are the biggest victims of women’s rights.” I can hardly wait.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD
candidate. Her current research examines the political and social implications of global corporate social responsibility. Find more of her work at lauramcnally.com.
You may have heard about the misogynist antics of self-proclaimed “pick-up artist” and Real Social Dynamics (RSD) coach, Julien Blanc, whose recommendations for picking up women include grabbing women’s throats and pushing their faces into your crotch. Or you may have heard the sexist lyrics promoted by American entertainer, Redfoo, in his new single “Literally, I Can’t,” wherein women are encouraged to perform “girl on girl” for men at parties and, when they refuse, are instructed to “shut the fuck up.” If, like me, you walked away feeling offended by the actions of these men — I’m pleased to report that you were not alone.
Over the last month, both Blanc and Redfoo have been widely criticized by feminist activists and bloggers throughout Australia and North America. Recently, Blanc’s Visa was cancelled in Australia when a group of protesters picketed outside the venue where he was set to give one of his controversial RSD seminars — a protest that was spurred on by the hashtag, #takedownjulienblanc. Redfoo’s latest video sparked the hashtag #shutthefooup and prompted a Change.org petition demanding his dismissal as a judge from X Factor Australia.
I get excited to create things that will unite all of us through laughter, dance & celebration. If during the process I offend anyone, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. In the future I will be more mindful of the way I present my art.
Following Redfoo’s vague apology for his “excited” behaviour and contentious “art,” Blanc also issued an apology during an interview on CNN. In one excerpt of the five minute conversation, Blanc nervously says:
Like, I feel horrible. I’m not going to be happy to be the most hated man in the world. I’m overwhelmed by the way people are responding. With those pictures there that you’re referring to, of again, like, choking women, um, I just want to make that clear, that is not what I teach. Like, … those pictures right there, those were a horrible, horrible attempt at humour. Um, you know, it’s… you know, they were also, like, taken out of context…
On the surface, both Blanc and Redfoo appear to address the public’s concerns, but a closer inspection of their “apologies” reveals that the main reason they are sorry is because they feel they are either being misinterpreted or condemned. Indeed, while both Blanc and Redfoo use the words “sorry” and “apology” in their statements, what’s actually missing from their apologies is the apology itself.
In his memoir, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch explains that there are three parts to giving a sincere apology: Identifying what you did wrong, assuring the offended party that you will not repeat your misbehaviour, and finally (and perhaps most importantly), asking what you can do to make it better. Both Blanc and Redfoo’s apologies fall short of providing what I consider to be a sincere apology, as they fail to critique (or understand the critique of) their misogynist behaviour and, as a consequence, cannot actually commit to changing their actions and making amends.
The lack of critical reflection in both Blanc and Redfoo’s ttempts to clarify their position shows how little they understand or care about the response to (or the impact of) their behaviour. Rather than discussing the systemic problem of men’s violence against women, which is where the vast majority of feminist activists are citing concern, both men hide behind the argument that their messages were taken “out of context” and claim they have been “misrepresented” — taken seriously when really it was all in good fun.
On Twitter, Redfoo accuses his critics of having an “agenda” and of failing to understand the supposedly “satirical” nature of his music, gaining the support of one Australian shock-jock who, during an interview with Redfoo, calls critics of his new song, “dickheads,” “do-gooder idiots,” and “Tupperware-collecting party-poopers.”*
Blanc also issues an apology that references “humour” as a way of, at least partially, justifying his actions, explaining that the offensive pictures of him on social media, some of which allude to sexually violent acts, were simply “taken out of context” and were intended to be funny.
Hiding behind a thin veil of humour to justify one’s misogyny is not new. Indeed, this notion has and been discussed at length by feminist writers such as Abigail Bray. In Misogyny Re-Loaded, Bray argues that, “if misogyny has a soundtrack it is canned laughter… Laughter instructs the audience that it is not only permissible to laugh at the oppression of women but that it is expected.”
Rather than apologizing and reflecting on the criticisms defining their actions as sexist and deplorable, Blanc and Redfoo minimize concern. Indeed, both men react with a sense of shock that their messages have caused outrage to begin with, with Blanc claiming he was “overwhelmed” by the attention his antics were receiving and Redfoo saying, “I don’t know how rape culture and Redfoo got into the same headline.” In an age where rape culture has become a topic for the lulz, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Because Blanc and Redfoo fail to identify, acknowledge, and discuss the factors that sparked outrage to begin with, they are incapable of sincerely promising to change. While both men do make references to modifying their future actions, they do so in a vague and superficial way. Redfoo ensures his fans that, he will be “more mindful” when presenting his “art” in future, while Blanc explains that he is walking away from this experience hoping to “re-evaluat[e] everything” he posts online.
But what exactly do their “mindful re-evaluations” entail? How can someone truly make amends when they have not even identified why their actions sparked outrage to begin with? As readers, feminists, bloggers, and survivors of men’s violence, we are left with a series of apologies that fail to address our concerns at all — and we deserve better. An insincere apology is worse than receiving no apology at all.
*Note: I have only ever attended one Tupperware party when I was seven. I was offered a zucchini quiche and at no point was I told to “shut the fuck up.” TUPPERWARE PARTIES ROCK.
(reprinted with permission of author) Natalie Jovanovski is a PhD Candidate and Feminist Researcher from Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include the harms of sexual objectification, the cultural reinforcement of eating disorders, and the discursive portrayal of food in contemporary Western media.
‘I have lost count of how many women have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred – an explosive new manifesto against rape culture’ (extract from Misogyny Re-loaded)
‘At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women’
By Laura McNally
Emma Watson’s speech at the UN has made headlines worldwide. It wasn’t a bad speech. Like all women, Watson is doing the best she can with the information she has available to her.
Several feminists have already addressed some of the problematic aspects of her speech. Like many, I am critical of the strategies employed by transnational organizations like the UN. I am also critical of liberal feminism.
But as a woman who is most concerned with women’s liberation, I acknowledge that Emma Watson has created more awareness in ten minutes than I could in my lifetime.
So you know what is more problematic, male-centric, and piecemeal than Emma Watson’s speech?
Liberal feminist analysis. Let me give just a few examples:
2) Liberal feminism frames sexual violence in porn as an empowered choice for women.
3) Liberal feminism responds “Not All Porn” (#NAP) in the same way sexists respond “not all men” when we talk about male violence and misogyny. Feminists ought to be aware that criticism is aimed at cultures, classes, and industries — not individual people.
5) Liberal feminism applies criticism to every industry except the sex trade despite the fact that the sex industry hinges upon classism, sexism, racism and a global trade which commodifies violence against girls and women.
6) Liberal feminism prioritises first-world women’s accounts of feeling empowered, shunning women who don’t have the language, resources, Twitter/Tumblr accounts to articulate the extent of their oppression.
7) While liberal feminism claims to be “intersectional” it concomitantly evades structural analysis and conceals multiple oppressions with a rhetoric of agency. This is an issue that Kimberlé Crenshaw has spoken on recently. As if feeling agentic is going to keep the most vulnerable women alive.
8) Liberal feminism claims to want to end sexist stereotypes, but freely labels women “thin-lipped,” prudish, and anti-sex if they dare say any of the things that I have just written here.
9) Liberal feminism has been so concerned about “including men” and being “pro-sex” that they have repeatedly published “feminist” works on behalf of male sex predators and attempted killers.
Liberal feminism is not only male-centric in rhetoric, but it positions male entitlement as feminist.
I say: At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women.
Yes, Emma is another white woman adding her voice to a movement that continues to prioritize the perspectives of white people. But does that mean professional white feminists are going to renounce their careers? I wouldn’t expect so. But I would expect that they might consider whether their political analysis serves to amplify or obscure the reality of women already marginalized by the current white-male-centric world order.
Perhaps Emma’s critics can also question whether liberal feminism is really working to challenge male hegemony continuing to serve up diatribes about “finding agency” in oppressive circumstances. They might question whether this liberal, postmodern, anti-structural, acontextual approach to feminism even means anything for women outside of first-world capital cities… Marketing something as “intersectional” doesn’t make it so.
It would seem that we can either fight to end patriarchy and the institutions that prop up its existence, or we can work to make patriarchy more acceptable and equitable by selling it as “choice.” One of these options sounds like feminism and the other sounds like corporate strategy.
As it turns out nobody is liberated by these industries and participation is rarely a “free choice.” In fact research shows quite the opposite with very few South East Asian women ever personally seeking out the industry. To defend an industry that hinges upon impoverished girls and women’s lack of choice, and instead frame it as being primarily about “women’s choices” shows that liberal feminism is reserved for women with class privilege.
Yes, some women can choose. Some women have the social mobility required to move in and out of different fields of work and that is great. Of course no woman should be stigmatised for her choices, whatever they may be. But feminist analysis is not just about women who have options. Feminism that only reflects women with choice serves to further silence women who have few or none.
As bell hooks has said:
[Feminism] has never emerged from the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually — women who are powerless to change their condition in life. They are a silent majority.
Girls are increasingly surrounded by sex trade influences, with much of the visual culture saturated with pornography. Male entitlement is a dangerous, global epidemic. Thai reports show 40 per cent of the sex industry is made up of underage girls. Male sexual entitlement is colonizing the third world faster than transnational corporations ever could. This local-global industrializing of sexual exploitation is constraining the rights and choices of girls globally. Working to legitimize this exploitation only solidifies the lack of choice for these girls and women.
How can liberal feminists bolster these industries and simultaneously claim to fight for choice? Whose choice? Male sex tourists perhaps? From my experience living throughout South East Asia, a deep sense of collectivist culture, filial piety where children are strongly obligated to support their aging parents, combined with poverty, all make the idea of individual choice and empowerment laughable. Poor women living in South East Asia don’t simply log on to seek.com and peruse potential career “choices.” Life is not as simply as victims vs. agents.
An all too common story across Asia is parents who cannot afford to feed their children. They may find themselves forced to send their daughters or sons to the city with the promise of “school and work” — this is increasingly impacting strained rural populations. Are these girls going to be helped by “feeling agency” while they are exploited? Perhaps they could benefit from state sanctioned and local development programs, rather than sex predator tourists?
Australian writers have told me that girls in Asia have to “choose” between the garment industry and the sex industry, otherwise beg. Why is this first-world “choice” narrative homogenizing feminist discourse? It is an entirely reductionist, ethnocentric and distorted idea of women’s reality overseas. What ever happened to intersectionality?
Liberal feminist rhetoric is dominated by first-world accounts of “I think this is empowering so it is.” This apolitical approach evades the statistics and realities of millions of girls and women whose stories we will likely never read about in a feminist bestseller. Feminism has come to mean whatever wealthy consumers want it to mean — “feeling good,” rather than actual change or justice. We seem to forget that the world is not full of women who are privileged enough to try out oppressive systems like pole-dancing for “fun.” We’ve ended up in a situation where Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus call their actions feminist — while that’s ludicrous, I can see exactly how they came to that conclusion.
I understand that liberal feminism does seek to change sexist norms and attitudes, but it does so by supporting the industries that ensure sexist behaviour is normative, institutionalized, and profitable. Not only does this garner political legitimacy for sexist industries, but it bolsters male consumers who can argue their sex tourism and excessive porn use is acceptable or even “feminist.” Empirical evidence shows that first-world male consumers of pornography have higher sexist and rape-accepting attitudes — attitudes that they can more easily enact in locations with fewer law enforcement resources.
I am struck by recent liberal feminist texts criticizing “neoliberal feminism” (which isn’t actually a thing) while the crux of liberal feminism could not be more closely aligned with neoliberal exploitation of women.
So is #heforshe going to actually achieve anything with men? At an individual level, I hope so — we certainly need it. What I do know is that, for my friends living in poverty, having men hear about this will likely do more for them than talking about feminist agency or feminist porn.
I understand entirely why Watson’s speech was somewhat piecemeal, problematic and feminist-lite… But that is because she is working with liberal feminist theory, and it’s the best she (or anyone) could do with that body of work.
Watson is simply advocating for girls and women the only way she knows. So all I have to say to her is: “Thank you. You did what you could, we have a lot of work to do and we welcome you.”
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com. Reprinted with permission Laura McNally/ Feminist Current
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