The Oxymoron Strikes Again: Religious Feminists

It’s hardly an original idea that just because women do something, that something does not automatically become a “feminist” thing to do.  Whether it’s defending prostitution, hailing pornography, living the BDSM lifestyle, or just staying with some asshole who beats her, not all “choices” a woman makes are equally good.  Even more, not all “choices” deserve to be defended by feminists.  Why?  Because they’re dehumanizing, belittling, and deeply misogynistic at their very cores.  Sadly, many women who agree with all those things–women who call themselves feminists–will suddenly come to a screeching halt and scream when religion is added to the list.

I don’t need to pull out the verses of the various holy books that advise on how and when to beat your wife, how to give your sexual slave to a group of men to be raped and murdered, or how to enslave all virgin females captured in war.  I don’t need to list the various religious-based laws, customs and political movements that seek to limit, oppress and exploit  women.  I mean, they all have them.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, is it?

Recently, I have come across some extremely strange defenses of religion.  I thought I would lay those out, and respond to them:

  • Defense #1:  “Yes, there are misogynistic parts of religion, but you don’t have to believe in all of it.”
  • Response #1:  If you have to pick and choose the least oppressive parts of a religion, what is the point?  If there are fundamentally unjust beliefs and practices embedded in the teachings, writings and traditions of a religion, is it not best to just jettison it altogether? If you have to convince yourself something is not unjust, picking and choosing bits and pieces of it, perhaps you should look at why you have to try to so hard.
  • Defense #2:  “But many women who consider themselves feminists believe in Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/whatever.”
  • Response #2:  Many women who consider themselves feminists fight tooth and nail to defend porn, prostitution and mainstream American political parties.  It doesn’t make them right.  It sure as hell doesn’t mean that anyone else should join in their delusions and actually defend them as feminist.
  • Defense #3:  “But that’s just how society is.  There’s no use fighting it.”
  • Response #3:  There’s no point in being politically active at all if this is your view of things.  There is not one thing that makes religion necessary.  It isn’t needed for social interaction.  It isn’t needed for people to treat each other ethically or kindly.  (In fact, we have evidence that it causes people to do just the opposite.)  It isn’t needed to continue the species.  It isn’t needed to sustain life in any way.  Furthermore, it is a fairy tale and encourages people to indulge in magical thinking.
  • Defense #4:  “But it’s their culture, and you have to respect it.  No one can judge another culture/religion/tradition/whatever.”
  • Response #4:  I’ve written before about my rejection of cultural and ethical relativism.  It’s a lazy, cowardly way of thinking.  It’s a way to avoid taking a stand.  No, you really don’t have to respect it.  You have to understand where people are coming from and respect them as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give any practice or belief system a stamp of approval–especially when it is oppressive in both doctrine and practice.

Unfortunately, it is on the Left where you find much of this bizarre defense of religion, especially Islam.  The argument given is that it’s “Islamophobic” to criticize the religion–even as women are oppressed, tortured or killed under said religion.  The Left’s tendency to adopt the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” plays into this.  No matter how brutal or oppressive a regime, a group or a belief system, if it opposes the U.S., it is “good”.

Strangely, this tendency to use victimization to avoid criticism is also a handy tool used by one of the Left’s favorite targets:  Israel.  Anti-Semitism, in general, and the Holocaust, specifically, are used to deflect and evade criticism of Israel, its oppressive practices, and its oppressive religion.  The Left does not recognize this very real violence and oppression aimed at the Jews to be a valid reason to avoid criticizing the violence of Israel when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians.  Perhaps that is because Israeli violence and rhetoric are primarily aimed at men, at least in public. (Although women are all too commonly caught in the middle of one group of patriarchal males battling another group of patriarchal males.)  There are plenty of reasons to criticize Israel.  Its treatment of Palestinians is one of them.  Its status as a Jewish state–a state founded on misogynistic doctrine–is another.

In the U.S., we have Christians claiming that they are being victimized.  They point at any attempt to allow people to live secular lives free of religious-based bigotry as an attack on their religion.  They do so even as they pass laws that allow people to use their religious-based hatred to oppress others.

People talk of a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.  I see no such thing.  Playing the victim seems to be the tried-and-true method of avoiding responsibility for the bigotry and oppression at the heart of your religious teachings.  It’s something that all of the so-called “People of the Book” can agree upon.  Is that progress?

The Nature of Consent: Ideologies, Material Realities and Misogyny

When I discuss my opposition to porn with the devotees of the male-dominated Left, I am commonly attacked for either promoting censorship, being anti-sex, or being obsessed with the “worst” porn.  I’ve already stated–repeatedly, in fact–that I don’t believe porn should be legally banned; that doesn’t mean I have to support it as a public good any more than I have to support racist speech or anti-Semitic speech as a public good.   As for being “anti-sex”, that’s the critics’ hang-up.  Fucking and watching other people fuck aren’t the same thing.  I guess some people still don’t get that.  As Gail Dines has stated, being anti-porn is no more about being anti-sex than criticizing McDonald’s is about being anti-food.  As for the “worst” porn charge, the fact is that the gonzo market has become the primary porn market.  That’s what the (almost completely) male market is buying and viewing these days.  Facts are the facts.  The thing that really bothers me, though, is that none of these three criticism of my position on porn has to do with the real issue, anyway.  The real issue at the heart of the porn debate is ideology.

The core of the porn debate is how ideologies are communicated and reinforced.  Once they are communicated and reinforced, how do those ideologies influence the material realities of people’s lives?  In this case, how does the ideology of misogyny so prevalent in the modern porn video influence the realities for women and girls?  We are all ready and willing to believe that hateful depictions of minority groups in the media are damaging.  We are all ready and willing to publicly condemn those as being part and parcel of a hateful ideology.  We are all ready to work to try to eradicate them–not through outright censorship, but by exposing and shaming them.  Why, then, is there a refusal to recognize that porn is about ideology, too?  That it reinforces a hateful ideology, and should be publicly criticized and condemned as a result?  That is the heart of the matter.

This issue returned to the front of my mind after I watched the TV documentary Hardcore.  The documentary was produced in 2001 for the U.K.’s Channel 4.  Like most British documentaries, it is heavy on pop psychology.  If one can get past that minor annoyance, however, it reveals a lot about how women are treated in the porn world.  The most important revelation of Hardcore is how the boundaries set by the women of porn are torn down by the male producers and agents.  The idea of “choice” that is so often bandied about by the defenders of the industry is as pure fantasy, as revealed by the experiences of this woman and these men within the industry.

The documentary follows Felicity, a 25-year-old single mom from Essex.  Felicity has been performing in British porn for a while.  At this point in her life, she is being brought to L.A. to see about working in the U.S. porn industry.  Her agent, a British man named Richard, seems to specialize in bringing British women to the U.S. to work in the L.A. porn industry.  Richard is there to meet Felicity when she arrives at LAX.

When Richard takes Felicity around to a casting call the next day, she is given a sheet to fill out.  In includes a list of “will do” and “won’t do” for her to fill out.  Richard guides Felicity in how to fill it out.  Richard explicitly tells her to circle that she will work without condoms.  She says she doesn’t want to do anal sex, but she indicates on the sheet that she will.  Later, when she speaks directly to casting agents, she tells them that she doesn’t want to do anal scenes.  If she must do one, she needs the man to have a small penis.  In other conversations with Richard, she states emphatically that she will not do anal sex scenes, she has never wanted to do them, and that he has pushed her into saying that she would.  He tells her that these scenes are “required” if she’s going to be a real professional.  In short, this is a boundary that she’s not allowed to have.  They also have discussions about him negotiating fees for types of scenes that she has already said she will not do.  He states that he’s just talking money with the producers; she points out that there’s no reason to talk about money for a scene she does not want to do.  Again and again, Richard pushes her to do things she doesn’t want to do.  Again and again, the reason is that he makes more money if she does these things.  Her boundaries don’t matter to him.  Pure and simple.

At present, the prevalent form of porn consumed is so-called gonzo porn.  In concept, this form is similar to the old-fashioned “stag film”, which had no plot or point outside of depicting sex.  The content, however, is far more extreme.  While there was a period of time when porn attempted to mimic the feature film with things like plots, that has largely been consigned to the realm of the soft-core offerings of premium cable channels (i.e. “Skinemax” movies).  The type of porn consumed via DVD rentals/sales, pay-per-view rentals and the Internet is almost exclusively gonzo.  These videos consist of simply one sex scene after another.  Most of them are heavy on anal sex.  The “facial” money shot is the norm.  In fact, it’s such the norm that the only reason this shot wouldn’t exist is because the producer thought of an even more demeaning way to show a woman consuming or wearing the semen of one or more men.  In Hardcore, every producer Felicity goes to see or performs for is a gonzo producer.

Richard slowly works on Felicity, trying to get her to violate her own boundaries.  He takes her to watch others film the types of scenes she has already said she won’t do.  One is a “gang bang” of 8-10 men and one woman.  Felicity has repeatedly said she won’t do these scenes, but Richard at least wants her to be a fluffer on the set of one.  In his grooming, he also takes her to meet with the notorious Max Hardcore.  This interaction is the most troubling of the entire documentary for a number of reasons.  Many would say it’s because of what Max ends up doing to Felicity.  That is certainly awful, but even more awful is the way it serves to groom her to go beyond the boundaries she has repeatedly and explicitly set.

As Felicity waits for Max Hardcore to show up, she is shown preparing for an anal sex scene she says she really doesn’t want to do.  She looks so sad, so anxious, so scared.  Yet, she says she must do it.  Richard talks about how angry he will be if she refuses to perform with Max Hardcore.  The pressure being brought to bear on this young woman is difficult to watch.  During the scene, Max Hardcore forces his penis so far into her throat that she can’t breathe.  When she gets up and runs away, he follows her.  To get her to comply with his demands, he psychologically manipulates her.  First, he attempts to build her up by talking about how she’s providing for her child.  (Felicity is a single mother.)  When she still says she won’t do what he demands, he begins berating her, calling her a “loser” and saying that he’s only had one other woman who was less “professional” than she is.  After his verbal beat down, she agrees to resume the scene.

The next day, Felicity is a changed woman.  She speaks of how she was unable to sleep the night after her encounter with Max Hardcore.  How the choking frightened her and kept her up all night.  Then, she essentially says she will do whatever Richard and the producers want her to do today.  She has been broken.  Her boundaries have essentially been nullified by the concerted effort of the pornographers.

While the porn industry tries to portray Max Hardcore as an extreme, someone outside the norm of their everyday world, each and every casting Felicity goes on features some sick fuck talking about how “filthy” his films are.  Anal sex is their favorite topic of conversation when it comes to proving their “filth” cred.  The day after her encounter with Max Hardcore, Felicity goes to a casting to appear in a film.  She is told that her scene will be an anal scene, which she has always said she did not want to do.  She does not object.  She is told that the movie she will appear in will feature women being hit, having their hair pulled and being called names.  The casting directors get off on asking Felicity to verbally degrade herself.  She is instructed to repeat the phrase, “I am a piss-drinking tart.”  She complies.  When she says that she doesn’t want to be beaten so much that she is “marked for days” and that she doesn’t want to be strangled, they say that they’ll have that happen to another woman instead.  Apparently, it’s very important that it happen to some woman.  If not Felicity, then someone else.  Because the degradation of and infliction of pain on a female body are crucial, of course.

The film has taken us down the path of boundary-breaking.  A young woman who begins working in the industry, thinking she really would be able to set her own boundaries.  Her boundaries are whittled away.  She is pressured and berated.  She is traumatized by a man who literally chokes her.  One pressure after another is brought to bear on her until she eventually gives in.  If the industry was truly about women making choices, there would not be so much verbal abuse heaped on those who set their boundaries.   True boundaries are set by the person whose body this is; they aren’t negotiated by others.  Sexual consent is something given freely.  It’s not something demanded or negotiated.  Felicity’s “consent” isn’t given freely.  It’s something that she is pressured and groomed into giving.  That’s not consent to anyone who truly knows the meaning of the word.

So, how does all of this relate to the material realities of women’s lives?  As has been discussed, the entitled psyche doesn’t respect “no”.  These sacred “boundaries” that the porn defenders talk about mean nothing to the entitled psyche–within the porn world or outside in the world of real life.

For the entitled psyche, the only reason “No” exists is because it’s a sexual thrill to force past it. The real brilliance of patriarchy is right here: it doesn’t just naturalize oppression, it sexualizes acts of oppression. It eroticizes domination and submission. Through the concepts—and lived reality—of masculinity and femininity—patriarchy institutionalizes domination and submission across the culture and deep into our psychologies.

The dominance and submission featured in the average gonzo movie is obvious.  That doesn’t even have to be discussed.  The unequal balance of power has been eroticized, then called inviolate because it’s all about the “choice” and the orgasm.  What of the boundaries, though?  We have already seen that the boundaries of the female performers are not respected.  What about women outside the industry?  We already know that male dominance and female submission is the guiding principle of patriarchal ideology.  Porn, in its most popular forms, is the visual representation of that.  It is the means of showing that unequal power as erotic.  In the male (and liberal feminist) view, anything called “erotic” immediately becomes out-of-bounds to analysis and judgement.  So, this visual representation of patriarchal ideology has effectively been removed from the arena of political discussion.  Isn’t that convenient?

The fact that the patriarchal ideology is being reinforced by porn has many effects on the real lives of women and girls.  The causal link between porn and sexualized violence has never been established, but porn doesn’t have to cause sexualized violence to make the world a more dangerous place for women and girls.  The patriarchal ideology of male dominance and female submission definitely plays into rape culture, which justifies and minimizes sexualized violence against women and girls.  Ideology is what helps men get away with the violence they commit against women.

Porn is also used as a means of breaking down boundaries in women’s everyday sex lives.  Interviews with males who watch porn with their female partners has revealed the way some males use porn to break down the boundaries of the women in their lives.  Male subjects talk of watching porn that depicts acts they want to perform, usually anal sex.  They see their partners’ resistance and discomfort with these acts, but this does not stop them.  They work to break down the boundaries by normalizing the behavior.  They repeatedly view scenes of anal sex with their partners over a period of time, making it appear more and more normal.  When they see their partner showing less resistance, they broach the subject of doing this is their real sex lives.

A man who respects a woman’s boundaries, who recognizes that consent is only that which is freely given, would see his partner’s resistance and discomfort as a line not to be crossed.  The entitled psyche of the patriarchal male doesn’t see it that way, though.  This male sees it as something to break down.  If he can just convince her, he’ll get to do what he wants with her body.  That’s not how real respect for boundaries works.  Real respect for boundaries is respect for the natural boundaries of that partner.  Rape is the attempt to move beyond the boundaries that have been freely, naturally set by that individual through manipulation, incapacitation, or force.

I’ve debated with some on the Left (mostly males) who ask me whether I believe the filming of people having sex is intrinsically exploitative.  They claim that porn doesn’t “have to be” violent and degrading.  I would agree that the simple act of putting a sex act on film doesn’t mean that it must be degrading, violent and misogynistic.  My response, though, is, “So, what?”

We are living in a patriarchal, capitalist world.  The patriarchy means that women are seen as objects meant to satisfy male desires of some sort.  The boundaries of women don’t matter; boundaries are there simply to be trespassed, by manipulation, incapacitation, or force.  The capitalism means that if money can be made based upon this ideology, the greedy will push to whatever extremes they can get away with to keep that money rolling in.   When we get rid of the unholy alliance of patriarchy and capitalism, we can discuss the concepts of so-called “healthy” porn.  Until then, I have more important battles than some dude’s jack-off material.  I’m concerned about the very lives of women and girls.  Anyone who isn’t needs to do some serious soul-searching to figure out why his orgasm is more important than our lives.

Defining People and Choices As Feminist

This won’t be a long, involved piece.  It’s simply another discussion of choices, and how we define them.  It’s an “in a nutshell” piece.

1.  Just because a woman says or does it, that doesn’t make it feminist.

2.  Just because a self-identified feminist (or any other woman) makes a choice, it doesn’t make that choice feminist in nature.

3.  Just because a self-identified feminist (or any other woman) makes a choice, it doesn’t mean that feminists must accept and support that choice.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean accepting those things said and done by others, just because the one saying or doing is a woman.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean accepting those things written by others as absolute truth, just because those people define as feminist and scream if you don’t agree.

And, no, this doesn’t apply strictly to one branch of feminism or another.  I don’t care if liberal feminists attack me as “transphobic” or accuse me of “ignoring women’s agency” when I disagree with them.  I also don’t care if radical feminists accuse me of being a “handmaiden of the patriarchy” or claim I’m “promoting misogyny” when I disagree with them.  I’ve never been a fan of marching lockstep with anyone.

Which Choices?

In January of 2001, a woman named Joumana called 911 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a wealthy suburb of Phoenix.  She spoke of her husband, Jason, punching her in the mouth in front of their young son.  When the 911 operator asked about her welfare, Joumana replied, “Don’t worry about me.  This is nothing compared to what I usually go through.”  Joumana’s and Jason’s last name was Kidd.  At the time, Jason was the star point guard for the Phoenix Suns.  He was arrested and plead guilty to domestic abuse.  His punishment?  “Anger management” classes, then an expunged record.  A mere slap on the wrist.

Joumana, the woman who spoke of the punch in the mouth as “nothing,” willingly returned to the marriage bed.  When Jason was shipped off by the Phoenix Suns, she followed him to his next NBA stop in New Jersey.  She publicly defended him against taunts of being a wife-beater.   Joumana was a woman of means.  A woman who didn’t face going to a shelter if she left her wealthy husband.  A woman who didn’t face a life of uncertainty for her children or herself if she refused to return to a man who she said had long abused her.  Yet, she made the choice to do so.

Many women make this choice, even when they have other options.  Rightfully, we realize that the societal pressures put on women play a heavy hand in this so-called choice.  We realize that telling women that marriage and relationships with men are their most important achievements leads women to accept abuse and misuse at the hands of men.  We realize that some women don’t have Joumana’s means.  They may find it necessary to “choose” to stay with an abuser so they and their children have a means of support.  We realize that there are a whole host of social pressures put on women to “make it work”, to “stand by your man”.  We realize that these pressures can lead women to make choices that are dangerous for them, and create and embolden the misogynist men who would beat them.  We realize that these choices have been used in the past to reinforce ideas that women accept abuse as a part of a relationship–and that they should accept it.  We don’t accept that a woman’s claims of “love” for the man who beats her makes this choice alright.  We sure as hell don’t call her choice “feminist” and demand that feminists support it.

For some strange reason, when you replace the word “love” with “orgasm” or “sex”, a woman choosing a violent relationship becomes something we are supposed to celebrate.  It not only becomes acceptable, but anyone who finds fault with it is labeled a “prude” and accused of condescension.  A woman who “chooses” to be with a man who gets off by torturing her isn’t fucked in the head by social concepts of female masochism.  This woman isn’t internalizing society’s twisted notions of womanhood.  Studies have shown that this woman is highly likely to have been sexually abused in the past, but we aren’t to believe that this abuse led her to twist concepts of sexuality into unhealthy practices of power and abuse.  We aren’t to believe that the constant inundation of media depictions of rough, violent, aggressive men who impose their sexual will on submissive, panting women have had the same twisted effect on this woman that the social concepts of “love” have on the abused wife.

Instead, we are to see the woman who likes violent sex as somehow empowered.  Sexually assertive, even.  We are told that she, as a bottom, is “in charge”.  I often wonder if the women who met John Robinson in online BDSM chat rooms thought that about themselves.  Did they think that traveling to have violent sex with a man they didn’t know, that signing a “slave contract”, was empowering?  Did they think that right up until they were slaughtered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums labeled “Rendered Fat”?

I’ve read articles by people involved in the lifestyle who talk about how staged photos depicting dead women are regularly included in the porn of the violent sex crowd.  In short, these people get off on the things that Robinson acted out.  If your dick gets hard at seeing a picture of a woman made up to look dead, or a woman being bound and tortured, you’re a fucking psycho.  If you get turned on by pretending to be that dead or tortured woman–or allowing yourself to actually be tortured–you’re the furthest thing from empowered that I can think of.

The Joumana Kidds of the world, the countless women who “choose” to return to violent men out of “love” are not empowered.  They are making choices, but choices aren’t all equal.  As feminists, we don’t excuse the abuse or the tendency of women to return to abusers as acceptable.  We don’t condemn those who point out how society, views of womanhood, and trauma in women’s lives all play into those choices.

I can understand the motivations of the poor or working class woman who is economically bound to her abuser.  I can’t understand the corrupted mind of the woman who does it not for love or for survival, but for an orgasm.  No one says people aren’t allowed to make their choices.  What I am saying is that your choices are fucked up.  Your choices reinforce all the twisted things about women and sexuality that misogynists thrive on.  Your choices are not feminist in any sense of the word.  And using the word “sex” instead of “love” doesn’t make your choices any smarter than those of that abused woman who goes back to that wife-beater.

Reblog of “Your Lies Are Part of Our Genocide”

While there are always issues with spelling and grammar in this blog (which I sympathize with–as someone with no copy editor to look over my writing), it is always the powerful voice of a formerly prostituted woman. Her words are always meaningful and touching. I find that more important than picking on grammatical issues. I hate when we try to limit those who speak based upon the way they say their words. It cuts so many people out, and it’s elitist. Anyway, if you haven’t read this blog before, I recommend it highly.

Mott’s discussion of how liberal feminists and Leftist males erase her reality hits close to home. It’s the reason I reject liberal feminists, and seek to expose the misogyny that is rife in many male-dominated Leftist movements and philosophies.

Rebecca Mott

I have to live surrounded by the lies of the sex trade, the lies of the liberal feminists, the lies of Leftist men, the lies of fundamentalist religious folks, the lies of all of the media, the lies of high and low culture about what it is to be prostituted.

These lies are never harm-free, these lies are never without an agenda, these lies are a constant remainder to all the prostituted that we have no worth, that we will never be given the right to be fully human.

Instead in this environment, it has become the only that the prostituted can gain the simple and basis right to be fully human, is to take and not to wait for others to give it to us.

For the prostituted class see with a clear eye what the lies attempt to hide – that whilst the lies play with language, whilst…

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The Power to Submit: A Review of "In Her Own Words…An Interview with a London Call Girl" by Ruth Jacobs

 

Note:  This piece originally appeared on The Left Side of Feminism.

 When Ruth Jacobs first sent me a copy of “In Her Own Words…Interview with a London Call Girl”, I didn’t know what to expect.  Would it be a melodramatic story that lays out the evils of prostitution, the horrors of the life?  Would it be a stereotype of the life, one meant to win converts rather than reveal the truth as Q sees it?  I knew Ruth was donating the proceeds to an organization that helps women exit prostitution, so that was where I thought it would lead.  The truth was much worse:  it’s the story of a woman who has convinced herself that her life is “fun”, even as she talks about allowing herself to be raped.  In a few short pages, Q contradicts herself repeatedly, revealing a conflicted psyche of a broken woman.  A woman trying to rationalize the hatred played out on her body.  Without editorializing, Ruth allows us to experience Q’s pain and confusion.

 Many times throughout the piece, Q speaks of the power she has over men.  In the very next sentence, she will often speak of feeling as if she is being raped when she is with a client.  Then, she will speak of feeling raped when she is with a man who doesn’t pay her.  She will talk about power and control, but her story reveals that her sole “power” is the power to submit.  The power to let men play out the “sick perversion in their head” on her body.

 To make herself feel more in control, she speaks of how she is doing a service for society—allowing herself to be abused so that other women and children won’t be.  Even if that were the case, the idea that some women should be set aside and abused so that other women can live in safety is a terrifying thought.  That a woman would wish that to be her own lot in life is heartbreaking.  That other women would wave their hands at it, declaring it all just a “choice” is infuriating.

 I could see Q’s words being very easily twisted by liberal feminists of the “it’s all a choice” variety.  She speaks of how she would not want another life now.  This is all she knows.  To accept that this is a good choice for Q, we have to say we don’t care when she talks about wanting to scream at some guy to “get off me”, but being unable to do so.  We have to say that we don’t care when she talks of how she will never have a normal relationship, because she has seen into the heads of too many men for whom she “plays out all their sick fantasies”.  We have to ignore the disconnect.  The disconnect in a woman’s head when she will say, “It’s a lot of people you’ve seen and it’s soul destroying to do it,” then follow that with, “But now, it’s just like that’s all I know and that’s all I find fun.”  Is this what we want for women in this world?

 Any woman who has worked in the sex industry will relate to what Q says about how society looks down on you, no matter what else you may do in your life.  For some people, it will be a joke.  For others, it will be something they expect you to be ashamed of, to keep quiet about.  Men who will walk into a strip club or pay a prostitute, will suddenly not find it all so funny when it’s their daughters, their girlfriends, their wives, “their” women.  The true Madonna-whore complex is writ all over your life and your body–in flesh, in breath, in blood, in memory.  It will no longer be a joke; it will be something you should hide in shame.  It will be something they do not want to face, because it might say something about the pain you felt and they didn’t see.  If you’ve spent long enough in the life, I imagine it’s easier to forge onward than to deal with the fake world outside.

 Ruth Jacobs does a fantastic job of letting this woman speak her own truth.  There is no need to craft words or ask leading questions here.  Just allowing Q to speak tells us all we need to know about the liberal doctrine we are being fed about women and their “choices”.  When a woman talks about beginning a life of prostitution at the age of 15 and crying after each time, is that what we, as feminists, are fighting for?  When she uses words like “soul destroying”, “rape, “sick” and “perversion” intertwined with “fun”, are we so blind that we can’t see through it all?  When she talks about how she can’t have a normal relationship and doesn’t think she ever will, because she has become hardened to men, is that where we want the lives of other women to lead?  When she speaks of the dangers of her life, are we happy to see other women in danger?  How can a woman say this is what she wants for other women, while still claiming to be a feminist?  I say that she can’t.

  “In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl” is available to download from Amazon UK at http://amzn.to/P992RY for £0.77 and from Amazon US at http://amzn.to/Qo3SZD for $0.99. It is also available worldwide.  Find out about Ruth’s book Soul Destruction at http://soul-destruction.com/.
 Ruth Jacobs studied prostitution in the late 1990s, which sparked her interest in the subject. Her series of Soul Destruction novels dispel the ‘happy hooker’ myth and expose the dark world and the harsh reality of life as a call girl. She draws on her research and the women she interviewed for inspiration. She also has firsthand experience of some of the topics she writes about, such as post traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addiction.

Feminism, the Sex Industry and Sex Positivity

This piece was originally posted on Righteous Anger.

 

The traditional stereotype of feminist in this country is an unattractive woman who hates men and sex.  In an effort to combat this stereotype, a lot of younger feminists have latched onto the idea of “sex positivity”.  While I have no problem with the idea of being “sex positive,” this has many unfortunate results in both theory and practice.  Among them are the knee-jerk condemnations of many of our feminist elders who wrote about the negative consequences of sex in traditional heterosexual relationships, the blanket approval of prostitution and other sex work without any honest evaluation of its effects on women (and men) working in the sex industry, and the idea that any sexual activity is acceptable and beyond judgement.  While all of those positions have understandable underpinnings, they often go overboard and focus too much on apologizing for feminism and ignoring the motivation behind the original critiques.

The first thing to consider before getting into any particular issue is the idea of choice.  Choice is what feminism is about.  It’s not about prescribing or restricting choices for women (or men, for that matter), but about providing everyone with the chance to make their own choices.  That’s an admirable goal, and it’s one that I support.  The problem is that many contemporary feminists also take this to mean that the right to make a choice means that every choice is equally valid and equally “good” for the woman involved or women as a whole.  This would rightfully fall under the category of ethical relativism, which is in direct contradiction to women’s rights, in particular, and human rights, in general.  Ethical relativism can lead to insane places, such as the approval of murder, as explained by anthropologist Ruth Benedict:

We might suppose that in the matter of taking life all peoples would agree on condemnation. On the contrary, in the matter of homicide, it may be held that one kills by custom his two children, or that a husband has a right of life and death over his wife or that it is the duty of the child to kill his parents before they are old. It may be the case that those are killed who steal fowl, or who cut their upper teeth first, or who are born on Wednesday. Among some peoples, a person suffers torment at having caused an accidental death, among others, it is a matter of no consequence. Suicide may also be a light matter, the recourse of anyone who has suffered some slight rebuff, an act that constantly occurs in a tribe. It may be the highest and noblest act a wise man can perform. The very tale of it, on the other hand, may be a matter for incredulous mirth, and the act itself, impossible to conceive as human possibility. Or it may be a crime punishable by law, or regarded as a sin against the gods. (pp.45-46)

For example, it is still a custom in many African tribes to kill so-called mingi children to protect the tribe. Ethical relativism is a dangerous, slippery slope than can be used to justify everything from infanticide to genital mutilation of both sexes to so-called “honor killings.”  Since the wider concept of human rights and the sex-specific concept of women’s rights both hold that there are certain rights that belong to all people, no matter what their culture, ethical relativism has to be rejected by anyone who truly supports these concepts.  Unfortunately, this ethical relativist stance is taken by many feminists who argue for the validity of all “choices.”

One of the main tactics taken by many of these contemporary feminists is to try to ingratiate themselves with patriarchy by condemning so-called radical feminists of the past.  Andrea Dworkin and other anti-pornography feminists are common targets.  Andrea Dworkin is a prime target because of the out-of-context quote from one of her books equating all heterosexual sex to rape.  In an effort to show themselves as “good” feminists, these women strip that quote from all context of time and explanation.  Dworkin did make such a statement, but she also explained what the statement meant.  She was describing the traditional situation in which women are expected to trade sex for economic survival, i.e. traditional marriage.  Her question was whether it was possible for a woman to give true consent if she had no choice but to give up sex in order to gain the economic means to support herself and her children, the very means of survival.  If consent is based upon having no choice but to say yes, is it really consent?  I would say that is an important question still, especially when we consider those who argue for work in the sex industry as a valid choice.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re on Facebook, in the blogosphere, or on the website of a feminist organization, you’re going to find younger feminists trying to tie the sex industry and sex positivity inextricably together.  The problem is that sex work is generally that–work–not a sexual outlet.  Some 20-plus years ago, it was work I did.  Before becoming pregnant with my oldest child, I worked in several topless bars around the city for a while.  I had many other friends who worked the clubs or worked as prostitutes on the street.  As women, we had the option of the clubs or the street.  My male friends generally just had the street.  Not one of us was there for sex or because we wanted to be there.  Every last one of us was there because of an addiction to street drugs.  Every last one.  A few of the women I met at the club were there because they were very young single moms with no skills.  Taking their clothes off for cash was the only way to put food on the table.  Again, sex was not the motivating factor here, folks.  Whether it was having some creep follow us home from the club, contracting life-threatening diseases, having clients want to do violent things to our bodies, or being strip-searched by management because some rich asshole lost the cash he was flashing around the club, every last one of us experienced frightening, humiliating, dangerous, and ultimately life-altering repercussions.  It wasn’t sexy.  It wasn’t fun.  It was soul-sucking.

A couple of years ago, I lived in a neighborhood that is home to most of the city’s street prostitutes.  Many of the women would bring their boyfriends out to keep watch over them.  The man would sit a distance away.  Not close enough to scare johns away, but close enough that they could be seen.  Why?  So the john would know someone had seen him and his vehicle, should the woman not come back safely.  Sexy?  How about life-threatening, folks.

Even when a woman is working in a legal operation, either a strip club or a legal brothel, she’s not likely to be treated well by the management.  They take your money in the clubs.  In the brothels, the women are forced to undergo regular medical check-ups to keep the clients safe.  I want to know who’s making sure the clients are healthy and not giving the women diseases that could threaten their lives?  After all, it is much easier for a woman to get a sexually-transmitted infection from a man than the other way around.  This is especially true when you’re talking about blood-borne infections like HIV or Hep C.  A woman’s body is more likely to end up torn, giving the pathogen an easy entrance to her bloodstream.

Of course, the club owners, like any pimps, have no concern about the women who work for them.  Do they know that the majority of their employees are addicts?  Fuck yes, they know.  The women teach each other what make-up to buy and how to properly apply it to cover up track marks.  They teach each other which articles of clothing will work for the same purpose.  Elbow-length black gloves are a favorite of junkies who work the clubs.  The owners don’t care, as long as the marks don’t show.  Track marks were treated the same as tattoos–you can have them, as long as they don’t show.

The other issues that pro-prostitution feminists try desperately to ignore are trafficking and child prostitution.  They claim those are completely separate issues.  Ummm….no, they are not.  They are not synonymous, but trafficking and child prostitution exist because prostitution itself exists.  Not all prostitutes are children nor are they all trafficked.  However, all trafficked females and child sex workers are prostitutes.  As an Arizonan, I am well aware how easy it is to exploit those who end up in the U.S. without papers.  The exploitation and victimization is a widespread and real problem without prostitution being part of the equation.  Adding the trafficking of female bodies for the sex trade makes it mind-numbing.  The men who use these women’s bodies see it as no different than going to see any other prostitute.  In fact, they may not even know that these women are any different than any other prostitute.  Simply changing the law to decriminalize is not going to fix that problem as long as the undocumented are afraid for themselves or people back home.

And therein lies the problem with many pro-prostitution feminists:  they claim that decriminalization will fix all the current problems associated with prostitution.  They claim it will eliminate the violence experienced by so many prostitutes.  They claim it will eliminate the stigma.  I just don’t know how the hell they’re arriving at that conclusion.  This is a society that hasn’t eliminated violence against women outside the ranks of prostitution.  There are many men who go to prostitutes specifically because they are looking to inflict pain and violence on a woman.  Will the law make those men disappear?  Hell, we have attitudes within law enforcement and general society that dismiss and minimize the violence against prostitutes.  The idea that a prostitute can’t be raped is still firmly entrenched.  The unwillingness to vigorously pursue those who beat, rape, or even murder prostitutes is common.  Those are deeply ingrained in our culture.  Decriminalization of prostitution will not magically fix all those problems.  Those problems are about misogyny.

So, what of the biggest money-maker in the sex industry?  What of pornography?  I’ve read and seen my share of porn, whether it was labeled as such or called “erotica”.  I can’t speak to most of the women in that industry, because I have never known anyone who worked in it.  The closest I came to knowing anyone in that part of the industry was reading Ordeal, the autobiography of Linda Boreman (a.k.a. Linda Lovelace).  It did not paint a pretty picture of her life as the star of the “revolutionary” pornographic film Deep Throat.  As much as it tried to gloss over the issues, neither did the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat.

Boreman talked of being beaten by Chuck Traynor throughout their relationship.  Everyone on set knew of this, as they had to cover the bruises in order to shoot the movie.  Others who worked on the film have admitted that they knew he was beating her.  They covered up and pushed on.  Of course, the movie was produced by mobsters.  The documentary Inside Deep Throat fails to mention the beatings and bruises, but they do let one thing slip:  they discuss Boreman being taken into a room full of mobsters by Traynor and told to give a couple of the mobsters blowjobs in order to get the funding.  Was everything that went wrong in Boreman’s life a result of that movie?  Of course not.  However, anyone who praises that movie without acknowledging the horrors of its production are really missing something in the way of humanity.  Unfortunately, others from the porn industry, such as Annie Sprinkle, have done just that.

Of course, no one is suggesting that every porn flick ever made was shot under the same circumstances as Deep Throat.  That would be ludicrous.  However, the actress doesn’t have to be tortured for there to be something off about the end-product.  One money shot after another is a woman on her knees having some asshole shoot his wad into her face.  The desire to degrade is obvious.  One website invites “bitches” to “gag on my cock.”  It features pictures of women with t-shirts labeling them as stupid which are linked to videos of some guy almost making them puke while calling them names and telling them that this will shut them up, like women should shut up.  It’s awful that these exist.  It’s worse that women, for whatever reason, involve themselves in this kind of verbal degradation and violent sex.  Yes, it’s a choice.  And these women are free to make it.  However, anyone who thinks that it’s not nauseating and misogynistic is a fucking idiot.

Then, we end up in the realm of BDSM.  Another choice that we’re told not to judge.  Even worse, we are told again and again that it’s actually the bottom who is in charge.  Okay, whatever.  Kind of like how Christianity isn’t about subjugating women at all.  We will even find women who say in one breath it’s empowering, then in the next admit that many female submissives have been sexually abused in the past.  Instead of admitting that this may be a way of internalizing the male violence, they suggests it’s a “healthy” way to “work it out.”  Hmmm…..I have my doubts.

If you want to believe any of that shit, feel free.  My problem with BDSM has more to do with the literature.  The latest craze, 50 Shades of Grey, has been condemned even by some BDSM devotees as a celebration of a violent relationship, found guilty of romanticizing violence.  That’s not even the biggest problem I have with BDSM literature, though, especially that purportedly written by women.  My bigger issue is that so much of it revels in the idea of women being powerless outside the bedroom.

One site, which once presented itself as “erotica for women,” has made a living off this shit.  Oysters and Chocolate is an “erotica” site started by two women.  In interviews, these women have whined that they are feminist, and how dare these mean ol’ women attack them for having an anti-feminist message.  Meanwhile, they publish series like that written by a woman named Kris Williams.  (The series has since been made into a book, so it is no longer available for reading without purchase.) In this series, the male who tortures his lover makes it clear that he hates feminists.  The author also writes that he tortures his lover because he doesn’t want her to have any power over him.  What power, you might ask?  Oh, the fact that he loves her gives her power.  So, to clear that nonsense out, he beats and humiliates her.  He revels in her fear.  That is reinforced over and over again.  Fear is key.  It’s what he gets off on.  Knowing that she is afraid of him.  The introduction of BDSM into their relationship isn’t one they have agreed on together; it’s one he enforces under threat.  That doesn’t sound like the “bottom in control” idea that the BDSM crowd is so fond of selling.  Yet, it is what the literature reveals as a driving motivation.  Tell me in what fucking way that is “feminist.”

In the end, I am firmly committed to the idea that people are free to make their own choices.  As a free speech absolutist, I will also passionately defend the rights of everyone to say and otherwise express themselves however they choose.  Holocaust denier?  Have your say.  Homophobe?  Have your say.  Woman-hating pornographer?  Have your say.  The fact that others are free to make their own choices and free to express themselves in whatever way they see fit does not, however, mean that all of these choices and expressions are worthy of praise.  It does not mean they are “sex positive.”  And it sure as hell doesn’t make these choices or expressions “feminist.”