Mar 18 2008

Spinster aunt quotes self

Time is short this morning, so today’s item will consist largely of a comment I posted yesterday on Feministing, which comment more or less summarizes my previously published ideas on the concept of “consent” as it relates to women and rape, so those of you who are tired of that crap should probably look for entertainment elsewhere.*

My remarks were occasioned by Feministinger Ann’s feminist-response-to-Spitzer roundup, wherein she somewhat mischaracterized my position on the ideal legal status of prostitution (I am so frequently misunderstood — being so obfuscatory — that I usually just shrug when it happens, but it’s been a prostitutiony kinda week, and I love Feministing, so I wanted to set the record straight, for the sake of the 8 people who will read that archive, that I am definitely not against decriminalization. By gum! Although I do not, of course, regard decriminalization as a solution. Ideally, the status of prostitution should be “non-existent.”).

Anyway, as you will perceive from the quoted text below, Feministing reader Caitlain practically offers me money to enlarge on one of my favorite topics.


Quoth Caitlain: “I do take issue with your assertion that, by default, prostitution constitutes “rape.” As others have pointed out, the mere fact that both parties agree to the transaction removes an essential component of rape; to wit, the lack of consent.”

Well, Caitlain, in a patriarchy, the cornerstone of which is a paradigm of male dominance and female submission, women do not enjoy the same degree of personal sovereignty that men do. This oppressed condition obtains a priori to all other conditions, and nullifies any presumption of fully human status on the part of women. A woman, therefore, cannot freely “consent,” because her will is obviated by her status as a subhuman.

My solution is simple: instead of women living in a perpetual default state of consent which must be specifically withdrawn as a prerequisite to rape, we simply switch it so our default state is “no”. This would allow women to define rape. Rape, as you know, is currently defined by men. Talk about a conflict of interest.


A final note: Of many the specious arguments against the Twistifesto, there is one which is most commonly posed by a certain species of “sex-positive” feminist. These well-meaning but misguided gals complain that the eradicate-prostitution position is patronizing because it presumes that women are “incapable,” as Caitlain puts it, of making decisions pertaining to the disposition of our own body parts. I am happy to report that the eradicate-prostitution position does nothing of the sort. No sane radical feminist could possibly support the assertion that women are “incapable” of making decisions; we are merely prevented by an oppressive social order from exercising our capability to its fullest extent.

I suspect that the rampant willingness among young feminists to deny this grim truth stems from the wholly untenable position into which it thrusts’em. They’re young, they’re fit, they wanna boink; who can blame them if they just aren’t ready to accept that nothing short of an exhaustive, uncompromising overthrow of the social order will put them in complete control of their own selves?

I’ve said it before and I’ll again: patriarchy isn’t some vague intellectual conceit invented by radical feminists to pass the time in between trips to the Birkenstock store. It’s an actual humanitarian crisis, and it has actual consequences, even for you, even if you say it doesn’t.
*Perhaps “The View,” where, my mother informs me, they’re talking about revelations by the new First Couple of New York State concerning their past experiences with extramarital affairs (i.e. they’ve both had’em). Or how about “The Today Show,” where two women hosts interviewing a panel of 20-something hunks endeavor to unlock for their desperate female viewers the mysterious secrets “Inside the Minds of Men.” “O Hunks, favor us with a scrap of your great infinitely unknowable essence, so that we may better serve you!” Pah.


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  1. Kathleen

    Le awesome, again. I throw flowers.

  2. Panic

    Twisty, thy name is clarity.

  3. Mary Tracy9

    I have long suspected that YOU, Twisty, are the only one capable of ending the so-called “feminist war”, namely the one between those feminists who are “sex-positive” and those who are “anti-pornstitution”.

    WHY YOU, one may ask. Because YOU are pretty much the only RADICAL FEMINIST they are willing to listen to.

  4. Cass

    “I suspect that the rampant willingness among young feminists to deny this grim truth stems from the wholly untenable position into which it thrusts’em. They’re young, they’re fit, they wanna boink; who can blame them if they just aren’t ready to accept that nothing short of an exhaustive, uncompromising overthrow of the social order will put them in complete control of their own selves?”

    I know the feeling, goddammit. And knowing this revolution won’t happen within the next 50 generations doesn’t help.

  5. Dr. Steph

    “I’ve said it before and I’ll again: patriarchy isn’t some vague intellectual conceit invented by radical feminists to pass the time in between trips to the Birkenstock store. It’s an actual humanitarian crisis, and it has actual consequences, even for you, even if you say it doesn’t.”

    It’s been a while since I told you I would totally make out with you, hasn’t it?

    I find myself saying things about patriarchy (though not as nicely as you) that I hated people saying to me 20 years ago. Now it’s called sex-positive. Then, it was just that icky feeling that there was more to sex and relationships with men than I wanted to acknowledge. I knew about patriarchy in a theoretical way, but longer I stay in this world, the more I “get it”. Sigh.

  6. Anastasia B.

    Even when you point us elsewhere to read what others have espoused on, there is simply no comparison. Twist, your arguments are crisper, more concise, and, well, funnier dammit. I love it when you get on-topic and refuse to let go. Makes us all proud.

    There are probably many who refuse to see the patriarchy as the omnipresent structure – and construct – that it is; they need to go back to school. And by school, I mean the IBTP archives.

  7. cypress

    Wouldn’t it be great if the misogynist so-called pro-sex so-called feminists listened to anyone other than the patriarchs. But no, they don’t. The simple uncomplicated notion that the patriarchy and the patriarchs are real and active and involved in the project of oppression seems to be impossible for those women to see. It’s not because they are stupid, they clearly aren’t, as it is abundantly obvious that they spend a great deal of brain time on the re-rationalization of patriarchal matters so the dads don’t even have to do it themselves. They can just point and nod.

    Oh Twisty how I have missed your regular obstreporosities. I am returned to the daily fold, and will be the better for it.

  8. Anastasia B.

    Err, sorry, that would be Twisty, not Twist. I would not presume to be on such familiar terms. Carry on.

  9. Kathleen

    Anastasia B, it looks like you are pretty darn funny your own self!

  10. Antonella C.

    What do you think of the Feministe interview to Sienna Baskin of Sex Workers Project? Some good points were raised.

  11. Fiona

    “They’re young, they’re fit, they wanna boink; who can blame them if they just aren’t ready to accept that nothing short of an exhaustive, uncompromising overthrow of the social order will put them in complete control of their own selves?”

    Let me tell you something. I used to be one of these women. I used to applaud the woman who “takes control of her sexuality” and “has sex like men do” blah, blah, blah. Now I know it’s a tall, steaming pile of horseshit.

    Ever since I started reading this blog, I can’t help but look at my life through a different lens, and it’s disturbed the hell out of me and profoundly altered my world view. I didn’t realize it for the first 32 years of my life, but the patriarchy is everywhere and runs everything. EVERYTHING. I look at nothing the way I used to. Pornography and prostitution have always been, to me, obviously misogynistic. But when I reflect on this on a personal level, i.e., boyfriends and my experiences with them, all I can think about now is how every time I’ve ever had sex it’s been in service to one of two goals: please the man or prove my worth. That’s it. It’s actually one goal, come to think of it: prove my worth by pleasing the man. And by worth, of course, I mean “hawtness and skillz” because that’s how we are defined and valued by men. If I’m completely honest with myself, I have never enjoyed a single sexual encounter with a man. Not once, and there have been many, without ever really knowing why. I know now that it’s because I was actively participating in my own oppression. I’m lucky that I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but I couldn’t possibly sit here and say, “No, really. They were wonderful experiences with men who respected me.” I don’t get to define those experiences; otherwise, I’m lying to myself because I know better.

    Granted, I may have issues that prevent me from ever enjoying sex. I don’t mean to suggest that all heterosexual women have a history identical to my own. What I’m saying is that continuing to be a sex-positive feminist once you know the truth about how women are defined in a patriarchy is willful ignorance that defies logic. It’s easy for me to agree that the misogyny and the inherent violation of human rights in prostitution and pornography are a matter of course. What’s hit me like a Louisville slugger upside the head is that the dominant class/sex class thing has played out, over and over again in my own life, always with my consent and never with my awareness. Not anymore.

    I guess that makes me a sex-negative feminist.

  12. Kathleen

    Being a sex-negative feminist is sometimes what it takes to start enjoying sex, and it’s so totally worth it!

  13. Intransigentia

    Fiona – to everything you said: Yes!

  14. TP

    I hope nobody minds if I post the same comment I posted at Feministing here. In this forum, if there’s someone who sees the need to correct me, I trust that they will, and I will be able to benefit.

    Comments about prostitution take place in a sphere of human thought that assumes that sex is without any kind of importance, like any other kind of work. When the radical feminist attempts to ascribe a definite weight to the act, by establishing the political atmosphere it takes place within (patriarchy, oppression), there is considerable resistance to this contextualization.

    I hear nothing but confusion whenever I read comments defending the very idea that women are prostituted. The basis of the confusion comes from the insistence that women are not prostituted, that they are simply selling a service like any other, and that denying them this ‘freedom’ is unjust.

    Nobody wants to look at intercourse as a huge battlefield where oppression and cultural bias is so firmly ingrained that it renders us incapable of seeing the act of sex as a simple service. Paradoxically we see feminists defending the act of intercourse as so implicitly disconnected with issues of male privilege, the beauty myths, and oppression that they claim it can be a service conducted in some fantasy land where oppression doesn’t exist, and therefore, can’t be considered rape, because the fantasy of the wholly independent woman to whom sex has no political significance is too strong.

    If you try to point out that no woman has the ability to have sex in this world of denial where sex is completely devoid of politics, the easiest response is to say that to say this is to infantilize the woman. But it is the male culture that infantilizes the woman, not the act of pointing it out.

    Feminism is a way of looking at sex that, unlike any other philosophy, assumes that there is much importance to be found in the sex act, and the sexual separation of human beings. To defend the idea of prostitution by lowering our views of intercourse to the point where it can be happily bought and sold is to also accept just as happily the idea that a woman is an object.

    I don’t understand why it’s OK for men to objectify and use a woman as long as he pays for it. It should never be OK.

  15. emma

    I am so happy to have discovered your site today. I am closer to the feministing chicks’ age (maybe a couple yrs older than them) and they drive me freaking nuts. They do have some good links, but this sex-positive crap makes them looks like morons. The logo alone makes me puke. They have no radical perspective, which according to them belongs only to women over 60.

    The thing is: since when did radical feminism become UNHIP??
    When did being a revolutionary become so uncool? Why does liberal policy wonkism – academic/masturbatory theory obscure the issue that women are still second-class humans in every country and culture on earth?

    How do you talk to these chicks without wanting to scream!?

    In solidarity with twisty and friends!

  16. Betsy

    Self arguing with self: “No! no! *THIS* is the best post Twisty’s ever written!”

  17. octopod

    It’s just confusing the issue to call sex a service. Clearly it isn’t, no more than e.g. companionship.

    It seems like the issue here, though, is more whether or not having sex with someone is fundamentally different from, say, playing chess with them. Because clearly it’s reasonable, though a bit odd, to pay someone to play chess with you.

    Radfems say “YES. There’s a difference, i.e. the idea of a sex class totally fucks this up.” That is, there is no set of people whose social role is entirely constructed around their chess proficiency and inclination to play, while the female social role can be more-or-less reduced to any given woman or girl’s ability and inclination to have sex.

    Non-radfems refuse to acknowledge the existence of a sex class.

    Have I got this right?

  18. Ryna

    Twisty, since discovering you I have simply ceased to read Feministing.

    Oh, and also Samhita made a ridiculously stupid post about how she thinks that prostitution should be made legal or “at least decriminalized,” because she apparently couldn’t be bothered to to five minutes of research and discover that decriminalization is not legalization-lite but in fact a separate solution which both porntasti-morons and anti-porntasters seem to endorse if they have half a brain. Yes, her total lack of understanding and the fact that she made no attempt to read before she posted probably had something to do with my exodus too.

    Oh, and the copious election coverage in which the girls obsess over the “difference” they make by voting and totally ignore the idea that anybody would either not vote or vote for a third party.

    Oh, and the Geraldine Ferraro post in which someone felt obliged to mouth off about how second-wave feminists are oblivious and divisive, an act that the auther apparently didn’t consider oblivious and divisive on her part at all.

    I’m sure I could think of a few more reasons why these women make me angry. And don’t even get me started on the comments section.

  19. Niki

    I want to join in the Twisty praise and to add that I only started reading other blogs that associated themselves with feminism when Twisty went through her (undoubtedly blissful) silent period late last year. I was torn between understanding how one would want to break free from a position of constant observation and critique of a permeating and soul-sucking structure and wanting her to keep on writing because nobody else out there is angry enough with the smarts and the wit to boot. So tired of the Yay Sexers and Shopping, w00t! crowd, so very tired.

    While I have had mutually respectable sex with guys I’m still loving friends with long after that part of that relationship tires out, I will admit to possessing a completely different attitude about sex than I did in my blissful, ignorant boy-crazy 20’s, due at least partially to this website and the brain chew that ensued.

    This shit needs to be read, is what I’m sayin’. I wish I could direct the hoards of young women I know who are struggling between their sex positive pornulation identities and the disquiet it breeds in their minds to this website for some deep schooling, but they’re all on the damned defense.

  20. km

    Your thinking, writing, irreverance, and humor make this blog, increasingly, the only one I know worth reading.

    That said, I happened upon this pernicious piece o’ crap blog after doing a search on Tyra Banks (don’t ask). I share in hopes of others excoriating him or, better yet, flensing him:


  21. TwissB

    Just another reminder that there is a practical – as distinguished from a dreamworld – way to get rid of prostitution. When Sweden, after many years of being a leading exponent of so-called sex-positivism – took a good hard look at what that had done to women and voted to redefine prostitution as violence against women, criminalize the BUYING of sexual services, and obligate the state to provide rehabilitative and employment services to women leaving prostitution, that national decision was more than a change in law. Instead it was a big change in how to think clearly about prostitution and repudiate it as a dehumanizing institution, a practice of cruelty to women and those men and children treated as women are treated, and a foundation of men’s domination over women. And if it did not stop prostitution entirely in Sweden, it greatly diminished both prostitution and trafficking and set a new standard for treatment of women as if they were as human as men. And it got a lot of other countries thinking and backed off the hyper-aggressive international sex industry lobby just a bit.

    So can we please stop dithering among bad alternatives – legalization which makes the state the pimp, decriminalization which hands the prostituted woman entirely over to those who abuse her without even the possibility of legal intervention as a way to break away, or the status quo which criminalizes the woman for what is done to her and, as we have been smugly reminded over and over this past week, genererally ignores the john or lets him off with a light tap on the wrist.

    We can do better. But we probably do have to learn to vote as a block to get the mules’ attention, otherwise we simply don’t count.

  22. Praxis

    There are so many different things I want to say about this eternal debate, but I’ll confine myself to one:

    There is probably nothing which better demonstrates the erasure of women’s sexuality and sexual agency in patriarchy more completely than the failure of some feminists to at all see the difference between sex-workers consenting to allow men to use their bodies in order to make a living and women actively participating in sex out of their own desires.

    For feminists to argue that women in prostitution are selling sex and that selling sex is like selling any other service is nothing other than to argue that sex is merely a service that women perform for men in general, which, if I recall correctly, was the very patriarchal construction of sex feminists usually argue against.

    Prostitution is rape precisely because it substitutes economic consent for enthusiastic participation, precisely because prostitution and not it’s critics, erase women’s sexual agency.

  23. TwissB

    To correct a phrase in my post above. The sentence should have read:
    “And if it has not yet stopped prostitution entirely in Sweden,…”

  24. MissKate

    Forgive girl my fangirl-ish-ness or whatnot, but dude, I heart thee.

    I wish we could all be so articulate in our blaming; hell, I wish I could be when discussing these things. However, when I talk about issues related to the ever present Patriarchy, I end up feeling rather stabby, and end up ranting like a raging demon. A justifiable reaction to circumstances in the world and conditions in which we all exist, but it’s just not as effective.

    Your ability to coolly and critically discuss the issues is beyond amazing. Blame on, and on and on.

  25. Joanna

    This sums it up for me:
    “My solution is simple: instead of women living in a perpetual default state of consent which must be specifically withdrawn as a prerequisite to rape, we simply switch it so our default state is “no”. This would allow women to define rape. Rape, as you know, is currently defined by men. Talk about a conflict of interest.”

  26. sevanetta

    It is sooooo nice to see you back, Twisty. Even better, in excellent form!

    Word on the funeral-culture and inappropriate laughing. I’ve been there. You would have fit in in Australia, or at least at the last funeral / wake I went to!

  27. Amanda Marcotte

    They call money paid to legal workers in exchange for their time and effort “compensation” for a frigging reason—because we all understand you would not be doing this except for the money. By the legal definition of “consent”, a prostitute often, though not always, “consents”. But by the feminist definition of consent—which is to say enthusiastic consent, where you’re actually having sex with a person instead of allowing yourself to be fucked by him while wishing you were somewhere else—no, it’s not consent.

  28. Serafina

    It’s an actual humanitarian crisis, and it has actual consequences, even for you, even if you say it doesn’t.

    Well, see, that’s not actually true. The consequences are minor or nonexistent for a lot of really privileged women–who, coincidence or not, make up the majority of “sex-positive feminists.”

    It’s entirely possible that the young women of Feministing have never been in a position where their sexual agency has been compromised. Yeah, they live in a culture of misogynistic images and words–but images and words are just that, and they can be ignored if there is no real life enforcement of them. Which, for the extremely privileged and lucky, there often is not. The middle-class, white sex-positive feminists’ experiences aren’t the experiences of a prostitute who “chooses” to sell sex because she otherwise won’t eat, and the sex-pozzes apparently don’t get how many women are in that position.

    By the legal definition of “consent”, a prostitute often, though not always, “consents”.

    Yeah–though I wonder how the john knows this. I mean, unless you go to an elite escort service, the chances are fairly strong that the prostitute will be beaten up by her pimp if she doesn’t have sex with you, and the chances are also fairly strong that she is actually too young to legally give consent. If you know this (which you should) and you go to a prostitute anyway, how is that not rape?

  29. TinaH

    Ahh, Twisty, thank you for protecting my sanity, meager though it is.

    I would be deeply curious to see studies/reports/whatever out of Sweden to see how criminalizing the buying of sex, but not the selling of it, is working. This whole notion that women might be actually fully human will probably frighten many.

  30. Aaron

    Radfems say “YES. There’s a difference, i.e. the idea of a sex class totally fucks this up.” That is, there is no set of people whose social role is entirely constructed around their chess proficiency and inclination to play, while the female social role can be more-or-less reduced to any given woman or girl’s ability and inclination to have sex.

    Non-radfems refuse to acknowledge the existence of a sex class.

    Many non-radfems do, in fact, acknowledge the existence of a sex class. We just don’t think that the proper response is (to greatly caricature Twisty) “oh no! Your autonomy is completely invalidated by social, legal, and economic pressures. You’re stuck in a trap, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Autonomy is definitely compromised, but the proper response is not to shrug our shoulders and say the situation is irredeemable. The way to make progress is, unfortunately, incremental. There is no magic wand we can wave to make things all better. But we can make small changes, from how we live our lives in order to decrease the pressures on ourselves and those around us (consciousness raising, financial support, crisis counseling, etc.), to legislation in order to change legal structures that disadvantage women, to providing resources or labor for various groups that can do similar things on the large that we try to do in the small. Pointing out that “the patriarchy oppresses you” is useful for those that don’t already have that figured out. But most non-rad feminists really do get it. Yes, we look at ways to live in this patriarchal society without getting eaten up by it. Yeah, some of our accommodations to patriarchy are done under compromised autonomy. But compromised isn’t the same as non-existent. There is no one better placed than the individual to determine their own actions. Many of the messages from the rad-feminists I can’t help but interpret as “You’re doing it wrong! How dare you actually live and muddle through life in the patriarchy instead of rejecting it altogether and going off and being a hermit!” That’s not trying to improve autonomy, but substituting a different set of social pressures. Sure, it’s counter the mainstream societal one. So what?

    With respect to the prostitution laws, as currently constructed they are far worse for the prostitutes, and even everyone else than some of the alternatives. It isolates and others them. It separates them out as a class of woman that it is de-facto okay to abuse, which creeps into abuse for all women. Legalization, though still hugely problematic, by giving a societal stamp of approval to the whole thing, appears to be better than that — at least prostitutes can go to the police without as much fear of being raped in order to avoid prison. The above mentioned Swedish model appears to be even better. These are not full blown “solutions” by any means, but they might make things better, and we can try to find out what to do next, incrementally and organically, as the situation changes.

  31. ginmar

    Ah, somebody who gets it. I’ve been throwing down with these sex pozes forever and they’re just vile. They shout down feminists who speawk for the majority of pornstitution victims; they serve men, and then they claim they’re subversive. How do you be subversive by giving the patriarchy what it wants?

  32. Ryna

    Serafina- I love you. I’ve blogged repeatedly about how sex-positive feminists are racist/classist and I politely asked Samhita to read my posts over at feministing before I logged off forever.

    Twiss- You caught me. The reason that I prefer decriminalization to the Swedish model is because I’m a prison abolitionist. I think most violent crimes could be prevented if we focused on prevention instead of jailtime, most violent criminals (rapists included) with a risk of repeating would do better in something more akin to a mental hospital than a prison, and the vast majority of people (who are in jail for nonviolent crimes) need to be released pronto.

    These issues are fairly separate from feminism though, and I certainly don’t expect every feminist to agree with me. Basically what I’m trying to say is I do see your point and if not for an ideological stance which exists for me in a totally separate realm from feminism, I’d agree with you completely.

  33. Lisa

    While we wait for governments to legislate, how about making a lot of noise socially/culturally about female desire – many girls/young women are very confused about their own lust and more importantly how difficult it is for them to express themselves honestly (and not perform for the benefit of men). It should be spelled out clearly that sex workers do NOT sell sex – they sell fake sex/act out male fantasies/allow themselves to be used as live sex toys for masturbation. There are lots of ways to express the difference but all women are encouraged to behave in this way at all times and discouraged from participating in an assertive, creative, active, imaginative way to really bring themselves into the bedroom.

    In many ways male/female hetrosexual desires conflict (see research on evolutionary development of mating stratgies for the science) but they can overlap so long as the female is aware of what she wants and how to get it (not easy in our culture). Girls really need to minimise screen time (TV and IT) and media contamination, get physical and learn to listen to their bodies (sport, hiking, dancing, sailing etc), read,read and read and have someone to talk it over with, write their own material and of course spend time out of the Teenpool (since when were teenage boys the best mentors for any female !?!)

  34. pigeon

    I’m new to the Twisty world and have also come of age in the “sex-positive, pro-porn” era of feminism, so your assertion of prostitution as “pay-for-rapes” didn’t immediately strike me as the obvious truth (“Isn’t that infantilizing the women? Degrading their capabilities of rational thought?” I pondered). But I wanted to get it, and I’m happy but also sad to say that only about 10 minutes of thinking did the trick.

    I’m anti-work in general. Requiring money for food and shelter is a human rights violation because we are forced to “choose” between working and starving, and thus all employment is degrading, coerced wage slavery. When I “choose” to work at one job over another, I am simply “free” to choose my master, not free to be in full control of the conditions of my life. Your sentence “we are merely prevented by an oppressive social order from exercising our capability to its fullest extent” applies to workers in a capitalist economy just as much as it applies to women in a patriarchy.

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with the pro-sex work, pro-porn views, but until now had never really pondered them far enough to outright reject them. I can kind of understand why people who don’t see capitalism as inherently oppressive would also fail to see how prostitution is inherently misogynistic, but some of my most radical, anti-work friends are pro-porn and -sex work. I always suspected they knew something I didn’t, but now I’m wondering why the hell they don’t see the obvious contradiction. A woman who is “free” to choose sex work over any other occupation is obviously not empowered.

  35. TwissB

    TinaH and Ryna — Here is a link to a story in the Scottish press about a Scots delegation looking into the results of the Swedish law: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/editors-choice/2008/03/13/scotland-s-sex-trade-fight-looks-to-success-of-swedish-model-86908-20349217/ Paper is Dailyrecord.co.uk
    “Scotland’s Sex Trade Fight Looks To Success Of Swedish Model”
    Mar 13 2008 By Annie Brown

    Check Sweden’s official website for possible link to a full scale study published last year. Google can also show the frantic efforts to the “sex workers” i.e. pimps lobby to discredit the law.

  36. The Lazy Ethicist

    Amazing post, and great comments too.

    I realized something in reading this:

    “My solution is simple: instead of women living in a perpetual default state of consent which must be specifically withdrawn as a prerequisite to rape, we simply switch it so our default state is “no”.”

    I realized HAVE switched to living in a default state of “no.” Part of this has been switching to veg*anosity (and not to reignite a vegetarian/vegan debate); essentially I say no, over and over again, daily, to consuming animal flesh or products, which is the default in our society. I say no to basing my self-worth on how I look. And it’s been freaking me out for a while, because, well, I’ve got a voice in my head that frames this choice as simply being uptight, and negative all the time.

    I further realized that my thinking that this makes me negative and no fun is serving someone else’s interests. Having my default state be “no” is serving MY interests. I don’t really care who thinks it makes me “joyless” or whatever.

  37. Twisty

    I get what you’re saying about changing your personal default to “no”, Lazy Ethicist, but alas we’re talking about two different things. Technically, living as you do, under the auspices of patriarchy, you can say “no,” but you can’t be “no,” if you see what I mean. That is what is meant by nullification of personal sovereignty, and is why, in a nutshell, patriarchy is bad.

    What I propose is that all women, a priori, be seen, legally, as existing in a perpetual state of non-consent. The paradigm shift needed to pull this off would require the overthrow of the current social order. See the previous posts — linked above — on this topic for more information.

    Saying no to sex and meat and consumerism and beauty practices is not an option for many millions of women.

  38. Thealogian

    I’m glad to see you’re posting again! I won’t go on some sort of “oh, I’d totally blow you because you’re hotzeses rad feminist blogging today” because over-fawning adoration bugs me. I was in a Theologies of Women of Color class in which the majority of the class was spending 30% of class-time fawning over the professor and how great it was she was visiting our school (now, there are real reasons for this, we didn’t have a professor at this prestigious Liberal Divinity school who was of color, which is totally fucked,) but the point being, that since at least 40% of the comments to this important blog entry were on how awesome you are and it took quite of reading to get to the point/counter point posters, I’ll just leave this–fawning suxes and in the case of my former school, came out of the dearth of faculty that represents the non-white dude experience–even though most of the white dudes were feminist allies; thus, the fawning here? The lacking of real radical feminist voices who are both well read and culturally in-tune.

    Onto Feministing, I love Feministing, but like I love family. There are times of great frustration, but I feel very Feministing identified because it was the first Feminist blog I found and I’m the same age as Jessica. Also, they’re setting up a networking format, which I think could be really great for purposes of real world connections/discussion groups/etc.

    Prostitution: I worked with a number of recovering prostitutes while in Divinity School (I’m not a Christian, not even a theist, per se, but I do engage in ritual work and meditation, both in groups and as a solitary; I also belong to a Unitarian Universalist Church–which has the only female dominated ministry). Anyway, I won’t go on to tell the stories of individual women worked with, but THEY ALL had the general experiences of being molested as children by fathers/stepfathers/uncles/brothers/cousins/mother’s boyfriends, then they were generally raped by a peer for the first time 12-14, then they were raped by a boyfriend 15-18, then they were beaten/in an abusive relationship 15-30; had children at some point within that timeline; and then either started tricking mid-twenties (or earlier in some cases) or after drug addiction/alcoholism took over their lives in their 30’s. Now, these were the women that we treated; many many many prostitutes start around 13 years old, particularly run-aways, but those don’t make it to the late 30’s/early 40’s when these women finally sought residential rehabilitation. Many were HIV positive–I didn’t know everyone’s status, so I can’t say how many if it were some or most because I wasn’t a medical worker. If they talked about it, they were free to talk about it with me.

    Anyway, the point is entering prostitution is kind of like the end of the line–the woman has been so beat down by patriarchy, that’s she’s a throw-a-way; she’s been so used and abused, she never really could be June Cleaver. That’s the perspective anyway, from the woman, whose idea of herself comes from patriarchal expectations of women (of course, she doesn’t say she’s a victim of the patriarchy, but she does see herself as irretrivably ruined…and which I why I think many Christian rehabilitation services are extra fucked up in their approach to serving these women because their notions of purity…even if they allow for the idea that women could become “virgins again” at least symbolically, is a BAD method of healing because it reinforces the original wrongness of the woman as “used up” by men for men, reducing their humanity to sex toy).

    Some might say that its important for “consumers” of prostitution to know the real backstories of prostitutes–that they are generally prostitutes DUE TO RAPE AND MOLESTATION. That these “consumers” are revictimizing them, but I think that that could backfire, like white people (men and women) who say “I never owned a slave, why the fuck do I have to make amends for slavery? Affirmative Action is reverse racism.” So it becomes, “I never raped anyone (though by buying sex the dude is committing rape), so why should I not be entitled to pay for pussy?”

    Now, I’m not anti-information, but I think that this information needs to get to the mass public–that our use of “whore” as a word should have its definition altered to mean what it really means, not the current understanding “slut” “person willing to do things generally considered low for money” “any woman who won’t sleep with Nice Guys(tm)” etc. Luckily, most men don’t go to prostitutes and those who do aren’t going to be persuaded out of their behavior by appeals for human rights–though punishing them is a start. Go Sweden.


  39. The Lazy Ethicist

    Twisty, I get what you’re saying. Upon review, I get what my post was suggesting.

    I didn’t intend to conflate the two, and I certainly didn’t mean to insinuate that setting one’s personal default to “no” is actually enough to defeat patriarchy. My post was meant to express a moment of recognition, as in, “Oh, hey, this explains why I do this in my daily life” but I realize I’m in a highly privileged position to make these choices. I agree with you that to completely implement women’s autonomous “no” status would require a serious legal/social overhaul.

    I’m but a baby blamer, and I lack practice in articulating my thoughts on these matters other than “RARGH! RAGE! BLAME!”

  40. CafeSiren

    Holy shit. What Fiona said. Me, too.

    (And Twisty, it’s great to have you back.)

  41. Twisty

    “won’t go on some sort of “oh, I’d totally blow you because you’re hotzeses rad feminist blogging today” because over-fawning adoration bugs me.”

    Well, it is in the Twistifesto that commenters have to want to totally make out with me or else I delete’em.

  42. warexx

    Just in case there’s any confusion about the meaning of the word ‘decriminalisation’ in relation to prostitution, I’ll just add a couple of comments to this fantastic discussion.

    The word ‘decriminalisation’ is solidly the invention of the pro-prostitution lobby. It disguises their aim to have the sex industry treated like an economic sector, and its customers treated like consumers (cf. NSW and New Zealand). The word is redundant in the anti-prostitution legislation of Sweden and South Korea. In these jurisdictions, prostituted people are treated as victims of crime, and are given access to a range of social services.

    To ‘decriminalise’ the ‘selling’ of prostitution is a bogus concept that has no meaning outside the pro-prostitution agenda. It is a nonsense to ‘decriminalise’ prostituted people while the activities of johns and pimps are still legal. This is the equivalent of ‘decriminalising’ mugging victims while making mugging legal.

    The idea of ‘decriminalisation’ is a decoy used by the pro-prostitution lobby to make people think they are concerned about the welfare of prostituted people. They pretend to care for these people by lobbying for the removal of laws that treat prostituted people like criminals, while opposing criminalisation of the parties that create prostituted people.

    Feminists should not be distracted from the project to criminalise the sex industry and its customers–the call to ‘decriminalise’ prostituted people is just a red herring.

  43. Twisty

    I understand how the pro-prostitution agenda is served by it, but the reason decriminalization appears necessary to this anti-prostitution feminist as an immediate band-aid is illustrated by your mugger analogy. If it were required by law to throw mugging victims in jail, it would be necessary to fix that law, right? Whatever other legal crap needs to happen to ameliorate the situation, it seems to me one of the first things to do is put an immediate stop to arresting the victims of institutionalized rape. If some happy hookers stand to benefit from this as well, well, so be it.

  44. Joselle

    Wow, my head is just spinning. Thanks for posting this. It’s changing my life. I can especially relate to Fiona and Lisa’s posts. Out of head and onto this screen.

  45. E

    Two Swedish Parlamentarians discuss the Swedish model in an op-ed in International Herald Tribune the other day.


    I think the most important point here is: if you legalize prostitution, the only thing that happens is more men go to prostitutes, more women go into the sex industry and more pimps and crime syndicates start trading in human lives.

  46. Trix

    I’m going to totally swim against the tide here.

    I completely agree that everyone’s default should be set to “no”. I also agree that prostitution is problematic in the current patriarchal (yes, I can say the word) set-up.

    * I don’t agree that all sex is necessarily about “pleasing [my partner] or “proving my worth”. And I sympathise with those who do.
    * Legal measures against prostitution are useless, and legalising it gives women much more protection… except with those discriminatory situations like you have in Nevada, where the State is the pimp. And the jailer.
    * Naturally women are horribly exploited personally and professionally now, but I also believe that selling sexual services can be done like selling any other service – I know people who do, and who have no angst about it, and they are not oppressed drones. I totally agree this is not the majority experience – and I’ve not seen a formula where we get from prohibition to the acceptance of prostitution as a respected profession. Mainly because people of your feminist persuasion here don’t want it (imagine if we ever did get post-patriarchy – why not?), and the more woo-woo kind deny the problems with it now.
    * I do think denying some women’s agency by saying that there is no such thing as a powerful, in-control prostitute is not helpful. There are too many counter-examples. Explaining how they can exist now might be an interesting exercise, and provide a model for future ways of getting that power away from the men.

    Also, I’d like to say that the vitriol in the comments here about those of us who are not reflexively anti-prostitution (or anti-porn) is crap. I particularly resent the emphasis on “sex-positive” “feminists” (with scare-quotes). Unfortunately (for some here), there is no one true way of feminism. There never was. Being told I am not a “real” feminist is a nice way of shutting down dialogue. I value those who have assumed the “RadFem” banner these days (and hasn’t the meaning of that term changed in the last 40 years?), because questioning sexuality is an important part of feminism. Funnily enough, it’s what the “sex-pos” crowd do too. Also, characterising people like me as young silly twits (by implication) is ridiculous – I’m nearly 40, and my eyes are as open to oppression as much as anyone else’s. Including from our own.

  47. Lara

    Trix, to say that you can “sell sex” like any other service is to ride on the assumption that women SERVICE men with sex/sexual favors and that men receive those services. Isn’t that gender dynamic exactly what feminism is against?? Oh yeah, I forgot, feminism is “anything” to anybody. No work involved, no critical thinking, just take whatever it is the menz/society gives you and label it “empowering” and, tada! there you have it: “feminism.” Feminism is the belief that women are human and should be treated and viewed thus. Prostitution runs on the idea that women are sex objects (“willing” or not).
    Yeah I am using “scare quotes” because I don’t think that’s feminism.
    Prostitution only started to exist when women were first enslaved. It is inherently sexist, classist, racist, and totally dependent upon a capitalist system. I am sick and tired of really important and intimate psychologically-based behaviors (like sex) being commodified and compared to other “services.” The personal is political. Sex is political, thus inherently tied to gender dynamics in some way. That’s yet another basic tenet of feminism. We do not live in a magical world where the patriarchal context suddenly floats away if we dream hard enough.
    Native American women often go into prostitution to make ends meet, and you know what? Prostitution has ALWAYS been based on sexual and racial oppression. Always. It simply would not exist without it.
    First you acknowledged that women should legally have “no” as their default state in regards to sex, and yet you ignore how prostitution involves the woman “having sex” only because of the money, NOT because she actually WANTS to have sex. Not because she is saying “yes” first to the sex itself. Money negates consent.
    I will never compare my body to a commodity that can be sold. I will never view sexual acts I engage in as “services.” And I will never view another woman or child that way. To do so is to capitulate to the patriarchy. And as feminists we cannot sit there and think we are “above” self-criticism and looking at the ways we fuck up and capitulate to the patriarchy.

  48. warexx

    Thanks, Twisty, for considering my last post, and for all the other thoughtful comments here. I do understand that ‘decriminalising’ prostituted women might, on paper, appear an important task for feminists. But I would advise against this tact in the real world. Advocating for ‘decriminalisation’ diverts feminist resources from our actual aim: to have prostituted people recognised in law and social policy as victims of crime, and all others associated with prostitution as perpetrators.

    In my experience, the first problem the anti-prostitution activist comes across is how to deal with groups advocating ‘decriminalisation’. These groups will typically represent ‘sole operator’ prostituted women. On first meeting, the anti-prostitution activist will want to stand in solidarity with these groups, because they appear to have the interests of prostituted women at heart. However, after a while it will become apparent that these groups have a pro-prostitution agenda. I have never encountered a pro-decriminalisation group that lobbies for the criminalisation of pimps and buyers.

    If anyone on this list has encountered such a group, I would like to hear from them. But my understanding of the radical feminist position is that we are working toward the criminalisation of the sex industry and the treatment of prostituted people as victims of crime qualifying for social services. I think if the radfem literature has advocated for the ‘decriminalisation’ of prostituted people this is a mistake that de-emphasises our concern for prostituted people as in need of social support and welfare.

    ‘Decriminalisation’ is an idea that leaves prostituted people still vulnerable to the predation of buyers and pimps, and almost certainly doesn’t prompt the re-organisation of society’s thinking and structures to accommodate prostituted people as victims of crime.

    So, I would urge, please consider the idea of ‘decriminalisation’ as solely the domain of the pro-prostitution lobby, and instead argue for the simultaneous criminalisation of the sex industry and the provision of support for prostituted people.

  49. Mar Iguana

    “I value those who have assumed the “RadFem” banner these days (and hasn’t the meaning of that term changed in the last 40 years?)” …Trix

    Thank you and, no.

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