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Jul 22 2008

Women-as-chattel interlude with Feminist Daily News

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, while privileged Western dudes continue to reward funfeminists who “choose” to ironically embrace the hilarious trappings of rape culture, the ripples they make in the global misogyny continuum aren’t so funny: “I am a widow and I have to feed my five children. I am illiterate and no one will give me a job. I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death.”

78 comments

  1. Dr. Steph

    And who is having sex with these women?

    Soldiers, taliban, and all the rest of the patriarchs who want to keep women in their place.

    I also bet that even if so-called liberation happens in Afghanistan, a social safety net and the infrastructure for REAL initiatives to change women’s lives (health care, education, autonomy) will not be part of the plan.

    Thanks for posting about the serious things here Twisty.

  2. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Should these women be unfortunate enough as to contract HIV, wanna guess who’s going to be blamed for it?

    Thinking about the plight of these women makes me feel ashamed of complaining about getting hooted at on the street or the price of a fresh pineapple at the produce store.

  3. Lara

    And you know what is so unbelievable? I have heard one or two “fun feminists” say that women in “countries like Zambia” should be “able to choose” (oh, oh, the “C” word!) between making baskets and prostitution. Yeah. Some idiot actually wrote in to the Ms. Magazine Summer 2008 issue responding to an article that spoke out against the dehumanizing and misogynist nature of prostitution and sex trafficking by saying that prostitution is a valid career choice. This woman thought that women in “under- developed” and war-torn countries like Zambia are sitting there and thinking “gee, making baskets is pretty boring and dull, I think I’d much rather get raped in the vagina, ass, and mouth 15 times a day by hordes of HIV infected jerks.” What a great choice, you go girl! Agency schmagency :/

    Here’s a political cartoon critiquing this arrogant and misogynist Western attitude to women struggling in war torn countries:

    http://www.sinkers.org/posters/newwar/afghanwomensliberation.jpg

    Liberation my ass.
    IBTP.

  4. Rebecca

    Does it irritate the shit out of anyone else that the “Feminist Daily News Wire” is using the term “sex work” in this (or any) context?

  5. CafeSiren

    Fuck.

    Fuckfuckfuck.

    @Rebecca: I think that using the term “sex work(er)” is supposed to do two things: first, include a wide variety of work in which a woman’s sexuality is commodified;** and second, to avoid freighted terms that might subtly encourage a reader to blame the victim. Sadly, it also implies a sense of agency that isn’t really there.

    **Yeah, I know: this includes about half the work options for women, and all of them, if you read women’s work through the lens of halloween costumes. But you take my meaning, I’m sure.

  6. Betty Boondoggle

    $10 says not one of the so-called “sex pos” group acknowledges these things lie on the same continuum.

    These stories make me sick with the feeling of helplessness. Anyone have ideas/links/etc on how we can help?

  7. Victoria

    Invasion is sexy. The American goverment finally achieved its goal: taking sexual freedom to the Afghan women.

  8. Cortney

    Thats exactly right. I am going to forward these posts to my “fun feminist” friends. It is interesting how the continuum manages to keep itself fairly hidden so that even intelligent women cannot or will not make the connection.

  9. Gansumina

    I bet 10 containers of cool whip and a new well-drained driveway that “Sex work is considered to be a serious crime in Afghanistan, where offenders can face the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for engaging in sex outside of marriage.” should actually read “…where *female* offenders can face the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for engaging in sex outside of marriage.” I am sure that it’s not the men who engage as clients in ‘sex work’ that feel these repercusions.

    You know who I blame.

  10. Donna

    Judging from the behavior of the sex pozzes trolling this blog recently, I’d predict that at least one of them will ping back with a petulant post about how the meanie radfems are picking on them again. If there’s any comment at all about the subject in the original post, it will be something along the lines of how prostitution is so much nicer when it’s legal and women choose to do it. I guarantee there will be no mention at all of the men who use prostitutes. That the poor widdle menz need unfettered access to other people’s bodies to gratify themselves is never questioned. The only question up for debate to Sex Pozzes is how they will be served up to them.

  11. Octogalore

    Betty, I think you may be out $10!

    Seriously, of course all sex work is on the same continuum. “I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death” is on the same continuum as “I don’t like stripping most of the time, but it’s the best way to repay my college debt/pay my bills/invest in a longer-term career.”

    So for that reason, it’s tough to make the case that sex work is a feminist career choice. Having had a stint in that arena myself, it’s not a claim I would make. Per the earlier “burlesque” post, I also think that “ironic” twists don’t make it feminist either.

    But I would say that for me, doing that stint was a “good” choice, from a purely utilitarian standpoint: the total (meaning, for everyone affected — I’ll avoid tossing out the self-serving math) benefit that came from it exceeded the total cost.

    That utilitarian argument, too, is on a continuum with the woman in Afghanistan quoted above. It is horribly tragic that she has to be a prostitute. But the root tragedy is what she says” no one will give me a job.” Until that one is fixed, her choices are sex work or starve. Privileged women in this country doing sex work or burlesque are not creating the demand in Afghanistan.

    But it’s on the same spectrum, and we do nobody any favors by pretending it’s not related. The key is to work on a fix that really solves the problem. Privileged American women avoiding sex work will not solve this afghani woman’s problem. Contributing to the Grameen (microloans for third world women) foundation, trying to figure out how to aid in literacy efforts for women in poor countries, and getting involved in headstart programs for women here — that’s the kind of thing that will get at the root. Analyzing continuums is good theory-wise, but result-wise? I’m not so sure.

  12. Mz Kat

    Of course the men do not get blamed for the crime of prostitution! They’re the innocent bystanders, the unwitting victims of the evil-bad-women-witches (who simply have the misfortune of owning a vagina in that country) who so OBVIOUSLY casted a spell/hex/curse on them leading them into a sinful act…excuse me, but this much sarcasm makes my ovaries ache…

  13. WendyAnn

    I think if I were forced to live in a world like these women endure, I would be a serial killer. I would be on a stealth mission to kill as many of them as I possibly could.

    I don’t think I could be brainwashed into thinking it was right or normal. The brainwashing didn’t work on me in this culture – I’ve never been one to perform the required performance art of femininity – not for promises of reward, nor for any other cookie crumb or carrot the patriarchy chooses to throw at me.

    I don’t *need* or *want* to attract men, so that little carrot didn’t work to keep me in line. And the stick of “Spinster!” shouted at an unattached woman of a certain age held no threat.

    Yup, I think I would be a guerrilla in the war against women, killing as many men as I could get away with, because, really, what else is there to do? Fight or submit. I’ve never been very good at submitting.

    I’ve been following the Iranian women’s rights movement for a couple of years now, and those are some of the bravest women – I am in awe. They *know* they are going to lose. They *know* they are going to be punished. But someone has to do it. Someone has to be the first wave. Someone has got to get things started. I don’t know if I’d have the courage for it.

    Like I said, I am in awe of them.

    Same thing with the Iranian LGBT movement. Incredible people living in a sick culture. And I don’t care if anyone takes offense at my use of the word sick. The way their culture treats more than half of their population is sick to say the very least.

    It may suck living under the patriarchy in the west, but at least women here have *some* agency and aren’t owned. The women in Arab Muslim countries are literally owned. Sick, sick, sick.

  14. Betty Boondoggle

    “Privileged women in this country doing sex work or burlesque are not creating the demand in Afghanistan.”

    “Privileged American women avoiding sex work will not solve this afghani woman’s problem.”

    I disagree on both counts. While of course I don’t hold them personally responsible for specific events in specific locations, when anyone freely and willingly participates in their own oppression, they do so to the detriment of all those in that oppressed group. This is something the so-called ‘sex poses’ don’t acknowledge because they labor under the delusion that their choices are different, or special, or whatever.

    I do acknowledge it. Whenever I’m confronted with someone spouting off bigotry and I don’t make my objections known, I’m complicit in the spreading of that bigotry. Whenever I engage in sexist beauty practices (even when I’m laboring under the delusion that I like them because I like them and not because I’ve been told I like them my entire life), I’m complicit in the solidification of patriarchial beauty standards. That’s just how it is. We’re women – we don’t get a “time out” from patriarchy.

    When a privileged white woman in this country engages in sex work of her own free volition*, she’s complicit in the industry that engages in human trafficking on a monumental scale; she’s complicit in the power structure that forces other women, regardless of location, into these desperate situations, etc.

    Like I said, patriarchy doesn’t give a crap why you’re doing something, it will use it to further itself. And it furthers itself to our collective detriment. Notice I’m not saying “you can’t do x”. I’m saying regardless of what you do, or why you’re doing it, it will be used against us all. Till the revolution.

    Now, that said, I totally agree with you that aid, resources and opportunity for women will combat (and perhaps one day resolve) this problem. Notice that those things are counter to patriarch’s roles for women. That should tells us something, imo.

    * – “If I don’t do this, my kids will starve”, or any variation of desperation thereof, is not “free volition”.

  15. Octogalore

    Betty – you disagree that “privileged women in this country doing sex work or burlesque are not creating the demand in Afghanistan” and “privileged American women avoiding sex work will not solve this afghani woman’s problem” on grounds that “when anyone freely and willingly participates in their own oppression, they do so to the detriment of all those in that oppressed group.”

    I think we need to drill down a little further. How do women doing sex work create demand for it (not to mention, in other parts of the world, but let’s say anywhere)? “Complicit” is a good word, but what does it really translate to in terms of result?

    Let’s say we could get a big percentage of women to stop doing sex work. Would we change demand? What would happen would what occurs when any supply is restricted – prices would go up, and new workers would move in from other jobs, then prices would go down again. Status quo.

    Now, I agree with you that women who do sex work would do other women a disservice by glamorizing or recruiting women who might otherwise choose other venues. I’ve gotten in some trouble for stating openly that I do not think sex work is an equivalent career to others which feature more promotional opportunities and longevity for women, and which offer opportunities to combat patriarchal views of women. I do not second-guess other women’s choices as to what makes sense for them. But it’s important to be honest about the risk/reward picture and how that changes over time in comparison to other careers, and also about how that trajectory is an antifeminist one (although the women caught in its web may be feminists).

    So to the extent women who do sex work highlight a glamorized and limited picture of what it really is and thereby convince others, who might have chosen other opportunities, to go in this direction and thereby sabotage the other opportunities, I agree – that is complicit and has a real, negative result.

    But to the extent women who make individual utilitarian decisions to enter sex work and do not contribute to any increase in women doing sex work – they may even motivate unhappy sex-workers to find other opportunities – I don’t call that complicit, or feminist — just neutral.

    My problems with “complicit” do not stem from a desire to extricate myself from any culpability, but a concern that in getting caught up with blaming other women, we sidestep the real cause here for this woman’s fate. And in doing that, we may get too involved in pointing fingers to do anything of substance to help.

    The real cause is poverty, and the feminization of poverty stemming from women’s unequal political and economic power. Nothing done at the bandaid level is going to solve that. Taking women out of sex work where the economic, political and cultural foundation is so unequal simply compounds the problem. We need to make the foundation a healthier one. When that’s the case, stories like the afghani woman above will not exist.

  16. Boots

    Octogalore said:

    “Seriously, of course all sex work is on the same continuum. ‘I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death’ is on the same continuum as ‘I don’t like stripping most of the time, but it’s the best way to repay my college debt/pay my bills/invest in a longer-term career.’

    “That utilitarian argument, too, is on a continuum with the woman in Afghanistan quoted above. It is horribly tragic that she has to be a prostitute. But the root tragedy is what she says ‘no one will give me a job.’ Until that one is fixed, her choices are sex work or starve.”

    I ask this because, purely because I haven’t been able to formulate a logically coherent response for myself: how is what Octogalore describes that very different from what most of us do every day as wage-earners in a capitalist economy? It is worse just because it has the added layer of misogyny? Because it’s a double-barrel of capitalism and patriarchy (which are of course so comfortably interlinked)?

    Don’t we all (except the very lucky) make a utilitarian decision every day to do “work” that is inauthentic, exploitative, and supportive of the P? For the very same reasons (‘no one will give me a job’ because there are few decent, fairly-paid, non-exploitative jobs; or ‘I don’t like flipping carcinogenic cow muscle most of the time, but it’s the best way to repay my college debt/pay my bills/invest in a longer-term career.’)?

  17. other orange

    Let’s say we could get a big percentage of women to stop doing sex work. Would we change demand?

    Well, what if those women give their children and their families and their friends and their partners the heads up- that they left/rejected sex work for feminist reasons ? What if they leave sex work and speak out against it, or perform service/outreach with organizations that help less privileged women get out of sex work/build other opportunities ? What if they use their experience for good ? What happens when people and communities get educated about what really happens to women in sex work ? What happens when we humanize them ? Could we, then, change demand ? I have to believe that we can.

    We don’t have to hope for actions that are merely neutral at best.

  18. Betty Boondoggle

    “Complicit” is a good word, but what does it really translate to in terms of result?”

    How do you propose we quantify it? We both know that what some women won’t do willingly, others will simply be forced to do. And the “forced to do” set is a hell of a lot bigger than the “willing” set.

    “Let’s say we could get a big percentage of women to stop doing sex work. Would we change demand?”

    Wait – are you asking me if women have sufficient control to change this particular demand? Like I said above, other women will simply be substituted for the willing. We don’t control the demand, or those doing the demanding. Demand doesn’t change, our complicity in it changes.

    “My problems with “complicit” do not stem from a desire to extricate myself from any culpability, but a concern that in getting caught up with blaming other women, we sidestep the real cause here for this woman’s fate. And in doing that, we may get too involved in pointing fingers to do anything of substance to help.”

    Ahhhh, I see. FTR, I’m not blaming other women. Notice, when I listed exampled of complicity, I was talking about myself. This isn’t any one woman’s, or group of women’s fault – we all negotiate our way through this “man’s world”. I totally agree about getting wrapped up in pointing fingers, which is why I used myself as an example – none of us are exempt from negotiation. Which makes us all complicit. There is no way not to be complicit in degrees since we’re not part of the dominate power structure.

    “The real cause is poverty, and the feminization of poverty stemming from women’s unequal political and economic power. Nothing done at the bandaid level is going to solve that.”

    Totally agreed.

    “Taking women out of sex work where the economic, political and cultural foundation is so unequal simply compounds the problem.”

    This, I’m not sure I understand. I have been talking about willing participants in sex work – not women like those in the story the post linked to. So, I haven’t been suggesting that a woman forced through circumstances (i.e. starving children) is complicit. That’s sheer exploitation. Exploitation that exists because women are the sex class – which is something willing participants in sex work help promote, not fight.

    “We need to make the foundation a healthier one. When that’s the case, stories like the afghani woman above will not exist”

    Totally agreed. However, there is no making the foundation healthier that involves willful, freely chosen sex work. Making the foundation healthier means breaking down the barriers that classify women as commodities, not promoting them.

  19. Betty Boondoggle

    other orange, I totally agree.

  20. ginmar

    What if we just offered them the rights and freedoms and value we promised them when we invaded? Oh, wait, this is the admin that sent the fucking Ann Coulter group there to ‘study womens’ rights.’ Supposedly us feminists never cared about the women of Aghanistan. Unless this can be blamed on liberals and feminists, you can count on this not reaching the MSM.

    I really don’t think these women have the wherewithal to be feminist at this moment. As it is, they need food, and they’re in danger of being killed. Feminism is almost superfluous because they’re barely in survival.

  21. other orange

    ginmar, absolutely, as concerns these women. The priority should be saving their lives, improving the conditions around them, and ensuring their rights so that this cycle is broken forever.

    I still feel like sex workers who are privileged and can make choices about their lifestyle/profession could make a choice not to participate in that culture.

  22. Natalia

    ***I guarantee there will be no mention at all of the men who use prostitutes.***

    Um, personally, I speak to men who go to prostitutes quite frequently. Of course, these aren’t Afghanistan’s citizens we are talking about, but mostly Ukrainians. I take what I can get, at present. I published one interview, I may eventually publish more. I also have essays linked on my sidebar. And I don’t consider it a simple issue at all.

    Also, I don’t really identify as “sex positive,” because I think it’s an unhelpful term, but it’s a term that’s thrust at me often enough to where I’ve started identifying with it.

  23. Dauphine

    “This, I’m not sure I understand. I have been talking about willing participants in sex work – not women like those in the story the post linked to.”

    What makes a willing participant in sex work? What makes a willing participant in any work? Isn’t all labor, on some level, driven by economic/financial/social need?

  24. Lara

    “It may suck living under the patriarchy in the west, but at least women here have *some* agency and aren’t owned. The women in Arab Muslim countries are literally owned. Sick, sick, sick.”

    Um, excuse me, WendyAnn, but Iran is not an Arab country, thanks. And stop using us Middle Eastern women as the poster-child for women’s oppression. It’s patronizing and insulting to my sandnigger ass. So stop.
    And there are women in Iran who are Bahai, Zoroastrian, and Christian who are just as oppressed as their Muslim sisters, so this is not strictly about religious sects here. And there’s nothing “inherent” about “the Middle East” that makes it more misogynist than anywhere else. The misogyny just takes slightly different facades in the “West” and in the Middle East. The Middle East, which includes West Asian countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, to Jordan and Israel, to even North African countries like Egypt and Libya, is extremely complex and diverse. So I’d appreciate it if you do not make blanket statements about “women THERE.”

    What in goddess’s name makes you think women in the West are not “owned” by men??:

    http://www.womensspace.org/phpBB2/2008/07/06/very-young-girls/

    http://whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com/2008/07/22-yo-black-woman-to-11-year-old-black.html

  25. ginmar

    Dauphine, I don’t believe for a second that prostitution can be compared to other jobs. This is not labor. This sexism in action. Men don’t go to prostitutes because they can’t get laid. They off on the power.

  26. Octogalore

    Other Orange: “Well, what if those women give their children and their families and their friends and their partners the heads up- that they left/rejected sex work for feminist reasons?”

    This seems kind of blue sky to me. For one thing, this would happen only if the reasons for doing it were specifically antifeminist. What if the reasons for doing it were financial (as is mostly the case)? How do you explain: “well, I decided it was more feminist not to buy you formula for a couple months while I finish my degree. Sorry about that!” Or in my case: “I decided it was more feminist to return to a career I hated, practicing at a big law firm, than bank some money to invest in an entrepreneurial career that I now cannot afford to pursue.” I’m not sure these narratives would be compelling feminist tales.

    Betty: “[Taking women out of sex work where the economic, political and cultural foundation is so unequal simply compounds the problem]–This, I’m not sure I understand. I have been talking about willing participants in sex work – not women like those in the story the post linked to.”

    I don’t see how willing participants are part of the problem, again per above, unless they contribute to conveying an inaccurate picture that could influence others. As you’ve agreed, the demand will dictate the supply. If some of that supply consists of women who are better able to dictate the rules of engagement, that’s hardly going to promote exploitation.

    What I do agree with though – although via a different argument from the one you’re making – is that on average (not dictating individual women’s decisions) women should not go into long-term sex work at higher rates than men do. As there are diminishing returns to scale over time, and very limited upward potential, in most cases, this phenomenon will not enable us to gain equal economic and political power.

    I don’t think using sex work as a vehicle for more power in a woman’s life, even without starving kids in the picture, is being complicit, where she is dictating the terms. I’ve seen too many women gain: college degrees, escape hatches from abusive or unhappy marriages/relationships, economic wherewithal to start an entrepreneurial venture. It’s hard for me to see how these women, each with a specific exit strategy, each leaving the industry with more power than she began with, are complicit. I’m not claiming they are bettering the feminist cause; I am claiming their decisions are not setting it back. And that these decisions, whether based on extreme need or just desire to improve ones lot in life, will change without alterations to the underlying power structure.

  27. Lara

    Littoral Mermaid has an incredible post with tons of information about women prostituted in countries outside of the “developed” “West”:

    http://littoralmermaid.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/this-needs-to-end-now/

  28. CoolAunt

    Antoinette Niebieszczanski: Thinking about the plight of these women makes me feel ashamed of complaining about getting hooted at on the street or the price of a fresh pineapple at the produce store.

    It doesn’t make me feel ashamed and I’ll tell you why. I’m only one woman. I can’t save the world. I can’t even save or cause much change to even a tiny part of the world the size of my own neighborhood. If, however, I join others who have the same change or cause in mind, we can make some impact. Strength in numbers and all of that, the strength being political strength in this instance. So, because I can make a difference by applying myself and resources to one cause, I have to decide which cause is most important to me, or where I’d most like to see some change. For me, that’s here at home. The way I see it, when western women are more powerful, we’ll be better able to make changes abroad. In the meantime, there are many women, western women included among their numbers, who focus their energies and resources on women’s issues in other parts of the world.

    Call me an isolationist or US-centric (or western-centric) but understand that it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about women in other parts of the world. Knowing that these women are real and many and that they live this way saddens me. Knowing that their daughters and granddaughters may very well live the same way saddens me even more. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want better for myself, you, our daughters and granddaughters than we currently have.

    One more thing to think about is that abusers often these types of comparisons to make their victims feel guilty for saying, “Ouch.” “You don’t have it so bad. I don’t hit you as hard as Joe Blow hits his ol’ lady,” is a common statement from an abuser’s mouth, just as, “American (or European) women need to realize they have it good. Just look at horrible it is for women in Afganistan,” is typical from the mouth’s of American and European men.

    No, I don’t feel ashamed for wanting to be treated as an equal human being and I don’t think you should feel ashamed, either. I blame your feelings of shame on the patriarchy.

  29. CoolAunt

    Let’s say we could get a big percentage of women to stop doing sex work. Would we change demand?

    Although you answered this question differently, it’s the same fucking question that men ask rhetorically, with the unspoken answer being a threat: we’ll rape you if you don’t fuck us.

    By the way, my answer to that question is, “Who gives a shit?” I can demand a nice home with a pool, a tanned and oiled pool boy named Carlos, a yearly trip to the Bahamas, and a fortune in gold but I won’t get them. Johns could demand more sex to buy until their heads caved in and I still wouldn’t give a shit. I’d be very happy for those hypothetical women who’d sign up to fill the ranks of the hypothetical former sex workers if they were able to find well paying, satisfying work outside of the sex industry. I think the majority of them (90 % according to most studies) would be happy, too, with those well paying, satisfying.

    Okay, I don’t want to join the clusterfuck that’s going on here, so I’m moving on. Please don’t assume my silence here from this posted comment on to be an agreement (or a disagreement, for that matter) of anything that anyone posts here.

  30. panoptical

    “Let’s say we could get a big percentage of women to stop doing sex work. Would we change demand? What would happen would what occurs when any supply is restricted – prices would go up, and new workers would move in from other jobs, then prices would go down again. Status quo.”

    This analysis is, from a strictly economic viewpoint, incomplete. If you decrease the supply, the market price goes up only if demand is fairly inelastic – that is, if there’s nothing else on the market that could satisfy that particular desire. Otherwise you get substitutions. So if you restricted the supply of prostitutes, you might see an increase in porn consumption, or an increase in violent sports, military enlistment, the patronage of strip clubs, rape, or whatever else satisfies men’s misogynistic tendencies.

    That being said, the capitalist/consumerist system itself does not only satisfy desires – it breeds desires. Complicated economic models have proven conclusively that the only way to make real profit in capitalism is to find new markets to enter and new products to sell. I’m not sure that the trend can be reversed, but if we don’t do something about it now, porn will keep getting filthier and more violent, prostitution will continue to spread to new markets, etc etc, and as a result women will be more and more oppressed as time goes on.

    As much as I hate to admit it, these things are all interconnected. If men have permission to go to strip clubs (which also means to have sex with prostitutes) then they’ll go, but that’s not all that will happen. Their demands will get more exotic and harder to satisfy. How long will it be before Najiba’s 12-year-old daughter is sold to some pimp in a Western country who started off his career just going to strip clubs?

    I’m not saying that women who become strippers automatically turn men into rapist pedophiles, and men don’t have a choice in the matter, because like Adam and Eve, if a woman offers a man an apple, he’s going to bite. But there is a consumer culture in the West, and in order to survive it has to expand in all directions, and as long as that culture regards women as a commodity that can be bought, sold, or rented, more women will be affected, exploited, and oppressed.

    The example of Afghanistan is a good one. Who is using the services of prostitutes in Afghanistan? Could it be… the US military? Believe it or not, the Taliban are by and large kept away from women. The only virgins the martyrs are going to see in the afterlife are going to be madrassa boys. Under radical Islam, women who are caught being promiscuous are stoned to death. Islamic men oppress women in myriad ways, but prostitution is not the standard MO. The Taliban is also reputed to be fairly committed to keeping its members from raping women. They won over much of Afghanistan by bringing law and order – strict, oppressive law and order, but nonetheless, they created an anti-sex environment. Except for a man and his 1-4 wives.

    So the Afghani women who are becoming prostitutes are likely to be responding to an influx of demand brought about by US and other foreign military presence. We have actually sent our young men – whose desires have been crafted by pornography, strip clubs, and other elements of rape culture – to a war-torn country where disease and starvation run rampant, where women have no rights and where husbands and fathers have been killed in thirty years of war, and set the foxes loose in the henhouse.

    Globalization starts in the home. Who knew when we ate McDonald’s and drank Coca-Cola that these brand names would someday be known world-wide? Except instead of a Royale with cheese, now we’re exporting our sex industry.

    So yes – every person who participates in the industry – even here in comfy cozy middle class white America – actually does help speed that industry on its way, here and abroad. Every woman who becomes a stripper instead of a role model. Every woman who tells a man “no, really, it’s okay, I love getting fucked in the ass!” It’s tragic, and yes, they are victims, but they’re also part of the system. We can’t all fight the system with every word, deed, and breath; but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge how certain specific behaviors help the system to grow.

  31. TwissB

    My hands are over my ears and I’m stamping my feet and yelling STOP TALKING ABOUT “SEX WORK” as if prostitution were “work like any other” instead of what it is – as defined by Sweden’s enlightened law – violence against women. I hate to think that women who give serious thought to combating misogyny and the institutionalized practices that support it could seriously fall for an obvious euphemism like “sex work,” invented to shut women up lest they show disrespect for other women’s vocational “choices.” Back in the day, conservatives used the same ploy to conflate feminist criticism of the homemaker role with disrespect for homemakers. There must be a genius ad man out there somewhere who comes up with stuff like this, including “adult entertainment” to euphemize pornography.

    By the way, references to fun feminists reminds me to pay homage to Andrea Dworkin who said, in one of my favorite Dworkin quotes, “I’m a feminist. Not the fun kind.”

  32. AngryJules

    Well said, Panoptical.

    Western women’s engagement in “sex work” and the lives of women in Afghanistan are also connected through processes of normalization. The more women who sell their bodies for money around the world, the more commodification of women’s sexuality is normalized and goes unquestioned. We’ve seen this happen with femininity— women are socialized to be empathetic, communicative, nurturing and so on to the point that even “scientists” (e.g. evolutionary psychologists) argue that these are naturally female traits. When behaviors become taken-for-granted and seemingly natural, people generally stop questioning the reasons behind them— like physical or financial coercion or the feminization of poverty. How can we identify and combat global gender oppression when we ignore the manifestations of it as neutral or non(un?)-noteworthy?

    Some people may think that it’s a-ok for sexual exploitation to be naturalized and taken-for-granted. Some people may believe that our bodies are like any other resource we have, and that it seems rational and perhaps savvy to use that resource to make money. But that leaves out a lot of contextual information about how women actually experience sex work— particularly, the association of sex work with rape, violence, and risk of HIV & other STIs. Patriarchy stuff.

    We don’t have to blame individual sex workers. We just need to recognize that when engagement in sex work becomes a global pattern of behavior that it has real, tangible consequences for other women. No one in this world exists in a social vacuum, and when we think about sex work in individualistic terms (what’s good for a single woman) we deny the existence of real connections between men and women and also women and other women.

  33. SoJo

    I think its also important to note that the UN and the multitude of aid organisations that are semi-permanently based in Afghanistan in their compounds are a huge part of the continued prostitution of women in Afghanistan.

  34. speedbudget

    I feel like I”m watching an episode of Cops wherein there’s going to be a prostitution bust…only busting prostitutes. They NEVER go after the johns.

    Why are we sitting here discussing women, who have no agency under the Patriarchy, and only one or two comments of the MEN who are complicit, at fault, the REASON these women are forced into this?

    If it weren’t for the MEN, this “industry” wouldn’t exist. Shouldn’t there at least be a bit of touching on that? I don’t like all these comments questioning the women doing this. Regardless of how we phrase it, we are still second-guessing these women who have no choice.

    TwissB had it right–this is institutionalized sexual assault. Maybe, if we want to help these Afghani women, we should start trying to change our laws here in this country to reflect that.

  35. other orange

    I think Panoptical’s done a good job of pointing out how this situation is very much the fault of men; specifically, an oppressive social structure paired with our violent and imperialist military occupation.

    I think it’s fair to point out that if we stop perpetuating the porn culture here at home, we stop exporting it as well. But I agree, we have to hold men, not women, accountable for the behavior of men.

  36. ginmar

    I’ve seen too many women gain: college degrees, escape hatches from abusive or unhappy marriages/relationships, economic wherewithal to start an entrepreneurial venture. It’s hard for me to see how these women, each with a specific exit strategy, each leaving the industry with more power than she began with, are complicit.

    So we’re not talking about abused, third-world women who can’t read and live in a fucking war zone, we’re justifying prostitution and shit now? What the hell?

    This is not the same thing. These women are at risk of death for doing what they do. They’re trying to avoid starving.

    In Maslow’s hierachy, the first needs are basic ones: shelter, food, warmth, etc., etc., Then you move up to shit like reading and writing. Then you get to college degrees—-are there even colleges in Afghanistan any more, after decades of clusterfucks? Why in fuck are we talking about college degrees when these women are starving and risking their lives to feed their fucking families? How does a college degree even fit into this equation?

  37. Betty Boondoggle

    “What makes a willing participant in sex work? What makes a willing participant in any work? Isn’t all labor, on some level, driven by economic/financial/social need?”

    A vast majority of the time, yes. But I’m talking about those who could easily do something else, but who prefer this line of work. Someone one who chooses it over another job for reasons not related to exploitation, desperation, etc. I.e. If you could be a nurse and you chose to be a stripper, that’s a willing participant.

    “If some of that supply consists of women who are better able to dictate the rules of engagement, that’s hardly going to promote exploitation.”

    I disagree. Unless one actually believes men go to prostitutes for some innocent company and we live in a post-patriarchical society, that is. The situation is one of exploitation. Like I said, patriarchy doesn’t care why you do something. It uses all of us. The john doesn’t care why the prostitute is there, he just wants to use her. And, if he doesn’t feel like spending the money on one who has the agency to say “no”, he’ll find one that doesn’t have that choice. The industry is one of exploitation. Full stop.

    “I don’t think using sex work as a vehicle for more power in a woman’s life, even without starving kids in the picture, is being complicit, where she is dictating the terms.”

    Her “dictating the terms” is an illusion. As per above, SHE might be able to say “no”, and so johns who don’t want to hear no will go elsewhere. It might work for her, it doesn’t work out so well for the less privileged. The handful of sex workers with the agency to say no means absolutely nothing at all to those that don’t. All those with the privilege to say no are doing is rendering invisible all those that don’t have that privilege. It’s the “Pretty Woman” model of prostitution.

    “It’s hard for me to see how these women, each with a specific exit strategy, each leaving the industry with more power than she began with, are complicit.”

    See above. What you’re describing is automatically helping to make the situation worse for those less privileged than these specific women.

    “Why are we sitting here discussing women, who have no agency under the Patriarchy, and only one or two comments of the MEN who are complicit, at fault, the REASON these women are forced into this?”

    This is what I’m trying to say. On the one side we have people claiming that women have the agency, and the other side says that they don’t. That’s what I’m trying to illustrate. This is what I mean when I say patriarchy doesn’t care why you do something. That there are women who like this line of work is irrelevant – it will be used against all of us.

    Basically, it’s not through compliance to the demands of men that we’ll end the things that drive any woman to this line of work. Men control the demand, and the supply (to an overwhelming degree). We won’t break that cycle submitting to them. Regardless of what we tell ourselves, regardless of our own feelings, drives, etc – patriarchy will use us for its own ends.

  38. Lara

    “Basically, it’s not through compliance to the demands of men that we’ll end the things that drive any woman to this line of work. Men control the demand, and the supply (to an overwhelming degree). We won’t break that cycle submitting to them. Regardless of what we tell ourselves, regardless of our own feelings, drives, etc – patriarchy will use us for its own ends.”

    I agree with you here Betty Boondoggle. So the next question is, HOW will we ameliorate this situation? What can we all do to start getting rid of the institution of prostitution and patriarchy? What first steps do we take? We often talk about the problem, and where it comes from, and how it is structured and perpetuated, but rarely do we finally get around to discussing solutions. And I think that’s what makes this so frustrating too. Does anyone have any ideas at all of what we can do to start breaking down and ridding of the pornstitution and patriarchy?

  39. Gansumina

    Isn’t the fundamental point in this discussion that when we look at prostitution (and argue for and against it) in terms of economic principles we are inherently buying into the patriarchy’s objectification of women? Because when it really comes down to it, we’re not selling a product, we’re selling a human being and her body. We turn women’s bodies into a commodity, making the ‘product’ equivalent to a pair of shoes, ready to be used whenever the user (and abuser) wants, and easily discarded; assuming that the purpose of that ‘product’ is to fulfill my every whim, not having any whims/desires/ideas/thoughts of its own.

    This discussion is not about the economics of prostitution, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be about how treating prostitution as an economic issue denies women the right to be human in the first place.

    Also, thinking about the ‘complicit’ discussion. In the patriarchy, complicit sexism is still sexism. And yes, it does damage others in that it normalizes the behaviour of those demanding it. If men did not feel entitled to ask for it (and receive it)- this wouldn’t be an issue.

  40. Cassie

    Gansumina, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about this without bringing in economics, because economics is the practical expression of inequalities in our societies. Economics is another expression of how human someone is deemed to be: if you are considered a worthy human, you will be given economic means to live and possibly thrive. If not, you will be forced into all kinds of horrific labor, of which prostitution is just one example, in hopes of survival.

    I used to be neutral on prostitution, “consenting adults” and all that. I have changed it just a wee little to “consenting adults of at least equal socio-economic means”. It turns out that wee little change makes it quite different, sort of like the horn on a unicorn changes it from a horse to a mythical animal.

  41. Betty Boondoggle

    “Does anyone have any ideas at all of what we can do to start breaking down and ridding of the pornstitution and patriarchy?”

    Personally, I think feminism is the first step. Not the “fun” kind, the real kind. Women, focusing on women, breaking out of the articifical constructs of “femininity” and gender roles, pushing for and creating opportunity for women. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.

    ———-

    “This discussion is not about the economics of prostitution, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be about how treating prostitution as an economic issue denies women the right to be human in the first place.”

    This is an important point. One that I failed to stress. This comes to the heart of the problem, for me, because this isn’t like any other job. This isn’t simply “work” – this is buying and selling human beings. The discussion of economic factors is simply tangential to the larger point – that human beings should not be for sale.

    “And yes, it does damage others in that it normalizes the behaviour of those demanding it. If men did not feel entitled to ask for it (and receive it)- this wouldn’t be an issue.”

    Yes! Thank you. This is something I was trying to get at in a roundabout way.

  42. Dauphine

    ginmar, I don’t believe for a second that your arguments against prostitution have anything to do with feminism when you’ve been conching them in women-blaming language all over the recent entries to this blog. Do you realize what you sound like when your posts read along the lines of “why don’t those whores get HONEST work”? Where are all your prostitutes who are just doing it for shits and giggles?

  43. ginmar

    OH, fuck you and your projection. Either address my goddamned points or fuck off. Women blaming my ass. I do think I smell a sex pozzie.

  44. Silence

    I may be opening up a really hideous can of worms with this post, but here goes.

    There have been many recent posts about burlesque shows and women ‘choosing’ of their own free will to enter into a career of prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc., etc. I can do nothing to alter these women’s choices. I must concede they have the right to make them.

    But. But what they have increasingly caused me to think of are the old minstrel shows that were once so popular in the US back in the nineteenth century. You know, back when white people put on black face and sang and danced and told jokes? Audiences used to love those shows. And after 1860, there were some black people who also put on black face and did the same thing. Maybe they felt empowered, being able to get up on stage and sing and dance. I bet there were some talented folk among them too.

    But society began to be increasingly uneasy about the minstrel show. After all, blacks had been owned as slaves by white people in the US. They had been beaten, brutalized, and deprived of all the rights every human being should enjoy. Plus the minstrel show was based on caricatures; black were depicted as clumsy, foolish, and subservient. There were several character types who made an appearance: the mammy, the sexy mulatto woman, the soldier, etc., etc. All of this denigrated the very real suffering that black people had endured and continue to endure. All of it trivialized the anger and pain of a entire set of people who had been forced to endure the unendurable.

    And now the minstrel show has pretty much vanished and in its place we get plays like August Wilson’s “Fences” and novels like Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” which lend dignity and understanding to the suffering of these people.

    So forgive me if I’m out of line here, but in a world where women are forced into prostitution, sold into brothels, and giving the choice of stripping or starving — how can I do anything but view burlesque shows as a modern day minstrel show with women taking the place of blacks? Misogyny replacing racism? Instead of empowering the woman who freely chooses to take off her sequined g-string before an admiring throng, doesn’t this activity denigrate the suffering of women who do the same thing and hate it and despair but have no alternative if they want to survive? Isn’t there a vast difference between a woman who can step away from her job any time she wants to and another who has to let a man use her body or her children will starve?

    Prostitution in all its forms causes untold suffering for millions of women. Doing it ‘willingly’ only continues to feed the beast, that is, the appetites of men who have been conditioned by the patriarchy to view women’s bodies as commodities for their consumption.

    And by the way, I’m not blaming women. The desire to perform before an audience is a healthy and legitimate desire. I blame the patriarchy which turns any woman’s public appearance into a test to see how well she fits the patriarchy’s approval standards. It’s not surprising that some women take their own personal pleasure and the approval of an audience and translate it into ‘power.’

  45. ginmar

    Silence, if you dare to imply that women don’t gleefully choose pornstitution of their own giddy free will, the default and only other option is that you’re blaming the women for their choices. Oh, yeah, and you hate them, too.

    Minstrel shows is exactly what it is. It’s not enough for men to have all the money and power; they want us to literally suck up to them too and make them believe we like it.

  46. Gansumina

    ginmar- Silence, if you dare to imply that women don’t gleefully choose pornstitution of their own giddy free will, the default and only other option is that you’re blaming the women for their choices. Oh, yeah, and you hate them, too.

    WTF?! Or was that a sarcasm swish going over my head?

  47. ginmar

    I need to remember the /sarcasm tag.

  48. on the nickle

    What if it wasn’t primarily women being used? What if there was a huge industry that made movies of Jewish rabbis being beaten and raped, forced to choke on penises until they threw up and then forced to eat it? What if more than 70% of Christian men bought these movies or downloaded them for free on the internet and masturbated to them every month? Would there be an outcry? Would people say “That rabbi got paid $200 to be beaten, anally raped, and choked. It was a career choice.” What if he was the only bread-winner for a family? Would people complain then? Would these movies support the Christian men in their belief that all rabbis really want to be raped, that they are just giving them what they want and deserve?

  49. Level Best

    Here’s my hobbyhorse for the day: Feministe has a guest blogger who is gleefully supplying links to “feminist” porn sites. Among other things, she says one may use the links to play with the “incest taboo.” As of when I last checked, no commenters seemed very concerned–just effusively grateful or disappointed that their favorite kink wasn’t being met at the sites. I know Feministe is not IBTP or Womensspace, BUT still??? But then I’m not a hipster, just a dessicated old 2nd waver. . .

  50. Lara

    “So forgive me if I’m out of line here, but in a world where women are forced into prostitution, sold into brothels, and giving the choice of stripping or starving — how can I do anything but view burlesque shows as a modern day minstrel show with women taking the place of blacks? Misogyny replacing racism? Instead of empowering the woman who freely chooses to take off her sequined g-string before an admiring throng, doesn’t this activity denigrate the suffering of women who do the same thing and hate it and despair but have no alternative if they want to survive? Isn’t there a vast difference between a woman who can step away from her job any time she wants to and another who has to let a man use her body or her children will starve?”

    Word Silence. Beautiful. I’ve been recently viewing burlesque the same way.

  51. Bushfire

    That’s a good explanation, Silence.

  52. panoptical

    Silence,

    “how can I do anything but view burlesque shows as a modern day minstrel show with women taking the place of blacks?”

    In an earlier comment I argued that demand can be created, shaped, and increased by supply – for instance, before the iPod there wasn’t much demand for mp3 players. Strip clubs, prostitution, and pornography create the demand for more of these things.

    I think, however, that burlesque is of a different category than what some people have been calling “sex work.” I think that the goal of burlesque is to portray women not as commodities for men to consume, but as human beings who are smart, funny, and sexy, and who are these things without regard to the norms the patriarchy tries to impose.

    Now, I am familiar with the arguments against burlesque. I understand that any attempt to ignore the patriarchy is an attempt to ignore reality. I know that most of the male audience is bound to miss the point. And yet, I can’t help but feel sympathy for women who have been told by the world that they aren’t the right shape, age, color, etc, but they go out and perform anyway, and they prove that those things aren’t what’s important.

    And to get back to my earlier comment – if burlesque shows (which, to the best of my knowledge, rarely if ever involve full nudity, rarely if ever involve touching, and absolutely never involve violence towards women or sexual intercourse) can take market share away from pornography and strip clubs and prostitution that do involve all of these things, then burlesque could actually help tame the appetites of its audience.

    The danger, of course, is that the reverse will happen – that burlesque will reach men who have not gone to strip clubs or prostitutes and become a sort of stepping stone into those things. I can see the connection from burlesque to “sex work,” but the connection is not a simple or straightforward one.

  53. CoolAunt

    I said I wouldn’t return here but I realize that something I stated may have unintentionally come across as victim-blaming.

    I’d be very happy for those hypothetical women who’d sign up to fill the ranks of the hypothetical former sex workers if they were able to find well paying, satisfying work outside of the sex industry. I think the majority of them (90 % according to most studies) would be happy, too, with those well paying, satisfying (jobs).

    By that, I did not mean that women who are prostitutes should clean up their acts and get honest work. What I meant was that they need more choices, jobs that pay well and are satisfying (whatever satisfying work means to each of them, individually). It’s obvious that the widow quoted in the blog post has no choices and I do believe that’s true of at least 90% of prostituted women.* Most prostituted women have no other options; it’s either prostitution or starvation on the streets.

    I just want to make that clear as my original statement could be read differently.

    *This number comes from a study, the source of which I can’t recall and therefore can’t cite. That’s also why I’ve stated it as my belief rather than a solid fact.

  54. Octogalore

    Ginmar: “So we’re not talking about abused, third-world women who can’t read and live in a fucking war zone, we’re justifying prostitution and shit now? What the hell?… Why in fuck are we talking about college degrees when these women are starving and risking their lives to feed their fucking families? How does a college degree even fit into this equation?”

    I’m confused about the sequence here. The quoted section was to illustrate that the women who use sex work for their own ends, like for example college degrees, and have an exit strategy and often are able to leverage the work to feed families, are not the ones to blame for the abused third world women who enter prostitution. They’re not even complicit. That’s the fault of the economic conditions in their countries and the feminization of poverty. For these women to get out of prostitution, there need to be better jobs available for them. A decrease in the number of western strippers (some with college degrees) isn’t going to cause that to happen.

    “The john doesn’t care why the prostitute is there, he just wants to use her. And, if he doesn’t feel like spending the money on one who has the agency to say “no”, he’ll find one that doesn’t have that choice. The industry is one of exploitation. Full stop.”

    Sure. But the existence of ones with the agency to say and enforce “no” doesn’t change the ability of the customer, in today’s world, to find someone who won’t.
    “All those with the privilege to say no are doing is rendering invisible all those that don’t have that privilege. It’s the “Pretty Woman” model of prostitution.”

    I don’t disagree with that. It’s important not to glamorize the field. There are a ton of pitfalls. The “Pretty Woman” model, as well as most media representations (except the “victim” ones like Law & Order) create an unrealistic scenario.

    So I don’t think the fact that some like what they do is a reason to support it as a good choice or a feminist choice for women on a longer-term basis. I’m just not sure how the women who have done the cost-benefit math and still choose to do it are implicated in the abuse of others if they do not perpetuate any myths.

    Betty, you’re right that “it’s not through compliance to the demands of men that we’ll end the things that drive any woman to this line of work.” If I were delivering a speech to a group of women, whether in South Central LA or in Pacific Palisades, I’d say: “you should not consider sex work as a career. If you have a short-term plan to do it to achieve some specific objective, whether it’s feeding your kids or paying off debt or whatever, you need to be aware that there are substantial pitfalls that may stand in the way of your getting in and out seamlessly. If you are still determined to do it, then I’ll respect your decision. If you are my daughter, I will not only respect your decision but I will ground you until you rethink it.”

    But I don’t think either my advice or yours, which I know would differ in significant part, would put a dent in the problem rather than just scratch the surface. If we interviewed a number of poor third-world women, I can bet you they would say: I could give a rip what you spangly western strippers do – show me the money and the jobs.

  55. ginmar

    What’s hard to understand? The piece is about an Afghan woman who has to sell sex to survive. Then suddenly we’re talking about privileged women. Um…what? This woman’s life is one long survival situation.

  56. Octogalore

    The link was Betty’s comment (which, speaking of privilege, enhances mine by $10): “$10 says not one of the so-called “sex pos” group acknowledges these things lie on the same continuum.”

    That’s how we got from continuum to complicit and began to debate the latter, and what kind of role that plays vs what kind of role the underlying economic conditions play.

  57. jael

    Is it really necessary to entirely exclude female agency, all together, while at the same time decrying the existence of a market for prostitution?

    the observation that octogoloare made way back – that the tragedy there is no other work available – is indeed, the issue that needs to be addressed to solve the problem.

    “if I stop doing this job my children will starve to death.”

    a solution to this situation needs to be found, to solve the problem. No amount of gnashing of teeth or stopping of the sale of sex else where will feed this women’s children.

    On the other hand – we can accept that this selling of sex is not a Good Thing, and yet understand that to solve it we need to address the economic concerns. No mental distress necessary.

    Lara:

    This woman thought that women in “under- developed” and war-torn countries like Zambia are sitting there and thinking “gee, making baskets is pretty boring and dull, I think I’d much rather get raped in the vagina, ass, and mouth 15 times a day by hordes of HIV infected jerks.” What a great choice, you go girl! Agency schmagency :/

    No, but – please believe me – it’s reasonable to think that they could, possibly, might be thinking “gee, my life here is pretty shit, the sex hurts lots and the men are pigs, but look what i can provide for my family; look at the new mobile phone I have! look at my nice clothes! look at the medication i can provide to my grandmother, look, i’m sending my sister and brother to school. This is a fair site better than doing (insert other hideous occupation, if one can be found, here/serving my family/being beaten by my ex etc…)”

    Women in the developing world may not have the same breadth of choices as we do, but they still operate with agency, selecting from among the available options. We all act only with the agency that we have within out particular system. Enough with the weak passive victims. Women who sell sex in the developing world are heroic survivors; providers.

    If you would like to see them make different choices, the pertinent question becomes how do we provide them?

  58. apostatepakistanigirl

    “Yup, I think I would be a guerrilla in the war against women, killing as many men as I could get away with, because, really, what else is there to do? Fight or submit. I’ve never been very good at submitting.”
    Wendy Ann
    This is a correct and progressive attitude that articulates our position.

    “And stop using us Middle Eastern women as the poster-child for women’s oppression. It’s patronizing and insulting to my sandnigger ass.”
    Lara

    This is not a progressive postion and smacks of apologism-denial-appeasement. This is not the correct position and is suspect in my opinion.

  59. MariaS

    @ panoptical – Wikipedia tells me that burlesque was indeed originally a kind of music hall/vaudeville show, with both men & women peforming comic skits, songs and dancing and suchlike. Gradually, it came to be simply striptease performances by women. So yes, the burlesque revival may be about talented women entertainers. It’s hard to see that kind of burlesque as either a “gateway drug” or a way of tempting men away from porn (and both of those ideas are very problematic by the way). However, one performance labelled “burlesque” may be very different from another. Burlesque may be a loving homage to an old-time entertainment tradition, or it may be a fancy description for stripping that’s trying to be classier/edgier than ‘ordinary’ stripping. One night at my local rock club, there was a self-styled burlesque show. The women stripped completely nude, and one of them peed into a glass on stage. They stripped to Marilyn Manson and other goth/metal tracks. That was what made it “burlesque” and not at all like normal stripping. They were clearly influenced by the Suicide Girls phenomenon. (Last time I was in the club there were ads inviting women club-goers to take part in a pole-dancing competition).

    The burlesque performers quoted in the article Twisty linked to in the closed thread clearly frame their performance as sexual, they make the link to sex-work by contrasting themselves to strippers. They present their peformances as sexually empowering, as being in control of how they use their bodies, as something they enjoy doing. (Thought: performers of all kinds use their bodies – few need to stress their agency or ownership of their bodies, as actors, comics, singers and so on – that’s taken for granted. Other thought: the burlesque performers quoted seem to think, by implication, that regular strippers don’t have control of their performance, and don’t enjoy it.)

    Whatever enjoyment women derive from peforming, men will still regard their performance as being an invitation to judge, use and objectify them sexually – what the performance means to the women is meaningless to the men. Some kinds of performance are more easily co-opted for this purpose than others, especially if done naked or near-naked. Pole-dancing could easily be a branch of gymnastics, for example – but in its current popular form the expressive and athletic skills of the performers are not the focus. Under patriarchy women’s performances can only be empowering to themselves while there’s no male observer to appropriate them. The plaster-cast torsos mentioned in the other post could similarly be empowering while the women create them and feel like they’re taking back ownership of their bodies, but once out in the view of men are re-objectified.

  60. CoolAunt

    Wikipedia should never be used a source of, well, of anything, really. Did you know that the criteria to submit information to Wikipedia is access to the Internet and the ability to use a keyboard? In other words, anyone and everyone can contribute to Wikipedia and they do.

    I’m not saying that what you found there is right or wrong. What I am saying is that I wouldn’t assume it to be right until I had confirmation from a reliable source.

  61. thebewilderness

    “Is it really necessary to entirely exclude female agency, all together, while at the same time decrying the existence of a market for prostitution?”

    What is this agency of which you speak?
    When the demand is submit, or die, where does agency enter in.
    Survival is the issue.

  62. jael

    thebewilderness:
    I was speaking more broadly of the initial comment, which referred to women in ‘”under developed” countries’.

  63. WendyAnn

    This is a late response but I did not see Lara’s response to me.

    First of all, I take exceptional offense of your use of sand nigger. I in no way am racist against Arab (or Persian – and yes, I know the difference) people. My sister is married to a wonderful Syrian born and raised man and I think of him and his family as my family.

    In his family, which left Syria for the West, the women are not treated as chattel or slaves. They have full control of their own lives and do not have masters (or as much as a woman can living under patriarchy.)

    My problem with certain cultures, be they Arab, Persian, Pashtun, African, Fundamentalist Mormon, or any other culture is the way they treat women.

    And while you may personally be fine with women’s treatment in your culture, accepting it as their choices, there are many women there who disagree with you and are giving up their lives to start a first wave of feminism in their world.

    I do not accept your premise that my denouncement of a culture that enslaves and murders women is racist. I feel the same way about fundamentalist mormons and christians who treat “their women” in a similar fashion.

    It’s sick, disgusting and it is wrong. Cultural relativism is sick. If it’s wrong to beat and rape women under the name of marriage in one place, then it’s wrong in every place.

    Cultural apologists are cowards. I think it is cowardice to look at half the women in the world and refuse to take a stand on the way they are treated and chalk it up to “their culture.”

    Believe me, if there were anything I could do about it, I would. I don’t even have enough money to donate to one of the NGO’s that manage micro loans to women.

  64. jael

    the bw. I’ve been thinking about this.

    Now; I don’t know this woman’s story. I can only talk in abstracts here.

    But here we go: Who knows if this is the only thing this woman can do? Does this mean that it’s the only thing she can do, or the only thing that provides enough money, or the only thing of the available options she’s willing to do? WHen she says no one will give her a job; does this exclude begging? Can the children be sent to work? Could she run a small business?*

    Now, I’m not saying there is consent, if it’s one appalling choice taken from a range of appalling choices. But rarely, if ever, is there only one choice. There has to be a reason why this activity to generate income has been selected. And its on the basis of that reason – I need X amount of money; the other jobs are worse – that any intervention to get her out of selling sex requires. Otherwise, it’s all just talk.

    Now – I’m not saying this is acceptable; yes; it’s for survival; etc.. no problems with any of that. But it’s the theory v practice dichotomy. We can say – this is bad till our heads fall off. But if we want to change things, often this requires the situation to be looked at in some different way.

    *not victim blaming. that you chose to sell sex doesn’t make you less of a victim of the “sex trade” than someone who was tricked into it. It’s an appalling state of affairs, either way.

  65. Lara

    “Women in the developing world may not have the same breadth of choices as we do, but they still operate with agency, selecting from among the available options. We all act only with the agency that we have within out particular system. Enough with the weak passive victims. Women who sell sex in the developing world are heroic survivors; providers.”

    How do you know, jael? What background do you come from? Who are you to speak for women from “underdeveloped” countries? My family is Egyptian, and white men go to Egypt often to exploit and abuse brown women there. These women are NOT getting cell phones and nice clothes from their sexual slavery. They are getting beaten and abused by pimps and johns.
    Furthermore, I have been to Senegal before, and I will tell you right know the only women I have ever seen that had access to any remote healthcare, nice clothes, cell phones, anything, are NOT prostitutes. Prostitutes in West Africa are slaves there too.
    You sit there and talk about agency and yet you think you have the right to speak for these women. Ironic, isn’t it?

    “I can only talk in abstracts here.”

    Right, you can only talk in abstracts here because this whole idea of agency for women is an abstract concept, and only that. It is not a reality for women stuck in poverty.

    “If you would like to see them make different choices, the pertinent question becomes how do we provide them?”

    Since when was I bitching and moaning about “women’s choices”?? I am criticizing a whole society and patriarchal rape culture that forces women into prostitution, jael. This has nothing to do with morality or “choice.” Only YOU see it that way. Perhaps that’s why you’re all twisted in a knot with everything I say.

    “Now – I’m not saying this is acceptable”

    You are saying this is acceptable. Otherwise you wouldn’t spend so much time saying these women have “agency” and it’s “their choice” among other “options.”
    Stop it already with the abstract talk and acknowlege some women’s reality, will you?

  66. jael

    Laura

    I work in counter trafficking in… drum roll… the developing world! You know. Actually working with these women you seem to be sure you know all about. You know. The slaves. Let Me Say It Again. It’s what I do every day.

    I assure you – your vacations in Senegal didn’t show you what you think it showed you. How long were you there? Where did you stay? What prostitutes did you spend time with?

    Most pertinently, your being of Egyptian heritage in any way make your analysis of the plight of Egyptian prostitutes any more valid. Have you spent extensive time taking to Egyptian prostitutes? What does the fact that white men come to Egypt to use these women have a anything to do with anything?

    You are saying this is acceptable. Otherwise you wouldn’t spend so much time saying these women have “agency” and it’s “their choice” among other “options.”
    Stop it already with the abstract talk and acknowlege some women’s reality, will you?

    Perhaps you have difficulty with basic comprehension. As for basic reality – please, send me a post card from whatever first world country your family migrated to, maybe you could even tell me about all the prostitutes you’ve spent time asking the opinion of?

    Now. That’s out of the way. If you’d like to comment on any of the actual points I’ve made with actual commentary rather than by telling my I know nothing, then please – feel free. More than enthusiastic to engage with anyone whose willing to put together a coherent argument.

  67. jael

    That was overly narkey. Sorry. I do get sick of being told I know nothing, often enough some second year undergraduate from a liberal arts program (not saying you are, it’s happened several times). I find the exhausting. I responded with unnecessary force in the last post. Sorry.

    So let me try it like this. These women are no doubt slaves. No problems with that line of reasoning. And yes – some are kept under lock and key in closed brothels. No problems. Some are beaten by their pimps. Many, even. They suffer horrendous, degrading, awful treatment every day.

    But this western mythology of the “victim”: the good victim; the passive victim; the one that had evil done to them : this mythology hinders out our ability to actual look at root causes. Really.

    If someone’s prostitution is feeding their family – irrespective of the ethnicity of their ‘consumers’; irrespective of wether or not they are getting beaten or raped by their pimp; irrespective of how awful we think this situation is : if we want to solve the problem and stop new women selling sex/having sex sold on their behalf, then we need to address the feeding of the family.

    People chose to do things – all the time – horrific things we cannot consider acceptable, because it gives them control over other things in their life. If I sell sex, my children eat. If I sell my child, my other children can be fed and go to school. If I beg, we will not make enough money to survive.

    There is a choice inherent in all of these. Not necessarily much of a choice – sure. But it’s the choice that these women have. If you refuse to acknowledge that they DO make a choice, then we are looking at them as virtually sub human; incapable of any control over their self destiny.

    The poster cases for people’s opinion, absolutely, these cases exist – the sold as a child, chained to a bed, raped 20 times a day. These cases do happen. They are not – for the most part – the majority. Nor does the fact that most situations do not reflect that particular mythology make them any less horrendous.

    Outrage is great; but how we articulate outrage into a strategy to stop the sale of sex – that’s the interesting question. I can stamp my foot along side you; it does nothing on the ground. So I look at it differently to you. I think it’s just as horrific as you do; really. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Nothing is ever black and white as it appears, though. Ever. And sold sex in the ‘developing’ world is just one of those things.

  68. CoolAunt

    I must have problems with basic comprehension, too, because Lara put into words what I thought of your initial post. Your next two posts only confirm my original thoughts.

  69. xochitl

    “But this western mythology of the “victim”: the good victim; the passive victim; the one that had evil done to them : this mythology hinders out our ability to actual look at root causes. Really.”

    What I’ve found, after living in Asia for two years, is that some Western NGO workers bring with them the mythology of choice, which hinders their ability to see reality and root causes.

    Also, you say:

    “Outrage is great; but how we articulate outrage into a strategy to stop the sale of sex – that’s the interesting question. I can stamp my foot along side you; it does nothing on the ground.”

    What is your strategy? You say you work in anti-trafficking, so you must have one. And if it’s anything like the strategies used by feminists in Nepal, it involves helping women get training (as tour guides, artisans, etc) so that they have a way out–not giving prostituted and trafficked women pep talks about how wonderful it is that they are not victims, and that they have choices.

  70. ADInnis21

    The jobs have to be created for women everywhere. It’s the one reason all women get dragged into prostitution. They have no other viable options. I mean really, who in their right mind would “choose” this work if there really were other economically viable options.

    And I don’t want to hear that stupid chorus of women out there who defend porn and prostitution, thinking it’s great for them. I just don’t buy this. Like the rock and rollers who later recant their awful “lifestyle” and really get that it’s bad, I think people often defend their so-called choices, because admitting being trapped is too awful.

    Jobs= freedom for women. It’s the bottom line everywhere.

  71. Lara

    Vacations in Senegal, jael? No, it was a study abroad program because I am studying African Art as an art history major. So yeah, I do give a shit about people there, thanks. Especially considering my parents technically are African.
    And no point in apologizing for your “snarkiness” (arrogance), I could tell you were like that to start out with. :/

    How have I NOT addressed what you actually said? I’ve fricking QUOTED you in my previous comment.

    The concept/word for “victim” is not at all restricted to “the West.” For example, the Arabic word for “victim” (in a rough translation, the “sacrifice/victim”) is “daheya.” So I don’t know where you get this idea that the concept of “victim” is a “myth” particular to “the West.”

    “There is a choice inherent in all of these. Not necessarily much of a choice – sure. But it’s the choice that these women have. If you refuse to acknowledge that they DO make a choice, then we are looking at them as virtually sub human; incapable of any control over their self destiny.”

    I disagree. Just because someone doesn’t have a choice at all in a situation it does not make them essentially sub-human. That is EXACTLY why I have a problem with women being forced into prostitution.

    “The poster cases for people’s opinion, absolutely, these cases exist – the sold as a child, chained to a bed, raped 20 times a day. These cases do happen. They are not – for the most part – the majority. Nor does the fact that most situations do not reflect that particular mythology make them any less horrendous.”

    Any person with a brain knows that slavery does not have to look exactly like that, jael. I don’t get my kicks off of sensationalized imagery of sexual slavery. I am concerned with the lived realities of these women, not with how those realities appear at first glance.

    “Outrage is great; but how we articulate outrage into a strategy to stop the sale of sex – that’s the interesting question. I can stamp my foot along side you; it does nothing on the ground. So I look at it differently to you. I think it’s just as horrific as you do; really. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Nothing is ever black and white as it appears, though. Ever. And sold sex in the ‘developing’ world is just one of those things.”

    “If someone’s prostitution is feeding their family – irrespective of the ethnicity of their ‘consumers’; irrespective of wether or not they are getting beaten or raped by their pimp; irrespective of how awful we think this situation is : if we want to solve the problem and stop new women selling sex/having sex sold on their behalf, then we need to address the feeding of the family.”

    I don’t want to mold women’s actions/choices. If I was in the same awful situation I’d probably be a prostitute too. So that’s not the point. I want to stop MEN from thinking they can pay to rape women (a.k.a. prostitution). It’s men that are the problem. And yes, we can come up with practical solutions of how to stomp out the male demand for female bodies.

    So, with all of the complaining you’ve done about the “mythology of the ‘victim’” in radfem circles, may I ask, what exactly IS your solution to this? It’s awesome that you work with prostitutes in the “developing world,” but with all that said, I can’t understand why you keep insisting on this concept of agency. There’s a huge difference between having one or maybe two terrible options to survive and feed your family, and having AGENCY. To just keep saying “prostitutes are empowered!” is not the solution. Because that is what you’re saying. Agency can lead to empowerment, right?

    Oh, and thanks for making lots of leaping assumptions about me: that I’m a privileged snooty liberal arts college kid who doesn’t know anything about women’s oppression. Interesting how you accused me of saying you don’t know about anything while saying I don’t in the same breath.
    I’ve noticed that a lot of people who vehemently react to my comments just say something along the lines of “you lack basic comprehension” “you don’t know anything” “you need education” etc. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s so incredibly condescending.

  72. jael

    Well, that wasn’t any where near as bad as I was expecting. Rather relived, to be honest.

    I agree with you men are the problem. Wholeheartedly. 100%. No argument.

    But how that translates into a plan of action – I don’t know. Start teaching them in school? Having them raised only by women till they’re 16? I have no idea. If there’s a strategy out there for bringing this about; then let’s do it. You say we can. Fire away. All ears. I would love to hear them your strategies.

    In the meantime, while you’re bringing about the revolution, there remain women who are sold as slaves. I don’t see that supporting this demographic in whatever way best suits their needs is mutually exclusive of bringing about the revolution. We can do both at once, no?

    I use the concept agency because it’s become important to me. You can agree or disagree with it, no problems. I emphasize it because I’ve found it to be useful tool. I did not say that agency was equal to consent; I said that within a limited range of options people chose to do certain things; that the range of choices is limited can negate the possibility of consent; it does not negate the fact that, to whatever limited degree there was, agency was exerted.

    My complaint wasn’t against radfem circles, sorry that it came across as such. It was against the generally held notions around prostitution and interventions – the “saving” that goes on, western models of intervention. That there is a word for victim in Arabic is only reasonable, I’d imagine victim is a fairly universal concept.

    I don’t want to mold women’s actions/choices. If I was in the same awful situation I’d probably be a prostitute too. So that’s not the point.

    That you’d do the same thing in the same situation is exactly the point.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of molding choices . It’s about creating choices, as it were. Providing more options for women to make a choice from. Stopping men from paying for sex does not actually address the issue of why the woman was selling sex in the first place. Men don’t buy the sex; woman still hungry. Men don’t by the sex; children still uneducated, starving.

    A situation where women don’t need to sell sex – where they have enough to eat, access to decent work etc..: this is vital, in my mind. It address far more than the selling of sex: it looks at economics; family life; food security; education and so on. All of which are vital for women’s safety.

    …And if it’s anything like the strategies used by feminists in Nepal, it involves helping women get training (as tour guides, artisans, etc) so that they have a way out–not giving prostituted and trafficked women pep talks about how wonderful it is that they are not victims, and that they have choices.

    xochital, i don’t know what makes you think I’d have the conversation that I’m having here with a prostituted woman. But anyway.

    What I’ve found, after living in Asia for two years, is that some Western NGO workers bring with them the mythology of choice, which hinders their ability to see reality and root causes.

    Oddly enough, I came here with a point of view very similar to the one that’s being espoused here by various commenters – it’s been work/friendships I’ve made that have made me change my mind. The inverse of what you’re saying. But anyway. That’s another story all together.

    Strategies – of course it’s similar to what’s going on in Nepal, it’s about producing more choices; there’s training; business start up loans; as much pcysho-social support as possible: there’s a remarkable degree of continuity in reintegration practices around the world.

    But if you want my general strategy? What we should be doing? It’s setting it up, so that selling sex isn’t the only option available; that there are other, viable, meaningful options available for women, for families, for children – no matter where they are in the world. Awareness raising is no use, unless alternatives are provided.

    That the men’s behaviour has to change – absolutely. I don’t see that the above statement, and the idea that men need to stop thinking this is OK are incompatible.

    Lara – one last comment, just for you.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people who vehemently react to my comments just say something along the lines of “you lack basic comprehension” “you don’t know anything” “you need education” etc. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s so incredibly condescending.

    I don’t know, but perhaps there’s a reason for a lot of people (a million people?) saying the same thing. I find that if I hear the same thing over and over, there usually is something in it worth thinking about, even if I don’t agree with it.

    I’m going to make a guess here and say I think it might have something to do with your delivery. But hey – I’m an arrogant, evil, racist who will go to evil racist hell; don’t mind me too much.

  73. jael

    Just one thought more on the above:

    where I say: But if you want my general strategy? What we should be doing? It’s setting it up, so that selling sex isn’t the only option available;

    I mean- so that selling sex it’s not the only option choice that meets the criteria against which the decision is made.

    Say the criteria is making enough money to feed the family; or that gets you away from your family; or isn’t in a factory, or some hellish home based industry; that accommodates your health issues..

    You might get work, but it might be poorly paid work in a factory. No use. Or work in the home village, but you don’t want to be near your family. Or there is work in the city, but it’s laborious work that hurts your eyes. These alternates aren’t going to provide options, as they do not meet the criteria against which the decision to sell sex is being made (eg: money, make my family happy, provide for my parents, want consumer goods, etc…)

    Options are alternates that meet individuals criteria for deciding.

  74. jael

    Wow. I find myself back here again, having figured I should actually go take a look at these radfemcircles that I apparently have a problem with.

    And I’ve got to say – I do miss the sheltered workshop.

    My impressions of the ‘radfem blogsphere’ are not overwhelmingly positive, I’m afraid. Not something I want to get drawn into; and too easily done I fear.

    So, take this as an ‘I withdraw at this point’ – I have neither the desire nor the energy to continue with this conversion. Poor form, perhaps, to withdraw after making a post, but it does leave closing statements and last posts to whoever so desires.

    hat tips all around, best wishes generally.

  75. thebewilderness

    I hear people use the term agency a lot lately.
    I feel like Inego Montoya in that I don’t think we mean the same thing when we say agency.
    Do the women we are talking about have agency. Do they have the means of producing an effect?
    I don’t think so.
    I think that there are situations where women are so limited in the effective actions available to them that to call it agency is like saying they choose to breath therefore they have agency.

  76. thebewilderness

    breathe, criminy.

  77. CoolAunt

    …I have neither the desire nor the energy to continue with this conversion. Poor form, perhaps…

    Perhaps. But it’s a relief just the same.

  78. ginmar

    Agency, agency, agency! And once again we’re evil radfems who ‘vacation’ in countries and think we’re experts. Wow. The degree of arrogance there must make treating victims terribly helpful.

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