Move to Secular Woman

I have returned to blogging after an unplanned but very long break. But mostly it won’t be here. It will be at http://www.secularwoman.org/salon/Jadehawk. I will be posting links to new articles that will be published there at the same time as the articles are published, so there will still be a way to follow this blog. Occasionally I might still publish an article here, usually when it’s unsuitable for the Secular Woman Salon (fiskings of craptastic articles elsewhere, for example; or 3000 word theses I can’t break up into a series.)

Suggested reading — insightful sites that are currently on my reading list

Blogrolls are supposed to be a sort of promotion of other stuff one reads and stuff that’s interesting, but I feel like my reading is never that stable and I’d have to update the blogroll once a month to have it representative. There’s really only maybe 3 sites I visit regularly, and it’s often not for the reading but for the socializing. Maybe instead I should do occasional “what blogs/sites have I recently been reading” posts instead, pointing out interesting blogs I’ve discovered. Today, I’d like to feature the following sites for that purpose:

1)http://tressiemc.com/ written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd). From her bio:

Woman. Friend. Daughter. Scholar. Armchair activist. Hell-raiser. Intellectual Catfish.* Not particularly in that order.

I am also a PhD student in sociology at Emory University where I study education, inequality, and organizations. My research has surveyed for-profit students and the organizational mechanisms of the for-profit college sector. . My questions are less who and what and more why and how. Why are so many black students enrolled in for-profit colleges? So many women? How do status competition and stratification processes intersect with labor and economic structural change to produce these patterns?

As of Fall 2013 I am a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Poverty Research at UC-Davis. I am examining poverty policy and credential seeking. I cover highered debates at Slate and write about inequality, race, gender from time to time.

2)http://www.gradientlair.com/ written by Trudy (‏@thetrudz) From her bio:

I’m a 34-year-old Black woman who identifies as Jamaican Black (yes, Black is the noun, H/T to Nikki Giovanni). I am cisgender and identify as an ace; asexual, heteroromantic to be exact. I am a Womanist who includes Black feminism and intersectional feminism in my social justice work and writing, but Womanism most accurately speaks to my collective sociopolitical framework for anti-oppression praxis. (I reject the use of “social justice” as a dismissive label when I happen write about my personal life.) Politically, I identify as neither Republican (barf) nor Democrat (Zzz). My political leanings are very Left, but that includes intersectionality and a plethora of perspectives, not solely raceless conversations about class. I identify as an agnostic atheist but still very connected to Black culture in most ways though zero interest in monotheisms and I try to have nuanced perspective on non-Eurocentric, Afrocentric theisms and deities. Though I am an atheist, I am not interested in White supremacist atheism either.

I am college-educated. I have a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and I completed 2 years of additional graduate work in Psychology and Mental Health Counseling. I studied race, gender and adolescent mental health/education and I have a lot of interest in how media/culture impact this. I studied Behavioral and Social Sciences at the baccalaureate level. (It’s a NO on pursuing a Ph.D.)

3)http://criticalspontaneity.com/ written by Suey (@suey_park). Short bio: “Freelance Writer. Organizer. Graduate Student.”

4)http://nataliereednewblog.wordpress.com/ newly started by Natalie Reed (@nataliereed84). From her bio:

Natalie Reed is a queer trans grrl, (…)-survivor, former addict, writer and activist currently living in Vancouver, BC. This is a space for thoughts and writing on feminism, gender theory, trans and queer rights, rape/abuse issues, addiction and drug issues, other social justice concerns such as sex worker and prisoners’ rights, and also pop culture, comics and other stuff, as it occurs to her. Intersections of various political and cultural issues are a particular interest.

5)http://colorlines.com/ which is a news site “where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.”

Swallowed by The Feminist Hivemind

I’ve not quite been able to return to full-on blogging (working on it though). However, I did commit myself to writing one of the inaugural articles to the new secular feminist bloggy-thingy, The Feminist Hivemind, so I kinda had to make myself write it.

I’ll be still primarily blogging here, but articles written for the Hivemind will be linked to from here rather than cross-posted. And especially, major articles I want to have greater visibility will probably go there, since I expect a place with more writing and more varied perspectives to also receive more traffic than my blog over here (which only sometimes gets a large audience).

Anyway, here it is: Feminism, Skepticism, Secularism, and a Venn Diagram

A collection of reading comprehension fails

I was going to respond to the second pitter response in the “dialogue” the same way I did to the first, but it turns out that’s not possible. That’s because there isn’t nearly enough content, and what content there is looks like a massive reading comprehension fail when taken at face value (one can speculate whether these pitters really are that dumb, or whether they’re playing dumb to avoid having to answer properly).

So instead, I’ll pick at some of the more interesting fuckups of that response, rather than focusing on the supposed point of the dialogue. (content of quotes not altered, but form adjusted for easier reading)

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I agree and disagree. We dont only seek truth for reasons that are that dramatic or noble. The basic reason we seek truth is that, without it, were flailing ineffectually in the dark. Curiosity drives us to seek truth. The desire to predict and control the world around us drives us to seek truth.

a pitter: Scientifically driven skeptics like us may pursue truth for different reasons compared to others in society. We agree that curiosity serves as an impetus for some people; so may a desire to explain the world around us. While desires to predict and control the world around us may serve as an impetus for some people, those reasons seem less likely to be widespread among atheists & skeptics.

1)The pitter response to Stephanie totally reads like “but we’re not like other, normal people, we’re better than the commoners! We Are Skeptics!”
2)I’m pretty fucking sure that curiosity and a desire to explain the world is the main motivation for knowledge-seeking among scientists.
3)Wanna bet they read “predict and control the world around us” not in the clearly intended sense of bending the environment to our needs (e.g. curing disease, improving agriculture, etc.), but in the Pinky and the Brain sense?

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I am unwilling to put competence at truth-seeking above other-Ill call them ‘virtues’ for lack of a better word. It is certainly important, but making it our primary consideration has come to be recognized as a bad idea. Placing the collection of knowledge above all else was the kind of thinking that led to the Tuskegee experiment. Researchers uncovered a great deal of truth about the progression of untreated syphilis, but they did so at the cost of the health and lives of people who did not volunteer to be sacrificed for truth. In response to this and other travesties, weve instituted safeguards intended to curb unchecked truth-seeking. Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

a pitter: I dont see any disagreement amongst the atheist community on the importance of ethics in biomedical research.

Dumb or disingenuous? You decide! Definitely fucking hilarious though.

a pitter: In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can – and sometimes must – be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations. We can do this without rancour or dismissal and it is a key requirement in achieving our objectives: freeing this world of the terrible injustices we see all around us.

Stephanie: [...]Where I disagree in that case is that science is supposed to be a cumulative process. Once consensus has been reached on a particular topic through that process, its typically time to shelve that topic and move on until we come across information that doesnt fit the models. Continuing to study geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion at this point would not advance our pursuit of truth. Debate does not go on forever on a topic without the introduction of substantial new information.

a pitter: This description of science seems at odds with that typically seen in a research environment. Scientists do not shelve topics and move on to the next subject. Nothing is proven absolutely in science and even topics that seem certain are being constantly tested – for example the recent experiments testing the idea that some particles might be able to exceed the speed of light in a vacuum. The principle that every hypothesis must be open to falsification is the primary means we have to distinguish science from pseudoscience. In other words, I agree that the scientific process should be as open as possible, and disagree that science is supposed to be a cumulative process in which a topic is shelved once consensus is reached.

1)How ignorant do you have to be to disagree that science is a cumulative process? If it weren’t, we’d still be trying to figure out whether the earth goes around the sun or vice versa. As Stephanie noted.
2)Wanna bet this is just their attempt at defending their refusal to let go of privilege & the biases that come with it?

Stephanie: If this is intended to suggest that individuals must test all their beliefs through debate and that this process will lead to understanding the truth, I strongly disagree. When people who are taught to debate are taught to be equally comfortable taking either side of an argument, we are looking at a process designed for winning, not truth. If we want to arrive at truth through give-and-take, we need a more collaborative process in which the goal is not to win.

a pitter: This is rather confusing and perhaps would be better expanded so that the meaning is made clearer. Certainly we cannot expect the scientific method to determine every aspect of our lives (for example regarding the love we have for family and friends, taste in music, literature, etc.) These are questions about emotions. Again, many political questions are based on personal values that have an emotional rather than empirical basis. It is best to separate out value-based questions from those that have an empirical solution.

reading comprehension fail, disingenuousness, or do they really think science is practiced like a debate club?

a pitter: We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Stephanie: Promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism, and secularism is worthwhile, necessary work. I would disagree that any individual owes it to anyone to do specifically this work. There is other humanitarian work that is just as necessary and just as worthwhile. One of our challenges going forward is making people feel that ours is the worthwhile, necessary work on which they want to spend their time.

a pitter: [...] we disagree if you are saying that “making people feel that ours is the-work on which they want to spend their time” is a widespread goal among atheists and skeptics.

lol. I wonder how the pitters imagine social movements grow, if not by convincing people that theirs is the work they should consider important to do/support?

Scratching at the veneer of reasonableness

I’ve been sort of half-assedly following the Atheist/Skeptic dialog thing, and was already taking notes to take the opening statement apart, but now that Stephanie Zvan has posted her “official” response which is part of this dialog, I figure I better finish up this post, before it becomes obsolete. So here you go, my version of a reply to “Jack Smith’s” introductory statement:

The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs.

If the point is to promote skepticism and evidence-based thinking, why would it make sense to accept political and social beliefs that go against the available evidence?

In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations.

Except those ideas that are so thoroughly embedded in our society that we don’t even see them. Those must be left off the table, lest we upset the status quo and get accused of promoting “ideology”. Can’t talk about why the atheist/skeptic community is so white/straight/cis/male/middle-class dominated; can’t discuss the ways dominant perspectives dominate and exclude others; can’t talk about the unwarranted assumption that the perspectives of dominant groups are seen as “objective”, while the perspectives of minority groups are seen as biased; those things apparently must be left off the table. But discussing whether it’s women’s own fault they’re not better in STEM, that’s fine and dandy.

We can do this without rancour or dismissal

I see no evidence for this being the case; especially given that this very message accuses people who disagree of “imposing political and social beliefs on others”; also, “dismissal” has been a long-standing tradition, to the point of having its own name. The whole point of the Courtier’s Reply is that it’s something that can be dismissed because it’s an argument that assumes its premises (that god exists) and demands that the atheist do so, too.
Or to put it in the words of a dude apparently well-liked by the “atheist and skeptic community”: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
Apparently the thing about not dismissing people is only relevant now that it’s not just the religious but also other atheists who are the ones having their ideas dismissed.

We recognize that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality.

True, except when the emotions in question are the reality under discussion. Also, we’re back to the part where dominant perspectives are considered objective (or in this case, free of emotional investment), while minority perspectives are not. Apparently it doesn’t cloud someone’s “objectivity” to have one’s privilege challenged. Because no one ever reacted to that emotionally, amirite?
Embedded in this is also the unwarranted assumption that one can’t be both emotionally expressive and right. Another unwarranted one, but another one that serves the status quo insofar as discussions of minority perspectives are more likely to elicit responses coded as “emotional” from the minorities who are the subject of discussion, than from the dominant groups (and as already noted, discussion of the dominant groups gets coded as ideological, and even genuinely emotional reactions to such discussions get coded as “rational”. funny how that works)

We therefore feel, in the interests of mutual cooperation, that it is appropriate to consider the best in others, give the benefit of the doubt, and assume others are acting in good faith.

I thought we were supposed to be empirical? People who’ve shown themselves in the past incapable of arguing in good faith don’t deserve any further benefit of the doubt; and since harm is caused regardless of intent, it’s often irrelevant at that point whether a person didn’t mean the harmful effect. t still happened, and it’ not gonna un-happen because you didn’t mean it. As such, “good faith” is worthless. Either you’re saying harmful shit, or you’re not.

Imposing political or social beliefs on others.

Sez the crew who’s trying to get RW blocked from speaking, and who throws a shitfit at the existence and popularity of FTB, and complains at the existence of WIS2 as somehow bad for skepticism/atheism; and who tries very hard to make sure that its own political and social beliefs remain the dominant flavor in the skeptic/atheist community.
Another benefit of being a dominant social group: you get to define your ideology as neutral ground, and perspectives conflicting with that ideology as impositions.

Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

For the love of FSM, learn what an Ad Hominem Fallacy is. Hint: attributing motives and character traits ain’t it.

Our strength is in our diversity.

Actually, the lack of diversity in the atheist/skeptic movement is one of its greatest weaknesses and one of the main reasons we even have this rift.

Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society.

Pathetic dog-whistle is pathetic. If I comment on your behavior on my blog, you have every right in the world to respond to it on your blog. What no one has a right to is a right to my readership. There’s no right to other people’s comment sections or twitter feeds.

If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

Ah, I see. This is one of those irregular verbs: “I criticize”, but “you attack”.

Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion.

And who gets to decide when an action is “ignoring the feelings of others”, and when it’s “not allowing feelings to shut down discussion”? Who gets to decide what is or isn’t valid and genuine debate and discussion?

Shutting down all forms of criticism. Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia.

1)”Shutting down all forms of criticism” is a strawman so huge and ridiculous, it’s absurd someone could take the claim that it was occurring seriously.
2)Again with the “valid”; what the fuck is “valid” about making fun of someone’s weight, health, or gender identity? What the fuck is “valid” about using gendered slurs?

it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii.

So are dick jokes and “Livia is a cheap whore” comments. The walls of Pompeii are not to be taken any more seriously that toilet-wall scribbles; which they pretty much are. Weirdest argument from authority ever.

We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years.

What was that about “good faith” and “attributing motives” and “fully examining all ideas”?
Anyway, this is like Carlin’s “your stuff is shit, my shit is stuff” thing: “my ideology is principles, your principles are an ideology”. It also raises the question who “us” is here, since the whole point of the current “rifts” is that the ideologies that have dominated the atheist/skeptic communities so far has in fact not served many people who are atheists and who use the tools of skepticism.

This kind of imposition will necessarily divide the movement and weaken it. It will set up an ‘us vs. them’ mentality which distracts from our core aims.

A movement that will be weakened by becoming more attentive to the aims of its minority members is not worth maintaining. Like my feminism, my atheism/skepticism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.
Aside from that, this assumes that there hasn’t already been an us vs. them going on. Judging from the comments and reactions of many minority atheists/skeptics, they were already being treated as a “them”. The difference is that they’re now speaking out about it and insisting that they want their fair share of the atheist/skeptic community.

And it will alienate our friends and allies who would otherwise wish to support us, but will be discouraged if they do not hold the same political beliefs.

If someone holds a political belief that will in effect harm me or actual friends of mine, why would I consider such a person a friend or ally?

It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

I don’t remember the Four Horsemen being elected. And don’t tell me they’re not “political leaders”. New Atheism is and always has been political, and Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins at least have never shied from political expressions even in the pointlessly restrictive sense of politics = gubmint-work.

And why exactly are “unelected political leaders” something bad? No one ever voted for MLK or Lucy Stone. Now, unlelected government leaders, that’s a problem. But last I checked, the atheist/skeptic community was not a nation-state or any other entity with a formal governmental structure.

We do not seek to control anyone’s space, the policies in others’ spaces, or their expression of their beliefs and values. However, when people in one such space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

IOW you do not seek to control anyone’s space, you just seek the right to take over other people’s spaces. Yeah, no.

Failure to reach a common ground on these issues puts at risk our efforts in achieving our common goals.

Not really. It just makes it impossible to be part of the same community. But I’m also not in the same community as the progressive Christians here in town, and yet I’m perfectly capable on working with them on common issues.

We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Meaningless, pompous waffle.

Day of Solidarity with Black Atheists/Nonbelievers

Day of Solidarity
As Naima Washington’s blog-post on Black Skeptics noted, these sort of events tend to be decried as “balkanization”, “dividing the Movement”, or similar crap:

when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round.

This is bullshit.

What events like the Day of Solidarity, the Women in Secularism conference, the African Americans for Humanism conference, etc. do is a)discuss issues not given much space or weight in the “general” (rea:, male, white, straight, cis dominated) conferences, groups, or writings; and b)highlight speakers and activists not given much space in the same “general” venues. To complain about them because we “shouldn’t have to” have such separate events is a lousy, blinkered argument for not having such events, or not supporting them. After all, we “shouldn’t have to” have skeptics or atheist conferences either, since that’s how all people ideally should deal with the world anyway, right?

So on that note, here’s my (admittedly measily) list of black atheists, skeptics, and nonbelievers that write stuff everyone should read:

Bridget R. Gaudette, contributor to Black Nones, blogger at Freethoughtify and Emily Has Books; she also currently has a kickstarter going for her next book: Grieving for the Living, so go contribute!!
Ian Cromwell, also a contributor to Black Nones, blogger at The Crommunist Manifesto
Anthony Pinn, author of African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk
Sikivu Hutchinson, author of Moral Combat and the forthcoming Godless Americana, contributing blogger at Black Skeptics
G. Andrews AKA Flexx, blogger at Human2O

There’s a post on sex work on Feministe, and it is Teh Fail

Jill wrote a blog post titled Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex. Reading it, I once again did that thing where I start arguing with an online article in my head, and then I realized this is blogging material. So here you go:

I am an anti-sex-trafficking feminist. I think sex work is incredibly problematic. And I also support the rights of sex workers. I think you can do all those things at once.

Sure one can. The question is really rather whether one’s actions on all these are consistent and synergistic, or whether one’s undermining one set of actions with another. Oh, and whether the actions actually are helpful, of course.

Also, sex work is “problematic” only in the same sense that manufacturing is problematic: it sits at the intersection of multiple axes of oppression and is made invisible/marginalized by the kyriarchy. And since the kyriarchy is abusive and oppressive, people who do this work are abused and oppressed (and no one cares/notices, because it’s all invisible/marginalized). But neither manufacturing nor sex work are problematic per se; their place in the matrix of oppression is problematic.

My view is basically that sex work wouldn’t exist in the feminist utopia. Why? Because sex wouldn’t be this commodified thing that some people (mostly woman) have and other people (mostly men) get. Sex would be a fun thing, a collaborative thing, always entered into freely and enthusiastically and without coercion.

That doesn’t follow. Unless Jill is a marxist feminist and wants to abolish commodities and the “selling”* of labor in addition to abolishing the patriarchy, everything that people do with other people will still be also offered as a paid service; even the fun stuff. Sure, abolishing the patriarchy would abolish the myth of sex being something women have and men want, but it would also destigmatize a lot of behaviors currently marginalized as a result of a patricular, heteronormative, patriarchal-religion-propagated view of what sex, love, relationships, etc. are. These changes would definitely shift the patterns of demand (and supply) for sex work, but it wouldn’t make it go away, any more than abolishing the class system will make the demand for mechanics go away.

As long as people in relationships have differing sex-drives, different and not-fully-compatible kinks, kinks that include sex (or watching peep-shows, or watching a stripper, or whathaveyou) with people not involved in that relationship (by yourself, or with together with your partner(s)), no-strings-attached-single-sex, etc., there will be demand for sex as a paid-for service; because amazingly enough, not everyone who wants to get laid finds social interaction pleasant enough to want to have to find a mutually interested partner in the wild, on short notice. Plus, if we got rid of the patriarchy, we’d also get rid of many stupid, shaming ideas about sex, which means the role of sex-workers could expand to workshops, counseling, private training or whatever for people interested in learning how to do different kinds of sex. Because goddamnit, sex absolutely should come with training sessions. We’d all be spared the awkward fumbling that is reinventing sex from scratch every time someone has sex for the first time.

Anyway, what I’m basically picturing here is the Licensed Sex Therapists from Beta Colony in the Vorkosigan Saga.

While that view would leave room for some types of sex work — sexually explicit performance, for example, if that performance were no longer primarily a looking-at-women’s-bodies-as-stand-ins-for-sex thing, which is what it mostly is today — it doesn’t leave room for offering money in exchange for sex

Again, unless this feminist utopia is also a marxist utopia, the service industry will still exist, and therefore the option of paying for sex still will exist too.

it doesn’t leave room for offering money in exchange for sex, especially as we see it now, with men being the primary consumers and sex being seen as something you can buy.

Well no, the primary clients might indeed not be men then. And sex wouldn’t be something one “buys”, any more than one “buys” car repair; sex is not a product, it’s a service. However, I see no reason to think that the idea of sex as a service will disappear just because the patriarchy did.

I don’t think there would be McDonalds or Wal-Mart in the feminist utopia either;

“McDonalds” and and “Wal-Mart” are not equivalents to “sex work”, or even “prostitution”. McD and Wal-Mart are specific businesses; the equivalents to “sex work” would be “food service” and “retail”. Will neither of those two types of service work exist in this feminist utopia, either? Because if so, we’re back at “marxist feminist utopia”. But if so, why single out sex work? It would be abolishing doing anything for pay, altogether.

And as a side note, the title of the post is “Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex”, so would Jill oppose the “buying of food service” with the same methods which she’d suggest for sex work? Should we have a “swedish model” for restaurants, in which the cooks, waitstaff, etc. are not penalized, but the customers are?

Yes, of course women should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and of course there are many sex workers who aren’t trafficked or forced into the trade. But that smacks a bit too much of “I choose my choice!” feminism, which I find to be incredibly intellectually lazy.

There’s a difference between “I’m a woman therefore all my choices are feminist choices”, and “I have the right to navigate the matrix of oppression as I see fit”. All of us make choices that aren’t feminist, or that support and aid the patriarchy in maintaining itself, because a)most of us don’t have such options available due to external social structures, and b)our mental structures are such that what we enjoy/want/need are often entwined with patriarchy and lend it support, and it’s impossible for everyone to change all their desires. We don’t have contracausal free will (i.e. the ability to change and create desires and preferences at will), we only have agency (the ability to choose between available avenues towards fulfilling our desires). Desires change only slowly, as our character changes; and no one can rid their mind of all imprints of their society.
And lastly… as I mentioned previously, sex work is problematic because of its location in the matrix of oppression. Shift the matrix, or shift sex work out of that position, and sex work no longer functions as patriarchy-supporting, problematic work.

sex worker advocates have cast a similar too-wide net — arguing that sex work is a job like any other, that every job is coercive, etc etc. Both narratives erase the vast grey area of the entire idea of “consent” when money is involved.

Marxist feminist utopia, blah blah, this is getting boring. And in any case, that argument does make other service work different from sex work only in the degree of intimacy, not in any qualitative sense.

I too often see a similarly reductive argument — that while a small number of women and girls are actually enslaved, the rest are there voluntarily and we should support their choices.

It’s only reductive because “voluntarily” is a shitty word with too many related meanings. A better phrasing is that they are where they are because of the exercise of their agency. Social structures, both those external and internal to ourselves, are present for sex workers as much as for others. Change the social structures, and agency will be exercised differently: people who chose sex work because it’s the best of a range of shitty options might choose an option they see as better than sex work, should it become available; others however might chose sex-work if it became less marginalized, or allowed for different kinds of sex services (“training” for sex-n00bs or couples wanting to learn something new, for example) than currently exist/are in demand.
Still, even changing social structures won’t change the mind of those for whom sex-work is the best means to pursue their desires (or even, their desire itself), i.e. those who do it “voluntarily” in the sense of choosing without structural pressure or limitations**

But from a birdseye feminist view — from a sex-positive view — sex work is different because it’s commodifying something that should ideally be a basic pleasure, entered into entirely freely and at will.

That’s what the service industry is: commodifying things people do with other people; even the fun stuff. That’s what dance instructors do, too, for example. They take something people do together for fun (dancing) and that one ideally should only do with others who freely and voluntarily return the sentiment, and they provide that and related activities as a service one can pay for. Again, we’re really just talking about differences in the degree of intimacy, not a qualitative difference.

From a practical point of view, there are a whole lot of women in the sex trade who are technically there voluntarily insofar as they aren’t kidnapped and chained up, but who are coerced into sex work in ways that most of us would find intolerable — owing large sums of money to traffickers, psychologically and physically abused by pimps, cast out by their families and communities for doing sex work and believing there are no other options.

Emphasis mine. Because a)”no” other choice is often not true; only that the other choices are considered even shittier; and b)that’s the difference between “voluntarily” and “by exercising agency”: if sex work is the best option given the (internal and external) structural limitations, then changing the structures would change the results of exercising agency, but this makes sex work the same as other forms of labor in an intersectionally classist system: remove socioeconomic “pressures” that let people accept horrible work-conditions because the alternatives are worse, and the work conditions for that form of labor become worker-friendly (compare manufacturing in, say, Germany to sweat-shops in China, for example)

Putting them [economically oppressed sex workers, and economically privileged sex workers] all under the umbrella of sex work is helpful in advocating for recognition and certain legal changes, but ultimately it doesn’t mean that more women’s voices are heard; it means that the most privileged of the group dictate policy.

This is an intersectional problem, not a problem somehow inherent in sex work. Yes, if white, upper-class, sex- and gendernormative sex workers from countries where sex work isn’t illegal are the sole or even the dominant voices heard, that’s a problem in the same way that it is a problem when white, upper-class, sex- and gendernormative feminists are the only or the dominant voices in feminism. But how is that an argument for sex work being somehow qualitatively different?
Plus, many sex worker advocates ARE women who are affected by multiple axes of oppression. Whence the assumption that this isn’t so? Is it just because the voices of relatively privileged sex workers are the only voices that penetrate deeply enough into the mainstream feminist landscape? Because I find it extraordinarily easy to find the narratives of sex workers in India, the narratives of trans sex workers, etc.***

And while a small percentage are relatively privileged and fairly compensated, most aren’t. And most sex workers face very real barriers to basic rights like bodily autonomy, workplace safety, and freedom from violence.

This is true for most women in the world; it is also true for most work in the world; it is especially true for most work that women do. Again we’re dealing with sex work’s location in the matrix of oppression, with intersectionality, not with anything inherent to sex work.

There are some methods that can best serve most of these women — safer sex supplies, legal rights. But what serves a 14-year-old in a Cambodian brothel whose clients are mostly middle-aged white guys from Europe and the U.S. is not the same as what serves a 22-year-old in New York advertising on Craig’s List.

True, but once again an issue of intersectionality; something that sex work advocates are showing less problems with than mainstream feminism as a whole does; just sayin’.

And none of these issues of intersectionality (including the ones I didn’t quote, because how often can you point out the same mistake?) address the core of the supposed issue here: nothing here supports the argument that sex work (and prostitution specifically) shouldn’t exist. All of this is a good argument to not repeat mistakes of other social justice movements and make the most privileged members of the movement the sole or predominant voices in it; it’s a good argument to remember that intersectionality demands solutions suited to individual cases, based on the specifics of the intersections. It’s not an argument against sex work.

When you’re talking about sex for money, you can’t take money and international economics out of it.

That’s a strawman of epic proportions, given that sex work advocates talk about class-based oppression more than any other women’s rights advocates who aren’t also socialists/marxists/anarchists.

I’m troubled by the migration of sexual labor and what it says about who “deserves” sex and who provides it.

Right. Troubled by the class-based problems involved in sex work, and how they intersect with sex and gender based problems. Still not an argument against sex work, tho.

I do think it’s immoral and unethical to buy sex.

“Buying sex” is what men did when they purchased a wife. Anyway, contributing from a position of privilege to maintaining/reinforcing an axis of oppression is always “problematic”, and consequently I wish people would not shop at Wal-mart or procure sex services from exploitative sources; and maybe any kind of shopping or procuring of sex services contributes to maintenance of oppressive class structures. But the way to end exploitation is not to drive the victims of it underground by outlawing the purchase of their labor; rather, it can be done by giving them the tools they need to a)widen their choices within the social structure, and b)to change the social structure by attacking the forces that oppress them. Which aren’t always the individuals who pay them for their services; and which won’t end sex work, but rather end (or at least diminish) exploitative sex work.

I think it speaks to a view of human sexuality (and women’s bodies in particular, although of course there are men who pay for sex with men and boys) as purchasable;

“Buying sex” does, but like I said, that’s not a feature inherent in sex work, since sex work is the provision of services for pay, not the “selling” of sex (because selling something intangible like a service is only possible by selling the provider, and that’s slavery, not service work.) I keep repeating this distinction because the idea of buying sex is tightly coupled with the idea of the “unrapeable”: when you buy something, it’s yours to do with as you please, without the previous owner of it having a say in it. That was, and often still is, the attitude towards sex in patriarchal culture. But it’s not inherent to sex work, since the provision of a service always entails the possibility to cancel the deal, as well as the fact that it’s a one-time agreement, to be re-negotiated, and that the ownership of the means of providing the service never changes hands. It’s the equation of the provision of a sexual service with the buying of sex that’s the problem, and it’s one that must be solved without negatively affecting sex workers (i.e. not by curing the disease by killing the patient).

I’m personally a fan of capitalist marketplaces because I don’t think there’s a better system out there

So, no marxist feminist utopia, then? How then is the provision of services or the commodification of human interactions to disappear?

We can respond to the basics of supply and demand while not giving corporations outsized power; while building a social safety net; and while instituting physical, legal and financial protections for workers. We can critique the forces that establish patters of exploited migrant labor while advocating for the rights of migrant laborers. Can’t we?

Sure we can. But that’s what sex work advocates do, not what “end demand” does. The equivalent of “end demand” would be to insist on the end of demand for any industry**** in which workers are exploited. Which is all of them. Which is marxism.

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*”selling” is a misnomer, I recently realized. More like renting out, though the idea that labor is “sold” is what leads to a lot of abuses of workers, since the “buyers” of labor believe that they actually own the worker for the time they’re at work (and often even beyond that).
**Marx, species-being, etc. That’s an entirely separate blog-post tho.
***some examples: Don’t Talk To Me About Sewing Machines, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Barred by U.S. Restrictions, Sex Workers Hold Alternative AIDS Summit in Kolkata, India, HIV and Sex Work – The view from 2012(pdf)
****the whole industry, not just a specific business or a specific model of providing the products or services of this industry

The missing piece to the stories of the Magdalene Laundries

The Report on the Magdalene Laundries is finally out, and people all over the internet are writing about it, and about the abuses that went on there.
The women and girls who were sent to Magdalene Laundries came there via the justice system, via referrals from Industrial and Reformatory Schools, via referrals from psychiatric hospitals and social services, and via referrals from “homes for unwed mothers”. These were socially marginalized women, and they were given to these nuns under the pretext of reformation and provision of social services for “fallen women”. Four orders running the Laundries were identified in the report: Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge; Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy; Religious Sisters of Charity; and Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The Magdalene Laundries were finally closed in 1996.

Now here’s the part I’ve not seen mentioned nearly enough during this round of reporting/writing on this topic, both in the news-media articles and in various blogs:
The orders who run the laundries to “help” “fallen women”* with the support of the State are still running organizations to “help” “fallen women” with the support of the State!

According to an Irish Times article, two of the orders who ran Magdalene Laundries are now running an organization called Ruhama which purports to help women “affected by” sex work. From Ruhama’s website:

Ruhama was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution.

Yeah. Both these orders definitely have a “long history of involvement with marginalised women”. They run Magdalene Laundries in which they imprisoned and abused those women! Why would anyone trust them not to do it again? Especially given that they have no respect whatsoever for the agency and realities of the sex workers they’re claiming to help**?

Reporting about Magdalene Laundries is important; but mentioning their likely successor is, too.
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*I apologize for the scarequote infestation, but there’s really no other way to talk about these ridiculous and deceitful terms.
**Ruhama is behind a push to institute the Swedish Model in Ireland, a model that is pretty much uniformly rejected by sex workers themselves as harmful.

Necromancy, kittehs, and a link dump

Necromancy:

    I’m reviving my blog. The ultimate goal will be 2-3 posts a week, of which one will be a regular post, one will be a link-dump, and the optional third will be either another regular post or one of the more extensive projects I’ve been putting together (currently still working on putting together a few essays on 19th Century women’s rights activism, for example; and I also hope to get to another such project either on Backlash or on Intersectionality). That goal won’t be reachable until after my Cthulhu campaign ends, since right now, instead of writing blogs, I’m inventing more and more ways to try to drive my Investigators insane and/or kill them off. And at the very latest, a regular schedule should become very easy in August, when I begin my 1-year-break from university.

Kittehs:three fluffy cats cuddling on the floor

Link dump:

    a favorite MRA talking point refuted: no such thing as “women and children first”

    an example of PHMT that would have been easily fixed if we had an Equal Rights Amendment: Man accused of fraud after taking on his wife’s name

    from the WTF department: gun buyback nets a missile launcher