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.)
***UPDATED to fix Tressie’s twitter handle. Cuz that was embarrassing.***
Men sabotaging women’s birth control is A Thing.
It’s a form of abuse, an act of taking control over her own body away from a woman. Women suffering from domestic violence are often additionally victim to this as well as other forms of abuse, by men trying to keep them from leaving the relationship (which for obvious reasons is much harder when you’re pregnant or have children in the house), or sometimes just because it’s another form of control and DV is all about control. It is obvious therefore that sabotaging women’s birth control and other forms of reproductive coercion need to end, victims of this need to be able to seek justice, and perpetrators need to be made accountable.
Which of course means that now that a Canadian case has made a lot of people notice that this is A Thing, they want to criminalize it, based on the argument that the sexual assault laws in the U.S. would never suffice by themselves to persecute abusers for it*. Sounds sensible: if you think that the criminal justice system works even remotely well, then it makes sense to think that if someone commits an act of violence, they need to be sent throught the CJS for it. But this really does require the assumption that the U.S. legal system is just (or at least “close enough” to just to make it work more often than not)and therefore that criminalization will work as intended.
I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, because when I read this twitter exchange between Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) and Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq), I couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth of many of the points, if not necessarily their immediate applicability to the wider U.S. culture**. I’m skeptical, because I tend to come at these things from a harm-reduction-based perspective, and I’m not convinced that this will actually reduce rather than increase harm. I’m skeptical, because cultural myths play a huge role in the ways laws actually end up being applied.
For example, the Stand Your Ground laws don’t actually allow victims greater leeway in self-defense (see: Marissa Alexander***) but rather allow already privileged people to get away with violence even more. This is because cultural myths are such that black men and women are always seen as the danger, and white men and women always as the defenders of civilization. And how does this work with birth control sabotage? Our cultural myths claim that women are baby-crazy, and men don’t actually want kids; that women are more likely to be ok with an unplanned pregnancy than men (there’s how many movies with that plot? The one where an uncomplicated het-relationship gets derailed by pregnancy that switches the woman into “settling&nesting” mode while giving the guy a midlife crisis?); that women are more invested in committed relationships than men (see: ball-and-chain), and thus more likely to use desperate measures to prevent a breakup; etc. Hell, google “tricking into pregnancy” and see how that works out. As Brienne points out in the twitter dialogue, the cultural narrative is of a woman trapping a man rather than vice versa. Even the Daily Beast article linked at the beginning of this essay acknowledges this with a link to an article discussing NBA orientation for rookie players, in which the following quote appears:
They wanted us to see the dangers out there. They warned us about groupies poking holes in condoms, having hidden cameras and stuff like that. The temptations are hard to turn down, but if you don’t, you are subject to big problems.
And remember, we live in a society in which there are people convinced that women stealing sperm out of discarded condoms is some sort of epidemic (google “spermjacking” if you really want to know more about this; I wouldn’t recommend it tho).
So what I’m saying is this: when you’re operating within an extremely unjust legal system, you have to be exceedingly careful how you use it; in this case, the question is: how likely is it that criminalizing BC sabotage will be effectively used against actual abusers, rather than against women by e.g. dudes not wanting to pay child support?
BC sabotage is going to be a situation of he-said-she-said almost always, and “he said” will be always given more weight than “she said”, especially when other oppressions like race and class also work against the woman. I can imagine this even leading to greater reproductive coercion, if a guy who doesn’t want a kid threatens the pregnant woman to either get an abortion or be accused of spermjacking or some shit like that. I can also imagine that many women won’t report BC sabotage: consider the stigma BC has in this country (Sandra Fluke anyone? And she was a very privileged woman); consider the cultural myths about who sabotages BC; consider the “bitches be lyin'” trope. Basically, all the reasons ever mentioned in #IDidNotReport will figure in here as well, and we might well be increasing the potential for legal harassment of victims of DV, by giving their abusers another tool to subvert for their own needs.
Mind you, harm reduction is not the sole reason to criminalize something. The main other uses of criminalization in justice are punishment, normalization, process, and deterrence.
I reject the idea of punishment as a goal of justice, in general. Punishment of an offender as a goal of criminalization/incarceration (rather than a means towards another goal) relies on the notion that responsibility lies solely and entirely with the offender; it requires belief in a self-causing will, in the notion that an action is entirely and solely caused by the offender’s creation of a desire and opportunity to act as they did. I don’t accept this belief, because it goes against the evidence that shows us that the world outside our heads shapes our desires, priorities, and opportunities. Punishment for the offender and only for the offender (because how to you incarcerate social structures?) is an individualist erasure of the structural causes of violence.
So while accountability for the harm caused by an action is a sensible part of justice, punishment for its own sake is not. Making someone “pay the price” for a crime to society or to the victims has to actually be of value to society or the victims, and locking someone up does not, per-se, produce any value to society/victims. It can only do so as a means to a goal. Which brings us to the other aspects.
Despite the saying “morality cannot be legislated”, a law actually is a normative statement. And the fact that plenty of people can’t tell the difference between legal and moral (nor the difference between illegal and immoral)seems to indicate that normalization happens, if not immediately than into the next generation at least. Basically, if you allow or forbid something and the world doesn’t come crashing down (or significantly inconvenience anyone with social visilibity), people get used to it and start thinking of this as the new normal. So folks saying that it would make a statement that society doesn’t condone reproductive coercion if it were criminalized do have a point. But as a main reason to criminalize it, it seems not enough, given that it would also be a weak normative statement. Not because a law is a weak normative statement per-se, but because laws that go against strongly entrenched cultural myths have their normative function subverted. E.g. rape being illegal does mean the cultural idea is that rape is bad, but it’s entirely abstract; not only do some actual rapes get defined out of the rape category, the culture also creates a lot of exceptions (the most jarring example is prison-rape: people generally don’t deny it’s rape, but they treat it like a joke or a deserved punishment). I suspect the same will happen with these situations: even if we’d achieve a normalization of the belief that reproductive sabotage is a thing and a bad thing, the cultural mythology around it will subvert it so that real instances will be treated as not-it, or as exceptions where it’s somehow ok.
Process means simply giving someone a clear, pre-set way of dealing with something. Now, I don’t think any engagement with the American CJS is easily understandable, simple, etc. but having a set process and a set of legal tools to deal with something is usually preferable to no procedure at all. This is likely the strongest case for criminalization, because it’s useful and helpful to be able to take out restraining orders, have a concrete, codified thing to accuse your abuser of, and have other rules you can lean on when it’s hard to try to think your way out of a situation. But acknowledging this absolutely requires remembering that this will be useful primarily to those with educational and class**** privilege; who don’t make up the majority of DV victims.
Deterrence is/can be an acknowledgement of the way social structures shape choices. To deter means to change the environment in which a choice is made, and introduce a desire (the desire to avoid being held accountable) to hopefully outcompete the desire that would be satisfied by the criminal action. These changes can lead to reductions in the occurrence of a harmful act, and can therefore be actually useful. As such, deterrence is not inherently flawed the way punishment is; but it needs to actually accomplish the environmental and internal changes, or else it’s bullshit. A law as deterrent tends to only work if the likelihood of getting caught & convicted is high, or at least thought of as high. Laws that have low rates of perpetrators getting caught and getting convicted make lousy deterrents: if you get away with it sometimes, you learn that you can get away with it always, even if it’s not true. Works like that for texting-and-driving, for underage drinking, for pot-smoking-while-white, and because of rape culture it also works like that on rape. My suspicion is that given the difficulty to prove sabotage and the power-disparity in literal he-said-she-said situations, arrest and conviction rates would be low. So, not an effective deterrent in the long run.
So to sum up: there are positive things that criminalization could possibly accomplish, but these effects seem to be overall fairly small and doubtful given the current cultural narratives. And the way selective application of these protective laws protects aggressors more than victims, there are potentially many negative consequences to victims. The potential for abuse, for being directed against victims of domestic violence, and for even increasing some forms of reproductive coercion is pretty big given the current social narratives. I worry that the negative effects far outweigh any positive ones.
Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything about this problem, but I’m more and more thinking that putting the tools for defense in victims’ hands rather than in a severely broken, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-PoC criminal justice system is the better approach at harm-reduction and empowerment at this time. So, some suggestions along those lines, to help free women from reproductive coercion without risking anti-woman side effects:
1)increase free and gatekeeper-free access to as many form of birth control (both the contraceptive and post-conceptive kinds): controlling women’s reproduction happens often with the cooperation of laws on birth control which make access complicated, time intensive, expensive etc, thus preventing women in DV situation from discreetly controlling their reproduction and from choosing options that would be less manipulable by a violent and controlling partner. Give women more options and access for BC, and in many cases you take away the means by which an abuser can coerce their reproduction.
2)Destroy the cultural myths that harm victims of reproductive coercion: these would the the ideas that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy; that reproductive coercion is something women do, rather than something abusive men do; etc.
3)Provide better safety nets and community support for single pregnant women and single women with children. When pregnancy and children no longer function as traps keeping the women from leaving (e.g. because there’s no women’s shelter that will accept all her kids), the utility of reproductive sabotage as insurance against leaving will diminish, and with it the value of this action to abusers.
None of those will stop all or even many cases of reproductive sabotage immediately; but neither would criminalization. I just think that the suggestions above would also have fewer negative side effects on already victimized women.
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*it’s complicated, but basically Canada has some stricter ideas about what is or isn’t legally consent than the U.S. does. The Canadian case that kicked off this interest in criminalizing reproductive coercion was one in which the sabotage was treated as aggravated sexual assault because even though the woman consented to sex, she didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Basically, at least in Nova Scotia, it’s (as the case stands now) legally true that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As this legal article explains, that’s not true in the U.S. because of that nasty thing called “generalized consent”, plus legal-structural shit that went over my head because IANAL.
**the conversation includes the following tweets:
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Anti-Rape Law and Strategizing Accountability in Native American Communities via @andrea366 http://communityaccountability.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/decolonizing-antirape-law.pdf ]
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty via @sarahdeer http://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/deer-decolonizing-rape-law.pdf ]
The papers deal with the question of sexual assaults and tribal courts. They’re amazing and I find these immensely interesting and good material for thinking about anarchist communities, because not being able to deal with sexual violence is a major flaw of every idea (and praxis) of anarchist community I’ve ever encountered. But most women in the U.S. don’t at the moment live in the kinds of communities that would allow for analogues to tribal court justice.
***relevant and timely, on Friday there will be a discussion on Marissa Alexander and how DV laws backfire on minority women:
So on Friday we’re going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.
— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) December 18, 2013
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
So on Friday we're going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.]
****class privilege is very relevant, even if you “fake” it. In this essay on poor people and expensive stuff, Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) recounts the story of her mother helping people in the community with bureaucracy; and how her mother had an expensive outfit to do it which seemed to gain her “respectability” from the office folks, at least enough to make it possible to get stuff done where the people her mom was helping couldn’t.
When Obama won re-election, the media story went that “women voters” rejected Romney because of his stance on reproductive rights*. This framing is not a false claim in itself; women as a group really were more likely to vote for Obama than for Romney (55% and 44% respectively). And since many sites that present demographic stats on such elections are doing so by sorting people into single-demographic-marker categories**, that tends to look like the entirety of the story. But it isn’t. When you take apart these large demographic lumps, as CNN did here, it becomes obvious that “women voters” didn’t vote as a block at all. Only 42% of white women voted for Obama, while 96% of black women and 76% of Latina voters did; they’re the ones who won the “women vote” for Obama***
Why am I bringing this up now, a year after the presidential election?
Because the same narrative about “women voters” is being dragged out to explain the Virginia Governor race which Ken Cuccinelli just lost and in which according to the exit polls(pdf) barely over half the women voted for the Democrat in the race. Such articles were being written before the race (and Rachel Maddow talked about the gender gap as well), but the election results show a much smaller gap than had been predicted. And yet, despite that tiny number, people are writing articles again about how “women” elected the Democratic candidate****. Granted, they’re a bit more nuanced this time than during the presidential race, actually looking a bit deeper at the demographics; but the overall narrative and the headlines stay the same. Even though white women, again, voted for the Republican candidate (54%), while only 38% of them voted for the Democrat.
What bothers me about the narrative of “Women” deciding these elections is not that they’re not strictly speaking true; statistically they’re true but incomplete. What bothers me is that the narrative exemplified in these articles then gets picked up by individual white women as well as organizations with few minority women as a story about a collective “us” that voted for Democrats (or against Republicans) that completely erases the regressiveness of the average white woman voter as well as the heavy lifting done by progressive minority women; a heavy lifting done in the face of ongoing voter suppression, to boot. This appropriation of positive actions is in many ways the twin of the appropriation of violence statistics in which a too large demographic “we” is made out to be victims of violence, when most of the incidences come from oppressed groups within that huge demographic but they are used as talking points to promote the agenda of the (relatively) dominant groups within it.
Not only is this erasure and appropriation rather disgusting in itself, it will also assure a complete lack of self-reflection, a lack of trying to figure out how to stop the white, wealthier, and/or married women from voting against the interests of all other women, and to some degree even against their own. There will be too little analysis of race and class, even though they are so eminently relevant to why a particular group of women keeps on voting for the most toxic candidates available.
***and by the way, the same thing was true for the “youth vote”, since only 44% of white 20-somethings voted for Obama.
As a result of writing the post about feministe’s latest anti-sex-work fuckup, I’ve ended up with a long list of stuff-everyone-should-read-about related to sex-work activism. And then my computer crashed, and most of it was lost, except what I had already included in the stub that ended up becoming this post. So here is the list of items that survived the crash, and which everyone should read. And at the bottom are the twitter feeds of sex worker’s rights advocates (so you can get this kind of info yourself, if you’re on twitter):
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/09/11/2606691/strippers-independent-contractors/ — An example of what can happen when sex workers are able to use labor law to defend themselves from their exploiters
http://www.irinnews.org/report/98689/analysis-sex-workers-bear-brunt-of-war-on-trafficking — An article about the actual effects (rather than stated intent) of anti-trafficking enforcement in Asian countries. Excerpts:
Regardless of the objective of the operations, “rescue raids of sex establishments have exacerbated violence against sex workers and compromised their safety,” say the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.
The problem with the raid and rescue industry is that it uses some of the most oppressive arms of the state to target sex workers – the police [...]. Whether sex workers have been trafficked or not, their understanding of what the police do is very different than that of other people because they are so often targeted as sex workers, migrants, transgender people, or for other reasons.
http://titsandsass.com/the-merseyside-model-part-i-can-sex-worker-activists-partner-with-the-police-and-a-conservative-london-politician/ — For some contrast, what it looks like when police actually works for the protection of sex workers, not against them. Excerpts:
In Merseyside, England, violence against sex workers is treated by the police as a hate crime. This means that when a sex worker is the victim of an assault, robbery, or rape, she or he can report the incident without fear of being charged with prostitution, because the police have agreed to place a higher priority on convicting the criminals who harm sex workers over criminalizing sex workers.
As a result of this shift in policing strategies in Liverpool, the rate of conviction for crimes against sex workers rose dramatically to 83%, whereas the national average of such convictions in the UK is only 6.5%. Within only 18 months of the implementation of the hate crime policy in 2006, sex workers increased their reporting of violent crimes by 400%. Besides reducing individual acts of violence against sex workers, this shift in priorities also reduces systemic violence, by sending a message to society at large that the unique oppression faced by sex workers is not acceptable.
https://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/cws/article/viewFile/6408/5596 — Article published in Canadian Woman Studies in 2003, about the panicked reaction to increased migration (a rather predictable outcome of globalization). Excerpts:
The current moment of globalization is witnessing an extraordinary movement of people, legitimate and illegitimate, across national and international borders. These movements are exposing the porosity of borders, the transnational reality of subaltern existence, and the contingent foundations of international law. And this global movement of people has created a panic across borders- a panic which is manifesting itself in the strengthening of border controls, tightening of immigration laws and casting of the “Other” as a threat to the security of the (First World) nation-state.
Women’s cross-border movements continue to be addressed primarily through anti-trafficking discourse at the international, regional, and domestic level. [...] women, especially from the postcolonial world, are cast as either victims, incapable of decisionmaking or consenting, sexual deviants, disrupting the moral and social fabric of the sexually sanitized West and or dangerous “Others,” threatening the security of the nation state
The disadvantaged migrant woman becomes the ideal worker from the standpoint of capital and integral to sustaining the current structure of the economy. This situation of illegality and disadvantage also renders migrant women vulnerable to exploitative and forced labour like conditions of work.
http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2010/12/16/draft-normal-husband-beat-wife-workers-domestic-violence-cambodia — Article about how Cambodian society treats domestic violence as a private dispute, with negative consequences for sex workers, and the organization that fights this. Excerpts:
Solving violence committed by husbands and partners is very difficult. Sometimes the [Cambodian Prostitute Union] calls the police to intervene when members have experienced domestic violence. Officers then come to the house and say to the husband: ‘If you do this again, we will arrest you.’ But the next day they will say that domestic violence is a family matter that should be resolved in the family, and that they do not want to encourage divorce.
The CPU also assists the women to make a formal complaint to the local authorities and will accompany them to ensure that they are not discriminated against. Safe shelter with relevant women’s legal and human rights organisations will also be sought for women who experience extreme violence, at the request of the women. Whilst the CPU cannot provide direct legal assistance, it refers sex workers to supportive local legal or human rights organisations that can provide advice and a lawyer if a sex worker wishes to take the case to court.
And here are the twitter feeds of some of the sex workers and sex workers’ rights advocates from whom I’ve gotten these articles:
The well-known and influential radical feminist Gloria Steinem has written an apology (of sorts) about her past anti-trans writing.
On the one hand, she’s AFAIK the only well-known TERF who’s ever bothered to do even that much; on the other hand, the apology follows a notpology script just a tad too well*: she blames any harm caused on the internet, devotes most of the essay to explaining why she didn’t mean harm, and phrases the apology-line as very close to the standard “I’m sorry you were offended” notpology, saying “I’m sorry and sad if any words floating out there from the past seem to suggest anything other than support, past and present”. And then there’s the problem noted by activist Janet Mock in a tweet earlier today:
[Janet Mock @janetmock
Not once in the op-ed does @GloriaSteinem write "trans women." Doing so would recognize the fact that trans women are women. #girlslikeus]
Further, Toni D’Orsay points out that Steinem did more than write an essay. She actively contributed to the inclusion of TERFs into a feminism that had until then accepted trans individuals**:
IT wasn’t until Daly and similarly like minded lesbian separatists started getting really loud, really angry, and really offensive that trans people became an issue.
They did that at first from outside the mainstream of radical feminism.
Steinem was one of the people who helped to bridge that divide. Who worked to secure that change so that lesbian women could be included, and one of the ways she did that was to bring in Daly’s work and Raymond’s work into the awareness of mainstream readers through the vehicle of MS magazine and the New Yorker.
Monica Roberts at TransGriot similarly expands on Steinem’s actual contributions to cissexism:
Because you referred to SRS surgeries multiple times as ‘mutilation’, it gave credibility to the 1980 paper that Raymond wrote to Congress that led to SRS being eliminated from Medicare and Medicaid coverage and the insurance company medical exclusions on trans related health care.
It co-signed the anti-trans attitudes in feminist circles that have led to the suffering and deaths of far too many trans people. It led to trans people being cut out of desperately needed LGBT human rights legislation in the 80s, 90’s and early 2k’s.
Still, she said something that wouldn’t come out of the mouth of a dedicated trans-exclusive feminist; she said that “transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make.” That is a big admission. An admission that she will, however, have to follow up with real deeds to undo the damage she’s caused and use her influence in feminism and in society as a whole to fight for the rights and acceptance of trans people; including trans women. Probably the simplest thing to do right now (for example) would be to sign the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism. And Monica Roberts provides another (non-exhaustive) list of actions for Steinem to take:
Lobby with the trans community in Washington DC for a trans inclusive ENDA. Call out the trans exclusionary radical feminists and help us get the Southern Poverty Law Center to declare them as a hate group. Declare there is no room in feminism for anti-trans hatred and bigotry. As a Smith alum you can help us ensure that your alma mater puts admissions policies in place that allow qualified trans feminine students to enroll there.
Then, of course, there’s the other toxic effects of her paricular flavor of feminism. She’s yet to even do this kind of acknowledgment in the context of her anti-sex-work activism. She’s still promoting the Rescue Industry, and just today she tweeted support for a petition to get the UN to alter its stand (which is based on research and on listening to sex workers) on the decriminalization of sex work:
— Gloria Steinem (@GloriaSteinem) September 30, 2013
[Gloria Steinem @GloriaSteinem
United Nations: #ListenToSurvivors -- don't jeopardize efforts to prevent #sextrafficking http://tinyurl.com/m8chxo5 ]
Overall, I’d say this is a babystep in the right direction. Not something she should be given any ally-cookies for, since it still fails to acknowledge the entirety of the harm done as a result of her anti-SRS work and her promotion of TERFs in feminism, and doesn’t so much as acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with any of her sex-work-prohibitionism. At this speed***, she’ll likely be dead before she arrives at a genuine apology for all of it; and even if not, many trans people and sex workers are going to suffer and die before she ever gets around to undoing the damage she helped/helps cause to them.
***Trigger Warning: TERF reactions to Steinem’s op-ed***
However, even this microscopic step forward has pissed off other TERFS. Maybe if they’ll now spend their time sniping more at each other, and less at trans women and trans rights activists, that would be an improvement [/wishful thinking]. Examples:
[Incendiary Lover @incendiarylover
absolutely devastated & pissed that @GloriaSteinem has opted to erase women & lesbians w/transjacktivist sell out #radfem #cottonceiling]
[Actual Dykes @ActualDykez
As Lesbians, we feel @GloriaSteinem has no idea what is happening to Lesbians under Transgenderism #cottonceiling http://fb.me/6CR6zgeZT ]
[E. Hungerford @ehungerford
Gloria Steinem adopts #neolib identity politics as a means to end oppression against women. WHAT? GENDER hurts women http://goo.gl/XkcFTO ]
- – – – – – – – -
*also, I’m thinking “twin-spirited” is a mangling of “two-spirit”, the term adopted by North American tribes to describe gender minorities. It bugs me that she didn’t bother to even do a google-search to get this right (I did, to make sure “twin-spirited” isn’t an accepted alternative, or some other concept I hadn’t heard of).
**please do read the entire essay, it’s eyeopening if you’re not familiar with the history of and current actions by TERFs in feminism! the linky again. And also read the TransGriot piece in its entirety: linky again
***the text in question**** was written over 36 years ago, and supposedly she only now realizes that it’s criticism of SRS might get interpreted as being anti-SRS, even though it was part of the discourse that led to SRS (and other even vaguely transitiony medical treatments) being dropped from public aid and private insurance, as Monica mentions in her piece. Snails and glaciers would be insulted by a comparison.
****which also describes mutilation of intersex babies as “rescue”. Jesus Fucking Christ. Has she apologized for that yet?!
In February, there was that atrocious “in my feminist utopia, there wouldn’t be any sex work” piece which I took apart here. I noticed today that there was a new pingback to that post. It turned out to be this piece that talked about feministe’s problem with anti-sex-work narratives, which includes discussion of another shittastic piece posted at feministe 10 days ago, which in its original version indulged in fantasies of violence* against those who propose decriminalization**, even though given the choice between decriminalization and illegality, decriminalization leads to more reduction of harm towards sex workers***.
Unlike with the last piece, I won’t bother taking it apart line by line, if only because there’s really not that much content to be picked about. I do want to point out some of the most problematic bits, though. For one, what the article amounts to is a description of the strong reaction of a young privileged woman for the first time seeing deprivation and misery. As the article at Literate Perversions points out, the feministe article is not actually about the poor, drug-addicted women she describes:
Not a single word of her post is actually about the people in the city; it is entirely about how seeing them makes her feel. The people themselves are exotic others, with as much substance as if they had been green-screened into the background.
The othering is in fact entirely literal, when Pahman writes that what she sees “is ‘the other’ America, third world living conditions, the neighborhoods blighted.” There’s plenty of non-literal othering as well, for example in the fact that the piece manages not to include a word about their conditions or their own positions on the legality of prostitution from the people the article is supposedly about. Instead, we get indirect relation of what “every sexual abuse counselor, advocate and outreach team” she’s met told her when she asked them about legalization of prostitution, namely that none of them advocate for legalization**** of “this dire circumstance [she] was witness to” (which, as described below, was not just prostitution, or in any way wholly caused by prostitution). It’s entirely about her experience of going to the inner city for the first time ever and feeling shocked and overwhelmed at the deprivation and misery she saw from her van, and then unloading her feelz on an easy target.
And doing so indirectly, to boot, by pretending that it’s white privileged feminists who’ve never been within hearing distance of grinding poverty who are pro-decriminalization, while those people who live “in reality” as she claims of herself are those who are against it; when actually most prohibitionist rhetoric comes from the well established middle-class white feminists, while the voices for decriminalization are generally from those who are part of the communities in which sex work occurs in one way or another (example: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rmct2k ). Because screaming at sex workers themselves that they should stop advocating for themselves would be kinda awkward; much better to pretend one is screaming at clueless suburbanites instead.
The second major problem is the extreme simplification of the problems of American inner cities. She describes scenes that are caused by the complex interaction of American sociolopolitical structures, such as a history of sexism; a history of racial discrimination, for example in housing (redlining, white flight, etc.); decades of economic policies that increase inequality and erode the social safety net; the War on Drugs; and, yes, the policies regarding prostitution. But her reaction to this complex image focuses solely on how angry what she saw makes her at people who promote decriminalization of prostitution. At no point during that entire triade did any of the other contributing causes get even a token mention; at no point did it apparently occur to the author that prostitution isn’t going to be any more illegal than it already is, and yet there it is, apparently causing all the misery she desribes, all by itself, such as in this unreflective bit:
As I take brown bags of food into boarded up and blighted out crack houses where 20 women live, pregnant, addicted, and sought after by the police. When raids are done it is the women who are arrested and jailed, not the Johns.
Well, guess what wouldn’t happen to prostitutes if prostitution were legal; and not a word about the harm caused by the War on Drugs, either, no matter how self-evident its contribution to the quoted scenario#.
Then, of course, there’s the strawmanning. Most advocacy for decriminalization is as part of harm reduction, which pretty blatantly states that there’s harm that needs reducing. It’s about letting sex-workers speak for themselves and their needs at AIDS/HIV-related conferences, about providing resources such as Ugly Mugs, about forming labor movements of sex workers so that they can take power and thus defend and strike back against their oppressors. Yet Pahman claims that people who call prostitution sex-work and are against prostitution being illegal are pretending there’s no harm being done to sex workers, and that discussions of the agency of sex workers are actually claims about sex workers voluntarily or freely choosing## to be prostitutes.
And lastly, there’s the problem of feministe having published that; and published it with the line on wanting to do violence against people who support decriminalization (who are often sex workers themselves) intact, to boot. This is not “centering sex worker voices”; despite that being the title of her response to the last fuckup (not a retraction, mind you), Jill Filipovic of feministe has clearly no desire to actually do that. Much better to publish a ranty prohibitionist bit that erases sex worker voices and even fantasizes about violence against them.
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*the removed bit went like this:
Some may say “well that is why we must legalize it” and I want to spit in their face. I want to grasp my fingers around their neck and choke the ignorance from them.. I guess violence begets violence because my eyes go red when feminists lecture about “sex work.”
**the author called it legalization, because the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t actually know anyone on the pro-sex-worker side who calls for legalization; it’s always about decriminalization.
***some links to various articles/studies about effects of different laws on the harms related to sex work:
-> discussions of two reports on the effects of the “Swedish Model” in Norway; includes links to the report, but they’re in Norwegian: https://feministire.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-oslo-report-on-violence-against-sex-workers/ , https://feministire.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-latest-on-norways-sex-purchase-ban/
-> the actual report discussed in the first of the above articles, in English: http://humboldt1982.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/dangerous-liaisons.pdf
-> a NZ report on the effects of their decriminalization law: http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/documents/report.pdf
-> the new WHO guidelines for STI prevention and treatment among sex workers: http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/sex_worker/en/index.html
-> South African position paper citing the reasons for supporting decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Policy%20Brief%20Position%20Paper%20on%20Sex.pdf
-> a paper describing how possession of condoms is used as evidence for prostitution in places where any part of sex work is criminalized, with predictable consequences for health (it’s not just a NYC thing) http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/criminalizing-condoms-20120717%5B1%5D.pdf
****well, neither do sex-work advocates. But since we don’t get direct quotes from those people she’s asked about this, we can’t know whether they want it to stay illegal, or whether they’re pro-decriminalization. It’s a bit like those polls that said people were unhappy with Obamacare being used to support Republican opposition to it, when many people were unhappy with it cuz it didn’t go far enough.
#OTOH, who knows; maybe her opinion on drug policy is just as ass-backwards as her opinion on sex-work policy, and she would love to get violent against people who think the War on Drugs should end.
##This is pretty much why I’m opposed to the compatibilist conflation of free will and agency. Failing to clearly delineate the difference between those concepts leads to this kind of bullshit, or at least allow it to continue unchallenged.
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