Why I’m skeptical of efforts to criminalize the sabotage of birth control

***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.

– – – – – – – – –

*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:

[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.

A rape culture link roundup

Despite evidence for rape, police forces raped teen to take back her accusation; her rapists then goes on to rape other women: Police allow serial rapist to continue predating after charging teen for falsely reporting rape

Teen who was impregnated during rape is being slutshamed by her neighbors: Indiana Town Shames Rape Victim, Speculates About Her ‘Promiscuous Behavior’

A victim of rape recounts her attempts of dealing with the trauma,and how she was doubted by both counselors and doctors and ended up being re-victimized over and over by her university: An Account Of Sexual Assault At Amherst College

Female workers in South Korea exhausted by constant vigilance against sexual aggression and harassment: Sexual harassment in Korea: 24 hours on constant lookout tire women

bonus:
Allen West and Michael Savage have decided that sexual assault in the military isn’t actually a problem because of redefinitions of “sexual assault” to include invitations for beer; and anyway, these women are probably just making it up anyway. As far as West and Savage are concerned, this is just an attempt by the “Khmer Rouge Feminists” to “take over the military” in a “coup”: Fox’s Allen West Uses Military Sexual Assault Epidemic To Attack Democrats And Decry Women In Combat Units

Texas jury: Escorts who follow the law are thieves, and shooting AK 47’s in someone’s direction is not intent to harm

Lenora Ivie Frago was shot on Christmas Eve 2009 in a dispute over $150; the shooting paralyzed her, and caused her death several months later. Her killer was accused of murder, but was just acquitted; and not because the jury didn’t think he shot her, but because they thought it was ok to shoot and kill her.

Frago was an escort advertising escorting services on craigslist. This is legal in Texas, as long as “escorting” is defined as renting someone’s company, not sex; prostitution is illegal in Texas*. So I’m going to speculate that the escorting ad in question didn’t say that sex was included in the price, and therefore legally, it can’t be theft or breach of contract or whateverthefuck to pay $150 bucks and get an escort to spend time with you, rather than fuck you. Regardless of what you thought you were paying for; regardless of whether the woman was really just a date-for-hire or a prostitute trying to “upsell”; legally, the only thing you could have possibly paid her for was company, no sex. And yet, the argument of the defense hinged on the claim that Frago stole her murderer’s money by refusing to return it after no sex happened and she was ready to leave. The “theft” line of reasoning was necessary because Section 9.42 of the Texas Penal Code allows “using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property”, and the only way a payment to an escort can be still considered the payer’s “tangible, movable property” is if she was in the process of stealing it, rather than in the process of leaving after doing all that she’s legally allowed to do in her job.
So that’s the first bit of toxic bullshit: apparently following the law about escorting is theft now.
The second bit of toxic bullshit comes from the very fact that you’re allowed to shoot-and-kill anyone over a property dispute at all, but it is Texas we’re talking about.
The third and fourth bits of toxic bullshit come in when you actually read Section 9.42. The relevant parts read as follows:

(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41**; and
(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
[…]
(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
(3) he reasonably believes that:
(A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means

So in order to use this particular defense, the defense tried to convince the jury not only that doing what escorts are legally permitted to do was theft, but also that a)deadly force was necessary to stop Frago; AND b)that there wasn’t any other means whatsoever of getting his $150 back (such as suing her for fraud or breach of contract or whatever)

There’s an alternative theory about why the jurors acquitted: this was a murder trial, which according to the Texas Penal Code requires that a person

(1)intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

or, translated into English, murder is when you try to kill or severely harm someone on purpose, or you harm someone in the process of committing another felony. So. Dude claimed that he didn’t mean to kill, and was aiming at the tires of the car Frago was in, and (at least according to the defense) it looks like what ultimately killed Frago was a bullet ricocheting from another part of the car.

But

Dude shot an AK 47 at the car. An AK 47***. Doesn’t fucking matter what you were aiming at, there was an extremely high likelihood there was going to be injury, and on owner of an AK 47 should bloody well know that; because even I know that AK 47’s are ridiculously inaccurate weapons. If that’s not “intend[ing] to cause serious bodily injury and commit[ting] an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual” I don’t know what is.

So either way you look at it, and regardless of which bullshit argument convinced the jury that shooting at escorts with assault rifles is a-ok, the verdict is a pile of toxic bullshit: gun worship; misogyny; whorephobia.
– – – – – – – – – – –
*on a side-note, I find it… “interesting” that they felt they needed to draw a distinction between “sexual intercourse” (PIV), and “deviate sexual intercourse” (oral/anal)
**Section 9.41 is the one that specifies when you can use force in general (as opposed to deadly force) to defend your property; this is where the “theft” bullshittery comes in.
***who the fuck brings an AK 47 to what they think is going to be 30 minutes of screwing?! That’s first class toxic bullshit right there.

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.

– – – – – – – – – –
*”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

Think Progress gets something wrong

couple weeks ago, The article Idaho Lawmaker Compares Abortion To Prostitution* appeared on Think Progress. It’s in the style of their many other “Republicans say outrageously horrible things” articles, but I think they screwed it up this time.

Mind you, saying that “Prostitution is a choice “more so than an abortion would be […] Because (in an abortion) there’s two beating hearts. And then there’s one” is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Both are choices about one’s bodily autonomy, and consequently neither is more of a choice than another. Aside from that, these two issues have little to do with each other though, as one is a medical procedure, and another is a form of making money. So the Republican in question, State Rep. Ron Mendive from Idaho, was definitely being a fuckweasel and talking out of his ass. And being anti-choice, which one wouldn’t know from reading the Think Progress articl, because the article never mentions that rather salient point. And then, the article also buys into incredibly toxic narratives about sex work, to boot. The writer of the article, Annie-Rose Strasser, introduces Mendive’s comments as follows (emphasis mine):

Presenting abortion and prostitution as cavaler [sic] choices women make and ignoring the real danger of sex slavery, State Rep. Ron Mendive (R) elicited “audible gasps” on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the group, which later condemned his comparison

As far as I can tell, dude was talking about prostitution, not sex slavery. Those are two entirely different things, and conflating them like that is toxic bullshit. Besides, how does it help victims of actual sex slavery for prostitution to be illegal? How does it help to criminalize that which the enslaved folks are being forced to do against their will? doesn’t that merely criminalize the victims? Also, I don’t know about “cavalier choices”. I can’t find a good source for what the dude actually said, but he seems to have talked in general about a “double standard” where abortion is seen as a choice, but prostitution isn’t. That’s not saying they’re “cavalier choices”, it’s just saying they’re choices. And I’m afraid that he’s kind of right about this: there is a double standard. And since the Think Progress article doesn’t provide the context of this comment, it’s hard to tell whether what he said was outrageously shitty or not. If he argued for legalization of prostitution on the basis of bodily autonomy, then he’d be right. If he was trying to argue that both should be illegal, he’d be a toxic assface. But that isolated quote, by itself, is simply true.
And then there’s a quote by one of the ACLU folks about this comparison:

He was correlating a criminal action with something that is constitutionally protected. Those are two completely separate issues,

ok, they’re two completely different issues, but not because one is legal and one isn’t. Comparing legal and illegal things is how you figure out whether something should remain illegal or not (see for example alcohol vs weed comparisons). Now again, the article doesn’t provide the context of this speech**,focusing more on the outrage than on actually reporting details that would show why that comparison is supposed to be so outrageous. It simply assumes that the comparison is outrageous per se, not because it is being used in an outrageous argument that both should be illegal to undo the double standard. If he had instead argued that prostitution should be legal because it’s also about the freedom of choice about one’s body, he’d have a point***.

So my complaint about this article is twofold: for one, bringing sex slavery into this is irresponsible. It’s very similar to arguing against weed by arguing that it may lead to driving under the influence. For two, writing an article as if it should be obvious that a comparison like that would be a Todd Akin moment regardless of context is false and irresponsible. There are contexts in which arguing that there exists such a double standard is indeed perfectly valid. So the context should have been included, the context being that he’s an anti-choicer who was trying to argue that giving women choices leads to horrible things; like abortion, or prostitution.
– – – – – – – – – – –
*the url ends with /idaho-sex-slavery/ which… um… no. O.o
**the RHealitycheck article it links to does though. Despite being much shorter, it actually bothers to show WHY his argument was outrageous, by including the context. THAT is how the article should have been written.
***granted, that would be an amazingly weird thing to argue for a Republican, but we’re supposed to be upset at what he said; and for that, you need to show why it’s supposed to be upsetting, ffs.

An interesting MRA argument

…and by “interesting” I mean that I’ve personally not run into it before, and that it’s actually one that deserves dissection rather than merely being laughed out of the room for sheer dumbosity. Somewhat unfortunately, this post has been incubating in my brain for so long that the blog in which I originally found the comments (No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz) seems to have moved to a new host, and now I can’t find anything there. So, this will be written from memory and therefore I can’t guarantee the full accuracy of the examples used to support the MRA’s talking point.

Anyway, the argument goes as follows:
We know that women have a higher status than men because women who “descend” into masculinity are tolerated , but men who are trying to do things “above their station” and adopt feminine things/behaviors are punished*; this is similar to the way rich people can affect the “ghetto” look and be cool, while poor people affecting upper class style and behavior are posers and fakes**; or similar to the way blackface is cool, but a black person trying to “pass” for a white one is considered to be transgressing.

The reason I find this argument interesting is because at first glance, that kinda sorta makes sense. Privileged people have more freedoms, and one of them is to appropriate things from the oppressed classes. Cultural appropriation for example is a huge problem with imperialism/colonialism/white culture***. But a closer analysis of the two claims in this argument makes it clear that that’s not quite how it works. So, let’s have a closer look at these claims:

1)The oppressors are permitted to be like the oppressed
This is only superficially true. As I mentioned, affecting and appropriating things that culturally belong to oppressed groups is certainly quite common. But there are “rules” about how you’re supposed to do that. For example, there’s a difference between appropriating/devaluing and adopting/supporting someone else’s oppressed identity. Wearing a hipster headdress is not the same as “decolonizing” and becoming involved in Native culture and society as an ally and/or as a spouse and parent to tribal members; donning blackface is not the same as becoming a student and promoter of Critical Race Theory; dressing up as a woman for Halloween, for a comedy show, or for a pride parade is not the same as living as a trans woman; and I’m willing to bet affecting a lower-class accent is not the same as abandoning your upper-class social ties and becoming a miner and moving to a working-class neighborhood. Point being, it’s ok to mock and play pretend, but it’s absolutely not ok to actually become part of, or a supporter of, the oppressed group. And in many ways, this can be seen by how the privileged classes define themselves, which is often by what they are not****. For example, pale skin was a sign of nobility when it meant that you were not a peasant; and then the Industrial Revolution happened, labor moved indoors, and suddenly suntanning became a sign of not being working class. Another example is Upper Class Etiquette (AKA “being classy”), which is basically an elaborate set of completely superfluous rules designed specifically as an artificial Upper Class Habitus setting the Upper Classes apart from the lower classes; and, sure, you can occasionally adopt what you think is a lower-class habitus, but only when it’s kinda obvious that it’s for shits and giggles; otherwise, it may well be perceived as a giant faux pas. A third, and probably the best-known example, is the one drop rule: whiteness being treated as such an endangered commodity that a single drop of black blood contaminated it permanently and made you non-white. Masculinity works much the same way, i.e. it identifies itself as what it is not, i.e. feminine. That’s why enforcement of transgressions out of masculinity and into femininity exist: they threaten the established hierarchy, and unlike in the cases of racism and classism, there isn’t even an equivalent ideology in the broader culture equivalent to “colorblindness” or “meritocracy” that would temper old-fashioned***** gender-policing the same way it sometimes does temper old-fashioned race- and class-policing.

2)The oppressed are forbidden from being like the oppressors
It is true that in order to properly maintain a hierarchy, it’s necessary to make sure the oppressed don’t just weasel out by becoming or passing for the oppressor. Further, since I just explained that the oppressor group often defines itself by what it is not, making sure that the oppressed don’t start doing oppressor-stuff is a way of preserving for oneself the permission to do these things#. However, internalized oppression and the hierarchy itself make it so that the stuff that “belongs” to the oppressor is seen as good, moral, “classy”, etc. while the stuff that “belongs” or identifies the oppressed groups is seen as inferior. Consequently, internal hierarchies within oppressed groups emerge, which state that even while being in the oppressed group, it’s “better” (more moral, more civilized, more normal, etc.) to be more like the oppressor and shun/abandon those things that mark one as a member of the oppressed class. Colorism is one such example, in which lighter skin color is higher in a racial hierarchy than darker skin, even among people of color themselves; similarly, African-Americans who have internalized a white habitus are considered more cultured than those who have a habitus associated with an African-American subculture (it’s probably not a coincidence that the first black president of the US is a biracial man raised by white people. Or, as Joe Biden noted is his typical foot-in-mouth kind of way: a “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”). Another one is the “normal gay” and “flamboyant gay” bullshit: gay men who are otherwise performing masculinity are seen as better, i.e. higher up on the hierarchy, than gay men who are seen to share more “feminine” attributes than just being attracted to men (incidentally, this is also where the weird thing about how it’s not “gay” to receive a blowjob from a man comes from: receiving blowjobs = manly, while giving blowjobs = womanly; and gay = womanly)##. In the trans community, this internal (self-)oppression based on how closely someone manages to conform to cisnormative and heteronormative rules is called the Harry Benjamin Syndrome.
And exactly the same happens to gender-roles. Because men are higher in the hierarchy, masculine things have higher status, whereas feminine things have lower status. The consequence? Femmephobia: the belief that feminine self-expression and things associated with femininity are inherently less good, moral, fun, valuable, etc. than masculine self-expression and things associated with masculinity. This is why women who do traditionally masculine things can sometimes be perceived as being “better” than those doing traditionally feminine things.
It should be noted that a lot of this “it’s better to be like the oppressor” stuff is a symptom of a transitional culture: in a static hierarchy, “upward mobility” of this kind is strictly punishable and control and suppresion of it seen as absolutely necessary for the survival of society. When it occurs within segregated minority communities, it’s only tolerated insofar as it’s invisible (or useful in a divide-and-conquer sort of way) to the oppressor group; the moment it spills out into the “mainstream” (read: the oppressor-dominated culture), it will be swiftly punished. In a transitional culture on the other hand, the oppressor culture becomes a “norm” and “ideal” that becomes a requirement for acceptance into a supposedly egalitarian/democratic/colorblind/whathaveyou mainstream. And when these two aspects clash, you get the faliliar Catch-22 that is being a member of an oppressed group: if you act in ways identified as belonging to your group, you’ll be shat on because of the low status of those social signifiers; if you instead act in ways identified with the oppressor group, you’ll be perceived as “uppity”, bitchy, a trap, a poser, etc., unless you somehow manage to do this while also helping maintain the hierarchy. See also “not like other women” and “model minority”.

So, to sum it up: oppressors are only allowed to appropriate oppressed-group-signifiers for the purpose of mockery and “play”, but not actually adopt them in any meaningful way; conversely, in transitional cultures with delusions of egalitarian ideals, the hierarchy itself mandates that acceptance into the “mainstream” requires emulation of the oppressor class on behalf of the oppressed. Therefore, the fact that women wearing pants is cool, but men wearing skirts is not isn’t a sign that women are the oppressor class; it’s a sign that masculinity has higher-status than femininity, and that we’re in a transitional culture which both enforces the masculinity-over-femininity hierarchy and uses the language of meritocracy and equality, thus basically saying that women have the right to abandon their shitty, feminine qualities and exchange them for the better, more masculine ones, while at the same time assigning lower status to anyone choosing to be more feminine than masculine###.

Conclusion: another MRA being wrong, albeit more creatively and cleverly than usual.

P.S.:I apologize for the ridiculous amount of footnotes. The topic got away from me a few too many times, and there’s entirely too many tangents kinda-sorta-relevant to this topic.

– – – – – – – – – –

*women wearing pants vs. men wearing skirts; the fact that trans men face less violence than trans women; etc.
**to use my own example of this, take for example British class consciousness. It’s kinda fashionable for upper class Brits to affect lower-class accents; OTOH, someone from a lower class background trying to affect an upper class accent could be interpreted as uppity, fake, a poser etc. Also, from what I understand, there’s also a thing among younger folks of “dropping” aristocratic titles to be cool; but you’d get your ass handed to you if you instead wanted to take one on when you don’t have one. So, down-classing yourself = cool; up-classing yourself = punishable
***for example, here’s an entire excellent blog about appropriations of Native American culture by whites, especially by hipster culture: Native Appropriations
****that’s actually one of the identifying characteristics of being a privileged group: being the default, the un-modified state; being defined in common language as that which lacks distinguishing characteristics. That’s why “ethnic” never refers to WASPs, even though that’s technically a kind of ethnicity, and a human figure lacking secondary (or tertiary) sexual characteristics is interpreted as male.
*****”old-fashioned” vs. “modern” bigotry is a discussion in and of itself, but basically it’s the difference between being a blatantly prejudiced and discriminatory bigot (what we traditionally call “a racist”, “a misogynist” etc.) and someone who perpetrates microaggressions. Don’t know where dogwhistles fall here; probably the former masquerading as the latter
#and actually, it just occurred to me that of course appropriation is a way to allow the oppressor-group to do oppressed-people-stuff without losing their status and identity: Pat Boone’s career is in fact based entirely on this principle.
##the issue with “lipstic lesbians” vs. butch lesbians doesn’t neatly fit here because of the intersectional nature of it: on the one hand, feminine lesbians are considered “straighter” and more gender-role-conforming than butch lesbians, and thus are rewarded for that; on the other, femmephobia means that a feminine form of self-expression is considered lower-status than a masculine AKA butch one.
###while simultaneously still enforcing the old gender-roles. this intersectionality means that gender-non-conforming cis women and gender-non-conforming cis men both end up suffering along two axes of oppression while being in the oppressor category on one; and it’s also this intersectionality that synergistically ends up super-shitty for trans women, because they suffer from femmephobia (pretty much regardless of how butch their self-expression; but femme trans women tend to get more of this), gender-non-conformity (when they’re treated as supergay or superfeminine men), and misogyny.

Of wedding rings and red herrings

The NYT has published an article bemoaning inequality; which would be great if it didn’t basically amount to: “if those silly women would just marry, most of their problems would go away”.

Mind you, I don’t dispute that unmarried women are generally hit worse by the ravages of the US economy (and incidentally, so are single fathers), nor that being unmarried seems to cluster in economically poorer social strata. However, the article is being ignorant and/or dismissive of systemic problems it even mentions (that dropping out of college tends to result in lower income; that having inadequate and expensive child-care makes things worse for those who need it more often; that hourly workers are massively underpaid in the US; that workers can’t get paid sick-leave even for severe injuries/recovery from surgery; that in the US, extra-curricular activities for kids cost and arm and a leg, and due to lack of safe public transportation, require a parent who can shuttle said kids to said activities; etc.), in favor of pointless hand-wringing about moral decay, lack of “marriageable men” in lower economic strata*, and other similarly moralistic complaints.
It uses such deeply problematic lines** as “their odds were not particularly good: nearly half the unmarried parents living together at a child’s birth split up within five years, according to Child Trends” to imply that if only people married right away, things would get better; as if it weren’t equally well-known that single-parenthood is actually healthier than the sort of extremely conflict-ridden marriages that would have resulted if all those couples that had split up had married instead and had insisted on “staying married for the children”. Bonus for whining about “children from multiple men”, despite the utter insignificance of that to the issue at hand; after all, being a single mother because one dude left you is not objectively better than being a single mother because several of them did (and I’m NOT touching a couple other possible reasons why a woman might have children by multiple men).
Another doozy: “Forty years ago, the top and middle income thirds had virtually identical family patterns”. Well that’s nice. 40 years ago, unions weren’t almost dead yet, minimum wage was higher, economic exploitation of workers was less, education was cheaper. All of this is far more relevant than whether people are married. And I know this because Sweden has a marriage rate lower, and an out-of-wedlock childbirth rate higher than the USA, and yet, inequality is low and children aren’t “doomed” to anything. Trying to guilt-trip women about their single-parent status by blaming their poverty on their singleness is pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Anyway, the article keeps on mentioning class and educational differences at childbirth, but it insists on focusing on marriage instead of getting women educated and providing better childcare services and worker protections. Why? Because writing about responsible social policy is a snooze compared to slut-shaming; which is why we get conclusions like this: “That is the essence of the story of Ms. Faulkner and Ms. Schairer. What most separates them is not the impact of globalization on their wages but a 6-foot-8-inch man named Kevin”, when in reality what separates them is that one has a college education and a salaried job, while the other is an hourly worker with a community college degree; and a special needs child.

– – – – – – – – –
*Classism and promotion of toxic masculinity FTL.
**Another favorite: “Ms. Schairer has trouble explaining, even to herself, why she stayed so long with a man who she said earned little, berated her often and did no parenting.” Hm. Might that ‘why’ have something to do with the kind of “single motherhood = teh ebil” atmosphere that makes women cling to seriously flawed men because the alternative seems even worse?***
***And since I’m quoting depressing signs of sexism making people’s lives harder, read this exchange and weep:

“I’m not the only boy anymore; we’re going to do boy stuff!” Ms. Schairer recounts him saying.
“What’s boy stuff?” she asked.
“We’re going to play video games and shoot Nerf guns and play Legos,” he said.
“We do that now,” she said.
“Yeah, but you’re not a boy,” he said.

Paula Kirby wrote stupid shit

This is how Paula Kirby tweeted about her essay* in re: the Harassment Policy discussion:

I’ll wait until you’re done laughing and/or rolling your eyes.
Done? Alright, let’s get on with this blogpost**. And btw., I’m ridiculously late to the game. Others have competently dismantled large parts of that ridiculous essay about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, but there’s just so much incredibly ignorant and untrue crap in this essay, I figure I’ll have a stab at it, too. But do read the other commentary on it, if you have time. Like I said, there’s so much crap in this, a single essay doesn’t do it justice: atheist logic, Ophelia Benson pt. 1, pt. 2, and SUIRAUQA (there’s probably more, but those are the ones I know about)

First, since I gather this has touched a nerve in some quarters, I shall deal with the terms “feminazi” and “femistasi”. As a general principle, I oppose the use of any kin dof name-calling. But sometimes an apparently rude term is doing more than being rude: it is conveying a meaningful point in shorthand form. For the record, I am categorically NOT suggesting that the people I have applied these terms to are, in fact, Nazis or Stasi members, or would ever have sympathized with either of them.There are many of us who are proud to be called Grammarnazis and who know perfectly well that no aspersions are being cast on our intentions towards either Jews or Poland. It might be considered distasteful that the suffix -nazi has come to be used simply to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, but nevertheless, it has come to be so used, and The Sisterhood of the Oppressed cannot legitimately chalk it up as yet another example of their alleged victimization.

This is the first paragraph of the essay, and it’s already complete crap. And here’s why:
1)To be “proud to be called Grammarnazis”, and even to refer to oneself like that, is an act of Reappropriation; something that was used as an insult to try to shut someone up by making them feel bad for doing what they do by calling them -nazis is now being worn proudly as a banner, in a way similar to the way the Queer community has reapppropriated the term “queer”. And, in fact, in exactly the same way that many of Teh Ebil #FTBullies have for years now worn the worst epithets thrown at them as titles behind their handles, including the word “feminazi”.
2)A reappropriated word is still an insult/slur though, and so when it is used negatively against someone else, it is not used in the reappropriated, positive (or at least, non-negative) sense, but in its original, negative sense. Therefore, comparing being proud to be called a Grammarnazi to calling someone else a Feminazi in order to compare them to Nazis*** is worse than comparing apples to oranges (at least, apples and oranges are both fruit, and are both good for you).
3)The main difference, of course, between something like “Grammarnazi” and “Feminazi” or “Queer” is that being called a Grammarnazi is not an act that flows down a power-gradient, nor is it used to shut down anything too particularly important****. As such, you wouldn’t even be able to reasonably compare the insult-use of Grammarnazi to actual slurs used as insults, since they perform entirely different kinds of cultural work.
4)Regardless of any truth value to claims that the suffix -nazi has merely come to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, this is obviously not true for the suffix -stasi, since that suffix doesn’t have a culturally acquired meaning other than the literal one, since it’s not in common use. As such, points 1-3 aren’t even necessary to establish the BS in that paragraph, since even if everything she said about the suffix -nazi were true, she didn’t just use that one. Calling someone a Femistasi is actually literally comparing someone to the East German Homeland State Security.

In both “feminazi” and “femistasi” the allusion is to certain totalitarian attitudes and the intolerance and suppression of dissent. Indeed, it was this, and eminently not their politics, that the Nazis and the Stasi had in common, which further underlines my point that no comment about anyone’s wider political views is being made.

This is part of the previous line of thought, but it’s crap in a different way, so I’m quoting separately. Paula here seems to imply that running a totalitarian state is not politics. Because a form of government is not political? I’ve complained in the past about such incoherent restrictions on what can be considered “political” so I won’t get into that here, but really. Suppression of political dissent, being part of a totalitarian state government, and being often the enforcing arm of the politics of the government is not political?

In the case of the -stasi suffix, it draws attentions to behaviours associated with the thought police, for whom anyone who dares to hold non-approved attitudes is automatically persona non grata and to be treated as an enemy of the people. I am referring, of course, to the unfailing response on certain blogs whenever someone has had the temerity to challenge the claims that have been made there. Any suggestion, no matter how mildly phrased or how in keeping with the principles of skepticism, that The Sisterhood might not be automatically and wholly right by default has been met with torrents of abuse, and a pot-pourri (actually, dung-heap would seem a more appropriate metaphor) of accusations ranging from troll at the lower end, through slimebag, douche etc, right up to misogynist or even rape-apologist.

“Thought police” is an Orwellian term. Originally, it referred to an actual police actually making sure that no unapproved thoughts happened, since people caught thinking the unapproved thing were brainwashed to “fix” the problem, and ultimately killed. Obviously the Stasi couldn’t quite achieve that level of efficiency, but they certainly tried, by arresting and/or killing people they’ve found expressing unapproved sentiments, even in the “privacy” of their own homes. So, what does Paula compare this to?
To argument. To people disagreeing, often with long-winded explanations and links to evidence, and doing so while liberally dispensing invective. In writing. On their own blogs, as well as in comment sections on other blogs. Most of these “oppressed” dissenters aren’t even banned from commenting on these blogs, and they certainly are free to express themselves in the privacy of their own public blogs without any repercussions (other than maybe having someone disagree with you (publicly even! *gasp*), or say that they don’t like you anymore, and maybe won’t give you their money) or restrictions. That’s stasi-like behavior. But apparently only when Teh Ebil #FTBullies do it, since the antiFTB contingent indulges in exactly the same behavior (plus occasional threats and extensive use of bigoted slurs; minus the evidence), but when they do it it’s just “calls for balance” and “challeng[ing] the claims”.

Good heavens, we have even seen Ophelia Benson describe DJ Grothe’s call for more balance in the discussions as “sticking a metaphorical target” on her!

This “call for balance” btw. was Grothe’s silly-ass, evidence-free claim that talking about harassment has caused a drop in female attendance at TAM, and therefore talk about harassment should stop. I fail to see “balance” here, except in the “Fair And Balanced” sense (more details about this, from Ophelia herself).

Let’s not forget the abuses of speakers'”privilege” at certain conferences, where audience members holding “the wrong attitudes” have been picked on by the speaker from the platform.

Elevatorgate is never going to die is it? Also, Paula is in business, not science… but really. It has never been a bad thing for a speaker to analyze and criticize an attendees public writing. Most of the time, this bit of whining is some sort of “the internet isn’t real” luddism. In this case, it seems more generic hypocrisy in the service of “when we criticize, it’s just criticism; when you criticize, it’s ‘picking on’ and being the thought police”, as noted above. Also, she’s just plain bullshitting when she claims Stef McGraw was “picked on” for her “attitudes”. She had a publicly stated written argument deconstructed. An argument is not an attitude, by any definition of the word.

Let’s consider 1930s Germany for a moment. How did the Nazis gain popular support? By exploiting a sense of grievance post-Versailles, by continually telling the German people they’d been treated abominably, had their noses ground in the dust,been unfairly penalized, that they were the victims of an international, Jew-led conspiracy, that they needed to rise from the ashes and gain their revenge and their proper, god-ordained place in the world.

Yeah, let’s consider this. And by “this”, I don’t actually mean the historical inaccuracies in this paragraph, because they’re not relevant just now. For starters, as Paula herself reluctantly admits in a later paragraph, it’s not actually a case of the Nazis “telling the German people they’d been treated abominably”, since the German people were well-aware of that fact (and a fact it certainly was), Nazis or no. But let’s consider the political situation in 1930’s Germany. Here we have an abysmally poor, systematically oppressed people, who end up becoming radicalized and a totalitarian state results. Happens all the fucking time. What’s the solution to the problem?
Well, according to Paula, it seems to be “Oh you silly Germans. Stop feeling oppressed and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, and “Don’t talk about systemic oppression, don’t try to eliminate oppression, and don’t ever dare publicly and openly argue with those who say there isn’t any. Because if you do, you’ll be propagating a victim mentality and also being Nazis yourself.” Where in the goddamn universe has being silent about systemic oppression and telling people to instead fix themselves ever worked?
The real solution to the existence of systemic victims is not cries of individualist empowerment, but deconstruction of the oppressive system. The French learned this lesson, which is why WWII was followed by the creation of the Council of Europe and the EEC instead of another oppressive Treaty of Versailles.

So is the Sisterhood’s sense of victimhood also justified? No.

Fuck the evidence from years of social science*****. Paula says there’s no oppression of women, therefore there isn’t.

In my experience (and I’ve attended and organized a lot of conferences in my time)there’s a sexualized atmosphere at all conferences involving an overnight stay:people are away from home, probably drinking more heavily than they would at home, *cough* networking, surrounded by people who share a common interest, whether that’s in secularism or buttercups or ball bearings, and who are equally letting their hair down and out for a bit of fun, and, moreover, with hotel rooms conveniently located right above their heads.

What a sorry world Paula lives in, if she’s never experienced collegiality not laced with sex. It’s a bit like eating all foods drenched in Ketchup (or any other condiment of your choice).
Well, I have experienced plenty of friendly, collegial drunkenness, fun, and “letting your hair down” while away from home, too. Some of it involved sex and an atmosphere that could be described as “sexy”. Some of it however was just hanging out with awesome people and shooting the shit, without sex appearing anywhere on the horizon. It’s awesome (it also oddly seems to be clustered around Poland). Why, last October I spent an entire weekend in mixed company away from home, sleeping in the same room with two dudes, and somehow no one got propositioned. We must be all prudes; or asexual. Or, maybe, we prefer some variety in our life, and are therefore capable of sometimes not thinking about getting laid. Seems there aren’t that many people like that in Paula’s life, if she’s never experienced anything like that.

Anyway. What do you want to bet that most, if not all, of these conferences has sexual harassment policies (after all, this is what this latest “ZOMG Stazinazis” is about)?

I simply do not accept that any reasonably mature, rational adult does not know exactly how to avoid getting into this kind of situation if he or she would prefer not to,or how to deal with it if it occurs.

This is quoted just to laugh at it. Because really, she just finished saying that this happens at all conferences and that anyone can find themselves propositioned. Which I guess means “how to avoid getting into this situation” = “not going to conferences” :-p

And, of course, she’s being very disingenuous when she implies that we say people don’t know how to deal with propositions (or harassment; because let’s remember, this is about harassment policies, dissembling on Paula’s part notwithstanding). but you know, knowing how to deal with stupid shit because you’re constantly exposed to it is not actually a valid reason for stupid shit to exist.

Note that I am talking about normal, non-violentsituations in which no assault takes place. I am talking about the kind of normalinteraction that, whether you like it or not, goes on wherever you get a group of adults letting their hair down while away from home.

False dichotomy which denies the existence of harassment which is not assault.

but to give the impression that such assaults are commonplace is to do a disservice

Boring lie is boring, but at least explains why the preceding false dichotomy exists.

To tear a movement apart, […] over something that is just a feature of life in general and not specific to the movement itself

Translation: atheists and skeptics shouldn’t strive to be better. Average is fine. Doesn’t matter that average is pretty fucking horrible.

I did a sociology module as part of my degree many years ago: I know the arguments about socialization and normative values, and structural discrimination and all that malarkey.

This was hilarious the first time, and it’s never stopped being hilarious. Paula knows better than social scientists with years of work and experience and science to back them up. Because she took one sociology module. Is there any better demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive.

And the way to fight poverty is to stop “externalizing” the causes of poverty, and instead tell people to stop being so goddamn lazy and to view themselves as “mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride” and stop blaming their poverty on rich people or hierarchies or classism or “privilege”.

Libertarianism is such tiresome bullshit.

Anyway, she’s repeating the bullshit trope that non-libertarian feminists are saying that women aren’t capable of doing what men do. This is of course bullshit. Women are just as capable as men, and they are often far better able to deal with adversity since they don’t get shit handed to them on a silver platter and have to constantly fight against stupid sexist bullshit. Men faced with even a fraction of the shit a woman who shares their other social statuses has to face tend to dissolve into incoherent puddles of self-pity rather quickly (see: MRA), because they lack the practice and have never acquired the requisite hardened skins. However, as noted above, being able to deal with stupid shit is not actually a good reason for stupid shit to exist. Plus, as everyone should realize, two people with identical ability but different stressloads will rather obviously not perform equally at the one task they have in common. All we’re trying to do is a)undo some of that damage of the extra stressload in the short term, and b)equalize the stressload.

But I am saying that we women do ourselves no favours by assuming that the system is malevolently weighted against us

And here Paula says that women shouldn’t know the truth, because it does us no favors. And she says we’re belittling women?

Yes, there’s the occasional Neanderthal, in any walk of life. But it’s up to us whether we let him put us off doing what we really want to do. Let’s not give him that power over us! We can choose to rise above him (or sidestep him) and continue pursuing our own goals.

Here Paula is being anti-scientific, because this comment basically amounts to “willpower is an unlimited resource”, which we know isn’t true.

In almost any fieldyou care to consider, the women who have made it to the topare generally not sympathetic to the view that men or the system were desperately trying to hold them back. They havesimply adopted the tactics I am describing here, and have refused to let anything stop them.

Women who mold themselves to and make bargains with a patriarchal system are more successful within the patriarchal system than those who try to dismantle it for the benefit of all women?

Shocking.

They certainly haven’t diverted their focus from their goals to worrying about how men are treating them, and they haven’t waited for men to give them permission to succeed.

indeed not. Other women (and their allies) have done this for them and done something about some of the structural barriers that exist so that these exceptional women could succeed. How is this an argument for not continuing to dismantle these barriers, so that even more women can succeed?

Activism is by definition controversial: we don’t need activists for causes that are already widely accepted. This means that conflict comes with the territory. Activists need to be able to cope with that, we need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence us and discredit us at any cost. It can turn nasty.

I quote this specifically because it’s so fucking hilarious that this comes from the woman who whines about feminazistasi oppression because she and others are being criticized. As I said before, she’s basically saying that other people mustn’t speak up when they’re mistreated and instead they “need to be able to cope with that” and “need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence [them] and discredit”. But she and the other antiFTB-whiners should be totes encouraged to whine all day and night about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, because they apparently don’t need to learn to cope. Not even with the much smaller amount of unpleasantness that they are receiving, as compared to what they’re dishing out.

Look in the pages of any self-help book you care to pick up.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Paula is advising skeptics to read the quackery that is self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

What we have seen endlessly on the pages of the worst of the blogs over the course of the last year-plus is just a tedious, counterproductive, alienating, divisive, pointless self-indulgence.

Don’t care to argue “alienating” and “divisive”, but the fact that WIS happened, WIS2 will happen, and harassment policies are being adopted, is boringly obvious refutation of the claims of “counterproductive” and “pointless”.

How many of those speakers [at WIS] were not already well established in the movement? […] Talk about “Four legs good, two legs better”!

This is hilariously incoherent. A conference that previously didn’t exist and doesn’t cannibalize other conferences in terms of speakers can by definition not provide less exposure to these speakers (and the group they belong to) than its nonexistence. Also, it should be noted that Paula doesn’t actually know what these women who spoke at the conference talked about (other than the speeches they gave; she might know that, but I doubt she’s seen all the videos), and what kind of networking happened at the conference.

Far from encouraging new women to get involved, all this hysterical and unjustified insistence on how dangerous our conferences are for women, how hostile our movement is to them, the indignities and humiliations they will be exposed to should they dare to set foot over the skeptical threshold could have been calculated to scare them away.

I note she provides precisely zero evidence for any of this. Also, bonus point for using “hysterical”.

Ophelia Benson herself wouldhave us believe she’s been scared away from attending a conference because of the exaggerated and over-the-top messages she got about the terrible risks she’d face if she went.

Another boring lie. Paula here is basically claiming that “nice business, would be a shame if it burned down” is a warning about fire hazards.

– – – – – – – – –
*Incidentally, posted on scribd by hoggle. Nice allies she’s got.
**After sufficiently complaining at the fact that the link in her tweet can only be accessed with a google account**. because really, wtf? (in case you’re wondering, a previous tweet had the link to the scribd document. still a dumb format, but at least it doesn’t require anyone to log in anywhere to read it)
***she’s actually lying when she’s saying she’s using the suffix to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, since she DOES compare FTB to actual, real, 1930’s Nazis later in the essay.
****being a stickler for the use of grammar where it actually helps communication, I still very much acknowledge that knowing the difference between you’re and your, and knowing when to use the word “whom”, is piddly bullshit compared to social justice activism.
*****a sample this, as well as other scientific articles and essays, are of course collected in the comments of this post

A kitteh and a link dump

I was going to write a post using most of these, but I changed my mind. Still, the links are informative reading, so I’m just going to post them without the article that was supposed to go around them. And just to make the post more than just a dry linkdump, here’s a picture of Dusty:

Not a safe space — a good 101-level explanation of what the term “safe space” even means.

Michigan Legislators Demand Control of the Organ Which Must Not Be Named — summary of what thedrama in Michigan, with summary of the effects of their anti-woman bill

Chicago Police misclassifying trans women of color in the sex trade as “johns” in its “end demand” initiative — article on how the police manage to turn a anti-procurers-of-prostitution campaign into a campaign to arrest, out, and shame poor trans women of color

Despite The Evidence, Anti-Choicers Persist in Lying About Emergency Contraception — article by Amanda Marcotte about something I’ve been saying repeatedly: the science has already shown that hormonal contraceptives, including Emergency Contraception, doesn’t cause implantation failure.

Respect as it applies to anti-harassment policies — A conference organizer states his opinion about the relative importance (or lack thereof) of whether anti-harassment policies will make it harder for people to get laid.