A woman living next door to my aunt here in Kiev was attacked last month. She and her rommate were private masseurs: good-looking, surgically altered, and in the habit of charging large fees, if their rent was any indication. I don’t know if they advertised sex-work – but they have gently implied to my (conservative) aunt that this was often part of the overall work they did.
Either a client or a pimp intent on staking out his territory beat up and raped “the blond one.” The women moved out shortly thereafter, leaving behind some perfume and champagne, and talking about going to Germany. I hope that they weren’t trafficked to Germany, like so many are from Ukraine.
After what happened, both women were as cheerful and chatty as they ever were. The cops had actually expressed admiration for them. In Kiev, you have to be brave to do what they did with no “roof” – i.e. no protection from criminals by other criminals, no one to “watch over them” or just beat them and take most of their money.
A good friend of mine works in law enforcement, and he and I talk about incidents like this. He’s more blasé than I am – he has to be. He was the first person to remind me of the fact that different Ukrainian sex-workers relate to their work differently, as human beings are wont to do. And if things are to change for the better – wherein more and more women will no longer feel that they have to be prostitutes in order to succeed or survive – we will have to work with the power establishment to improve the economy.
While living in the United States, and hearing about the Feminist Revolution that’s just around the corner, I’ve still had to accept that in order to help actual people today – one has to choose practical means (this is aside from the fact that I’m allergic to the word “revolution”). This is especially true wherein Ukraine is concerned. Talk to any person doing work against trafficking and forced prostitution here – and most of them are making gains by petitioning powerful (and, in most cases, corrupt) politicians of all persuasions.
My friend says that for every two women who wish to get out of the business, one will say that what she’s really concerned about is being able to freelance – working outside the organized crime structure, without an abusive pimp. It can be argued that most of these women have internalized the oppressive conditions of their environment. They do want to get out – they just don’t admit it. I am certain that there are thousands of women like that here – but in order for things to change for them we have to, once again, think about improving the economy.
“Do you know what [prostitutes] yell about?” My friend asks me over a couple of beers. “They yell, ‘Let me earn my living, asshole!’ They look at going abroad to prostitute themselves as a great opportunity, despite the risk of being trafficked.”
Things are tougher here than I’d feared.
At this point in my life, my cynical eurotrash feminism is largely being informed by the conditions in Ukraine. Hence, I’ve got no time for pronouncements that the only real goal should be an unequivocal end to all prostitution – even though I sympathize with a lot of the sentiment expressed. I’ve got no time for people who say we shouldn’t talk to men and women who go to prostitutes. One such man calls them over when he rents out the banya (bathhouse). Like many men who hire prostitutes, he’s married and has a child – unlike many, he opens up about WHY: his marriage is sexless, he likes having sex with women who are “good actresses,” they feign adoration and care, he pays them in dollars, and there is no romantic attachment, which he fears most of all. These women are college-educated, but their “education feels useless to them, when salaries are so small.” Is it fair? No. Is it real? Yes. Someone like this doesn’t believe he’s using a woman, neither is he there to explicitly humiliate her (for more on the subject of humiliation, from one specific viewpoint, see here) and screaming at him won’t make an iota of a difference. Only honest, open conversation may encourage him to see if his “regular girls” actually want to get out, and so on
In Ukraine, the most a radical feminist of the Western persuasion (and I’m using these terms rather loosely here, so please forgive me if I am lumping a bunch of people together) can do for a prostitute is to encourage her to find an “honest” job with a laughable salary. Even women who can manage to survive on this salary will not be able to buy items they consider essential – be they make-up or computer games. Telling them to just “examine their choices” doesn’t work- most are perfectly capable of examining them, and going on with their lives as they see fit.
Much like in Muslim countries – home-grown Ukrainian feminism differs widely from the feminism flourishing say, in Britain and the United States. The most radical Ukrainian feminists often turn out to be Christian fundamentalists at heart – women who are personally opposed to make-up, who consider most romantic relationships dumb and delusional, who will… babysit a prostitute’s neglected kids. Priests who preach domesticity and lots and lots of child-bearing are also people who risk their lives confronting abusive pimps and johns. A large number of people helping rescue women from the most horribly violent and degrading situations imaginable are active members and vocal supporters of particularly patriarchal organizations, the government or the church (or, for that matter, male-dominated law enforcement).
A Christian fundamentalist who nearly drove me insane when she suggested that I had been to blame when I was targeted by an abuser is also the same woman who has worked on improving the lives of prostitutes in her neighbourhood – counseled them, offered them food, took care of their kids, and so on. I can’t ignore that.
It’s important for me to qualify all of my statements with my spiritual beliefs. The Dostoevskian “we are all guilty” rings true for me here. What are we guilty of? Every evil little thing. I think all people are essentially oppressed by the human condition – as silly as this may sound in today’s world. I have to admit as much, so that people aren’t confused about where I’m coming from.
I also believe that, we as thinkers of different stripes have much to offer one another. I was, for example, happy to discover the blog of Victoria Marinelli – whose opinions, although different from mine, we should ponder further. I am much less in tune with feminist rhetoric like Witchy Woo’s, on the other hand, because it doesn’t ultimately address what I see happening around me on a daily basis (yes, yes, I’m wading into some Great Feminist Blog-War territory here – apologies all around for those bored with the subject).
Thoughts are, as always, appreciated. Flinging poop and other refuse is not (that’s for the monkeys at the Kiev zoo).