“Real Women” vs… What? Soulless Cyborgs? No, really.

I’ve been writing about beautiful boys, and linden trees, and women who live inside green, grassy hills. Fairy tales, in short. However, the spectacle of what passes for radical feminism these days continues to distract me from my work.

“Avert thine eyes, Natalia.”

I can’t.

Consider this post from Mary at Beyond Feminism. I’ve read Mary’s about page, and she immediately struck me as a very likable human being. I can relate to being bonkers. I too like pink kitties.

Therefore, I have to ask: Why Mary, why? Why do you say the following about women in the sex-trade?:

I’m gonna say it once again. I don’t care if one, two, a thousand or ALL women in the sex and porn industries are “happy” to do their “freely chosen” job. Because what these women do AFFECTS MEN’S ATTITUDES TOWARDS ALL WOMEN. That’s ALL OF US. That includes ME. Get it? It affects ME. Personally.
This is HALF of the argument against the sex and porn industries. The other half tells us that they are damaging to the women who work in them. But even if THE WOMEN THEMSELVES weren’t damaged, WE, that’s the rest of us real women on this planet, ARE. [emphasis mine]

Now, the “real women” thing is probably just poor word choice, right? I mean, I want to think that Mary isn’t actually implying that women who enter the sex-trade by choice are not real women.

However, there is this classic argument here about how sex-workers who claim to be doing their jobs out of personal choice “make the rest of us look bad,” or “affect us all,” or something. It’s a slippery slope, because once we start down that merry path, we quickly discover that pretty much any woman can “make the rest of us look bad.” Egregious offenses can include anything from wearing make-up to, oh, I don’t know, asking some man for a light in a way that could be interpreted as flirtatious coping to a patriarch (if you think I am joking right now, consider the fact that I once had someone bring this very scenario into a conversation… A self-identified feminist told me, “I saw this woman ask a man for a light in the street, and her movements were very sexual. It just made me gag.”).

I know I come back to the same damn comparison every time I write one of these posts, but here it is again… This is Taliban-style thinking. Ever see the film “Osama”? One of the most poignant scenes is when a man gets berated for giving a fully-veiled woman a ride on his bike. The dialogue goes something like this,

“Why do you bring your wife out in public? MEN MIGHT GET AROUSED.”

Oh no, really? They might? Holy crap.

My feminism is about both genders, men and women, being adults. This means, no one is responsible for another person’s issues, and no one projects their crap onto unwilling victims. As it stands, sex-work today is a far cry from that ideal. However, it is also true that most of the people who offer real answers (as opposed to self-righteous hand-wringing and/or a Final Solution to male neonates) to the problems of trafficking, rape, abuse, and so on, support a practical and nuanced approach.

These issues aside, I’d like to ask Mary why she doesn’t “care” about the possibility of some women being happy with such a profession. Her argument essentially boils down to, “I’ll only listen to sex-workers who’ll say stuff that I want to hear.”

Why?

The experiences of women are as varied and diverse as women themselves. When I go around recording terrible stories of prostituted women, I don’t get up in their face and ask them questions such as like, “you DO know that there are some women out there who both choose this and profess to enjoy it, right? What do you think about that? Huh? Huh?”

So why should the opposite conversation inevitably have to take place? And why do we continuously allow the sick bastards to set the standard wherein these discussions are concerned? Why do we lower the bar?

Finally, why should sex-workers be held responsible for sexism? Seems to me, we already have a rich history of making them responsible for, well, everything. In almost every society, they are among the most marginalized individuals. If they try to take a bit of control or assert their agency, we slam them for colluding. If they are simply beaten down and abused, we engage in useless mental-masturbation, shedding crocodile tears, and getting off on their plight.

A friend of my cousin’s was raised by her grandparents. Her mother, who was just a teenager when she had her, had been swallowed up in an abyss of drug-use and prostitution. Abandoned by everyone, the mother eventually got clean with the help of a fellow prostitute who spotted her bruised-up and passed-out in a club and brought her home. Of course, by that time, the mother had AIDS. But the daughter got to spend the last few months with her mother, and her mother was not high. They talked.

This “fellow prostitute” character (I don’t know her name), lives a few blocks away from the young girl’s apartment. Although this goes against her grandparents’ wishes and must be done in secret, the young girl visits her. This woman took her mother in, helped her in the best way that she could. They have some connection now.

Is there a moral to this? Not really. Just a story my cousin reminded me of when I was on the phone with her recently. Nothing out of the ordinary for a poor country, or even a rich country, when you think about it.

But I thought about this story when I was reading Mary’s post.

In closing, speaking about being “damaged” by an industry you’ve never participated in is a long-shot. Obviously, the suffering of people in the sex-industry reverberates throughout our societies. But don’t co-opt it. Please? It’s like saying, “I am raped by your sexist language!” I mean, yes, sexist language is a terrible phenomenon, but it does not constitute an act of rape, and saying something like that only trivializes the actual violence.

And now I’m back to cloaks of elvenkind, as the song goes.

26 thoughts on ““Real Women” vs… What? Soulless Cyborgs? No, really.

  1. Here’s a thought…

    Because Mary is more important. Her feelings are more important than a happy whores. The way she is treated is more important than how a happy whore is treated. Her wants and desires and choices are more important than a happy whores. Her fee-fees and experiences are more important than a happy whores. Her right to make a living and choices in how to make that living are more important than a happy whores. She’s a real woman, after all.

    She’s more important.

    Nevermind how her words, choices and whatever else affect happy whores. She’s more important. Happy whores make her look bad. Case closed.

  2. “My feminism is about both genders, men and women, being adults. This means, no one is responsible for another person’s issues, and no one projects their crap onto unwilling victims.”

    Well said.

  3. If I may be allowed to explain myself…

    First, this post is a reply to someone else’s post. That’s why I focused so strongly on the impact that the sex industry has on all women. Because the author of the post was dismissing it.
    And I believe that everybody’s choices affect everybody else. It’s not that these women are “making me look bad”. The very existence of these industries promotes violence against women. All women. And this would be enough in the hypothetical case that these industries didn’t harm the women who work in them, which they do. I try to adopt Andrea Dworkin’s position on this. To listen to the women who have suffered from working in the sex industry while at the same time attacking the industry for the harm it causes all women everywhere. And placing the blame for all of this where it belongs: in the hands of men.

    I recognize my reference to “real women” was poor word choice, and I apologize. I probably meant that these women, who constitute the only voice we hear from the sex industry and represent a tiny minority, are usually in a very priviliged position, and so not likely to suffer the consequences of the violence against women that the industry promotes.

    At any rate, I welcome constructive criticism like yours. And thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. The thing is, Mary, even “these women” is, well, kind of othering. How does it strike you when you’re in the room and someone talks about you like that? “These people.” It doesn’t exactly invite dialogue. It makes anyone who doesn’t agree with your position effectively someone you talk -about- rather than -to-, and, well, frankly, if you are positioning yourself as an ally of any kind, this is problematic, to say the least. You end up having a conversation only with the people who agree with you, even or especially if these are also people who are not in the sex industry themselves.

    As for the “real women,” you might want to look a little deeper, too. You do know that it’s not as simple as “men buy, women sell,” right? Not to mention the way transwomen often–not always–get despicably dehumanized by a lot of the same people who take positions that sound, well, a lot like yours, wrt prostitution and so on. Coincidence? Maybe. But you know, I’ve seen at least a few people making remarks to the effect of, gee, “they” are trying to appropriate all our experiences, they must be doing it because they’re (depraved, pererted, don’t have feelings like “real” women do, certainly have more privilege and choices than non-trans women…)

    and then there are the men and boys who are prostitutes/sex workers. Most for other men, but yeah, sometimes women do buy, or rather rent.

    I bring this up not in order to try to suggest that these forms of prostitution happen in numbers comparable to women sell, men buy, (this is clearly not the case), but in order to point out that your post there is, like many others that I’ve read along similar lines, extremely heteronormative in its tacit assumptions, and yeah, this is often a problem when you’re dealing with, how you say, “real people.”

    And seriously, do you not see the problem with Holly’s comment there? Like, at all?

  5. You are, of course, also making a rather broad and sweeping straw-version of the “yay!porn” or whatever sneery dismissal the people who don’t take your exact position are being called this week. There is such a thing as nuance, you know? A lot of people who don’t -like- porn or prostitution still have problems with the way you frame this. Google “harm reduction” sometime. Look up “Ubuntu!”, for instance, or the Young Womens’ Empowerment Project.

    Seriously, let me ask you this. I assume you’re “pro-choice” when it comes to reproduction? (If I’m wrong, ignore what follows). Okay. Putting aside the irony of “choice” being an acceptable feminist concept when it comes to reproductive rights but not when it comes to sexuality (for pay or otherwise) (or even personal adornment and modification, depending on who you ask, but that’s another argument, maybe)

    …putting that aside, do you, you know, -like- abortion? I mean, are you like, “yay!abortion!” Are you gleefully advocating that women just go out and have abortions for shits and giggles? Do you claim that “choice” means the -correct- choice is always to get an abortion? Is the “abortion industry” a heartless sinister machine to which you’ve pledged your allegiance in exchange for a mess of pottage and your immortal soul?

    Ridiculous, right? Well, funny thing, because this is pretty much how a lot of let’s say non-nuanced pro-lifers see the pro-choice folks.

    And, I gotta say it, I’m sure this will go over like a lead balloon, but my hand to Maud: the non-nuanced anti-pornstitution position? Can sound an awful lot like this. The demonization, the “you’re with us or agin’ us,” the positioning of the women in question as either poor brainwashed victims in need of saving or else carpetbagging sellouts who are in cahoots with the Enemy…

    yeah, I’m probably talking to the wind again, but hey, my fingers needed the exercise, I guess.

  6. Holly’s comment also rubbed me the wrong way, but I don’t even want to touch that with a ten-foot pole, to be honest.

    There are some views I can’t begin to engage. I can’t even formulate a coherent response at the moment.

  7. I have spent some time, though not enough yet, considering both “sides” of the debate: that of the so-called sex-positive feminists, and that of the presumably not-so-sex-positive feminists. Unfortunately no clue yet, though I imagine leaning towards a position that considers the valid/sensible points on either side. I think the word “choice” remains the key problem: what are its philosophical underpinnings, structural determinants, social contexts, and etc? Recognizing that the prostitute who “likes doing it” remains a paradox for critics, I wonder if this situation is at all comparable to that of a slave who says s/he is happy to be so (apparently this was historically the case with many). I say this, of course, while admitting that I risk trying to kill off the agency of “these women”–precisely what you warn against above, Natalia.

    The other hypothetical exercise that I think may be worthwhile: if the world had been different from the starting point, and if we were living in the utopia of gender justice and non-patriarchy that many of us strive for, what would prostitution and pornography be like in such a world?

  8. you know, I actually really regret posting about my unfortunate experience at work. I mean since doing so, I’ve had the distinct “pleasure” of sitting around and reading people who give no thought to my actual autonomy, choice, feelings and experiences using it for various purposes (not including Laura here, Laura has been nothing but civil and reasonable and even kind to me since the get go). I’ve had the pleasure of someone telling me I deserved it. I’ve had the pleasure of being called a rape enablist. I’ve had the pleasure of people suggesting I am paid off by the industry itself to speak about my own experiences. All in all, posting about it and the resulting bullshit has been worse in many ways then the actual experience itself.

    How fucked up is that?

    Mary, I’ll say right out what you said and various comments in the thead not only pissed me off, you know, they hurt. Being called deluded and having your choices and experiences wrapped up in scare quotes, all the assumptions and dismissal? It not only gets old, well, guess what? It’s dehumanizing, patronizing, and dare I say…abusive?

    Really, if some people can’t even bother to see me as an adult human with some degee of autonomy with a right to speak about my experiences and not have every single one of them questioned or have people suggest I’m being paid off to speak as I do…

    Why should I have any interest or concern in what images “reflect” in any way on those people? Why, exactly, should I care at all about how you feel? It’s not like the consideration goes both ways.

    Smirk. Pornographers at least pay to verbally abuse me and smack me around. And with them, it’s an act. I get to take it from some feminists for free! And not by choice! Gee, and it’s such an amazing wonder as to why I’m abrassive and cynical and well down the road to I don’t give a fuck.

    Shocking, really.

  9. This discussion is already going on at Ren’s, of course, but here is something for all of us to munch on:

    How does porn cause rape?

    Because if you’re seriously going to argue that it does, then you might as well claim that a short skirt or, hell, a bit of mascara around the eyes, also causes rape.

    As Cara has pointed out, why the hell don’t we stick to the truth:

    RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE.

    Claiming that all of porn is complicit in this phenomenon is giving rapists a way out.

  10. “Claiming that all of porn is complicit in this phenomenon is giving rapists a way out.”

    “I stared at the pictures and just HAD to hurt somebody! See, even the feminists agree! Take the pictures away and I’ll be a good boy… safe and nice… really I will, pinky swearz!”

    *sigh*

    Ugh.

  11. rawi writes:

    “Recognizing that the prostitute who “likes doing it” remains a paradox for critics, I wonder if this situation is at all comparable to that of a slave who says s/he is happy to be so (apparently this was historically the case with many).”

    Care to provide some examples of the latter?

    There are plenty of examples of contemporary sex workers saying stuff like this under conditions where they can’t be said to be saying it under threat of retaliation or punishment for saying otherwise. The same could not be said for slaves, historically.

  12. Apologies for cross-posting, but I posted this (largely addressed to Mary) at Ren’s, so posting it here, also:

    I agree that what some women do affects how all men see women–but why is she focusing on porn? I know you get tired of me saying this, Ren, but flipping my channels idly this morning, I find one slasher film, CSI: WHEREVER and 2 different incarnations of LAW AND ORDER: 4TH OR 5TH RAPIST EDITION–and if this is on TV, millions of people (including children) are seeing this around the world. Porn has no such circulation compared to these rapist-propaganda stories, which present men as all-powerful and women as perpetual victims, sitting ducks for sicko-pervert serial killers–and I mean every damn day, too. I would not want my granddaughter watching that stuff. There is no question, which would mentally frighten her more, which would limit her life. Why this fixation on something that thousands of men watch regularly in private, when this stuff goes out over the airwaves to millions of people, including children and teenagers, and has far more of an influence? How many young boys are watching this stuff, getting sicko rapist ideas?

    Dear Anti porn folks: I find these shows far more alarming than porn, for PRECISELY THE REASONS YOU NAME! (Yes, Ren, I feel commercials for these shows DO stand there with poms-poms yelling “Rape! Rape!” because that is what every single show is about: victimizing seemingly-powerless women.)

    Do the actresses in the shows do these unwillingly? Of course not, they get Emmy awards and shit. This stuff is considered respectable, which is why you apparently are unable to see it for exactly what it is: lascivious rape fantasies acted out in a “legal” framework.

    And what do we make of the fact that so many women enjoy watching them? I know at least a half-dozen women who are totally addicted to these shows. Are they idiots? Collaborators? Do YOU watch these shows, since they confirm your views of men as monsters?

    See, life and art are complex. It can’t be reduced to: “The bad girls are over HERE, watching/starring in porn, and the good girls are over THERE watching/starring in LAW AND ORDER.” There is no question which is worse and which influences the culture MOST… the fact that you are fixated on the more harmless one, fascinates me. And until you realize this, I can’t take any of the anti-porn feminists seriously, since they seem to be living on another planet, not the planet that has consequences for real actions.

  13. “I say this, of course, while admitting that I risk trying to kill off the agency of “these women”–precisely what you warn against above, Natalia.”

    she’s not the only one warning against it, or who absolutely hates it.

  14. I’ve always been a fan of Law & Order: SVU, but the constant “helpless female” refrain started to get to me. It really did seem like violence-pornography after a while – only not the straightforward kind. It started to seem… manipulative, to say the least.

    I think it’s important to tell stories of violence, but we must admit that there is a prurient element to it all.

    Straight-up pornography, meanwhile, does not pretend to be anything else but straight-up pornography. It’s damn honest.

  15. RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE.

    Claiming that all of porn is complicit in this phenomenon is giving rapists a way out.

    I have considered the whole “porn causes rape” argument to be rape apologia for a long, long time. I don’t frequently say this in public spaces, because the prospect of the inevitable fight that ensues when such things get said exhausts me utterly.

    I was not assaulted by a videotape.

  16. I find all of this to be quite interesting, and if you step back and look at the overall picture, I think you’ll agree with me in saying that if rape was an offense punishable by death in every state, then it would probably not happen on the scale it does. Who is to blame for rapists or for a society that gives “justice” a different flavor for crimes based on however the court feels like perceiving offenses? Take, for example, the case of my wife. She was raped while babysitting after taking a sleeping pill(she has extreme insomnia, so it has to be quite strong). The hillbilly Missourian judge ruled that since she entered the home of the rapist’s parents of her own free will, she was not raped. Rape is rape! She decided, after much turmoil, to keep the child. It was after all, not the child’s fault she was raped. She then met me much later and in due course, we were married and are quite happy with each other. But now here is the real kicker-the ass that raped has to be in the child’s life by order of the court!!! What a stupid society we live in! So my poor wife gets to relive her pain every time he comes to pick her daughter up. What caused the rape? When asked about it, the rapist said he had asked my wife for sex before and was adamantly turned down, so he waited for a chance, broke into the room she was sleeping in, and raped her in her sleep. He apparently was too stupid to use protection, so he impregnated her. He even admitted what he had done and still got away with it!!!!

  17. Joseph, that is a deeply fucked-up situation and I’m sorry for your wife’s pain and for yours. The court system leaves a lot to be desired for rape victims, and that’s as nicely as I can put it.

    I’m honestly not sure where I stand on porn/sex work, but I have to throw my two cents and say I dislike it when someone says “sex workers make the rest of us look bad”, or argue that sex workers are part of the problem, therefore we shouldn’t worry about their rights. Unjust, and to me that’s not how feminism works.

  18. Hi Joseph, what you describe is simply horrible. I’d like to comment more in depth, and I will once I have moment of spare time.

    I don’t think the death penalty helps society overall, but that’s largely a separate matter, I feel.

  19. I was looking for the statistics of pornographic addiction usage, but dammit… couldn’t remember where I read it (it was a reputable site though, just so you know)…

    However, the statistics lead to read that, pornography addiction, indicates that those who become addicted move into the generic genre’s and then over time progress to more aggressive and debasing and/or morally demeaning toward women, including BDSM and bondage, to the point of “rape” fantasy porn and so on.

    However, I could not find the link to show that dammit, and it would have been more fair to allow the reader of this comment to come to their own conclusions..

    I’ll keep looking and if i find it i’ll post it here!

    cheers!

  20. Oh, and Joseph – are there no grounds on which visitation rights can be revoked? At all? The mind boggles. A rapist fathers a child through rape, then insists on parental rights?

    Can you guys tape him saying some of those things he has said? I’m sure you could at least get a restraining order through that.

  21. James….allow me, as someone who watches and consumes his share of non-violent and consensual porn, to treat that “slippery slope” argument about “pornography addiction” leading to violence for what is truly is: pure BULLSHIT.

    First off, it seems that one person’s “addiction” is another person’s normal habits; and those who push the concept of “pornography addiction” the hardest seem to be the very ones who would consider even a minor interest in sex above and beyond the stated “norm” of marriage and procreation to be highly “addictive”, thusly, problematic and wrong.

    Secondly, since most people happen to watch even straight “vanilla” porn without even the slightest difficulty (except, of course, from people like religious fundamentalists and right-wing feminists who are more inclined to oppose any sexual image that doesn’t fit their narrow beliefs of what sex should be), then how does it follow that they would automatically be driven to the “harder” and “more degrading” types?? If that was the case, it would be exactly those types of porn that would be most common and profitable….reality tends to prove the opposite.

    And, as Natalia or any consensual BDSM’er or bondage model will tell you, there is not a damn thing wrong with being into BDSM or bondage personally, as long as there is mutual consent and mutual safety and mutual pleasure involved. Forcing someone into such activity against their free will (as with ANY activity as well), should be the main issue here, not the activity itself.

    The only reaction that I have found for myself to seeing sexual activity that totally skeeved me is to simply turn the other way, hit the “Exit” key, and search for material more of my taste.

    Oh….and I have known and heard of many women and men who have admitted to having “rape” fantasies…and it in no way diminished their fundamental belief that sexual assault is WRONG.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t such a thing as “porn addiction”, just that the concept is being way overblown as a hammer against anyone who happens to enjoy sex or happens to enjoy watching other people who enjoy consensual sex. I’d be very careful before I simply assume anything on that subject.

    Anthony

  22. Oh, and for Joesph’s story about his wife and the holy hell she has gone through: I’m usually against the death penalty, but this is one case where an exception is more than justified. Not only for the rape, but for using his status as the “father” of the child to demand “visitation rights” and psychologically rape her over and over again.

    In most legal jurisdictions, he would have lost any say whatsoever in the life of that child…but I guess that in some places the concept of “legal” has been lost somewhere in the woods.

    Anthony

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