Category Archives: Feminism

somatophobia IV: consumer-oriented ideology

Does everyone feel so replaceable?

Screen shot 2014-06-07 at 10.41.22 AM

First introduced in 2010 after nearly a decade of development, the Roxxxy line now includes RoxxxyGold, RoxxxySilver, and RoxxxyPillow, as well as Rocky. Only RoxxxyGold comes equipped with a ‘personality,’ although RoxxxySilver will talk during sex. RoxxxyPillow, the least expensive model, is only the torso, head, and three ‘inputs’ – vagina, anus, and mouth. Unlike the other models, which are full-sized, RoxxxyPillow can be tucked away discreetly when not in use.

from Leah Reich

Screen shot 2014-06-07 at 11.23.07 AM

Forty bucks and a car with a front seat can get you sucked off. But you want someone … nice. Pretty. “Classy.” Innocent enough. You’re a tech guy. You want a Stanford girl.

The good news: Cute, bored, slightly-short-on-cash Stanford girls are a dime a dozen. Plus $200 to $300 up front. But it’s not an easy thing, the blowjob. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

from Melissa Gira Grant

Male sexual entitlement: It’s deadly!

Women dropped like flies last night in California. Behind the trigger was a 22 year old male who hated the female sex. To him, women were not fully human beings. To him, they were “beasts”, animals that did not clamor to worship him. They were not acting like the girls he saw in pornography, not like the girls he saw on the billboards, not how the world told him women should be. In a world where male sexual entitlement is sold alongside consumer goods, alongside war and white supremacy, alongside popular culture, it should not surprise us that a man who felt deprived of his God-given right to pussy felt like he needed to punish somebody. If he doesn’t get it, it’s not his fault. It’s hers. From his own words:

Screen-Shot-2014-05-24-at-7.53.49-PM-620x304

This mentality is deadly. It would be impossible to quantify the number of female bodies piled up on the alter of male sexual entitlement. An atrocity like the one last night in California is the truest definition of terrorism. This is the kind of violence that keeps the female sex in check. Schizophrenic demands: warned since birth about rape, getting knocked up, she must also face the demand that she is sexually desirable and available at all times. She must be attractive, nice to look at – not old, not fat. Fertile and warm. Her flesh is exposed, it is sold for money. Her virginity goes to the highest bidder. She thinks she is a full human being, but is treated as an object. She is told to monetize her hotness and also told to keep her knees closed. It is l’origine du monde that sets her apart. The harassment, the unwanted touching is her fault, the original sin of her birth. Constantly under attack, if she is on the wrong side of a bullet walking down the street on a warm California night, this is just another load she is told to bear. And no matter how well she bears it, it’s never enough to avoid violence.

Briefly glancing at the “customer reviews” posted at The Invisible Men Project shows us the type of male sexual entitlement that feminists are expected to underwrite nowadays. Somehow taking our exploitation into our own hands – if we happen to be high class pretty young things anyway –  is supposedly empowering. There have been women from here to the beginning of the human species who thought to negotiate their position in society by harnessing their own sexual exploitation, but even Anne Boleyn has a story to tell you about that. At the end of the day, this mentality puts the onus once again back on women as being responsible for their own safety. It doesn’t matter if the women murdered at UC-Santa Barbara were extra careful at parties, never drank too much or too little, never showed too much skin but just enough, never asked for it but never made men feel uncomfortable by virtue of their rejection. It doesn’t matter at all, because at the end of the day they were murdered anyway. Male sexual entitlement caught up with them, and it didn’t matter who they were as people, just who they were to this monster: women.

somatophobic feminism I

Dying was the best piece of publicity Shulamith Firestone ever generated. A name I did not hear much in 2012 seems to be making a comeback in 2013. I could not grasp what made her so rehabilitatable at first. “Radical feminism” is almost a slur nowadays, while hissing at and even physically attacking “radfems” is quite  nearly applauded on the left. So when Laurie Penny tweeted about how fond she was of Firestone’s “The Dialectic of Sex” I had to finally raise my hand and ask why. The most memorable chapter I could recall was Chapter 5, “Rasicm: The Sexism of the Family of Man” which was one of the more shockingly racist things I’d ever read from a second wave feminist. Penny said her favorite was the chapter that comes after, on love, and that she could effectively divorce the underlying premises from the previous chapter. How? Even within that chapter we find abhorrent essentialism, totally unhelpful analysis based more on Firestone’s own life than on conditions women face.

The underlying theme to Firestone’s work – and part of why I think it’s been rehabilitated – is a very vicious somatophobia (fear of the body) that complements contemporary racist and classist feminism very well. On request, I emailed Penny to ask her what could be gleaned from such a feminism – she has not responded. This destruction of the female body – either from thinking sex work is “just like any other job” or from the surgical/chemical feminism that holds hands with liberal trans feminism – is rooted in a dangerous essentialism. The woman is unable to escape her body, therefore she must destroy it. Reminders of her body, e.g. birth, menstruation, voluptuousness etc, are considered traumatic.

Masculinity is being able to transcend the body by immersing oneself in the “world of the mind”, by utilizing technology, by challenging the mystification of the body, of reducing people to individuals and individuals to their individual parts. Federici writes on surgery theaters of the late middle ages, of women being cut open and their mysteries being laid bare as a kind of terrorism and disciplining of the female sex. The mystical experience of pregnancy and birth reduced to organs, the rearing of children (reproduction of labor force) reduced to individual events and biological needs, schedules and regimins. In Firestone’s technofetishistic fantasy of babies grown in vats and raised by the state we have made quite a leap. The oppression of woman under capital is found in her body that betrays her by swelling large with children, by losing its perkiness with age, by gaining wrinkles around the eyes. The betrayal trans people describe in the process of puberty is the same betrayal women face as they go through puberty, as they age. The solution to this oppression posited here (with Firestone) is to embrace the flesh and conquer it and shape it to our will using technology and surgery. By embracing  masculinity-through-technology we too can escape our oppressive bodies. The hate is turned inward, festers like an ulcer. We blame ourselves, our lack of spirit, our lack of ability to change our own situations. It is atomizing and alienating.

In this, liberal and pink feminists willfully ignore the forces that assign such values to the body that make us hate them. Infuriatingly, they say there is nothing to be done about this. They say that men will always want to buy sex, they say that women are programmed in their brains to be the way they are, that gender is an essential biological condition as opposed to a system of active oppression under capitalism.

Birth is a powerful thing. Reproducing society is essential to our continued existence. There is no shame in breast feeding, no shame in menstruation, no shame in pregnancy or varicose veins. These are positions of great power for women, it is male technofetishism and capitalism that have turned these things into cause for shame and weakness. That Shulamith Firestone hates the body, hates weakness in the self is understandable, considering the pain that women go through on a daily basis in being women. However, she is misdirecting her hate and fear, putting the blame on women themselves. Her essentializing logic is dangerous, and the fact that her ideas have once again found traction in a “new generation” of “feminists” is troubling indeed. I hope that women are critical when they read these works, that they critically ask their friends to what end they are fascinated by fantasies of birthless, bloodless womanhood. We must make a decision of what we wish to transcend: capital or the flesh?

Further reading:

Materialism and Patriarchy: an Interview with comrade Jasmine Curcio

I’m linking to an excellent interview with scholar Jasmine Curcio on feminism and the left, printed yesterday in the North Star (ht: Sarah). Amazing points contained within!

Indeed it was a regression within liberal feminism, as entrenched and lucid feminist analysis of women’s exploitation in the sex trade — made by women prior to the first-wave, and by feminists in the second-wave — was abandoned. A large impetus of second-wave feminism was the male sexual revolution, spurring its critique of patriarchal sexuality in its various manifestations, especially as the models of sex promoted to both right-wing women in marriage via Freudian ideology to serve their husbands’ desire and fetishes, and the sexual model of “free love” promoted by left-wing men. Never mind that the concept of free love was first articulated by women of the first-wave, such as Emma Goldman, who sought to escape the institution of marriage at the same time as ending the culture requiring women to perform sexual favours and engage in a subordinate sexuality to men, in order to gain recognition, affirmation, and most often, money and shelter. Nowadays, liberal feminism bends itself over backwards to defend the patriarchal choices of individuals who self-identify as feminists, and trying to fight this culture with actual, materialist, feminism is a difficult and often frustrating task.

C.D.V.: Why do you think Marxism itself has become a mostly male discourse since the 1970s?

J.C.: The reaction to the second-wave of feminism by many men on the left was not a small matter. It is not really mentioned today, since hindsight focuses more on the successes of a feminist movement than its failures, its theory, or even just the general historical circumstances. But it was well-documented, by feminists such as Christine Delphy in France in her article “Our Friends and Ourselves.” Aside from the interruption of the early feminist meetings and the misogynist remarks made by various men —which were commonplace in the late ’60s and ’70s with the rise of a new wave of feminism and women’s consciousness of their oppression as women — reaction did occur, subtly, in the realm of theory, which is not to say it was done exclusively by men, but overall it happened that it was for the benefit of men in not addressing their privilege or their consciousness. Attempts at independent feminist theorizing, particularly around patriarchy, were dishonestly construed as apolitical. The hostility towards women’s attempts at autonomous organizing materialized in the form of constructed orthodoxies of Marxism on questions of sexual politics. And while the autonomous consciousness-raising groups faded away at the tail end of the 1980s, Marxist organizations remained and so did their theory from this period. I am not speaking of socialist feminism, which did acknowledge the importance of women’s organization and engaged with and embraced the theoretical understanding of the system of patriarchy that they and radical feminists largely uncovered.

And so many years on, feminist discussions around the left continue to be subtly dominated by men and their perspective, with the aid of theoretical frameworks that marked disdain towards feminism in decades past. Men have become gatekeepers of feminist discussion, and many debates take place with ignorance, disdain, and sometimes subtle tactics of bullying. Phenomena that lie outside of the bourgeois-proletarian contradiction are not really taken on board as material facts, but either made to fit with constructed orthodoxy or they are discarded. So not much of a productive and open discussion is had. Though I’m sure many men do participate in good faith, theoretical blinders from the past are not a good way to contemplate feminist questions. Neither is uncritical acceptance of what appears to pass as a real feminist movement.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about unionizing arms manufacturers? On the idea of sex worker unions

No one proposes ending war by unionizing arms manufacturers. Proposing to end violence against women in the sex trade by unionizing them is likewise untenable. The best way to end violence against women in the sex trade is still to end the sex trade. The unionization strategy is a reformist position – and the position that we would like to live in a world where there is no such thing as prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, while it might seem fantastical, is a revolutionary position and the correct line to have for a leftist who calls herself a feminist. It’s not moralistic hand-wringing to criticize the base assumptions of the military industrial complex; why then, is it just my “personal baggage” speaking when I criticize the sex trade?

First, we should look at the conditions in which women in the sex trade live, and ask ourselves if these conditions could be alleviated by unionization:

Seventy percent of women in prostitution in San Francisco, California were raped (Silbert & Pines, 1982). A study in Portland, Oregon found that prostituted women were raped on average once a week (Hunter, 1994). Eighty-five percent of women in Minneapolis, Minnesota had been raped in prostitution (Parriott, 1994). Ninety-four percent of those in street prostitution experienced sexual assault and 75% were raped by one or more johns (Miller, 1995). In the Netherlands (where prostitution is legal) 60% of prostituted women suffered physical assaults, 70% experienced verbal threats of assault, 40% experienced sexual violence and 40% were forced into prostitution and/or sexual abuse by acquaintances (Vanwesenbeeck, et al. 1995, 1994)… The prevalence of PTSD among prostituted women from 5 countries was 67% (Farley et. al. 1998), which is the same range as that of combat veterans (Weathers et. al. 1993). 

From Farley et. al.  (2003) “Prostitution in Nine Countries” 

Is this staggering violence a result of lack of unionization? Let’s see what the International Union of Sex Workers is fighting for:

All workers including sex workers have the right to:

  • full protection of all existing laws, regardless of the context and without discrimination. These include all laws relating to harassment, violence, threats, intimidation, health and safety and theft.

  • access the full range of employment, contract and property laws.

  • participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma

  • full and voluntary access to non-discriminatory health checks and medical advice

Here is where we begin to be mired in questions, a case by case judgment of “good” vs. “bad” prostitution. What defines coercion? What defines trafficking? What defines abuse? What defines empowerment? Certainly, the assumption of the IUSW is that the sex industry is a normal, neutral industry wherein women happen to be subject to incredible amounts of violence and poverty, where nearly half (47%) are under the age of 18 when they begin working. The idea of the IUSW and other unionists is that the trade is not the focus – the focus, as we so often find it when discussing sex work, is on the women themselves.

Unions often define themselves by their relationship with management – with the “boss” –  but for sex worker unions this is hardly ever the case. As the women are primarily seen as independent contractors for the sake of analysis, the john and pimps are left out of the picture. The culture surrounding the sex trade is not up for analysis, either. It is a neutral, unchanging constant.

The boss is the john, and to take action against the john or the culture that encourages him is to shut down business. Instead, the union is supposed to either challenge the state (to legalize prostitution) or to perform the functions of the state (provide protection, legal counseling, health services). Yet, these are reformist measures that simply serve to react to the conditions women live in, rather than challenging the very conditions themselves. Lest we forget: women are not raped and abused because of a lack of state regulation (or too much state regulation), they are raped and abused because the john, pimp and cop decide to do so, and exist within a system that shelters them from consequence.

Within the realm of the normalized sex trade, rape and abuse are no longer crimes against the person, but rather occupational hazards. In the blog, “Tits and Sass”, two articles underscore this quite well. The first, about rape, is written from the perspective that “unwanted sex” is still consensual when the woman sees material gain from the process. This agrees with studies of john behavior and attitudes, wherein a full quarter believe that the very concept of raping a prostitute is “ridiculous.

 It’s rare that I give authentic “enthusiastic consent” while I’m working. And that’s how I prefer it.

“Enthusiastic consent” was conceived in an effort to eradicate the so-called gray areas of sexual assault, so it’s hard to talk about without also talking about rape. While I appreciate the centering of desire and consent, it wouldn’t hold that every sexual encounter taking place without the enthusiastic consent of both parties is rape… But I still turn over plenty of work-related questions in my head: what does it mean for a man to keep paying to have sex with a woman who doesn’t give signs of enjoying it?

Another article, entitled “On Stripper Burnout” advises women who are tired of the verbal abuse that goes with stripping to buy new clothes, look at photos of money to boost morale, eat sweets, or work for a cruel booking agent as “fear can be a great motivator.” There is no advice here on leaving the sex trade – emotional, verbal and physical abuse in the normalized world of pro-sex work advocates becomes a grey zone, where the woman’s personal attitude is what determines the difference between occupational hazards and something that might contribute to PTSD – putting the onus of responsibility on the woman rather than on the john.

The practical side of unionization brings us back to the current, atomized-view of sex work in general. It is a localized solution which does nothing to address a global problem. Questions arise: Who do you bargain with? How do we unionize all women? If a woman was in the sex trade and did not belong to a union, would this be her choice? Are johns supposed to solicit union prostitutes out of a sense of guilt, a la consumer activism (fair trade hooking?). Do we really expect johns to spontaneously grow a conscience when they are told women are for sale and it’s okay to buy them? When it comes to women in pornography, the average career tenure is quoted in several sources at being between five months and three and a half years – how then, to unionize these women?  Same with prostitutes, who on average enter the trade when they are underage – how to unionize these women? What about pimps and madams, pornographers and mobsters – are they allowed in these unions?

Any leftist worth their red will agree that punishing women is the most counter-productive way to handle prostitution or sex work. Yet unions stop short at criticizing johns who, on the whole, generally acknowledge that women in prostitution experience homelessness, substance abuse and physical and emotional degradation. Johns know, on average, that women enter into it when they are underage and against their will. They buy sex anyway. Unionizing women will not end trafficking, will not end violent deaths – it simply turns what is a societal problem into an organizational problem. Like most unions as they exist under capitalism, a sex-worker’s union’s primary purpose is to keep the more politically-minded in line with the management. We should look elsewhere for solutions that liberate women.

postfeminism

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 8.50.33 PM

What is postfeminism? Allegedly it is the space where we can move past feminism, where feminism no longer holds appeal to women and where it can even be harmful to women. As Melissa Gira Grant writes: 

The patriarchy’s figured out a way to outsource hatred of prostitution. They’re just going to have women do it for them.

Grant, who  is a former sex worker (to be specific: not a pimp/madam) claims that patriarchy, an amorphous “they” not rooted in material reality, has outsourced the oppression of women to women themselves. This is an argument made by many who claim that women are the ones who cut other women in other parts of the world, who participate in forcing early marriage or abuse other women in the family. Then Grant gets more specific:

I wouldn’t advocate for a feminism that’s buttoned-up and divorced of the messiness of our real lives. Your feelings are your feelings, but you’re not going to litigate your feelings about my body. The feminist ethics that I signed up for were respect for my bodily autonomy, that my experience is my experience, and that I’m an expert in my own life.

What is postfeminism? It is a desire for control over one’s destiny. It is the hope that someday, no one will call you any names or discriminate against you based on your sex. Yet, when this individual oppression ends – the oppression against prostitutes, against trans women, against my right to choose, against me, will this have achieved female liberation?

The postfeminism of today is deeply rooted in neoliberal atomization. A single female’s experiences are just as valid as any other female’s experience. A wealthy white woman who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute – her choice is equally valid as the poor woman of color who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute. Postfeminism promises the liberation of individual women, but not females. These individuals are fighting against “patriarchy”, a concept that is not individualized or even rooted in material manifestations. Rather, it is as amorphous as its own concept: a male slapping a woman, a man cat-calling a woman, or a man who makes a sexist remark at work is patriarchy rearing its ugly head from the aether. Yet a culture of objectification, where women are plastered up like slabs of meat for sale in phone booths, where women dance for money, where women continue to make $.70 on the dollar; this is not considered a war against women. After all – a woman may now make the individual “choice” to engage in these acts, in these careers, may make the individual “choice” not to bear children to get ahead in business. Acts of violence against my body are crimes against women – but larger systems of oppression suddenly become more complex, more bogged down in uncertainty as we must learn to understand that these systems are made up of individuals who have the capacity to make “choices”. 

It astounds me that leftists who might otherwise deride the idea of free choice under a capitalist system make all sorts of room for women like Grant to write privileged accounts of the system of oppression called the “sex trade”. Broader women’s movements such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network  might feel as though an abolitionist stance on prostitution is right and good, but, as Grant would say, they are “privileged” in that their voices are louder than hers – the voice that enjoys prostitution believes that sex work is feminist work. Indeed, the other voices aren’t heard as loudly as the abolitionists “because they’re working”. This amorphous group of women who are pleased as punch to be working as sexual objects for sale are quiet, a silent majority cowed into silence by angry groups of feminist women who claim that 90% of women want out of prostitution.

If the voice of a “queer woman who dates women in her non-sex-work life and has sex with men for work” is not heard as much as the loud majority of feminists who want an end to prostitution, this is because women who “choose” sex work, who come at it from a political perspective of “empowerment” are in the extreme minority. But the individual reigns supreme over the masses in postfeminism just as it does in neoliberalism. When a woman demands her “right to choose”, she is demanding her right. She is situating feminism in a sphere where she does not feel fettered by her sex, where she personally has the ability to pursue whatever she wants. If she is a stripper and a man touches her inappropriately, this is a battle in the war against male domination – but the very institution that shapes his thinking is not in and of itself oppressive. Male domination is boiled down to the individual, becomes a question of one human exerting his will over another’s in an unfair way. It is no longer about systems of oppression, cultures of abuse, or industries of suffering. We are boiled down once again to our individual experiences.

A single person cannot change the world because change is the prerogative of the people. There is no such thing as a mass movement of individuals – they might all be walking in the same direction, but they are checking their smartphones and turning off onto a side street the moment they are required to check their egos at the door.

Melissa Gira Grant’s views are not just dangerous because they blame women themselves for their own oppression –  either as angry sex-negative feminists or individuals who just make “bad choices”. They are dangerous because they shift the blame away from male violence and domination and continue to trump the experiences of a privileged few over the many. Why won’t these leftist blogs and magazines run a counter article to this kind of perspective? Anything else would be hypocritical. Perhaps it is simply not what leftist men want to hear: that their individual enjoyment is not the purpose of female liberation.

Reviewing “The Wives” by A. Popoff: The Russian Woman and Other Stories

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 5.50.31 PM

I picked up The Wives for free and read it in two days. As a feminist, I’ve always adored women’s histories, and as a fan of Russian literature, I looked forward to reading about the conditions in which some great works were made. Unfortunately, while Alexandra Popoff’s new book “The Wives” started off strong, by the end of the book I felt as though the biographies were too tainted by a nostalgia for patriarchial Russia to take seriously as a work of history. Popoff reviews the lives of Mrs. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn. While the women start off strong, by the end of the book, figues like Vera Nabokov and Natalya Solzhenitsyn disappear almost completely behind their husbands and a very distracting political bias.

For example, Popoff suggests that Bulgakov, Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn all longed to escape to “the free world” – i.e. America, where at the time lunch counters were still segregated by race and women were not admitted to most universities. She describes the conditions in the Soviet Union as dire indeed, while life in Tsarist Russia seem to be sheltered in a relaxing aristocratic dream haze.

Perhaps most disappointing about this book is the message driven home by Mrs. Solzhenitsyn near the end. Solzhenitsyn was himself a famous defender of the patriarchial Orthodox church, and his wife echoes this nostalgia by saying that “Russian women are more dedicated to their families than in the West” (285).  This dedication extends to living in extreme poverty, emotional abuse, tolerating affairs and even Mandelstam forcing his wife to wear a pacifier in her mouth so as to not “interrupt him” (122). These wives are not focused on for surviving these difficult times; indeed, their accomplishments are only celebrated through those of their husbands. Their dedication to their husbands is what makes them inspirational, and not much else. A woman who types drafts and suggests words is seen as contributor more than one who was keeping the fires burning during difficult times. The greater the writer’s wife, the more slavish her love for him.

It was worth reading for insight into the lives of famous Russian writers, but unfortunately, not so much for insight on their wives. Rather, the woman become one more lens through which we can adore the great men in their lives. This seems to be revisionist, nostalgic nonsense, completely in contradiction with the Russian woman as portrayed by Soviet and even Russian history, a woman who is independent, strong and worth writing about on her own right. The wives portrayed by Ms. Popoff surely have their own stories to tell… unfortunately, they are only revealed in relation to their husbands.