This post is a follow-up to my previous (March 2008) post On Choices.
A couple of important points I had made in that post:
1/ Prostitution is a global industry of sexual exploitation in which sex is traded for money, clothing, food, drugs, shelter, or favors. Prostitution includes strip bars, lap-dancing clubs, massage parlors, brothels, saunas, adult and child pornography, street walking, live sex shows, phone sex, prostitution rings, Internet pornography, escort services, peep shows, ritual abuse, and mail order bride services.
2/ The 'sex' industry has done a great job in focusing the debate on "women's choices", while the focus of any discussion on the subject should be on the consumers who CHOOSE to use pornography, and, in the case of prostitution, on the johns who CHOOSE to buy women for sex.
Agency: Who really has it?
One of the most common misrepresentation and accusation that gets thrown at radical feminist who take a stand against pornography and prostitution is that we're somehow "denying women's choices" or that we're "ignoring women's agency" in all this.
I know that in my previous post I stated that I acknowledged the lack of choices that most women who enter the 'sex' industry have. I still do. I meant that, in a patriarchy, women in general have more or less limited choices and that our agency is often shaped by patriarchal logic, by male supremacy. I meant that most of the women and girls who end up in prostitution are the female human beings with the most limited choices.
Still, I'll tell you what I think of this "rad fems deny women's choices" accusation:
Rad fems do not "deny women's choices."
Yes, we, women as a class, do have agency, but it is somehow more or less restricted within the boundaries of patriarchy. The male-supremacist system is not here to benefit us, which always more or less limits our choices.
Accusatory people haven't properly read our work or haven't paid enough attention to all our words. I, myself, in my post On Choices, wrote:
"I believe it is possible that there are a few women out there who do freely choose to enter the industry, are fully aware of what's involved and/or make a lot of money. Still, I do not believe it is honest people focusing all their attention on those few somewhat privileged women while ignoring the vast majority of prostituted women who never got the chance to choose a better life, who are being controlled and mistreated by pimps, and who are used and abused by johns."
In another post, Prostitution, Trafficking and Law, that came after that, I wrote:
"Never will I stop being on the side of the overwhelming majority of prostituted women who never got the chance to get a better life and are suffering unbearable pain and injury on a daily basis!"
The fact is that Melissa Farley, a feminist researcher on prostitution, and some colleagues of hers conducted a large-scale study interviewing 854 people (who were in prostitution) across nine countries. The results of this research can be found here. 89% of those prostituted or prostituting people (most of them women) stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately. Which makes it obvious that their choices and agency were limited within this cruel industry.
Farley has carried on researching on prostitution ever since, one of her most recent studies being on the 'sex' industry in Nevada. Farley was repeatedly slandered and misrepresented by the pro-prostitution lobby and its followers. She was repeatedly slandered and misrepresented by some women who claimed they advocated "the rights of women".
But what was most unfair and disturbing was that the voices of the 89% of those prostitutes who said they wanted out of prostitution were denied and silenced by the pro-prostitution lobby. People who claimed they "defended sex workers' rights" refused to hear those important voices. The voices of those so many prostitutes, who'd made it clear that prostitution is not a "career choice" but abuse and violence on a daily basis, were silenced by the pro-prostitution lobby in order to try to promote their agenda (i.e. "prostitution as work").
"Melissa Farley is lying", "Biased research" or some other foolishness, the pro-prostitution lobby and its followers said. No, there was no way that lobby was going to believe such a comprehensive research and the voices of the so many prostitutes who had been interviewed in it. . . because, obviously, there was so much 'vested interest' in protecting the 'sex' industry for those pro-prostitution folks, right? (rhetorical question)
Recently, I left a comment on Rebecca Mott's blog, telling her that she was NOT the only 'example of the harms of the sex trade' (as she put it). I’ve met women in the radical feminist movement who are survivors of the sex trade. I’ve been in touch with an anti-prostitution organization that helps women exit the sex trade. And most of the members of that organization are radical feminists and they are very pro-Swedish model abolitionists because they have worked with so many prostituted women and girls who wanted out of the sex trade, not “better working conditions”.
I also said to Rebecca:
I love Rebecca. She's one of my favorite writers. And, by speaking out her truth, she's hoping to help many women who are or have been in the sex trade to be heard and/or speak out on the harms that are inherent in prostitution.
"You are far away from being the only survivor of prostitution. I’ve read and heard so many stories similar to yours. These important stories have so much educated me on the harms of prostitution. Two years and a half ago, I was ignorant, i.e. I had no idea that all of this was happening in prostitution ’cause I had never read nor heard stories like these."
Thing is that when we criticize pornography and prostitution, we sometimes hear (but not always) someone say "But my friend does porn or strips or prostitutes and she likes it". Well, here is how I would respond to this: I would never judge your friend for her choices and I don't know her exact circumstances or what the experience really means to her. I think she is an exception because the circumstances within which most women and girls who enter prostitution and pornography are as follows:
-- past experience of child sexual abuse, rape or physical abuse; because when a woman or a girl has been raped or molested (sometimes repeatedly) in childhood, she is more likely to be re-victimized, and more vulnerable to recruitment for pornography and prostitution. By this, we do not imply that a woman who has been abused in the past is incapable of making choices, but we are just trying to shed light on all the complex feelings that abuse (especially rape) entails: it is very traumatic and it can make you believe that you're just a "sexual object" or a "thing", that it is your only value or purpose in this world. Abuse in general often leads to self-hatred in the victim, and the victim sometimes needs to find a place where they can have a feeling of "being loved" or "empowered" (even if it's fake). All these feelings and more. To summarize study findings, research carried out interviewing prostitutes (some of whom had pornography made of them) and clinical literature on different types of prostitution, it is estimated that between 65% and 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children;
-- poverty, economic hardship, or homelessness; because, yes, serious money problems can lead some women to entering the 'sex' industry;
-- international and domestic trafficking; because some women are transported by pimps from one place to another for the purpose of prostitution. And many of the practices systematically used by pimps to control women in prostitution -- sensory deprivation, dehumanization, threats to family, deliberately induced exhaustion -- are the same as those used by military torturers, as also recently reported in Traffick Jamming;
-- and socialization to the pornified culture; because we, radical feminist, do acknowledge that some women choose to enter the 'sex' industry but also acknowledge that most of the choices of those women are probably uninformed, i.e. some young women have only seen the "glamorization" side of the pornstitution industry and are not fully aware of what it entails.
As I wrote in On Choices:
We do not imply that every woman who makes certain choices is poor, uneducated, and/or horribly abused. We are not saying that every single woman or girl in the 'sex' industry has had exactly the same experience. We just want to point out to the fact that most women in prostitution (i.e. that includes pornography) are the female human beings who have entered the 'sex' industry with choices that are not really free. We are saying that their agency, in general, has been somehow unfortunately constrained, limited or influenced by patriarchal (il)logic and we deeply empathize with them.
"There are many agencies that specialize in recruiting young women to the porn industry with the promise of making big money and becoming a star. Indeed, the money is an attraction for mostly young, working-class women who face limited choices in a harsh economy. Given those economic realities and the glamorization of pornography, it’s not surprising that some young women will see this as a viable career option. Undeniably, the whole culture promotes the "porn star" job as a glamorous job. In TV shows, the image of the "porn star" is shown as "liberating" and "empowering" for women."
And we, radical feminists, sincerely empathize with those women because WE KNOW they are being terribly harmed in the pornstitution industry. Here is another page on things to know, based on research, not mere guesses.
Now, the REAL question is: Who really has agency in this patriarchal society?
I will tell you who really has it in a patriarchy:
It is the john who really has it, the porn user, the strip club patron, etc. It is HIM.
He has the agency of buying a female body, the body of another human being, and do whatever he wants to her, whether she wants it or not.
He has the agency of buying, renting or downloading movies that contain images of her naked body wounded or hurt, her personality dehumanized, her self humiliated and degraded, her mind so harmed (sometimes beyond recovery), her face sometimes shown onscreen as enjoying the torture because the pimps control the script and run the show for the johns. Movies and images of her to which the john/porn user cruelly jerks off to.
He has the agency of going to clubs where her body is exposed, objectified and degraded for his own selfish pleasure.
He has the agency of creating the demand for an industry within which she, for the most part, will not have full agency and will be hurt.
He can insult her. He can beat her. He can rape her. He can tie her up. He can throw money at her and say "That wasn't rape 'cause I paid you".
He can reproduce the image of her being degraded, tortured and/or hurt, this image being used as a 'jerk-off' material, and share it with other men at an exponential rate, technologically speaking (i.e. internet porn, etc.).
He can do anything to her. Because HE has the full agency to do so.
Within patriarchy, his agency is, more often than not, unlimited. Because the patriarchy works toward his advantage. Male supremacy serves him, fulfills his purpose.
He'd rather try to prove his "masculinity" to his male friends by using porn or buying prostitutes. He'd usually rather go toward that direction instead of questioning the whole concept of masculinity altogether. Generally, he doesn't even know that masculinity is not innate, that he could choose humanity instead.
His agency is thoroughly defended in a patriarchy. However, within a society that purports to be egalitarian, the patriarchal defense of his agency to use and abuse women has to be implicitly expressed under the cover of "her agency", i.e. framed in arguments such as "That woman, she wants it, they all do" or "women freely choose to prostitute" and blah, blah, blah. . . ad nauseam. . . ultimately tacitly meaning (in fact): "I, the man, want to degrade her and use her for my own pleasure, thus I have the 'right' to do so" or "I, the man, freely choose to have her as my prostitute, my 'fuck object' or my property". This is what you hear when you get to the core of his thinking.
"Subhumanity": Who really sees prostituted women as 'subhuman'?
I already explained why we, radical feminists, refer to women in the 'sex' industry as 'prostituted women' somewhere in there.
There is an unfounded accusation that has been thrown at radical feminists and that stuns me: "Radfems see women in the sex industry as 'subhumans'". Blah-the-fucking-blah.
I will tell you who really sees prostituted women ("sex workers") as 'subhuman':
The male with the pornographic mind does, NOT radical feminists.
As Rebecca Mott recently posted on her blog:
"When men rape prostitutes, it is not real. How can there be a rape, when he has paid.
Injuries on prostituted women and girls don’t matter, it just rough sex. Men know her fear or lack of reaction is just part of the act.
Hadn’t he seen in porn over and over that women like her like to be raped. Women like her enjoy violence with sex.
Didn’t porn say that whores will do anything for money.
I know in my body as it remembers the tortures men did to me, that they saw me as real-life porn. I know as I remember their contempt, their laughter at my injuries and not believing that I could feel pain.
God, I remember those men posing me on the bed, against the wall, in alleys, on top of graves, in back rooms at the club. At those times, flashes of photos from the hard-core porn went over me.
I know I was infected by porn, as I became a robot performing the sex acts the men wanted."
I certainly do not believe that the men who bought and abused Rebecca were seeing prostituted women as real human beings. I believe that they saw them as 'subhuman'.
It is not uncommon to encounter this type of men. The men with the pornographic mind. Many non-prostituted women frequently meet those men in real life. But prostituted women, unfortunately, are the ones who are the most horribly abused by these men.
These men believe in the sexual philosophy of the Marquis de Sade (whether they know it or not), which is, to quote:
". . . there is no more selfish passion than lust; none that is severer in its demands; smitten stiff with desire, 'tis with yourself you must be solely concerned, and as for the object that serves you, it must always be considered as some sort of victim, destined to that passion's fury. Do not all passions require victims?"-- Sade, in Juliette, p.269.
I totally disagree that "all passions require victims." There are many sexual and sensual passions that can be enjoyed with the inclusion of the respect toward another person's dignity, the inclusion of the caring, the connection, the equality and the mutuality.
Sade was a rapist, a batterer, a child abuser and the world's foremost pornographer. Sade has his apologists and his 'libertarian' defenders who mistakenly portray(ed) him as an "avatar of freedom". Sade helped pave the way for the unfair 'leftist' defense of pornography we've been confronting for years.
Here is de Sade's conception of sexuality served to the male pornographic mind (translated in its full cruelty): "All that matters is your own selfish male pleasure. Do not care about being cruel to women or treating them as objects. There is nothing more important than your orgasm even if it requires necessary victims." Cruel conception indeed.
As Andrea Dworkin wrote in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (p.100):
"[Sade's] convictions are ordinary, expressed often in less grand language. . . they are fully consonant with the practices. . . of ordinary men with ordinary women. . ."
It is to wonder what those ordinary men are influenced by?
Dworkin also wrote:
Seriously, I will tell you who sees prostituted women as 'subhuman':
". . . pornography and prostitution were one and the same thing. We know that the world's foremost pornographer, the Marquis de Sade, tortured, raped, imprisoned, beat, and bought women and girls. We know that influential male thinkers and artists who enthused about rape or prostitution or battery had, in many cases, raped or bought or battered women or girls and were also users and often devotees of pornography."
Not radical feminists, we fully empathize with women in the sex industry. We realize that most of them have had a somehow limited agency in patriarchy and that they are being terribly abused by abusive johns.
The johns, the tricks, the porn users, the strip-club patrons, etc. are the ones who really see prostituted women as 'subhuman'.
They are the ones who think it is their "male right" to treat women in the sex industry as 'subhuman' objects.
They are the ones who have the, barely questioned, agency to see women in the sex industry as 'subhuman' through pornography, in the act of prostitution or at the strip club, etc.
They are the ones who believe there are necessary victims required for their self-centered orgasm.
They are the ones who create the demand for these widespread crimes against women that are called pornography and prostitution.
They are the ones who believe it is their "male right" to use, objectify, degrade, hurt, harm, abuse, rape, beat up, torture and/or (sometimes) kill women.
They are the ones who believe it is 'male nature' to do so, without seriously thinking about how culturally trained their porn use, etc. have been within a culture that unfairly condones such an unfair abuse of female human beings by describing it as "adult entertainment" or "sex work".
These johns, tricks, porn users, strip-club patrons, etc. are the ones who have to stop seeing prostituted women as 'subhuman' and who have to stop creating the demand for a brutal misogynistic and racist pornstitution industry that relies on the discrimination and the ill-treatment of half the world's population to cater to its consumers/johns' cruel appetite for the degradation of women and girls.
Postscript: for another excellent resource on prostitution, please see also my previous post Prostitution, Trafficking and Law.
ETA (08/25/2008): For another excellent resource on prostitution, please see also Heart's new post Voices of Survivors of the Sex Trade: Prostitution Is Sexual Slavery, Gang-Rape, Sexual Abuse.