Feminists letting the side down

[CONTENT NOTE: mention of rape and violence against women and girls]

Some feminists are in denial.

They need to understand that even in this modern age where so many feminist gains have been made, many girls and women are still living in a kind of hell. The system of sexual bondage and oppression they are subject to is global.

While some affluent women in Western societies claim they enter this bondage by choice, and some countries even have laws protecting their rights, many, many girls and women have been coerced or sold into sexual servitude.

To this day, even in Europe and North America, some underage girls and young women are taken either against their will, or with promises that are lies, across internal and national borders. They are then shocked to find they are required to have unwanted sex; to be raped, by men that they did not choose, are not attracted to, and cannot escape.

Even the so-called “choice” practitioners of this system often do not know what they are getting themselves into. The situation is so bad that many women die every year, often when trying to exit; killed by the men who abuse and rape them. The police cannot always help them, and if they are stigmatised by other factors, such as being poor, or drug users, they are so much less likely to be deemed worthy of help.

Often they have children to their abusers, and are then further trapped as they need to try to protect and support their children, compromising their ability to escape. Although, conversely, it is often the welfare of their children that gives them the final bit of courage to do so. There is some help for these women provided by the state, but it is never enough; services are always under pressure and indeed are being cut.

Some of these women, of course, always feel that they made the right choice, but even they may wake up one day and think “this isn’t for me” for any number of reasons. But due to the patriarchal, capitalist set-up of our society, even these privileged, empowered “choice feminists” still come up against various barriers to leaving. And life afterwards is often very hard, financially and emotionally. Sometimes they go back or try a different configuration of the same set-up. Sometimes they just stay and numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

What I find difficult to believe is that there are actually feminists, real self-proclaimed feminists out there who willingly enter this servitude, proclaiming that because they feel they have their full rights under law, it is safe for them to do so. They even seem happy and proud. And they want more people to have the right to do what they do, despite the inherent risks!

Surely, so many of them will awaken one day realising that they made the wrong choice; that they have let all women down by supporting an institution that historically is not and cannot be beneficial to women, no matter how you try to dress it up with “rights”. In the meantime they are letting all women down by propagating a myth. They are the pathetic mouthpieces (witting or unwitting) of the individual men, and the patriarchal capitalist system, that this form of bondage supports.

Don’t get married.

Abolish marriage.

For more on the topic of sex work and feminism, see http://www.sexworkeropenuniversity.com/ and http://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/ plus the recent Storify laying out what happened when some sex worker led organisations tried to add their voices to a discussion on sex work at a feminist conference: http://storify.com/fornicatrix/left-out-in-the-cold-sex-workers-at-notts-women-s. And if you want an intro to how one feminist decided to throw her weight 100% behind sex workers rights, see our very own post on that topic here – it contains many more links to good resources to help you understand and think through the issues for yourself.

Only rights can stop the wrongs: sex workers organise in Scotland

We’re in the middle of Glasgow’s Sex Worker Open University event (5-10 April 2013). Unfortunately I was only able to attend yesterday’s panel sessions, much as I would have liked to attend other things. So, with yesterday fresh in my mind I’m going to write up a few thoughts right now. Follow the link above to find out more about upcoming events, or follow them on Twitter at hashtag #SWOU13 or the event’s Twitter feed @SexWorkerOU.

International Union of Sex Workers logo

If you are a feminist who is swithering about what the issues are and where you stand, maybe this post will help you. If you want women to be safe, sane, respected and valued, please fight with me for decriminalising sex work in Scotland.

Supporting Sex Workers in Scotland: Kill the Bill

We were fortunate to hear about some solid and grounded research into the effects of criminalisation, and conversely, of de-criminalisation of sex work at the event yesterday. It was pretty clear that the Private Member’s Bill ‘ The Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex’, soon to be brought before the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, is ill-conceived at best, and callously indifferent to its likely consequences at worst.

Let me just note here: the evidence against any benefits to this type of legislation, as presented at the event yesterday, is extensive and convincing, and the evidence for the benefits of de-criminalisation likewise. I cannot do it justice here so please use links and references to do your own research.

Rhoda Don't Erode Our Rights banner from SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow.

SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow, 6 April 2013

When I first heard about this Bill, it was framed for me as ‘end demand’. I was pretty naive at that point about the current rhetoric and framing of sex work at the nexus of radical feminism and the religious right. I had fluffy thoughts about the concept of ‘end demand’ like “yes, it would be nice to live in a world where sex work wasn’t necessary”. I didn’t think it through. I genuinely believed that this ‘end demand’ thing was about bringing about an ideal society where noone wanted to buy access to sexual services, because everyone would be perfectly happy and fulfilled with the intimacy and sex in their lives. This is not what ‘end demand’ means.

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Towards a Sex Neutral Feminism

Over at the (very excellent) Radical Transfeminist blog, Lisa Millbank has been thinking through some of the theory behind “sex-negative feminism”.  This current has been out of fashion in contemporary feminist thinking since its heyday in the 70s and 80s with the rise of political lesbianism and the use of “sex-strikes” as a protest tactic.”Sex- positive feminism” emerged from women involved in the sex industry who felt marginalised and silenced by some of the discourses emerging from the rad-fem movement and grew to encompass a range of other women, including those involved in BDSM practices and non-traditional relationship structures.  It seeks to reclaim female sexuality , asserting it vocally and demanding that it is respected.

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Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

This was written by Glasgow feminist Amy Westwell, and was originally posted here.

Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

Scottish national identity will crystallise and develop in the run up to the referendum. The left are well aware of this, and will likely revive some old Scottish left ghosts, playing on some political anti-establishment nationalism, and on the existing political identity which holds to the mantra that Scotland is more left wing than England.

Indeed, there are already talks of a broad left party, from various sectors, and several movements might spring up in the next two years, which may be creative and original. Yet I’m wary of the left, and especially of left movements in Scotland, because of what I believe to be its structural misogyny.

I am wary of the potential for a left movement to carry on a trend which not only ignores feminism, but actively represses women in the movement. I don’t want to stand by and watch the next generation of strong, committed women pour all their energy and strength into a left movement which systematically ignores them, which is run by misogynists, and which, in conjuring up spirits of the past relies on the historical basis of a patriarchal movement.

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Joan, The Burd, Morag, and The Village Aunties: Women and the Cybernat Revolution

Cross-posted on A Burdz Eye View after Kate Higgins serendipitously invited me to write a response to Joan McAlpine’s article, on the 15th anniversary of my arrival in Scotland from New Zealand (yeah, today)!

So the Burd disagreed with a bunch of other cybernats (including me) about Joan McAlpine’s article, you know, the notorious article drawing an analogy between escaping an abusive marriage and Scotland escaping the Union.

Early on, the Burd realised that some people she respected were surprised at her strong reaction, and she said that she might be “over sensitive”. I thought: as soon as a woman starts censoring herself with the kind of words used by misogynists to dismiss us, there may be something worth hearing underneath. Weirdly, even though I totally disagreed with the Burd, it was the first time I’d felt a real pang of sisterly solidarity with her. I so wanted the discussion to continue, with the participation of the other women who were chiming in.

Anyway, being a tenacious Burd, she kept in with the discussion and explored her own reaction. I ended up agreeing with one point she came to: that Joan’s piece doesn’t make the leap successfully between a domestic violence analogy, and why an independent Scotland would be good for women.

I’m drawing this picture as a way to show what happens when a bunch of women, and some non-sexist men too, engage in respectful discussion around a heated matter. Doesn’t happen very often on the social Web; nor do you often see women as the main players in a discussion outwith the feminist blog-o-phere. And even there, sometimes sisters tear each other to shreds. It all mirrors meatspace painfully well.

Addressing this lack of women’s voices in the Scottish pro-independence social media sphere was the reason why I set up the Village Aunties. The Burd and Joan seemed like lone voices in the wilderness. And, although I think that Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland are excellent pro-independence sites with mostly excellent sexual politics (and growing numbers of female contributors), I wanted there to be a space specifically carved out for a feminist voice in our brave new world. Oh the hopes I had.

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Riding the waves

Feminism is in flux these days.

As the waves lap at the shore, generational differences are crashing into one another and creating a lot of white water. I’m not old enough to remember the start of the second wave, but I am almost certain that there would have been conflict between first wavers who concentrated on the political and legal situation of women, and the next generation who explored the social and sexual. Not, of course, that these are necessarily in conflict: the legal framework of any group defines its social position, and indeed it was only at the start of the second wave that the Equal Pay act was introduced, and well into it before women got the right of independent taxation.

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Of those who are forced to choose: Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

 

Only the very safe can talk about wrong and right

Of those who are forced to choose, some will choose to fight

– lyrics from Natives, song famously sung by Christy Moore, by Paul Doran.

The revolutionary heroes of the left who become icons on t-shirts and posters tend to have two characteristics. They are usually men, and they are usually dead. I’m thinking Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Bobby Sands, Steve Biko. Actually, I can only think of one who continued his mystique while still alive: Nelson Mandela.

Iconic poster Free Angela Davis, by F. Beltran, 1971

Iconic poster Free Angela Davis, by F. Beltran, 1971, from IISG on Flickr.

Off the top of my head it’s very hard to think of any women. Angela Davis, of course; she is still alive and still appears as an iconic poster image. And she’s been getting involved with the Occupy movement in the U.S. too.

Well, there’s someone who should appear in this pantheon, and she is still alive and has never sold out her socialist, republican, feminist credentials. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. I’m quite shocked at how unfamiliar this name seems to be to a lot of people here in Glasgow; growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 80s, I had heard of her. But between then and now, I’d not heard much.

Where did she go? Why has a woman who was elected to the UK Parliament at 21, who smacked the Home Secretary in the head the day after Bloody Sunday, and who was nearly assassinated in front of her children with seven bullets, dropped from view?

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Ada Lovelace Day: Donna Haraway

Today is Ada Lovelace day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in Science, Engineering and Maths. As a former mathematician and a bit of a geek, I remember feeling both surprised and pleased when at eleven years old I discovered that the ADA computer language was named after the first computer scientist and that unusually she got the recognition that she deserved, in a time when so many women’s achievements were accredited to their male partners. For today I’d like to select Donna Haraway as a woman who has been inspiring to other women including myself to pursue aims and ambitions within the STEM area.

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Why I Became a Feminist

I grew up around the outskirts of Glasgow and up until my early to mid twenties I was unaware of feminism. Discovering feminist ideas sent guilt surging through my brain. It was like getting a new lens with which to look not only at my present way of being but all of my past too. I was horrified with the way I had thought, believed and acted previously. As far as I was educated by TV, film, music, books, family and friends, being male meant desiring sex from women. Seeing women as objects of desire rather than human beings but then I didn’t really see humanity in males either.. I was too effeminate and as such I would be called gay or bender and would be beaten up regularly. This was ALWAYS from males, the violence was a way of them reminding me that I do not fit into the masculinity box. I think the fact that I was obviously heterosexual was what made my feminine traits all the more unbearable for these males. I was breaking out of the masculinity box. That box that tells you to be a “hard man”, a “big man” and “take nae shit fae nae wan”. A man should love football and sports, enjoy porn, like drinking and “going on the pull”. Let’s not forget the main important thing, be able to fight.

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