Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality was first published in 1995 and grew out of her work and activism following the publication of Female Sexual Slavery in 1979. The first half of the book, which is just theory, is brilliant. The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery. I would argue that the situation is actually worse now than it was even 10 years ago, particularly in relation to rape as an accepted tactic of war. I’d be interested to read an epilogue to the book which examines the reality of women’s experiences of sexual exploitation now and whether Barry thinks it is worse for women or if its just that I’ve become more aware of sexual exploitation.

I cannot recommend this book enough though. Barry’s theory on the global exploitation of women is incredibly important. She destroys the idea that prostitution can be consented to within a capitalist-patriarchy. She clearly proves that the sexualisation of human bodies renders women passive objects and men active participants. Barry challenges the heteronormative construction of pornography and prostitution and the hegemonic nature of capitalism which is built on the bodies of women.

I am adding this book to my list of Top Ten Feminist Theory Texts (in no particular order):

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. 

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

4. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

5. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

6. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

7. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

8. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

9. Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc

10. Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Telling rape victims how they *must* process their rape is inherently anti-feminist

I was unsure about writing this. Rachel Hewitt’s disclosure of rape in the New Statesman was incredibly brave and I do not want to bring more rape apologists and their handmaidens into her mentions. Yet, I’m still horrified by the reactions of certain feminists to Hewitt’s disclosure. Rather that simply stating the feminist imperative “I believe you”, Sara Ahmed, a professor at Goldsmiths,  wrote that she would “challenge every word” of Hewitt’s article. This is simply because Hewitt pointed the value of female-only space for her as a victim of rape. Ahmed was more concerned with making a political point that supporting a rape victim.* This is the point we have arrived at with transgender politics – instead of listening to victims and ensuring that there are support services for everyone, women are being told they have no right to a service that reflects their needs because others are more important.

Alison Phipp’s tweet concerning Hewitt’s disclosure is utterly disingenuous:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.25.36 I have NEVER seen a single person suggest that transgender people have no right to support services. I have seen numerous women – and not just radical feminists – state that their experiences of male violence are so traumatising that being forced to share with anyone socialised as male is impossible. Whilst transwomen may have felt they were in the wrong body from birth, it doesn’t erase the socialisation of male privilege – including the fact that teachers still consistently favour boys over girls in class discussions. It isn’t anti-feminist to demand that every single person who has experienced male violence have an appropriate space that meets their needs at the most difficult time of their life.

Phipps, in further tweets, suggests that if a female student discloses rape to her using language Phipps deems ‘transphobic’, Phipps would immediately challenge their transphobia. The last thing a rape victim needs is someone telling them that their support needs are wrong or hateful. It is precisely this type of suggestion that makes university policies of ‘safe spaces’ utterly ridiculous. Phipps believes that an event hosted by a gender-critical feminist makes university an ‘unsafe’ space. Frankly, she’s missed the boat.

University campuses and student hang-outs are already unsafe spaces and it has nothing to do with transgender politics. They are unsafe spaces because they are full of violent, predatory men (including staff). Female students are at an increased risk of sexual violence because sexual predators choose to hunt on campuses. Suggesting universities are ‘unsafe spaces’ because you don’t agree with an opinion makes an absolute mockery of the violence and micro aggressions women experience every second on a campus.

We need to talk about women’s specific needs for spaces that they define as ‘safe’ for themselves. This includes recognising that there are already men in prisons who have committed sexual assaults and rape in women-only spaces by claiming to be trans. As long as the definition of transwoman is ‘anyone who identifies as trans’, it will be used as a loophole for rapists to access women’s spaces.

There are also transwomen in prison – in the UK, as well as the US and Canada – who are incarcerated for rape and murder of women and girls. Many of these transwomen transitioned after being incarcerated as the case of Synthia China Blast makes clear. There is already evidence that predatory men use ‘safe spaces’ like Alcoholics Anonymous to  target vulnerable women. There is also anecdotal evidence of male perpetrators of domestic violence claiming to be transwomen to access the very refuge in which their wife is living. In the UK, we have a pre-op transwoman convicted of murder who had to be moved out of a woman’s prison because of their behaviour with other female prisoners. The fact that women in the criminal justice system are likely to have histories of childhood sexual abuse and substance abuse and are uniquely vulnerable is ignored. A convicted killer with a penis in a prison full of vulnerable woman – the majority who are there for non-violent crimes – raised no flags for the potential for sexual abuse.

What we need is more investment into support services for everyone living with male violence: more specialist refuges, more rape crisis centres, better NHS provision. We do not need victims of male violence to be shamed out of accessing support because they do not feel safe around people who have a penis. This isn’t about creating a hierarchy of people who deserve support but rather insisting that investment in services reflect the needs of individuals.

We certainly don’t need tweets like this claiming that rape victims who need female-born only spaces “think like rapists”.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.32.35

Particularly when the tweeter then points out that they haven’t actually bothered to read the article they are objecting too:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 16.33.02 Shaming women for their experiences and insisting that they *must* process their experience the way someone else demands of them is anti-feminist and cruel. No one deserves to be spoken to like Rachel Hewitt was for disclosing their experience of rape. If your reaction is to tweet abusive language and dismiss the experiences of a rape victim, then you need to reflect on your feminism.


*The tweet has since been deleted and I do not have a screencap of it.

Intersectionality, Elitism and Google

Last night saw several rather distressing conversations on the term intersectionality. I’ve been attacked before  for not being “intersectional enough”. The last time this happened, I wrote this rather rage-induced blog.  Whilst I was angry when I wrote it, I stand by the basic sentiment of the blog. My problem with the use of the word intersectionality has always been with a small group of middle class, white cis feminists who use the term to bully, harass and silence other women.

My Twitter TL is full of feminists practising intersectionality, if not always perfectly. Feminists are human too. We don’t always get things right but most of us are trying the best we can to make the world a better place for other women by listening and learning. So, you can imagine my surprise when it turns out that few members of this group of ‘feminists’ have never bothered to read Kimberle Crenshaw.

Intersectionality isn’t just a word. It’s not the same as hamburger or toast where the etymology is interesting if you’re interested in etymology or hamburgers. Intersectionality is a term which has political power: it cannot be separated from its origins. If you are using the term, you should know where it came from and why Crenshaw felt she had to invent the term.

When I expressed this last night on twitter, I got attacked for being ‘elitist’. If we were talking about Michel Foucault or Judith Butler, I’d agree but Crenshaw’s work is easily available online. The second link which appears when you google intersectionality is a link to Crenshaw’s article on JSTOR; the first is to Wikipedia. This is what comes up when you google intersectionality and Tumblr. There are literally hundreds of brilliant bloggers who write about intersectionality and who engage with Crenshaw’s work in a way which is comprehensible to anyone with basic literacy skills.

Here’s the thing: I don’t expect a lot of people have heard of intersectionality. We live in a patriarchal white supremacy. It’s hardly shocking that the lives of women of colour are erased, never mind theoretical terms defining that erasure. I do expect people who use the term to have more than a passing acquaintance with both the origins of the term and it’s application now. It’s elitist to expect someone living in a sinkhole estate with no access to the internet at home or in a public library to know the term. It’s hardly elitist to expect someone with a good education, access to the internet and who uses the term to have taken 10 minutes to google it.

Using a term which is contextualised within a very specific movement without understanding that context isn’t good feminist practise. I don’t expect feminists to be perfect or know every single feminist writer ever. I do expect feminists who are using terms like intersectionality to at least try to learn why it exists and where it came from.

And, for those of you expressing shock at how intelligent a Black woman could be, the word to define yourself isn’t intersectionalist. It’s racist. Sort yourselves out.

UPDATE: I had an interesting conversation on twitter about the use of the term intersectionality and what Crenshaw’s intentions were when she created the term, which clarified my thoughts. I see the term intersectionality used to mean identity politics and that’s not how I interpreted Crenshaw’s work. When I first read Crenshaw, I understood her to be discussing the specific oppressions faced by women of colour  as a class – not in a hierarchical sense but about the damage caused by a label placed upon a body without their consent because of racism. It is not an identity chosen in the way that sex worker can be used to convey a specific political identity; rather it is an acknowledgement of the reality of the lives of women of colour which cannot ever be removed from public knowledge.

I am a disabled single parent but I can make jokes about practising the art of lying down and people understanding it as a reference to my disability. There will be those who see me as a benefit scrounger [or whatever hateful term they’ve come up with today] but a woman of colour in a similar situation can’t just make a joke and have it reference their disability. The phrase will always refer to deeply racist stereotypes about black bodies and their economic production. This is why I believe people need to read Crenshaw [and some of the excellent analyses of her work available for free online] – you can’t debate how useful a term is if we’re all interpreting it in very different ways. At the very least, we need to be able to understand how we each came to the conclusion we did, even if we fundamentally disagree with one another on the application of the term to ourselves.

UPDATE 2: I love this article from Sara Salem which is a Marxist Feminist critique of intersectionality.

Nottingham Women’s Conference – the facts

The following was sent to me via email by a woman who attended the Nottingham Women’s Conference but who is neither an organiser nor one of the presenters. She is distressed by the obfuscations and outright fabrications about what happened yesterday and she wanted her voice to be heard but was worried about the inevitable attack, as experienced by the conference organisers and a number of other women in the past 36 hours. 

I have also added images of the statement tweeted out by the organisers during the event in response to criticism. They are below.

Nottingham Women’s Conference – the facts.

It became clear that there were there women who are sex workers and active on twitter who chose to come to Nottingham Women’s Conference to protest the inclusion of abolitionist groups such as NORMAS. They had been unhappy about the inclusion of abolitionist groups and exited woman and have expressing their displeasure on twitter. In July, NWC offered them places and they declined.
They were open about their intentions to gate crash the conference on social media so it was hardly a surprise when they arrived.  The conference had sold out some weeks ago, and there was a waiting list of women hoping to attend. I know this as I tried to pull strings to get an extra ticket for a friend and was firmly told no!

The organisers took their legal obligations seriously and refused to let anyone in who had not bought a ticket.
The three sex workers were not allowed in for this reason. Not because they are sex workers. If that was the case, then why would local services for women have been given free tickets? Why would there have been sex workers in the audience? That doesn’t make sense.

I am aware that SWOU contacted the organisers and requested a platform. However, this was only a couple of weeks ago and the speakers & workshop leaders had already been booked. There was literally no room for anyone else.

I am also aware that the organisers contacted Whorephobia after a blog post about the exclusion of sex workers some months ago. An invitation was extended and refused.

Personally, I am not actually sure what else could have been done.

The twitter hashtag was over run by those who felt able (despite not being present) to comment, criticise & attack the decisions of the organisers. It actually started to read like a tabloid headline.

“Sex workers locked in car park!” – well the car park was at the entrance to the venue so maybe we were all locked in?

“Sex workers locked out of venue!” – the door was open all day.

“Sex workers refused entry by feminists who hate sex workers!” – No. They were refused entry because they didn’t have a ticket.

There seems to be an assumption made that, because the three women turned up to the event, they should have been let in. Why? Why should they take precedence over other women? What makes their rights greater?

Just because they are Sex workers does not automatically gain them entry and a platform to speak at a sold out event. Especially, given that other sex workers were already in attendance. Does your activism & presence on twitter give you more of a say than other women?
The fact is, they didn’t buy a ticket. They didn’t ask to be involved until it was too late. 

They are not the only sex workers in the country.
They are not the only ones who can speak on behalf on sex workers.
They do not have more right than any other women.

Yes, there were exited women present who spoke eloquently & articulately about their experiences.

Yes there were organisations there who do not agree with sex work. And? The sex workers who were present were perfectly able to speak for themselves (and did).
And actually, isn’t it just a little bit arrogant and presumptuous to assume that YOU are the expert on sex workers?
To assume that every woman in the conference is a middle class, white non sex worker?
To assume that the sex workers who were present were those who want to exit?

Let’s remember that the conference was a women’s conference. Not a sex worker conference. And as a women’s conference it was brilliant.

UPDATE: Currently, I’m being attacked across twitter for the last two sentence of this piece. Honestly, if you think that it implies that sex workers aren’t women too, you’re just desperate to find something to complain. It quite clearly states that the conference wasn’t just about the issue of sex work and exited women. It was a day-long conference on a multitude of topics relevant to women.

And, how on earth can you tell whether or not the above statement was written by an exited woman, a prostituted woman or a sex worker? It is an anonymous statement. Hence, there are no identifying details of the woman who wrote the statement. 

Statement by the organisers:

UPDATE: I have deleted the comments on this blog and I will continue deleting them as it is clearly stirring from those who were not at the event.

Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women

Everyone’s got an opinion on Andrea Dworkin and it’s frequently one based in myth. I love Dworkin’s writing. I don’t always agree with her (and she’s sometime historically inaccurate) but she was an utterly brilliant polemicist. Her gift was amazing. She was a truly brilliant woman.

I’ve collated some quotes from the text here and here but the full text is available on the online Andrea Dworkin library.

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography is an inter-disciplinary collection of 13 essays which are situated within the anti-pornography movement. Its focus is on the pornification of mainstream culture but also on the mainstream of pornography; that is to say the heterosexual male audience and the materials created specifically that audience. This is the praxis of the “everyday” of pornography and this is what makes Boyle’s book so powerful: it destroys the myth that porn is an isolated part of our culture that we can refrain from being exposed to. Karen Boyle’s personal contribution to the book “Porn Consumers’ public faces: Mainstream media, address and representation” demonstrates the ubiquity of porn within popular culture through films like American Pie, Showtime’s Porn: A Family Business and the extremely tedious program Friends. Sarah Neely examines how pornography and other parts of the commercial sex industry are reflected and constructed within the virtual online reality game Second Life. Meagan Tyler’s research focuses on how the porn industry defines itself. Tyler’s findings demonstrate that degradation, abuse, and violence are not only common in pornography but that the industry actively promotes it. Lisa Jean Moore and Juliana Weissbein’s is a fascinating study of the fetishisation of semen. 

The academic language of the text can make it easier to disassociate from the violence within. In many ways, Everyday Pornography is the perfect companion to Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray’s Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Big Porn Inc. written by a collection of activists and radical feminists. I had a more immediate visceral reactions to the violence committed during the making of pornography in the text Big Porn Inc. Everyday Pornography was easier to process despite the fact that it is equally distressing. 

Everyday Pornography is a necessary read. It is hard but we can not destroy the capitalist-patriarchy unless we understand just how just how it functions: Jennifer Johnson’s analysis of porn’s use social networking is essential to this understanding.

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industy

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, is a collection of articles from radical feminists, activists, and academics who all believe that pornography is not about “pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice”; rather that  pornography represents the systemic subjugation of women as a sex class.  Therefore pornography is not about sex, it is a form of violence against women. I am an anti-porn, anti-sex industry feminist so it’s fairly clear that I agree with the basic premise of this book.

I wasn’t prepared for what I read. I had already read Gail Dines’ Pornland and Robert Jensen’s Getting Off. I even attended the Challenging Porn Conference in London in 2011. I already knew the links between pornography and the pharmaceutical/ medical business. I knew how the pornography industry uses “free sites” to suck people into payed-for porn. I knew the violence perpetrated on women’s bodies. I knew how porn was predicated on racist constructions of the human body. I thought I understood just how mainstream violent and child pornography actually is. I had seen images I never wanted to see in the first place. I still wasn’t prepared for this book.

I wasn’t prepared for the soul-destroying mundanity of it all; of realising just well pornography is integrated into the capitalist economy; how horrifically common-place extreme violence is. I wasn’t prepared for just how normal porn involving children and teenagers is. I wasn’t prepared to read what men do to the bodies of women and children. I wasn’t prepared to realise just how many men hate women.

I have  storified some of the quotes I tweeted out over the weekend whilst I was reading hereAllecto from Liberation Collective has written an excellent review here. It includes a graphic description of child rape so please take care before opening this link.

Big Porn Inc is an incredibly powerful book and I’m going to recommend it to every single person who tries to convince that porn is just a laugh and women like being brutally assaulted.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven

I love Barbara Kingsolver’s books. I know I’m late to the party on this having only discovered her books two years ago but she is an amazing writer. The Poisonwood Bible is one of the best books I have ever read. Pigs in Heaven covers the same terrain as The Poisonwood Bible: motherhood, sisterhood, female friendships, family and surviving.

Pigs in Heaven is the story of Taylor and her adopted daughter Turtle who is Cherokee. The central plot is who Turtle really belongs too: the woman who illegally adopted her but who nurtured her through the trauma of her extensive physical and sexual abuse or the Cherokee nation into whom she was born. Kingsolver asks complicated questions about family and sisterhood and, whilst the ending is too pat, it is, fundamentally, a testament to how we should be raising our children: not as possessions but as members of extended communities built on love and tradition.

These are my two favourite quotes: 

Alice realises something important about her daughter at this moment: that she’s genuinely a mother. She has changed in this way that motherhood changes you, so that you forget you every had time for small things like despising the color pink. 


Sympathizing over the behavior of men is the baking soda of women’s friendships, it seems, the thing that makes them bubble and rise.  

For obvious reasons. 

The Daddy Rat : Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, The Real Science Behind Sex Differences

It’s a standing joke in the Mumsnet Feminism/ Women’s Rights section that we should all be receiving royalties for Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. I must recommend it at least once a week on threads about gendering children or men being too stupid to see dirt so they, consequently, stink at housework. This, of course, is the same men who are so “visual” that they need to look at porn in order to get off. How, precisely, one can be simultaneously visual and non-visual is beyond me but that’s the argument always put forward by those who believe in innate gender differences.

I’m a neuroskeptic. I don’t believe in innate gender differences. I certainly don’t think we can “scientifically observe” gender differences when our culture is so seeped in woman-hating that anything constructed as “female” is immediately wrong. I have no tolerance for people who claim that boys are physical and girls are emotional. Or, that boys are better at math and spatial awareness than girls because their brains are hardwired that way. All the neuroscience I see insisting on innate gender [and never sex which is what they actually mean] differences has been about supporting the status quo of women’s subordination. 

Cordelia Fine deconstructs all the major “research” on innate gender differences and demonstrates what unrelenting twaddle it is. She is equally snarky, funny and downright angry at the misuse and falsification of “scientific evidence” to support fallacious constructions of gender [which fail to acknowledge the historical and cultural situations in which they were created]. I can not recommend this book enough for anyone who thinks that its totally normal for boys to be violent and girls to be nurturing. This is by far one of my most favourite feminist texts, despite not being advertised as such.

This is my favourite quote from the book: The Daddy Rat

Male rats don’t experience the hormonal changes that trigger maternal behaviour in female rats. They never normally participate in infant care. Yet put a baby rat in a cage with a male adult and after a few days he will be caring for the baby almost as if he were its mother.  He’ll pick it up, nestle it close to him as a nursing female would, keep the baby rat clear and comforted and even build a comfy nest for it. The parenting circuits are there in the male brain, even in a species in which paternal care doesn’t normally exist. If a male rat, without even the aid of a William Sears baby-care manual, can be inspired to parent then I would suggest that the prospects for human fathers are pretty good. (88)

It makes me snigger every time I read it.

Some interesting Discussions on Mumsnet: 

Jewly Hight’s Right By Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs

The problem with this book is that it is just one book. It should be nine separate books: the eight singer-songwriters that Hight adores so much:
And, Jewly Hight herself; because Hight might claim to be writing the stories of these eight women singers-songwriters and their examination of “their geographical, cultural, familial, and religious roots in their music” but Hight’s actually written herself into the text. I want to know more about the 8 female artists and Hight.  A longer book would have allowed the inclusion of more of the lyrics by these talented women but also more of Hight herself. Right by Her Roots is a love affair with these talented women singer-songwriters and it’s love-affair that just isn’t long enough.

It’s all fascinating but at 200 pages, there simply isn’t enough space to really examine these issues and fully explore the back catalogues of the music of these women. I want to know more about all 8 women but equally I want to know about Hight. I want to know about how Hight traces her roots and I want more of Hight’s personal responses to these women.

I definitely recommend this book but with fingers crossed that Hight writes more in-depth books about these women (and herself).