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 The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery.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

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

Esther Freud’s Lucky Break

I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy.
So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].

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

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.

Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park

This is one of those books that I really wanted to enjoy. It is the story of a woman’s reawakening after an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant man. Unfortunately, the entire book is the minimisation of male violence both in the marriage of the main character, Jeanie, and that of her daughter. Like Paula McLean, who wrote The Paris Wife,  Hilary Boyd seems to have little understanding of the level of coercion and control that is common. Boyd also gives both husbands an ‘excuse’ for their abusive behaviour: one is the victim of child sexual violence and the other suffers from extreme jealousy. Obviously, neither man is responsible for their own behaviour to the point that Jeanie labels herself a bitch for wanting out of her unhappy marriage.

I would really like to read a “romance” novel, since Jeanie had to find a new man rather than be happy by herself, that actually understood the dynamics of domestic violence. Just one. 

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. 

Helen Castor’s She-Wolves:The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

I couldn’t put this book down. Helen Castor has a real gift for prose; a rare gift among historians. The hours I’ve wasted reading badly written historical texts in my life are extensive so this was a joy to read. I also knew next to nothing about the 5 queens that Castor profiled: Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine,  Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and Mary Tudor. She-Wolves: The Queens who Ruled England Before Elizabeth is a fascinating and quick read. There are some problems with the text; notably the complete lack of footnotes and sources. I understand this was written as a piece of “popular fiction” but the inclusion of the bibliography at the back was not enough. I want to read more about these four women but it’s hard to tell which would be the best texts for me to read next. 

Castor’s respect and admiration for these five women, however flawed they were is evident, but this is still a military history of battles and men. Yes, this testifies to the paucity of primary source material on the lives of these women but the book is still focused mainly on military history, dynastic squabbles and male temper tantrums. There is very little about the women themselves and much of what Castor writes focuses on their military and political battles. In many ways, this is a very traditional “history” text, albeit one written about women.  Castor simply doesn’t make enough of the social and cultural milieu in which the women lived. She focuses on the military history to the exclusion of the households and courts of the women themselves. They are all defined in relation to the men they married or birthed.

Castor also leaves numerous questions unexamined. She claims from the start that these 5 women were prevented from becoming true queens because of their inability to lead armies. Her first evidence of this is Matilda’s inability to lead an army to fight Stephen who ousted her from her thrown. Yet, less than 20 pages later, Castor claims that Stephen’s wife lead an army against Matilda’s troops. Why could King Stephen’s wife, a queen consort, lead an army whilst the ousted Queen Matilda could not? These women also lived across 4 centuries and Castor makes very little of the changing political and social structures which dramatically changed the women’s ability to claim the thrown. After all, Matilda was English -born [but the granddaughter of William the Conquerer] whilst Isabella, Eleanor and Margaret were all foreign-born. Mary become queen by dint of being properly English [and a Tudor]. That makes a significant difference.

I did enjoy this book as Castor’s gift for writing compensates for any problems within the text. It isn’t the best text for learning more about these 5 Queens of England though. What She-Wolves does demonstrate, more than anything I’ve read in a long time, is cultural femicide: the complete erasure of women from culture. The fact that there is simply not enough evidence of the lives of these 5 women to write a history without basing it on their relationships with men is cultural femicide.

As ever, I would love recommendations for histories of these women!