published at Feminist Current June 12, 2014
So men, what do you want to hear?
Not all men are like that? You’re not like those other men?
Let’s say I tell you men that you are wonderful, kind, heroic and humble. Will these words of praise stop the girl enslavement called “child marriages”?
If women change tactics from demanding the return of girl children stolen in Africa, if instead we engulf men in a cascade of compliments assuring men that we know they are decent and devoted, will men return our generosity by raising the average age a girl enters prostitution out of the early teen years?
So men, if it is not flattery you want from women, what are the words you want to hear? What can women say that will cause you to finally stop what you have always had in your manly hands the power to end?
Women have been forgiving of what men have done to us. We have to if we want to leave our homes. We have to forget what pornography shows us men like to masturbate to if we want to go to work or buy food while looking into the porn-soaked eyes of the men around us. We have to forget what happened the last time we went out, and the time before that, and we need to remember the times nothing happened.
I’ll remember that you are the good ones and that most violence is really the fault of madness or money. I will forgive and forget whatever it is you want of me if you tell me what you want to hear women say. Then good men like you will stop telling us how we’re doing feminism wrong, because we’ll be doing it exactly as you command.
Then men will stop the violence your mentally ill brothers and financially destitute brothers commit against girls and women.
Men will stop the violence.
Not because women have always begged men to stop. Not because women have always acquiesced to silent invisibility in the hope that men would respond with civility. Not because men haven’t kept masculinity’s vaunted promise to protect women and children.
Men will stop the violence because women will finally have spoken the word sequence whose non-utterance has kept the dignity of full personhood out of women’s grasp.
So men, enough with telling women when we speak the wrong words. What would you have women say to get men to end the violence sinking humanity’s ship, the result when something naturally balanced is forcibly tipped for too long?
You can go over Twitter’s 140 characters if you need to, or whatever Facebook’s limit is, but do try to keep it from becoming a 141-page manifesto if you can.
Just say the words and I will work tirelessly getting women to repeat them, then men will stop the violence.
Men will stop the violence.
Women will say what men want to hear and men will stop the violence.
And that will work this time.
Let’s talk turf.
Portland has been my stomping ground for twelve years. In 2012 when I organized the Radfem Reboot conference, women came from Canada, Australia, France, and Scotland to meet women they had known online for years. There have been over a dozen regional radfem meetings around the world since then, most of them organized quietly to avoid the threats of male violence that public feminism seems to inevitably bring these dark days.
But Portland is my turf and I know the lay of the land. I’ve made connections with Portlanders and know it as well as any cat knows her territory. If an open radical feminist event were to happen, I felt most comfortable having it in the City of Roses.
When I approached the venue that hosted Radfem Reboot to rent the same space for Radfems Respond, I responsibly warned them of the maelstrom of harassment about to land in their lap from transgender activists. On March 14 I brought the Multnomah Friends (Quakers) a fat folder with articles and news stories about radfems all over the world being harassed at home and at work and being no-platformed on every issue. I optimistically gave them an article on how the sex industry lobby in Tasmania failed to force Tasmanian Friends to cancel a talk by radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys.
They asked to meet with me and I obliged, ultimately spending an hour speaking with two clerks. They asked for biographies and websites for the event’s five speakers and I provided them. On March 26th the Multnomah Friends confirmed,
“We received your list of websites for the speakers for the “RadFems Respond: A Day of Discussion” and have reviewed them. We find nothing in them that would cause us to ask you to find another place to meet.”
I thought we were cool. Flights were booked, a house near the venue rented, and plans proceeded generally. Then a Quaker with a thing for licking machetes and calling radical feminists a “hate group” started a petition to exterminate Radfems Respond.
“Radical Feminists are often a bigger threat to the safety and dignity of trans women that [sic] society at large…The rate of suicice [sic] for trans people hovers around 50%. Many of these deaths were caused directly or indirectly by Radical Feminist attacks and rhetoric. Those who stand for non violence will agree that radfems have no place in a Quaker space.”
petition-starter Hollis Proffitt
Three weeks later, the Friends caved. When I reminded them of my fat folder and the predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns, three of the four Friends that Rachel Ivey and I met with admitted they didn’t read Hollis Proffitt’s petition. They were angry the petition went up and refused to look at it. My concern that their community’s response was distorted by the lies in the petition was met with this incredulous reply by a Friend who said he was a feminist and chose not to read Proffitt’s petition, “External pressures did not impact our decision.”
I took careful notes at the meeting and those were his exact words. When I asked why they changed their minds, I was told their decision-making was “a spirit-based process, not head-based,” made by “not individual facts or figures but as a matter of spiritual worship,” and that “It was a sense from our spirit about where we were led to move.”
Color me shocked that a religious order just sort of felt in their gut that women are untrustworthy and don’t deserve a public platform to speak. Rachel astutely observed that their intense de-politicizing and refusal to admit external pressures on their community aligns perfectly with liberal, third wave postmodernism in which societal systems assert no influence over the choicey choices every Friend who contacted the clerks apparently came to independently.
I hastily contacted the backup venue I had arranged (see above, “predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns”). The Multnomah County Central Library quickly confirmed Radfems Respond, and transgender activists quickly assailed them to shut down the event in the name of free speech. Some unhinged thug named “QuiddityQ” posted a call to arms on Portland Indymedia.
“We questioned the library administration about allowing a hate group who promotes discrimination and their response is that they cannot kick them out because of freedom of speech. So we also exercise our right to free speech in public space this Saturday to drive the TERFS and RadFems out of OUR library and OUR Portland!”
In the early oughties I self-published through Indymedia in addition to getting published in progressive newspapers because I believed in the potential for writer-activists to “become the media”. It wasn’t a total failure, but as has happened with Twitter and other online media, antagonistic bullies pushed out the genuine contributors. I don’t go to Portland Indymedia anymore because of their manarchist tendency to delete (called “composting”) even the mildest pro-feminism posts. A germane example from this week shows the site editors leaving up the incitement to disrupt Radfems Respond and another post titled “TERF: Cancer of the Leftist Movement”, yet rejecting to the compost bin a post respectfully criticizing the ethics of disrupting feminist events.
A library official responded in a comment to the Portland Indymedia article,
“You may participate in the meeting by expressing your views and allowing others to express their views. You may not disrupt the meeting.”
Enough accolades cannot be given to the responsive staff and security guards at the Multnomah County Central Library. As much as I would love to say they were entirely magnanimous about their commitment to not only women’s freedom of speech but our safety, in all truth I think they got righteously ticked off at being pushed around by a bunch of intimidating jerks who refuse to accept “No” for an answer.
With the room secure, I had to douse another fire started by the threats when trafficking survivor Dawn Schiller called to say she was considering cancelling. Dawn doesn’t know anything about trans-anything, but she knows too well the credible threat of male violence when she sees it. As so many of us before, at first she was rationally afraid of the danger posed, and then she got mad that anyone thinks they can frighten women out of public participation. After the feeling of remembered trauma eased its grip on her, Dawn decided to stand up for her right to speak her story with the caveat that her daughter would stay safely away. Sadly, several registered women also chose to cancel rather than face the threatening scene transgender activists were promising to produce.
Not one protestor showed up.
You can watch Lierre Keith’s and Rachel Ivey’s talks for yourself, but at Dawn’s request we stopped filming while she recounted her time in prostitution. I only had one box of tissues on hand and it had to be shared. Dawn finished with a commitment to helping other survivors rebuild their lives and received a standing ovation, but not before saying how much she regretted not having her daughter there with her.
Kathleen Barry was her usual erudite self explaining the latest developments in prostitution laws and detailing some of her policy-setting activities both old and new. Near the end of her presentation she pointed to some empty chairs and defiantly exclaimed that they represented the women who cancelled because of the threats,
This is about this conference, and about the fact that Dawn Schiller almost didn’t come. And the fact that she’s been traumatized, and she had to deal with that trauma in order to come. Not just in telling her story here, but in order to come she has been traumatized. You know who the people are that caused that trauma. They’re the people who put up the call for taking on this conference, bringing in violence, all the aggression. As if we’re not all survivors of their patriarchy! I want us […] to keep this really clear, we sit here today, you and all of us, as victims of those people who called for that violence this morning. Look at these empty seats! They are victims, they couldn’t come because of fear.
Heath Atom Russell gave the final presentation of the day. She began with the jaw-dropping revelation about the Santa Barbara murders the prior night, news that was just breaking around the world. Sometimes threats of male violence turn out to be nothing as in Radfems Respond’s case, and sometimes they become terrifyingly realized. Heath continued with how she grew up in an oppressive family and saw transitioning to a man as the best way to escape the emotional pain. She changed her mind after a few years and now works to warn others about predatory medical industry doctors who promise to bring peace to minds with pills and surgery done to bodies.
The next day, while a woman-only group of radfems listened to Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman speak via Skype about prostitution, the cowardly and monumentally ineffective transactivist “QuiddityQ” dropped a final word on Portland Indymedia,
“The Anti-TERF/SWERF Action Team strongly and unequivocally condemns TERF hate groups WOLF (Womyn’s Liberation Front) and DGR (Deep Green Resistance) holding their propaganda rally at one of our finest public institutions, Multnomah County Central Library. Given its stellar history, we strongly condemn the Library Administration for allowing hate groups to abuse our cherished Constitutional Rights.
We are indeed at war with TERF for our very own survival.
The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”
I wrote the above recap in a mindset of recording the timeline accurately, but when I read it over I see something akin to a bad Hollywood script that I can’t doctor into sanity. The film industry’s collective creativity couldn’t conceive a plot with antiporn radical feminists, machete-licking Quakers, transgendered threat-makers, and half a dozen library security staff, but I had to write the press release and I had to write this event wrap up.
Stephen King said writers write either for truth or for an audience, and I have no doubt which kind of writer I am, but what to do when the truth reads so much stranger than fiction that it beggars belief? It’s difficult for me to believe for myself just how far women’s human rights have devolved in the time I’ve been a frontline witness, so I understand if my reporting from the trenches comes off as far-fetched. I didn’t sign up to be a war correspondent, and yet a war correspondent I seem to have become.
published at Feminist Current October 31, 2013
Halloween is my Christmas. Even if I wasn’t born on November 1st and named after a witch, the Samhain season would still be holiday numero uno for me due to the candy, costumes, and supernatural spookies celebrated in the absence of religious, nationalist or familial obligations.
Since autumn reaps harvests of nostalgia, I thought it might be festive to brush aromatic leaves off the headstones of pro-prostitution arguments put in the ground years ago. Not the dippy slogan “sex work is work”, not comparisons to Prohibition regularly karate chopped with reminders that women are people and not beverages, I’m talking the doozies that haven’t horrified me with their lazy logic in a long time.
Only flyby commenters and paid-by-the-pageview writers pull out the “world’s oldest profession” artifact anymore because there’s no winning reply to the retort that slavery is historical but shouldn’t be legal. However, it pokes its victim-blaming head into the media enough to be disqualified from my criteria that these moans haven’t been heard by me in the last year. Progress!
1. Men will use prostituted children less if legal, adult prostitutes are made available.
Anyone with the slightest sociological curiosity could have debunked the catharsis theory where men can ejaculate the will to rape children out of their systems. Note the twisted appeal to “think of the children!” while offering up young women’s bodies as collateral damage.
As ruthlessly libertarian as the champions of swapping gals for girls imagine themselves, the precedent hasn’t been set in any marketplace because men who want to rape little girls don’t do so in the absence of adult women owned by the same pimp. Libertarians have gone apoplectic when I propose the precedent they’re actually operating from is the misogynistic, homophobic Bible story of Lot giving gay rapists his daughters so they wouldn’t sodomize male angels:
“Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (Gen. 19:8).
The oxymoronic variant, “Men will rape some women less if allowed to rape some women more” remains popular but the specific appeal to reduce pedophilia with prostitution hasn’t made me want to punch someone for about a decade.
2. Legal prostitution will lead women to pay for sex in nearly the numbers men pay for sex.
Here’s one that used to ride with the equally addlebrained, “More porn for women will improve the porn industry” some morbidly optimistic yahoos still believe. Folks, even Susie Bright has stopped repeating that mainstay of her repertoire, give it a rest.
The last time I encountered this ghost was 2009 when convicted pimp Heidi Fleiss opened the Shady Lady Ranch for women despite the Nevada law forbidding convicted pimps from running brothels. After two months and less than ten paying customers, Nevada’s first legal male prostitute Markus quit and the brothel went kaput soon after. I think women are a statistically insignificant number of prostitute-users for the same reason 80-85% of men don’t use prostitutes, because the idea of being intimate with a stranger faking desire for you is repugnant.
Every feminist has met the Women-Do-It-Too dude who insists women are inherently just as violent as men. Many women believe that too, unfortunately, and they show off their use of pornstituted women (mainly through porn and strippers) as a performance of how aspirationally masculine their sexuality is. I’ll never forget the woman who beamed to me with pride that her lover said she fucked like a man.
Men’s sadistic sexuality, including prostitutes used in the flesh and via the canned cunt of porn, is the default norm in our culture. It takes a whole lot of capitalistic indoctrination to come to the conclusion that women NOT paying for sex is a misogynistic aberration that will be fixed when women have enough economic and social power to comfortably consume sex workers.
I hope this argument is vanishing because we have evolved from wishing women could be as exploitative as men are to considering that men can be as bad as women and rape as infrequently as women do.
3. Making condoms 100% mandatory, as was done in Thailand in the 1990s, saves sex worker lives.
In 1991, Thailand put concerted effort into reducing the spread of HIV by adopting a goal of 100% condom usage in the illegal brothels. It was a successful campaign with some reports stating new infections had decreased 75% in five years, and Thailand’s safer sex example was held up as an international model. Disease rates have since risen and research from 2009 reports that Thailand has the highest prevalence of HIV in all of Asia.
Prostitution defenders praised the mandatory condom policy as a lifesaver. Abolitionists and sex capitalists alike agreed that mandatory health regulations were necessary, so what happened to this seemingly rational policy to push it out of favor with sex capitalists?
The proverbial poop flew when healthcare professionals in California decided to import Thailand’s model to the porn industry which had gotten used to getting away with ignoring workplace safety laws. Suddenly the same pro-prostitution mouthpieces who praised the Thai model and supported an ACLU lawsuit premised on selling condoms cheaply in Asian brothels began trashing condoms as more dangerous to sex workers than unprotected sex.
Pornographers like Nina Hartley and pornstitution profiteers like Charlie Glickman and Hugo Schwyzer writing for Jezebel.com declared themselves more knowledgeable about condoms than the venerable Alan Guttmacher Institute. They told stories of potential death by latex allergies, condom friction increasing disease transmission, and threats to move porn production into dangerous underground lairs if forced to protect employee health. I can’t think of a reason why they would say mandating condoms will push Californian sex workers underground when they had lauded mandatory condoms for Thai sex workers as a means to bring brothels ‘above ground’ where transparency provides safety. Oh wait, I forgot racism, greed, and sexsationalistic clickbaiting.
The contradictions and fake science coming from the porn lobby were bad public relations that inhibited a slick retreat to their prior “yay condoms!” stance. This particular specter is one I wouldn’t mind seeing sex worker rights groups reincarnate.
4. Under the Nordic Model, women (not necessarily sex workers) will make fake accusations of prostitution solicitation to blackmail men.
When the Swedish law passed in 1999, a flurry of blogs, articles, and position papers were published decrying the injustice to men. Professor Don Kulick wrote a paper implying that women with the ability to accuse men of commercial sexual predation will abuse it to hurt innocent men because women are conniving gold-diggers like that:
“The only positive thing for sexworkers that perhaps can to be said to have emerged from this law is that it seems that some of them have used it to rob clients or blackmail them, telling them that if they didn’t cough up more money, they would turn them into the police.”
Kulick doesn’t provide examples or sources to verify if any femme fatale extortions happened and he offers a mild counter argument:
“Of course, both robbery and blackmail are much more serious crimes than purchasing sexual services, so if a client goes to the police, the sexworker risks much harsher penalties than the client she robbed or attempted to blackmail.”
Because Kulick is a man incapable of empathizing with prostituted women, he neglects what women know about the kinds of “harsher penalties” men inflict on disobedient prostitutes.
While it’s theoretically possible women might pretend to be prostitutes (who don’t fear men’s insane amount of violence towards hookers for some reason) to extort money from men, women have been able to “cry rape” against any man, punter or not, for many years and that hasn’t been occurring.
5. The worst harm of prostitution is the shame/stigma.
Some “professional erotic technicians” have said the weight of the shame should their families and friends discover their criminal secret is their biggest problem. Frankly, as someone who had a loved one suffer and die from prostitution, I find that declaration a relief because I believe sex workers when they say they haven’t dealt with violent johns or pimps and I’m grateful for their good luck.
The tightest argument against stigma causing the bulk of damage to sex workers is that the men most likely to seriously harm them are precisely the pimps and johns most likely to accept prostitution as a natural, necessary business transaction. By the stigma rationale, paying johns should be the least likely to harm prostituted women, yet the evidence overwhelmingly shows otherwise. The oft-repeated description of men’s experiences with prostitutes being “emotionless” sex doesn’t translate into “stigmaless” sex, but someone intent on attributing rape to criminalization instead of toxic masculinity has to detach the rapist from his motivation to rape somehow.
On the sex worker side of things I agree that feeling ashamed sucks, but I can provide a very long list of prostitution-related harms that suck a whole lot more. Thanks to trafficking awareness campaigns plus the eternally creative imaginations of pimpographers, the average citizen can also whip up a hefty list of brutal nasties faced by the average prostituted woman which transcend shame. Consequently, I more commonly see stigma listed among prostitution’s many problems or as a thematic connection between a group of problems than as The Problem.
Industry lobbyists think they can replace the well-known threat pimps and johns pose to prostitutes with the specious assertion that feminists and police officers are worse. Fortunately that’s not been working well for them.
I tried to think of a new pro-prostitution argument encountered in the past year and the only one that comes to mind declares Sweden a sexually repressive, totalitarian gender dystopia disguised as a socialist democracy. Iceland also got some slander slapped on it in 2013 when they stopped pretending that the women in pornography can be sex workers without consumers of pornography being sex worker clients, aka johns.
Such weak lobs play well to the Julian Assange fanclub but I’m quite sure, “Scandinavia hates sexual freedom” has fresh dirt under its nails from digging a grave in the cemetery of pointless pro-prostitution polemics.
I needed to write on what went down at the Radfem Rise Up! conference in Toronto because I’m the one who gathered the organizing group in February 2013. People tell me official group statements are the proper protocol, however reading a solid recap of events by an attendee convinced me it might be best to speak for myself and encourage others to do the same. I trust my co-organizers are dedicated radical feminists and I respect their opinions while wanting to tell my own story.
RadFem Rise Up! was put together by two Americans and three Canadians. Presenters were slated to speak on reproductive rights, the tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Bedford prostitution case, and human rights history. Trans issues were not on the schedule once we decided radical activist history and strategies would be our theme.
The first sign of trouble was an imposter website claiming we advocate homicidal violence against prostitutes and transpersons. Everybody agrees such mimicry is wacko in an unseemly way. It’s also familiar to me from my anti-pornstitution activism. All I want to do is stomp out johns. I created the Genderberg forum community to achieve that end, and along my path to ending the patriarchal demand for unlimited access to women I got publicly labeled a terrorist by an infiltrator to my forum:
Many of the ‘feminists’ in the anti-pornography and anti-sex worker movement are driven by hatred, anger and jealousy. I watched their non-stop attacks against other women and their constant blaming and shaming and it made me sick!
Over time I got fearful. You can’t really understand the hatred that is embodied in many of the posts on Genderberg. I was worried about what they would do to the targets of their hatred and anger. Many members of that forum simply do not see other women as human at all.
When I could not take the fear any more I broke my silence and sent out some letters letting people know what was happening in Genderberg. While many will claim that Genderberg is a “safe space” my belief is that there should be no safe space for those who work to destroy women. There should be no dark corner where ANYONE can get together and plot against or foster hatred of women. Misogyny deserves no shield to hide behind.
There’s a familiar, unhinged loopyness to such fears of feminists talking with each other privately. It’s a sinister obsession I also encountered when hosting Radfem Reboot in 2012. Violent threats hit the Facebook page furiously, then they hit our inboxes and the window of a Wells Fargo bank.
These were the same transactivists seeking to “destroy” Radfem Reboot in 2012. Shortly before Reboot they posted the hotels where women were staying with a plan to stalk and follow them to the venue. Add the fact that Lierre Keith, who had once been assaulted while speaking, was getting singled out for attack and I decided to call the police. Radfem Reboot concluded without another pugnacious peep.
Back in Toronto, our next concern was that Maggies, a Toronto group lobbying for the sex industry, had hastily convened a counter-event to our little shindig. Like the mock website, we considered it tacky but harmless and went about our business. Maggies is backed by the financial resources of the sex industry. Most transpersons go about their lives without harassing feminists, but the ones that appear to live for harassing us are all pro-pornstitution and that synergistic alliance is noteworthy.
Someone from Maggies lied to get on our registration list and execute a coordinated bombardment of Beaver Hall. Similar scare tactics were used when UK transactivists teamed with men’s rights misogynists to make various London venue staffs fear for their safety if they hosted feminists.
The conference coordinator who lives at and booked Beaver Hall for us, Trish, reported that her board said they were afraid of the threats to people and property and had to reconsider whether to let her use the space. The hundreds of admittedly “aggressive” emails received in a few short hours couldn’t all have been read by Beaver Hall, but the sheer volume was intimidating and they reneged.
When I heard the administrators at Beaver Hall were too freaked to stand up for women I was not surprised. The administrator’s changing stories about the threats and refusal to share the emails with either Radfem Rise Up! organizers or police was disappointing but not surprising. Learning that a patsy frauded her way into the conference to spy on us and reveal our location so they could continue to harass us was a surprise. For an organization which prides itself on freedom of speech and criticizing abusive state powers, Maggies sex work lobby held their counter-event but wouldn’t accord us the same right to assemble. Then they used authoritarian tactics against a small group of politically marginalized women.
Given the history of violent threats, it was terrifying to see the call out to mob us where we slept. A few months ago I had a racist loudmouth kicked off a bus and he ran towards me with his fist cocked to strike. I thought, “He wouldn’t dare while everyone’s watching” then I thought it prudent to remind him I would call the cops if he touched me. I tried to rationalize that sex industry and transactivists wouldn’t go so far as to throw rocks through windows or accost me while I took out the recycling, but every day angry men forget they will go to jail for indulging their violent impulses and women die.
Frightened women waiting for the police to arrive is a scene that will haunt me. I invited them to Toronto. We told them we would rent a house and provide two meals a day for three days. We screened registrants the best we could and kept the venue private, but when someone is determined to spend weeks working on how to violate your boundaries they will eventually accomplish their penetration.
Some couldn’t sleep as we waited for the police. Others were so scared they considered going to a hotel. Ultimately everyone stayed, and everyone who slept elsewhere Friday came back Saturday plus a few more. When the officer saw the evidence he took us seriously just as the police in Portland did. These are serious threats being made.
It was an immense relief to get back to conference business Saturday morning. Once Rachel Ivey started what wound up being a two and a half hour workshop on abortion and reproductive rights we mostly forgot about the attention-seeking bullies outside. My talk was interrupted twice as women stationed at the windows reported suspicious passersby, but I got back on track and finished. We were still cautious, but we had moved from fear to righteous anger at the deceptions and intimidations. We are radical feminists, we have been silenced too many times before, we do not accept the forced silencing of women.
There was a baby boy at the conference and I’m especially glad he was because it gave the mothers in the room ample opportunities to compare notes. I’m rarely around young children so each casual conversation about pregnancy, lactating, child development and more was a window to a new world for me. These are exactly the kinds of conversations woman-only spaces foster.
We prevailed in working on the woman-centered projects we came to accomplish despite the malignant disruptions. Investigations into the threats made against Beaver Hall continue. Radical feminists will continue to meet publicly and privately. The more violence-inclined misogynists reveal themselves, the sooner we can move past this age of selfishness and waste. All I want is to stomp out men’s sense of entitlement to control women.
Y’know, there hasn’t been a radical feminist conference in the US South for a long time.
Published in feminist journal Rain & Thunder issue #56, Spring 2013
Laurel Long took the time to interview Samantha Berg, a generation X radical feminist and anti-pornstitution activist. Berg was a lead organizer for Radfem Reboot, an all-womyn gathering held in Portland, Oregon in July 2012.
Laurel Long (LL): How did you discover radical feminism?
Samantha Berg (SB): A woman once wrote that her feminist process was: liberal, feminist, pro-sex feminist, radical feminist. My radicalization process looks a lot like that, landing on radicalism in my mid 20s.
The first change was realizing that being feminist is believing in women’s liberation as per the femin- part, but it’s equally grounded in the suffix -ist marking someone who takes action. Usually there will be overlap in what serves all women and what serves me, but I’m speaking in the deepest philosophical sense of committing oneself to bettering the lives of all women.
Then I began reading and openly identified as a feminist. Soon I learned enough to realize my use of and support for pornography (strip clubs, other pornstitution) fit under pro-sex feminism, and I accepted that. The shift from pro-sex to radical took about two years beginning to end. I hadn’t been applying my feminism to pornography for all the usual reasons like acceptance from my porn-using partner, the thrill of being a baddie bad girl who used a boy thing, all those twirly emotions that collide around sexuality.
I was becoming more radical in other areas of my life. Still a porn user, I moved from NYC to Portland, a city famous for its unconventional politics and booming prostitution industry. I continued my poverty-relief campaigning while honoring my feminism through pro-choice activism. These forces came together in actualized practice when I began to find myself turned off by the idea of using pornography from 1) a feminist viewpoint 2) an anti-corporate control over media viewpoint 3) a sexual health educator’s viewpoint.
In the longer version there are the people I’ve loved who suffered from and lost their lives to prostitution, but I’ll skip that personal portion of the narrative for now. This is the part where I find through the internet that there are other feminists who feel about pornstitution the same way I had come to feel about it. They also turned out to be anti-corporate, anti-war, pro-environmentalism and pro-alternative politics, just like me. They called themselves radical feminists and after more reading I decided it was a fitting term.
LL: Some women have said that discovering radical feminism saved their lives. Would you say this is true for you?
SB: I wouldn’t say that’s accurate for me. Anti-pornstitution activism gives me purpose and pride and it makes me feel less crazy in a world where the insanity of male supremacy lords over us all, but it didn’t spark renewed life in me. The people in my life who have cared for and supported me are the ones who “saved my life,” radical feminism is the love that I’m able to give back now that I’m in a safe and trusting place.
LL: What do you think are the biggest obstacles facing women today?
SB: Corporate media exploitation of women’s fears and insecurities. From movies to music to the internet, my generation of women consumes images produced by others (almost entirely men) at a greater rate than ever before. We’re drowning in a sea of woman-negative media that would be hard to stay afloat in with rafts, and we don’t have those. As we struggle uphill to procure basic tools like critical analysis and freedom from unwanted media intrusion, corporate psychologists work harder to worm into the subconscious minds of the most dubious, skeptical media consumers.
LL: One problem women with your politics face is finding other women with similar politics. How many other radical feminists do you know near where you’re located?
SB: There are about a dozen radfem acquaintances in the Portland area. I’ve worked with them on and off for years on specific protests and projects.
Lately there’s been a resurgence of anti-prostitution energy as housewives, businesswomen, and retirees are coming together to address the Pacific Northwest’s especially large problems with rape slavery. They are my friends and colleagues, but most wouldn’t call themselves radical feminists. No matter, they’re targeting johns and talking honestly about porn, which makes them more woman-centered than the poseurs of popular feminism.
LL: Are you active on the feminist blogosphere? Does this help keep you sane? In any case, what else do you do to maintain as much sanity as possible in this f-ed up world?
SB: Yes and yes. Fighting back is the healthiest thing a shit-upon woman can do. I make no claims to having maintained my sanity.
LL: What is your vision for change in the next 5-10 years?
SB: Nordic model all the way, baby. Mandatory health protections for pornstitutes and strippers. Actual application of laws that are supposed to keep pornography away from kids.
LL: What do you wish you had known five years ago?
SB: The johns, the johns, the johns. Stay on target. Capitalists and apologists will do everything to talk about anything but the johns.
LL: This is your moment! What would you like to say to young women today?
SB: The situation is grim, but we have the solution. Susan B. Anthony watched as nation after nation passed women’s suffrage, and in my lifetime I’ve seen the same global sweep with the Swedish model of prostitution. We are living through an exciting and productive time to be a radical feminist.
LL: I’m curious to know more about the Radfem Reboot event held in July 2012. What were the successes?
SB: Feedback has been that Reboot was a particularly congenial event as such political gatherings go. I’m a veteran of anti-trafficking and pro-women conferences, but I haven’t clocked as many years as some of the women who told me how pleased they were with the overall civility of the weekend. Personally, I’m most proud of the behind-the-scenes chaos being handled well enough that attendees were none the wiser.
LL: What would you do differently if you held the event again?
SB: Honestly, it was the conference of my dreams and I wouldn’t make any big changes. This was my chance to do a radfem conference Bergstyle and I’m pleased as a peach with how it went. The speakers were women I wanted to learn from, the breadth of topics was impressive and favored my anti-pornstitution interests by design, and friends I’ve been collaborating with for years flew across the planet to give me hugs. Organizing Radfem Reboot made me feel so useful, respected, and loved that it would be greedy to ask for more.
LL: Is there anything that came out of the event that would be good for Rain & Thunder readers to know about?
SB: Preliminary plans for more conferences would probably be of most practical interest to readers and I’m sure the details of those are forthcoming, so I’d like to share a more spiritual anecdote.
There was one woman who participated not because she was a radfem or knew anyone there, but because she lived down the street from the venue and stepped inside to use the bathroom Saturday morning. Seeing our large gathering of only women, she took a seat and wound up staying through Sunday night. The Portland sisterhood grew by one and once again I felt vindicated in every way about radical feminism because our advanced theory workshops spoke to the soul of a woman simply passing through. At our most philosophical we don’t stray from the axis of real women’s lives and truths.
That’s the first story I tell non-radical feminist friends when they ask how my conference went, but my favorite story came out of Saturday night’s group activism. Alas, that one can only be told in person so you’ll have to get yourself to the next radfem gathering and ask me or another woman who participated about it. I promise it’s worth the travel and lodging costs.
Laurel Long is a 26-year-old radical feminist activist who first “met” Sam Berg through her fantastic online website www.genderberg.com When not engaging in radical feminist activism, Long works as a sexual assault and mental health crisis counselor.
- Sam Berg: Words in the World of Gender Identity March 28, 2017
- Melania Trump, America’s first sex worker First Lady December 22, 2016
- Brock Turner and porn users share a culture of sexual entitlement July 22, 2016
- Dead Rentboys tell no tales September 7, 2015
- From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy November 24, 2014
- I want 140 characters which will end rape June 12, 2014
- “The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!” May 30, 2014
- Ghosts of Prostitution Debates Past October 31, 2013
- Sam Berg’s Statement on Radfem Rise Up! 2013 July 11, 2013
- Rain & Thunder Activist Spotlight: Samantha Berg, United States June 12, 2013
- Norwegian prostitution research solid like iceberg February 8, 2013
- New research shows violence decreases under Nordic model: Why the radio silence? January 22, 2013
- Who votes against decriminalizing prostituted children? November 9, 2012
- Radfem Reboot Wrap-up August 20, 2012
- Christine Stark’s “Nickels”, a tale of association January 17, 2012
- The Internet Swear Jar December 15, 2011
- Feminism and Occupy Portland November 6, 2011
- Three days of radical feminist SCUM October 25, 2011
- On the Feminists-in-Underwear Walks October 9, 2011
- Scotland: Don’t be like US May 5, 2010
- New coalition challenges the status quo of “Pornland, OR” February 14, 2010
- Extra, extra! Newspaper reporter interviews radical feminist! January 2, 2010
- Radical Feminism on the Web: The Carnival of Radical Feminists November 9, 2009
- Samantha Berg: HerStories interview October 28, 2008
- Paradigm shifts and paying for sex May 2, 2008
- The quest to be human: An interview with “Getting Off” author Robert Jensen November 22, 2007
- Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture September 14, 2007
- The New Antipornography Slide Show September 14, 2007
- Pornography, Prostitution & Sex Trafficking: How Do You Tell the Difference? September 14, 2007
- Hey, progressives! Cathouse got your tongue? July 9, 2006
- Portland at crossroads of human trafficking April 6, 2006
- “It’s up to you”: Prostitution, Censorship and Sweden January 4, 2006
- Female Chauvinist Liz: Third wave feminism through the songs of Liz Phair October 31, 2005
- The Harms of Gay Male Pornography: A Sexual Equality Perspective August 14, 2005
- Memorial for civil rights leader Andrea Dworkin July 1, 2005
- Giving the marginalized the tools to speak their voices April 10, 2005
- Sex trafficking strikes closer to home than thought November 13, 2004
- Media critics blind towards Playboy’s soft porn June 1, 2004
- All naked women are created equal January 3, 2004