Browsing articles tagged with " pornstitution"
Jun
12

Rain & Thunder Activist Spotlight: Samantha Berg, United States

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. Still a porn user, I moved from NYC to Portland, a city famous for its unconventional politics and booming sex industry. I continued my poverty-relief campaigning while honoring my feminism through pro-choice activism. These forces collided 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-war and pro-environmentalism 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: Media’s 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 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 human trafficking. 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 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 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 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 can only be told in person so you’ll have to get yourself to the next radfem gathering and ask me or someone else who participated about it. I promise it will be worth it.

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.

Feb
8

Norwegian prostitution research solid like iceberg

published at Feminist Current February 8, 2013


Samantha Berg elaborates on Pro Sentret’s research into violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model.


The third page of Pro Sentret’s Dangerous Liaisons report lays out the mission statement for the 2012 investigation:

“The purpose is to evaluate whether the women are more exposed to violence after the introduction of the law.”

The methodology of choice was a comparison of 2007/08 numbers with new 20012 numbers:

“The design of the questionnaire was approximately the same as the questionnaire that was used in 2007/2008, albeit perhaps somewhat shorter.”

Comparable numbers were compared. Murder attempts weren’t asked about in 2007/08 so those numbers are broken down for race and indoor/outdoor but left off the graph comparing dates.

When I noticed the potential discrepancy between years in prostitution before and after the law change I played the responsible journalist and emailed Pro Sentret. The unspeakably high mortality rate in prostitution reduces “career” longevity by a fair degree (aka women don’t last long), and the notorious influx of young foreigners from poverty-stricken countries made me suspect the pre-2007/08 average time in prostitution wouldn’t have been many years.

Pro Sentret’s senior officer Camilla Hammergren’s replied that the data hasn’t been translated into English and added, “The women were asked how long they had been in prostitution. The data/results were not given room in the report must mean they gave no significant findings regarding vulnerability.” She also suggested author Ulla Bjorndahl might offer more information when she returns from personal leave in late February.

Provide me with the translated raw data and I’ll read every speck. Berg blood is valkyrie blood and I’m a linguist with training in Germanic languages, so if anyone wants to pay for the educational materials and give me a few weeks I’ll read it in Norwegian. Until then, I’m taking the Dangerous Liaisons report on its own terms. Pro Sentret set the board, they put down the pieces, and they explained the rules according to them. The Nordic model won the game.

If you consider the methodology too sketchy to trust, all right. The report is dead to you, you can stop reading now, goodbye.

For the rest I have another game, still on Pro Sentret’s board and using their pieces, but played by the rules of those who are trying to discredit the research.

Imagine that the average time in prostitution before 2007/08 is triple the three year research window since, nine years prior to three years post. As intended, that generous hypothetical would lessen the impact of the very dramatic reductions in rape, pimp violence, and client violence currently reported.

Here’s the home viewer participation portion of the game; how does that hypothetical affect the 150% leap in biting and 167% increase in hair pulling since 2007/08?

Pardon the intemperance, but I believe my theory explaining the already formidable rise in biting and hair pulling was perfect. Add up an imaginary nine years of pre-2007/08 biting and hair pulling and set them next to what men did in the last three years to see a downright unholy rise in these very specific violations.

Why?

Contemplate your answer while we advance to the second level: quotes! No numbers allowed, this is the round where proof that criminalizing punters is effective scores big points on the strength of words and common sense.

Meghan Murphy recently wrote, “The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years.”

We do know, and thanks to Pro Sentret’s report we also know:

Most of the women who said they would seek help to protect against violence said that they called or threatened to call the police when they found themselves in a dangerous or threatening situation. This would often scare the customers, or others, who were acting threatening/violent away.”

Remember my email to Camilla Hammergren? I had included a request for clarification on ‘most’ and ‘often’ in numbers because I’m thorough like that, but honestly it doesn’t matter. Putting the power of police in prostituted women’s hands is the theory behind the Nordic model and it works.

We also know there were no reports of police committing any kind of violence whatsoever against prostituted women in the 2012 research, which is a card I can play this round because “nothing” isn’t a number.

My final hand from Pro Sentret’s deck:

“A fairly large amount of the women said that there was little they could do to protect themselves against violence. The reason they gave for this was usually that they already did what they could, and that prostitution was so risky that it was impossible to protect yourself against violence. Some of the women who said there was little they could do, also said the only thing they might be able to do was quit prostitution.”

Let’s play again soon.

Jan
17

Christine Stark’s “Nickels”, a tale of association

published at Radfem Hub Feb 3, 2012

 

Christine Stark has been a role model of mine since 2004. That was the year she co-edited Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, which immediately soared up my book chart and remains a Berg top five today.

Not For Sale contains my favorite essay on prostitution, but Stark’s direct confrontation with so-called ‘sex radicals’ in the essay “Girls to Boyz: Sex radical women promoting prostitution and pornography” has the most forthright chutzpah of the collection. My admiration for her anti-pornstitution work led me to take special note of her various creative works released through radical feminist and artistic media.

Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation is Stark’s debut novel and it’s a doozy. The freestyle narrative announces itself on the first page through two fairy tales as understood by a small child. Stark plays with linguistic forms to translate the thoughts in a child’s mind, and it’s a testament to her skill that the unconventional style comes off much more genuine than parlor tricky. The punctuation and odd sentence breaks lend a breathless air and the cadence is tricky to catch at first, but much like watching a Scottish film, the initial confusion of familiar words in an unfamiliar dialect soon resolves and you’re hooked into the storyteller’s groove.

The story follows Little Miss So and So from age four through twenty-six. Her stream of consciousness survival of incestuous rape makes the early pages rough reading, so don’t pack Nickels for the beach. Not that there isn’t an inherent entertainment in stories of terrified and tortured children — as the stratospheric popularity of Stephen King proves — it’s just that Nickels is a different kind of horror story.

My fear to face was being forced to remember the powerlessness of childhood. Great literature makes readers see the world through another person’s eyes in a way that connects to their soul. What I saw through Little Miss So and So’s eyes was my world as a child, my own fractured soul trying to make sense of the cowardly cruelty of child abusers. Little Miss So and So was five-years-old when the school nurses saw the bruises and filed a failed lawsuit to remove her from her abusive family. I was six when the same events happened to me. There’s even a scene involving a bite-size apple pie and tears of gratitude for a family member showing kindness that rather eerily echoes an apple pie anecdote from my past. I write a lot, often about violence against women, yet I don’t write about my childhood for reasons I’m still unpacking.

History kept interfering with my reading, a feeling exacerbated by starting the book right before the traditionally family-infected Thanksgiving holiday. I had to keep putting the book down the same way I frequently pause while reading Andrea Dworkin, because the gut-felt truths come fast and tap on spots so sensitive that pushing past the discomfort without consideration feels like a wasted opportunity.

The years in Nickels tick by in five year chunks of time, and in the process my intimate connection to Little Miss So and So faded enough that reading felt less like picking at scabs. Stark’s heroine becomes her own entity and less of the allegory the abstract name evokes. By the time she grows into a young woman I no longer recognized myself in her new pursuits but I liked her just the same. We could be friends, Little Miss So and So and me, though I don’t share her fervor for sports and I’m not a lesbian.

The last two lines of Chris’s biography in Not For Sale are,

“She is a member of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and completing her MFA in Writing from Minnesota State University. Christine is a survivor of incest and a racist prostitution and pornography ring.”

Knowing some pieces of Stark’s past inadvertently made reading a puzzle in which I tried to sort the facts of her life from the fictions of the story. It’s a pointless game and a little unfair to writers who necessarily draw upon what they know to create stories of unreal people. Stark took a formless, nameless girl called Little Miss So and So and fused the tragedy of her lived facts into a useful fiction. Women who can do this, who can write the indescribable violations of girls in authentic words that resonate with survivors, are treasures to feminism and womenkind.

There are more books inside Ms. Christine Stark, more people’s stories to tell. I look forward to meeting them and the pieces of myself I’ll see in them.

Dec
15

The Internet Swear Jar

By Sam Berg  //  Articles  //  2 Comments

published at Feminist Law Professors Dec 15, 2011

 

A few days ago I wrote a comment at the Reclusive Leftist blog about misogynistic verbal abuse being unacceptable whether the target is a blogger or a prostitute and whether they are paid or not. Since then I’ve been fleshing out what it means to be paid for sexual abuse in the context of the internet.

Men call prostituted women a creative litany of slurs that women bloggers are only now learning. Radical feminists have long known the hate speech of pornography is itself sexual abuse that perpetuates further abuse against prostituted women and all women, and for our accurate assessment we have had that hate hurled at us faster and more aggressively.

Many women bloggers have shared complaints through the #mencallmethings Twitter hashtag, but few solutions have been offered by liberal feminists more worried about being perceived as pro-censorship than in stopping men’s verbal harassments.

In the name of harm reduction, I propose the Internet Swear Jar.

Sex workers are paid to be called misogynistic names and people consider it a fair transaction. Most high-profile feminist bloggers – ones who ask for donations to support their feminism – agree with that status quo situation. By the usual rationales for accepting prostitution and pornography, why shouldn’t men be allowed to pay any woman willing to take money in exchange for having some control over the verbal abuse she must endure?

Bloggers could post a menu of prices, and of course they would have the final choice on whether or not to accept twenty dollars to be publicly called a cocksucking cunt, but if your political ethic encompasses Yes Means Yes and Sex Work Is Work beliefs then men should be able to ask you ‘yes or no’ sex work questions. People who reject prostitution as employment wouldn’t participate, but there’s no reason for pro-sexwork bloggers to reject hearing out sincere “sass for cash” offers they would expect other women to accept. The sex work declared so rife with diversity that “not a monolith!” has become its mantra can’t be considered 100% monolithically terrible when the question becomes one of pro-sex work women considering freelance job offers.

Men are going to threaten and call women bloggers horrifically violent names anyway. Like the common belief in prostitution’s inevitability, it can’t be stopped. However, the extra harm reduction money can make blogging a little easier for women who have to deal with verbal sexism.

Grievances taken through the legal system commonly result in financial compensation. A system of direct payment would be a less time-consuming and economical way of achieving an already established form of justice.

Maybe disabled men with no other emotional outlet than anonymously spitting invective at women bloggers need that catharthic emoting to be healthy, and the conscientious women who consent to provide that service should be financially compensated.

By now I hope you’ve figured out I’m speaking hypothetically. There is no logical and humane answer to the question, “When is it all right to call a woman a flea-bitten whore who deserves to be raped?” that kicks off the start of payment negotiations.

But pro-sex work bloggers are not being philosophically cheeky about women arranging their own sexualized abuse in exchange for money. They really support the status quo of prostitution that permits payment for sexist humiliation. A key difference is that bloggers aren’t physically assaulted after getting called dehumanizing names, whereas no one in the world is more raped than prostituted women.

With credit to Stephen Roberts for amending his famous quote about atheism, “I contend that we are both abolitionists. I just believe in fewer sex workers than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all sex work jobs for yourself, you will understand why I dismiss all sex work jobs for women.”

 

Prostitution FAQ

In 2005, I endeavored to write the best prostitution FAQ on the web and it still is.

prostitution faq

Radio Interview

“Interview with Samantha Berg: A Primer on Abolitionist Feminism” with Ernesto Aguilar for Pacifica Radio, originally aired on Houston, Texas channel 90.1 FM KPFT, June 25, 2014

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