Presentation for the panel “Deconstructing Gender Identity Under Male Supremacy” at New York City’s Left Forum 2016
(intro cut from video)
I’m a linguist by education and I’ve been politically organizing radical feminists against prostitution for 14 years. This segment will combine those skills and examine how the new vocabulary of transgenderism functions to erase women and silence women’s speech.
Although I had been friends with and worked with transgendered people for many years in Portland — which is where I live, Portland, Oregon — it was through the issue of prostitution that I first came to question the possible harms of transgender politics.
Georgina Beyer lived as a white male in New Zealand before transition at the age of 27. Georgina had prostituted as a gay male before winning a seat in New Zealand’s parliament and pushing for the legalization of prostitution. When the law passed in 2003 legalizing prostitution, no female sex workers were serving in New Zealand’s parliament.
This fact led me to learn that many so-called “sex worker rights” organizations around the world have transwomen in prominent leadership positions, and I’ve had to put a lot of thought into why such a small demographic among prostitutes are given such a disproportionate media platform. With everything I know about how hierarchy in gender operates in prostitution, I could no longer ignore the increase in transgender activists being heard over women’s voices on laws that almost wholly concern women’s lives.
I’ve put on many conferences and events fighting prostitution, and I’ve long dealt with verbally abusive backlash from the sex industry, but I didn’t get my first credible threats of violence until 2012 when I directed a radical feminist conference in Portland. That’s when transgender activists started harassing conference venues I’d rented to make them rescind the rentals they had agreed to, and they started putting out public calls to assault the women I had invited to attend my conferences. They put up the list of the hotels they were staying at and said, “Go get them, go follow them, hit them in the head with bricks.”
I could speak about those terrorizing threats for many hours, but I only have fifteen minutes so I’m going to segue here into when I first started getting called SWERF and TERF.
SWERF and TERF definitions
As an anti-prostitution activist, my articles and my work revolve around the sex industry, so my status as a SWERF (sex work exclusionary radical feminist) was affirmed but my TERF status was only implied because I don’t write about transgender issues, I mainly care about prostitution.
Many radical feminists are themselves formerly prostituted women, but as with all of the words I’ll be going over today, the point is not accurate description, the point is verbal abuse.
A slow walk through any porn store should demonstrate how endlessly creative men can be coming up with ways to speak their contempt for women. There has been no coinage of slurs for the men who purchase sex, they’re still just known as johns. The johns who cause the rapes, assaults, and murders of prostitutes still get called johns. It’s almost as if the alleged crime of feminist exclusion is somehow the worst abuse prostitutes face. I promise you it is not.
Here are some examples of TERF in action. I could pluck thousands of these but I tried to pluck a couple just to give you a sense of what’s going on here…and then there’s this person…
Similarly, as there’s no new word for johns to talk about their violence, there is no word to talk about the men who disproportionately harm transgender people. SWERF and TERF were not created to shed light on the real problems that trans individuals face, which are significant. These words are used to bully women, to blacklist women, and to shut down women’s right to political assembly.
Another linguistic device that transactivists use is the prefix cis-. Popular transgender advocate Janet Mock wrote a book titled Redefining Realness that defines cis- as a term “for people who are not trans and more likely to identify with the gender that correlates with the sex they were assigned at birth”.
Fun little fact about Janet Mock’s book is the original title was Fish Food before it was Redefining Realness. “Fish” is a transgender term for a transwoman who is so convincingly passing as a female you can practically smell the fish on her. Just in case there are some sweetly naive persons in the room, men have long said that women’s vaginas smell like fish. I’m going to just assume most of you have heard this.
Back to cis-; cis- is supposed to be more neutral than TERF but still functions as a cudgel against women.
Cis-woman confers a power to women that women do not have. While it is true that trans-people suffer enormous discrimination, it doesn’t logically follow that makes being a cis-woman a privilege. In our misogynistic world, being a woman brings forth discrimination and disrespect at nearly every social intersection. Being seen as a women does not provide advantages, resources, or power by its being.
Also, not everyone who is not transgender is cis-gender. The most obvious example of that is lesbians. Lesbians are most definitely not acting in ways expected of women when they romantically love other women. Many other examples are easy to find.
There is nothing the prefix cis- accomplishes that the term “not trans” can’t accomplish without relegating literally billions of women into a subcategory. We’re already placed in subhuman categories, we don’t need to be subbed any more.
The UK Select Committee recently reported this definition of gender identity, “Gender Identity is the gender with which a person associates themselves.” Your gender identity is your gender identity. That’s a terrible definition. You don’t need a degree in linguistics to know that is a horrible and useless definition.
Without some objective foundation for gender identity, gender identity seems to mainly refer to sex-role stereotypes. I have yet to see a definition of gender identity that doesn’t rely on either biological facts or sex-role stereotypes.
But if we’re not supposed to use biology, we need to know the new criteria for how we define men and women anymore. What is that criteria? The purpose of this particular segment on language is to get at how I’d love to be able to critique definitions of gender identity that make sense to me, but they keep shifting and refer to themselves so I can’t even find a foundation from which to start.
genderfluid and genderqueer
Genderfluid and genderqueer are terms used by people who identify themselves as being off the binary, they identify as not male and not female. They are non-binary.
Except, if gender is a spectrum, and not a binary, then everyone is non-binary. Nobody is a pure cartoonish stereotype of the pink box of femininity on one side and the blue box of masculinity on the other side. Penises and vaginas do not determine innate personality traits.
Genderfluid and genderqueer people assume themselves to be outside the pink and blue boxes, but we all live outside the pink and blue boxes. Nobody wants to be put in a box. I’m boxless too, don’t box me either. So are you. Gender boxes are a bad fit for human beings and feminists have known this for a very long time and railed against them for a very long time.
We need to break the power that gendered stereotypes have in shaping human experiences and stop insisting that men and women must identify with the pink and blue caricatures of human beings.
cis-sexism and transmisogyny
So on to cis-sexism, which is never going to roll off my tongue easily, and transmisogyny. Transmisogyny is committed by cis-sexists. One key rule of patriarchy is to excuse and obscure male supremacy and the mechanisms that maintain it, bonus points if you can blame it on a woman.
Accusations of transmisogyny are mostly leveled at women – mostly feminist women — much more than they are ever used to describe the men who commit the real violence that happens to transpeople. It’s as if it takes the transgender blood that men are spilling and smears women’s hands with it, but we are not causing this violence.
Feminine gender conformity, now being called cis-womanhood, does not protect women from being oppressed. For women, gender is most commonly a burdensome, threatening experience.
I wish I could count how many times men have told me about prostitution, “Gosh, I wish I could get paid just for having sex, that sounds awesome, Best Job Ever!” as if men bribing poverty-stricken women into sex they do not want is a privilege that you get for being a woman. Lucky us, huh?
It’s no accident that the stereotype of a prostitute is of a hyperfeminized woman wearing too much makeup, showing too much skin, wearing those stripper heels, as they’re called. The highest of the high heels that high heels can get are stripper heels. Prostitutes are the most feminized women of women, and they are the most raped women, and the most murdered women of all womankind.
Cis-sexism prevents women from addressing issues like prostitution which disproportionately and sometimes uniquely affect females. We can no longer say that misogyny experienced by females is a problem — that’s exclusionary. We have entered a politics that acknowledges transmisogyny as a problem and misogyny as a privilege women have over transgendered people.
As Sarah Ditum said, “I am trying to live as a woman in a patriarchal world, and frankly that sucks enough on its own without being told the female body my culture punishes me for is a privilege in itself.”
Here are some examples of how accusations of transmisogyny are literally making the sexism that happens to women impossible to speak:
Raise your hand if you’re a uterus-bearer!
The Amherst student newspaper published an article on abortion rights and they filed it under their new category, “uterus-bearer’s rights”.
I have a theory as to why it’s unethical to say that women have vaginas but progressive to say that women have uteruses. That theory is based on the fact that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of slang terms for women’s breasts and vaginas — I’m sure we can all think of many words for that — but have you considered there is no slang term for the uterus? There is no slang term for an ovary. There is no slang term for a cervix. Women are judged by what men see, and they don’t see our uterus and our ovaries and our cervix, so who cares?
Men have not really shown much interest in the inner lives or the inner bodies of women, and I think this is coming out in these words.
This cartoon promotes awareness of abortion and they thought it was a good idea to replace woman with the term “adult uterus’d people”.
Laws restricting abortion are of course directed at women because we are women. It’s about society trying to control women’s bodies because only women can produce new human beings. We can’t disconnect the abortion debate from the oppression of women since the entire debate about abortion only exists because it’s based on the resource production that only women can do.
birthing parent and chestfeeding
The Midwives Alliance of North America in their 2014 Core Competencies Manual replaced the words woman and mother with “pregnant individual” and “birthing parent”.
(audience member adds, “In Spanish, you would translate “parent” as “father”.)
Just two weeks ago, transactivists were taking to social media to complain about how Mother’s Day is transphobic.
No longer do women breastfeed, now we chestfeed. Chestfeeding is being recommended because breasts are transphobic now. Mind you, men have breasts too. When men get breast cancer, they call it breast cancer, they don’t call it chest cancer to spare their hurt little man feelings. The biological term chest encompasses so much more than the mammary glands formerly known as breasts.
And now for the front hole formerly known as vagina.
Mount Holyoke College, a women’s liberal arts college, canceled a performance of Eve Ensler’s iconic play The Vagina Monologues, and here’s the quote on why they cancelled, “It provided an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.”
Writing in the New York Times about the play’s cancellation, Elinor Burkett notes that transactivists are pushing “front hole” and “internal genitalia” as alternatives to the word vagina.
Look for the new play, The Front Hole Monologues, coming to you soon.
These irrational demands are sabotaging feminist fundraisers and they’re cancelling performances of feminist plays. This is not fringe stuff, it may have started there but it’s in The New York Times, and New York Magazine and The Nation and The Guardian. This is our world now: front holes, chestfeeding, adult uterus’d person.
Capitalism offers an infinite choice between irrelevant choices, but little choice on the most important, life-affecting choices. You can get underarm deodorant in a stick, a spray, a roll on, a cream, a gel, a powder, and a freaking rock, but your choices for president are Democrat and Republican.
Capitalism loves focusing on you the buyer, you the individual, you’re so special, instead of communities of class, race, and sex because it loves fragmenting people into ever more marketable demographics. Removing the word “woman” from the English language, and presumably all languages if transactivist goals are to be reached, makes feminism impossible by denying that women are a definable class. Women will remain the sexually exploited and will remain oppressed, but now we can’t talk about it without being accused of oppressing others.
Capitalism loves eternally shifting language games that splinter people into ever more groups, and the 50+ genders of Facebook shows that it’s impossible to keep up with the lightening-fast pace of these new terms. But a wall covered in mud is still a wall no matter how much mud you throw at it, and a woman with dirt stuffed into her mouth so she can’t speak anymore is still a woman. Thank you.
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.
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.
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.
- 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