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Talking to Zero

I was on Davie street last night, and i started to stick a “buying sex is not a sport” sticker onto the sandwich board outside one of those sextoy and peep show shops. I just get angry when i see the silhouette of a woman advertising these sex shop places– long fluffy hair, big sticky-outty boobs, teeny waist, ass stuck out at kind of an odd angle, and stiletto heels–c’mon. like, really? how do we KNOW that’s a representation of a woman, really? ’cause no  woman I know looks like that, even back-lit.

anyhow. so i stuck a sticker on her head. and this big scary lookin’ guy comes outta the shop. he’s got this little red beard, and round-ish glasses, and a kind of faux-hawk and black shorts and a black long-sleeved t-shirt on. i remember a wallet chain coming out of his pocket and piercings here and there. He’s only  a little taller than me, but he’s pretty broad. Big forearms. and he’s MAD. he starts peeling the sticker off, so i smooth it down, and then he smacks my hand away. Like i’m a little kid with her hand in the cookie dough, not hard, just a smack, you know. And i say, “hey, man, be gentle.” He starts yelling, he’s really mad at me for putting this sticker on his sign.He says, “What do you think you’re doing??”

I say, “you’re making money off the degradation of women”

“How do you figure that?” (he’s still shouting) “Degradation of women, we sell dildoes, too, is that degrading to men?”

“well, yes, as a matter of fact–this whole industry–it’s degrading to women, it dehumanizes men–you know, it makes men lousy lovers, porn does”.  That’s a line I heard once from a lover of mine. She often came out with these pithy, smart statements.

He looks disgusted, he calls me narrow-minded, he says, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, all you’re doing is spewing this stuff, you don’t have any evidence–come inside, come talk to me about this–”

“Ah, I got my bike…” I don’t really want to talk to him. I’m kind of afraid, and I want to make a good argument, I don’t feel confident, though I know what i’m talking about sometimes it’s difficult to be articulate.

“bring it in” he says. So. I do.

The shop is bright, the dominant colour is pink. the walls lined with female mannequin torsos dressed in bikinis and boas, i see a maid’s uniform (but not a sensible one) and leopard print lingerie. there’s a rack of jars with various coloured gels and pink penises in shrink-wrap hanging on the wall. There are pictures of women, white women mostly, “provocatively” posed, advertising lubes and gels and toys of various sorts. A jar of condoms on the front counter.

He yells at me that i am trying to restrict people’s choices, “you people” he calls me. “you gotta give me proof–I am doing people some good, here.” He tells me that women come in and ask for things that will  help them with their sex life, with their husbands and then a few weeks later, they’ll return and thank him for saving their marriage. He doesn’t say anything about men coming in asking about how to please their wives, how to save their marriages…funny. I don’t think to point this out to him.

I say, “you know, it’s not just about “choice”–how do we know what of the things we do are free choices, and what come from reacting to constraint? Look at the increasing sexualization of children, of EVERYONE–we are being reduced to our orifices–in the case of women–and you’re right, it’s degrading to men too–you are nothing but a cock, and I’m a cunt. I’m not willing to put up with it.”

He is not satisfied, of course. He asks if I knew anyone in the sex industry.

I think of the women I know from the drop-in. The young ones who are addicted now, who sway on the street corners near the port–the brassy middle-aged woman who teases me about lingerie–the Aboriginal women who take handfuls of condoms and stuff them into their purses before heading out at closing time. I think of the women who have told me stories about their childhoods–being beaten with jumper cables, being passed around from father to uncle to cousin; I think of the women who worked dancing in bars who tell me about men following them to their hotel rooms, and the names the men call them and their strategies to protect themselves–

And I say to the man, I say, “Yes, I do as a matter of fact. Many women, and of those women, there is not one who would be there if she had other choices–and they say that  it is really difficult for them to make healthy sexual intimate partnerships outside of the industry.

Of course, he knows a girl (that’s what he called her, a girl) who is a sex worker (that’s what he called her, too–a sex worker), and she’s never been raped or assaulted, and she loves her job and she makes lots of money, she has a very healthy sex life with her boyfriend. I said, sure, you can find women who say they choose it, and they like it, and it’s all working for them. But ask again after they have been out for a few years.

He said that not everyone who’s been raped has a bad sex life, he said he himself had been raped as a child, sexually abused, and he had a healthy sex life with his wife. I said that’s good, and i’m sorry that some man had hurt him and i kept repeating, if we were equal, we wouldn’t even think of using this stuff, we would have talk instead of toys, we could imagine exciting fulfilling sex that didn’t depend upon silicone and botox and pictures of unreal women–

“It’s not just women,” he shouted, “men too, there are lots of women who come in here for toys to enjoy with their husbands”

Sometimes i’m inarticulate in the face of defensiveness like his. he tells me that he’s worked his whole adult life in the sex industry, and he tells me that I am unrealistic, “do you know how much money the sex industry makes?” Yes, i know. I know it’s huge. I know all that. but I also know that we must push back, we have to interfere with the demand, we have to not put up with it…

I said ‘interfere with demand’ and he heard, ‘ deny people choices’. I said, “equality” and he said, “there’s no such thing, you think there is, but there isn’t, and there can’t be”. I said, “i don’t agree. Why settle for this?”

He said, “it’s not just women who are objectified, and it’s not just men who are my customers” . I said, “Oh yea? look at your own store–in the window, women’s bodies, on your sign outside, a woman’s body, along the walls, womens’ bodies, pictures of women on your walls, on the packaging, and sexualized representations of women–

“look” he finally said, “I agree with you, and I would never sell anything I thought was degrading, I help people, I help people make choices…You people want to take peoples choices away”

“Lookit” I say to him, “I am not blocking the door, I am not saying people can’t come in here, I don’t have the power to do that, and I don’t even want to. I want people to make different choices, that’s all. I want people to think about what they are doing, think about where their choices come from, think about the consequences of their actions–” I didn’t say, but I thought of it after, “and I want you and other men to know that there are other ways to be masculine, to be a man”

Sometime in there, he says, “I got offered a job running an escort agency last year, and I said, ‘okay, if you can guarantee that the girls are there by choice, and they’re fine with it, and happy and have their shit together…”

I guess he didn’t get that guarantee.

another time he says, “i’ve never paid for sex, I think it should be something between two people, who have a relationship, and know each other”

But he still sells porn, he sells women through the peep shows at the back. Two bits for the peep show.

He says to me, “look, I get guys coming in here for GHB, lots of guys, mostly Asian, to be honest, and they’re not from here. I explain to them that we don’t do that here, that’s not how we treat people, it’s wrong and against the law. I won’t sell that stuff. But I know they’ll get it somewhere else, I know that.” I can tell. He thinks I’m idealistic and naive.

Maybe. But I am not despairing.

I’m trying to recreate our conversation. But I can’t remember now, not exactly. I finally left because I had to go, and I could tell we were not going to agree. But I gave him a sticker, I said, “look it up”

And I thanked him for asking me to come in to talk.

I liked him.

He shook my hand at the end and said, “My name’s Zero”

I said, “my name’s Erin. Thanks for inviting me in. Be well, Zero”

Really? his name is Zero? as in “nothing” or as in, “infinite”?

About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, working in a field for which I am not yet trained, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. Radical feminism will be the roots of our shared liberation. Rejection of sex-stereotypes (gender) and male domination will give us wings.

7 responses »

  1. “how do we know what of the things we do are free choices, and what come from reacting to constraint?”

    I’ve been talking to the kids I teach about this. They think that as long as something is a “choice,” it must be a free and valid choice. Many of them are fairly privileged, and the only feminism they’ve been exposed to is the empowerful variety. They understand the basics of sexism — enough to disagree with the ban on women’s ski-jumping, for example — but not the context of choice, or race/gender/class). Sadly, most adults don’t either. Am so glad you cared enough to have this dialogue, and hope there’s more. Keep it up with the stickers…

    • Thanks, Sarah…the whole thing about ‘choice’ versus ‘autonomy’ is a real mind-bender to me.we have a long way to go, but i’m optimistic, it was good to talk with this guy, and i realized I am not the hothead i once was.

  2. thanks for this. It’s really interesting to see the arguments broken down a bit in the back and forth. Maybe it could be a play?

    The part about GHB…this should be published somewhere.

    Are you going to post your protest observations?


  3. Well, I think you are really brave. I would have definitely been scared to go inside the shop with the guy. In fact, I don’t think I would have done it. I know you are saying that all this stuff hurts men too, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really. It certainly hurts women a hell of a lot more, and men like him are perpetrating that hurt. I wouldn’t assume that a man like that would treat me any differently than how he treats any other woman.

    • Yea. i sometimes (no. often) wonder about the usefulness of arguing with men at all. about anything. but I don’t think it was a waste, entirely. for me, anyhow. I learned some about the other side, there. I think he’s despairing. and kind of thoughtless, in that kind of banal, “i’m just doing my job” way.
      dear me…

  4. great last line


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