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Category Archives: harm reduction

Next time…

darn, it’s been way too long since i’ve posted. i’ve been working on a couple, but now i can’t even see them and i have a paper due next week to a conference (in Istanbul in the spring…holy smokes) and our playwright friend is coming to town and it’s only three weeks until the triathlon and a friend is sick in the hospital and i’m not really sleeping much and i have to edit another paper for publication (where should I send it?) and my head is full and there have been so many miracles and so much going on and i nearly killed a man the other day…i’ll tell ya that story–

he was crossing the street, against the red light, talking on his cell phone, oblivious to oncoming traffic (me. on my bike). I judged his speed and mine and swept past him, (fairly close, i’ll admit) and he whipped around, and yelled, “Hey, I’m fuckin’ trying to walk here!” with such arrogance—I said, “Yea, you’re not supposed to. fuckhead!” Sometimes, more and more in fact, I am not quite so antagonistic as I ride my bicycle. But that guy, just the way he was walking, the way he was talking loud on his phone, I just got a feeling that that guy was not…well. not good. He yelled back at me, then, he said, “Suck me, Bitch”.

did he really say that?

I rode on, fuming, telling myself that he was not worthy of any further energy, that i had to get to work, that he didn’t deserve any further attention. But oh my. here is what I SHOULD have done:

Turn around and follow him up the street. “WHAT did you say, little man?”

“I said, ‘Suck me, Bitch’,” and flips me the bird as he continues to talk on his phone, “ya, no just some cunt on a bike.”

“oh. my. you have just invited the WRONG woman to fellate you, mister,” as i pull in front of him and block his way, “okay. hand it over then.”

“I’ll call ya back,” and he stares at me, “what?”

“your dick. give it to me. C’mon, buddy, you want me to suck your dick, whip it out. Right here.”

“You’re fucking crazy!”

“No. I’m not. I’m responding in a very reasonable way to your request. Perhaps not a usual way, but a rational one. If you make commands of women, especially with such entitlement, you must expect that eventually one of us is going to call your bluff, yes?” and then, maybe, I’d just drive my front wheel between his legs and grab him by the jacket collar and lift up ever so gently until his feet are scraping the sidewalk, and his torso is leaning toward me, and then i’ll say, with one hand on my handle bars, and one hand on his collar, balancing him precariously on the bike (this is difficult, especially with his arms flailing away at me, trying to land a punch, but I am strong), “crossing the street against the light was bad enough, but then letting fly with misogynist epithets really was your worst mistake today. We don’t like that, little man. Such behaviour reveals that you hate women and indicates that you are probably a danger to us. But you are a danger to us one at a time, because men like you are not courageous.” and maybe i’d give him a little bounce on my wheel as he’s balancing there, ’till he whimpers a bit.

“I am going to be merciful this time, because I don’t like to give up on people.” Bounce. Harder this time. “And just think of me when you go to lash out at a woman because she’s caught you doing the wrong thing. Or for any reason. Remember how this feels [bounce] and think about what might be a safer course of action. I think of this whole event as a ‘teachable moment’. Congratulations.”

Then I would toss him to the ground, wish him a good day and carry on.

damn. I wish i had done a version of that. well. next time.

and there will be a next time, i’m pretty sure…

that’s “harm reduction”. heheheheh.

Bring it.


So. the other day, I went to a meeting of abolitionists. We’re cooking up some events and speaks and so on with one of the women who was instrumental in getting the Swedish prostitution law in place. You know the one, where the buying of sex is illegal, but the selling is legal.  And there are exit programs and stuff for women so they can get out and stay out.

the thing about Sweden is, they moved from a more liberal legalizing model to a more feminist partial decriminalizing model in 1999-2000.They never seemed to go sideways into a pathologizing/medical model. Not that I can tell, anyhow. Not like we have.

Oh it’s so fucking frustrating, let me tell you. There are all these women downtown (and i’ve been working a tiny bit more at the women’s centre lately — the one that’s not really a women’s centre, on account of all the m-f trans guys who are there–there are more and more of them–booming voices and glitter and perfume…give me strength)–and these women, they’re all on drugs of one sort or another, all struggling hard to stay afloat and they are suffering suffering. With great humour, though, you know, i gotta say. And also with only thinly concealed rage–if these women could see each other, past their own individual pain and see what they shared and work together to alleviate their suffering, if they could manage somehow to look up–we could take over. really and truly.

Anyhow, so there we are all in this pressure cooker of rage and pain and a thin stream of ribald humour flowing through, and the only thing these women have that offers even the dimmest glimmer of hope, is ‘harm reduction’. It comes from all directions, this “harm reduction” (i have to put it in scare quotes, ’cause it’s scary…)–it comes from social services, medicine and law and has leaked from those big institutions to the shelters, to the street nurses and the outreach workers and the do-gooders everywhere–even feminists, we said, “sure, let’s try out this harm reduction thing” at first, twenty years ago–We said, “let’s have some safe fix sites, let’s meet the women where they are at, let’s go there and get them”. But we haven’t.  the best we’ve done, far as I can see, is to meet them where they are at, there in the pressure cooker, and then we ALL stay there. We’re all in the soup together. uh-oh…

When the women’s centre was founded, sometime in the early 1970s, it was founded by the women who lived in the area, lots of them Chinese women, a few Aboriginal women, and some white women. I think all of the women were working-class. Not down-and-out degraded and messed up from men’s violence an melt-yer-brain-onto-the-inside-of-yer-skull drugs, just regular poor, or getting by. And these women, I don’t know much about the beginning, but i figure they knew they needed a place to be together, a space that was free of the male gaze and the threat of male violence. A place they could have coffee together and make some small discoveries of what it means to be a woman in the world of men, in that place that at the time they called “skid row”. by and by they got a little money together, with this grant and that, and they began to offer a meal once a day. Soup.  And they hired some women to work there. they tried to keep it a collective, even though some women were paid workers and some were volunteering, but gradually the divide widened and the services broadened and within a few years, less than twenty, for sure, the paid staff were credentialed and professional (‘small p’ professional, but still…) and the volunteers were do-gooders from rich neighbourhoods or the women who used the centre who couldn’t get paid work. Either women on their way up or women on their way down. Like the workers in security companies–kids on their way to the armed wing of the state, or has-beens, on their way down and out of the work force. sounds cynical, yes.

Women still  come in to the centre to be together, to be sure. But they know better than to be looking to us for a way out. They look to us for some food, a set of underwear, a tube of mascara maybe…some shampoo a shower, maybe the number to a shelter. But we’re not doing them any favours. We’re meeting them where they are, but we’re not seeing them, you know? We try.But the thing is, these women have been medicalized. the whole fucking neighbourhood is treated like a diseased and gangrenous limb. the people who live there are an infection. the gentrification is the antibiotic–okay the metaphor’s breaking down…but it seems there’s no place for them. These women, there is no place for them. They can’t see where they belong, they don’t think they’re worth better than to line up for soup, line up for condoms, line up for needles, line up for the doctor, line up for donated clothes, shoes, underwear… and they all have acronyms. PTSD, OCD, ADHD, or they’re bi-polar or schizo-affective or borderline personality (wtf–like “here’s your diagnosis, honey, it seems that you ALMOST have a personality–but not quite”)–and they have the meds to go with ’em. dear god.

So. The women who use the cetnre now, in this century, this country, they are still poor, like thy were forty years ago, but now on top of poor, they’re also crazy and sick and addicted and labeled and stapled and slotted and


No way out.

So instead of getting beside them, intead of pulling the oppressive forces off, or diverting the pressure of the state and the doctors and the law enforcement folk, what do we do? We collude. We end up agreeing with “The Man”.

Women’s lives are increasingly difficult. There’s less moeny, fewer opportunities, more desperation, where did it come from? I don’t know, but some of us have nice paying jobs because of it now. and there is a bigger and bigger gap between us and them. Some of my co-workers, they ask me, they say, when i start going off about prostitution and pimping and fucking harm reduction that doesn’t–they say, “well, what about choice?” One time one of my co-workers said that and I said, “What kind of coice tdo they have? between the devil and the deep blue sea, that’s no fucking choice, that’s slavery, honey-pie, and no one chooses that. They make the best of it when they get trapped in it, is what they do. Looks like choice to you ’cause you don’t wanna have to give up anything, do ya?” I was a bit harsh. I get a bit, well, riled up.

it’s not exactly accurate, my co-worker seems to like the women we work for, (give stuff to, more like)  — but really , all this ‘harm reduction’ crap is saying to them is,  ” Guess that’s right, not much else you’re good for, there, sister. We’ll work on getting you more condoms and bitty alcohol swabs so you can get fucked but keep clean. Here ya go, here’s a coffee and a sandwich and a clean needle. Enjoy your choice.”

anyhow. lookit that, i went off on a rant there…sorry. i was talking about the abolition meeting. And we’re planning for one of the women who made the Swedish law to come here. And we have a lot of questions–like what has ahppened to the women who used to be in street prostitution? Where are they? how are they? What’s it like for the front-line workers, the rape crisis workers and the transition house workers and addictions counsellors and the educators? How does it all work for the women who used to be on the streets in prostittution? And how does it work for the feminist anti-violence workers in Sweden? They don’t have such a thing as harm reduction there, do they? I don’t know, but i sure hope not. anyhow, she’s coming here, so I can ask her what she knows, and i CAN’T WAIT.

Here’s one more thing, before i finish this dog’s breakfas tof  apost–Harm reduction is the Big Thing now, whereas twenty or thirty years ago, Feminism was the Big Thing. Back when i was starting out in this radical feminist stuff, there was government money for women’s anti-violence work. Slowly, slowly, the funders got more powerful than the agents they were funding. The women started to say the things the fellas with the money wanted to hear, and it wasn’t long before the women’s groups started to believe those things that the institutions of power told us we had to say in order to get the money…

uh-oh. that last paragraph needs more analysis–and i have to go and i’ve been fiddling with this damned thing for too long already, so i’m just gonna post it. If you’re reading this and you want to ask for clarification, please do, or add to it or something, have at ‘er, there’s so much more to excavate…

Canada’s shame

god. Ontario supreme court just ruled that Canada’s solicitation laws were unconstitutional. specifically keeping  a bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution. the judge, a woman judge, she said that removing these laws would keep women safer. She called them sex workers. Everyone called them ‘sex workers’. One of the main complainants in the case, a dominatrix who entered prostitution at the age of 14 because of pressure from her 37 year old pimp/boyfriend hooted that she was looking forward to spanking some bottoms in celebration. She is a complainant along with two other women who are active in prostitution. They are still prostituted(ing). They are delighted with the ruling.

It is not the law that causes their suffering. One of them said, “now a sex worker can pick up the phone and call the police if a john assaults them”. Did she even hear herself say that? What about having a job where rape is not the bloody job description? how bout that? How about stopping the john from buying access to her body in the first place? How be he just give her the money? sweet sufferin’ mother of jay-sus.

I felt sick. I still feel sick. Another sickening thing is the vitriolic spew issuing forth from women who call themselves feminists. See, the radical feminists are coming out and saying, “this is outrageous. this is a gift to pimps and traffickers and punters. Sure the laws need reform, but not all-out repeal, this does not make women any safer.” and the folks who think this is a good thing, the pro-prostitution lobby, they are saying, oh you know, the usual bullshit about radical feminists being anti-porn and anti-sex and hating prostitutes and all that. We’re fucking not any of that. well, okay, anti-porn. I’ll agree. we are anti-porn.

what the fuck is wrong with these people?

A dear friend of mine provided an affidavit–her own true story– to the Crown as evidence that the laws should not be struck, that women in prostitution are harmed by prostitution–by the practice itself. She, and other affiants, argued that the laws themselves are not the cause of the harms they experienced, but the men who bought them were the cause of the harms. Oh, and the people who did not buy them, but drove by them, and shouted to them, “whore! have you no self-respect?” or turned away, or offered disdain in the face of their suffering. That too was harmful. My friend, she said, “it’s hopeless. This is it, there is no way–we did everything we could, we gave them all we had”. She had a really hard time with her affidavit. A really hard time. Writing out what happened to her meant remembering it, almost like reliving it all. She’s tough, my buddy, eh. She’s been out for many many years, and she has a much different and better life now. But that brought up a lot for her. She has nightmares again. “I woke up screaming last week” she told me.

The people who call prostitution “work”, they say it’s just like any job in the service industry. But listen, we’ve all had shitty jobs. We’ve all worked way too hard for way too little money, or had bosses who power-tripped on us, or co-workers who betrayed us or picked fights or whatever. We’ve all had crappy jobs in the service industry. But when we quit those jobs and moved on to other things, the experiences we had flipping burgers or cleaning toilets or stocking shelves or– did not cause us, TWENTY YEARS LATER, to wake up screaming.

Prostitution is not a job like any other job in the service industry.

She told her story. She told the truth about her life. And that judge, she treated her with the same kind of flagrant disdain as did the passers-by twenty years ago when she was a young woman, doing her best, alone on the street, trying to be tough. It should have been enough. One woman’s story should have been enough to stop those fancy-ass lawyers in their tracks. And they had more stories. Many more.

The only thing i can figure, the only reason I can guess that the lawyers did NOT, the moment they read one of the affidavits from the Crown’s case, drop their pursuit of this challenge–is that they, too, are punters. They must be johns themselves. or pimps. or both. I can’t understand how they would otherwise try to chip away at the very slender protection women might have.

but i can’t for the life of me figure out why these other women are proclaiming such a victory. I can’t figure out for the life of me why they are directing such venomous spew at radical feminists–at the oldest rape-crisis centre in the country–at the women like my friend, brave and frightened, telling the truth. Why are these women, who will need our alliance, so ready to deny the alliance? We are right where THE MAN wants us to be. At each others throats.  I’m not gonna play that. I don’t like them, or trust them, but I will resist the powerful urge to throw their shit back in their faces. They are women. There is something about their own pain they are working out. I guess. Anyway, they have something to teach me. Everyone does. maybe it’s just fucking patience. christ.

The laws will not be struck down right now. The judge gave thirty days before she would recommend they be repealed. The federal government has already served notice they will appeal. It’s a conservative government, notably anti-woman, and no ally of the women’s liberation movement. But they are the only federal party which publicly states that prostitution is a form of violence against women.

it’s a weird world when the christian conservatives offer more hope for women’s liberation than women who call themselves feminists, or activists, or than the social democrats. Mind you, Rosa Luxembourg did say, early last century, that “social democracy paves the way for fascism”. mmmm. must think on that some more.

I just think of those arrogant young men in front of the strip club when we were doing the ‘buying sex is not a sport’ campaign, yelling, “c’mon in! we got pussy for sale!”

Inside. Women were inside. for sale. ya. lots safer. nausea rises. This is shameful.

we have a lot of work to do. more than i even imagined.

I’m afraid.

but that’s gotta not get in my way. my friend needs me. needs us. and we will win. we will. women are worth so much.

addiction and being wrong. some thoughts…

Okay. So the debate around these parts about prostitution/pornography/’sex work”/choice/feminism/etc/etc/etc is pretty hot. This outfit calling themselves “First: feminist advocates for sex workers rights” (or something, the name is ‘first’ for sure, am not sure of the subtitle) have recently released a short video about ‘sex workers’. in it, these five or six women are pictured, one at a time, talking about all their achievements. One is a classically trained pianist. Another is a writer. A third designs jewelry. One is pregnant with her third child. Another’s son said in a teen-boy-monotone; “I love my mom”. And so on. One of ’em, she’s the head of some ‘adult entertainment’ agency or something. Which is, as we know, just another euphemism for men buying women’s bodies. uh-huh.  There’s some text on the screen about how these women are just like other women, they are diverse and multi-everything, and … they are “sex workers” (I have to put that term in scare quotes because it helps to contain the gag reflex a bit. you KNOW i don’t think of it as work). Then after the text, these same women are shown proclaiming, “I am a sex worker”. One woman said, “I am a former sex worker”. and another muttered, “I am kind of a part-time street worker…”  The white women all smiled as they said it. One looked like she was trying for a ‘saucy, sexy’ look. None of the Aboriginal women smiled as they said it. A couple of them looked at the camera as if to say, “what are you gonna do about that? Wanna go?”

I know some of the women who are part of First. I know some of the women in that video, too. Not well. Not as well as I’d like to, some of them. Now, what i’ve noticed about those “First” women, the founders and the main spokespeople, and I don’t i know if there’s a correlation or not, but they tend to drink. A lot.

Now, ya know, I used to drink a lot too. And now i don’t drink at all and i go to these meetings and I have different ways now to deal with the rage and heartache of living in a misogynist capitalist patriarchy that hates me and all the folks who need me and whom i need. pretty much. So, given that, and my previous drug use, and my present understanding that my addiction is just over there in the corner, doing pushups–I am not casting aspersions on my sisters on the wrong side for their heavy use of anesthesia. No indeed. I disagree with them politically, and I think their ideology and tactics are harmful, but I still wish them well. I wish for them freedom from addiction. and I wish for their alliance. I don’t think i can have it, though.

i think  what they are doing; promoting prostitution as a ‘career choice ‘ for women, claiming to be ‘sex-positive’ and pro-pornography are –i think these positions are linked with active addiction. Not that all people (especially women) who hold these views are addicted, or ‘using substances problematically’, but i just notice a pattern. i can’t imagine how women can promote or condone the commodification and exploitation of women. some of these women, of course, have sons, and brothers and dads whom they love. some of ’em, these sons and brothers and dads, some of them are dangerous to women. In fact, I’ll wager that they may have raped and bought and sold and incested some of the very women who are agitating for their right to continue such behaviour. Certainly, they have had material benefits from male violence against women, even if they have done none of it themselves.

Anyhow. I’m trying to work it out. Why are these women using alcohol to such an extent? Why are they so strident in their defense of the prostitution/pimping industry? what is the connection? Is there one?

I heard one of these women speak at a book launch a couple of years ago. The floor was open for questions of the featured author and the person holding the microphone GAVE it to the “First” woman. dear me. Sister said, “My mother sold sex; my grandmother sold sex…” and went on to challenge the author about the lack of representation in her book about the real lives of sex workers. I think maybe she was not sober, and she rambled a bit. I don’t remember what the answer was to her comment.  But she made me think. She reminded me that women will reject any whiff of being regarded as incapable. And they (we) will interpret the status or label of “victim” as being synonymous with ‘incapable”. so if we say, “no. this was my mothers choice. i love my mom.” then we are saying, “she was not a victim, she was resourceful.” Of course, those of us who understand that women in prostitution are victims of male violence do not perforce consider them incapable. no. but we’re accused of being patronizing and judgmental. It’s not what we are saying, it’s what they are hearing. How can we say it different? How can we find a way to say to these “pro-sex-worker advocates” that they deserve better? We all do. It is possible to say, “I am a victim” or, “You have been victimized” or something like that, without talking down, without laying blame on the victim, without patronizing. Indeed, the POINT of saying the word “VICTIM” is to also say the word “PERPETRATOR” . If a woman has been the victim of rape, fer instance, a MAN has been the perpetrator. Rape does not just happen. it doesn’t float around in the air like a virus waiting for some hapless woman to breathe it in. Prostitution does not happen. Women do not just ‘choose’ to go out and suck dick in exchange for ten bucks. Someone is attached to that dick. And that someone, that man, he has gone out LOOKING for a woman to suck his dick. He’s gone out looking, and he’s found her among the women who are similarly responding to the demands of men for dick-suckers. She would not go out looking to suck some penis for money if  THE MAN had not sashayed up with all his entitlement and said, “hey, you. I got this here willy. It needs some hole to go into. you’ll do. here’s ten bucks.” This man, by his demand, his entitlement; he is making unreasonable demands on women and he his victimizing her. he is a perpetrator. she is a victim.

Sure she’s strong and resourceful and has all these other attributes. but he doesn’t want her for that. he wants her for her hole. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she’s a concert pianist or a brain surgeon. he’d rather she not be, but just so long as she shuts up about that and wanks him off, she can be anything. who cares. he doesn’t.

Take me, for instance. I drank, smoked dope and cigarettes for many years. Often i’d have a cigarette in one hand and a megaphone in the other.  I have been a feminist my whole adult life, and probably my childhood, too. i found feminism after I found alcohol, and for a while they seemed to go together. You know, drink beer, talk politics, foment revolution. There are lots of things to which i can attribute my predilection to addiction, (none of them having the least little bit to do with my mother–fyi)–and one of the significant things I think is that i am perhaps sensitive to suffering. And afraid. And pathologically optimistic. a bit, shall we say, Quixotic.

Had I been exposed to the sex-positives a little earlier in my life, or followed my youthful desire (I thought it was *my* desire, anyhow) to become a stripper (even though I really have no sense of rhythm whatsoever, and can’t even friggin’ two-step, let alone shimmy…), it is possible I would have remained an active alcoholic for much longer. Eventually, I realized that drinking was not so good for me. I had people around me who told me that i was in trouble. That I should maybe get some help. I was ready to hear it those times. and there was feminism, a foundation that was easier to stand on when i was sober and steady on my feet. radical feminism, at that, not the “you can do whatever you want” kind of feminism.

I’m really lucky. I know active, radical, disciplined and loving feminists. I’m an academic now which is kinda lonesome and confusing in some ways. Like, is this really work? am i really going to contribute something? I’m afraid a lot of the time. But I don’t have to go far to find someone who will tell me “no, you’re not crazy, you’ve got something helpful to say here. Just do it.” I think i drank so much before because, well, i became addicted, for one, and i was not sure enough of myself, my place in the bigger thing.

anyhow. I’m still working it out. there are lots of reasons to be addicted. Lots of reasons to keep using. Life is hard. hearts break. horrors abound. there is a war against women. we are women. and sometimes the only way to endure the war is to defend the enemy, try to stay on his good side, and drink up.

I want to be generous to my enemies, to hear their disagreement and criticism with an open heart. but i want them to change their minds, i want them to stop doing these harmful things. how?i can’t change anyone, but how can we find freedom with all these people in the way? littering the road with bottles and needles and used condoms and lies meant to protect the guilty?



I’m doing a 5 k “fun run” today. I’m all anxious and stiff. anxious ’cause i hate running. my feet are all misshapen and icky, (bless them) and i’m asthmatic and you know, kinda…well whatever. I’m in good shape for lots of things, just none of them aerobic, really.

and i’m anxious because i’ve got no money and no work (well, a couple of on-call jobs) and I don’t want a job, I just want to write stories and play my accordion, but i don’t do either because i’m a student and so i go on the ‘net and I read shit i should not read because i’m supposed to be writing my ethics approval form and developing a research protocol and i’m about to leap into research, which i always say i don’t like, but in truth, i’m just afraid. I’m afraid that i’ll go interview all these women (i want to do a study about how the whole harm reduction ideology has entered the social services AND feminist activism–and learn more about how HR has affected women’s understanding of their work and activism especially in regard to violence against women-and specifically women in prostitution. And I want to show just how fucking harmful ‘harm reduction’ is, we throw it at these women, ’cause it’s just a sop, and not a very effective one at that. We are abandoning the beautiful people, drug addicts, the women, the poor, the women, those beautiful haunted women, my sisters, myself–we keep them down and dependent on the stupid and the thoughtless so-called services…and i wonder if there might be other women, who do the work i used to do, the cooking, the cleaning, the playing crib, the facilitating groups, the planning programs, the outreach the advocacy–are they troubled like I am? are they frustrated and sad? Do they cry on their way to work? and I want to come up with revolutionary alternatives that women who do the front line work can take up and make into something real and effective so we can achieve our liberation together) — and i’m afraid that half of ’em will hate me because i’m an abolitionist, and i’m afraid that i’ll come across as too rigid and self-righteous (i know. hard to believe), and i’m afraid that no one will talk to me. And then i’m afraid that if they do talk to me that i’ll get tendonitis from typing up the fucking transcripts and then i’ll do all this fucking work and no one will want to publish anything i write, and my dissertaition, if i ever finish it, will sit on a shelf with all the other fucking ponderous dust collectors and i’ll get a fucking job at the local coffee shop with those loud tatoo’ed creatures with the weird things in their ears, and never pay off my fucking student loans, and start drinking again because, why the fuck not?

oh my god. see? see what i have to listen to day in and day out? Even when i’m reading a really good book, like Rauna Kuokkannen’s Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes and the Logic of the Gift (2007), I can’t be fucking still and i’m sorry for all the swearing i’m doing here, i am a bit anxious, cause the run is coming up and i haven’t finished my ethics review form, and i’m afraid to start, and what if i don’t have the right idea after all, what if there is no possibility of change, and i really AM just tilting at windmills? But i’m NOT tilting at windmills, i’m stuck, i’m just standing here, one foot nailed to the floor, the other one wearing a groove all around. Give me a jousting stick and a windmill, it’s at least a little better than this spinning in circles wearing a groove in the floor…

Maybe when i get home i’ll take that tired old accordion out of her case and play a little bit. maybe i’ll do that. that might be a nice thing. even if i can’t really play, it’ll be at least a little more outside noise to stifle the inside noise.

the run will do me good. I’m sure.

Harm Re(pro)duction*

So. earlier, i wrote in a post that car-sharing is a lot like harm reduction, and therefore not so good after all.

What’s ‘not so good’ about harm reduction? How could it not be good? who wants to exacerbate harm?

well. no one, probably. But no one wants to give up the good stuff they’ve got, either. But if we are serious about reducing harm, we have to be serious about redistributing the wealth and power, too. And ‘harm reduction’ (or car sharing) doesn’t do that–not in a structural way, anyhow.

I’m gonna try to explain, then i’ll get to the analogy–

so. Harm reduction is a “pragmatic approach” to social problems, chiefly, proponents say, drug addiction. Harm reduction in practice includes needle exchanges, safe fix sites, free condoms to women in prostitution, ‘condom negotiation workshops” (i kid you not), ‘wet’ shelters, ‘barrier-free’ drop ins (people who are loaded can come in/stay; people can use at the shelter–sometimes it’s set up so that people addicted to alcohol can have a drink on the house every hour), methadone maintenance, and so forth.

In relation to women in prostitution–Harm reduction targets are women who are prostituted(ing) on the street, typically, not women in escort services, brothels, sweatshops, high school girls at parties, strippers, those advertising(ed) on craigslist, or women otherwise bought and sold through means not “in public”. That was a hell of a long sentence. sorry about that. Anyhow, the aim of harm reduction appears to be to get women inside. That’s the overall goal, ’cause ‘inside’ is safer than ‘outside’. apparently.

Tactics for these women include late night visits from outreach workers to offer them coffee, condoms, stale pastries from Starbuck’s (good corporate citizens that they are), lists of particularly nasty men (bad date sheets–formerly known as ‘bad trick’ sheets–more on them later) to watch out for, referrals (more on that later, too); “beauty night”; legal challenges to repeal solicitation laws (there are two such court actions going on in Canada at present); ‘low barrier’ shelters or housing (places that are staffed usually by earnest young women working overnights to pay for school–who will let women bring ‘guests’ in, then call the cops or bounce them outta there, when they refuse to leave after they got their blowjob); and other stuff.

None of which actually reduce the harms that women face, ’cause they don’t address the source of the harm. and, of course, they place the onus for change and self-protection on THE VICTIM. It’s okay to say victim in this context,too, no matter what the pro-pimp side will say about prostitution being a choice for women, and potentially empowering and so on and so forth–There’s this whole debate going on over at the Economist:

it’s flawed from the beginning, because the question posed is “Should prostitution be legal?” so, it just assumes that there are only two possible answers “yes” or “no” and does not take into account the complicated tensions between those who would abolish prostitution because women are morally corrupting men via prostitution and those who would abolish prostitution because it is a form of male violence against women and represents the deep inequalities between men and women–there is also nothing in there about how women’s ‘choice’ is used as a weapon against them, as in, “some women choose this and enjoy it” without questioning why men choose to buy women, and why it is overwhelmingly men who do the buying, set the terms, make the demands, not women “setting the terms of their employment”. fah.

ah. I digressed. Anyhow, so, what effect does “harm reduction” policy and practice have on the women who are providing these services to women in prostitution? what do the outreach workers, advocates, activists think of this? We started out,(some of us, and mostly those of us in it for a decade or more, anyhow), in the front-line work because we thought it was a way to get beside women with less than us–or as a way to ‘give back’–help other women outta the pit that women had helped US out of–or because we saw it as an organizing tactic. Some of us thought that if we take care of some of the immediate physical needs, we could figure out a way to fight the patriarchy together, gain some ground, at least SEE freedom from here. I don’t actually know (yet) what other workers/activists think about harm reduction, though i have some informed suspicions–and I aim to find out. I will keep you posted.

i don’t think we figured on the patriarchy and capitalism being so fucking resilient, actually. They got around us by throwing medicine at us. We saw how sick and crazy mens violence and harassment made women. Some of us, I think, we either invited medical interventions or we went into medicine or psychology to try to help. The Man saw, too, that women were driven mad by Him, so he gave us drugs, treated the symptom rather than looking at the cause. ‘Cause, you know, an anesthetized woman is even better than a dead one, ’cause she can still cook and clean if you don’t go too heavy on the dosage…so…

And then there came harm reduction, which emerged from medicine and epidemiology (study of epidemics), Turns out it is a good way to keep some people on the bottom of the social pyramid so they can be the raw resource for the human services industry–social workers and the like…the very women who do the work I used to do before i went back to school, (’cause my heart kept breaking, and I wanted to figure out what was wrong with this picture, and how to change it). I didn’t very much like that my job, my living wage, depended upon there being so many people that had jack-shit. I loved them, and they annoyed the hell out of me, and we gave each other some joy and strife–but we are completely dependent on each other, and not in a good way. My living depended on their degradation. gross.

This is too simplistic, but I have been fiddling with this for too long, i have to get to the point…

Anyhow. So here we are, we have not ended male violence against women, there’s a whole bunch of people who think that there is such a thing as “sex work” which is separate from “survival sex work” which is also separate from “trafficking”–so they want to legalize prostitution and if they do that, then all the “sex workers” will go inside, out of the rain, and out of public view, and all the “survival sex workers” will…um, well, hard to say what they will do if ‘sex work’ becomes legal…but they’ll for sure still go to the drop-in centres and stay in the shelters and take the free condoms and try to take care of each other and themselves and probably use drugs to get along so they’ll be ‘clients’ at the safe fix sites and clinics and so on (except for when the men who buy them and/or beat them are also clients there, so then they’ll have to wait).

What does this have to do with car-sharing co-ops, you may ask? Well. It’s harm reduction, see? We don’t have to pay insurance or buy gas or maintain our own cars, we just put down a $500 refundable deposit and pay a bit per usage ($3.00/hr in our case + mileage–not so much, i don’t know what) and then we  can drive pretty much any time we want to. The more members, the more cars there are, so it’s not inconvenient. And I don’t know about others, but for me, it just keeps the craving for a car of my own ALIVE. I think if I didn’t have a car, or access to one, I wouldn’t want one. I don’t ever need one, or hardly ever–this is a big city with a pretty good transit system and I have a bike and strong legs, there’s never a need for a car. There is just the desire. Just the craving. The obsession. And the obsession is stoked every time I get to drive the little Mini Cooper at Main and 13th, or the Nissan Cube at Cambie and 10th, or the Versa, or the Echo, or the Mazda truck, or…sometimes i just book a car BECAUSE I CAN. and i get all these fucking karmic points for not owning my own car, for having a “small carbon footprint”–and it’s a sham, really it is. I might pay less for a car, but I’m a member of the fucking car co-op, I own HUNDREDS of cars, all over the city! And the addiction stays alive, the monkey’s on my back (oooh. I want...) . It’s like the so-called safe-injection site–as long as there’s a place to go where you can take your drugs and be “safe”, why would you want to take the risk and experience a clean and sober life? Why would I want to take the risk and go without a car, especially on rainy gross days?

I dunno. At a certain point the metaphor breaks down, but I will stop writing just before I reach it–the main thing is, car-sharing is like a gateway drug. If you’re like me, you could get to a place where you are just jonesing all the time for a carbon fix and you want to get into one of those beautiful new, nimble fast cars and drive. And crave your very own car. someday again, i will…

it’s kind of torture. it is kind of like still being addicted, but not having access to the drug as often. The craving, the obsession, never goes away. The hole is still there, never filled. See? Harm reduction just keeps the addiction alive, it doesn’t change anything. not. one. fucking. thing.


*That parenthetical syllable inserted into “harm reduction” extends from a verbal description of ‘harm reduction’ by a radical feminist ally–it more aptly describes the effect of harm reduction (not the intent).

bye for now…

I’m going to Denmark in a couple of days! Denmark! whoa. I don’t usually use exclamation marks, i think they’re a bit shrill.

but — Denmark!

okay. i’ll stop that now. I’m going to a summer school for grad students on the topic of lifelong learning inside and outside of formal schooling situations. the paper i’m gonna present is about how, well, broadly, how the discourse about prostitution has been increasingly medicalized, and feminist analysis and voices calling prostitution violence against women have been erased. Even as women in prostitution have been both pathologized and abandoned by promoters of ‘harm reduction’. you know what harm reduction is, eh–condoms galore, ‘bad trick’ sheets, outreach workers, street nurses, ‘condom use negotiation workshops’, etcetera– these things and more are supposed to help women be safer, seeing as how they ‘choose’ to be in prostitution anyhow, and it IS the “world’s oldest profession” after all.

bullshit. farming is.prostitution is oppression, not profession.

and so fucking what? slavery’s been around a long fucking time, too, can we find people who think that enslaved people “choose” it?  And hey, rape, battering, child sexual assault? Men have been doing these things a long time. Okay with you? Nope. I bet not. And if it is, you’re not likely to say so in public, are ya?

But prostitution, now, that’s something else entirely. That’s business. or, well, maybe it’s a health concern. No kidding. On page 6, I think, of a recent report called “the Challenge Of Change” produced by a special subcommittee of the Canadian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (or something, I don’t have it here right now, i forget the exact title)–the authors wrote that prostiution is  “above all, a public health issue, and not only a criminal law issue”.

fer cryin’ out loud. Mostly they’re concerned about the health of the public, not so much the ‘public women’. Though it does seem that concern for women in prostitution is high. It just seems that mostly, public policy makers and service providers and just about everyone has given in to cynicism and despair and don’t want to really address the demand.

Like ‘wife battering’, ‘rape’, ‘incest’, ‘sexual harassment’…it is an identifiable group that is responsible for ALL of it. All of it. Men. They do it, they get away with it, and even the guys who DON’T do it have more space and power and stuff because other men do it — to women. We are all victims of male violence. Even if no man has ever touched us, we’ve all seen the advertisements, we’ve heard the stories, we’ve been trained to be alert to the possibilities, we’ve all taken the ‘bad trick’ sheet home with us and studied it.

The difference between women in prostitution and women not in prostitution is mostly that the women in prostitution are in danger from men who buy them AND men they live with or have relationships with, and women not in prostitution are mostly only in danger from men they know.

feminist anti-male-violence activists know this, but who listens to us? Well, for a while, in the 70s and 80s, it looked like more people were hearing us. Another study, published in 1985, the Fraser Committee’s report on Pornography and Prostitution in Canada was obviously influenced by feminism. At the very least, they understood that women in prostitution were most at risk from men who bought or sold them (i can’t remember what page that’s on, either). And there was lots more discussion in that report about women’s poverty, and male domination, and how we have to start educating people early about sexuality and all that.

By 2006, all that discussion disappeared, as had a feminist voice in the public discourse. Time to bring that back.

that, broadly, is what my paper’s about. Lifelong learning.

yep. Denmark’s gonna be fun.

because i am, after all, easily riled, I’ll likely do some blogging when I’m there, but who knows, maybe i’ll be too busy lookin’ at castles and arguing with academics from Portugal and Turkey.

so, you know, bye for now.