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Category Archives: male violence against women

traitors

A little while ago, I woke up to the radio announcer promoting a show about writers featuring two women who have turned their backs on their womanhood and rejected solidarity with other women, other lesbians, in order to gain a measure of safety and acceptance and power for themselves. They wrote a book together about their treachery, and are now celebrating its publication.
Of course, they do not see their embrace of gender-neutral pronouns, breast-binding and rejection of their own femaleness (along with femininity) as misogynist. But that’s what it is. The radio announcer said, “Both were raised as girls, but it never really sat well with them”, and then there was a clip of one of them talking about her preference for the (often grammatically noxious) use of the pronoun “they”.
OF COURSE they never liked being girls — I don’t know anyone who did, not really. Some women do like to be girly to an extent — there is some fun to be had in the dressing up part, but god, the pointy shoes, the toxic hair spray, the expectations to take care of everyone everyone — all the children, all the sick people, all the elders, all the men–all the time (and if we get paid for it, we get paid a pittance). Oh, there is so much about being a “proper woman” that is really hard and unfair and painful. And THEN, to add insult to injury, the clothes that women are supposed to wear almost ALWAYS have no proper pockets. And they’re uncomfortable and not as well-made as men’s clothes.
Women are always the ones to make adjustments in order to prevent attack. Carry a whistle, don’t go out alone at night. hell, don’t go out alone. don’t wear the christly clothes that men have designed and relentlessly marketed to us, don’t leave your drink alone, don’t drink, don’t go here, don’t go there, carry this, don’t carry that —
This trans thing is just one more thing women can do to protect ourselves from men’s aggression. Become men, then they won’t hurt us. Then we can also get the stuff that men get — the acknowledgment, the room to move, the attention when we speak, the extra money on our paycheques, the pockets and the sensible shoes. Plus, because men are not trained to pay attention to others as much as women are, they won’t likely notice the female in the locker room. If they do, though, they’ll be pissed. And they’re much more dangerous than are other women (which we know of course, that’s why we do all this elaborate stuff to avoid their wrath).
So there. a couple women who are a bit safer. And they can say, “we’ve never been women, we have always been men” because they didn’t feel comfortable conforming to the feminine gender. Meanwhile, all the other women, (who are ALSO uncomfortable conforming to the feminine gender, by the way), are left in the same rigid social constructs that benefit men (materially, certainly, though the cost to their humanity is great–if they only knew). They’re still cooking most of the meals, changing most of the diapers, making less of the money, and packing themselves and their kids off to transition houses when Prince Charming goes off the rails (again). But our heroes are brave and transgressing binaries by I-dentifying as masculine-ish “theys”. Thereby leading the way.
leading the way backwards. “You’re right,” their ‘choice’ tells everyone, “you’ve been right all along, being a woman is less than being a man. Women are, yes, weaker, dumber, and less important than men”.
If you are female and troubled because you are not allowed to take up your share of public space — don’t bother with all that messy, uncomfortable, complicated political organizing or rape crisis work, or trying to change the gendered, racist, capitalist systems that keep us apart from each other, that increase the pressure of the boot on the necks of our sisters and aunties and neighbours — don’t bother with all that. Bind your breasts, pitch your voice a bit deeper, call yourself Stefan or Logan (Do they ever pick names like Marion or Leslie or even Bill or Roger?) and be a man.
That’s why I call what they’re doing treachery. They can (kind of, almost) pass, and they have race and class on their side, too — they’re using all this to get a bit more for themselves. They’re not doing jackshit to change the conditions of other women’s lives — it’s such an unimaginative solution to women’s oppression*. Building solidarity and organizing politically with other women is really hard and messy and frustrating — but if it wasn’t for the work of women before us, we would not have the vote, or pants, or transition houses or laws that criminalize rape, or access to abortion or credit cards (a dubious benefit, to be sure) or literacy or—
Now i want to be clear — i don’t give a rats ass if they, or any woman, wants to take on a male name, and wear their jeans with the crotch at the knees like the boys do, and take up welding — what really burns my ass is the denial of their femaleness. Why do they not say, “We didn’t like what was expected of girls so we decided to change those expectations for girls”? Why not look around, see where the holes in the walls are, and hammer away at it to make space for other women too? I guess ’cause it’s easier to do the individual thing, and adjust your own behaviour than it is to look for where we benefit, too, and address the contradictions and take responsibility–
Those two, it’s not entirely their fault, their betrayal of women — and i don’t think they’ve chosen an easy road — no woman’s road is easy, well, not many — but the road of the ‘passing for male’ is I think easier. I think it’s kind of comforting for the powerful when the oppressed do something like this, conform to the existing social structures — they’re not rebelling or making waves, they’re just sliding in to a different part of the structure. It’s easier for everyone that way. Except for those who are already on the bottom. Their burden, then, becomes a bit heavier.

 

*I know there are some trans people who are involved in some political organizing — of course there are — and even some who are gender-critical and working with others to dismantle sexism, address class inequality and interfere with systemic racism — what i am most concerned with here is their utter disrespect for femaleness, and their seeming acceptance of the taken for granted assumptions that patriarchy makes about our ‘essential’ qualities.

damn amsterdam

April 14, in the evening, I went to a screening of Buying Sex, a recent Canadian documentary by Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nashon that describes the recent Bedford case, wherein Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down after a challenge brought by Alan Young and appeals through Ontario and Canada Supreme Court. Anyway, the filmmakers follow the case as it ambles through the courts from the original Ontario court decision to the first appeal, leading to the final appeal of Canada to the Supreme court. They interviewed lawyers, women who have left prostitution, academics, policy makers and men who rape women for money buy sex. There were disturbing bits, especially the footage from a German brothel, you could hear a woman moaning in pain and saying, “that hurts…”, there was a bit in there featuring a woman who ran a brothel in New Zealand, where she pimped out young women–“I just said two days ago, ‘i need a blonde, younger than 20, size 6′, and then you came!” she said, crowing about her newest acquisition– and the interviews with the johns was uniformly awful “men need sex, if we don’t get it at home, we’ll pay for it. it’s human nature”  which is ridiculous of course–they were so … entitled yet shut down and cynical. ugh. But there was a lot of hopeful footage, too–Swedish men talking about how they reject that, and one guy (the guy who made the movie about the German brothel) talking about how important it is for men to care for their children, and to see women as their peers — and the women, the women who were lawyers and the women who were once prostituted and the women who were front-line workers (though we didn’t see much of them, and heard very little–I know they were interviewed, though–I know they are front and centre in this fight–but marginalized in the media. sigh).

Then we heard from a panel of women, all of them part of women’s groups, active feminists — and all of them affected by the prostitution and pornography industry, as are we all. Each of them talked about prostitution as a particularly vicious form of male violence against women, a practice of colonial rule, and each of them talked about their hopes for a future that has no prostitution in it — where women and men will be equal to each other, politically, economically, socially. It will take a revolution, this equality, and it will take a long time, too. But we’ve been a long time with men’s boot on our neck, these things take a while to correct. Don’t know when it all went sideways, but we can straighten things out if we want to. And enough of us want to, seems to me. Look at the crowd there for the film screening–the room was pretty full. nearly two hundred people, i think. There was one guy there who was one of the johns in the movie. he went to the mic to ask a question. He has a disability, travels in a wheelchair, and introduced himself by saying, “I am a client of sex workers” — that was kind of brave in a fucked-up way. And then he asked a question about how to prevent people from entering prostitution — that was weird. He didn’t seem at all apologetic or self-reflective, couldn’t see the contradiction, it seemed. One of the panel members said, “stop buying women, stop using pornography”. Everyone said that at one time or another. The guy wasn’t defensive, anyway, seemed to me. Then again, even if he was, he wouldn’t get a lot of sympathy about the whole buying sex thing. People asked thoughtful interesting questions. Of course mostly men came to the mic, it’s always mostly men.

Then i went to a late night twelve-step meeting. and sitting right across from me was a young man with a t-shirt from Amsterdam’s red light district. silhouette of a naked woman right there, in the shape of a capital A, the second one in the name of the city. I couldn’t stop staring at it, and frowning at him. of course he didn’t notice me. I didn’t go up to him after the meeting to tell him he’s an asshole for wearing that shirt, and he has some amends to make to ALL the women in his life for promoting pimping and prostituting women like that, and … but i didn’t. because i was tired, and angry and disappointed — just ’cause you get into recovery doesn’t mean you don’t stop lovin’ the bullshit patriarchy feeds ya. And i was second-guessing myself, too, there’s that whole singleness of purpose thing going on — but really, sexism DOES interfere with women’s recovery — a few weeks ago, i was at that same meeting, and another young man, when he shared, he said, “I want to tell all the men here to not hit on the women in the rooms. I heard that about 1/3rd of our membership is female, and when i was out there, it looked a lot like 50/50 to me–maybe women aren’t coming here because men put the moves on them, and that’s wrong–women are dying out there, we have to really look at our behaviour and stop preying on them” — he did speak in terms that strong. I was grateful to him, and other men said after, “thank you for saying that”. None of the women speaking after thanked him, but that’s fine, he did the right thing, and that should be thanks enough, and the acknowledgment from other men that he spoke a true thing they needed to hear. We don’t owe him any cookies. But still. I am grateful to him. I hope he keeps that up. i hope he meets buddy with the porny t-shirt and takes some care of him.

 

Holy smokes, it’s 2014 now! I began this post in the spring of 2013, I think. Just noodling away while my right foot healed from bunion surgery. Now I’m still a lesbian, but my right big toe is straight! I’ll just let this post stand as I’ve written it, but by bit over the past number of months, a sentence here, a paragraph there, write, delete, write, save draft, move on…here ya go:
In part, I’m not posting on account of I have this dissertation to finish. Most of my cohort has graduated now. Two others, like me, are not yet done, but both of them lost their mothers early in our program, and took a leave to help with their care and after. They have also added children to their families, as have most of the rest of my cohort. I don’t know how they do it — babies and jobs and publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals and teaching classes and presenting at conferences and ‘networking’ and then they all got academic jobs before or when they finished.
Then there’s me. Not getting a hair cut ’till i’m finished at least a full draft. hair’s pretty long. tangled and wild, just like the inside of my head. I am now working on my THIRD draft, but I didn’t get my hair cut because Mom wanted to brush it when I went home for Christmas. Plus, to tell the truth, now I kinda like it…and as I said, it is a fairly true representation of the knots and split ends and tangles my thinking often is — Harm reduction, women’s liberation, prostitution, front-line work, activism, law enforcement, legislation, compassion, education, learning and thinking and practice and theory — whose voice counts and for what? I have it, i have it all right here, but it’s still in piles or shards, and the finish line is shimmering in the distance like a mirage on the broad desert of libertarian individualism– choice, agency, consent, voice, sexwork, oppression, justice — what the hell do the proponents of legitimating prostitution mean by “justice” or “choice” when they argue for legal brothels? What do the women on the front-lines of feminist anti-violence work, or street-based health care, or social service advocacy mean when they talk about the application or meaning or uses or harms of harm reduction? How do we meet each other where we are, how do we see through the fog and cacophony of “best practices” and “evidence-based” and “respect for their choices–constrained though they may be” and hang on to each other as we look together for a way out?
It’s so easy to go off in several directions, and then i get kinda stuck and end up–well, here, fiddling with yet another draft of yet another blog post that I may not even post at all.  fits and starts, fits and starts. story of my life…
There are always reasons that i’m not done yet. Death, birthdays, grieving, celebration, work, love, fighting, worrying, fretting over this and that–but not delving, you know? not flinging myself wholly into one thing or another– just falling into the messiness of everything and thrashing about. There’s a difference. Falling in, you just get all covered in mess, and it takes a long time of kicking and flailing and sinking to make sense of it. Sometimes you only get covered in ick.
Purposefully leaping in, on the other hand, means you have to look where you’re leaping–even if you don’t see IT exactly, you know the spot to aim for. It’s good, too, to know to dive–close your eyes, tuck your head, raise your arms above your head, palms together, your body a spring–you’ve been training for this, you know what to do–once you’re in the air you have to have faith– and never lose your focus or your nerve.
One of my mentors (I have a few, most have come to me from surprising places) said to me, “Well, you have been dealing with a deadly disease, after all, don’t underestimate how hard that is”. I had, of course. Underestimated, that is, — how hard it is to figure out how to live as fully human after twenty years of hiding inside a case of beer (I preferred good single-malt scotch, of course, but it’s more expensive. And in truth it’s wasted on me. I would just chug it anyway).  There is NO WAY I would be where I am now were I still drinking. No way. Even though I think I’ve had a pretty smooth road, I have indeed worked pretty hard over the last nearly six years just on living sober. I go to these meetings, and I write about my resentments and anxiety and my part in it all, and talk to other women who “go to my church” so to speak, and I ask for help and I help others and I do things that I don’t want to do like pray and meditate (I’m an atheist, but I know I’m not alone. I don’t understand a whole bunch of stuff, so if I talk about it to my grandma, or to my dad or to ancestors who’ve gone before me, and then just shut up and sit still for a bit, an answer will come). So, you know, that’s a lot of talking and listening and writing and doing that just gets me to zero, right? It just gets me to where most people who aren’t addicted begin.
Of course I am still critical. I always chicken out at the last minute. I start, I train, i write, I read, i take my pen and my paper, my books right there, the notes from discussions there, the timer set and — “oh, one game of solitaire won’t hurt” — then before you know it, it’s gone from solitaire to email to that video about [‘well, it’s kind of related to my research…]  to Angry Birds (dear god, what have I become?) — and by the time i pick up my pen again, or open the file on my computer, I’ve lost my nerve. I have to prepare again, breathe deep, review my notes, set the timer — On bad days, I’m covered with ick, have cleared two levels or won three out of umpteen games of solitaire, read two or three articles about whatever, answered the phone, written three emails, checked my email 235.3 times, and —
on good days, all that, plus written one five-sentence paragraph. it’s exhausting. The self-trashing alone–i tell you…
It’s time i learned, though. There are three things in my life that I have to dive into with my whole self–One is living sober. I can’t do jack about anything else if i’m hammered or obsessing about altering my consciousness. I can do anything if i’m staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety. Anything.
One is my dissertation, and what the hell to do with it after — i must not let it gather dust on a shelf–or whatever the digital equivalent of that is—i’m sure it has something to offer, and sixteen women told me the truth about their lives and work–The PhD, jesus. it’s so intimidating.
And one is my, um, primary intimate relationship. I’m not sure what exactly to call it–‘partner ship’ sounds kinda too much like business, ‘love affair’ doesn’t sound committed or serious enough, and ‘relationship’ isn’t specific enough. We’re friends, lovers, political allies, family, home — and in all that sometimes comfort, sometimes discomfort — it’s a journey and a place–a project and a lifework–it’s play and solace and sometimes it’s not — and she has children, too, two happy, healthy, confident and beautiful boys. I think they will grow up to be good men, even with all the pressure to become gendered (and they are that too, of course), but because of their mother and her friends, and their father’s devotion to them, they will always know who they are—and what they can achieve.
We had a deal for the first two years that we would not, during disagreements or fights, go to the “let’s just break up” option. We could revisit the agreement to be together around our anniversary date, make a new deal or keep the same one. Of course some painful stuff has come up, we have had hard moments so far. So it was comforting to have that agreement– it meant that we wouldn’t go to that in haste, we’d evaluate other options first. We don’t have that deal anymore, it was important when we made it, but we have to come up with something different now, more nuanced—something that accounts for what we’ve learned about how we are together and what we understand now about each other. It’s hard work this. I don’t mind (mostly). It’s sometimes a bit, well, anxiety-provoking and difficult — but so are most worthwhile commitments and adventures. She is brilliant and funny, impatient and demanding, she has really good politics (that’s hot), she’s uncompromising and generous, disciplined and impulsive, fiercely loyal and tenacious – she won’t give up on me IF I never give up. I love being with her. She is absolutely worth the work I have to do to be open, compassionate, thoughtful, generous and gracious.
Sometimes, even knowing that, I fail. I’m impetuous and petulant, sometimes lazy, defensive, liberal, self-seeking, thoughtless. I am learning, though, however slowly. All three of those big important things are all about learning and putting what i’ve learned to practice. Trying and failing and learning and trying again and succeeding and asking for help and…

non-sequiter coming right up–
I had a meeting with my committee recently, and when we started up, the first thing i did was cry. It wasn’t because i was afraid of what they would say about the six chapters i’d sent them. I worried they would say that I am not worthy, it’s not good, it doesn’t make sense, the arguments don’t hold together–but they didn’t say that. They said it needs a lot of work yet, but also that it’s substantial, remarkable, inspiring (!). Which is also frightening, but in a way different way.
**************************************************************************************

On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed to strike down most of Canada’s prostitution laws.

The decision is suspended, however, and the VERY Conservative government has one year to draft new legislation that will not infringe on the human rights of “sex workers”, as did the previous laws. Those laws were meant to criminalize such activities as, establishing and profiting from escort agencies or brothels, procuring women for the satisfaction of men’s sexual appetites and communicating for the purposes of prostitution–all laws which could have been (but were not) used to interfere with and constrain men’s demand for sexual access to women.

We went to an open house January 1st, my lover and I–a small New Year celebration of friends who live around the corner from me. We enjoy our friends–they are smart, interesting and generous. It was good to spend the first day of the Gregorian calendar with fine women and good food. There were lucky black-eyed peas and lentils, boiled cabbage and corned beef, cornbread and pecan tarts, and few other women at first. A couple who play bridge with one of our hosts, another neighbor who is a doctor of Chinese medicine, and a co-worker of one of the hosts — then more came.  Including a woman I used to know when we were on a steering committee together, and some other shared projects of the feminist variety.  Now she’s a local politician, or she was. We were never friends, really, though we were at one time allies. Not now, though, and not for a long time.

She’s a little older than I am, and as a young woman was part of the Abortion Caravan in 1970 — women from all over Canada, beginning in Vancouver, traveled together to Ottawa to demand legal, free abortion on demand. Wonderful, brave action, and part of a world-wide movement of women that was rising strong in those days. She was an organizer, and she was interested in women’s liberation from male domination. She would say she is still.

Anyway, she came to the party and sat next to me. She asked what i was doing now, and I told her that i am finishing my PhD. She asked what I was working on, and I told her, “front-line anti-violence workers, their engagement with harm reduction in relation to their work with women in prostitution”. She said that sounded interesting, and I said, “yea, timely too, now.” Then she said, referring to the Bedford decision, “What a great day that was”.

Sigh. People do not pay attention. I don’t know how she could NOT know my position on this.  Anyway, she does now. I said, “oh, Ellen, you and I are not on the same side on this issue at all. Of course women in prostitution, those selling sex must be decriminalized –“

“yes, of course” she said.

“But the pimps, the procurers, the men who buy sex–they’re the problem–the demand must be stopped. It is a big mistake to decriminalize them.” I looked at her, “Big mistake.”

She looked uncomfortable (I think), and then my girlfriend tapped me on the shoulder, “We should make room now for the new people coming,” and I was happy to do so.  Ellen nodded hello to her and we all smiled stiffly at each other. Then we kissed our hosts good bye, wished everyone a happy new year and walked into the grey rainforest afternoon.

We should be allies with ALL of the women who were there that afternoon, and more, besides. Especially women who organized in the 70s, who took such brave risks to ensure my freedom. But the best I can hope for from her now is that she will get out of the way. I don’t think she will–we are equally committed to our positions, it would appear. Perhaps she thinks I am in her way, as well.

Never mind. I just have to finish this damn thing, and then find out how to put it to use. It’s almost there, so close now, the culmination of many years of work. Yet still only a small part to add to the work of so many women before me, beside me and the women who will lead in the future. It is a hopeful beginning.

It’s 2014. Time to grow up.

about that last post…

I made some mistakes. if you got it, please don’t circulate it. I’m going back to the drawing board.

No. that’s not it at all.

A Canadian Border Guard was shot today. Around 2 pm, I heard a story on the radio. I thought at first it was maybe someone trying to get across the border illegally, I don’t know, maybe someone angry about having to pay duty–but then I heard that the victim was a woman, and that the attacker then shot himself.

“This highlights the dangers that Canadian Border Services Employees face every day” said a somber official for the CBS.

No it doesn’t.

It highlights the dangers that women face every day. Especially women who are in relationships with men.

Which is pretty much all of us.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the guy who shot that woman was her current or ex lover or husband. Maybe a pissed-off co-worker, former boss, or subordinate of hers.

they always do this, the news people and official spokespeople. They always try to tell us that an attack motivated by sexism is NOT THAT AT ALL. It was the individual act of an unhinged person. It was a ‘crime of passion’. Oh, maybe it was violence against women, but it was cultural.


Sure, yea. Patriarchal culture.

the shooters’ gun was aimed at a Canadian border guard, not a woman. He might just as easily have driven up to a booth staffed by a man.

sure. but he didn’t, because he was aiming for her.

In the hours and days to come, we’ll learn the truth. Maybe they were married. Maybe the news people will say, it was ‘domestic abuse’ — or ‘spousal assault’ . Stalking. Some other tepid vague phrase that disappears the fact of men’s hate crimes against women.

We’re not falling for it.

Save the date:

choice is a noun. ‘victim’ is not an insult.

Well, Monday March 26, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled on the appeal of the Bedford case, which challenges the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. you can find it here.

Apparently, Canada’s prostitution laws violate the charter rights of prostituted women sex workers. Specifically, the right to freedom of association (sec. 2d), and the right to Life, Liberty and Security of Person (sec. 7) .   The appeal judges decided that the Communicating law did not violate the Charter rights of prostituted people sex workers, and represented a reasonable limit on rights to expression.  Because as we know, it is difficult to tell–no matter how much time you have to “screen” some guy– when he’s going to go off on you. Women in prostitution have told us many stories about going with men they knew, regular ‘clients’, men the met and talked with for an hour or so in the bar, men referred to them by trusted friends– who, when alone with them, became violent. And, you know, women often MARRY men who turn out to be abusive– five minutes on a street corner isn’t going to make a difference–he always decides how to behave, she will never have  that control. In theory, then, the communicating law can be used against the men who buy sex.

You know, of course, that even though it is always men who initiate communication for the purposes of prostitution (“hey, baby, how much?”) –it is almost always women who are charged under this law*.

On the other hand, running or being found in a common bawdy house and living on the avails of prostitution will no longer be illegal. the Government of Canada has one year to rewrite the law to decriminalize pimping, except in cases of trafficking, child prostitution or other exploitative circumstances. Because, you know, women who are sucking cock indoors are not exploited. That’s “consensual commercial sex” or something. those women are CHOOSING this ‘work’.Also they are much less of a nuisance than women who are sold on the street corners. Who, by the way, may ALSO be there by choice.

But now they can CHOOSE to work inside–now they can CHOOSE to set up shop together, now, they have CHOICES of how to do their work–

“An underlying premise of this project is that difficult choices made under constrained conditions are still choices and, indeed, many of the sex workers that worked on this project felt insulted by the repeated accusation that they are not capable of making “real” choices” (2004, Pivot Legal Society: Voices for Dignity, p. 6)

That there quote is from a report by Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver. they are also launching a Charter Challenge against Canada’s solicitation laws. As evidence, they gathered 90 affidavits from women in prostitution in the Downtown Eastside from the women who ‘felt insulted’.

Let me take a moment to pick that quote apart a bit. First of all, “choice” is a noun, right? it is a thing. Something one can have or make.  When women’ make difficult choices’, they are making them out of some material, let’s call this material “options”, or “conditions”.  these are, in concrete terms, the option to sleep; to eat; to rest; to clean herself; to read; to care for her children; to nurture friendships; to feel comfort.  She can pick any or all of these options, she can do any of these things with her pocket full o’ choice. But she needs something else in order to do any of these things, because we live in a free market capitalist society. She needs money. She has to buy all of these options. For all of them, she needs money. Money to afford the rent to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat. Money to pay for clean clothes, soap and a towel; money to pay for all the things her children need to thrive under her care. And if she can’t get enough money for any of that, she’s gonna be in pain. So she needs money to pay for the drugs she will take in order to numb the pain — of exhaustion, hunger, humiliation, and the deep sorrow of being without her children. and drugs are cheaper than rent. What does that even mean in the context of prostitution? The women who make these choices are resourceful and brave and annoying and funny and tough and obnoxious. The women who are in the most danger, those women who populate the dark corners of the inner city; the women who find themselves alone and impoverished in mid-life; the women who can’t both pay the rent and feed the kids; the women who can’t bear the pain of living without drugs that numb the pain of memories– these women ‘choose’ prostitution because there are no other choices.

Pivot never revealed who made the “repeated accusations” about these womens’ capability. I suspect, however, that they mean abolitionists. They mean me. And they mean many of the women who work with women in the Downtown Eastside, and in the rest of the city, and all over the world. They mean those of us who are not content with merely ‘meeting women where they are’. We want to meet her, and get her out.  I can’t be free until no woman has to fuck a man in order to have a meal or pay the rent or get her kid a birthday present. The INSULT, dear Pivot Lawyer people, is that they have to live in this beautiful city, surrounded by all this abundance, and ‘choose’ to suck cock for money in order to afford anything remotely resembling a choice. This post by Janine Benedet says it better than I can.

What does that even mean, “real choices”? of course they are capable of making  real choices. But they don’t have the raw material necessary in order to *make* choices.  they are capable. they don’t have the resources. They are “public women” hidden from the public. They do not have influence, tools, language, money,  power, or the means to use them. They are in deep trouble. They are victimized daily–by the men who buy them, by the state that keeps them impoverished, by the weight of patriarchy and capitalism and racism all together hobbling them together as an abject mass.

And who wants to be known as a victim? nobody.  But if we don’t know the victims, we let the perpetrator get away, too.

Here’s what one woman had to say about her life as a “sex worker”, and how empowering it is:

I feel more empowered in a lot of ways than many women. Women who are accustomed to living a normal 9-5 existence and are married and perhaps have kids would find it extremely difficult were they to find themselves in circumstances like those I have to live with.  If an ordinary middle-class woman were to find herself in a hotel room in the DTES with no money, no food, the rent due, their belongings stolen and the landlord banging on the door, they would likely slash their wrists, or at the very least need psychiatric help, since that’s the only kind of help they could get.  If I were to find myself in their position on the other hand, I could easily adapt to their circumstances. However, I’ve only lived in the Downtown Eastside for seven years. If I’d lived here much longer, I don’t know that I’d be alive  (From an affidavit used as evidence in the Charter Challenge by Pivot Legal Society).

Empowered indeed. the Pivot Legal Society used as evidence for their Charter Challenge case (similar to the Bedford case) anonymous affidavits from 90 prostituted people (almost all women) in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Bedford relied upon arguments based on three women in prostitution, two of whom now pimp other women, rather than do it themselves, and the other who primarily is prostituted indoors.  Judge Himel’s decision makes for interesting (if depressing) reading, you can find it here.

Himel acknowledged in her ruling that women in prostitution faced many dangers. But agreed with the applicants that repealing the laws would reduce these dangers.

Well. it will certainly reduce inconveniences to men who are seeking to buy sex. Every one of the affidavits from the Bedford case, and from the Pivot case too, describe coercion, violence and harassment by MEN. Women said they were afraid of being criminalized, and annoyed that the laws were unevenly applied, and that they suffered from shame and stigma, to be sure. But they also related harrowing stories of beatings, rape, theft and other degradations meted upon them by the men who cruised the streets and the internet looking to buy a hand or a hole into which to thrust their penis. Clearly, every one of the women who testified about their experiences in prostitution, on both sides of the argument, have been victims. They were victimized by the men who bought and used them; victimized by police, courts, social services…

and they are victimized by the folks  who call for harm reduction and for decriminalization and regulation and for more respect for sex workers’  choices (how can ya have respect for something that isn’t there?), and more dignity for their work without questioning the men who victimize these women in the first place. If you don’t acknowledge there are victims, you will never see the perpetrators. And so it goes.

Here’s the F-word blog post by Laura Johnston, which describes the implications of the appeal decision.

so much heat and no light.  all this talk about ‘respect’ ‘dignity’ ‘choice’ ‘agency’

fuck that. Hah! that’s a pun, considering the topic of this post. That’s it, eh? that’s what decriminalizing prostitution amounts to, really. ‘fuck yer agency, baby. here’s twenty bucks to get on yer knees.’

I’ve said it before, i’ll say it again,  repealing these laws will not make these women safer. And even if  it would,  “safer” is still not safe. Safe is not  the same as free. Women might be absolutely safe from further assault inside brothels. But they’re a long long way from  freedom. Therefore, we are ALL a long long way from freedom.

Carry on, then. we’ve more work to do here.

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* mind you, for at least the last 5 years, the local police have not arrested anyone under the prostitution laws. Not the women, which is fine; but not the men, either, which is not fine. And anyway, there is nothing else for the women–not housing not training or education not decent jobs even if you get some education, and not childcare if you get a job or place in school–it’s a rat maze, eh. And so far the only path to the tube that dispenses the yummy pellets is prostitution or drug dealing…or participating in research projects…

What’s YOUR favourite decade?

I think the 70s is my favourite decade. Feminism was HOT then–the 70s was when women started rape crisis centres and transition houses–and they were meant to be hubs of feminist political activity. Some became that, too. Take Back the Night, for example, was invented by anti-male-violence feminists. Radical feminists. That didn’t last long, unfortunately, by the 80s, battered and raped women were labeled  “sick”, and rape crisis workers were (big “P”) Professionals. the gap between them and us widened, even though there is no gap. The Man imposed it. Saw that we were serious, and gaining strength–and took measures, both subtle and drastic, to slow the movement of women.

“oh, those plucky girls, look how hard they’re working! How serious and earnest they are!”  The Man didn’t realize what a threat we were at first, and for a while there was a little room for women to move. Move into a bit of power. And those that did, made room for other women. And found money for each other. Soon the centres, the resource centres,  transition houses and rape crisis lines were funded. Under funded, mind you, but still. A wedge. But that wedge, that little bit of money that kept the lines and doors open, it came at a cost. The State began to ask for statistics, credentials, proof that this was necessary, and proof that ordinary women were the women to do this work.

“Aren’t you girls over-reacting just a bit?”

No. We are not. 40 years ago we were not overreacting, either.

Some women’s groups capitulated. slowly, slowly, though. It became important to hire women with University degrees. It became important to talk to women about “the cycle of violence” and the variety of syndromes and disorders that they might have: Post-traumatic stress disorder; battered wife syndrome; false memory syndrome; borderline personality disorder; pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder; Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy; obsessive compulsive disorder; etcetera etcetera, ad nauseum, syndrome disorder ad infinitum. At first women just told The Man what he wanted to hear, so he would keep tossing us crumbs of cash.

But some of us started to believe it. And some women started making money. Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend. Money does talk. And it drowns out women’s voices, even when women are the only ones speaking. We started placating the man, trying to get around him, but still keep the money flowing to the women who needed it, but gradually we had to work harder and harder to get the money, and it started to eat into the time we had to connect with other ordinary women–the women in trouble;  the women The Man had an even greater stranglehold on.

Take Back the Night prevailed, though, in some places. It was an exciting, vibrant, strident gathering of angry loving hopeful enraged impatient women. No men. Not at the back of the march, not in it–women only. Do you remember? Maybe we were mad at each other, maybe we had disagreements about how things should be done, and maybe we were making mistakes all over the place, but those nights, those raucous gatherings mended us together. We raised our voices together into the night, and we took it together. Protecting each other, standing shoulder to shoulder marching through the city streets, we said with one voice, “Enough!”

Though there were often many, there were never enough of us, not really. But wow, they were grand events. We would sing and chant and shout and clap our hands and raise a right ruckus–the sounds of women’s rage was amplified by the tall buildings. We’d spray paint on porn shops and sidewalks,  while other women in the march covered us. Women at work would stand at the doors of their shops and restaurants and wave their fists in solidarity, jump for joy. Some would join us.

but now it’s become a frail and fussy distant relative, whimpering about ‘violence’ as if it’s a mysterious virus that can be inoculated against. there are men in the marches now, a lot of them. They are no longer part of the women’s liberation movement.

sigh.

But they were the tactic of another time.  And maybe they will be of a future time. Maybe we will revive Take Back the Night. We will be Women Occupying. Not Women Occupied.  been there, done that.

ah. Today I worked at the transition house in the morning. Women talked about the violence men have done to them. the controlling, the manipulations, the withholding of money and kindness. Women said, “I am glad there’s a place like this. I’m glad to be here.”

In the 1970s, my mom applied for a credit card. There was a section where her husband was to sign.  She said, “He’s not applying for a credit card, I am.” the person taking her application told her that she had to get him to sign it. She said, “why?”

There was, of course, no answer that satisfied her. She walked away. She decided she didn’t need a credit card after all.

Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend.  Credit cards are evil anyway. But women need access to our own money, for sure we do, ’cause we live in capitalism. and patriarchy.

is having a credit card like telling ‘the man’ what he wants to hear? “sure honey, i’ll pay you back…”

so many contradictions….

anyhow. i’m running outta steam here. The 70s, though. Favourite decade. the rising of the second wave. Thrilling.

I was a child then, though, I didn’t pay the enormous price those early feminists did.  They opened a path.

You know who you are.

Thank you.

Housing March–

This past weekend i went on the third annual Women’s Housing March in the Downtown Eastside. It’s organized by the Power of Women Group in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and it’s always a mish-mash of messages and contradictions and rage and sorrow and hilarity and love. whew. exhausting.

The Power of Women Group invited me to MC the march with Priscillia and Harsha. The idea was to do a guided “gentriFUCKation” tour of the neighbourhood. We would stop at a few sites, notable condo developments and new restaurants, and say a few words about the middle-class coming into this impoverished neighbourhood, pushing the poor out. I went to a planning meeting at the womens’ centre a week before the event, and one of the women insisted we try to close down the restaurants, at least one of them. Others were varying degrees of adamant about that, and another woman took an opposite position..”I was raised in a restaurant family, those people work hard, they don’t make that much money…”

We are set up to be in opposition to one another. The women of the centre, the non-profits and the for-profits; the professionals and the politicals. Meanwhile, the invisible wealthy at the top of the pyramid, they get to keep going, keep going, keep amassing wealth and no one questions them because the oppressed are too busy being at each others throats. So it was in Marx’s time, so it is now.complex systems of inequality and oppression and the system just incorporates reforms to benefit the powerful once again.

What to do? There were a few hundred of us, mostly women, a few men.  two wonderful puppets, ten feet high. A jazz band. a choir. salsa dancers! we stopped in the street, where the Downtown Eastside meets Gastown, and the salsa dancers danced, and so did a whole bunch of the women in the march. The music kept cutting out, something about the laptop they were using to play it, and connections and i don’t know what. But the dancers just continued until the music started again. And the choir! Earl Peach conducts several choirs around town–this one is Solidarity Notes–they learn protest songs and labour union songs–and sing for each other and sing for free and you don’t even have to really know anything about music to join, but Earl is a fine teacher too and that choir sings like rebel angels.

The jazz band’s singer was a dark haired woman with a smokey voice and a history of homelessness herself, I can’t recall her name. And one of the guys played a slide trombone–those are even MORE fun than accordions, if you can imagine. And Delannah Bowen sang, too, and her voice could make a statue cry.

Verna Simmard had just been murdered the night before. She was pushed or thrown out of a sixth floor window of a crappy hotel. Just steps from where we listened to the music of Delannah’s sorrowful joyful song. Verna screamed on the way down. That street, Hastings Street, is lined on both sides with tall narrow Single Room Occupancy Hotels, most operated by a non-profit society, some operated still by private land owners. Slum lords. Her voice would have carried–bounced off the neighbouring buildings and swept along the wind tunnel of Hastings Street.  In life, her voice did not carry. No one knows why Verna died.  but you can bet your bottom dollar that it was a man who killed her.

And yet, to hear the marchers and the speakers, you wouldn’t think that. No one mentioned male violence against women. There was some mention of men, mind you. But only in the way of “here are the men walking with us. They are good men, thank you, men for supporting us.” Fawning.  I don’t know if those men are good, really. Probably most of ’em are. They can be, because there are a few goons who will beat and rape and kill some women to make us all toe the line. Who among us, which woman here, has no been afraid of or insulted or threatened or attacked by a man? Who among us has not had to protect and defend herself, and sometimes capitulate in order to survive? who? not one. Not even women who say, “nothing like that ever happened to me. I made my own way.”

We have to say that kinda stuff to survive. Maybe that’s why there was no mention of men’s violence against women. Maybe that’s why the only mention of men was how nice they are, the ones with us.  I met a man from Lebanon the other day. He said he used to feel bad about men in his country, about himself as a man from Lebanon, because when he came to Canada, people would say to him, “Oh, Lebanon, women are very oppressed there. Men are very sexist there.”

“Then i learned that one man here, Robert Pickton, killed 60 sex workers [sic]–that has never happened in my country.”  In Canada, we think we don’t have sexism (well, not me, I don’t think that–I only wish it), we think that we are equal.

We passed by the beautiful old buildings of the oldest part of Vancouver. Beautiful and derelict, some of them. Others spruced up and open for business. A high-end clothing store; a place that is always empty but sells hair extensions (random); restaurants, not divey ones, either. One of these restaurants advertised for people to come for breakfast and “the free show in the alley”.

“Shame on you” we hollered on our way by.

Vancouver is the third most liveable city in the world.

Not for you, though. Not for you if you’re poor, or woman, or driven mad by suffering, or addicted. All conditions that are imposed, and usually as a direct result of male violence. I cannot tell you the number of women who were at that march who have been or are in an intimate relationship with a man who beats them; is or was prostituted; is or was under the ‘care’ of a psychiatrist; is or was separated from her children; is or was sexually abused by her father/uncle/brother…

and yet they still marched. Men have damaged and stunted them. But they still love, and they mourned and raged for Verna, and they insisted that the people in the restaurants listen to them, “see the show”–

See the show. Then let’s all rewrite the script.

The Body I Want.

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A little while ago, a young friend of mine said on facebook that she was going to start taking testosterone. She had decided she was no longer a woman, and was going to take ‘T–  “But only until I have the body I want”, she said.

I’ve been puzzling over this since. What does being a woman have to do with having the body one wants? The gender training i received hasn’t entirely taken, eh. Like pretty much ALL the women I know, we have rejected a lot of what patriarchy trains us to do in order to be a woman. All of us. Even some of my friends, well, acquaintances, really, who say “oh, i like being that woman who takes care of her man”. Grim. But even at that, these women have also rejected some of their gender training. No one of us can manage to be the “Ideal Woman” under patriarchy. none of us.

as for the body–well, patriarchy trains us to strive for slender and kind of weak looking. the Ideal Woman (far as I can tell) has no body hair and not much muscle and big breasts.  If a woman, like my young friend, is stocky and short, she’s going to have a hard time getting that kind of body. And I don’t imagine it feels good to be skinny and without much muscle tone. And on top of that, being a lesbian, well, we used to be a different kind of woman, I think. Now, though, now we’re supposed to look like “L Word” lesbians (that’d be,  like men’s pornified fantasies of ‘girl-on-girl action’). So, ya. I don’t want that, either.

So. What’s a girl to do? become trans! then you don’t have to worry about getting a straightening iron and dieting and all that. you can just take a shot every week (or whatever, i don’t know how it works…) and then you will have the body you want. no diets, no fussing endlessly with your hair, and no worrying about how to be the “right” kind of woman/lesbian.Pass as a man. whew.

but what happens to women, then? This is an individual answer to one woman’s isolation, confusion, resistance. it’s a patriarchal answer, too-i don’t think men got together and conspired to get women to do this–either starve ourselves or poison ourselves (i do think testosterone, steroids, growth hormone, all that stuff is toxic. we don’t know the long-term effects)–but patriarchy is a strong structure, and we are trapped in it. Men benefit from the disintegration of the women’s movement, and from some women ‘jumping ship” as it were, but they don’t have to DO anything–other than the usual — you know, sexual harassment, assault, incest, all that stuff–a few guys do that, keeps us all in line.  there’s a  whole big analysis of  the ways that male violence keeps us isolated from each other, including transitioning–and i’ll maybe get to that some other time, but for now, this is just a quick thread tying men’s violence against women to our own self-loathing and fervent wish to change the bodies we have to achieve peace.

unless we organize.  We need to find ways to come back to each other, to be women together in solidarity with each other. To reject patriarchal norms–to SEE them in fact. We need a women’s liberation movement. I wanted to be a boy when i grew up- i desperately wanted to have a different body–broad shoulders, narrow hips, flat muscular chest, I wanted that.  My own body didn’t always work so well, though being a girl had little to do with that. But I also  wanted the stuff that went with being a boy–the entitlement, the open doors everywhere, the acceptance,  the benefit of the doubt that men just get.

But when i grew up, I found women, and i decided to be a lesbian, and i found feminism, a MOVEMENT–so much to do, so sparky and big and meaningful–and urgent. and then it didn’t matter so much what m body was like– though i train really hard because i can breathe better and think clearer and i feel happier–and i now have a body that won’t let me down, and looks just fine in a suit, too.

Testosterone will not give that young woman the connection to other women that saved my life. That gave my daily activities a focus and meaning. We are all trying to figure out what it is to be a woman in the world, really and truly. I don’t  know what it is, exactly, but it has something to do with our shared experiences of social expectations to become “the Ideal Woman” and the ways in which we must reject it. And it has something to do with what we make room for when we don’t fuss about our “inner self” versus our “outer self” or our body. Together we can find integrity and drive–something a needle or a treatment cannot  (or a bottle or pills, for that matter).  I think we’re supposed to now want a ‘quick fix’ for our alienation–if we change ourselves, we will be happy.

No. we won’t. because The Man is always fuckin’ moving the goal posts.

My young friend will take testosterone, and notice more muscle density and her voice will change and maybe she’ll start losing hair on her head and gaining it everywhere else–but–she can run on the treadmill of trans forever and never get away from her womanly hips.

She could perhaps join a women’s organization, or start a group,talk with other women about body image, what’s the body you have, what’s the body you want, why do you want it? who’s doing the choosing here? really really…

and do some sit-ups.  Core training for the revolution.

i’m sad for her, and for us. i hope she comes back.

Aboriginal Women’s Action Network Declaration of Indigenous Women to Abolish Prostitution

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The following declaration was developed by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network during the Women’s Worlds Conference in Ottawa in 2011. All Indigenous women and organizations are welcome to sign on. Contact information for AWAN is at the bottom of this document. There’s also a document of support  in the works for non-Indigenous women to sign. They will let us know when it’s ready. For more information, go to  AWAN’s Facebook page at

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aboriginal-Womens-Action-Network

Here’s the declaration

As Indigenous women living on occupied territories now known as Canada, who have survived over 500 years of attempted genocide, we declare:

1. We, Indigenous women, will not allow anyone or anything to break the ties that bind us. Despite the impacts of colonialism – the racism, sexism, poverty and violence that pervade our lives and communities, working to divide us both inside and out – we are profoundly aware of our connected ness to each other as women, to our ancestors, and to our lands. No man, men, or external force will ever ultimately sever these ties.

2. Our analysis of prostitution as a form of violence against women and as a system of colonialism is the result of over five centuries of resistance stories, stories told to us by our Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers. This analysis is based on our own life experiences, on the life experiences of our mothers, our sisters, and all our relations. It is based on theory and knowledge constructed collectively by Indigenous women.

3. Purposeful legal tolerance of prostitution and pornography, as with the Indian Act and the residential school system, was and is an external colonial system imposed on Indigenous women and girls in continued attempts to harm and destroy us.

4. We, Indigenous women, reject the racist assumption that prostitution was ever part of our traditional practices. We denounce the idea that we are objects to be bought and sold.

5. We, Indigenous women, reject the capitalism that has resulted in the theft and destruction of our homelands and our environment. We reject the International capitalism and greed that also drives the “sex industry”, an industry that regards Indigenous women and girls as objects to be sold at the highest price, should we survive the transaction. We reject the colonial terminology of “sex work”, as it hides the racist, sexist, and classist realities of prostitution. “Sex work” masks the violence that our sisters struggle against on a daily basis and repackages that violence as a form of freely chosen labour.

6. We, Indigenous women, reject the imposition of patriarchy, which has had devastating and deadly effects for Indigenous women and girls. We face male violence within our own families and communities, and often we are pushed out of these very communities seeking safety. We are forced to migrate into cities where we continue to face physical, emotional, and sexual violence at the hands of men, including at the hands of johns, pimps, brothel owners, and traffickers. We demand a return to our traditional values that place women and girls in high esteem.

7. The Nordic model of state policy will give Indigenous women and girls the best chance of not only survival, but life. This model includes law reform that criminalizes the male demand for paid sex and decriminalizes prostituted women, offers comprehensive social programs to all women and girls, and educates the public about prostitution as a form of male violence against women and girls. We, Indigenous women, believe this model encourages true social change that works in our interest.

8. We, Indigenous women, reject the total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution as an acceptable solution to sexual violence. The total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution only encourages the racist and deadly male demand for access to the bodies of women and girls, with Indigenous women and girls being disproportionately targeted.

9. We, Indigenous women, reject the patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist male perception that our sole worth is as sexual objects. We recognize that prostitution and pornography, incest, physical and sexual assault, and murder exist on a continuum of male violence and hatred toward Indigenous women and girls. The tragic outcome of that hatred is the over 580 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

10. We, Indigenous women and girls, have survived over 500 years of attacks on our cultures, our bodies, our lands, and our lives. We refuse to abandon our future generations to the colonial sexist violence that is prostitution and we demand an immediate end to the male demand for paid sex.

*All Indigenous Women – First Nations, Inuit, Metis – who are in agreement with this Declaration are invited to sign on as individual endorsers or organizations. You can contact us at awan.bc@gmail.com to do so.*

**Update: Due to demand we are compiling a solidarity list for non native women and orgs to sign in support of the declaration**