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Category Archives: women's movement stuff

Slut-Walk. sigh.

Remember Take Back the Night? That was a BIG thing for decades. It was a women-only protest against male violence against women. We gathered as dusk fell over our cities and towns.  As many women as could come–no permit, the cops were never invited (though they always showed up)–we provided our own security–women in vests, or identified with armbands, who made sure we were all together, that the women who were spray painting or stickering were shielded from the surveillance of the state. That the women who removed their shirts had room to move, but be safe within the march, too. We had an “arrest one, arrest all” policy that everyone attending these marches agreed to. We wore jeans and sneakers, dresses and heels, feather boas and long elegant gloves–boots, slippers, rings and bangles, or wallets stuffed into our back pockets.

As we gathered, there was often music, always speakers–women who were activists, anti-violence workers–one or two women gave a speech about the work of the year, the reasons that we gathered like that, every year, third Friday in September, across the nation. We read telegrams, then faxed messages, then e-mails from other women in other cities and towns in Canada–all of us gathering in solidarity as dusk fell. We together lit a way for us to walk together in safety and defiance with each other. All of us were (are) women who had been harassed or attacked on the streets by men, women who adjusted our behaviour in attempts to keep us safe (don’t walk at night, carry your keys in your hand as a weapon, don’t go out alone, don’t do this, don’t do that–you can’t wear that). We were (are) women who had been raped, battered, incested, prostituted, insulted, harassed, put down, held down, excluded, diminished–by men. By patriarchy.

But together, for that one night, everything was possible. We knew we were safe to be together, we protected each other, encouraged each other, healed each other and stoked the fury of our collective rage and faith in each other. Faith in our Liberation Movement.

I tell ya, those marches were so much fun. One year, the year before I got to BC, I think, ’86–when Expo was in full force in Vancouver, the women of Rape Relief built these giant puppets and danced them through the city. The next year, ’87, I was part of the organizing committee for Take Back the Night in Victoria. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing. But we got maybe 20-30 women (and a couple of sensitive guys–we did agree on women only, but these guys didn’t get the memo. whatever, i didn’t notice them till the end of the march) and we walked down the middle of the road (and partly on the sidewalk) for a few blocks–I gave a speech about pornography in front of an “adult” video store, and we yelled at the man who had the fine timing to open the door and scurry away from our taunts as we arrived. We opened the door to the police station and chanted “get your laws off our bodies” at the cops at the top of the stairs. I don’t think they took us seriously. well. Never mind. we were fine. we chanted and sang and danced, the tiny band of us, through the sleepy streets and then we held hands and sang and made our plans to get home safe.

The next year i missed it. I was wrapping up a treeplanting contract in Northern Saskatchewan. Another great story altogether….

I remember those marches–exuberance and rage, joy and light in the darkness, all women together. We always had to ask men to leave. We always had some push back from women who said we were sexist for excluding men–but we also always had men who were willing to do childcare, and provide rides home to women after the march, and back off.

“whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”

Take Back the Night was a women only protest against male violence against women. Very clear. We knew that sexual harassment, you know, wolf whistles, invitations to perform fellatio, queries of “how much?” and so on, were along the continuum of men’s everyday violations of our safety, bodily integrity, confidence and abilities. We knew that we needed each other for protection (not our boyfriends or husbands or fathers). We knew that those seemingly innocuous comments about our looks, or our expressions (“Smile, Beautiful!” they would command) were/are not  compliments, they are intimidation.

Men rarely attack women they do not know. But when they do, it makes front page news, because all the other ordinary men can point at the monster and say, “see? that’s terrible, I would never do that, you’re much safer with me”, and the patriarchy wins our capitulation again.

so. Take Back the Night was about that. We knew there were always women who could not come out at night because they were held prisoner in their homes by abusive men. And we knew there were women who could not join us because they could not take the risk, however slight, of being arrested. We marched for them, too.

Now, there’s no Take Back the Night. There still are marches held here and there, but they’re not women only, for the most part. They’re not even about male violence against women. They’re about bullying. or violence. in general, as if it’s an air-borne virus that randomly strikes out of the blue. “we must stop violence”– like, um, how do we do that if we don’t NAME who is doing it to whom? you got a vaccine for that?

no. Now we have Slut Walk. this cop in Toronto, he said that women who dressed like sluts were asking to be raped. Or something like that, some offensive, victim-blaming remark like that. which included the word “slut”. So, women in Toronto got all dolled up in their hosiery and push up bras and short tight skirts and went walking together in Toronto. This weekend, they’re gonna do that in Vancouver too.

I won’t be there.

I know, I don’t have to dress in a skirt or anything in order to participate. But the whole thing kinda skeeves me out. It’s not about male violence against women. It’s not about the systems of oppression, rooted in patriarchal power, that keep us from freedom and safety wherever we go. It’s more about individual choice, and capitulating to the impositions of stereotypical gender roles — “This is what a feminist looks like” kind of rhetoric that valorizes a certain kind of beauty that is appealing to men.  How the hell did we get here? This whole business of “I choose to wear this clothing, these shoes, I CHOOSE it” stuff. Do ya? really? how is our choice shaped? what are we giving up when we choose one thing over another? what are the costs or benefits to our freedom–our real freedom, i mean, I mean the freedom that comes from acting in solidarity with others–taking responsibility for the well-being of others? When we wear shoes that hinder our ability to walk easily, when we wear tight clothing that shortens our stride, when we wear binding undergarments–I know, I know, “they’re comfortable, I can run in these shoes, I LIKE this stuff”–I know. I’ve heard women say that.  But who designed that stuff? And to what purpose? and how can it be liberating to wear constraining clothing? I don’t get it.

and this whole slut walk thing, it’s only about women’s individual choices of what to wear,  it seems. Men are not named as the threat to our autonomy. But they are. the man who called those women “sluts”, he was talking about women who had been raped by men. He blamed women for the violence done to them by men. He said, in not so many words, that men are incapable of governing their own behaviour, nor could they be expected to be responsible for the decisions they made when faced with a woman dressed a certain way.  He let men off the hook. Enormous insult to men, that comment, as well as to women. but women, in response, have not made the connections between our individual choices and the structures of domination within which those choices have been made. This walk is not about shaking the foundations, or dismantling those structures of domination. This walk is only about the legitimacy of the individual choices made within those structures.

Anyhow. I won’t be going. I think anytime women organize together in our own interests, it has transformative potential. But in this case, I don’t think the potential for transformation will be realized.  to quote Gertrude Stein (out of context, to be sure–sorry, Gert), “There’s no there there”, ya know?

compassion seems thin on the ground in these neo-liberal times…

Okay.  You know the shit storm I referred to a couple of posts back? Well, it’s died down a bit. But there’s still acrimony. Now, I’m as twitchy about disagreement and conflict as the next person, and I have a defensive streak, yes I do. But these people, they didn’t just disagree with me, they called me “hateful” and “phobic” and “anti-sex-worker” and some other stuff. They didn’t actually engage with the ideas they found so hateful. They said, “you’re hateful and transphobic.” Um. But why? Some of ’em said they knew of our “differences” before, but thought I was respectful of that. Well, I am, I think. But once I posted on my blog the  argument for abolition that a few of my allies and I came up with, that demonstrated not just unspoken differences, but articulated disagreement. A bit more frightening, perhaps.

One person said, “I knew we had our differences”. But that’s not accurate. We disagree. We have differences, yes, we are not the same. Different hair cuts, favourite foods, hobbies– But we also disagree. And our statement about lesbian feminists and prostitution articulated the disagreement, which my adversaries seemed to perceive as attack. This is common in this realm of pretend conversation and faux activist space. We write things, and then we attack others for writing things we disagree with. What happened to me a couple of weeks ago, and what happens to many others of us in this strange space-of-no-space, the world-wide-web–was not dialogue or debate–it was attack and it was bullying.

I think we attack when we think we are in danger. When something dear to us is threatened, or we perceive a threat.

Now, i’m not whining here. It’s troublesome, this. My adversaries are not the enemy. The enemy is the structure within which we live, and those who benefit the most from the imbalance of power and the inequitable distribution of resources. That is to say that patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism rewards men, middle-and upper-class men; middle and upper class, white-skinned, North-American or Western European born men. We try to name who is doing what to whom. So we say “male violence” and we say “women in prostitution” and we say “prostituted women” because it names the women as in a system of exploitation which is fueled by the demands of men. And in that system, women do not have the power to set the terms or call the shots.  Maybe they are choosing, sure. But choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. We all see that. Those who want “safe working conditions” and those who want the abolition of prostitution all see that the most visible of the “public women” are also the ones whose choices are the most constrained. And we all know that the women we see on the street corners, the young ones, the old ones, the ones who are addicted and sick–they would not be able to find a place in a brothel.

And men who buy sexual access to such women do not WANT to go to a brothel. They would if they wanted to. We all know where they are. But saying that we know men target specific women is somehow dismissive of the women?  One of the people who was offering insult as argument lately said that the women in prostitution she knows “felt dismissed and unlistened to”.  Never mind that “unlistened” isn’t word, and should never, ever be used in a sentence, but neither word describes a feeling, or emotional state. They are judgments. Which is okay, we asked for people’s judgments, and critique and engagement. But what exactly was dismissive?

See, this is a good way to shut people up who are saying things that are uncomfortable to think about. Tell them they are bad, hateful, dismissive, disrespectful. We are feminists. We can’t bear to be told that we are not respectful. We don’t think of ourselves as hateful. None of us do, not on either side of this debate. And we’re women. We are trained to second-guess ourselves. We are trained to try to be “nice” and to avoid conflict. And we are trained to see the threat in each other. Not in men. We are trained, in fact, to align ourselves with power in order to protect ourselves.

What does it mean to align with power and against each other? Well, we are pressured to lose weight and wear makeup and wear underwear that yer bum eats and shoes that give ya bunions and take all the hair off our bodies and remake our bodies to look like what we think men want. And we are pressured to have babies and take care of them and we are pressured to get married and take care of our partner but rely on them for income and we are pressured to compete for the attention of men and we are pressured to pay more attention to boys and we are offered shitty jobs for not much money, or good jobs for not much money, but more than the shitty jobs, just less than the men would make and we love the men in our lives, the helpless little fellers who can’t cry, poor darlings and they don’t have a clue but they sure get the grants and the raises and the attention and the power and then they want more or they want something else, and we need the stuff they have, the space and the money and the influence but we don’t have it so we have to attach ourselves to them, and that means doing what they want at the expense of our relations with each other, other women.  Even lesbians, even lesbians do this stuff in some way or another. In fact, most of the people who are really mad at me and vocal about it (well not vocal, like they haven’t actually approached me, they just write shit on each others’ walls about me), they are lesbians. No, wait, they are queer. or trans. Butch or femme, they do attach those labels to themselves, but not lesbian, in general.

what’s that about, I wonder? I think it’s about not wanting to be identified with or as one of those hairy, seventies, ‘womyn with a y’ womyn’s libbers. I think there’s something in there about that. Several comments i have read, including some to the abolition post, called us “80s feminists”.  As if that was a bad thing.  But no explanation about why it would be a bad thing. Mullets were big then, for hair styles. That might be part of it.

Just the other day, one person sent me a note on crackbook in which she said our statement that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites is dismissive of heterosexual women.

Now. Let me look at her sentence.  On the one hand, it seems  she does not agree that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites. However, she did understand that we thought that lesbianism is a more positive choice for women to make.

so that might imply a glimmer of understanding. But we didn’t mention heterosexual women, because that’s not who we were talking about. We weren’t dismissive of heterosexual women, not at all. We’re lesbians.  Indeed, we meant to trouble the notion that prostitutes and lesbians are in the same boat, ‘choice’-wise, or in the way of enjoying an ’empowered’ version of womens’ sexuality. Which is generally how the pro-pimp folks put it. She added something in there that we did not say. We did not articulate our judgments of heterosexual women, because we were not writing about heterosexual women.

We were writing about what we knew, from where we are right now. feminists. lesbians. who have worked for a combined, oh, about fifty years in anti-male-violence work and activism.

It’s just been a strange trip altogether. It’s tiresome, this exhausting struggle with each other. We ought to be allies. There have been NO men commenting on this blog, far as I know. And no men commenting on the facebook flame fests, far as I know. A couple of my male friends and allies have clicked “like” to some of the posts and links that I and other women put up. But on the whole, this is a cat fight.

And that’s wrong on so many levels. We should be able to disagree (and that’s not ‘have differences’–that’s disagree–You think something that i think is a mistake, i think something you think is a mistake–that’s not ‘difference’–that’s ‘disagreement’)–without being reactive. We should be able to say, “I think you’re wrong when you say this” and say reasons why (and not “because you’re hateful” or stupid or phobic or anti-sex or whathaveyou). We deserve way better from each other.

We get mixed up and can’t tell the difference between an emotional state and a thought or judgment. We get mixed up and confuse insult with argument. I’m not likely to agree with you if you call me ‘hateful’ right off the hop. Don’t get me wrong, i’ve rode into town on some pretty high horses, for sure. I can get all righteous and in yer face about what a jerk you are–but bottom line is, if I really think that the way I understand things will get us closer to freedom, then i’m gonna stick to making an argument, and i’m gonna try to remember to feel the love. And when I’m not feelin’ the love, then, well, i’m going to fold up my tent and walk away.

We really DO need each other. All of us. It’s going to be more difficult to rise to the occasion and help out one of those mean sisters who’s been trashing me when she needs help, but i sure hope i will do if if that need arises.  Can’t say for sure, though.

The folks that most vex me are my greatest teachers.

Compassion is sharing the suffering of another and working to alleviate that suffering. It’s difficult and maybe even dangerous. But … why not try?

ach. i want to write what neo-liberalism has to do with this, too. And I wanna write about the Lesbian Tent Revival weekend–but later. another time. i still have a syllabus to figure out…jeez…


Two years ago, it snowed here. I remember that because two years ago, Sophie was born. I’m her “godless mother”. Her mother prefers to call me Sophie’s “spirit mother” because it sounds more like hope, I think, and full, rather than ‘less’. Anyhow.  Today is Sophie’s birthday. It is also exactly two years since my first date (which I did not know was a date) with J, with whom I just broke up in October. She was here yesterday helping me clean up my place, along with my other J-name friend.

side note, here–i kind of try to not name people on account of this is a pubic document, and even if it’s benign stuff, not controversial, it seems important that they be in charge of where their name is used on-line. I dunno. Unless it’s in relation to a public event, or something public that is attached to their name, like a speech or a book or a paper or something, I try to not say who is coming in and cleaning with me,  hanging out with me, fighting with me or lovin’ me up, ya know?

Anyhow, so J and J, dyke renovation team were helping me excavate yesterday, and today was Sophie’s birthday and J and my “not-anniversary”. We are interesting together, J and I. There’s this intimacy but there’s also a bit of distance, as we move further from being lovers and closer to being friends…we have quite different lives, separated as they are by age and employment and other kind of intangible but real stuff… like, you know, she has a straightening iron that she knows how to use, and i don’t think she even owns a swiss army knifethere are not at all the same markers of “lesbian” for younger women, by and large, as there were for us who became lesbians twenty or thirty years ago.  Anyhow, I love that she gave me the opportunity to walk beside her for a while, and does still. She’s still teaching me a lot, and learning some things from me, too, i hope so…

She’s a hard-ass at cleaning stuff out, though, holy doodle. but my place looks much better. And my other J, she went through my ‘fridge and jeez, there’s room for LOTS of stuff in there now, it’s so much brighter and more spacious there, now, i could maybe have  a roommate!

Two year olds are interesting creatures, aren’t they? Uh-oh, should i not use Sophie’s name either now? oh bother and tarnation… she’s two. never mind. I’ll just tell ya the story–Her present was a box of building blocks–you know the kind–solid wood blocks with numbers and letters and pictures on them, right–but these ones are Korean! Because her mom is Korean, and she’s always in this tension of how to raise Sophie to know and understand and value her Korean-ness when they’re surrounded by mostly European-Canadians (especially English-speaking) whose experience of culture and language and all that takes precedence, and is the dominant class. It’s an ongoing struggle for my friend. To do this without tokenizing her own culture, eh, that’s the other thing. Plus, you know what, she’s homesick, dammit. She has not been back to Korea for a long time, and her parents have never even met Sophie and she’s kinda sad about that.

Anyhow, I got the blocks as much for my friend E as for Sophie. Who was, in any case,  much more interested in the bubble wrap i wrapped it in and the box the blocks came in. Sophie’s dad helped her pop every one of the bubbles and she giggled and giggled, and picked up the sheet of bubble wrap and showed all the popped bubbles to me and ran down the hall with it. She seemed to like her card, too, which i made myself, (very proud of that, i was)–I put a bunch of stickers on it and drew pictures with coloured crayons and wrote a little poem on the inside. I read Sophie a book, and she wanted me to change her diaper, and we had juice and scones and E and J (Dad) and I talked too about grown up things as Sophie coloured in her photocopied book of pictures and Korean children’s songs. What a fun morning. Just before I left, J put Sophie down for her nap and she chose a book for him to read to her. “That one?” he asked, “We just got this one yesterday, and we’ve already read it ten times, are you sure?” she was. I remembered when my brother and I were very small, we had a board game like snakes and ladders, but with astronauts instead, and we LOVED that damn game, and one day, we asked Mom if we could play it, and she burst into tears. I think she might have been kinda tired of playing it with us. I told E. that, and she laughed. Maybe there was a tinge of hysteria in her laughter.

But she’s got a life as well as mothering–she is one of my little school friends, too. so we get to talk about the sociology of everyday life. I told her about all the vitriol that was spewed about me after i posted that “feminist lesbian argument for the abolition of prostitution” that J and K and I wrote together. She was interested, (and interesting!), to understand how it is that people sometimes express disagreement with personal attack.  “That’s like cyber-bullying” she said. Yea, it is–and it’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t want to go on and on about it, really, ’cause these on-line controversies kind of have the life span of fruit-flies, and who wants to revive them? Zombie Cyber-Fruit-Flies–eeeewww. But I do want to figure out how to influence people to change their minds about things, or at least have a conversation about ideas instead of attacking the people with the ideas, you know?

I’ve re-read some of the comments on the previous posts, though, and I don’t know if conversation is possible at present. We’re using different frameworks. Like, Completely Different. I tell ya. I had this conversation the other day with a woman who was once on the right side of this debate, but something went terribly sideways and now she’s all over with the “rights of sex workers” stuff. I tried to avoid her, god knows, but she found me and started talking, and she asked what i was workin on, with my PhD. Now I coulda lied, eh, and said something like, um, the life cycle of the salmon or something. but no. I told her. A critique of ideology and practice of harm reduction and prostitution as it is understood by women who do front line anti-violence and social services work. That’s a mouthful. And i said, fair warning, I told her, “we’re on the opposite side of most of the debates going on”. but still. She insisted on trying to talk to me about this, and it was the weirdest thing ever, because I kept saying, “we can do better–prostitution is unknown where there is gender equality” and she would keep saying, “where is that?” as if she hadn’t heard over and over the women of AWAN (Aboriginal Women’s Action Network) and the women of NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada) say, “there is no word for prostitution in our languages”, and telling the stories about pre-European contact–and she kept saying, “we have to make women safer”, but she wasn’t willing to agree that “out of prostitution” is the safest thing. Too judgmental, I guess. But that’s ’cause she wasn’t talking about the men–and it seemed to me that she had some negative judgments about being a bit idealistic. She said the word “Utopian” a couple of times as if it was poison in her mouth.

Finally, I said something about “prostituted women” and she went off, “that’s such an offensive term” she said, and I interrupted her, “ya see? We’re speaking different languages–I cannot see prostitution as work, I can ONLY understand it as exploitation–to call it work is, to me, deeply offensive and dismissive of the lives of the women who are in prostitution–I’m not willing to accept that men can’t help themselves, that they deserve sex on demand–” and then i said, “you know what? I’m getting frustrated. I came here to have a nice time, and i’m not. Can we just shake hands and stop talking now? or at least change the subject?”

and she said okay. and then she said, “you know, frustrating as this conversation has been, this is the first time i’ve had a conversation with an abolitionist when I have not been shut down or dismissed”.

“Well. I guess that’s hopeful then. You have a nice night.” and we shook hands. Then i went to the dessert table. There was some peach cobbler that was MOST soothing.

But you know what, that thing Sister said about that being her first respectful conversation with an abolitionist? I don’t think that’s so, exactly. I mean, if that’s her perception, fine…but I’ve been to events where she’s taken the mic at the Q and A part and kind of gone on and on without either making a point or asking a question–and I’ve been to events where there have been exchanges, and they looked to me like they were respectful–but our perceptions are weird, eh? I see reasonable, and she sees threat.  Both may be true. How do we find a way to stand on the same ground together? How can we find the natural points of alliance and not get in each others way?

I want her to get out of the way of abolition, for sure. But she thinks that’s dangerous, abolishing prostitution–she hears that and thinks we want to abolish prostitutes–which is the common mistake–but we don’t of course–we want to abolish pimps and johns.  And I want to get IN her way of legitimating prostitution. Because decriminalizing the whole shootin’ match for sure opens the door to a whole bunch of predatory men–sniffing around for women to buy and sell. Don’t have to look very far to find ’em. You bet i want to interfere with that agenda.

points of agreement–sellers of sex must not be criminalized. There must be a range of comprehensive exit services and programs. Safety. then that’s all, far as I can see. But if it’s work, why would ya need exit services? And if it’s exploitation, how is safety even possible within it?

next post (maybe) I’ll pick up that dropped thread of bullying on the ‘net.

anyway, those two hours with Sophie and her parents were the highlight of my day. oh, and my women’s group tonight, too. that was lovely. so much love in a day. everyone should have this.



Posted on

Happy International Women’s Day. do what you have to do, take care of each other, never give up.

Hey. so,, Sunday I did my FIRST EVER Triathlon! It was only a sprint, eh, which means a 700 metre swim, 20 km bike ride and 5 km run. All of which i’d done before–the five k run only once–well, i used to run a lot when I was a student in Lethbridge, but that woman was a different woman than the one writing this blog. That was many many years ago now. Anyhow. I’ve done all of those things before, but never all in a bunch like that.

It was at UBC, where I go to school. Though i’m not often on campus anymore.

I was worried that I would have an asthma attack in the pool.

I was worried I would lose my glasses somehow, and then have to ride my bike and run wearing my prescription swim googles. I would look like a great sweaty wheezing bug, my red cycling jacket flapping behind me like cicada wings. scary.

I got up way too early (’cause i get up too early anyhow, so i can make really strong coffee against the inevitable sleepiness that’ll come later ’cause i get up too early…) and made coffee. Not as much as I usually make, ’cause it’s a diuretic, and i knew once we were going, we wouldn’t have much opportunity to pee. Also I didn’t want to get unbearably thirsty. Which I generally become because i drink way too much industrial strength caffeine stew. It was double strong, though. Didn’t want to fall asleep on my bike, cause i’d gotten up too early after a tossy-turny night.

K was going to race too, and we were going to be in the same heat. We arranged that I’d leave my bike up in my office at school, and she’d pick me up to get there for about 7–a good hour and a half before our first heat.  But she had to work–(she and her partner are self-employed caterers, so when they get a gig, they kinda have to take it). damn capitalism. I was very sad. She picked me up anyway, and we had a lovely visit on our way up. We don’t know each other that well, trade training tips and success stories on crackbook. I know her partner E better, on account of we hang out at some of the same, um, church basements and stuff. So it was good to have some one-on-one time with K. She’s smart and disciplined and kind, and she looooves my friend E, and who doesn’t like that?

Anyhow. So she dropped me off, and I checked my bike in, and fussed with the stuff i’d need for my wetbag. You gotta get out of the pool (in this case it’s a pool, mostly triathletes swim in open water) and rush out to grab your wetbag and then change and run to your bike and then get on your bike and ride like the wind. So all the stuff you need after the pool better be in your wetbag.So i had to make sure there was a clif bar in there (product placement) and a lara bar (gender equity, i guess–clif and lara) and my water bottle and bike shorts  and a towel and my shoes and my glasses and long underwear (which i didn’t use anyhow) and, oh, more ventolin (a fast-acting broncho-dilator) in case i lost the stuff i brought to the pool. I always over pack. Sunday was no exception.

We milled around, some buff people with tiny swimsuits, a few people older than me by a couple of decades, most people younger by a couple of decades, some fat, some skinny, all of us in the first heat were less experienced than people who were gonna go later, ’cause we’d estimated our swim time as on the slower end of the scale. We had to be able to swim the 700 metres in 28 minutes–no slower than that. I estimated 25. there was a bit of a glitch in some of the timing equipment so we were a few minutes late getting started, but these people were overall so efficient and organized, i tell ya, it was smooth like butter.

We finally got into the pool. it was cold outside, but the water was warm. swim! I love swimming. But i had a lot of trouble breathing. I’d placed my ventolin at the top of the lane, so i swam down 50 meters, went under the rope and back up, took ventolin, tossed it to the top of the next lane over, swam down another 50, under the rope, back up, more ventolin–I took my ventolin every fucking 100 metres for the first 500 metres, until i finally warmed up. that was a pain. I didn’t have an asthma attack, but I was sure wheezy. next time i’ll train more in the pool. promise. it took me AN AGE to swim 700 metres–in fact, I was 6 seconds from disqualification by the time I got to my bike! Glad i didn’t know that then. the swim took me 27 minutes and 54 seconds.

The bike was a breeze, such a pleasure. The route was along Marine Drive, the ocean right below, and the endowment lands on the other side of the road, with all the trees and trails and the smell of the ocean and the cedar together was intoxicating. It was cool and sunny and there was a light breeze, but the wind didn’t come up until long after the slowpoke heat was already midway through our run. I made up a lot of time on the bike, it was so easy–all those spin classes and commutes paid off– 20k in 58:55. that’s respectable.

Then the run. 5 k. I don’t like running, and didn’t do it much in terms of training. Squats, yes. Deadlifts, lots of core stuff and leg work, but not so much running in and of itself. Still and all, the course was lovely, there was a short steep hill right a the end, and i walked some of the course. But finished in 37:07. which is more than a minute faster than the time it took me to run 5 k last september, my first 5 k run.

I felt amazing. And you know what, there were all these fantastic volunteers on the course, they’d pop out everywhere, yelling encouragement and high-fiving people on their way past, and handing out water and gatorade and smiling happy smiles–it was wonderful. We can’t do it alone. I mean, we all did this thing with our own bodies and all that, but there is much less chance that I would have finished if those people hadn’t been there cheering us on. And the other participants too! Wed say, “keep going!” and “looking good!” and “Way to go!” to each other anytime we passed each other or met up at a transition point.

this is what the revolution should be like. Well, it kind of is. It’s an endurance sport, that’s for sure. Yesterday, i went to see Gunilla Eckberg speak to a University class here. And my friends from AWAN (Aboriginal Women’s Action Network) and EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) were there, too and they spoke before Gunilla, and they were all most moving and powerful. Gunilla, too, she was–now I gotta say about Gunilla, she’s sometimes a bit dour, you know? She’s Swedish, after all. So sometimes she’s kind of dry and seems a bit grumpy. But yesterday? She sparkled! she made jokes and she reeled out all these facts and statistics and talked about government reports and so on in a way that was engaging. Optimistic, even. yes, she was. My dour Swedish friend was optimistic. She said it took them a long time to educate men, and especially the cops and the legal system, but now the police are on side, and they have arrested something like 3500 men in the last 10 years, and cut the incidence of buying sex by almost half, and the women selling, about 60% have got out.We can do it too.

I asked her if men went out of the country to buy sex now, and if they did, does the law follow them. She said, “unfortunately, no, the law does not follow them. But most men don’t. Most sex buyers are occasional buyers: they are on their way home from work and stop for a blowjob, or they are out with the boys and decide to go buy a woman for sex; or they’re at a stag party. So if it’s not available, they won’t buy it. A man is not going to go to, say, Latvia for a blowob on his way home from work–his wife would notice”. Also, she said, if buying sex is no longer normalized in his home country, a man is not going to think of it as normal or unquestionable in another country, either. There is no evidence that Swedish men now go on sex tourism jaunts any more than they used to–in fact it is probably less, because all over incidence of buying sex is at least half of what it was ten years ago.

Hah! see? She said, “it took us a long time. We are not done, and this new government we have is both conservative and libertarian, so we are in danger. But public opinion is on our side, and people have seen how much improvement has been made”. That’s not an exact quote but you get the idea.

Revolution is an endurance sport. It is. And no one person is going to achieve it all by herself, of course not. We are all in this together. Some of us are racing, some of us are shouting encouragement from the side, some of us are making it all work, some of us are handing out the gatorade. Everything counts. Everything helps. This talk, these women talked to young people in a University class. Those young people, some of ’em might have been sleeping. Some of them might have been busily taking notes and trying to figure it out for themselves, some of them might’ve been resistant. But they heard it. Those words, the words of the Aboriginal woman and the formerly prostituted woman and the legal scholar and activist, they landed. and the ripples from the landing spread way past that little lecture theatre.

there is joy in the struggle. the race itself is the thing.

Happy International Women’s Day.  Never Give Up.

Holy shit-storm, Batman…

Posted on

Well. last week, I posted that piece “feminist lesbian position on prostitution” here and at the page. In English and French, there. Also on the Policy Action Research List (Par-L) which has somewhere around 2000 subscribers, feminist-ish in leanings, but all over the map in terms of analysis and agreements. It was written by three women, Kathleen, Jacqueline and me–but informed by our combined 50 years of idea-making, arguing, listening,  organizing, agitating and providing crisis intervention and services to women escaping male violence.

Anyhow. So, it’s getting around. And we’re interested in engaging with people about it, and trying to expand our analysis and understanding of how compulsory heterosexuality operates to reinforce the patriarchy and prostitution is an integral part of that. How can we stand in solidarity with women still engaged in prostitution, pornography and other aspects of the flesh trade? So far, Vancouver does not have any exit services for women in prostitution. So far, women who get out, still get out because of a series of lucky breaks, or really fuckin’ unlucky breaks (she gets the shit beat out of her one last time and becomes no longer marketable; she develops chronic illness or pain as a result of the constant stress, anxiety, uncertainty; or she dies).

The “women’s” centre where I work, the drop-in, it also operates a night shelter. Now, this shelter, it’s set up in a place that was built as a clinic and learning centre kind of place. So it has a couple of small examination rooms, a few bigger meeting rooms, a kitchen, a library, and bathrooms with showers in them. We put out cots and blankets around 10:30 and heat up some soup. Women come in from 11 till 2 or 3 am, and grab their bedding and a bowl of soup. Some women put their cots right in the hallway near the desk where the staff sit at the phone. Some women put their cots in the furthest corner of the quiet room.

It’s a shelter. It’s a place for women to come who have no home, or who live in hotel rooms–there are no bugs there. There are other people. You share the bathroom and showers, but with other women (well. some of you have read other posts where i talk about the m-f transsexuals who use the centre–they’re at the shelter, too, some of them–and some of them, as at the women’s centre, are a danger to the women there–goddammit)–mostly. it’s safer than the street. It’s “harm reduction”. But it’s not a solution. Not by a long fuckin’ shot.

We recently heard that funding has been secured for the shelter to be open 24 hours. And my coworkers there are all happy about it and stuff.

But when i heard that, my heart sank, and I felt a little nauseous.

This is the fucking problem.There is NO safe shelter for women in Vancouver. Our place opens up at 11 at night and women have to leave by 8 am, and take their stuff with them. It is less likely your stuff will be stolen by the other people there than at a co-ed shelter, but it’s still one thing to worry about. It is less likely you’ll be raped (recently we heard of other shelters, notably one long-time shelter in a church, where women are routinely attacked and raped by men who use the shelter. ), and more likely you will believed if you report a rapist. women find a kind of family there, as we do everywhere…women listen to each other, even when one of ’em talks in “word salad”.

But these women don’t WANT a shelter. They want freedom from fear. They want a home. They want people around whom they can love, and who love them, too. They want off the un-merry-go-round. They might say, “oh, that’s great, we need a safe place to be 24 hours a day. That’s gonna be great.”

But it’s not great. It’s barely a beginning. maybe it’s not even a beginning. There are no safe shelters for women there, true. And there must be at least two–one for single women, one for women with children–But that’s not enough, it’s not even that respectful of women to just have shelters. You know what, with the money that flows into that neighbourhood,  all of those women could be housed in their own place, and supported with workers who can help them keep their place, develop a sense of belonging with a community, host others to a meal–make home. not shelter. HOME.


Anyhow. I kinda drifted away from my first thought, about the shitstorm stirred up by my previous post. Holy smokes. We hit a nerve, we did. Lots of people think we’re anti-sex, anti-prostitute, anti this n’ that. Because it’s on my blog now, people are reading other stuff i posted, and that’s good, I guess. But invective is flying around on crackbook. It’s painful. you know how that is, eh–most people want to be liked. I do. It matters to me what people think of me, and if they think that i’m hateful and dangerous (especially to potential allies), well, that’s difficult. Mind you, i think that some of their positions and actions are damaging–but the people aren’t hateful. No. We are all good people, and we want to do good, and be useful. I’m pretty sure.

We’re off on a different track. The “prostitution is a form of male violence” track is very far away from the “prostitution is labour” track.  If you’re arguing to me that “sex workers  want to be safe and respected in their careers as sex workers”– it is not an argument that addresses the points we raised in our position paper. Because we don’t start from the premise that prostitution is a form of labour, like hair dressing or retail sales or nursing.  So, we say, “women are routinely violated in prostitution” and you may answer that with, “women want to work in well-managed brothels”–and the second sentence doesn’t follow from the first, although both may be true. Women will STILL be routinely violated in prostitution whether they are in well-managed brothels, in their homes, or on the streets. And women presently in prostitution often would much rather be in well-managed brothels than in the streets, or alone in their own homes or the johns hotel room or car.

But why settle? We are settling for ‘shelter’, and we are settling for ‘safer’. And it’s not enough. My allies and my friends and colleagues, we want Home. And we want Free. Even if we don’t know what that looks like, exactly.  But for me, it doesn’t even include money. let alone ‘sex for money’. It does include sex, but not the coercive, commercial, ‘i get to own you for an hour’ kind. And it includes shelter, but not the ‘this is your corner for the night and keep an eye on your stuff’ kind.

One funny, random thing–(this really is random)–I’m going to be in my first triathlon this coming weekend, and there’s a woman in my gym who’s done them, too, the sprint and olympic distances–and she asked me the other day, “Have you ever transitioned?” and I said, “no. I was born this way.” anyhow. We thought that was amusing.

Okay. back to the other stuff. And you know what? About this whole “choice” business? It’s a really neo-liberal concept–and european, too. one of my advisors said the other day, she was offering me some criticism about a paper I’d written, and she said, “you really have to trouble this notion of choice here. When you consider Aboriginal women, who are really over-represented in street prostitution, the whole notion of individual choice is problematic. Aboriginal people don’t talk about ‘choice’ and individual decisions–they live in the world in a much more relational way–they talk about their relation to the land, and responsibilities to the ancestors and to seven generations hence, and relations to the community–“individual choice” doesn’t come into it.” So, you know, when you’re going on about how women can choose prostitution, it again privileges the choices of women who do operate in the world as individuals, who come from that world-view, and does not question how her choices affect her relationships to other women, to her people and community and all that.

And of course, nowhere in the comments are the choices of them men mentioned. Who are these men who buy women? who are they who are the johns and what about their responsibilities? How has he become a man who thinks it’s his right to be able to pay for sex? This kind of entitlement is also conditioned, he has learned to expect his desires to be accommodated no matter what.  Even men who wouldn’t dream of buying sex, they use pornography–it’s everywhere, everywhere. How can we be human when the pull to the lowest common denominator is so strong?

Anyhow. this is getting too long. and i’ve got papers to write.  I’ll post this for now, maybe add more later…

feminist lesbians argue for the abolition of prostitution

We are a group of lesbians in Vancouver who have been active in the women’s movement.  We have noticed the growing trend to support legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution amongst many people concerned for the safety and well-being of prostituted women and men.  While we support the decriminalization of prostituted people, we believe this must be done in the context of prostitution abolition, including the continued criminalization of buyers, sellers, procurers and traffickers.  We are writing this letter to the community of lesbians and queer women in which we live because we believe lesbians and queer women have an interest in supporting women’s sexual autonomy.  Legalizing prostitution is not true solidarity with prostituted women or with the cause of women’s sexual autonomy.  Real solidarity with prostituted women is in the fight for abolition of prostitution and for greater sexual choice for all women.  Here’s why:


1. Prostitution enforces compulsory heterosexuality by teaching men that they have the right to access women’s bodies on their terms and to expect prostitution-like behaviour from other women.  Lesbianism, by contrast, can create more sexual autonomy for women by providing an alternative for some women that is also an example to society of sexuality that is not male-controlled.


2. Prostitution is connected to other forms of coercive sexuality in that johns and pimps use their power in the form of money, male sexual privilege and/or violence to choose the nature of the sexual encounter – much as men do in rape, battery and incest.  Many prostituted women have survived rape, battery and incest prior to entering prostitution.


3. Sexual autonomy for women also requires economic autonomy – prostitution provides neither.

In prostitution, a man has to pay only once to get what he wants, but a woman has to sell many times a day to get what she needs or to meet the expectations of her pimp or the brothel manager.  Outside of prostitution, the condition of women’s work is already often menial, insecure and leaves many women dependent on men and therefore vulnerable to men’s violence, especially women who are racialized, indigenous and/or poor. To use women’s poverty as a reason to legalize prostitution is cynical and hopeless. Real economic equality would not require that women marry, accept sexual harassment, be relegated to low-paid, unsatisfying work or prostitute.


4. The rights of gay men must not trump the rights of women. Some “feminists,” such as those at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, have described the bawdy house laws as harmful because “these same prostitution laws have been used in particular against marginalized communities,” meaning men who owned, operated and patronized gay bars such as Truxx and K.O.X. in Montreal.  As lesbians/queer women, we do not want gay/queer men persecuted, but even more than that, we want gay/queer men to stand up for women’s rights.  We will not give over the right of women to genuine sexual autonomy because decriminalizing prostitution laws will permit more freedom to some gay/queer men to engage in buying and selling other men.  Women’s equality is a right.  Some gay/queer men’s prostitution behaviour is not.

5. The law is rarely used to protect women now, and neither will it be if prostitution is legalized or decriminalized. The police and criminal justice system are likely to treat prostituted women in the situation of legalized prostitution in the same way they treat raped, battered, and prostituted women now: providing little enforcement of rape and assault laws, conducting minimal investigations, and judging next to no convictions against the men committing the violence.  Over the last five years in Vancouver, prostitution has been effectively decriminalized – the police have made very few arrests.  During this period, we have still seen horrific violence, including many women still missing, the case of Bakker who tortured women and the death of Nicole Parisienne in a brothel apartment in Kitsilano.  Lesbians and queer women expect to be able to call on the law to protect us from homophobic and sexist harassment. We should demand the same for women in prostitution, namely that the law is used to stop men from sexually harassing, assaulting, buying and selling women.


6. Prostitutes and lesbians/queer women are in some senses co-outsiders to the sexual norms of society.  Names like “dyke”, “slut”, “whore” and “cunt” are used interchangeably against us. But, the responsibility of lesbians and queer women to prostituted women is to demand that all women have sexual autonomy, and therefore not have to engage in prostitution.


7. In terms of choice, prostitution is the opposite of lesbianism. Lesbians and queer women want and in many ways are able to choose all kinds of things about our lives: how we dress, who we love, how we have sex. Prostituted women do not have these same kinds of choices.  The choices prostitution offers women are how to be marketable, how to submit to lack of secure income, how to submit to beatings and rape, how to submit to demands for unprotected sex, and how to live with the constant fear of violence and constant surveillance and monitoring of behaviour as happens on the street and in brothels.


8. Lesbians know that sexual experience conditions sexual desire. This has been our experience of becoming lesbians and queer women.  We also know that many women who have survived incest, battery, rape and prostitution have chosen to be lesbians and queer as their sexual expression.  We do not want more of our friends and lovers to live with the pain and physical alienation that result from those experiences of abuse.  We want all women to experience autonomy, joy and connection in their sexual experiences.


We chose to be lesbians and queer women as an expression of our love for women, our love of being women and our desire for equality.  This choice has been, for us, expansive because it has given us a greater horizon of expectations and opportunities.  The women’s movement as a whole seeks constantly to expand the boundaries for women’s expression and freedom.  Prostitution, by contrast, is a decision made within the most limited of circumstances, namely poverty, insecurity, violence and misogyny. Prostitution can never be liberatory and should not be equated with sexual autonomy or with feminist goals.


Legalizing or fully decriminalizing the buying of sex, as the recent Himel decision has the power to do, leaves us all more vulnerable to sexist harassment and constrains our choices and opportunities.  Accepting legalization/full decriminalization of prostitution in Canada is a capitulation to men’s unequal sexuality demands at the expense of women’s sexual autonomy.  Lesbians and queer women should stand in solidarity with women in prostitution for the abolition of prostitution and protection of our collective rights.


to contact this group, e-mail


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…


So. The transition house where i work sometimes, it’s full. Most of the women in there are Aboriginal. They are from all over, represent between them probably five or six nations (given their ancestors are, like mine, from different nations, with different customs and so on). They share in common an experience of racism that the white women do not have. But nevertheless, there are white women there, too and one of them claims to understand because she grew up the only white kid among brown people. The Other among Others.

It’s a bit hot in there sometimes. There are enough Aboriginal women that they can take more risks to confront racism, and to name it. But dominance does not give up power without a fight. And there is defensiveness among the white women. This ranges from “Please tell me when I make a mistake” (to the Aboriginal women)–to: “Racism in either direction is wrong”, to just…silence…

But. silence will not protect us, or anyone (as Audre Lorde reminded us) And the Aboriginal women can’t BE racist. Racism depends upon the power being held with the dominant group, and even when we are outnumbered, we hold the power. The Aboriginal women can be rude, or mean, or do things to cut us out or to shun us, but they can’t be ‘racist’.

“but how can you condone that?” said the woman who thinks it can go both ways, “how can you embrace racism for the Native women? It’s wrong.”

sigh. No. We don’t think it is necessarily the right thing, to be rude or mean, though sometimes it is–we are just clarifying that “racism” is a structural thing. It works to keep the power in the hands of the politically dominant group. We are dangerous toward the Aboriginal women, in a way they are not to us. Because the Powers that Be are people like us (usually male, yes, but also of European descent, like us).

“but my life was hard, I don’t have any power. I live in a transition house!”

Yes. True. But all other things being equal, it is easier for you than it is for the Aboriginal women.

She has a child. She has her child. Most Aboriginal women (yes. MOST) have lost their children to the state, or been threatened with losing their children. On the other hand, the state has looked in on her and her parenting, (scary enough, that) but left her alone, for the most part. That is just one example.

She’s thinking. She’s watching close and trying to understand. She is afraid. That’s okay. I hope we are all safe in there to work it out–to the satisfaction of those with the least power. That’s how the change has to happen…

It’s a fine balance. To call one another on racism, and be open to criticism, and to do the right thing, and to move over, but to NOT be “the good white person”.

Peggy McIntosh, in 1988, wrote “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack”. I read it, for the first time, in 1991. That back pack is still full. I started asking women at work if they’ve read it. No, none of them had.        –there it is.

Yet. the backpack is still full. the system benefits me in ways I am not even aware of. And when I am reminded–my reaction is sometimes shameful. Either i’m defensive, or i’m ashamed and self trashing. Neither of which will get us anywhere. Lookit. What do I want from men raised in patriarchy? I want them to take care of other men. i want them to ferret out their own sexism and that of other men. i want them to do their own fucking work so we don’t have to. If I believe that men can do this, (and I do), I have to also believe that I can do this. That I can listen with an open heart and mind, and withhold defensiveness and be grateful for the new learning and act accordingly. That I can work with other women in many ways to change the structures that keep us apart, that benefit some of us materially at the expense of others. I have to be willing to suffer and lose. But keep the vision, share the wealth, make it happen…

I also believe that we have every right (and sometimes it is necessary to our survival and health) to withdraw from men entirely. To do our own work with each other, and to leave the men to do whatever they have to do. Sometimes women need to be with each other, to rest, to let down our guard, to figure out what it means to be female, to be women together to plan to argue to give each other strength and hope. Sometimes the women of colour, too, the Aboriginal women and the African women and the Asian women, they have have to withdraw from the European women and be together — without the powerful lurking about.

In fact, comparing the racist privileges we have with the sexist privileges that men have was finally the thing that made sense to the woman who claimed Aboriginal women could be racist toward her.

It’s not “intersection”, it’s “Interwoven”, or something. Intersection implies that the meeting of racism and sexism (and classism too) only meets at one two-dimensional place. but that’s not accurate. It’s all the same stuff–the Men studied from the same book as the middle class as the white folks. Keep talking, keep listening, keep making the necessary alterations. Don’t give up. we can do better, we don’t need to settle for “equality” that means ‘sameness’ or “assimilation”.

I promised to write about what I’m learning about the Gift Economy–this is part of it–but now i gotta go–

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?