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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**

So many feminists–

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And we made the most of our limited time. Last week, I was  in Ottawa, the capitol city of Canada. It was  an exhausting and exhilarating week, to be sure. So many workshops and panels and singers and dancers and conversations to have that one week was not enough:  not enough but a beginning.

Not a vision of freedom, but glimpses for sure.

I  met some women who read this here blog! there were women from Italy and Nigeria, from Central America and India and Bangladesh and South Korea and Okinawa and Denmark and Norway and the Yukon and there are Indigenous women from Mexico,  Samiland and the Interior of BC and the Six Nations and –there were many many more women i’d have like d to meet, talk with, plot with, and grow to understand. But this was a beginning.

i was in a short conversation one night with a woman from south africa, a friend on facebook, who said she honours the women in prostitution in her country, because there are so few choices for women for work, and the women who engage in prostitution become rich and don’t have to do soul-destroying menial jobs for their whole lives. We honour them too, i said, but we have no respect for the fellas buying them, we want them to take responsibility and stop demanding access to women’s bodies. And we want all women to have enough.  to have much better choices between a grinding boring ill-paid menial job and prostitution. in fact, it would be good if those two ‘choices’ weren’t on the palate at all. How ’bout that?

it’s the trap that I dare say we all fall into, all the time–we talk about the women’s choices, we talk about how to help the women–we talk endlessly about hauling the babies out of the river or teaching them how to swim, and we don’t pay any attention to the guys throwing them in there. That’s an old story, the story of the babies in the river. One that Cherry Smiley of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network  told in the panel we were on together–you know,  a woman sees a baby floating in the river. She rushes in to save it. Then another baby appears, and another and pretty soon the river is filled with babies, and women scooping them out. Cherry added a few women teaching the babies how to swim. Then one woman boots it up=stream. Someone calls out to her, “where are you going? can’t you see we need your help here?” and she replies,  “I’m going to see who’s throwing them into the  river!”

I’ve heard that story many times before and mostly in the context of the anti-male violence work, though I know now that Pete Seeger tells it, too. I had not heard the part about some of the rescuers teaching the babies to swim.  I don’t know if that’s Cherry’s addition, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for harm reduction.

anyhow. It was a transformative week–so many feminists in one place. And the Abolitionists owned the conference. There were panels about feminist legal interventions–the Norwegian women told us how they managed to get their government to implement the Swedish model of prostitution law–they targeted Johns, they used a big bold sense of humour, righteous rage, and courage.

We were courageous last week, holding each other up, giving each other the best of our thinking, and the most we could of all we had learned in our daily work and lives. Lee Lakeman and Diane Matte were gracious and disciplined chairs, animators of a daily conversation called Flesh Mapping: prostitution in a globalized world. They have both been fierce feminist warriors spreading the joy of struggle for decades now. Their organizations, La Cles in Montreal and Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter are influential world-wide now.It was wonderful and encouraging to meet the La Cles women and to learn more about their activism–they’re an admirable bunch, to be sure.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard women express admiration for Vancouver Rape Relief and Vancouver feminists.  Made me all proud and humble at the same time. I have had a small small part in the successes of this powerful group, and learned an enormous amount from my association and collaborations with them. I think, after last week, that I can finally move into a more useful place, finally having confidence that my voice is important, and the work I am doing is necessary for the movement. I must put together the stories and experiences of all the women i’ve worked with, beside and for over the last quarter century–it’s urgent. I’m a theorist now, an activist academic and i can figure out a way to make the contradictions fuel our shared movement toward freedom. It’s okay to be afraid. The women before me were afraid. They have paid a great price to clear a path for me. It’s my responsibility to carry on the fight and pass what I know to those who are beside me and coming after. Finally, and beginning now–

and still play my accordion and do stand-up comedy. Cause there is joy in the struggle. and everything is political. damn. there are so many stories to tell but i gotta go now, i’ll get to it all later…another time another post, i have articles to write now…

Generations.

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Last week, I went to this fundraising event. Every year, at the end of May, the radical feminist gang i work with sometimes, they have this big ol’ fundraiser that raises about 35K for the transition house. 35k isn’t much these days, but it’s also a very fine picnic. there’s a gang of men who work together to raise money for the organization. they answer to the collective that runs the rape crisis line and transition house. They incorporate public education about male violence against women into every fundraising event they do. They work to address their own sexism, racism, classism and that of other men. and they decorate, cook and clean up for the walk. it’s not really an action, ’cause it’s more about allies gathering together and celebrating another year of work, and catching up with each other.

this year was my 22nd at that walk. I’ve missed a few–when I was mad at them, and wanted to nurse my resentments more than I wanted to address them; or the year my lover and I broke up and she was with the collective still, so she was there and i was with someone else and all twitchy and guilt-ridden. there was the year my dad died, and he got really sick just before that weekend. A couple of times i worked at the transition house instead of going, or did something else but still collected pledges and stuff. Of the 22 years i’ve been associated with that gang, i’ve been to perhaps 17 or 18 of the walks. Probably actually walked the whole way around 4 or 5 times, truth be told.

Oh it was so fun this year. One of my ex-lovers, her daughter was there. with her childhood friend–I’ve known both of them since they were 5 or 6. they’re grown women now, in their late twenties. One is in the training group, the daughter of my ex. She was raised in that collective, and now she’s working there. That’s kind of cool. And it’s kind of not.

Because, you know what, the goal is that we work our way out of a job. That we end male violence against women. We haven’t done that yet. But we will. Then we can have collectives of artists and gardeners and engineers and cooks and builders and storytellers and flute makers and potters and …but whatever it ends up becoming, once we have stopped men from beating the crap out of us and holding all the power and wrecking everything (god bless them), whatever happens, it will remain true that we will need each other; there will still be suffering; we will still have to attend to the well-being of others. We have to be patient, though. How many centuries of male supremacy do we have to overcome? Generations. It will take us generations.

It will take us generations and yet it is absolutely urgent.

what’s the coolest thing about my young friend working there is that it’s proof that we offered her something tangible. Even if we were tired and resentful and angry and sorrowful from hearing all the horror stories and trying all the time to patch women up and hold each other up and make some room for ourselves and our sisters–even with all that, there must have been some hope and light and beauty in there. I remember when she was a child, of course I do. And as much as her mother and I sacrificed and worked “for the glorious revolution”, this girl paid, too. We made a lot of mistakes. We fought a lot. Especially near the end of our love affair. It must have been really hard for her. But we always loved her. And we always loved the women’s liberation movement. I think she knows that.  it’s hard being human.

unofficial tradition of the walkathon is that I suck the helium out of one of the balloons and sing “I’m Just a Gigolo.” This year there was enough helium for that and a couple of John Prine songs.

heh.

 

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

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.

 

endurance

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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.