Comments from March 2008
Reader reactions to features and reviews for March
Ekis, author of the article, replies
Thank you so much for the comment. I'm writing a book on the subject and therefore researching a lot of these "activist groups". What I've found so far, it's a big scam. Oh yes, there are prostitutes who do believe legalizing will make it better and who honestly fight for it, but if you compare the number of them to how many times they get quoted in the media, it's like one to 500.
And that also has to do with the internetization of media - today a stressed-out journalist with no previous knowledge who is doing a piece on prostitution, can easily surf his way into an "activist prostitute" who will answer the mail in a couple of hours with answers like "We, the prostitutes, want the same rights as everybody else." Of course! But what nobody does is search behind; who are these people actually, how many are they, who do they represent - and do the prostitutes who are living in hell have a website where you can ask them questions about it? They have no voice whatsoever. At all. It kind of lies in the nature of the subject. If you have misery, people will be silenced by misery itself. Natasja, who is dead now - there was no way any journalist would have made his way through to her. I happened to rent a room in the same house as her, that's how we made friends.
Another strange thing is, the "activist groups" you mentioned are often presented as trade unions although, I've never heard of a trade union which tries its best to hide the exploitation and violence. In all other sectors, trade unions expose the problems and confront employers. In this case however, the john is "such a nice person" and prostitution is great fun - all that needs to complete the paradise is legalisation! If you think about it, not even the most popular jobs are expressed that way by their trade unions. Which makes you think something is not just the way it seems.
Amity Reed, author of the article, replies
First, you maintain that because I included only one story of birth rape in the article, my assertion that this happens to many other women is somehow unbelievable. You need only look at some of the links I included in my story to see that this does indeed happen to many more women than one would like to believe. The fact that there are organisations and charities dedicated solely to helping survivors of medical mistreatment and birth trauma in particular (such as Witness and the Birth Trauma Association) should be testament to that.
Second, you state that while many women undergo 'uncomfortable and unnecessary' procedures (a gross understatement when we're talking about forcing hands or instruments into women's vaginas without their consent) during birth, that this does not amount to rape and that equating these acts with rape is denigrating to 'actual' rape victims.
What I find most disturbing about this method of thought is that we have come to equate birth with the loss of power. The idea that giving birth is a time to "check one's dignity at the door'" and accept that unpleasant and unwanted procedures will be performed on you, possibly against your will or accompanied by threats about the baby's health, is absolutely frightening and appalling to me.
We fight and fight for women's right to choose whether to carry their foetuses to term or not, but then tell them that their bodies are not their own, that they must submit to the will of others "for the good of the baby". How does that make sense? We either have full bodily autonomy or we don't. We can't pick and choose based on which experiences we deem acceptable and which we think are 'no big deal' because they are socially taboo and rarely challenged.
Finally, to address your third point, that by writing about these assaults I somehow tar all of obstetrics and gynaecology with the same brush, I would challenge your belief that based on the few personal relationships you have with people in these fields (who undoubtedly have the best of intentions and are good people) you can fairly and rationally arrive at the conclusion that no one in these fields harm women, even those doing so with 'good intentions'.
A rapist or abuser isn't always a sinister figure lurking in the shadows with a sadistic grin and an insatiable urge to harm - they can be extremely ordinary people who don't understand that the power they wield must be used with the utmost sensitivity and care.
They are the obstetricians who want to get home to their families and so order more drugs, more oxytocin to increase contractions and then a caesarean, all so he or she can be at the dinner table on time; the nurses who are overworked and tired; the jaded midwives who have 'seen it all' and think they know best. Their intentions may not have been evil but they must be held responsible for their actions when they harm and control the very people they are entrusted to help.
Calling the hell these women go through "sensationalistic and malicious" is not only offensive to them but to the very ideals of feminism.
Red Chidgey, author of the article, replies
Thanks for your comment on The F-Word article! I do agree, riot grrrl is/was certainly transformative - it totally revolutionalised my own life and set me on my merry way of a feminist life of mischief and action. Plus I think it's also really important to recognise, which I didn't really touch on in the article, that riot grrrl was a phenomenal movement which brought feminism to young girls and women - the fact that 11 year-old girls are still making grrrl zines now sends shivers down my spine when i think about the feminist possibility there. The next step for us zine feminists, I think, is to do more and more workshops to bring zine-making to young people - it a very powerful tool for young people to realise how easy it is to express themselves and publish their thoughts. I still see zines themselves as a form of direct action, and feminist media is crucial to any autonomous movement for social change.
I would be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on the role of the internet in feminist movements - perhaps you could write an F-Word article! I also have concerns that feminist dialogue occurs all to often in cyberspace. It is also increasingly important to realise that the internet also excludes the participation of some older feminists - this concern was recently brought up at the Bolton Women's Liberation Conference that was held on International Women's Day this year. Charlie Grrl reported back to FAF from the conference that the Bolton group began with two women putting an advert in their local paper and then having regular meetings. Now we just send out some emails and wait for the response (or not)! And sometimes feminists don't even meet in real time. Charlie made the very good point that there are "differences in the way feminists communication and network nowadays" and that this is an important "barrier to intergenerational networking".
Which leads me to think about all the other possibilities that we need our media to embrace: newsletters, magazines, films, and radio shows being just a start!
Red Chidgey, author of the article, replies
Thanks for your reply to the article! I was being slightly provocative pitting the start of the British Women's liberation movement with the conception of its first conference (not feminism per se, just the WLM). And I do suggest some of the rumbles which were happening at that time...
But, yes, as for feminist history, it stretches way back, as well as sidewards (if we want to be non-linear!), and into the future (we build upon legacies known and unknown right now). And my name drops of women at the end of the article are from an earlier period of modern feminist history then the second wave.
So, I am personally very critical of the 'wave' theory of feminist history, though it has been used by women (such as Germaine Greer and, more recently Rebecca Walker) as a strategic device - to name a movement of activism as a way of dislodging the assumption that feminism is dead (I believe Susan Faludi in the Backlash notes that a period of 'post-feminism' happened even after the vote was won, that critics were suggesting that since the vote had been achieved there was nothing left for the militants to fight for. Which, of course, we know is not true - the 'first wave' was never merely about the right to vote - it was one, certainly driving, aspect of women's political and legal recognition at that time). So, the 'backlash' happens to women whenever this has been a push of feminist activity, and women have been protesting throughout the twentieth century, and before. The 'wave theory' is therefore of limited use to us as historians, but is pretty crucial for some activists as a rally cry.
For some, the 'third wave' is also used to discuss a diverse type of feminism. Like you point out, for many DIY, anarcha, or grassroots feminists right now, a feminist struggle is interwoven with the fight against consumer capitalism and intersecting forms of oppression - racism, ableism, environmental destruction, transphobia, classism etc. (and whilst these feminist concerns have a long heritage, and merge with socialist feminism in some instances, what gives third-wave feminism a distinctive flavour is that it is located in a specific historical condition. The world changed so much in the last quarter of the 20th century - with information communication technologies, shifts in fertility and marriage ages, changes in labour (who now stays in the same job all their life?), neo-liberalism and the globalisation of commerce, climate change, etc, etc) For some, third wave feminism is a response to the new social conditions we find ourselves in and an consolidation of allies within other social justice movements. And it is important to recognise that feminists have long known about the need to address gender oppression through many lenses (race, sexuality, the environment etc) - sometimes successfully, sometimes not
What would be interesting is to find out more about our feminist histories and to see what events and agendas, in all their multiplicities, were carried out in the first/second/etc waves - there are so many stereotypes and dominant narratives circulating, which I think obscures some of the very real similarities which can, and should, be made between the 'third wave' and its predecessors. After all, what is feminism but the theory and practice of freedom for all? I think many women have always practices their feminism as such, and some have not.
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
If you re-read my article, I was addressing the fact that it is predominantly men who call sexually active women sluts and this does incorporate men who term lesbian women 'sluts'.
No woman is a 'slut' if she is sexually active and this includes heterosexual, lesbian and bisexual women. But by the same token, if one believes any woman who is sexually active a 'slut' then this degrading sexual insult applies equally to all men who are sexually active, including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual men.
The derogative term 'slut' - used by men against women - is designed to humiliate, degrade, and of course maintain male sexual power and control over all women. Men, just because they are biologically male, are not entitled to take the higher moral ground and claim 'I can be sexually active without any accountability but you women who are sexually active are all sluts.'
After all what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
You obviously have misread my article. The purpose of my article was to challenge male-centered sexual double standards wherein men who are sexually active are lauded as being 'studs and players' but women who even dare to challenge patriarchal misogynistic definitions of what is deemed to be appropriate passive feminine sexual behaviour are called 'sluts, whores etc.'
No woman is a slut simply because she happens to enjoy sex and actively pursues it for her sexual pleasure and not in order to sexually satisfy male sexual demands.
My article is not based on 'personal experience', rather it is about the widespread misogynistic beliefs concerning female and male sexual expression. If you care to re-read the article you will see no anecdotal evidence was contained therein.
I find your claims concerning 'typecasting men's and women's sexual exploits into emotive gender roles etc.' to be obtuse, unenlightening and totally without any foundation.'
The male-centered misogynistic sexual double standard must be challenged because it is designed to ensure women's sexuality and sexual autonomy is not only denied to them but kept rigidly under the control of patriarchy. No woman or man is a slut, whore etc. simply because they are sexually active. But since men presume it is their right to term certain women sluts, whores etc. then the sam must be applied to men who are sexually active.
Irina Lester, author of the article, replies
Thank you for you great response, the mood of it, angry and unapologetic, is just the way I feel about the issue. I am always annoyed that nobody seem to realize what a hell unwanted pregnancy can be. They instead talk about abortions (when in fact they are just means to correct a horrible mistake instead of living with it!). As I cannot regret not taking my eye out, or not breaking my arm, I cannot regret not having a child when a mere thought of it was hateful.
And guess what? Motherhood, or parenthood in general for that matter, is such a big and irreversible step, it changes life so much, so it can only be justified if it is a voluntary. Some people come to regret having (sometimes yet another) child, it ruins their lives. I have read on forums many parents saying, that although they love their kids, they wish they had them later in their life. Many women arrive into motherhood completely unprepared for what it takes, and it is only now people started to talk about it openly, and they were willing in the first place. Now, who these inhuman morons must be to think, that even if you don't want to, you must experience all that?! Surely, the agony over unplanned pregnancy is the best indication that this particular woman must not, under any circumstances, become a mother at this point in her life. Maybe later, maybe with another man, maybe never. But not now. It is only those who ruined their own life want you to have a crap one too; many of them are religious idiots who think that not only they are born to suffer, but you are too. It is about the time to tell them where to shove it.
Again, thank you for your reply, I wish women were angrier and there were more feelings like yours spoken out, because enough is enough.