Comments from April 2008
Your comments, the April edition
Comments on last month’s features and reviews
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
I’m glad my piece has helped you especially when reading about Lisa
Smith, the Haitian woman and now another husband who thought he had the
right to murder his wife. Yes, I know about Lisa Smith and how she
suffered at the hands of men working for KBR and subsequently the US
legal system, which sought to deny Ms. Smith any justice.
I also know about the Haitian woman who, together with her son was group
raped by a number of men who live within her community. The attitude of
a non-white male organisation wherein they have deliberately attempted
to justify these male rapists’ actions is inexcusable.
Male violence against women is not about race or ethnicity – that is a
cover used by men to excuse and justify their acts of femicide (violence
I’m glad that for once justice was done here in the UK but I am under no
illusion because sadly, the UK like the US all too often excuses,
justifies or simply blames women for men’s sexual and physical violence.
I just want to say there are many women and a number of men too, who do
not believe male violence against women is because men are programmed to
commit violence or men have a gene which disposes them to commit
violence. Truth is it is all about power – men’s power over women. I
always try to keep in mind not all men condone violence against women.
I know there are women and men who continue to challenge society’s
belief nothing will change.
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
I agree it is very confusing when you read my article and then read/hear
other feminists claim that women enter prostitution because of drugs.
The reality is it is much more complex than what society promotes –
which is that women enter prostitution because they have a drug habit.
In fact, majority of women and girls enter prostitution not because they
have a drug habit but for other reasons. Researcher Roger Matthews who
is an expert on prostitution writes in his book ‘Prostitution, Politics
and Policy’ that ‘various studies have shown that while a considerable
percentage of (women) those who end up working on the streets have been
involved in some form of drug use from an early age, many of these
studies do not distinguish clearly between experimental, recreational,
habitual and problematic drug use.’ ‘There is a danger, however of
giving too much priority to drug use as an independent process and to
overlook its links with the personal histories and lifestyles of those
(women and girls) involved in prostitution.’
Melissa Farley, an expert on prostitution and women’s experiences of the
traumatic effects, plus The Women’s National Commission and Roger
Matthews, to name just a few all state that research consistently shows
women’s and girls’ entry into prostitution are due to a variety of
factors. Some of which are: ‘have backgrounds of abuse. Sexual and
physical abuse in childhood and adolescence, family breakdown, running
away, homelessness and poverty are all known factors that precede entry
into prostituton. Where there is poverty, abuse, lack of opportunity
and gender discrimination, women’s real choices or options to earn a
living are very limited.’
This does not mean a woman or girl enters prostitution solely because
she has experienced male sexual/physical violence, or her family is poor.
Rather these are some of factors, since not all women in prostitution
have experienced homelessness, but many women and girls have experienced
male sexual violence and/or child sexual abuse.
We must not forget society prefers simplistic answers to very complex
issues and the latest one is ‘women enter prostitution because they are
drug addicts’. We must see how society is organised wherein
opportunities for women and girls are still very limited if they are
marginalised due to poverty, male abuse, homelessness etc. Also,
society still accepts and largely excuses and justifies many men’s
beliefs it is their right to buy women’s and girls’ bodies for sexual
The global sex industry which is interrelated with the mainstreaming of
pornography is another very important factor in the increasing numbers
of women and girls being involved in prostitution. Prostitution is
increasingly being portrayed as a ‘free choice’ but we must ask ‘who
benefits from women and girls being made available for men to sexually
exploit and abuse.’ It most certainly is not the women and girls who
enter prostitution because the profits from prostitution, the sex
industry and pornography go to the brothel owners, pimps, hotels, taxi
drivers, owners of lap dancing and table clubs and those who produce
pornography. Of which the vast majority are men.
One of the main factors which ensures prostitution continues unabated is
male demand. If men did not demand or expect women and girls to be made
available, prostitution would not exist. When a woman or girl sees no
other options apart from her sexuality, then in her view it is logical
to use what little she has in order to survive. This is not a ‘free
Melissa Farley has written extensively on the issue of prostitution, sex
industry and pornography all of which are inter-related. Other authors
include Kathryn Farr whose book ‘Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in
Women and Children’ is an excellent book which analyses and discusses
complex issues such as economics, globalisation and the sex industry.
Sheila Jeffreys too has written a book ‘The Idea of Prostitution’ which
focuses on the history of prostitution and why it is increasing not
decreasing despite beliefs that western society is now supposedly
civilised. But still women and girls enter prostitution and become
effectively men’s sexual slaves.
This website provides more details of
Women’s National Commission Questions and Answers in respect of
Irina Lester, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies
Dear Amy, thank you very much for your letter. The reason why I wanted to join the panel on “Ask a feminist” was actually that letter from Anon you refer to, that question about a sexist boyfriend. It made me so uneasy and also it moved me.
You are absolutely right in all you have said, and I am glad you took time to write. When I read that letter from Anon I thought: sexist attitudes usually mean sexist behaviour. What sort of a partner such man can be? Even if you are not thinking about relationship at all, not to mention with him, just a mere though that he’ll be a shit boyfriend [to any woman] is a big turn-off. The point of any relationship is to have a better, more fun and enjoyable life than you can have on your own, not to tackle some arsehole on a daily basis.
I take an issue with the notion of “charm” women sometimes find in unpleasant, sexist guys. Sexist views are not charming. I’d say it ruins any good impression as it shows that a man is unsophisticated, narrow-minded and insensitive. This should be a litmus test, and a way to tell if you shouldn’t touch him with a barge-poll. Even if you have a fling with him, I doubt he will be good in bed as he must assume you are here just to please him. Long term relationship with such an arsehole is just another type of self-harm.
If these men are incapable of seeing a woman as an equal, then they should live alone.
Jennifer Drew, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies
Josephine, the difference between men looking at women and women looking
at men is that men – according to society – have the right not only of
looking at what they consider to be an attractive woman, but also, without
her permission, to comment on her appearance, body or sexuality. Now
women too can look at men and think to themselves ‘ah he’s attractive’
or ‘I like that this man’s tight jeans are emphasising the man’s genital
area.’ But most women would not consider approaching the man and saying
to him ‘I think you are attractive/sexy in those tight jeans.’
Most women do not want or like strange men, or even men who are their
acquaintances or work colleagues, presuming it is male entitlement to
make personal comments about a woman’s body or perceived sexuality. Do
many women make sexualised comments to their male work colleagues? No,
they don’t, because women rightly fear the man will misinterpret their
comment as a sexual invitation to engage in whatever sexual activity the
man thinks is his right.
So, as Louise rightly said, the difference is men can look at a woman
and think to themselves: ‘Ah I’d like to give her one.’ A sexually crude
expression, but effectively means ‘ah the woman is sexy I’d like to
penetrate her body and show her how virile and sexually desirable I am.’
It is the male presumption that it is a man’s right to consider all
women he considers sexually attractive as available to him and his right
to presume sexual ownership of a woman’s body. This is what Louise
meant by male sexual objectification.
Women however, do not routinely look at a man and then tell the man they
would like to bend him over a table, chair or whatever and then
penetrate his body with an object because they find it sexually exciting
or stimulating to them. Instead they might often think internally
‘that’s a handsome hunk I wonder if he is any good sexually.’ But they
will not tell the man what their thoughts are.
As Louise said, there is nothing with either women’s or men’s sexual
feelings because they are part of our humanity. What is wrong is the
belief men are entitled to act on their sexual feelings and assume all
women are sexually available to them.
Take, for example, when a woman is subjected to male sexual harassment
wherein a man walks by, turns round and stares at the woman then he
calls out to her “get your breasts out for me”. The woman turns around
furious and tells the man to “get ******”. The man then becomes angry
and very often calls the woman misogynstic and sexually degrading
insults. After all, in his view he has only told her he liked her
breasts (only he wouldn’t say that, but call her body parts a derogatory
and insulting term). In other words, many men presume women’s bodies and
sexualities belong to men, to be looked at, acted on because the male
presumption is that men own women’s bodies and sexualities – not women.
So, what can be done, well as I say both women and men have sexual
feelings and yes it is pleasurable feeling the sexual feelings but there
is a difference between feeling it and acting on one’s sexual feelings.
This is what feminists are demanding from men – that men can have sexual
feelings with regards to women but do not presume any woman walking down
the public street, in a workplace, or other societal venue is there
specifically for men’s sexual entertainment or she exists solely to
sexually satisfy a man’s sexual desires.
So, to end with a reaffirmation of Louise’s excellent analysis – men who
enact sexual objectification of women are in effect demonstrating their
male power and privilege over women. This is what Louise was explaining
to WMF. And of course, human sexual feelings are not uncontrollable
once aroused and no woman is responsible for supposedly arousing a
male’s sexual desire. That feeling emanates from the male and cannot be
separated out from the way in which he learned to sexually objectify
women and reduce them to body parts. Ever heard men say “I’m a breast
man” or “I’m a legs man”? This means the man in question reduces women
to particular body parts not their total human person and character.
Irrespective of a woman’s intelligence, personality, etc. it is her
breasts, legs or other parts which arouse the man’s sexual feelings.
Men who are pro-feminist or at least are trying to disentangle
themselves from male sexual privilege often cannot understand why it
is misogynstic or male sexual objectification, when they think to
themselves “that’s a nice piece of arse”. In a nutshell, such thinking
reduces women to sexualised commodities, not women who – like men – want to
be treated with respect and equality. Telling a man he has a “nice
arse” does not have the same effect, because men would just laugh it off
since there is no risk of a woman raping or sexually assaulting the man.
However, behind men’s sexualised comments is the very real threat a man
will act on his comments and subject the woman to either rape or sexual
This is how male power operates because society condones, justifies and
excuses male sexual harassment as just a ‘joke’ and refuses to accept
that women too have the right not to be subjected to unwanted male
Jess McCabe, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies
I would just add, Josephine, that I disagree with the idea that non-consensual fantasies are a total no-go. What goes on inside our own heads, in our erotic imaginations, comes from a complicated place, and any effort to censor or strip out darker fantasies is unlikely to succeed.
It’s worth thinking about, and challenging, what’s behind these fantasies perhaps, but they are not the same as, or an indication of, sexual assault/rape, by a long, yawning stretch.
I wanted to say that, whilst I have enormous respect for the book ‘Nickel And Dimed: Undercover in low wage America’ I would say that she ‘dabbled’ in the sense that, unlike Dickens, she went from job to job to assess different industries and different forms of exploitation within the American job market, and that she entered into the project with clear political ends. Monica Dickens may have gone from job to job in her first book, but that was accident rather than design, ie she kept getting sacked or sexually blackmailed or reached an impasse of some other kind. The other two books feature her in the 1 job for the full duration of the book and, unlike ‘Nickel and Dimed’, there was no political motive for writing any of the three books – they are social documents, not political manifestos, and that was the distinction I was trying to make, not that ‘Nickel and Dimed’ is a lightweight book – I’ve read it and it isn’t lightweight by any means. Obviously my piece was clumsily phrased on this point, hence the feedback I’ve had about it. In this case, it’s nice that there’s someone out there who also likes Monica Dickens.
As to the punk gentlemen, I was going to reply to his points because he started his argument well, only the
Comments on older features and reviews
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
Oh, Sam. Someone didn’t read the article before commenting, eh? It’s not about jealousy; it’s about the expectation that girls and women have to fit one particular (impossible) standard, and one particular way of looking, in order to be valued in our society.
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
Really, writing into a feminist website with a hateful anti-fat rant? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel…
Catherine Redfern, author of the article, replies
It was a long time ago now, but, no, they never replied
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
We’re not sure which article Holly was referring to, what thank you anyway!