Thursday, November 18, 2010

SECOND Guest Post and Radical Rant from Cerien: On Capitalism and CRAP-loaded Consent

image is from here
For part one of Cerien's Guest Post and Righteous Radical Rant, please click *here*. All that follows was written by Cerien, except my bracketed added info about who "Divinity" is.

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2. I hate capitalists. There is no sense and no value in calling yourself anti-oppression, as Divinity[33372, of Medusa's Arrow blog] and many other "feminists" do, and then turning around and supporting one of the most important perpetuating systems of racism, sexism, speciesism, actual transphobia, and... well, pretty much every oppression ever.

It gets even worse when you have "pro-sex work" peeps who seem to completely miss the point that if sex work is forcing people to sell their bodies for food and shelter, it's still fucking evil. Being (theoretically) able to feed and shelter yourself because you're a pro doesn't make prostitution morally good; it makes the cause of prostitution (economic pressure) morally unacceptable.

There are a number of things wrong - morally and practically - with the idea that anyone should have to work for food, water, a place to sleep where you won't get arrested and a place that you won't freeze. I won't get into them all, but I will say this: if you believe that making someone toil to be allowed to live (after all, their bodies don't stop being hungry just because they can't get a well-paid job), then a) you have some serious misconceptions about human nature embedded in that belief and b) we don't have any shared beliefs, there is no common ground between us, because you don't even believe in the most basic of human rights.

And that's even if they can feed themselves, which is a pretty big assumption. One of my best friend's best friends when zie was on the street*, who I'll call Vernon for the sheer contradictory value. Vernon was 12 when he started having to prostitute himself, having run away to the streets to escape his mom and her boyfriend. He was Hispanic, which matters here.

Because I can't make this into a big dramatic thing with a plot, I'll just lay this out for you.

- Vernon only turned tricks when he hadn't been able to shoplift any food that day.
- He made only about $50.
- White men who identified as "straight" made up approximately 100% of his johns.
- My best friend was usually the one who had to stitch him up afterwards.

That last one needs a little elaboration to drive home the point. Johns, generally speaking, do not use condoms or lube. They will refuse to because being able to inflict pain or make someone vulnerable to STDs or pregnancy is a status symbol; and even more than that, johns view it as their right to be able to penetrate and abuse you any way they desire because they're paying you. This financial exploitation is a form of abuse not uncommon in our society: employers, donors, even parents do it. But it usually doesn't involve masturbating with your body.

In the world of sex work, if you can turn down a client, or demand that he use a condom (because sex work is inherently gendered), you have boatloads of privilege. Privilege is also the ability to say "no" if someone won't respect your boundaries, because you have other options and opportunities.

This is also why approximately 100% of the "sex workers" arguing for prostitution are privileged fucks.

But I'll get back to that digression in a bit. Vernon was still just one kid, but he never made enough money from turning tricks to find a place to sleep, which basically meant that he still had to have either a squat lined up or be ready to face the cops if they found where he was sleeping. (Or go in early to a mission if it was cold, but shelters and missions are a whole 'nother level of fucked-up that I won't be discussing here.) There were the pros off of Pearl who had a place to stay but still didn't get enough to eat, even though the Jewish guys were really generous (or so I've heard). Provided they weren't eating disordered... we think anorexia nervosa is a rich disease because the poor kids don't have enough money to get diagnosed.

Vernon was average for pros, though, even if his sex made him a little unusual. Run away from abuse you had to submit to abuse to survive; on the streets, submit to abuse to survive.

And that's why I hate the pro-porn and pro-prostitution people so much. Every "sex worker" you "support the choice of" is making that choice off the backs of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pros who don't get that privilege. They don't get to say no. "Sex workers" are offensive to me because they make my friends and my friends' friends invisible so they can prance around and get the approval of men who want to be reassured that using the bodies of women, girls and boys is acceptable. They are the tokens at the expense of the people they claim to be speaking for and fighting for.

I've heard "pro-sex work" feminists dis street walkers and reject the idea of helping them. Fuck you. They're my friends. They deserve better than this.

Let's put it this way: prostitution is the dairy industry. You don't get the relief of death, which pretty much amounts to escape; you get hooked up to machines every day of your life to be "milked", and then you're killed when you're not useful enough anymore. The machines tear you up and more often than not you're suffering an infection or wound from something "the farmers" did. You get forcibly impregnated to further your exploitation potential, and then your kids get taken away from you so they can face the same life you did. And nobody gives a shit about your choice because you're property. No one but the Happy Cows exist.

But oh, if you're a "sex worker!" Darling poster child of the pro-porn retromovement, you are depicted on green fields of freedom, smiling happily and enjoying your life. Unwanted children don't exist. Wanted children taken away from you don't exist. Mastitis doesn't exist. Horror and rape and never being able to own your own body don't exist. You're a Happy Cow, there specifically to make the dairy-consuming public feel better about the choices they took away from "just animals".

And, you know, we actually have a fucking phrase for "sex work": Happy Hooker. And it originally wasn't even fucking sarcastic, either.

(And if you think that comparing women to cows is sexist, you just missed the entire point and you are wrong. Deal with your bigotry and privilege first, think about issues later.)

When the delighted-and-totally-
choosing-it "sex worker" basks in the balmy approval of ten thousand honorary men, I get pissed. Because they're trying to drown out the voices of my friends.

And I can even tell you a fucking quote, from one of my friends, who is a pro:

"Fuck, we don't need protection from feminists. I never had a john tell me he was a feminist, so would I please bend over so he can stick it in me!"

The pro-"sex worker" retromovement listens only to the "sex workers" who agree with them and reaffirm their choices and lack of action, and treats the people who perpetrate abuse upon pros (pimps, johns) as unequivocally acceptable while vilifying people who see the abusers as an inherent and systemic problem rather than as a minimized and not-important-to-the-rich "oopsie". Ain't never seen any "pro-sex feminist" out asking street walkers what they need and want. Mysteriously, the only people they talk to seem to be upper-class and computer-literate. Hmm.

Yeah, no. I fucking feed my friends. My best friend fucking stitched zeirs up from the johns. Where are you, Divinity? Are you fucking feeding streetwalkers? Are you fucking stitching them up and bathing their wounds in lavender dilution so they don't get infected? Fuck you, I have been. Fuck you for lying about me and what I do because I don't agree that it's reasonable my friends be raped for money. Fuck you for refusing to see that their consent isn't there because they'll starve if they don't let some guy jack off in them. Fuck you. You are an asshole. You are not a feminist. Fuck.

*Yes. Vegan zeir entire life, visibly Hispanic, trans, and on the streets from the age of eight. Go on, try playing the More Oppressed Than Thou game with us.

Sub-rant #1: Consent.

I do not understand people who call themselves "feminists" and then argue that consent should be divorced from desire.

I'm a radical feminist, but apparently I'm "anti-sex" because I think that consent should be reunited with desire. Where, when you say yes, you actually want to have sex; it doesn't just "mean yes," separated from context and past experience and history and the world. Apparently I'm "anti-sex" because I feel it is every person's right to have their consent mean nothing less than active desire and enthusiasm, and every person's right to have sex as much, as long and in any way they and their partner want to. This has led me to believe that the "pro-sex" folks are actually more concerned with men's sexual access to others, but especially the underprivileged and unprotected, than they are with actually making "yes mean[s] yes!"

Yes does not exist in a vacuum. It can't exist without its opposite. Every abuse victim I know has problems with saying "no"; I've had a few of them with my lovers (and as a gynosexual, almost all of my lovers have been abused in some way), and every single time, we needed to work on a) helping her be able to ask for what she wanted, so that I wouldn't overwhelm her or sidetrack her desires for mine; b) helping her feel safe and comfortable saying "no"; c) helping her realize when she wants to say "no", and to act on it; and d) helping me to be able to recognize and act on her signals that she was uncomfortable or unenthusiastic so that I didn't essentially bulldoze her into doing something she wasn't really into.

Because it's not just about the partner who's been abused, which is what this idea of "if you say yes, then you mean yes" comes out to. It's... male privileged as hell. Think of the guys who, presented with the idea that a woman might want to stop having sex in the middle of sex or when penetration is about to occur, whine about how unfair and manipulative it is. There's never any issue of, "Oh crap, I made you uncomfortable! I triggered you! How do I fix it??" That would put the emphasis on consent; he's not whining about feeling good and being made to stop, he's whining about being made to control himself so he doesn't hurt an object; about how an object doesn't have the right to withdraw consent.

And the whole "yes means yes!" phenomenon is similar to that because of the attempt to abstract superficial consent from actual consent. Effectively, it makes the issue of consent, "Will you have sex with me?" rather than "Do you want to have sex with me?"

And it puts the onus for rape, for consent, and for consideration on the people least able to answer honestly, for their physical safety, for their mental and emotional safety, and for their survival.

That was one hard part of relearning sexuality with my girlfriend. I had to realize that, regardless of how healthy she was "supposed" to be as a feminist, she wasn't this magical creature that knew everything about herself and other people and would miraculously know when she should say no because going through with it would leave her feeling dirty and used. I had to realize that it was fair for her to say no, regardless of what we were doing or how much I wanted it, because she had the right to set boundaries and limits no matter what happened; her body did not become my property if I wanted to get off. I had to realize that it wasn't just about her crazy-fucked-up-mentally-ill-hysterical (etc., etc.) issues; it was about how I was acting. And that if she didn't feel safe, then it didn't matter how I thought I was acting, or what I was trying to mean (looking back - it's not like she was telepathic! How could she know?); I needed to change what I was doing to make her more comfortable. Because she was a person. Because she deserved that respect from me. Because her feelings deserved consideration, and if something deserves consideration it damn well deserves change.

I had to realize that, while it was fair for her to get angry at me for acting like she should have been magical, it wasn't fair for me to get indignant or hurt if she later revealed that she hadn't wanted to do something from the beginning, no matter how far into it we were.

Emotional consequences teach women what rights they do and do not have with men.

The "yes means yes!" idea of consent narrows all of this down onto, say, my girlfriend, or someone else who has been culturally taught that "no" is not an answer. The implication is if she was a good enough feminist, she'd say no. It doesn't matter that no one ever respected her "no" or gave it any serious weight; it doesn't matter that people would emotionally or verbally abuse her until she gave in. It doesn't matter that this went on for so long until the word "no" didn't even come to her lips, no matter what she felt. She told me once, that to learn how to say yes, she had to learn how to say no first.

"Yes" is meaningless in a place where you don't have the option - all the time, without emotional, social, physical or financial consequence - of saying no, and having it respected. All the time. Consent is an absolutist ethic because there is no such thing as consent in a place where "yes" can mean varying degrees of "no".

That is what Sheila Jeffreys and Andrea Dworkin mean when they talk about how women cannot consent to sex with men. Not: "all sex is rape, full stop." It's: "unless a woman has the ability to refuse consent, no matter what, at any time for any reason, without consequence, and unless men see that true, real consent as vital to their own pleasure, she can't consent. Consent doesn't exist in a place like that." This is not an advanced concept, people.

Consent can exist in a microcosm, between two or three people, after those people work together to figure each other and themselves out. Duh; we're not making the claim that all sex is rape, but we are pointing out that right now, what we see as "sex" bears an uncanny resemblance to rape. But you know, aside from the issues of being so traumatized that you don't even know whether you want to consent, there's a very simple reason that it's a bad idea to say "consent can exist, but it must meet this, this and this criteria, and also, consent is not this."

And that is: we're not dumb. We've seen the privileged and powerful go on for decades about how they're special little snowflakes who are not oppressive at all. Here, my best-friend-of-an-oppressed-group says it! Must be true, hurr!

But there's another reason that radical feminists don't put up lists of what consent is, and then use a yardstick to measure everything by that list: it's not fucking mathematical.

Consent is not capitalism, where consent and non-consent can be tallied up and calculated and the total decides whether or not you consent. Consent is about more than "welp, I need food, so I better consent to letting this guy fuck me." It is about infinitely more than that. It is about not feeling afraid and feeling safe and supported and like you won't be disappointing someone if you say no. It's about being able to negotiate boundaries so that you can say, "Uh... Well, I'm a little bit hot, but I don't know if I'm into it enough to go for more than ten minutes. Can we try fingering/grinding/dry humping/masturbating each other and then check back in?" instead of resigning yourself to having to have sex because you felt hot for an orgasm, but not necessarily for hours of them. It's about being able to say, "I am really preoccupied and don't want to give my full attention to sex... Want to figure something out?" It's about being allowed to say, "Yeah, that would be awesome!" and then being allowed to say ten minutes later, "You know, I've had a really crappy day and I think I really just need some intimacy right now."

It's also about being able to have sex while watching Finding Nemo and completely ruining the mood by singsonging, "We've got to get to Sydney!" into your partner's vulva. And then being able to get the mood back up after collapsing into giggles for twenty minutes and devolving into a kissfest. Or even not.

Consent is more than superficial; it's more than a verbal contract. Encouraging the "sex work" ethos of consent fucks us all up, because when consent is divorced from actually wanting to have sex with that person, it doesn't actually mean anything. Or it does, but in the negative: women still get no agency over their bodies, and sex is still reduced to a transaction.

I just can't imagine why the "pro-sex feminists" would be so appalled that I think they're anti-woman for their willful ignorance of the status quo, and their blatant support of it.

You know, just, fuck you. This kind of bullshit you-don't-have-to-but-I'll-fuck-you-up-if-you-don't definition of "consent" isn't even worthy of a response. The only reason I'm giving it one is because there are a lot of sparklepups out there who want to be as oppressive as they desire and still get the social approval for calling themselves anti-oppression.

1 comment:

  1. Also, I didn't have time or the coherence to get into it, but having to submit to sex leaves you fucking traumatized, too.

    I just want to emphasize a couple points in this post, also:

    1) When they claim they're talking for "sex workers," they're lying.
    2) Even if there are "sex workers" who enjoy it, the majority don't, and I don't care about the handful of people who it works fine for - if I were like that, I'd be a capitalist, too.
    3) I don't care about whether or not men have a "right" to sexual pleasure.
    4) Arguing that prostitution is required to support those under economic duress is not, and should NEVER be mistaken for, an argument for prostitution. Yes, despite the fact that most of the people who make this argument are, in fact, doing it in favor...

    Now, can I suggest a couple blogs?

    Autonomous Radical Feminists (if you haven't found them already...)
    Left All Over The Place (my best friend's sex blog from zeir days and nights as an FTM in Denver; no posts yet), and
    Choose Nature (I just like this one)