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Posts Tagged ‘neo-Victorianism’

The sex is ever to a soldier kind.  –  Homer, Odyssey (XIV, 246)

camp followersSince the time humans began carving out territories for ourselves, we’ve been going to war with one another.  Since the rise of centralized governments such wars have usually been conducted by a professional warrior class, and wherever the soldiers have gone whores have never been far behind.  Every army, whether on the march or in garrison, has attracted “camp followers”, non-military personnel who follow along because it’s profitable to do so.  And because armies are (and always have been) mostly made up of healthy young men, deprived of the company of young women and with nothing in particular to accomplish with their pay, many camp followers have always been prostitutes (indeed, the former is often used as a euphemism for the latter).

Up until a century ago, nobody pretended to be surprised by this or subscribed to the ridiculous delusion that it could or should be prevented somehow; the first country to imagine otherwise, the United Kingdom, first contented itself (starting in 1864) with a series of increasingly-oppressive “Contagious Disease Acts” justified as a means of preventing the spread of STIs in the military.  But even the British allowed their officers in the Great War to avail themselves of well-run “blue lamp” brothels…while denying the enlisted men prophylactics and restricting them to makeshift “red lamp” facilities staffed by near-amateurs, then wringing their collective hands at an STI rate seven times that of their German foes.  And while the French, Canadians and New Zealanders followed the same sort of pragmatic practices as the Germans did, the Americans preferred the British “order the men to be asexual” approach; New Orleans’ “Storyville” district was closed by federal order in 1917 at the urging of Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, who considered the whores a “bad influence” on the sailors at the nearby naval base.

By the time of World War II, it seemed the pragmatic approach was winning:

…The military governor of Hawaii did everything he could to make the hookers of Honolulu happy; Hitler ordered that his troops be issued blow-up sex dolls; the American authorities distributed condoms; and the Japanese resorted to the abominable “comfort women” scheme (which was also used in reverse form, with Japanese whores for American troops, during the first year of the occupation)…illustrations of feminine pulchritude…brightened barracks, bunks, tents and even the noses of bombers.  On British planes, those paintings were often of Jane, a shapely Daily Mirror comic-strip character who would always somehow manage to lose her clothes by the last panel, usually in some incredibly unlikely fashion;nose art In the Mood Christabel Leighton-Porter, the model upon whom she was based, also posed for nude photos which were literally dropped in bundles to the troops to increase morale…

But this swing toward rationality was short-lived, and soon after the war the world lost its collective mind on the subject:

…The Vietnamese and Ouled-Nail prostitutes who served as nurses during the siege of Dien Bien Phu have almost been erased from history, as have the women of Honolulu’s tolerated brothels who served the same function after Pearl Harbor and entertained the Navy for the rest of the war.  The French like to pretend that women who survived by providing services to the occupying Nazis were somehow different from the others who were forced to deal with them; the Japanese still deny the extent or even the existence of the military brothels in which they enslaved (mostly Korean) women for the “comfort” of their troops.  And the American military establishment continues to demand that its men avoid the company of professionals no matter how much this policy angers the host country or how many sexual assaults result from it, thus prioritizing the wishes of prudish fanatics above the health and happiness of the troops of both sexes…

There is no way to tell how long this will go on, but sooner or later this neo-Victorian prudishness must end; things go in cycles, and eventually the sex-negative phase we’ve been in for over a generation now will be discarded by younger people eager to do things differently.  But as military organizations themselves are also changing due to the advance of technology, what will that mean for sex workers?  Only time will tell, but I feel perfectly safe in declaring that as long as military organizations exist, they will continue to have a deep and close relationship with whores, whether those in power approve or not.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on January 25th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

group sex statueEvery generation thinks it invented sex, or at least non-vanilla sex.  And I don’t just mean teenagers who are squicked out by the idea of their parents shagging, either; among vanilla folk and/or those outside the demimonde, the delusion seems to persist through life that nearly everybody who lived before a moving line (hovering like a will-o-the-wisp exactly at the year the believer reached puberty) only had missionary-position sex for the purpose of procreation. Even if the individual is familiar with the Kama Sutra, knows about classical Greek pederasty or has seen the menu of a Victorian brothel, these are likely to be dismissed as islands of kink in a vast sea of unsweetened vanilla custard stretching back into prehistory.  Even doctors quoted in newspaper articles are wont to make incredibly stupid, totally wrong statements like “the concept of having oral sex is something that seems less obscure to you than it did to your parents or grandparents.”  Well, my dears, I’m old enough to have given birth to many of you reading this, and I can assure you that oral sex was not remotely “obscure” to us in those long-ago and far-off days of the early ‘80s; nor was it “obscure” to any of the older men I trysted with in my late teens, many of whom are now old enough to be your grandfathers; nor was it “obscure” to my own grandparents’ generation, who came of age in the Roaring Twenties; nor to the 5.5% or more of the female population who worked as whores in every large city of the world in the 19th century, nor the 70% or more of the male population who had enjoyed their company at least once; nor to any of the long procession of harlots and clients stretching back to before busybodies invented the idea of policing other peoples’ sexuality.  Know what else wasn’t “obscure” to them?  Anal sex.  BDSM.  Role-playing.  Exhibitionism & voyeurism.  Homosexuality.  Cuckolding.  I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  Here’s a hint:  most lawmakers have always been pompous ignoramuses too obsessed with telling other people what to do to actually have normal lives, so by the time they get around to banning something it’s a pretty safe bet the majority of everybody else in that culture over the age of 16 already knows about it, and many of them are doing it.

Chief among the popular sex acts that modern mythology pretends were “obscure” is masturbation, at least for women.  The common delusion is that because a culture didn’t like to talk about something, it must not have existed; accordingly, the idea has arisen that Victorian girls were somehow so carefully controlled that they never discovered that touching oneself between the legs (or riding rocking horses) feels good.  And because many women have difficulty reaching orgasm without some form of masturbation, that must mean that pre-20th century women all went around in a perpetual state of sexual frustration.  In the past few years, the ridiculous myth has arisen that Victorian doctors actually gave women orgasms without knowing what they were, and that the vibrator was invented to speed up what they viewed as an odious task.

Where do I begin?  In the first place, this tale is so incredibly recent I never heard of it during any of my extensive sexological reading in my teens and twenties; it seems to date to the nineties at the earliest.  Next, it’s a lovely example of Anglocentrism; just because Britons and Americans were so publicly hung-up about sex in the 19th century, doesn’t mean everyone else in Europe, Asia, Africa and the entire Southern Hemisphere was; are we to believe the bulk of female humanity was bereft of the blessing of orgasm until wise white sagesVictorian dildo ad bestowed the gift of the vibrator on their benighted nether regions?  Furthermore, the idea that public posturing actually indicates private feelings, to the point that those who spread this legend actually imagine that dudes were strenuously trying to avoid touching strange women’s twats, is just so colossally dumb it could only be believed in the middle of the neo-Victorian Era.  And a brain has to be pretty deeply mired in 21st-century chauvinism to actually believe that those silly old Victorians didn’t know what a freaking orgasm looked like.  But you don’t have to take my word for all that:

…some historians have claimed women were brought to a “hysterical paroxysm” (supposedly an orgasm that nobody wanted to admit to), by their doctors through “pelvic massage” (masturbation).  To aid them, a vibrating device was invented because there were just so many women who needed this form of treatment that the poor doctors’ hands were getting tired, and they had to use a machine…this…idea…seems to have taken root in our popular culture, helped by “shock exposés”, a few books, and the 2011 film Hysteria, where…Victorian doctor…Mortimer Granville, turns his 1880s invention of a muscular massage device into a sexual awakening for his female patients.  So did the real Dr Granville invent an electronic device for massage?  Yes.  Was it anything to do with the female orgasm?  No.  He actually invented it to help stimulate male pain relief, just as massage is used today.

Victorian doctors knew exactly what the female orgasm was; in fact, it’s one of the reasons they thought masturbation was a bad idea…Marriage guides…often claimed that a woman in a sexually satisfying relationship was more likely to become pregnant, as the wife’s orgasm was just as necessary to conception as her husband’s…The Art to Begetting Handsome Children, published in 1860, contains a detailed passage on foreplay…A Guide To Marriage, published in 1865 by the aptly named Albert Sidebottom…[advises] young couples…that “All love between the sexes is based upon sexual passion”…In 1877, Annie Besant, a one-time vicar’s wife, helped to publish Fruits of Philosophy, a guide that set out every possible contraceptive method available…its British circulation reached over 125,000 in the first few months alone.  So can we please stop saying Victorian women were having unknown orgasms stimulated by their doctors?…

Unfortunately, most people value the truth far less than they value the ability to feel smug.  And people several generations dead are so easy to feel smug about; after all, they aren’t around to tell you that you’re more ignorant about their lives than you pretend they were about sex.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on December 7th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

British readers, enjoy this website while you can.

Queen VictoriaIn the year 2015, less than half a human generation past the end of a century which saw advances in sexual freedom (both practical and legal) unprecedented in human history, we are now well into an attempt by the powerful to roll it all back to the Victorian Era.  But while the Victorians were largely concerned about appearances and tolerated considerable debauchery in the back-streets, neo-Victorians pretend that “sin” should be eradicated everywhere for everyone, and modern surveillance methods (not to mention the erosion of the presumption of innocence) have made it easy for police and prosecutors to destroy anyone’s life with an accusation of sexcrime, even if they have to manufacture it.  For years, we’ve seen the recrudescence of the absurd but dangerous Victorian dogmas of the “innocence” of “children” and the fragile asexuality of women; these have been used to justify scorched-earth policies on adolescent sexuality and the re-establishment of the misogynistic doctrine that rape is a “fate worse than death”. More recently, however, the UK government has dramatically ramped up its censorship efforts, and this time even adult men will be included (though still mostly in the name of “protecting women and children”).  In 2013, internet “filters” (i.e. censorship programs) were mandated, first to block adult content and later to stop anything else the government decides it doesn’t want the peasantry to see.  Then last autumn, we discovered that the government is willing to cage people for years for looking at drawings of taboo subjects, and now it comes to this:

…from now on, VoD porn – online porn you still pay for, essentially – must fall in line with what’s available on DVD.  That means that British pornography producers will no longer be able to offer content online that couldn’t be bought in a sex shop.  Acts that are no longer acceptable include:  spanking, caning and whipping beyond a gentle level; penetration by any object “associated with violence”; activities that can be classed as “life-endangering”, such as strangulation and facesitting; fisting, if all knuckles are inserted; physical or verbal abuse, even if consensual; the portrayal of non-consensual sex; urination in various sexual contexts; and female ejaculation.  It’s quite a list, but one mostly made up of stuff that seems to have been picked out pretty arbitrarily (women orgasming, exactly which items can or can’t be inserted into a consenting adult’s body)…

The list also includes bondage, humiliation and “role-playing as non-adults”.  As in the above-referenced manga case, even pretended depictions of taboo acts are taboo, despite the fact that pretended depictions of far more serious acts (like murder or mayhem) are allowed on ordinary television.  For now, the Vice article assures us, “the new law only covers content produced in the UK, meaning that viewers…can still…view as much [international] fisting, strangulation and urination as they like…”  However, given the expansion of the internet “filtering” parameters, do you honestly believe it will stay that way for long?  Erotic Review certainly doesn’t:

…British authorities are gearing up for an all-out war with online porn.  Sources tell me plans are afoot to start blocking British access to foreign so-called tube sites, which host porn videos, regardless of where they are based or whether the scenes they show are legal.  The attack on TV-like services is just the latest stage in a war which could severely restrict people’s access to porn…

One detail of the new censorship regime which is being treated almost as a joke provides another clue to where this is actually headed:  “the publicly funded regulator, the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), will have to pay someone to watch porn and enforce the new regulations…at a cost of £36,000 [per year]…”  You know who else pays censors to watch porn so the people can’t?  China.  The Great Firewall of Britain is well on the way, and once it’s discovered that merely blocking adult content fails to achieve the desired effect, the next level of tyranny is criminal charges accompanied by “sex offender” registration (a combination already used for the most-vilified forms of porn).  As I pointed out in “Welcome To the Future”, the dystopia is already here; all that remains to be seen is how heavy a yoke the subjects will accept before they finally attempt to throw it off.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on November 16th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

Salvation Army womenEvery time one reads an article that doesn’t mindlessly parrot “sex trafficking” hysteria or some other aspect of the anti-sex movement, yet isn’t written by a sex worker or ally, one can be sure there will be an obligatory sentence about how it’s “surprising” or “paradoxical” or whatever that neofeminists are in bed with evangelical Christians.  The only people who could actually consider this alliance to be anything other than wholly predictable are those who A) believe in the ridiculous “left wing-right wing” dichotomy which “was a poor fit to real political landscapes when it was first used in reference to the French Assembly more than 200 years ago and has become completely worthless since”; B) accept fanatical cults’ propaganda about their motives as truthful even if it demonstrably conflicts with their public behavior; and C) are completely ignorant of the history of the Anglo-American anti-sex movement.  My early essay “Traitors To Their Sex”  provides a brief sketch of this history, starting with the influential and charismatic Victorian feminist, Josephine Butler:

…who recognized that English law of the time…stripped prostitutes of their rights as Englishwomen and so campaigned tirelessly for the repeal of those laws for 16 years.  At the same time, Butler (like most Victorians) believed that women were essentially asexual, and so could not accept that any woman might freely choose to exploit the male sexual appetite in order to earn a living; the very idea was anathema to her rigid Christian thinking.  She therefore concluded that it was actually whores who were the exploited ones, childlike victims of male lust who had been forced into lives of “degradation” by male oppression…after the repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts in 1886 prostitutes were no longer the cause célèbre; when they refused to repent their whoredom and embrace “honest work” and conventional morality the feminists abandoned their sympathy like yesterday’s newspaper and declared war on our entire profession, vowing to abolish it entirely.  Butler founded the Social Purity Alliance…dedicated to imposing middle-class Victorian standards of chastity (i.e. repugnance for sex) onto men, and it was but the first of a host of similar organizations which sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the 1880s and ‘90s…middle-class “feminists” had shown their true colors and abandoned the drive to win rights for the disenfranchised in favor of one which aimed to restrict the rights of everyone…The purity crusaders used many propaganda weapons…but chief among these were disease scares and the “white slavery” hysteria…the unholy alliance of middle-class feminists and puritanical religious zealots managed to convince the public, the media and governments that there was a huge international trade in underage girls, abducted and forced into sexual slavery…The fact that there was absolutely no evidence for such a vast conspiracy made no difference whatsoever; the public devoured lurid stories of child prostitution, and…voluntary adult prostitution was banned or severely restricted under the excuse of combating involuntary prostitution of “children”…

In other words, though some early feminists (such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges) were individualists who were not at all anti-sex, feminism did not become a popular movement until it embraced a rigid, puritanical morality.  These “first wave” feminists were not merely anti-prostitution, but anti-pleasure; among other things, they campaigned against the “evil” of masturbation and drove the movement which eventually imposed Prohibition on the United States.  So although this early feminism died out in the Great Depression, it is wholly unsurprising that its legacy soon infected the “second wave” which flourished in the 1960s and ‘70s; by the mid-‘80s the anti-sex forces had not only taken over feminism, but had sought out and once again joined their old allies, evangelical Christians, in another loathsome attempt to impose a puritanical anti-sex regime on all of society.  Almost exactly a century after the first iteration of their social engineering crusade, they’ve brought back most of their old rhetoric (now blended with another morally-bankrupt 19th-century belief system, Marxism) and many of their old tactics, including “white slavery” hysteria (now called “sex trafficking”).

This is what a feminist's victim looks likeAs I’ve pointed out before, much of the language in “sex trafficking” and other anti-sex articles and essays is positively Victorian, and even when it isn’t the attitudes are.  Women like Julie Bindel and Meghan Murphy, who would almost certainly take exception with (or even ridicule) the notion that their attitudes fit more in the late 19th century than the early 21st, nonetheless expend considerable effort in arguing for massive censorship campaigns (even though they deny it) and trying to convince other women that only feminist thought leaders have the right to determine which kinds of sex constitute “rape” or “exploitation”, and that their individual consent is immaterial (the result of “false consciousness”, itself a 19th-century Marxist concept).  The “end demand” campaign backed by the Fawcett Society (itself founded in 1866) is based in the tired old Victorian conceit that men can be “taught” to dislike sex as much as prudish women do; furthermore, the recent revelation that the £45 “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirts hawked by the Society are made in Dickensian sweatshops reveals that middle-class white women’s trivial concerns still trump the serious problems of working-class and brown-skinned women, just as they did in the days when the sun never set on the Empire.  And I think we can all agree that the mind which can produce over 3100 words on whether porn can be “ethical” or “feminist” is one which could’ve been perfectly delighted with thinking up new venereal nouns or arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  So no, it isn’t at all surprising that evangelical feminists conspire with evangelical Christians to make normal people’s lives as miserable as possible; they’ve been doing it for as long as there’s been such a thing as “feminism”.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on October 12th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

The Black CatAs befits a girl who was born on Halloween night, I’m a big fan of horror films, horror stories, horror TV shows, horror comics, horror poems and just about anything macabre and creepy.  I’ve written about horror fiction on my blog more than a few times, especially (though by no means exclusively) in October, which is my favorite month in part because it’s Halloween season.  But this is not merely a deviation from my usual topic; in fact, as I explained in “Eros and Phobos”, fear and sex are inextricably intertwined:

…the trappings of BDSM would be equally at home in a gothic horror setting, the rape fantasy is as popular as ever and the lurid fantasies of “sex trafficking” fetishists can be found in mainstream news outlets every day, forced up from the collective unconscious by the pressure of the return to Victorian levels of prudery.  Nor does one always have to look outward to find the connection; I’m sure many of my readers have realized that the things that sexually excite them most are often related to things that frighten them.  For example, some of you may recall my mentioning that I have a phobia of being trapped (including in traffic jams), and I think even the veriest psychological amateur could recognize that I have a tremendous aversion to authority.  Yet at the same time, I’m turned on by bondage and themes of dominance and submission

I hardly think it’s necessary to point out that when an individual tries to suppress sexual desires, they usually pop out somewhere else; the same thing is true of society as a whole.  The neo-Victorians who now dominate our culture are so afraid of sex they’re trying to completely neuter and domesticate it:

They imagine that engaging in sex for the “wrong” reasons, or without the benediction of elaborate rituals of consent, or with people separated from one another by more than a very few years of age, is terribly harmful.  They believe that merely taking pictures of the taboo act creates a kind of Gorgonic icon which drives its viewers mad, and that the mere existence of such images harms women and children who are not even in close proximity to it.  And they fervently assert that it is so incredibly dangerous to the sacred “innocence” of “children” (a term which refers not to true children, but to a ritual category which actually includes some adults), for strangers to even imagine sexual contact with them causes such tremendous harm that those who indulge in these Forbidden Thoughts deserve penalties greater than those for violent assault, followed by lifelong social ostracism

But this only results in the suppressed desires popping out somewhere else.  As I explained in “Eros and Phobos”, horror fiction is one of those points of eruption; it’s a “safe” way to way to deal with feelings that one is afraid to admit to, a way to separate the taboo “dirty”, “bad”, violent or otherwise forbidden aspects of sex from wedding-cake images of romantic love and Utopian talk of mutual pleasure and “enthusiastic consent”.  The more rigid the social demands for 100% clear, legally-provable consent, the more rape fantasies we should expect to see.  The more society insists that the only acceptable sex is between age-peers, the more Lolita imagery will appear.  The more loudly “thought leaders” insist that love and mutual pleasure are the only acceptable reasons for sex, the more attention will be paid to whores.  And the more fixated conformists are on marriage and monogamy, the higher the number of clients the harlots strolling down the streets of their imaginations must have.

Given the draconian sexual regime our increasingly-repressive culture has imposed by use of both violence and shame, we should expect to see a great deal of horror fiction in which very young girls are abducted, raped, enslaved as prostitutes and forced to see exorbitant numbers of men.  And so we do; the lurid, sensationalized tragedy porn narratives that make up the body of “sex trafficking” mythology are nothing more than Gothic horror tales that opportunists pretend are real.  But do the members of the general public actually believe these stories, or are they just outlets for psychosexual tension accepted with the same mixture of credulity and doubt with which our ancestors greeted the spooky tales told around campfires?  It has been pointed out that if anyone actually believed that one in five young women on campuses were raped, nobody would ever send their daughters to coed universities; similarly, if anyone actually accepted the claim that “Young ladies are being grabbed off bus stops and forced into prostitution”, we’d be seeing a constant parade of abductees’ pictures on the news and demands for armed guards at bus stops.  Perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of such folklore is that on some level people know it isn’t real (even if they consciously deny it); just as the old tales shared certain motifs and were repeated in a ritualized fashion that branded them as fabulous, so do these modern legends.  Perhaps the “sex trafficking” hysteria is at its heart nothing more than a succession of horror plays, sequels to (or remakes of) those in the very popular “Satanic Panic” series of the 1980s and ‘90s, and like them serving as “safe” outlets for anxieties caused by the onerous puritanism of modern Anglo-American culture.  “Safe”, that is, for the audience; in this horror drama the actors, unlike those in Hammer films or Grand Guignol theater, are both involuntary and unpaid.  And as long as this panic goes on they will be forced, like the imaginary sex slaves of the narrative, to play out the scripts drawn from their captors’ twisted psyches at the cost of their own freedom, happiness and lives.

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It seems to me that since sex doesn’t invariably lead to procreation any more, we have a lot of mumbo jumbo about “emotional commitment” and such.  Why is sex supposed to be for fun when you are young and single, but then when you get married it is supposed to take on some sacred, personal significance such that you don’t do it with anyone else?

Reed warbler and cuckoo chickFor most of recorded history, female marital fidelity was more important than male for the simple reason that we always know who a baby’s mother is, but until recently had no way of being sure of the identity of the father.  Since most men were repulsed by the idea of spending their resources on (and even leaving their property to) a cuckoo in the nest, a woman’s “purity” and “chastity” became the ancient world’s version of a credit rating; just as the latter helps to convince lenders that a modern person will pay back credit which has been extended him, so the “purity rating” helped to convince men with resources to invest them in a woman and her children.  Originally, women without such a rating weren’t shunned or stigmatized; they simply weren’t considered good marital prospects.  But as the centuries wore on such “purity” went from being a bonus to being a necessity, and the lack of it became a mark against a woman’s character (much as poor credit is becoming in our modern society).  By the Victorian Era, the emphasis on chastity had spawned the notion that proper women were totally asexual, and female sexuality thus became a sign of either bad breeding or psychological/spiritual damage.

For all this time, male fidelity was never important to society as a whole because children’s maternity was never in question; it wasn’t until the appearance of that peculiar blend of pseudoscience, authoritarianism and Christian moralism we call “progressivism” that anyone other than Christian clergy and wronged women really gave a damn about male sexual behavior.  Progressive thought held that if only “experts” educated in “scientific” methods of social engineering (including eugenics and control of the foods and other substances people ingested) could gain control of society, the human race could be “perfected” and we’d all live in a Utopia.  First-wave feminists embraced this excuse to mind everyone else’s business, and one of the main goals of the resulting “social purity” movement was inflicting the societal expectation of female asexuality on men as well (because sex is dirty and nasty and a “superior” man wouldn’t want it).  An avalanche of busybody laws followed, including the first widespread criminalization of sex work and alcohol, and if it weren’t for the Nazis giving eugenics a bad name it would no doubt still be just as popular as prohibitions against certain substances and sex acts (which are its ideological siblings).

Some rather ignorant people believe that these Victorian growths are things of the past, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Oh, they were tweaked somewhat in the middle decades of the 20th century, but the basic notion that members of the ruling class have the right to inflict violence upon everyone else “for their own good” is so useful a tool of control they’ll never let it go until it’s ripped from their cold, dead, severed hands.  Alcohol prohibition was scaled back somewhat, but violent pogroms against users of other intoxicants were piled on top of it; the insistence that “official” sexual relations be licensed was replaced by sanction of unlicensed but noncommercial relations coupled with violent repression of commercial ones and the expectation that “immature” non-monogamous relations would eventually give way to serial monogamy based on romantic “love”.  Furthermore, the party of the first part (hereinafter referred to as “the individual”) agrees that the party of the second part (hereinafter referred to as “society”) has the right to discourage “immature” pleasure-based relations by propaganda, shaming, pseudoscience about “sex addiction” and “negative secondary effects”, criminal prosecutions of sexual encounters that for one reason or another violate the expectations of one or more of the participants or uninvolved bystanders, or any other method society cares to introduce at a later time in perpetuam; the individual further agrees to internalize society’s discouragement of such “immature” relationstoilet plunger by a date not to exceed that of the individual’s thirtieth birthday or date of his or her first legally-contracted marriage, whichever comes first.

I think you get the picture.  Society hasn’t actually changed its old, repressive ways; in fact, it has actually expanded them and repackaged them in a different-shaped box with a colorful, “modern” wrapper in the hopes that you won’t notice that the same old oppression is still being rammed down your throat with a toilet plunger.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on January 12th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

Until the advent of the internet, those who suffer from the sick need to control other people’s sexuality (or use sex as an excuse to hurt people) must have felt that, though they were beginning to lose their grip on gay people, they would always be able to suppress sex workers.  In the 1980s and ‘90s the majority of their efforts were directed toward the suppression of porn, and to a lesser extent stripping; obviously they felt that the criminalization, quasi-criminalization, semi-criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of prostitution would serve to keep us from ever being able to organize effectively against their oppressions, and that we could safely be regarded as a non-issue.  But throughout the ‘90s momentum was building in many parts of the world, largely unnoticed by the American prohibitionists who supply most of the funds and rhetoric to the global anti-sex crusade; the arrival of the internet and social media gave these widely-scattered sex worker rights groups a way to connect easily and cheaply in real time, resulting in an explosion of activism in the new century.

white slave girlI wish that I could say the prohibitionists were caught unaware, but that would be a lie; they, too, could use social media, and it wasn’t long before they had formed a global anti-sex movement dedicated to the extirpation of all legal sex work and the absolute suppression of all sex workers who survive the jihad.  Because the right to privacy and sexual autonomy is now much more widely respected than it was at the time of the last such crusade a century ago, it was no longer productive to use the centuries-old argument that prostitution could rightfully be suppressed because it was “immoral” and “deviant”; instead, prohibitionists revived the old “white slavery” rhetoric, representing sex workers as the helpless, pathetic, asexual victims of men’s evil lust.  As in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, robbing whores of our livelihood, subjecting us to ill-treatment by police, caging us, abducting our children and subjecting us to brainwashing in the hopes of reprogramming us into obedient menials is depicted by the prohibitionists as “rescuing” us from our own choices, which they deny were made freely (if at all).

Over the past decade, the pro- and anti-human rights sides have struggled for dominance, and it’s been very difficult to discern which is winning; while we have the truth and the facts on our side, the “antis” have vastly more money and the support of governments, who can always be counted on to expand their power over individuals no matter what the facts may be.  But starting in the summer of 2012, the tide began to slowly turn in our favor; though the Swedish model and “anti-trafficking” legislation are still being imposed in more places, several UN agencies and a growing number of health and human rights organizations are coming out in favor of decriminalization, and the voices of sex workers are gradually beginning to be heard above the prohibitionist din.  Just as it happened almost a year ago, a Twitter event caught the attention of a few members of the media, and coming as it did on the heels of the Canadian Supreme Court’s overturn of the three worst Canadian anti-sex worker laws, I think it should be viewed as an omen of bigger victories to come.

#NotYourRescueProjectAs with so many great things, this one started small: it was merely a Twitter conversation between several activists on the morning of January 2nd.  In her Storify of the event, @WassailingGirl states “A group of people were discussing the way the mainstream media only wants to hear one version of sex workers lives, what some of us call tragedy porn.”  Melissa Gira Grant wrote “I’d love to see a #notyournarrative for sex work”,  Molli Desi Devadasi  asked “what are we going to call this?” and @WassailingGirl replied with “#NotYourRescueProject”.  The tag spread like wildfire; within hours there were literally hundreds of tweets and retweets using it.  By late afternoon an article about it appeared on Straight, and by the next day prohibitionists were frantically attempting damage control by interjecting their own myths, denunciations and accusations (the sex workers were really “pimps” or clients, were “not representative”, etc) into the stream.  But as you can see for yourself by perusing the tag, it was a shout against a hurricane; Frank Worley-Lopez’s January 6th article on it doesn’t even consider their pathetic attempts worth mentioning.  Though the rate of tweeting on the tag dropped off over the next few days as such things do, it was sent out again on January 11th as a “Thunderclap” to counter the anti-sex work rhetoric of “Human Trafficking Awareness Day”.

You may wonder why I consider this important; after all, it was just talk, wasn’t it?  The same thing I and many other activists do every day?  Well, yes and no.  It’s human nature to “tune out” people after a while, no matter how persuasive they may be.  But during the busiest part of the tweeting, I noticed something very interesting:  many of my non-sex worker followers, who rarely retweet my sex worker rights tweets, were retweeting some of these.  The sheer volume and diversity of the messages had attracted their attention, and they had in turn boosted that signal to others.  A small thing?  Perhaps.  But such small ripples are not isolated; they join together and build in force as long as they keep coming.  And as I wrote in another essay late last summer, “though the citadel of prohibition may today seem impregnable, even the mightiest wall must yield to the force of a million ripples joined into one great current.”

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