Posts Tagged ‘neo-Victorianism’

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on September 22nd; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

History, it is said, repeats itself.  And while the parallels are never exact, they are often pretty damned close.  Witness, for example, the new Victorianism which has engulfed Western society:

…we have become shockingly hypocritical about sex and grant our governments tremendous power to suppress it while simultaneously spending tremendous amounts of time and money on it…We have revived Victorian ideas of government-enforced temperance and “social progress”, and the…“Cult of the Child”…which…preaches that children [including adolescents] are as emotionally fragile as soap bubbles and the merest hint of sexual imagery…can cause irreversible trauma…is…pressed into service for sex issues which have nothing to do with children…prohibitionists [have resurrected] the late Victorian “white slavery” moral panic under a new name, “child sex trafficking”, and [wield] it as a bludgeon against adult whores…lest anyone balk at treating adult women as children, there’s a Victorian answer for that as well; prostitutes are  abnormal, defective “victims” of men who have to be protected from our own choices, which are clearly irrational.  Similarly, trafficking fanatics classify brown people as…too stupid and unsophisticated to move between countries on their own without being “trafficked” by gangsters, so by the Victorian “white man’s burden” philosophy they need to “save” these poor victims, whether they want to be “rescued” or not

Traffic in Souls (1913)But while the racist, colonialist, prudish, censorious and paternalistic attitudes we see around us, especially in speeches by politicians and articles from the mainstream media, are straight out of the late 19th century, at least the language used is still modern, isn’t it?  Well…not quite.  In recent decades we’ve seen the return of tortured, obfuscatory euphemisms and circumlocutory, polysyllabic abortions used in place of clear words and direct phrases, and nowhere is this more true than in prohibitionist anti-sex work screeds larded with cumbersome, politicized passive-voice constructions such as “prostituted women” or even “women victimized by systems of prostitution”.  And in recent months, it’s been growing steadily worse; yellow news stories steeped in purple prose extol the supposed “horror” of sex workers’ lives in lurid detail, women are described as utterly helpless and hopelessly naïve, and sexual behavior is described in phraseology that would not seem out of place in a hellfire-and-damnation revivalist’s tent.  And really, that’s not surprising; the equation of all prostitution with “sex trafficking” goes back to the 1880s, and one of its chief originators at that time, The Salvation Army, is also one of its chief proponents now.  The “trafficking” mythos is deeply rooted in Protestant Christianity’s obsession with “pure and pious womanhood, and even when there is no Christian group involved in a prohibitionist scheme the same themes of sin and degradation echo through their rhetoric, even if translated for a non-Christian audience.

To be sure, some of them are very subtle, contenting themselves with merely denying that sex work is work, equating all sex work with survival streetwalking and using Victorian phrases like “selling their bodies”.  Others absurdly state that “prostitution is not a victimless crime”, deny sex workers’ agency (“When you are bought and sold for sex…does that make it a freely made choice?”), misdirect attention from the real issues with simple-minded morality plays featuring demonic pimps and heroic cops, and ignore the coercion implicit in the “diversion programs” they tout.  Still others feature cops using language that sounds plagiarized from penny dreadfuls: “[The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics] is committed to dismantling organizations involved in the seedy world of prostitution and ultimately human trafficking.  Our agency…[is] determined to make a positive impact in a dark world that troubles the soul. Women that are used as a commodity sickens ones hear [sic].”  But others aren’t nearly as restrained:

The struggle against human sex trafficking in Israel has made appreciable progress in the past decade.  Mass media have better informed the public of the severity and dimensions of this vast criminal enterprise…The Sinai fence and more effective border patrolling has appreciably, though not totally abrogated the tacit understandings between the IDF and Beduin [sic] smugglers that annually brought thousands of sex slaves into Israel’s brothels…girls as young as 13, are coerced by the ravages of poverty, incest and rape…into sexual servitude.  Procurers and their underworld bosses subjugate them in lives almost never truly rehabilitated by even the most valiant and dedicated social welfare agencies…tens of thousands of [men]…continue to buy women’s bodies in order, as they commonly express it, “to make them do whatever I want”…the purchase of sex is about power, not about sex, about societal toleration of the abuse of women’s bodies – and souls…

If not for the uniquely modern idiocy that sex isn’t sex, one could easily mistake this for a description of a Victorian or silent-film melodrama, complete with bearded Bedouin slave traders (no doubt carrying their struggling captives on camels); note also the revoltingly misogynistic assertion that whores are “fallen” women who can “never truly [be] rehabilitated”, a common Victorian prostitute-motif which persists in modern “sex trafficking” myth and is echoed in theSalome by Jean Sala characterization of rape as uniquely destructive, a “fate worse than death”.

But the myth of the harlot as a passive, pathetic victim of the Almighty Phallus is a comparatively recent one; for the majority of the past two millennia (and for centuries before that among the Jews), we were cast by prudes and religious fanatics as powerful figures akin to witches, vile temptresses sent straight from Hell to seduce godly men into wrongdoing.  A few of their modern successors still prefer that sort of rhetoric, and demand that whores be made into outcast pariahs who can be persecuted by the “authorities” at will:

…New Port Richey [Florida]…Police Chief Kim Bogart…suggested the city consider crafting an anti-prostitution ordinance that makes it easier for police to arrest known “ladies of the night.”  He’s hoping the ordinance would be worded so that if such a woman even waves or makes a certain gesture to someone, it would be justification for arrest…Councilman Jeff Starkey took aim at the city’s prostitution problem.  “It’s unbelievable how brazen these nasty, nasty, nasty women are”…he said…

Of course, before we were witches and temptresses we were priestesses; many ancient religions believed that sacred whores were a way for men to connect with their goddesses.  The practice still existed in the early Christian era, much to the chagrin of early Church fathers (who had inherited the long Jewish tradition of hatred for whores).  Our last (and most fiery) example of retro anti-whore rhetoric derives its inspiration from that time period:

…Preaching from 1 Corinthians 6:15–7:5, [Russell] Moore likened the present-day cultural saturation of pornography with the first-century pagan practice of temple prostitution.  “The temple prostitution of Corinth has been digitalized and weaponized…and brings with it the kind of illusion and anonymity that the temple prostitutes could never promise…there are digital harems of prostitutes, available and pushed upon every single population in the United States of America and increasingly every single population in the world,” Moore said…

As I’ve said before, if I’m going to be insulted and lied about I’d rather be cast as a powerful succubus than a weak and deluded victim.  Given the choice between two ridiculous stereotypes from the past which have somehow held on into the 21st century, I prefer to be a living weapon so dangerous she must be arrested on sight than an infantilized defective who needs to be locked up because she’s too stupid to know what’s good for her.

(This essay was inspired by Dr. Laura Agustín‘s “tweets” about how silly prohibitionist language has become lately; she and Mistress Matisse provided most of the featured examples.)

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on August 4th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

Second-wave feminism in the UK has, like the first wave of the 19th century before it, devolved into a solution in search of a problem.  In many English-speaking countries there are plenty of women’s rights battles to be fought, such as the brutal campaigns against abortion access in the US and a wide variety of vital issues in India.  Even in Britain, there are a number of major problems it would be appropriate for feminists to address, but there’s a catch: they largely involve marginalized groups like sex workers and transwomen whom the remaining second-wavers consider to be enemies, or else nonwhite women they just don’t care about.

Prohibition threatSo just as the first wavers devolved from successfully crusading against the horrid Contagious Disease Acts to campaigning against things which made middle-class white women uncomfortable (including alcohol, sex work and masturbation), so second-wavers have followed up the monumental victories of the twentieth century with screaming about trivia.  While transwomen are hounded to death, they obsess about the number of women’s pictures on banknotes.  While sex workers are stripped of rights and repeatedly victimized by police, they aid the oppression by trying to criminalize our clients and destroy our means to work legally.  And when we dare to challenge their war on us, they demand social media give them a means by which to censor us.

Yes, I realize that the rationalization used to demand the Twitter “report abuse button” was the horrible rape- and death-threats hurled against Caroline Perez, leader of the bank note campaign.  I also realize that A) it’s already illegal to credibly threaten someone, and the proof of that is the arrest of Perez’s worst abuser despite the lack of a button; B) Twitter already has a means of reporting serious abuse, but it requires effort and is therefore difficult to exploit for coordinated mass reporting campaigns against targeted individuals; and C) Any quick and easy means of reporting abuse can also be misused by the many for silencing the few, such as the aforementioned exclusionary feminists silencing sex worker and transgender rights activists.  When those with a history of attack, oppression and exclusion say they need a certain weapon for defense, you can be as certain as the sun rising in the east that it will also be used for offense; in fact, you can be sure that the offensive use is the intended one, and defense is simply the socially-palatable excuse.

magazine coverThe truth of this bait-and-switch tactic is revealed by the reaction of the “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaigners to the news that a group representing the country’s largest retailers have now demanded that publishers encase the magazines in “modesty bags” to hide their covers.  The crusaders’ original pretense was that “magazines and newspapers with naked women on their covers…[discriminate against]…employees uncomfortable with images of naked and near-naked women…”; if that were the real issue, the bags are an obvious solution because they remove the supposed offending stimulus (namely the pictures) from the workers’ environment.  But this is not and never was the actual, narcissistic, censorious reason for their demand:  those urging the stores to “Lose the Lads’ Mags” do not want these magazines to exist at all, anywhere in the world, whether within their line of sight or not; they believe that their privileged bourgeois feelings take precedence over everyone else’s rights, just as the temperance crusaders of a century ago did.

Third-wave feminism is generally inclusive, diverse and respectful of women’s individual choices, with the result that many if not most third-wavers find second-wavers embarrassing at best; many other women prefer to avoid the term “feminism” altogether, largely because of the sort of behavior described above.  Second-wave feminism is therefore aging and shrinking; many more of its devotees die off every year than new ones join, and within a generation it will vanish entirely as a social influence.  And given second-wavers’ fixation on their own petty concerns to the exclusion of those affecting women in general or humanity as a whole, that’s definitely for the best.

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Being the bloodsuckers that they are, they prey on innocent, unsuspecting people and try to find a way to ply their wares.  –  “Major” Nick Clark

The one small mercy (and believe me, I really had to stretch to find one) of neo-Victorianism is that we haven’t heard much of the myth of the wanton lately.  For those who may not even remember it, this is the formerly-universal belief among men that:

…the lust of women is stronger than that of men, and that women thus draw men into sin; the widespread interpretation (though certainly not the original meaning) of the story of the Fall is that Eve’s offering Adam the apple is symbolic of her tempting him into carnality, and to this very day Muslim men pontificate from the pulpit (and on the internet) about the greater lustfulness of women.  The Classical Greek philosophers taught that woman was like an animal always in heat, and the mythology of every part of Eurasia is full of temptresses, seductresses, succubae, enchantresses, whores and other wanton women whose entire reason for existence seems to consist of luring men into sex…

Femme FataleThe idea generally fell out of favor in the West during the Victorian Era, and though it experienced a brief revival in some circles during the sexual revolution I had thought it largely out of fashion again except among some sex-positive feminists who insist that the ladies are generally just as randy as the gents despite the inconvenient fact that women never seem to want it enough to pay for it, and almost never to behave in any other way that demonstrates the voracious sex drive typical in most men.  Yes, there are some individual women whose sex drive is greater than that of some individual men (especially among the beaten-down variety so common in the modern West), but the fact that there are mountains whose peaks are closer to sea level than the bottoms of many valleys does not invalidate the general statement “mountains tend to be higher than valleys”.  Yet every once in a while, we see somebody playing fast and loose with cherry-picked statistics and calling it “groundbreaking research”, usually to sell a book:

…Even to the most casual observer of human history, it isn’t news that women’s sexuality has been feared, suppressed and lied about.  But What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner uses groundbreaking sex research to show the ways in which our supposedly enlightened society still has female sexuality backward — completely, utterly, profoundly…gender stereotypes have shaped scientific research and blinded researchers to evidence of female lust and sexual initiation throughout the animal kingdom, including among humans.  It reveals how society’s repression of female sexuality has reshaped women’s desires and sex lives.  Bergner, and the leading sex researchers he interviews, argue that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be — that it is base, animalistic and ravenous, everything we’ve told ourselves about male sexuality…In fact, he argues, “one of our most comforting assumptions, soothing perhaps above all to men but clung to by both sexes, that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairy tale”…

I totally agree that women’s sexuality can be base and animalistic, that it isn’t all that well-adapted to monogamy, and that a lot of the reason it appears otherwise (and that so many women are functionally asexual) is cultural pressure.  But to say that this means that the female sex drive is as ravenous as men’s is to ignore that male sexuality is also shaped and suppressed by cultural pressure, especially from women, and that functionally asexual men are extremely rare.  Here’s a comical video showing what the world might look like if women really were as horny as men:

Very few people nowadays believe this nonsense, but there’s a limited form of it which seems to be crawling out of the woodwork again: the notion that while “good” women (Madonnas) are sexually pure, “bad” women (whores) are predatory succubae always on the prowl for “good” men:

…Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill…[said] a number of strippers had come to his work [and] even to his home in the middle of the night…his “Facebook was hijacked and women sent me pictures of themselves half-naked”…McGill’s wife, Heather, decided that she had enough and…posted a message to his Facebook page:  “I am very blessed to be the wife of a God fearing, hard working, ministry minded, loving father and husband and it is not just my right but my duty to lovingly serve him by protecting him!…We have children that look at our face books [sic] from time to time!  Shame on you!  You know who you are.  Next time everyone will know who you are!!  For I will publicly share your name before we ‘unfriend’ you”…

And when we ravenous harlots aren’t stalking “God-fearing” men (to ruin their paladinhood, no doubt) we’re attacking their wives:

…Anna Burgese, the…wife of a wealthy…Philadelphia homebuilder, claims in [a] federal lawsuit that as many as 10 prostitutes pounced on her in the…lobby [of the W hotel in Miami Beach] on Jan. 19.  They mistakenly believed that she was encroaching on their turf…Instead of helping Burgese catch the attackers, the suit contends that the “prostitute-friendly’’ hotel put the women in a taxi to facilitate their escape…over the past decade, Miami Beach’s prostitution rings have taken on a more sophisticated and sinister side, involving sex-trafficking and women from Eastern European countries, known as “B-girls,’’ who fleece deep-pocketed tourists…Burgese claims that the assault was unprovoked and that the prostitutes threw her face-first against a stone wall in front of hotel employees.  Her husband…fought the women off with his crutches…

French B-Girl, 1925How fondly I remember those sinister old times, getting together in huge gangs of “high-priced escorts” to beat up aging debutantes at the W in New Orleans!  And sometimes, just for an extra-sophisticated change of pace, we’d all sashay in formation over to the Windsor Court to slash the tires of Rolls-Royces and Ferraris, or perhaps to the Hyatt Regency to ride up and down in the glass elevator, running out at each floor to scrawl obscenities on people’s doors with lipstick and dump room service leftovers into the ornamental pool in the lobby.  And every time guests would complain, the “prostitute-friendly” staff would whisk us off in taxicabs with “Born To Be Wild” blaring on the stereo.  What carefree days those were, before all these God-fearing enemies of trafficking appeared to beat us off with their crutches and “unfriend” us on Face Books!  I swear, it just makes a girl want to join the packed crowd down at the nearest male stripper club to lose herself among all the hundreds of other base, animalistic and ravenous hussies.

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man on mountaintopAt menopause, my wife’s libido went to zero, but she won’t take hormone replacement therapy due to fear of cancer.  She has refused sex for well over 3 years, and though she says she understands the stress I experience when denied sex, she doesn’t want it so I can’t have it.  And though she’s ultra-responsible in other aspects of her life, this is an exception.  We’ve been seeing a marriage counselor for years, and just 2 months ago she told me, “You know, it is never going to get better.”  I believe my wife when she says she loves me, but it’s a strangely limited love; we can cuddle but not caress.  When I hold her, I have the sensation of being high on a mountaintop, breathing the rarefied air.  So, how does a responsible, caring, active, intelligent woman reconcile her decision to terminate all sexual activity with a man she still professes to love?  How can someone who is so expert at understanding the consequences of her actions on others ignore something that she knows is incredibly important to me?

The problem is manifold but it has three main components.  First, modern Western women are taught a somewhat-milder version of Robin Morgan’s definition of rape:  “I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire.”  Now, most women don’t go nearly as far as Morgan, and in fact a large fraction don’t like initiating at all.  However, they do believe the part which says that the only valid reason for a woman to have sex is “her own genuine affection and desire”; they might not go so far as to call other sex “rape”, but they do believe there’s something wrong with it, that it’s somehow deficient, defective, disgusting or at least déclassé.  This is part of neo-Victorianism; Victorian women were taught that good women only had sex to please their husbands and have babies, while women now are taught that good women only have sex to please themselves or have babies.  In both cases, a large spectrum of female sexual behavior is branded as “wrong”, and modern women have just as much difficulty rejecting that repressive dogma as their great-grandmothers did.

Next, American Protestant Christianity has long taught that sexual needs are actually not needs at all, but only desires; by and large, Americans dependably (out loud, at least) reject the fact that sexual deprivation has deleterious physical and psychological effects, despite the fact that most people have either experienced them or observed them firsthand.  This has been enshrined as a tenet of faith by neofeminists; they not only insist that men don’t need sex, but teach that anyone who acknowledges the facts is a “rape apologist” who believes that any given individual man is somehow entitled to free sex from any given individual woman.  Because of American anti-sex culture nobody has the gonads to stand up to them and pronounce their beliefs utterly bat-shit crazy, and so even though most American women aren’t neofeminists the idea that sex is more akin to watching TV than to eating is a popular one.

emasculatedLastly, you must remember that the catechism of androgyny is extremely widespread; many people truly believe that all differences between men and women are the result of “socialization”.  They ignore primate studies, deny differences in brain architecture, and pretend sex hormones have no effect on behavior despite the fact that it’s incontrovertible that they do.  And once a person buys into this myth, it’s easy to deny (as many do) that men typically need more sex than women and suffer worse effects from sexual deprivation.  Though “social construction” dogmatists pretend belief in neutral norms, the fact of the matter is that they overwhelmingly believe that female norms are standard, and that typical male behavior is a pathological deviation from those norms.

What this boils down to is that your wife doesn’t know how important sex is to you, or else she unconsciously denies it.  Her behavior tells me she subscribes to all three of these beliefs to one degree or another:  You don’t really need sex no matter how much you say otherwise; she doesn’t need it, therefore you don’t either since men and women are the same…and if you really loved her you wouldn’t push, because duty sex is perverted.  You’re right when you say she didn’t choose to be this way; she was taught it just as we’re all taught bigoted attitudes and propaganda useful to maintaining the status quo.  I’m sure she really does love you, but she honestly believes giving you sex is as unnecessary and undesirable as acquiescing to your suggestions she learn to water-ski despite being afraid of the water.  She has told you point-blank that she will not provide you with any more sex; it would therefore be best for all involved if you make your own discreet arrangements and leave off trying to get it from her, since the effort merely creates conflict and produces no positive results.

(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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An inability to tell fantasy from reality would normally be considered evidence of psychosis, but in law enforcement it’s a job requirement.  –  Maggie McNeill

Flammarion engravingSince at least the time of Plato, the natural world was generally viewed in Western thought as corrupt, foul and bad; this idea entered Christianity via Gnosticism and dominated philosophy until the advent of the Romantic Era in the late 18th century.  Anything of the natural world (including, of course, sex) was to be looked down upon and avoided wherever possible; the things of the mind and spirit were what was important, and those who wished to appear superior to others removed themselves from the natural world and eschewed the “pleasures of the flesh” (at least in public).  The Romantics, however, rejected all that; they taught that the natural world was innately good, that childhood “innocence” (i.e. closeness to the natural state) was a thing to be cherished, that primitive people were “noble savages” and that “natural” living was purer and better than “artificial”.  This was decidedly a minority viewpoint; the growing middle class of 19th-century Europe and America still saw untamed Nature as rather nasty, and those who lived closer to it than they (in other words, the working class) as inferiors to be “improved” by curing them of their dedication to physical pleasures such as sex and liquor.

But humans are not known for logical consistency, and the bourgeois less so than most; as the Victorian Era wore on, some elements of Romantic philosophy were absorbed into the common weltanschauung, even when they contradicted other aspects of it.  For example, the “innocence” of children became the center of a veritable cult despite the fact that adults were expected to behave in an incredibly artificial manner, and “natural” foods and medicines were all the rage in the “social purity” crowd because they were believed to excite the (natural) physical passions less than highly processed ones!  But if the Victorians’ beliefs were incongruous, those of the neo-Victorians are even worse: while they reject the belief that sex is innately bad, they also believe against all reason and evidence that it’s something like a radioactive material which must be handled with special and elaborate precautions or else it becomes the single most destructive force on Earth.  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.

Needless to say, most of this has only the most tenuous basis in reality, and some of it none at all.  But the desire to describe Nature (especially sex) as “good” or “bad” is a very strong one, and for the neo-Victorian mind to accept sex into the “good” category it must be ritually purified by amputating all of its darker aspects, branding even the discussion of them as “violence”, and even pretending that they aren’t even sex at all.  This belief flies in the face of reality; sex, fear, dominance and violence are inextricably bound together, and only by living in a state of complete denial can someone pretend that the only valid, “healthy” and legal sex is that which is so sanitized and neutered that it resembles the real thing about as closely as a hamburger does a heifer.  Even many unadventurous people have a few rather dark fantasies or repressed turn-ons, and a few have fantasies that if acted upon would be evil indeed (as my friend Philippa used to say, “good fantasy, bad reality”).Mad Science by Greg Hildebrandt  But the mere existence of violent, dark fantasies does not indicate a corresponding plan to carry them out; probably 99% of all sexual fantasies are never acted upon, and when it comes to those involving unquestionably evil acts I’m sure the percentage is higher still.  Furthermore, the mere discussion of such fantasies with others does not constitute a conspiracy to turn them into reality.  But in a world where prosecution for thoughtcrime has become a grim reality, it might be wise to restrict such discussions to fully-anonymized online accounts and to encrypt any files referring to the fantasy; otherwise you could end up like Gilberto Valle:

…agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation took Officer Valle into custody…after they uncovered several plots to kidnap, rape, cook and eat women…the officer’s estranged wife recently contacted the F.B.I. to report that…[he] viewed and kept disturbing items on his computer…[though he] never followed through on any of the acts he is accused of discussing.  His lawyer…said the officer committed no crime.  “At worst, this is someone who has sexual fantasies…There is no actual crossing the line from fantasy to reality,” she added…

At first I leaned toward believing the allegations, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that these were almost certainly no more than extreme fantasies used by a vindictive ex to put him away; the only reason I had given the story as much credence as I did was that it’s very easy to believe a cop capable of acts of extreme, non-consensual sadism.  Then just a few weeks ago, I went from “almost certain” to “dead certain”:

A high-ranking police official…and a former high-school librarian were charged…in a plot to kidnap, torture and kill women and children, federal prosecutors said.  Richard Meltz…and Robert Christopher Asch…were held without bail…Peter Brill, an attorney for Mr. Meltz, said his client “had no interest or intention of hurting anybody…it was never anything other than a fantasy”…An official said the case against the men grew out of an investigation in which a former New York Police Department officer was charged and convicted in a plot to kidnap, rape, cook and eat women.  The former officer, Gilberto Valle, was convicted in March and is awaiting sentencing.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of an organized interstate gang of serial killers who plot capers for months on the internet without ever carrying a single one out.  I think it’s pretty obvious that what the defense attorneys in both cases said is true:  these are men with a very extreme BDSM fantasy who are being sacrificed to further the dominant cultural myth that sex can be purified, sanctified and tamed.

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Each is liable to panic, which is exactly the terror of ignorance surrendered to the imagination.  –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have written before that individual moral panics tend to last roughly twenty years at most, and that is true; however, it is also true that the cultural conditions which favor certain types of moral panics over others can be extremely long-lived.  For example, though individual periods of witch-hunting typically lasted less than 20 years, the era in which they were extremely common lasted from the late 15th century to the mid-18th.  There were other (non witch-related) moral panics during that time, such as the syphilis panic of the early 16th century; there were also witch-hunts throughout history outside of that era.  But for various sociological reasons (not the least of which was the Protestant Reformation and the religious climate which gave rise to it), witch hunts were the most common and characteristic moral panics of that time.

From Dance Hall to White SlaverySimilarly, the Victorian Era is noted for sex panics; again, there are many reasons, but the largest one is probably the ascendance of the middle class due to the Industrial Revolution, and the subsequent urbanization of the working class which placed its members within the sight of the bourgeoisie, from whom they had been relatively isolated for centuries.  From about 1840 on the middle class became increasingly alarmed by the sexual freedom of the working class; they feared “moral contamination” and demanded that the masses submit to the same self-denial and rigid social structure as their “betters”.  And though the weapons they developed to fight “vice” were ostensibly intended for sexual minorities such as whores and homosexuals, they were also freely employed against women who violated the increasingly-strict social controls on female sexual behavior.  The sex panics waxed and waned, flowing into one another throughout the 19th century, finally culminating in the white slavery hysteria and anti-prostitution campaigns which resulted in the establishment of prohibitionist policies throughout the West, most especially in the United States.  Eventually, the First World War in Europe and the Great Depression in the US put an end to the anti-sex climate; people had more important things to worry about, and the increasing freedom of women had helped the rising young generation to develop a healthier attitude about it than that of their parents and grandparents.  From start to finish, the whole process took about 70 years, but signs of decay were clearly visible by the ‘90s; in other words, a clever sociologist might have been able to predict the eventual end of the sickness a generation before it finally came.

Those of my readers old enough to remember the 1970s know, as my younger readers may not, that the current climate of sex hysteria only began about 1980; the major reasons were religious backlash against the sexual revolution, cultural backlash against the increasing freedom of women, panics about rape and child sexual abuse purposefully stoked by organized feminism for political reasons, and of course the specter of AIDS (which brought all the other threads together).  Though there have been other moral panics in the past 33 years, all of the major ones were about sex and most of those which weren’t directly about it were at least tangential.  The most important hysteria of the early ‘80s, child sex abuse hysteria, split into two closely-related panics by the late ‘80s: the Satanic Panic and the child predator panic.  The original feminist narrative of the hysteria, that huge numbers of women had been sexually abused by their evil fathers, brothers, uncles or whatever, proved too uncomfortable for Americans to embrace for very long, so it was externalized; the abusers were no longer family members but lust-crazed “pedos” or Satanists lurking in day-care centers (a venue whose implications for rapidly-growing numbers of women working outside the home should be obvious).  These twin terrors went forth into other Western countries, and though the Satanic Panic eventually metamorphosed into “sex trafficking” hysteria, the “child predator” panic has only expanded as governments have recognized its utility as a tool of social control.  The definition of “child” has rapidly expanded over the past twenty years to include young adults (thus pathologizing relationships which were perfectly normal throughout human history), and that of “sexual abuse” to include drawings or words about sex with or between younger people, not to mention non-sexual photographs of children of a type common in virtually every single family album in the Western world prior to the advent of the panic.

I’ve written elsewhere about increasing signs of decay in the “trafficking” hysteria, and now I’m pleased to call attention to similar signs of illness in its twin sister.  Both panics have proven useful to governments:  “trafficking” for border control and whore-persecution, and “child predator” as a means of abrogating privacy, expanding legal definitions of “harm” and relegating increasing numbers of non-violent citizens to pervasive control and surveillance.  And because of this, governments (especially the US government) have dumped astronomical sums into promoting, encouraging and enforcing laws rooted in both of them.  But though this sponsorship has extended both beyond their natural life-spans, it has also sowed the seeds of their destruction;Patty Wetterling the incredible heavy-handedness which characterizes government involvement in anything has begun to make the problems with these narratives more obvious even to those unaccustomed to critical thought.  Articles criticizing the hysteria over “child porn” have begin to appear in the mainstream media, and though bloggers have been writing about the tyranny of “sex offender” registries for years, even those who are politically invested in them are beginning to take note:

…Since the Wetterling Act was passed in 1994, laws governing sex offenders have grown successively stricter and more far reaching.  In many places, residency restrictions dictate that sex offenders cannot live within a certain distance from…places where children gather.  Online registries broadcast the names and pictures of offenders, often without specifying the nature of their offenses.  Juveniles treated as adults and labeled as sex offenders for acts involving other kids bear that stigma well into adulthood…The laws tend to fuel the impression that sex offenders are a uniform class of creepy strangers lurking in the shadows who are bound to attack children over and over again.  That’s what [Patty Wetterling, mother of the namesake of the mandatory registration law] used to believe…too.  Yet over the course of two decades…she found her assumptions slowly chipped away…she learned that abductions like Jacob’s are extremely rare, and that 90 percent of sexual offenses against children are committed by family members or acquaintances …[and] they…have a distinctly low recidivism rate…According to Human Rights Watch, at least 28 states require registration for consensual sex between teenagers, 13 for public urination, 32 for exposing genitals in public, and five for soliciting adult prostitutes.  Restricting where sex offenders can live, in many cases forcing them into homelessness and disconnecting them from family and social support, hasn’t had any quantifiable reduction on the rate of sexual abuse…Wetterling…[has] quietly emerged as perhaps the most unlikely voice questioning sex offender laws…and…has expressed gnawing doubts over the past several years about how we deal with sex offenders…

But while politicians were only too happy to listen to Wetterling when she supported more laws, they’re not so eager to pay attention to her misgivings now.  Still, a very few of them have apparently begun to recognize that the hysteria has gone too far; while most states have subscribed to the delusional argument that the registries are somehow not a form of punishment despite the fact that any child could see that they are, a Maryland court has taken a baby step in the right direction by ruling that “requiring an individual to register as a sex offender for a crime committed 12 years before the registry came into existence violates the Maryland Bill of Rights and the ex-post facto clause of the Federal Constitution”:

The prohibition against ex post facto laws is rooted in a basic sense of fairness, namely that a person should have “fair warning” of the consequences of his or her actions and that a person should be protected against unjust, oppressive, arbitrary, or vindictive  legislation…Based on [these] principles…retrospective application of the sex offender registration statute…is unconstitutional.

falling rocksThis decision is little more than erecting an umbrella against an avalanche, but it does represent a very small sign of shifting attitudes.  It is not by any means the beginning of the end; we’re still a long way from the end of  the “child predator” panic and an even longer way from the end of this anti-sex era in history.  But once it’s clear that “sex trafficking” hysteria is beginning to collapse and the laws governing “sex offenders” aren’t getting any worse, we’ll at least be able to say that we’re at the end of the beginning.

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This essay first appeared on Cliterati on March 17th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

A month ago today, the European Parliament passed a call for continent-wide censorship of sexual content, justified by a view of women more at home in Victorian thought than in the second decade of the 21st century.  Yes, I know you heard that the measure was defeated, but that’s because the Fourth Estate no longer bothers to perform the function so respected by 18th-century thinkers that they considered freedom of the press vital to liberty: namely, the task of keeping governments honest by publicly reporting on their sneaky doings.  The truth is that the EP overwhelmingly (368-159) enacted a resolution calling for women to be “protected” by our masters from words and images which could shatter our delicate little psyches, turning us into tragic, fallen, “sexualized” victims of evil men.  Now, this isn’t cause for panic (not yet, anyway); as Wired explains, European resolutions are not laws:

This kind of proposal…isn’t a binding resolution…it’s simply the European Parliament signalling that it agrees with the actions proposed by the lead author…of the report — in this case, Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard…these kinds of endorsements…are…taken by the European Commission as an indication of the opinion of the Parliament, and it then drafts bills accordingly.  If the Commission wants to introduce measures such as those found in the resolution, it’ll have a mandate for them…then the draft bill goes back to the Parliament to vote on, and if it passes then, it becomes a legally binding directive for EU member states to follow.Kartika Liotard

It’s hard to say exactly what the chances of the Commission acting on such a resolution are, because it varies from session to session; though the Parliament tends to rubber-stamp whatever resolutions come before it (passing 89% of them since 2009), the Commission often functionally ignores them.  For example, this is the second time a call for Protecting the Weaker Sex from Dirty Pictures and Words has passed this way:

…in 1997 the Parliament passed the “Resolution on Discrimination Against Women in Advertising” – which, while…less comprehensive than the latest report, does contain a clause that “calls for statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products and sex tourism”…that’s almost exactly the same wording as in the latest report is because…it explicitly “calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997″…it just updates it with extra clauses that take the web into account…

And thereby hangs the tale.  Though many reporters announced that the call for censorship had been rejected, the truth (as explained by CNET) is that it was simply hidden more effectively:

…[The] porn-blocking proposals…were buried within a report titled “Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU”…Amendments …removed certain explanatory text, but not the references to the [1997] resolution…which called for a blanket ban on pornography…While the explanation was removed, the effect was not, according to Swedish MEP for the Pirate Party Rick Falkvinge…the 1997 resolution remains referenced, and therefore the call to ban “all forms of pornography in the media” remains intact.  Falkvinge said that striking out this text “has no other effect than deliberately obscuring the purpose of the new report”…to make matters worse, when a handful of MEPs called on their citizens to e-mail their representatives in protest, the parliament’s own IT department  began to block these e-mails en masse from arriving in politicians’ inboxes…

Falkvinge and EngstromFurthermore, as reported in The Telegraph, “controversial proposals calling for the creation of regulators with the power to police the depiction of women in media were voted through.  MEPs voted for the establishment of ‘independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girls’.”  And in order to circumvent legal safeguards against censorship, the resolution tries to pass the dirty job off on the private companies who control most modern communication:

…Christian Engström…deputy leader of the Swedish Pirate Party… [wrote on his blog] “This is quite clearly yet another attempt to get the internet service providers to start policing what citizens do on the internet, not by legislation, but by ‘self-regulation’.  This is something we have seen before in a number of different proposals, and which is one of the big threats against information freedom in our society.”  Engström worries that the resolution would refer just as much to naked pictures that people send each other as professional pornography, as well as any kind of pornography included in private communications via email or social networks — “an attempt to circumvent the article on information freedom in the European Convention of Human Rights”…

Though everyone commenting on the affair, politician and journalist alike, hasten to laud the aims of the resolution as commendable, they are actually anything but; as I pointed out above, they are rooted in the fallacious notion that women are intrinsically fragile, childlike beings who can be somehow harmed by words and pictures deemed by our “protectors” to contain sexual content, and that sexuality, rather than being a natural function of our bodies and minds, is something imposed on us from without via “sexualization”.  Those who believe in this ill-defined concept seems to imagine that if it weren’t for equally ill-defined bogeymen like “the Media” and “Patriarchy” subjecting girls to “sexualization” (often but not always qualified with the adjective “premature”), we would all grow up in a blissful, chaste state and never, ever, ever be interested in dirty, nasty sex…and that this would be a good thing.

China dollI’m sure most of my readers would disagree on both counts.  I didn’t need “sexualized images” to inspire fantasies and behavior I now recognize as sexual at an extremely young age, and I’m not remotely unusual in that regard.  Sexuality is not a social evil imposed on innocents from without, but a natural development of biological organisms driven from within by instinct, brain architecture and (starting as young as 10 for some) hormones.  I doubt many of y’all think of sexuality as an evil, or adult websites as something they need to be “protected” from by the diktats of self-appointed, self-important censors.  Women need to start speaking out against those who view us as china dolls to be protected from our own inherent weaknesses by being shut away from the world in glass cases.

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This essay first appeared on Cliterati on February 24th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

I’ve written on numerous occasions about the way Western culture has returned in many ways to the Victorian Era; we have seen a return of that time’s extreme sexual prudishness, its affection for polysyllabic euphemisms, its dedication to prohibition of drugs and sexual activities and its “white man’s burden” colonialism, and the popular Victorian myths about the “innocence” of children (including adolescents), “white slavery” and the moral superiority of women over men have returned as powerfully as if they had not lain dormant for most of the 20th century. But while I am not alone in decrying all of these things, I have until recently felt relatively isolated in my resistance to one of the most damaging and perfidious of all Victorian revivals: the belief that rape is a “fate worse than death”.

Before we go any further, let me assure you that I know whereof I speak: I have been raped several times, and the first instance (in May of 1995) was rape by even the strictest, most unforgiving and most legalistic standard.  It was a terrifying experience, but it did not destroy me and was not the worst thing ever to happen to me; in fact, it wasn’t even the worst thing to happen to me that year. Yet nearly every time someone finds out about it for the first time, he or she acts as though it happened last night, as though this one kind of trauma had the unique ability to cause permanent and irremediable damage. The dominant cultural narrative is that both men and women can get over just about any personal tragedy – financial ruin, the loss of a limb or a loved one, persecution by governmental authorities, etc – except rape, which if it doesn’t leave a woman a psychological wreck is supposed to at least cast a dark pall over the rest of her life.

Victorian faintConsider for a few moments the incredible misogyny of this doctrine: first of all, it is nothing but a thinly-disguised version of the notion that all of a woman’s value, importance and identity resides in her sexual “purity”, and if that is defiled she is permanently “ruined”; the same belief also underlies the expression “selling herself” (meaning sale of sex, as if it were her entire being). It portrays women as passive, fragile creatures out of Victorian melodrama, delicate flowers completely at the mercy of a brutal universe (and therefore in need of protection by some authority outside themselves). It perpetuates the myth that sex is for women a horrible, dirty, dangerous ordeal that must be sanctified by magical rituals in order to be endured (preferably while lying on one’s back and thinking of England), and worst of all it portrays the penis as some sort of semi-divine instrument capable of destroying a helpless woman’s entire life at the whim of the man to whom it is attached. Yet it is not only religious fundamentalists who promulgate this absurd mythology, but elected officials and even feminists; it is so pervasive, in fact, that a rape victim who fails to behave according to the approved script may not be believed.

For many years, I felt as though I was one of a tiny minority of women who understood all this, but lately I’ve seen more and more writers dare to broach the subject. Last July in The New Inquiry Charlotte Shane wrote,

…Though some feminists regard “rape equals devastation” as sacred fact, the notion that a man can ruin me with his penis strikes me as the most complete expression of vintage misogyny available. Common sense instructs us that it is far more “dangerous” to insist to young women that they will be broken by an unwanted sex act than it is to propose they might have a happy, healthy, and sexually pleasant future ahead of them in spite of a sexual assault…When we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a rape could be anything less than a tsunami of emotional and mental destruction for a woman, we establish a fantasy of absolute male sexual power and absolute female vulnerability. We are, in essence, honoring the timeless belief that a woman’s worth, self-respect, and ability to function within society are dictated exclusively by the sexual use of her body…

Then last month in The Telegraph, Katy Brand covered similar ground:

Let me start with a trio of quotes from three famous feminists…First, Camille Paglia: “Rape is an outrage…but the hysteria around rape is equally outrageous. The whole system is now designed to make you (i.e. the victim) feel you are maimed and mutilated forever.” And…Fay Weldon…“rape is not the worst thing that can ever happen to a woman, if you are safe, alive and unmarked afterwards.” And finally Germaine Greer, “it is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualized as devastating.” Obviously none of these women were seeking to trivialise rape with their comments, they were mainly arguing against this apparent belief in society that following a rape, a woman will never, ever truly recover – that her life will be over, that she may never feel joy again nor be able to have a functioning sexual relationship for the rest of her days. And that is quite a thing to tell someone after they have been the victim of a crime. If you tell women this over and over again, we will start to believe it, and then we will start to live as if it is true…

One Billion RisingBrand’s article was inspired by Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising project, which encourages people – women and men both – to dance in the street as a demonstration against rape and against the “rape is eternal” narrative. As Brand put it, “It’s defiant and powerful, both to the accepted wisdom about how rape victims might behave after what they have suffered, and also a good two fingers up at anyone who wishes to crush a woman’s life force using violence and enforced sex.” Now, I can’t say that I think One Billion Rising is effective activism, because it takes a lot more than flashy demonstrations to effect the kind of change necessary to reduce the rape rate (especially when we as a society aren’t even headed in the right direction, though that’s a discussion for another day). However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and encouraging women to “rise above” the fear of rape (and its aftereffects) is an excellent idea even if this particular project can’t accomplish it. There are a number of feminists who had much harsher words for Ensler’s creation; they seem to feel it “trivializes” rape, and most of them seemed offended by the very idea of a statement on the subject that was neither bitter nor angry nor lugubrious. One such critic even compared rape to the Holocaust, which I think any reasonable person can agree is a bit much. Hyperbole, calculated outrage and dismissal of the experiences and opinions of real women who have been there may serve to advance a political agenda, but for real rape victims they do far more harm than good.

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In reality, sex work isn’t stigmatised because it is dangerous. Sex work is dangerous because it is stigmatized.  –  Laurie Penny


This is a pretty good introduction to Storyville, though it has a few errors and two really odd misinterpretations:  she refers to “not on the first floor of any building” as a “district”, and she only counts business owners (rather than individual whores) when discussing income.  Worth watching for the pictures.

Since young colonies rarely have anything to recommend them to women, they often have a pronounced gender imbalance; King Louis XV solved the problem in New Orleans by sending a boatload of whores, and George III did the same thing 68 years later for Australia.  The ship was named the Lady Juliana, and this recent article draws on a recently-unearthed jail log to tell a little about the ship and its passengers.

License To Rape

…a former Eatontown [New Jersey] detective accepted a plea agreement…[for raping] an informant.  His victim…explained to the court…how [Philip] Emanuele used the threat of prison for a theft charge…to coerce her into performing oral sex…When she refused, he raped her…Emanuele acknowledged what he had done in open court, and was sentenced to 5 years of probation for criminal coercion, and 3 years of probation for tampering with evidence…

Lack of Evidence

A New York district attorney has dropped a prostitution charge against former reality TV star Alicia Guastaferro…after further investigation revealed it was unmerited…The D.A. still plans to pursue [other] charges…Guastaferro…[and] attorney James D. Doyle [were found unconscious in Doyle’s car after]…a…motorist…[reported] a car being driven erratically…Guastaferro …told police Doyle pays her $500 to $700 to perform sexual acts and spend the night with him…

Yes, the cops actually filed a prostitution charge on the word of a semi-conscious drunk.

The Red Umbrella

This San Francisco Weekly op-ed by Chris Hall is the best December 17th article by a non-sex worker I have ever seen.  It deserves to be read in its entirety, but its tone is illustrated by the statement “…there really is no conversation about sex work…only a monologue by media and politicians with the workers themselves meant to stay silent.  December 17 events represent a concerted effort to break that silence.”

The New Victorianism

Another Christmas present to sex workers from a journalist who isn’t one of us, but gets it; this one was published in The New Statesman by repentant neofeminist Laurie Penny:

…Laws regulating sex work are written…by people who have never done sex work and who have no sustained contact with those who do.  The most well-meaning legislation…often backfires, pushing the sex trade further underground and giving the police licence to punish and victimise women…feminist author Ellen Willis termed this handkerchief-clutching zeal to “save” prostitutes, porn actresses and other “fallen” women “neo-Victorianism”…It’s a school of so-called women’s liberation that [believes]…work can’t possibly be the problem, so…If sex workers are victimised by the police and…face higher levels of violence and assault at work, then it can only be because of their dirty moral choice to have sex for money…This isn’t about evidence…It’s about morality, just as it was…when…women organised charity centres to ‘save’ street prostitutes from sin by finding them alternative employment as charwomen, in workhouses or scrubbing the streets…any kind of work, however exploitative and badly paid, must be better than sex work because it doesn’t involve sex, wicked sex, sinful sex…

Remy CoutureSee No Evil

The equation of images and reality claims another victim:

…Rémy Couture [is a]…Canadian special-effects artist charged  with “corrupting morals” by illegally combining sex and gore…[in] two short films depicting the crimes of a necrophiliac serial killer and various photographs of simulated torture and dismemberment that were posted on Couture’s now-defunct website…The prosecution argues that Couture’s work is obscene under Canadian law because “a dominant characteristic” of it is “the undue exploitation of sex” combined with “crime, horror, cruelty and violence.”  He faces up to two years in prison for this prohibited mixture

Where Are the Protests?

The word “trafficking” is not to be found in this article, nor are calls for paving to be abolished:

…William Connors…his wife Mary…[and] their sons…were all convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced…labour…the Connors would pick up…homeless drifters or addicts…[who then] lived in squalid caravans…as they moved around the country working on the Connors’ paving and patio businesses…and…were controlled by discipline and violence…[they] were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked…[they] were often made to strip for a “hosing down session” with freezing water…[and] were paid as little as £5 for a day’s hard labour on jobs that would earn the family several thousand pounds.  They were given so little food they resorted to scavenging from dustbins…

And as Furry Girl points out, nobody seems to care if children are forced to act in movies for their parents’ profit, either:  “Imagine if anti-sex worker activists treated all forms of entertainment the same way they treat [sex work]…Where are the Nick Kristof-led raids of acting classes for children, the protests against movie studios that utilize under-18 performers, and the arrests of live studio audiences at the taping of TV family sitcoms?

The More the Better

Furry Girl writes about the way people’s acceptance of unfamiliar things like marijuana use, homosexuality and sex work tends to grow as they get to know real people who are involved with those things, and she proposes an experiment for those shy about coming out:

Go to a bar in the next city over, or a music festival out of town, or just tell the person sitting next to you on the bus or subway.  Try openness on for just a day, or even 15 minutes.  You will get some bad reactions, but I think it will surprise you how many people won’t be an asshole to you.  Be prepared for questions, which you can choose to answer or not.

Traffic Jam

Susana Trimarco and claimsAmazingly, all 13 victims of an Argentinean “sex trafficking” witch hunt were acquitted of all charges last week:  “…the judges said there was no way to prove that Marita, a 23-year-old mother and wife who vanished on…April 3, 2002, was kidnapped and forced into a prostitution ring…For the last decade Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, has waged an uphill battle [against]…the people she believed were responsible for her daughter’s disappearance into the netherworld of human trafficking…”  Trimarco has insisted from the beginning that her daughter was abducted by “sex traffickers”, despite a total lack of evidence for such an outlandish interpretation of the meager facts.  The article points out that Trimarco “almost single-handedly changed the way that human trafficking is viewed…across much of Latin America,” and this is true:  with the help of cops and prohibitionists she has succeeded in introducing American-style “sex trafficking” mythology to a culture which has a much healthier view of sex work than that of the US.

Legitimate Outrage

Being an ignoramus is no impediment to a career in law:

The California Commission on Judicial Performance…[admonished] Judge Derek Johnson…[for] comments [made] in the case of a man who threatened to mutilate the face and genitals of his former girlfriend with a heated screwdriver, beat her with a metal baton and made other violent threats…Johnson, a former prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney’s sex crimes unit, said…”I’m not a gynecologist but I can tell you something:  if someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse the body shuts down…[and] will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case”…since 1980, California law has not required rape victims to prove they resisted or were prevented from resisting.

Profound Ignorance

Several people called to my attention a recent paper claiming that legalizing prostitution increased human trafficking; I pointed out to them that without good data and clear definitions, a prohibitionist can “prove” whatever he likes.  But Dr. Laura Agustín said it much better than I did:

I’ve been asked several times to comment on a recently published article, Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?…This study belongs to a trend to use econometric concepts and techniques in a (vain) attempt to prove this or that about prostitution…fancy modelling and sophisticated analysis cannot help when the data being analysed is next to useless…Any critique of this work has to begin by asking how the authors define human trafficking, inflows, legalised prostitution, the prostitution market, trafficked women and legal prostitutes.  None of these terms is self-explaining.  After more than 15 years, we do not even have agreement about what the fundamental terms mean, so anyone writing in the field has to tell us which definitions they are using and they have to make sure they compare and contrast categories using the same definitions…The best way to understand this work is Garbage in, garbage out…


The Crumbling Dam (TW3 #35)

Wally Oppal says the scores of women missing and presumed murdered by Robert Pickton and others in the Vancouver area were doubly forsaken – by society and by police.  In fact, they were triply forsaken…The law itself forsook many of them, by criminalizing them for selling sex and driving them to the extreme margins…“I cannot ignore the reality that this legal regime played an important role in shaping the relationship between the police and women…potentially affecting…investigations…” Mr. Oppal writes…The report is a death knell for prostitution laws in their current form.

Shift in the Wind (TW3 #43)

More and more UN officials are coming out in favor of decriminalization:

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health – yes, that’s his full title…has…come down firmly on the side of decriminalising the sex industry.  In fact, a 2010 report of his is one of the strongest statements I’ve ever seen in this regard by a UN official…

Tyranny By Consensus (TW3 #47)danger wear goggles sign

A group of adult industry leaders announced…their intent to file a lawsuit soon against Los Angeles County over Measure B…an ill-conceived law that makes it mandatory for adult actors to wear lab coats, goggles and gloves as well as condoms while shooting adult films in the County.  The law was funded solely by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF)…The attorneys plan to challenge the law on the [grounds that]…health and safety…issues…fall under…State regulation…[they also] plan to challenge…on constitutional grounds…

One Born Every Minute (TW3 #48)

Detectives investigating a website offering to pay the tuition fees of female students in return for sex have arrested [Mark Lancaster] on suspicion of inciting prostitution…”  WTF?  “Inciting prostitution”?  How about fraud and sexual assault?

Gorged With Meaning (TW3 #49)

It’s astonishing that these people just can’t understand and accept that nothing has to “be done”, and that student sex workers will get along without their “help” just as they always have:  “…ex-brothel madam [Becky Adams] has been enlisted to help…Swansea University…research…what motivates [students] to [do] sex work…”  I’ll save them the trouble:  the answer is “good money and flexible hours”.  Now, where’s my £500,000?

This Week in 2010 and 2011

Beside my two previous columns for December 17th, my two previous columns  for Yule, my two previous yuletide fictional interludes and a history of Hanukkah, this week also featured a look at what passes for “evidence of prostitution”, a look at the truth of Swedish “feminism”, a statement of some of my principles, a thought experiment about coercion vs. free choice and a biography of Edith Piaf.  Finally, there were also short items on Craigslist, the UK attempt to block all internet porn, PC celebrities, “john schools”, Bronte sister action figures, nanny-state dating advice, Julian Assange, hate crime, an awkward call, men’s magazines, a fatal BDSM accident, Barbie hate, a begging ban, another hooker-hiring politician and religious persecution.

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You have to accept the fact that part of the sizzle of sex comes from the danger of sex.  –  Camille Paglia

As Paglia pointed out, second-wave feminists were fighting a losing battle in trying to paint sex as a wholly good, positive, non-scary, sunshine-and-rainbows thing in order to make it palatable to the naïve young coeds and sheltered housewives they hoped to liberate from the rigid traditional roles of Madonna and whore.  Though their motives were commendable, no good can come from hiding the truth and infantilizing those one hopes to help; the dark, chthonian power of sex is so important to its function and appeal that the only way to disguise it was to indulge in an ever-escalating (and ultimately futile) series of myths and denials which paved the way for the anti-sexual, anti-humanistic tyrannies of neofeminism.  Rape had to be absurdly presented as an asexual power exercise, which of course meant that BDSM had to be rejected  because its very nature refuted the claim that power could be cleanly divorced from sex; the second-wavers also didn’t want women thinking too hard about how much of a turn-on being overpowered or restrained (by the right man under the right conditions) can be.  Similarly, porn had to be demonized by creating arbitrary and fanciful distinctions between it and erotica, and because scary situations can arise in sex work it also had to be amputated from the mutilated, sanitized body of “good” sex.  At first this was a tough sell to women who had enjoyed the taste of sexual freedom in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but once the feminist establishment succeeded in stoking the fires of rape paranoia, all that had to be done was to define all “unacceptable” sex as rape, and AIDS hysteria drove the last nails into the coffin.

If sex were that easily buried, however, the human race would have died off long ago.  The efforts of the neofeminists and crypto-moralists to enforce a rigid sexual orthodoxy were as doomed to failure as those of Christianity (even when allied with the State since the late 19th century) had been.  As the “light side” of sex was locked into ever-tighter bondage by the forces of law and middle-class mores, the “dark side” grew correspondingly stronger.  The more sexless marriage became, the more popular whores grew; the more chaste the popular media, the more explicit the pornography. Beneath the orderly facade of Victorian Europe and America the buried majority of sexuality grew in the darkness, erupting forth in fusions of lust and horror ranging from the literary (Bram Stoker’s wildly-popular Dracula and its many imitators) to the grotesque (the lurid spectacles of Paris’ Grand Guignol theater) to the terrifyingly real (the sex-driven crimes of Jack the Ripper).  It is no accident that erotic horror waned in popularity as sexual mores loosened in the 1920s, and vanished almost entirely by the end of the 1930s; contrast the tame sexuality of The Wolf Man (1941) with that of Dracula (1931) and other pre-code horror movies and you’ll see what I mean.

As the mass media grew in the 1960s and 1970s, they became harder to censor; the internet has made it nearly impossible.  Because of this, the character of horror fiction has become less reliable as a means of examining the relationship between sex and fear; though a great deal of horror literature and art is still highly erotic, most 21st-century horror is now comparatively asexual and most erotica lacks any element of fright or violence (despite the claims of neofeminists).  But at the same time, the deep relationship between fear and sex is still clearly visible if one only cares to look:  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.

Why should this be?  Is there some evolutionary reason that the emotions of fear and arousal should be so closely related that they’re often intermingled?  Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa suggested that fear of death might stimulate a male to want to mate in order to pass on his genetic material one last time, but obviously that wouldn’t apply to females; yet the sex-fear link is at least as strong in us as in men (as evidenced by the enduring fascination of sexualized monsters such as vampires).  My personal theory is that in women it’s a defense mechanism evolved to prevent trauma in forced-mating situations  where a woman might very well be terrified, but needs to relax and go with the flow so as to minimize injury and maximize the possibility of conception; this idea is supported by the fact that when a woman has sex, the area of the brain stem which controls “fight or flight” response is activated, and activity in the amygdala and hippocampus (which regulate fear and anxiety) is suppressed.  This is, of course, exactly the opposite of Todd Akin’s astonishingly ignorant “theory” that biological mechanisms evolved for the convenience and peace of mind of individuals rather than for the continuation of the species.

There’s one final possibility, either an alternate explanation or another, additional factor.  Human beings evolved to be risk-takers and novelty seekers; it is the driving force behind our curiosity, the exploratory urge which caused us to spread over the entire globe and our tendency to become bored and dissatisfied with unchanging routines.  Most humans are always in search of new experiences, and many seek adventures and thrills even when those thrills are frightening.  Horror movies, thrill rides and mind-altering substances give a controlled thrill, the exhilaration of an adrenaline rush without the danger of a real life-or-death situation.  And since sex is another “safe” thrill, another stimulus which produces feelings of excitement without the need for “fight or flight”, it may be that the feelings are easily confused by the brain’s limbic system in much the same way as pain and pleasure are in some people.  In other words, the intermixture of fear and sexual arousal, like that of pain and pleasure, may simply be an accident of our neurological wiring rather than something which had a specific survival function.  But whichever explanation is correct, there is no denying that sex and fear are deeply intertwined, and that attempting to separate them by shame, social engineering or government edict will be just as spectacularly ineffectual as attempting to suppress other human drives, urges and behaviors by those same means.

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