Well, today’s XKCD was enough to make you go “eeeek”. But they’re generally awesome. I just love it when people get it.
Sex workers in Groningen and PROUD, the Dutch union for sex workers, are concerned about the illegal registration of personal data of sex workers. This is happening through the mandatory intake and distribution of a registration card in the city of Groningen. Both the intake procedure as the registration of personal data are serious violations of human rights and a breach of privacy laws. Please support Dutch sex workers and sign the petition.
The mandatory intake is illegal, stigmatizing and humiliating. It has serious consequences, including profiling by the police and discrimination by the authorities. In addition, the mandatory intake can also be potentially dangerous for foreign sex workers and/or sex workers that still live abroad, as sex work is not legal everywhere.
Police in the Netherlands have informed families of sex workers about their profession, they enter homes without a proper warrant, they take money from sex workers without their consent and ask prostitutes invasive and humiliating questions. Sex workers need to be protected from human rights violations and state and police violence.
Sex workers will leave Groningen, have done this already or will choose to work illegally. Illegal working sex workers have no acces to the legal system, thereby being at greater risk of experiencing violence.
The sex workers of Groningen and PROUD want the city of Groningen to reconsider its policy and stop the mandatory intake and illegal registration. Please support Dutch sex workers by signing their petition.
Abusive relationships are romanticised and even fetishised in popular movies about love. If a man really loves you he’ll disrupt your life, cross clearly stated boundaries, stalk you, coerce you, and argue that he’s helpless in doing so because his overwhelming love for you just forces him to do all these things. He just loves you so much, so that must mean it is true love. Parents let their teenage children watch Twilight as if there’s nothing wrong with modelling such destructive and unhealthy relationships in movies. We get a warning if there’s any boobage to be seen, but I wish there more awareness of the dangers of romanticising unhealthy ‘love’. How awesome would it be if Twilight started like this:
WARNING: The following show features abusive behaviour performed either by professionals or under the supervision of professionals, Accordingly MTV and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate of re-enact any activity performed on this show.
Remember the “tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?” lyric in Grease? It’s a classic, obviously. But even in more modern movies, some really creepy, rapey, stalky stuff comes out. Jealousy is framed as romance, possessiveness is framed as love, stalking is framed as caring. And yeah, movies about healthy everyday relationships would be boring, but the scary part is that all this abuse is never used as ‘bad stuff’. If a man hits a woman it’s “oh my heavens look what horrible things she’s going through” but if he watches her sleep… for months.. without her knowing.. that’s supposed to not freak us out?
When Robin and I were in Australia I met up with this great guy that I just couldn’t stop agreeing with. Ever have those conversations where half of the time you’re going “exactly!”? Yeah, it was like that. He called it violently agreeing and, obviously, I couldn’t agree more.
I get that when I watch Esther Perel and Dan Savage. Violent agreement.
Sometimes I just get so happy knowing the world is inhabited by numerous great people who are doing and saying amazing things, and although I know I won’t get to meet most of them, it just feels so rich. I could go anywhere and there’s people there, amazing people, everywhere. Connections to be made, things to be learned, experiences to be shared, violent agreements to be had. It’s like knowing your fridge is stocked when you’re not hungry. My friends are amazing and so many other people are too. Violently loving <3.
I’ve felt a bit apprehensive criticising trigger warnings. The thing is, I believe the requests for trigger warnings come from a genuine desire to make the world a safer, more welcoming place for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I don’t believe for a second that those in favour of trigger warnings want to be protected from negative feelings or wish to censor what we can freely discuss, as some writers have argued. I don’t agree that it’s just a way of avoiding discomfort. Instead, I think it’s genuine kindness and a commitment to changing our world to be more inclusive to everyone that’s motivating trigger warning requests. I think trigger warnings are a bad idea, and I’ll explain why later, but I don’t believe they come from anything other than kind, helpful intentions. I’d recommend reading the above articles if you think trigger warnings are just content indications for the sensitive, or all about avoiding feeling the feels. I will not be arguing against that straw man.
The reasoning behind trigger warnings is that people who have experienced certain types of trauma (specifically assault and sexual violence, although trigger warnings for racism and sexism are becoming more common) can be ‘triggered‘ by mentions of that violence. When a person is triggered they can experience flashbacks, intrusive memories, severe anxiety and self-destructive behaviour. So it follows that person would benefit from a warning about the content of a text, movie, etc. if it includes discussions of violence. This makes it easier for the person with that trauma to navigate what they want to be confronted with, for example by not reading a text that discusses rape. Trigger warnings can even be understood as a way of navigating consent, I let that person know beforehand what I intend to do (discuss rape) so they can make an informed decision whether they want to read my text or not.
As a therapist who has worked with people suffering from PTSD I really understand where this is coming from. Being confronted with a ‘trigger’ can send a sufferer into flashbacks, which can disrupt their life for hours, days, sometimes weeks. In severe cases, being triggered can cause the person with PTSD to harm themselves or become suicidal. It’s heartbreaking and honestly I completely understand why, as a society and inside our communities, we want to do what we can to support people who are going through this. A trigger warning, in that context, just seems like such a small and effortless thing to do, right? A small bit of kindness that can prevent so much misery.
And I am so in favour of changing our world to become more inclusive and welcoming, and sometimes it’s seemingly small or effortless things that can make all the difference. For example, I make a conscious effort to use inclusive language when it comes to gender. Not everyone identifies as male or female, not everyone has gender-norms confirming bodies, and reflecting that in our language costs us literally nothing. It has no negative effects at all, while at the same time making the world a kinder place for everyone. I think we should do more things like this, and I think trigger warnings come from a desire to do exactly that: a small, harmless thing that makes the world a bit kinder.
The thing is though, I don’t believe trigger warnings are harmless. Let me start with a related example. Some people with an eating disorder become deeply triggered when they are confronted with a situation that includes public eating. They report panic and self-harming behaviour, not unlike what some sufferers of PTSD report when they are confronted with triggers. Still, it would be a truly bad idea to give a ‘content warning’ for each event that would include public eating. Yes, it would prevent a lot of pain for those few people with eating disorders who are triggered by public eating. But it reinforces an unhealthy idea that eating is a dangerous thing. If we start giving content warnings when an event will include a meal, if we start behaving in an eating disordered manner as a society, unhealthy attitudes towards food will only flourish.
Now I want to stress that if someone is suffering from a mental illness, they should do what they have to do to get through whatever they are going through. I don’t believe in policing how people deal with what life has handed them, and good or healthy coping with psychological problems is an individual thing. If you’re dealing with an eating disorder and you need to avoid public eating, then you go and do that. It is completely fine to ask people around you to give you a warning so you can avoid things that trigger you, so you can take care of yourself. But it would not be a good idea for all of us, as a habit, to start warning each other when we intend to eat food.
One of the more common triggers is, actually, depictions of ‘normal’ sex. Because sexual violence so often doesn’t ‘look violent’, watching a scene where two people have tender sex can be the worst trigger in the world. Still, I think we all intuitively feel that ‘trigger warning: vanilla sex between two consenting adults’ would not be a good idea. And that’s not because we don’t take people who are triggered by depictions of sex seriously, of course we do. And it’s not because nobody it triggered by regular sex: many people are, and it might even be a more common trigger than depictions of rape. So why is nobody arguing for trigger warnings for ‘normal’ sex? I think it’s because we all feel that sex is not dangerous. But it’s gotten in our heads that depictions of violence are.
Some people who oppose trigger warnings argue that trigger warnings discourage exposure, and therefore are bad for people with PTSD. This is nonsense. Simple exposure to triggers does not do anyone any good, and it shows a great misunderstanding of exposure therapy to think unwanted exposure to things that scare or deeply upset us has anything to do with effective exposure in PTSD-treatment. It’s belittling and incorrect to think refusing the use of trigger warnings would be better for their mental health, that we’re just triggering them ‘for their own good’. This is not how exposure therapy works.
People who oppose trigger warnings have argued that people just want to avoid negative feelings, that we’re becoming too sensitive, that we can’t even handle being confronted with views different from our own. I could not disagree more. If anything, we should become more sensitive. Sensitive of our own emotions, our own needs. We should become more accommodating, more empathic, more willing to change. Our society needs changing. We need to become more aware of the ways we can make our spaces more safe and welcoming to people of colour, people with non-normative gender identities, people with disabilities, women. I’m constantly figuring out how to stop the subtle ways we hinder and harm each other, the ways we make each other invisible, and finding opportunities to make this world a kinder place. Opposing trigger warnings might be one way to do that.
In an individual’s case, trigger warnings may simply be a way of coping. I don’t care if it reinforces or violates dysfunctional associations, the world is not a therapy setting. People need to do what they need to do to kind of deal with everything, and I think we should be supporting each other instead of policing how each of us copes.
So I do not claim that people who suffer from certain experiences do not know best what they need in order to manage that. I’d actually argue the complete opposite: people know best, we should not police how people cope, we are not each other’s therapists, we should not demand ‘perfect’ coping, we need to be each other’s support and respect people’s own insights into what works for them. Avoiding certain triggers and asking people around you to give you a trigger warning for things that are particularly triggering to you is fine.
But I have big reservations about using trigger warnings in a general sense, not because it’s bad for individual people with PTSD, but because of the modelling effect it has. For example, if my mom is afraid of spiders and I see her become afraid, this models the fearful expectancy and increases my chances of becoming phobic myself.
Say trigger warnings become customary. Before scenes including sexual violence on Netflix they show a trigger warning. Before discussing sexual violence in class there’s a trigger warning. When there’s a rape scene in a book, they put a trigger warning on the back. A sort of cultural understanding develops that depictions of sexual violence is not the sort of thing that a person should be exposed to without a warning. Because those depictions can be so triggering to a person who has experienced trauma that it becomes harmful.
This models an expectancy that depictions of violence could trigger to such an extent that it should be avoided.
And say I then got raped.
The groundwork for the dysfunctional expectancy has been planted, there’s this sort of half-truth that people who have experienced rape will often be triggered by depictions of violence (even though that wasn’t really the case, it’s usually other stuff). Will this increase my chances of experiencing that dysfunctional expectancy myself? Have my chances of being triggered by such depictions increased? Have we modeled a harmful association?
We don’t know. But considering how anxiety disorders work, we are sure environmental factors have effects. And we know anxiety symptoms and disorders feed of modelling, quite strongly.
So if you use trigger warnings, I don’t think you’re an over-sensitive PC-policing free-speech hater. I really don’t. I think you’re wrong, and I think we should be having a conversation about this, but I thank you for being kind.
Some comments to further clarify my point:
“Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman’s body. Those of us who say this are accused of being simple-minded. But prostitution is very simple. (…) In prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is impossible to use a human body in the way women’s bodies are used in prostitution and to have a whole human being at the end of it, or in the middle of it, or close to the beginning of it. It’s impossible. And no woman gets whole again later, after.” — Andrea Dworkin
I’m not a fan of Anita Sarkeesian. I mean, obviously I was on her side when her discussion of sexist stereotypes in computer games resulted in people sending her rape threats. It’s crazy that even talking about feminist issues can still be so dangerous, and in the grand scheme of things I’m on her team. But she calls sex workers ‘prostituted women’, a degrading term used by radical feminists to deny their agency. And as far as I know she has not yet responded to the many sex workers who have let her know that term is offensive and hurtful, which is such a crappy but typical thing to do for radfems.. Talk about sex workers, claim you want to help them, but do everything you can to ignore them and not give a damn about their wishes. Meh.
Anyway, her latest video is about butts. I thought it was good.
It’s ‘SEX WORKER’, Anita! Get with the program so I can be your fangirl!
So much love :).
Also, how come I just noticed that almost all of the video’s that I love, almost all of the YouTube channels I subscribe to, are by white people, and mostly white men? No hating, Green brothers, I love you guys. But you get what I’m saying?
Anyway. Yay, Vlogbrothers.
I was having coffee with a sex worker when a Taylor Swift song came on. “Oh, I just love her” she said. “So classy, not like some other young artists who use their sexuality to make money”. I’m afraid the irony was lost on her, but it shows how deep our cultural aversion to sex really goes. Even sex workers don’t like women who sell sex.
I first noticed Miley Cyrus when she got a short haircut and the internet exploded. We’d seen Britney Spears shave her hair when she went through a rough time, and my heart went out to her then. Just imagine being Britney, the pressure to be this perfect, girly, virgin, sexy little girl-woman, the world’s madonna-whore complex dumped on your shoulders, I think I’d crack in a day. But it was different with Miley. It felt like a statement, it felt like navigating, it felt like she was shedding the image and trying to become herself.
Miley gets hated on because she shows what we fear most: female sexuality. Active, explicit, in-your-face sexuality. Women are expected to be passive and receptive. Sexy, not sexual. A woman’s worth is still decided based on her modesty, even the quality of our culture is measured by how well-behaved ‘our women’ are. Sexual women are seen as a sign of decline.
And lately Miley Cyrus has identified as gender-neutral, as fluid-sexual, using her fame to actually help people who are in a less privileged than herself, and I’m a fangirl. I mean no, using black women as props is not acceptable. But among all the long-haired, pink-cheeked, virginity-saving, boner-arousing ‘girl next door’ types she’s… I don’t know. I’m loving seeing a young woman publicly figuring out who she is, coming into herself, navigating the bullshit thrown at her.
And she can sing!
Getting into discussions with people who oppose sex workers’ rights can be absolutely draining. Most of us on the pro-side are sex workers or are close to sex workers, so these topics concern our own lives, our safety, the wellbeing of our loved ones. It causes an emotional reaction when something that basic is being attacked.
But not all prohibitionists, or ‘anti’s’, are alike. When I was younger I thought it was quite intuitive that a person can consent to commercial sex, and people around me generally seemed to believe that if a person really wanted to be a prostitute, more power to her. But I also believed, like the people around me, that very few women would want to have sex with ugly strangers. Surely most got into the business because they had no other choice. Like many people in my social circle I used to believe most whores needed help, financial or health-wise. The image I had was that of a drug-addicted sad person in a little unkempt flat. Except the few glamorous high-class escorts of course, whom intrigued me to no end. I used to believe most sex workers were of lower social-economic status which meant ‘my class’ had responsibilities to protect them. I used to believe that most sex workers preferred to get out of the business and would accept a nice little job with a cute little salary in a factory or in a service position if it were offered to them. Based on all these ideas I believed in a help-based approach, those few happy hookers we should leave alone, but healthcare and exit-programmes needed to be our first priority. Prostitutes were vulnerable women who needed our help.
Contact with actual sex workers challenged those arrogant assumptions like a motherfucker, obviously.
Most anti’s are not truly anti’s, but rather neutrals who base their opinions on wrong information. Just like I did. And I think that as activists these neutrals should be our primary audience, because when they are confronted with enough facts that conflict their beliefs, they change their minds. They become allies.
The biggest problem when talking to neutrals is a process called cognitive dissonance reduction. We all want to believe we are reasonable people who base their opinions on good information. So when we’re told our actions were based on lies and myths and actually harmed the people we meant to help, that causes cognitive dissonance: it conflicts with what we believe about ourselves. To reduce this dissonance we can do three things. We can change our first belief (“seems I’m not such a good, reasonable person after all”), reject the conflicting belief (“Everyone knows most whores are unhappy, you’re wrong”) or find a way to reconcile the two beliefs (“Even good, reasonable people are sometimes mistaken. I guess I was wrong”). The last option is a bit of a blow to our ego, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. A non-hostile enviroment where you don’t feel personally attacked makes it a lot easier to admit your mistakes.
We’re told a lot of lies about sex, women and sex work. The idea of sex workers’ agency itself challenges some of our culture’s most basic beliefs. So naturally it causes a lot of resistance when those beliefs are brought into question, nobody likes to change their opinion on what they had always believed to be true. But at the same time we do process new information, and we are capable of changing our minds.
In contrast to the name, some neutrals can sound convincingly anti. They’ll repeat the lies and myths and advocate for harmful and discriminatory laws, they might be in favour of the Nordic Model or write horrible articles. But beneath all of that are no real convictions, it’s just fluff.
Neutrals benefit from correct information and contact with actual sex workers. My partner was a pro-leaning neutral when I met him, he had never met a sex worker and didn’t know too much about the subject. All it took was a little bit of information and some socialising with the sex workers in my social circle to turn him into a full-blown sex workers’ rights supporter. I talked to a devout young Christian woman a couple of months ago whose church donated to a rescue organisation. I made sure not to make her feel attacked as I punched her in the brain with information about trafficking, the rescue industry, sex workers’ rights and problems around prostitution, and she changed her mind. The same people who think Jojanneke’s deceitful documentary was insightful will also consider what actual sex workers have to say. That’s why visibility is so important, and why PROUD and many other organisations are doing such a fucking great job. Neutrals can be reached, they change their minds and become allies.
The Bad Guys
But not all anti’s are honestly mistaken. Sex workers are a vulnerable group of people with very little protection, and it attracts bad guys like vulchers to a wounded animal. Amsterdam mayor v/d Laan isn’t closing workplaces for prostitutes because he believes it helps them, he knows perfectly well he’s sacrificing sex workers’ rights and safety for financial and political gains. He doesn’t care. I respected Felicia Anna for speaking to him, and I think her words will have an impact on some of the neutrals that saw the video. But the mayor doesn’t listen, because he already knows he’s harming whores. He believes he can get away with it. The rescue industry became a million-dollar business when people figured out they could freely abduct prostitutes and keep them as slaves if they call it ‘help’. People like Somaly Mam know perfectly well they are lying, and they make a profit off of the abuse of sex workers. They get way with it because neutrals don’t know better and believe the lies. The producers and host of the tv-show “8 Minutes” fully understand they contribute nothing of value to sex workers’ lives. They thought they could use prostitutes for free, abuse and humiliate them for their profit, and they did it because it’s good money. Bad Guys are against sex workers’ rights because they appreciate the opportunities to exploit the vulnerable.
(8 minutes didn’t get away with it though. Sex workers made noise and the show got cancelled! Here’s a picture of the awesome Mistress Matisse celebrating).
— mistressmatisse (@mistressmatisse) May 5, 2015
It’s no use trying to reason with Bad Guys, because they already understand. They know very well indeed that sex workers are harmed and only rights can stop the wrongs. They just don’t give a shit.
Reading texts by certain anti-prostitution activists can become a bit awkward when you start to notice it reads like erotica. It’s common knowledge among psychologists and sexologists that many people get aroused by taboo subjects, sex isn’t just sweetness and light and roses. Some people find a healthy way to express these darker aspects of sexuality, kinksters for example are well-known for bringing these fantasies to the surface and acting on them in a consensual, conscious way. But when someone is taught not to recognise these urges, told sex should always be ‘making love’ and to deny any agressive, perverse sexual impulse they feel, it sometimes finds.. well, inappropriate ways of expression.
It’s important to note that all of us are a bit inappropriate when it comes to the suffering of others. There’s a reason why books and magazines so often describe rape, child abuse, assault and other forms of sexual violence in such a detailed and emotional way, readers seem to find it strangely pleasurable to feel horrified and want to know every dirty aspect of it. There’s a Dutch magazine called Panorama that intelligently combines horrific stories of abductions, murders and other shocking events with photo’s of sexy women, because they understand the physical excitement of reading about others’ misery is very much like physical arousal. I don’t necessarily believe this is wrong, but we need to draw the line when our perving becomes harmful to others.
“But didn’t you hear about this girl in Berlin the other day? She had been trafficked when she was only 11 years old, in her first year alone she was raped by up to 12 men a day. She was rarely allowed to shower and would have sperm in and on her as she slept. They raped her with huge objects too, sometimes even..”
“Look I understand, but criminalisation of adult sex work would not have helped her. Sex workers’ rights actually….”
“Did you not hear me? Three penisses! At the same time! They’d rape her as she was crying just imagine the sperm and…”
Not okay. Fetishists are hard to reach because they are so caught up in their perverted fantasies of powerful men, global gangs and white, young, innocent women who are shipped around and abused daily. When confronted with facts they simply start repeating their detailed fictional sex stories. They stalk the Red Lights District and ask prostitutes inappropriate questions about their sex life. You can often see them become a bit flushed, red moist lips slightly parted, a feverish look in their eyes. It freaks me out. Don’t involve me in your sexuality without my consent please. And don’t deny sex workers their rights because the idea that they are forced turns you on.
The Fantasist is the less pervy version of the fetishists. It’s those people who will tell such obviously falls stories that you have to wonder if they believe it. They get something out of their myths of bad men and powerless girls, and seem to have somewhat lost touch with reality. They ‘cherry pick’ research to find upsetting details, repeat the most gruesome stories, get angry when confronted with more nuanced views, ignore actual sex workers and quote statistics that logically cannot be true. But even after you’ve explained that it’s not possible that three million young girls are trafficked each year, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 and average age of death 32, even after you show them the basic math, they go “lalalala” and continue repeating it. The myth means too much to them.
They are different from the fetishist in that they don’t seem to be creaming their panties as they’re talking, but they often do get that feverish look in their eyes. It’s like talking to someone who has lost themselves in fearful extremist religion, or with some other very strange belief like thinking they can move objects with their mind. The fact that nothing is moving just does not register. Facts do not come through.
I was a bit shocked to see Renate v/d Zee embarrass herself on television by quoting obviously false statistics, but even more shocked when I realised that she had indeed read these reports, read all these findings that contradict her beliefs, and then managed to not let it sink in but instead completely reverse the findings in her head, and then quote those on national television as if she didn’t realise she had twisted it all around. That’s scary.
The Fundie Anti’s
The Fundie Anti opposes sex work because of an understanding of how the sex industry works. They are different from the Neutrals in that they sometimes know quite a lot about prostitution, but interpret this information within a theoretical framework in which sex work is wrong by definition.
The Sexist Fundie believes that no woman could possibly want to do sex work, that male sexuality in inherently aggressive and that we need laws to restrict this violence. More often than not the reasoning is quite childish (“I’m a woman and don’t want to do sex work so no woman would want to do sex work”) and contains hateful assumptions about men (“you know how they are, they just want a hole to dump their seed in, they don’t care“). These are the Anti’s who will claim that there is in fact a big market for crying malnourished sex slaves, because obviously men don’t care about the women they fuck as long as they get to fuck her.
The Religious Fundie believes that sex work goes against God’s devine will. Prostitution is not how God intended sexuality to be like. A woman should value her sexual ‘purity’ and only give away her sex to a man who will pay her in the desired currency: love and commitment, not money. Religious Fundies usually seem to mean somewhat well – they truly believe it is naturally harmful for a woman to have sex outside of a committed relationship and socially harmful in that no man would want a ‘used’ woman so what will her future be like without a husband and kids, and isn’t that what every woman desires? Other Religious Fundies become vile and wish to punish those dirty, disobedient whores. Punish them until they submit to my, I mean God’s will! The male Religious Fundie Anti will sometimes let truly medieval statements slip: “do we wish to allow our women to prostitute themselves? Is that what we want for our daughters and wives?”.
The Marxist/RadFem Fundie believes prostitution must be understood within a context of various forms of oppression. I actually find this line of thinking quite interesting, although I have to admit that I don’t know enough to give a good summary of their beliefs and would urge readers to research more before judging. I’m discussing the two together because they have many similarities, but I understand there are differences. According to the Marxist/RadFem the practice of the selling of sex is a result of the systematic oppression of women within a capitalist society, intersecting with other forms of opression. According to them, in an egalitarian society sex work would not exist. These Anti’s are often in favour of the Swedish/Nordic Model (criminalising the clients of sex workers). The oppressed should not be punished for their oppression, they say, instead the oppressor must be stopped from oppressing: men should be stopped from exploiting women by buying sex from them.
I don’t disagree with Maxist theories entirely. But my intuition tells me your reasoning must be wrong when the ruling class tells the oppressed to be silent. Rich white men telling poor coloured women they know what’s good for them is icky. Something’s off when the ruling class tells the oppressed “you think you want labour rights, but you don’t. It’s part of a bigger picture that you don’t understand, only I as an educated rich person do. Trust me. You want us to make your job more dangerous by criminalising clients. It will be better in the long run, you don’t understand, so shush now, no need to organise or speak for yourselves, we’ve got it covered.” Oppression should not be fought by taking away the labour rights and human rights of the opressed. If sex workers are really the victim of an unjust system of oppression, we should give them the power back. Listen to them. Respect they might know best what they need.
These are caricatures, I understand. But I think it helps to know who you’re arguing with. The Idealists and Bad Guys are often lost causes, but the Neutrals can be reasoned with. Information and visibility help with that. Sex workers and their allies are winning the fight for prostitutes’ rights and safety, not even Anti’s can stop that.