Tag Archives: feminism

Please support Dutch sex workers

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.

groningenThe 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.

If Romances Movies Were Feminist

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, warningbut 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?

Violent Agreement

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.

On Trigger Warnings

triggerwarningsI’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:

Continue reading

Butts, butts, butts

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!

Fangirl: Miley Cyrus

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!

Politically Correct

In Dutch there is an old-fashioned habit of adding the letter ‘e’ to words when they refer to women. More than once I’ve had to ask people to stop calling me “psychologe” and instead just use the gender-neutral term “psycholoog”. And I don’t appreciate it when my colleagues refer to me as ‘collegaatje’ either, which means little colleague. This habit of adding ‘tje’ to everything is typically used by women, and It makes everything in their life sound cute and tiny. They’ll have a ‘wijntje’ (little wine) with their ‘vriendinnetje’ (little female friend) and leave their ‘autootje’ (little car) at home. It’s as if their world is a dollhouse.

I believe the way we use language influences how we think about people, and I try my best to be politically correct because I know my words can cause harm. Precise wording matters, we need to use proper terms and stop ourselves from using stereotype-affirming wording. It’s a problem when sex workers are continuously called ‘girls’ or in Dutch even ‘little girls’ (meisjes), because it feeds this widespread feeling that sex workers are fragile kittens in need of our help and rescue. It’s a problem when policy makers call victims of forced prostitution ‘ex-prostitutes’, because ex-prostitutes are not always victims and victims are certainly not always ex-prostitutes. Many victims want to do sex work, and most ex-sex workers simply changed careers. We need to use accurate terms because this carelessness is causing confusion, it feeds stereotypes and creates more discrimination.

I can be a pain in the ass. You really don’t make friends when you’re always nit-picking about these ‘details’, if you’re constantly correcting people (“no, not little girls. Adult sex workers are men and women”) and often, people don’t see why it matters so much. And it doesn’t in every individual case, one person calling a sex worker a little girl harms no one, it’s the structural habit that’s a problem. But I think we can change that one person at a time. So I have these conversations a lot:

Them: Ha ha, HOMO!
Me: I don’t appreciate it when you use homo as an insult.
Them: Oh I didn’t mean it that way it’s just a joke.
Me: It’s not nice for us gay people when that word is used like that, it’s kind of hurtful you know? I know you didn’t mean it that way but I’d appreciate it if you stopped using homo as an insult.
Them: Yeah okay, don’t make a big deal out of it.
Me: Thanks.

But I think we can go too far. Or rather, that we can get confused over what the actual problem is. In some circles, politically correct language has become a goal in itself rather than a tool to reach equality and equal rights. People who are unaware of how language influences everything and use, for example, sexist language are suddenly seen as the problem, the enemy, instead of just a part of a structural problem in how society views (for example) women. Even for someone like me, with a good education and plenty of exposure to gender theories, sex work rights activism, sex positive activism and other subcultures with a lot of emphasis on correct language, it can sometimes feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Or rather, stepping through a mine-field and you never know when the next PC-bomb goes off.

Remember when Dan Savage got hated on because he talked about the problems with the word ‘tranny’ and he shouldn’t have said tranny even when he’s talking about why you shouldn’t say tranny because tranny is hurtful and he should have said t-slur instead? Holy hell, I just wanted to have a big fat wijntje with one of my vriendinnetjes when I read that…

I’ve seen the PC-policing go bad more than once and really agreed with Fredrik deBoer in his essay “I don’t know what to do, you guys“. I’ve backed out of plenty of debates on trans activism and other sensitive topics because it just all got so hostile so very quick, and the hostility was aimed at well-meaning potential allies who had no idea what kind of shit they stirred up when they unknowingly used a slur. It’s different when someone continues to use slurs after they’ve been informed why it’s a problem, then it becomes hate speech. But often, it’s ignorance rather than bad intentions.

Maybe it’s not your responsibility to educate others. But maybe it is your responsibility to not scare every potential ally away, because like careless language, it harms our final goals, which is a world where we are all treated as equals, where we all have the same rights. You don’t have to educate anyone, but don’t stop us from educating others by scaring our allies away. Because that is hurting us.

Oh girl!

I like All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor. It’s catchy, it’s easy listening and who doesn’t love all the right junk in all the right places? But I understand the feminist critique that the whole “fat is okay because boys like fat” is kind of bullshit and an entire song about how boys prefer more booty seems somewhat sad. I care about my appearance but come on, my body is not just something that should be pleasing to boys.

But we have our own Dutch “fat is fine” song which I think is way cooler. Six years ago Esther Groenenberg sang “oh meisje” and here’s the translated lyrics:

Oh girl, don’t forget to live
Girl, don’t forget to enjoy
You’re young and beautiful
Although you’d like to be thinner
Just don’t forget to live, ’cause living is great!

Amen!