https://queenmobs.com/2018/08/misfit-do ... ch-runway/
Sophie Lewis on Trans-exclusionary radical feminism
Sophie Lewis discusses trans-exclusionary feminists, their traducing of lesbian separatism and gay liberation history, their attachment to the unscientific imaginary of human sex dimorphism, and The Handmaid's Tale with Alex Doherty on the Politics Theory Other podcast.
Buffy the Post-Anarchist Vampire Slayer
Buffy is a pop-culture phenomenon. The show ran for seven seasons. Its spinoff, Angel, ran for five. Both narratives have continued in comic book form. Buffy has a large, loyal, dedicated audience. That audience does include many bourgeois academics: David Lavery (2004) has described Buffy Studies as an academic cult, and I am a card-carrying member of that cult. But Buffy is not just for scholar-fans; it is for everybody. Buffy’s most working-class character, Xander Harris, starts season four by stating his ethical imperative. He solves his moral dilemmas by asking himself, ‘What would Buffy do?’ (4.1).  The answer, I will argue, is that Buffy would launch a classical anarchist assault on the military–scientific complex, followed by an all-out post-anarchist attack on the Symbolic. And then have hot chocolate.
Not everyone agrees; Buffy criticism, especially in its early years, has often denied the show’s revolutionary potential. Jeffrey Pasley equated Buffy and her demon-hunting friends with the ‘primitive rebels’ and ‘social bandits’ of leftist lore, but concluded that they ended up offering only ‘piecemeal’ resistance, not revolution (2003: 262–3). Reading the programme through the lens of Marxist historiography, Pasley failed to see the more radical elements of anarchist resistance in Buffy. Even less plausibly, Neal King (2003) denied that there was anything anti-authoritarian about Buffy’s ‘Scooby gang’; for him, Buffy and her (mainly female) friends were nothing more than fascist ‘brownskirts’. This position was based largely on a tortured interpretation of Buffy’s first three seasons; by the fourth season, it had become quite impossible to identify Buffy with any kind of fascist politics.
Season four shows us Buffy’s freshman year at the University of California, Sunnydale. As Bussolini has pointed out, this is the same U.C. that brought us the American nuclear arsenal (2005; paragraph 16). Buffy begins dating Riley Finn, her handsome young teaching assistant. (Whoops!) Buffy soon discovers that Riley is actually a special forces soldier working for the U.S. government’s secret demon-hunting project, the Initiative. Buffy tries to work with the Initiative, but soon finds that she can’t handle its military hierarchies and authoritarian power structures. So season four actually establishes Buffy’s politics as anti-fascist. Wall and Zryd have argued compellingly that Buffy’s ‘critical way of thinking about the fascistic and military-structured Initiative’ facilitate Riley’s transformation from loyal soldier to self-proclaimed anarchist by the end of the season (2001: 61). Riley’s ‘anarchism’, they claim, is not rigorous, but rather represents a ‘shorthand alternative to institutional logic’ similar to that used by opponents of globalization (ibid.). The fact that it is non-rigorous or post-rational may be to its advantage, however. Bussolini makes the important point that the famous mass protests against the World Trade Organization, later known as the ‘Battle of Seattle’, took place while season four was originally being broadcast in November 1999 (2005; paragraph 29). Bussolini emphasizes, correctly, that the anti-globalization politics which were contemporary with season four criticize the kind of state-based, hierarchical politics which motivate the Initiative (ibid.). The show presents Seattle-style anarchism as a real and legitimate option for an Iowa farm boy like Riley Finn, or for a working-class carpenter like Xander Harris. The show thus makes anarchism an option for various non-bourgeois audiences. As the streets of Seattle filled with those who believed another world was possible, Buffy was broadcasting a radical endorsement of this belief – on network television!
If Buffy’s fourth season had ‘only’ portrayed a relevant form of contemporary anarchist politics in a highly positive light, that alone would secure the show a place in the history of popular culture. But this season did much more than that. In addition to its compelling narrative about the emergence of a classical anarchist consciousness, season four offered a bold post-anarchist vision. Kenneth Hicks has recently accused season four of assuming that ‘government is incompetent because it’s incompetent’; Hicks finds this assumption ‘inconclusive and unsatisfying’ (2008: 69). But there is, in fact, a perfectly convincing reason for the Initiative’s failures. Richardson and Rabb have quite rightly interpreted Riley’s rejection of the Initiative as a rejection of ‘humanity’s militarization of reason and scientific knowledge’ (2007: 70). Riley’s ‘anarchism’, then, is in part an anarchist critique of what Habermas and others have called instrumental rationality.
This is Buffy’s entry point into post-anarchism. A Habermasian critique of instrumental rationality, while certainly radical by the standards of network television, would nonetheless have remained wedded to the modernist position of the Frankfurt School. To avoid this, the show must take a post-structuralist turn. Amazingly, this is precisely what it does. The second half of season four takes as its central concern the operations of power within the realm of language and Law. Buffy has always shown a strong fascination with language (see M. Adams, 2003), but here that fascination takes on a specifically political form. The show enacts an escape from what Fredric Jameson called the ‘prison-house of language’ (1972). This escape begins with the silent episode, ‘Hush’ (4.10), which performs the elimination of the Symbolic in order to stage a very post-anarchist return to the Lacanian Real. The alternate reality episode ‘Superstar’ (4.17) rewrites the Symbolic order, to make a minor character into the star of the show. Buffy’s post-anarchist project culminates in the season four finale, ‘Restless’ (4.22). This episode is a tour of the dreamworld, the world beneath the rational. As much as any symbolic artefact could, ‘Restless’ approaches the unrepresentable world Lacan called the Real.
So Buffy’s fourth season does not only provide a savvy, vibrant representation of an anarchist praxis which was real and relevant when the programme aired in 1999. The show also models a very viable post-anarchist politics, one which is based on a radical subversion of the dominant Symbolic regime. This politics is the heir of 60s Situationism and the ‘ontological anarchy’ of the 80s. It builds on radical street theatre and the symbolic interventions associated with Carnival against Capitalism and other contemporary anarchist movements. Most crucially, this post-anarchism challenges the hegemony of language. It locates the places where effective revolutionary action is still possible: in the space where there is no speech, and in the mystical space of the unconscious. Lacan named this last space the Real. We can never represent it, but if we approach it even obliquely, we contribute to our liberation from the tyranny of language. This is what Buffy would do. She would be an anarchist, certainly: after all, Riley and all the other kids are doing it. But being an anarchist means something specific in Buffy’s millennial moment. It means that she will be Buffy, the post-anarchist vampire slayer.
‘WE’VE GOT IMPORTANT WORK HERE. A LOT OF FILING, GIVING THINGS NAMES.’
Post-Anarchist Themes in Late Season Four of Buffy
Jacques Lacan is justly infamous for his incomprehensible prose, but his structuralist version of psychoanalysis is nonetheless crucial to many contemporary intellectual projects, including post-anarchism. Thankfully, there is a rich secondary literature on Lacan. Marini (1992) provides a useful summary of Lacan’s conceptual revolution. In 1953, Lacan replaced the traditional Freudian system with a structural system which divided human reality into a Symbolic realm of language and culture, an unrepresentable and unknowable Real, and an Imaginary composed of our fantasies of reality (ibid.: 43). Lacan reformulated the Oedipus complex; he made it our entrance into the Symbolic, which was the ‘universe of the law’ (ibid.). The Lacanian model should be of tremendous interest to contemporary anarchists, for it’s just possible that Lacan located the place where Law happens. That place is the Symbolic, which we first enter via the name of the Father. As Elizabeth Grosz has pointed out, the Lacanian model implies that ‘language alone is capable of positioning the subject as a social being’ (1990: 99). Language does this by deploying the rules, structures and hierarchies of the social. Since these are also the conduits through which political power flows, language advances the statist agenda. That makes the Symbolic a legitimate target for post-anarchism.
If the Symbolic is post-anarchism’s natural enemy, the Real is its natural ally. It was Saul Newman who first recognized this important point: ‘this gap, this surplus of meaning that cannot be signified, is a void in the symbolic structure – the “Real”’ (2001: 139). The Real ensures that the hegemony of the Symbolic is never complete. Thinking about the Real helps us to find fissure points in the structures of postmodern power. The Real is a jackpot for post-anarchists, suggesting as it does that ‘there is always something missing from the social totality, something that escapes social signification – a gap upon which society is radically founded’ (ibid.: 147). It’s certainly a relief to realize that society and its myriad power structures must always remain incomplete. Society might appear to be monolithic and omnipotent, as might the state which claims to represent society. But both were built upon this gap in the system of signification: their foundations are hollow.
Newman uses this Lacanian notion of the gap ‘to theorize a non-essentialist outside to power’ (2001: 160). This is post-anarchism in a nutshell – or in a bombshell, as Jason Adams (2003) would have it. Post-anarchism seeks a space outside power, and endeavours to use that space as the staging area for a project of radical liberation. Like Newman, I believe that this space is to be found in the Lacanian Real. Of course, the Real is not a destination we can reach; it will always elude us. But we can think about the Real. We can develop an awareness of its effects. We can feel its presence in our lives. When we do these things, we challenge the authority of the Symbolic. We question its jurisdiction, in the most literal sense: we dispute its right and its ability to speak the Law. What could be more anarchist than that?
Buffy makes its post-anarchist move about halfway through season four, in Joss Whedon’s celebrated silent episode ‘Hush’ (4.10). In this Emmy-nominated episode, an especially terrifying band of monsters descends on Sunnydale. The Gentlemen are neat, tidy and Victorian in their appearance. They are also completely silent. And the moment they arrive in Sunnydale, they steal everyone’s voices. In Lacanian terms, the Gentlemen rip the Symbolic order away and lock it in a box. In an excellent Lacanian reading of ‘Hush’, Kelly Kromer notes that Buffy normally acts as the Law in Sunnydale: she creates the world by classifying creatures as wicked or good (2006: 1). Buffy wields the power of the Name, a weapon just as potent as her trusty stake, Mr. Pointy. From a post-anarchist perspective, of course, this power is problematic, since it is precisely the kind of power that underwrites the postmodern state. But Buffy, like all slayers, is a woman. And as Luce Irigaray (1985) has pointed out, women are connected to the Symbolic in a way which is tenuous at best. As Irigaray argues, women assure the possibility of the Symbolic without being recipients of it: ‘their nonaccess to the symbolic is what has established the social order’ (ibid.: 189). Buffy’s gender is important here. As a woman, she’s used to being denied access to the Symbolic. This denial of access is literalized in ‘Beer Bad’, (4.5) when magic beer causes Buffy to devolve into a cavewoman. By the end of the episode, she is incapable of forming multi-word sentences. Xander asks her what lesson she has learned about beer; she replies, ‘foamy’. When the womanizing Parker asks forgiveness for his use and abuse of Buffy, she is beyond language, and can only bonk him on the head with a club. At this point we realize that actually, Buffy is often outside the Symbolic. So when the Symbolic suddenly vanishes from Sunnydale in ‘Hush’, she can cope better than an old patriarch like Giles or a young one like Riley. In silent Sunnydale, the Real reigns supreme, and consequently social Law begins to disintegrate (Kromer, paragraph . This is bad news for Buffy, but good news for post-anarchists. Life would indeed be really good, if only the Real could be domesticated (Marini,1992: page 43). At least, that’s how the state sees things. But ‘Hush’ argues powerfully that this domestication can never be achieved. Indeed, ‘Hush’ performs the polar opposite of this domestication: a radical release of the Real.
In ‘Hush’, the Real is dramatically erotic. That’s understandable, since Eros always contains the excess of meaning which characterizes the Real. Erotic gestures thus approach the Real in a way that language never can. ‘Hush’ begins with a daydream. Buffy is in her psych class. Professor Walsh (the mad scientist who runs the Initiative) is lecturing about communication, language and the difference between the two. As part of a demonstration, Walsh asks Riley to kiss Buffy. ‘If I kiss you, it’ll make the sun go down’, warns Riley. He does, and it does. Clearly this kiss has performative powers which language can’t match. Of course, the Symbolic immediately tries to reassert itself. ‘Fortune favours the brave’, observes Buffy. She doesn’t usually quote Virgil, so this looks like the voice of the Empire speaking through Buffy – in this case an Empire of Signs, as Barthes might say. ‘Hush’ is all about the kiss. Riley complains to Forrest that he has trouble talking to Buffy. ‘Then get with the kissing’, Forrest quite sensibly replies. But the really interesting thing about Buffy and Riley is that they actually can’t kiss anywhere near the Symbolic. Their first kiss happened in the Imaginary, in Buffy’s daydream. Their second kiss happens in the Real. Stripped of speech, the two mute heroes meet in downtown Sunnydale, which has become a chaotic no-man’s-land. They hug. Each checks, silently, to see that the other is OK. They hear the sounds of nearby violence. Preparing to do their duty, they start to turn away from one another. They think better of this, turn back, and kiss. The entire kiss is negotiated and consummated without speech, which gives it a great deal of power. This kiss becomes the foundation of their relationship. Buffy and Riley never do get the hang of the talking. But when they are fighting demons together – and afterwards, when they are making love – they move with effortless grace. Buffy and Riley don’t need speech; indeed, they are visibly better off without it. They show us that we can actually operate much closer to the Real than we typically believe.
The other major erotic event in ‘Hush’ is an incident of same-sex hand-holding, which represents the beginning of Willow’s first lesbian relationship. In ‘Hush’ we meet a young witch named Tara. When Sunnydale goes silent, Tara seeks out Willow, the one person who might understand what’s happening. Tara and Willow are attacked by the Gentlemen. They’re forced to barricade themselves in the dorm laundry room. With the Gentlemen banging on the door, Willow tries to use her magic to move a soda machine up against the door. It’s too heavy, and she fails. Then Tara takes Willow’s hand. Their fingers intertwine. They look at each other. In a very well choreographed move, they turn simultaneously towards the soda machine, which flies across the room and blocks the door. (This shot would later reappear in the show’s opening credits.) Willow and Tara don’t stop holding hands after their spell is done, and they are basically inseparable from this moment. Their shared magical power illustrates the nature of their relationship: vital, energetic, and very much greater than the sum of its parts. All of this is accomplished without language. Indeed, ‘Hush’ makes us realize that if the Gentlemen hadn’t come to Sunnydale, Willow and Tara might never have got together. Willow is a hyper-articulate nerdy type, and Tara has a stutter which gets worse when she’s nervous. In normal times, the two of them live on two very different margins of the Symbolic. None of that matters in the laundry room. Here there is no language, only a Real composed of power and love.
‘Hush’ argues consistently that love happens where there is no language. Naturally, Buffy finds her voice at last, and her scream destroys the Gentlemen. The Law returns to Sunnydale. But no one is actually happy about that. ‘Hush’ concludes with a brilliant meditation on the misery of the Symbolic. During the reign of silence, Buffy and Riley have discovered each other’s secret identities. At the end of the episode, Riley visits Buffy in her dorm room. He sits down awkwardly on Willow’s bed. ‘I guess we have to talk’, he begins. ‘I guess we do’, Buffy agrees. The two of them then sit in complete silence, staring at one another across the gulf between the two beds. Their longing is palpable, and it is a longing for the Real. Their plight suggests that we should resist the Symbolic not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it might be the only way that we can find happiness.
Jane Espenson’s ‘Superstar’ (4.17) explores the fascist tendencies of the Symbolic. The teaser shows us a typical monster hunt, with one bizarre twist: Buffy can’t handle things, so she has to get help from ... Jonathan Levinson? This geeky, alienated graduate of Sunnydale High has somehow been transformed into a super-suave James Bond type. Things get worse fast: Jonathan has even colonized the opening credit sequence, in which he gets as much screen time as any Scooby. This is big trouble, because it means that Jonathan has broken out of the Buffyverse’s narrative space. The credits are the part of the programme which knows itself to be a television show. In the credits, Jonathan is not just part of the story; he is part of the real-world cultural artefact we call Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ten minutes into this astonishing ‘Espensode’, Jonathan has taken control of the Symbolic in the Buffyverse and in our world, too.
Throughout ‘Superstar’, the image of Jonathan continues to proliferate across every available surface. We see rows and rows of identical Jonathan posters lining the walls of Sunnydale. The aesthetic is unmistakably fascist: infinite copies of Jonathan’s sad, shy face gaze down on the population. Jonathan has become all things to all people: brilliant musician, vampire slayer, author, basketball player. He is the subject of comic books and trading cards. Jonathan advertises sporting goods on billboards. A poster on the back of Riley’s dorm room door shows Jonathan as a basketball superstar – like Michael Jordan, only short and Jewish. This infinite propagation of Jonathans slides smoothly into a very smart critique of consumer culture. Here is a radical assault on the corporate logo, for those who may never get around to reading Naomi Klein. In this strange and disturbing world, there is only one logo, and it is Jonathan. His image has monopolized the Symbolic system more effectively than Nike’s swoosh ever did. And now we see where consumer capitalism is headed: towards a barren, totalitarian Symbolic, a world with only one sign. Here the Name has been distilled down to its most basic, oppressive essence. That essence is Jonathan.
Naturally, the magic which Jonathan used to rewrite the Symbolic order proves to be ‘unstable’. It’s one thing to disrupt the narrative of the show, but Jonathan’s magic is threatening to spill over into our Symbolic, and that won’t do. This is television, after all, and the name of the show must be identical with the name of its protagonist. So the spell is broken. Jonathan goes back to being a nobody, and Buffy’s on top of the world once again. But the damage has been done. Buffy’s viewers can no longer take the Symbolic for granted. ‘Hush’ has already taught us that the Symbolic comes and goes in the Buffyverse. Now we know that our own Symbolic is no safer than Buffy’s.
The stage is set for season four’s climactic post-anarchist battle. To defeat Adam, the Scoobies must use a spell which combines the strengths of Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles. It’s a moment of radical mysticism. ‘We are forever’, declares Combo Buffy. Here we see a powerful expression of Buffy’s typical argument: Buffy needs her friends, and is always better off when she has their help. She may be a kick-ass Stirnerean superhero, but she can’t do it alone. A strong collectivist spirit lies deep at the heart of Buffy. Maybe this is what Fredric Jameson was talking about when he described the attempt to dissolve the subject into the Symbolic as an awareness of the ‘dawning collective character of life’ (1972: 196). By the end of season four, Buffy was post-Seattle and post-structuralist. The show increasingly pointed towards a radically collectivist politics, and it increasingly found space for such a politics in the place beyond the Symbolic.
This trend culminates in Joss Whedon’s ‘Restless’ (4.22), the denouement of season four. It turns out that the joining spell which created Combo Buffy has a price, as such spells often do. The Scoobies try to sleep off the spell’s after-effects, but they are plagued by troubling dreams. These dreams reveal a persistent need to overcome language and embrace the Real. Willow dreams of ‘homework’ which requires her to cover every inch of Tara’s skin with mysterious calligraphy. In this dream, Tara is over-inscribed. She is completely contained and constrained within the Symbolic. This reiterates the argument of ‘Hush’: Tara is always better off without language. Indeed, all the Scoobies are. Dream-Giles directs a play. He gives an inspirational speech just before the curtain goes up, and cheerfully instructs his troupe to ‘lie like dogs’. Public speech is ridiculed here, dismissed as a pack of lies. Gradually the Scoobies start to realize the nature of their dilemma. ‘There’s a great deal going on, and all at once!’ observes Giles. He’s right: as the Symbolic erodes, everything becomes simultaneous. The Scoobies are entering the eternal Now of the Real. This world is seductive; it’s hard to leave. Willow and Giles start to work out the fact that they are being pursued by some kind of primal force. Xander resists: ‘Don’t get linear on me now, man!’ He doesn’t want to re-enter the Symbolic – who would? That would mean going through the whole Oedipal thing again. ‘Restless’ literalizes Oedipal fear through Xander’s pseudo-incestuous desire for Buffy’s mom, and through his aggression towards his drunken father, who makes a rare and violent appearance in Xander’s dream.
Buffy’s dream provides the strongest challenge to the Symbolic. Buffy meets Riley in an Initiative conference room. He’s dressed in coat and tie, as befits his new rank: ‘They made me Surgeon General.’ In the dreamworld, Buffy’s critique of instrumental rationality can reach new heights of beautiful absurdity. It transpires that Riley is drawing up a plan for world domination with Adam (the season four ‘Big Bad’, now in human form). ‘The key element?’ Riley reveals: ‘Coffee-makers that think’. It’s a wonderful absurdist send-up, in the tradition of Situationism, Dadaism or Surrealism. When Buffy questions this plan to achieve the apotheosis of state power, Riley replies, ‘Baby, we’re the government. It’s what we do.’ It’s important to note that Riley did not participate in the joining spell, and is not part of this dream voyage. What we are seeing here is Buffy’s unconscious perception of Riley. This is the show’s way of explaining how Riley could call himself an anarchist without actually understanding what that meant. Although Riley has rejected the external power structures which once ruled him, he has not yet killed his inner fascist. Riley remains a statist, and an especially nasty sort of statist at that. He dismisses his girlfriend: ‘Buffy, we’ve got important work here. A lot of filing, giving things names.’ The work he mentions, the filing and naming, are the distilled essence of bureaucracy. Buffy’s dream becomes a nightmare as Riley embraces Symbolic power. The dream reveals to us that Riley’s political education is not over. He may call himself an anarchist, but now he needs to learn how to be a post-anarchist.
Finally, Buffy meets the mysterious primal force which has been pursuing her and her friends through the dreamworld. This force turns out to be the spirit of the original Slayer, the woman who first took on the burden of slayerhood in the ancient world. Tara shows up to mediate between Buffy and the speechless Primal Slayer. As Tara says, ‘Someone has to speak for her.’ This ancient tribal woman confirms Irigaray’s interpretation, for she is definitely outside the Symbolic. ‘Let her speak for herself’, Buffy demands. Buffy is still the voice of the Law here, constantly trying to reassert the Symbolic order. ‘Make her speak’, Buffy insists. Speech is an imperative here, for the Symbolic order is in a state of crisis. The Primal Slayer is a creature of the radical Real. If she cannot be made to speak, she threatens to undermine the entire Symbolic regime. Speaking through Tara, the first Slayer insists upon her position outside language: ‘I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute ... alone.’ She is pure action, and she has nothing to do with language. Buffy reasserts the Symbolic one more time, with a twinkling speech that rolls off Sarah Michelle Gellar’s tongue like a waterfall in springtime: ‘I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I’m gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There’s trees in the desert since you moved out. And I don’t sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends.’ This is finally enough to force the first Slayer to speak. ‘No ... friends! Just the kill. We ... are ... alone!’ But it’s Buffy’s position that prevails. She defeats her ancient ancestor, everybody wakes up, and things get back to normal.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t that just mean that the Symbolic always wins in the end? What’s revolutionary about that? Buffy’s still the voice of the Law, and the space outside language has vanished once again. But here we have to look at the big picture. Baudrillard once observed that the events of May 1968 created a rift in the Symbolic order which remained open for years (1976: 34). The events of ‘Restless’ have a similar effect on the Buffyverse. ‘Restless’ appeared almost exactly halfway through Buffy’s seven-season narrative. Seasons five, six and seven are largely concerned with Buffy’s quest to understand the primal nature of her power. In a way, Buffy never wakes up from her dream. She now knows that the Real is out there. She continues to live in the Symbolic as she must, as we all must. But she has learned that her power comes from a place outside language. ‘I need to know more. About where I come from, about the other slayers’, she tells Giles at the beginning of season five (5.1). In a most unlikely move, Buffy becomes a student of history. She studies the ancient stories of the slayer line, seeking the place where it all began, in the time before the Symbolic.
Buffy finally finds what she’s looking for towards the end of the show’s seventh and final season. In ‘Get it Done’ (7.15), Buffy visits the dreamtime once again. This time she goes all the way back to the beginning, to re-enact the event which created the first Slayer. Here Buffy examines its own creation myth. Since the slayers seem to represent the Symbolic order, this also lets the show examine the foundational myth of our culture. Buffy meets the Shadow Men, the ancient patriarchs who made the Primal Slayer. They chain Buffy, promising to show her the source of her power. Buffy protests. ‘The First Slayer did not talk so much’, remarks a Shadow Man. Nor could she, for she had not yet created the Symbolic order. The patriarchs show Buffy the demon energy which gives the slayers their power. She refuses it, but they won’t listen. Suddenly she realizes that she is experiencing a rape, a violation. These men forced this demonic essence into a young woman against her will. These ancient fathers raped their daughter; from this violation the Symbolic was born. As Lacan surmised, the Law originates in the crucible of Oedipal desire.
But Buffy’s been flirting with the Real for a while now, and she’s ready to take back this ancient night. She defeats the Shadow Men, and breaks their staff. ‘It’s always the staff’: Buffy knows a Lacanian phallus when she sees one. For the remainder of the series, Buffy pursues the destruction of this primal, patriarchal Symbolic. And at last she succeeds. At the end of the show, Buffy and her friends change the world. Buffy rallies her army of potential slayers, and makes her ‘Crispin’s Day’ speech before the big battle: ‘In every generation one slayer is born because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule’ (7.22). Buffy rejects her own foundational myth. She rejects the Oedipal logic which established the Symbolic. She acknowledges that the ancient patriarchs ‘were powerful men’. But she insists that her best friend Willow is ‘more powerful than all of them combined’. And indeed, Willow lives up to her press. The young witch works a spell which makes every ‘potential’ into a full-fledged slayer. In this way Buffy’s power is diffused through an entire community. It’s a radically democratic move. Buffy is no longer ‘Slayer, comma, The’. The Law has been thoroughly fragmented. Indeed, following this rupture in the Symbolic, there is no longer a monolithic Law at all. There is instead a play of forces and flows, a give and take. Buffy has created a community of post-anarchist vampire slayers.
The show’s conclusion demonstrates that Buffy is anything but a fascist brownskirt. At the end of season seven, Buffy holds nominal command over an army of slayers. But Buffy season eight comic books reveal that this ‘army’ is really a diverse collection of free-thinking riot grrrls, third-wave feminists and lesbian separatists. They’re all ‘hot chicks with superpowers’ (7.21) now, and they’re anarchists to boot. They would just as soon kick Buffy’s ass as salute her. The slayers are an anarchist army, not unlike those that fought against Franco’s fascists during the Spanish civil war. As for Buffy herself, she’s a reluctant revolutionary. For most of her career she has been the sheriff of the Symbolic, wielder of the Name, bearer of the Law. But to her credit, when the Real came calling, she answered. By returning to the very moment of the Symbolic’s creation, she found a space before language, a space of resistance. She made that space into a weapon and used it to fragment the Symbolic order which had imprisoned the slayers for so long. In this way Buffy modeled an effective, engaged post-anarchist politics. Buffy made that politics available to audiences of various ethnicities, genders, sexualities and social classes. Let the Buffy Studies and post-anarchist communities rejoice together at the arrival of Buffy, the post-anarchist vampire slayer.
“Each Crueler Than the Last” : On Statues of Christopher Columbus—and the Men Who Raised Them
Columbus returned a year later with 17 ships, 1300 men, 20 cavalry, and sugarcane for cultivation. No longer interested in finding Asia, Columbus now fantasized about colonizing Hispaniola for Spain and getting “as much gold as [the King and Queen require]… and as many slaves as they ask.” But when he arrived at Hispaniola, he found the fort burned to the ground and the Spaniards he had stationed there killed by the Taíno, Ciguayo, and Macorix tribes. While Columbus was away, his men had abducted and raped Native people, which the locals would not tolerate.
This was hardly the misconduct of unsupervised underlings. Columbus was well aware of the conquistadors’ desire for sex slaves; on his return trip to Hispaniola, he was already awarding concubines to his officers. In 1500, Columbus wrote a friend that in the Caribbean, “A hundred castellanoes
are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
Over the course of Columbus’s second voyage, he established a number of forts and villages along the south of the island and in the interior to find gold. Among these early settlements was Santo Domingo, a hub of European colonialism for the next few hundred years. Any inhabitants that the Spaniards found were treated as serfs and forced to bring their lord a quota of gold. Those who were unable or unwilling to meet the quota were beaten, tortured, whipped, maimed, and killed. By the end of 1494, 7000 Taínos were in open revolt.
The Taíno defending the coast of Xaymaca with darts, 1494.
American Dream » Mon Oct 09, 2017 7:25 pm wrote:Anacaona: the Woman Chief Who Stood Up to Christopher Columbus
It’s more or less universally acknowledged these days that Christopher Columbus was terrible. Like, the cut peoples’ hands off if they didn’t give him enough gold, pretty much start the transatlantic slave trade kind of terrible. But despite the despicable behavior of Columbus and his cronies, many of the indigenous people they oppressed tried to push back and rise above, including the remarkable Taíno cacica—woman tribal chief—Anacaona.
The story takes place in Hispaniola, which is the Greater Antilles island that is split between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. But before Christopher Columbus’s arrival, the Taíno people called it Ayiti. Anacaona—meaning “golden flower”—was the sister of Xaragua territory chief Bohechío and the wife of Caonabo, the Maguana territory chief. Though initially leaders were friendly with Columbus and his entourage when they first traveled to Xaragua in 1496 (or as friendly as you can be with known murderers), the relationship soured what with Columbus enslaving their people and generally taking whatever he wanted.
When Anacaona’s brother died, she succeeded him, and when her husband was captured by Columbus’s men and sent to Spain as a slave, she succeeded him, too. But despite her personal loss, she continued to work with her oppressors in order to keep her people safe. In addition to her roles as a leader and diplomat, Anacaona was also apparently very beautiful and skilled at creating songs, poems and dances. Washington Irving wrote of Anacaona in his History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus:
[She was] remarkable for her native propriety and dignity. She was adored by her subjects, so as to hold a kind of dominion over them, even during the lifetime of her brother; she is said to have been skilled in composing the areytos or legendary ballads of her nation, and may have conduced much towards producing that superior degree or refinement remarked among her people.
But all of that power attracted some attention, and despite the kindness, integrity and generosity she showed the Spaniards, the new governor Nicolás de Ovando decided she was a threat and must have some secret plot to overthrow him. In a bid to rid himself of the threat and gain control over the entire island, Ovando rounded up all of the area’s lesser chiefs (during a feast Anacaona was throwing for him no less) and locked them in a building, which he then ordered to be set on fire, burning them alive. Anacaona was spared this due to her rank and instead prosecuted on trumped up charges.
To add insult to injury, it is said that Anacaona was offered clemency in exchange for her loyalty to the Spaniards in the form of either a marriage to one of them or as a concubine depending on which account you believe. She refused, which earned her not only a death-by-public-hanging sentence in September of 1503, but also a spot in the history books. She has inspired many songs, poems (including ‘Anacaona’ by Lord Tennyson) and works of art, but above all, Anacaona is known today as a fearless, dignified Caribbean icon and symbol of resistance against tyranny.
Anacaona. Fania All Stars (Our Latin Thing)
Anacaona, captive-bred Indian
Anacaona, from the primitive region.
Anacaona, captive-bred Indian
Anacaona, from the primitive region.
Anacaona I heard your voice, as I cried when I groaned
Anacaona I heard the voice of your anguished heart
Your freedom never came, and Le le le le le le la la.
Anacaona, captive-bred Indian
Anacaona, from the primitive region.
Anacaona, india, captive race india
And Anacaona, from the primitive region.
Anacaona, Areito of Anacaona.
India of captive race,
soul of white dove ... Anacaona.
But Indian who dies crying,
dies but does not forgive, does not forgive.
Anacaona, india de raza cautiva
Anacaona, de la región primitiva.
Anacaona, india de raza cautiva
Anacaona, de la región primitiva.
Anacaona oí tú voz, como lloró cuando gimío
Anacaona oí la voz de tu angustiado corazón
Tu libertad nunca llegó, e Le le le le le le la la.
Anacaona, india de raza cautiva
Anacaona, de la región primitiva.
Anacaona, india, india de raza cautiva
Y Anacaona, de la región primitiva.
Anacaona, areito de Anacaona.
India de raza cautiva,
alma de blanca paloma...Anacaona.
Pero india que muere llorando,
muere pero no perdona, no perdona no.
Esa negra negra que es de raza noble y abatida
pero que fue valentona ¡Anacaona!
Oye, según la historia lo cuenta
dicen que fue a la cañona, Anacaona.
La tribu entera la llora porque fue buena negrona.
Y recordando, recordando lo que pasó
la tribú ya se enfogona.
Memories of the End of History
“I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really.”
If you’ve cared enough to pay attention to details, then you already know that I’m a Discordian. What many don’t know is that many Discordians are former United States Marines.
I served in the marines from June of 1997 to June of 2001. It was a period in which I can honestly say everyone thought that the world had settled out; the Cold War was over, everyone seemed to be falling into line about making money of the poor, everyone was convinced the world was pacified, finally. Which is why in a sense 9/11 was a punch line. Even the people running the military thought this. I used to get briefings which in a sense seemed to have the purpose of informing me, “That the marine corpse definitely still had a reason to exist and that reason is blah blah blah”. Like any of that hokey shit matters now.
These are my memories of that period, a period in which people felt, wrongly, like they were at the end of history. I’ll try to keep this short. But it is an American tradition that you have to listen to a veteran recount his boring stupid tired stories, so now it’s your turn. This is going to be a mix of stories about my interactions with the U.S. government, and also what I saw as I traveled the world pretending to be useful. I have no idea how to do one of these things. Should I tell it linearly or write an alinear history? I’m going to start at the beginning, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely an alinear story. Also, you should know that 60% of all human memories are filler your brain makes up. But believe me when I say that I believe it was real.
I suck at being an infantryman. I knew it from the first week in the School of Infantry. Yeah, that’s literally what they call it. They’re infantryman, not MCU writers. So anyway, yeah, you’d have to figure that most people suck at it when they start. The problem is I didn’t seem to stop sucking. I imagine I’m better at it than some random person rotting in an office somewhere, so I have that going for me. But generally was not good at it. When I went through the School of Infantry, I was experimented on! It was an experimental fast track program, see usually the thing lasts, um, well I don’t know, I didn’t go through how it usually happens. I went through a month long program, complete with starvation training. Ever been so hungry you’d eat food out of a dumpster? Me too! Of course it is possible they lied, and that everyone that goes through the School of Infantry goes through all that.
Like I said, I only went once. It was around September, that this all happened, in California. That last part was the nice part, I had been living in Texas for all of high school. I was just happy to be home. Anyway, I mention the month basically to say that it was fall. This one guy, who will remain a nameless little wishnik troll person, complained that California was so brown, just desert, he thought, and that he missed home in Michigan where it was green forest. A spring later and he was amazed at how green it was. I could only say one thing, “Well, yeah, it’s spring.” So the take away from this part of the story is that I may have been experimentally starved and wishniks from Michigan don’t understand how seasons work.
It was the year 2000, December, when I walked off the plane onto Egyptian soil. I was ushered into a large tent made of carpets to a little bizarre, where I waited with the rest of the idiots to go to the base that had been built by the U.S. for Bright Star, 2000. A joint military training operation for the Mediterranean, hosted on the sands of Egypt’s Western reaches. Right in Libya’s fucking face. That’s how pathetic the U.S. had gotten, we were bullying dictators that we set up. Like paying someone to let you rough them up and take their lunch money. It’s fucking ridiculous! But this is how shit was and is. Anyway, as we rolled through town, I could see the bombed out buildings full of families scraping by. Building, after building, after building, after building, after building. These buildings, or what was left of them, were about four or five stories tall, often did not have a roof or all four sides, sometimes missing both, and had shit tons of people living in them. Fortunately they were reinforced concrete, or at least I hope they were, and so weren’t going to collapse any time soon. So we did a whole bunch of driving around, me being a reconnaissance scout for an armored unit, means I sat around in a hot metal box for hours a day.
So, reconnaissance, lets get some stuff straight. There are guys who are reconnaissance, and that is their special thing, and they are good at what they do. Very good. There are not many who can do this work as well as they. There are a lot of reconnaissance jobs all over the military and also the marine corpse. My job, as a reconnaissance scout in a light armored unit, was quite frankly, a waste of their time and the money spent to train them. So I wound up doing it. It was pretty boring. I played a lot of Pokemon on a Gameboy. Anyway, after the training, which mostly consisted of driving around, so the vehicle crews could practice being vehicle crews, and making hornless unicorns out of C4, because activities enrich your infantryman’s daily life, we had all bitched enough that they let us take a trip to the Pyramids at Giza.
But I’m not going to talk about my experiences inside. Instead, my memories of the palpable disgust on the face of the tour guide/information attendant at the pyramid site. You could see it on her face, if you were perceptive enough. The corners of her mouth, and the corners of her eyes, and the resting placement of her jaw told the story the rest of her face couldn’t. She would rather we not be on the same planet. I couldn’t blame her, I didn’t want to be on the planet either. I mean, why would she be glad to see us. Egypt’s then leader was a guy we were working with. Or maybe it was old fashioned bigotry. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. About halfway through the tear jerking boredom of “training” (to be honest C4 isn’t that great, in my opinion, for sculpting), they asked for volunteers. Now, if you’re smart, you know that this is an excellent chance to gamble. You could be doing something interesting, or tedious; you get a good lunch, or get a shit lunch, or get no lunch. At that point in operation bright stain I was ready to roll those dice. So I spent a week at a tank range radio tower and range control guarding it. Forces, alleged to be Bedouin, had already attacked once, and were repelled.
We were handed live ammo and left with the radio crew. And… nothing happened. Whomever attacked got the message the first time. I spent the week playing poker, reading, running down my batteries for my Gameboy, and doing the occasional react drill for boredom abatement and because practicing increases the chances of not dying. The last week I was there was fairly interesting, a friend of mine who was an Irish guy from West Covina, who could ululate like no one’s business, spent a night spooking our staff sergeant, which was hilarious, because this was a staff sergeant who couldn’t pass a physical fitness test without the entire command staff lying for him, and yet had the gonads to bust down my friend from corporal to lance corporal because he got a second class score on his test. So, we did our best to make an ass of him whenever we could.
The French Foreign legion got attacked the last night I was there. Presumably by the same “Bedouins”. It kind of makes one wonder if the Bedouins are blamed for much lawlessness that they statistically couldn’t possibly be behind. But that’s what they get for living on such lucrative coastal lands. So I guess the takeaway here is that the probability of her look of disgust not coming from a bigoted place is roughly a function of the probability that she was Bedouin. We were tourists after all.
I have the thirst. Not JFK levels of it, my wife keeps me plenty happy. But as a single guy, I had no reason not to indulge myself. Or at least I thought. I think it was my second time in Okinawa that a friend of mine, that I had met elsewhere in the marines, was stationed at the same base as I was. As I was reconnecting with him, shooting the shit with him as it were, it happened to come up that we was getting scuba trained. “Isn’t that expensive as fuck for a lowly serviceman such as yourself?” I asked him. “Yeah, but I got a friend paying for it.” What a lucky asshole, he just has a friend getting him scuba training. “Paying for the gear too?” He nodded his head. Unreal. “Who would do that for you around here?” Thus began his recounting of being a gigolo for old Japanese women. He was the favorite of a particular woman, thus the scuba gear and training. See, what it is, is that serviceman can’t be paid in cash, that’s prostitution. But a woman can give her man nice shit. That’s just being nice.
Now, my predilections being what they are, the mention of sex for pay with mature women did prick my ears up. Unfortunately for story telling purposes, I didn’t start whoring myself out. Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly because the people in my unit are hella chismoso, always sticking their noses in other peoples business. So I thought the better of it, and to this day, don’t know if I made the right decision or not. But I doubt my then current daddy Uncle Sam was looking to share. I mean, Uncle Sam didn’t give me any gold chains, but he did fuck me regular and buy me dinner. I can’t imagine he would have been cool with it. And we were so well kept in those days. So the moral of the story is that servicemen are sometimes exploited for sex. Though if you’ve ever been even at the edge of “Sex exploitation”, re: prostitution, you know the reality is more complex than some limousine liberal’s junior year liberal arts thesis can account for.
My friend didn’t need to learn scuba to live. He wasn’t getting beat down by his john, and there was no pimp. My experience with this is about as lightweight as you can get but the more I hear of the law coming down on sex workers the more it seems like the age old exploitation line that law men and “progressives” use, along with the immorality line the priests use, sounds increasingly like hokey bullshit. Really want to help sex workers? Legalize it and get rid of pimps and other middle men. Middle persons. Whatever, you know what I mean.
Remember the riots in Indonesia? Yeah, that’s ok. Not many people do. I was off the coast for the most of it. Why you might ask? Well, the U.S. Navy patrols the worlds oceans and keeps them clear of pirates and generally tries to make things “safe”. Sometimes they’ll have marines with them. That’s why I was there. I was on a pretty boat called an LSD, which I assume means landing ship deployer or something. I never asked. It had these fancy high powered fan boats that it poops out the back. We load our vehicles on, it deposits us on the beach, and we drive around and be effective as long as we don’t leave the beach and go into the Thai jungle. American supremacy at its finest. So as we sat off the coast of Indonesia, the government of the CIA backed Suharto collapsed. We didn’t lift a finger to help him, or the people rioting overthrow him. It wasn’t until much later that it seemed many of the Indonesian special forces were inciting riots and ethnic violence, particularly rape, against the Mandarin Chinese minority communities.
Why they were fomenting unrest I have no clue. But the result is that a U.S. backed anti-communist dictator’s government collapsed. But you are probably still wondering, amid all of this, why was I even there? Well, you see, Nike and McDonald’s corporations had some executives in the country that could have possibly needed help getting the fuck out. They didn’t, ultimately, because having your own private jets helps one to very effectively get the fuck out. But that was the reason. Then our staff sergeant came through and yelled at us that we were not there because of Nike and McDonald’s like they had just accidentally announced on the ships audio-visual system. I don’t know what is more pathetic, that they let the cat out of the bag like that, or that they then tried to gas light us about it.
Ok, that’s it. You’re off the hook. It’s over. I learned how to do a lot of violence, I saw many different kinds of exploitation, often time so comprehensive it took me two more decades to understand, and put it all together, and generally helped the U.S. government to spread its vision around the world. A vision that shattered on 9/11. I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really. The world was never simple, or kind, or peaceful. These unfortunate people don’t realize that the times weren’t simpler, kinder, and more peaceful, they were.
A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.
Wild Gone Girls
For some of us it’s not a choice. “I didn’t choose to be the freak I was born to be." Some of those freaks who were called queers decided to wear that name with pride. So if we can be queers then why not also be whores? How about some whore pride? To celebrate queerness is often a way to avoid talking about labor or the sale of the sensual, fascinating, or erotic body. To celebrate whores is to connect the deviant body back to its place in the mode of production.
In the Acker-web there might be a lot of ways to be a whore. It might and might not mean sex worker. Whoring might include a lot of other transactions, including those of artists. But the key quality is the struggle to remain a free agent, not becoming anyone’s possession: “A whore goes from man to man; she’s no man’s girl." The rebellion of the whores: “We got rid of our johns, now our dreams don’t mean anything." To be neither owned nor rented, by anyone. To extract the body from the commodification of its surfaces and signs.
Whores might be a more promising kind of being in the world of post-capitalism than artists. Artists alone are too compromised a form of agency: “revolutionaries hiding from the maws of the police which are the maws of the rich by pretending they’re interested only in pleasure." The artist might once have been privileged by being marginal to capitalism whereas in post-capitalism they become more integral to a commodity form that absorbs information out of the not-quite-laboring activities of bodies.
THEORY MEETS BODY: A CONVERSATION WITH JASMINE GIBSON
Jasmine Gibson: I think that love is possible, but I think the love that we conceive out of the social relationships we form now can only slip into moments [with] the underground. Experiencing love not so much just as, “Oh, they make me dinner,” but love as in, “If I get into some sort of trouble, will you bail me out of jail?” Or the love of sending letters to people who are incarcerated, or the love of trying to be honest and vulnerable with other people, even though vulnerability is not something seen as valuable. I think love is possible but [more so] has other possibilities of being different things outside of intimacy with the people you know—a kind of intimacy that can be felt with people who are not necessarily close to you. I navigated that throughout the book with different voices and experiences. Some experiences that are not necessarily unique to me. When I wrote my first piece for LIES Journal, I wanted to speak to my mom in some kind of a way and look at her entanglements with capitalism from a historic perspective, and that’s how I try to navigate love: as a historical thing. At the time, I was also reading a piece by Saidiya Hartman about these two girls trying to comfort each other in the belly of a slave ship—how do you define love in that kind of context? Where it is so violent, and the stakes are incredibly high? I’m thinking right now into that past. The hardest part of that reality is trying to take care of yourself and have enough empathy to take care of someone else, which I think is a kind of love, and in the kind of scenario that Hartman has set up, I was thinking about that and trying to focus on love, my experiences of love, unrequited love, and love as a bigger broader thing; love for my mom, my sister, love for the unlovable.
ZA: In David Scott’s writing about modernity he posits that tragedy makes room for “contingency,” and I saw that kind of current coursing through Don’t Let Them See Me Like This. But maybe even more so, your use of hesitancy to create room for contingency and meaning. I loved the use of “maybe” in your poem “The Fool.” That tarot card has so much to do with relinquishing expertise in order to be opened up towards enlightenment. What is your relationship to hesitancy and unsureness as a poetic?
JG: That poem felt painful to write, because it was an experience of a personal romantic tragedy, because they lived across the Atlantic and it was something that just wasn’t possible. Two people rooted in their own kind of Babylon, separately. You can’t really transfer without material things: with jobs, immigration, and schools, all of that stuff you can’t just say, “I’m going to move for love.” Love is [also] mediated by transactions under capitalism, so sometimes that is what trumps it. That’s where hesitancy in “The Fool” comes from—coming into this realization that the social relationships mediated by capitalism don’t always allow for people to be able to make choices to be in love and have a future with a person, because it is irresponsible. The hesitancy comes from this kind of bargaining of what could have happened, maybe, if things could have been different. Because love under capitalism calls your bluff or presents a ceiling for how much you can experience the possibilities, or impossibilities of love. To relinquish that ceiling, then, is to step into another realm of possibilities. That's what my current partner did. They moved their entire life and began a fool's journey with me. Impossible!
ZA: Throughout the text, it seems like you ask a lot of questions.
JG: I think I was open to change. I don’t want the meaning of the poems to be this definite thing. I wanted them to be able to change over time, and I think that is the most important thing for them to do. Maybe that comes from a background in political work; if you make definite statements of how to orient to things if things change—you are much safer if you allow yourself to be humble in ways that encourage you to grow. I want the poems to be an amorphous thing. Even if the book is done, it keeps changing.
ZA: I know you work in mental health care, and your poems definitely confront the systemic violence of weaponizing “sanity” and illness, especially against Black people, with Drapetomania serving as just one exceedingly blatant and disturbing example. How has your psychiatric research influenced your writing?
JG: In a similar way to my experiences doing political work, it’s also provided a language with how the state uses mental health to surveil, and how people work hand in hand with that. Seeing it from the inside, it provides a different kind of understanding of how the state can weaponize things that are supposed to be well-meaning. In New York City, you have The Office of Mental Health, and obviously you want services and resources given to people—everybody needs mental health care—but a lot of those services are [also] used to track people in the [criminal] system. So many people who are aging now have been institutionalized for most of their lives in public mental health hospitals that were shut down in the 1970s. When I first started writing poetry, I had begun working as a case manager, so that kind of seeped in, thinking about myself and my work, and my relationship to my patients; thinking about what to do and how to reconcile that and, in my position, attempting to trouble that boundary. At the time, I was also in the Florence Johnson Collective, and we were trying to organize health workers that were HHAs and people that worked in hospitals and trying to reconcile a vacuum of radical organizing of health in New York City. This was about 5 years ago. We wanted to blend “Wages for Housework” with what happened in the 1970s, during The Lincoln Hospital Takeover, and try to come up with something like that. That set me on a track to blend thinking about my own relationship to my career in mental health and the political nature of it, exploring it through poetic work.
Five miles of fake flowers, cat cushions and muzak: enter the world’s largest market
The Yiwu International Trade City in China is the world’s largest wholesale market for consumer goods, stretching some five miles and featuring roughly 75,000 vendors. The Chinese-American filmmaker Jessica Kingdon’s observational documentary Commodity City employs static shots of everyday scenes from the market – mostly without dialogue – to convey the seemingly endless stretches of vendor booths that specialise in everything from cat pillows to Santa figurines. Through these vignettes, Kingdon captures the incongruous interplay of boredom and commerce, vastness and claustrophobia that characterises this otherworldly space, offering a hypnotic anthropologic exploration of consumer culture and capitalism.
Sex Is Not the Problem with Sex Work
Under capitalism, you don’t have to love your job to want to keep it.
JUNO MAC, MOLLY SMITH
For some anti-prostitution campaigners, concerns about the sex industry stand in place of a wider critique of capitalism. “Why is the left in favour of the free market only when it is women’s bodies being bought and sold?” asks Julie Bindel. This question either misunderstands or misrepresents the argument: what the left actually favors is labor rights, to redress the balance of power between employers and workers. In a capitalist society, when you criminalize something, capitalism still happens in that market. When we are asked, in a capitalist society, to choose between criminalizing or decriminalizing commercial sex, we are not offered an option for the “free market” to not govern the proceedings. In fact, capitalism is in many ways at its most intense in criminalized markets. With commercial sex criminalized, there can be no workers’ rights, whereas with commercial sex decriminalized, people who sell sex can access labor law and other kinds of protection afforded on legal job sites.One cannot mount a successful defense of prostitution on the basis that it is good work. But neither are most of the jobs available to people who fall on sex work.
One cannot mount a successful defense of prostitution on the basis that it is good work. But neither are most of the jobs available to people who fall on sex work. People who sell or trade sex are amongst the world’s least powerful people, the people forced to do the worst jobs. But that is precisely why anti-prostitution campaigners should take seriously the fact that sex work is a way people get the resources they need. Instead, this is airily dismissed—losing a bad job, we are told, is no big deal. Losing jobs is how we achieve social change, we are told. Anti-prostitution feminist Meghan Murphy writes: “I suppose we shouldn’t try to stop the oil industry because people will lose jobs? It isn’t suuuper progressive . . . to defend harmful practices lest people lose jobs.” Those who make these arguments imagine “changing society” through taking something away. But people with relatively little are right to be fearful when their means of survival is taken away. British miners in the 1980s did not strike on the basis that mining was the most wonderful job—they were simply correct in their belief that, once mining was taken from them, Margaret Thatcher’s government would abandon their communities to desperate poverty. Likewise, few sex workers would object if you sought to abolish the sex industry by ensuring that they got the resources they need without having to sell sex.
The aim in legalizing sex work is therefore not, as it is often misconstrued, to advocate for something like a “right” for men to pay for sex. In fact, as the Wages for Housework movement articulated in the 1970s, naming something as work is a crucial first step in refusing to do it—on your own terms. Marxist-feminist theorist Silvia Federici wrote in 1975: “to demand wages for housework does not mean to say that if we are paid we will continue to do it. It means precisely the opposite. To say that we want money for housework is the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demand for a wage makes our work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it.” Naming work as work has been a key feminist strategy beyond Wages for Housework: from sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s term “emotional labor,” to journalist Susan Maushart’s term “wifework,” to Sophie Lewis’s theorizing around surrogacy and “gestational labor,” naming otherwise invisible or “natural” structures of gendered labor is central to beginning to think about how to resist or reorder such work.The aim in legalizing sex work is not to advocate for a “right” for men to pay for sex. On the contrary, naming something as work is a crucial first step in refusing to do it.
Just because a job is bad does not mean it is not a “real job.” When sex workers assert that sex work is work, we are saying that we need rights. We are not saying that work is good or fun, or even harmless, nor that it has fundamental value. Likewise, situating what we do within a workers’-rights framework does not constitute an unconditional endorsement of work itself. It is not an endorsement of capitalism or of a bigger, more profitable sex industry. “People think the point of our organization [the National Organization for the Emancipation of Women in a State of Prostitution] is [to] expand prostitution in Bolivia,” says activist Yuly Perez. “In fact, we want the opposite. Our ideal world is one free of the economic desperation that forces women into this business.”
It is not the task of sex workers to apologize for what prostitution is. Sex workers should not have to defend the sex industry to argue that we deserve the ability to earn a living without punishment. People should not have to demonstrate that their work has intrinsic value to society to deserve safety at work. Moving toward a better society—one in which more people’s work does have wider value, one in which resources are shared on the basis of need—cannot come about through criminalization. Nor can it come about through treating marginalized people’s material needs and survival strategies as trivial. Sex workers ask to be credited with the capacity to struggle with work—even hate it—and still be considered workers. You don’t have to like your job to want to keep it.
Capitalism and reproduction -
Mariarosa Dalla Costa
A Marxist-feminist analysis of how capitalism is reproduced and develops.
The sphere of reproduction today reveals all the original sins of the capitalist mode of production. Reproduction must be viewed, of course, from a planetary perspective, with special attention being paid to the changes that are taking place in wide sectors of the lower social strata in advanced capitalism as well as in an increasing proportion of the Third World population. We live in a planetary economy, and capitalist accumulation still draws its life-blood for its continuous valorisation from waged as well as unwaged labour, the latter consisting first of all of the labour involved in social reproduction, 1 in the advanced as well as the Third World countries.
We find that social ‘misery’ or ‘unhappiness’ which Marx2 considered to be the ‘goal of the political economy’ has largely been realised everywhere. But, setting aside the question of happiness for the time being – though certainly not to encourage the myth of its impossibility – let me stress how incredible it now seems, Marxist analysis apart, to claim that capitalist development in some way brings a generalised wellbeing to the planet.
Social reproduction today is more beset and overwhelmed than ever by the laws of capitalist accumulation: the continual and progressive expropriation (from the ‘primitive’ expropriation of the land as a means of production, which dates from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in England, to the expropriation, then as now, of all the individual and collective rights that ensure subsistence); the continual division of society into conflictual hierarchies (of class, sex, race and nationality, which pit the free waged worker against the unfree unwaged worker, against the unemployed worker, and the slave labourer); the constant production of inequality and uncertainty (with the woman as reproducer facing an even more uncertain fate in comparison to any waged worker and, if she is also member of a discriminated race or nation, she suffers yet deeper discrimination); the continual polarisation of the production of wealth (which is more and more concentrated) and the production of poverty (which is increasingly widespread).
As Marx writes in Capital:Finally, the law which always holds the relative surplus production or industrial reserve army in equilibrium with the extent and energy of accumulation rivets the worker to capital more firmly than the wedges of Hephaestus held Prometheus to the rock. It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital.3
This is true, not only for the population overwhelmed by the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. It is even more accurate today, whether capital accumulation passes through factory, plantation, dam, mine or the carpet weaving workshops where it is by no means rare for children to be working in conditions of slavery.
Indeed, capitalist accumulation spreads through the world by extracting labour for production and reproduction in conditions of stratification which end in the reestablishment of slavery. According to a recent estimate, slavery is the condition in which over 200 million persons are working in the world today.4
Those macro-processes and operations which economic forces, supported by political power, unfolded during the period of primitive accumulation in Europe – with the aim of destroying the individual’s value in relationship to his/her community in order to turn him/her into an isolated and valueless individual, a mere container for labour-power which she is obliged to sell to survive – continue to mark human reproduction on a planetary scale.
The indifference to the very possibility of labour-power’s reproduction shown by capital in the first phase of its history was only very partially (and today increasingly precariously) redeemed centuries later by the creation of the welfare state. Currently, the major financial agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have undertaken the task of re-drawing the boundaries of welfare and economic policies as a whole in both the advanced and the developing countries. (The economic, social welfare and social insurance measures recently introduced in Italy correspond precisely to the various ‘structural adjustment’ plans being applied in many Third World countries.) The result is that increasingly large sectors of the world’s population are destined to extinction because they are believed to be redundant or inappropriate to the valorisation requirements of capital.
At the end of the fifteenth century, the bloody legislation against the expropriated6 led to the mass hanging, torturing, branding and chaining of the poor. So today the surplus or inadequately disciplined population of the planet is exterminated through death by cold and hunger in eastern Europe and various countries of the advanced West (‘more coffins less cradles in Russia’). 7 They suffer death by hunger and epidemic in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere; death caused by formally declared war, by genocide authorised directly or indirectly, by military and police repression. The other variant of extinction is an individual or collective decision of suicide because there is no possibility of survival. (It is significant that, according to Italian press reports in 1993-94, many cases of suicide in Italy are due to unemployment or to the fact that the only work on offer is to join a criminal gang. In India, the ‘tribal people’ in the Narmada valley have declared a readiness to die by drowning if work continues on a dam which will destroy their habitat and, hence, the basis of their survival and cultural identity.)8
The most recent and monstrous twist to this campaign of extinction comes from the extreme example of resistance offered by those who sell parts of their body. (In Italy, where the sale of organs is banned, there were press and television reports in 1993-94 of instances in which people said that they were trying to sell parts of their own bodies for lack of money. There have been reports of how criminal organisations with perfectly legal outlets are flourishing on the basis of trafficking in organs, sometimes obtained through the kidnapping of the victims (often women or children) or through false adoption.)
An enquiry was recently opened at the European Parliament on the issue,9 and various women’s networks are trying to throw light on and block these crimes. This is where capitalist development, founded on the negation of the individual’s value, celebrates its triumph; the individual owner of redundant or, in any case, superfluous labour-power is literally cut to pieces in order to re-build the bodies of those who can pay for the right to live.
During the era of primitive accumulation, when the free waged worker was being shaped in England, the law still authorised slavery, 10 treating the vagabonds created by the feudal lords’ violent and illegal expropriation of the land as ‘voluntary’ perpetrators ofthe crime of vagabondage and ordaining that, if anyone should refuse to work, he would be ‘condemned as a slave to the person who denounced him as an idler.’ 11 If this reduction of the poor to slavery remained on a relatively limited scale in England, capital soon after launched slavery on a much vaster scale, emptying Africa of the equivalent of Europe’s population at that time through the slave trade to the Americas and the Caribbean.
Slavery, far from disappearing, has remained as one of capitalism’s unmentioned, concealed constants. The poverty imposed on a large part of the planet by the major financial agencies chains entire families to work in conditions of slavery so that they can pay their creditors. Workers are made to work in conditions of slavery in livestock farms. plantations and mines. Children are made to work in conditions of slavery in carpet workshops. Women are kidnapped or fooled into working in the sex industry. But these are only some examples. It is significant that the problem of slavery was raised by the Non-Government Organisations at their Forum in Vienna on 10-12 June that preceded the UN’s World Conference on Human Rights on 14-25 June 1993.
In the period of primitive accumulation. while free waged labour was being born from the great expropriations. there was the greatest case of sexual genocide in history – the great witch-hunts. which. with a series of other measures directed expressly against women. contributed in a fundamental way to forging the unfree, unwaged woman worker in the production and reproduction of labour-power. 12 Deprived of the means of production and subsistence typical of the previous economy. and largely excluded from craftwork or access to the new jobs that manufacturing was offering. the woman was essentially faced with two options for survival: marriage or prostitution. Even for women who had found some form of work external to the home. prostitution at that time was also a way of supplementing low family income or the low wages paid to women. It is interesting that prostitution first became a trade exercised by women at the mass level in that period. One can say that during the manufacturing period the individual proletarian woman was born fundamentally to be a prostitute. 13
From this insoluble contradiction in the feminine condition of being an unwaged worker in a wage economyl4 sprouted not only the mass prostitution in that period but also the reoccurrence in the context of current economic policies of the same phenomenon today, but on a vaster scale, in order to generate profits for one of the most flourishing industries at the world level, the sex industry. This led the World Coalition against Trafficking in Women to present the first World Convention against Sexual Exploitation in Brussels (May 1993). The women in the Coalition also agreed to work for the adoption of the convention by the United Nations and its ratification by the national governments.
Internationally, in fact, the sexual exploitation of women by organised crime is increasingly alarming. These organisations have already brought man~ women from Africa and eastern Europe to work in Italy as prostitutes. The tricks used to cover up exploitation by prostitution – for example, wife sales by catalogue or ‘sexual tourism’ in exotic destinations – are legion and wen I I known. According to the Coalition’s charges, various countries already accept forms of ‘sexual tourism’ as a planned component in national income. Thanks to individual women and non-governmental organisations, studies of the direct government responsibility in forcing women to serve as prostitutes for soldiers during the Second World War have also begun.
Woman’s condition in capitalism is born with violence (just as the free waged worker is born with violence); it is forged on the witches’ pyres and is maintained with violence. 15 Within the current context of the population’s reproduction, the woman continues to suffer the violence of poverty at the world level (since her unpaid responsibility for the home makes her the weak contracting party in the external labour market). Because of her lack of economic resources, she also suffers the further violence of being sucked increasingly into organised prostitution. The warlike visage that development increasingly assumes simply worsens woman’s condition still further and magnifies the practice and mentality of violence against women.16 A paradigmatic case is the war rape exercised as ethnic rape in ex-Yugoslavia.
I have mentioned only some of the social macro-operations which allowed the capitalist system to ‘take off’ during the period of primitive accumulation. Just as important was a series of other operations 17 left unmentioned here for the sake of brevity, but which could also be illustrated today as aspects of the continual re-foundation on a world scale of the class relationship on which capitalist development rests. In other words the perpetuation of the stratification of workers based on separation and counterposition imposed through the sexual division of labour.
These considerations lead to one fundamental thesis: capitalist development has always been unsustainable because of its human impact. To understand the point, all one needs to do is to take the viewpoint of those who have been and continue to be killed by it. A presupposition of capitalism’s birth was the sacrifice of a large part of humanity – mass exterminations, the production of hunger and misery, slavery, violence and terror. Its continuation requires the same presuppositions. Particularly from the woman’s viewpoint, capitalist development has always been unsustainable because it places her in an unsustainable contradiction, by being an unwaged worker in a wage economy and, hence, denied the right to an autonomous existence. If we look at the subsistence economies – continually besieged, undermined and overwhelmed by capitalist development – we see that capitalist development continually deprives women of the land and water which are fundamental means of production and subsistence in sustaining the entire community.
Sounder » Tue Nov 06, 2018 6:10 am wrote:It gladdens my heart to find academics such as Jane Clare Jones that stand up for clear thinking rather than playing an indoctrinating role as does much of current academia. We can be thankful for this gender identity kerfuffle if it helps to illustrate systemic shortcomings in our collective thinking.
In short, Platonist's, pretty much all of society, want to place an ‘essence’ inside of things, whereas it may be more correct to say that an ‘essence’ is an ongoing creation that is formed and deepened through relationship.
If we stop turning everything into objects we will improve our relationships.
Imagine the pent up energy that may be released as humans learn to have positive relations.
This collective gaslighting is a desperate attempt to inhibit the development of rational thought.
https://janeclarejones.com/2018/10/18/a ... tarianism/When I first encountered trans ideology about six years ago, it never occurred to me in a million years that the academy would just roll over for this pile of cobbled-together, anti-materialist, life-denying, patriarchal, bullying bullshit and ask it to tickle its tummy. The whole thing is a reality distortion cognitive dissonance machine. It’s an exercise in mass gaslighting that relies on a concatenation of double-thinks. And I had supposed, naively it turns out, that the people who are paid to think about things, would, y’know, think.
I would like to hear from AD, just not those silly indoctrinating articles he posts.
Juno Mac, Molly Smith, November 5
Trafficking in Lies
"People are not, en masse, being snatched off the street." | The Baffler
CARCERAL FEMINISTS HOLD that if we could abolish prostitution through criminalizing clients and managers, the trafficking of women would end, as there would be no sex trade to traffic them into. As the deputy prime minister of Sweden writes, “It is very obvious to us that there is a very clear link between prostitution and trafficking . . . Without prostitution there would be no trafficking of women.” This perspective views prostitution as intrinsically more horrifying than other kinds of work (including work that is “low-status,” exploitative, or low-paid), and as such, views attempting to abolish prostitution through criminal law as a worthwhile end in itself. For those who hold these views, defending sex workers’ rights is akin to defending trafficking.
In these conversations, trafficking becomes a battle between good and evil, monstrosity and innocence, replete with heavy-handed imagery of chains, ropes, and cuffs to signify enslavement and descriptors such as nefarious, wicked, villainous, and iniquitous. This “evil” is driven by the aberrance of commercial sex and by anomalous (and distinctly racialized) “bad actors”: the individual villain, the pimp, the trafficker. A police officer summarizes this approach as: “we’ll put all these pimps, all these traffickers in prison . . . and that’ll solve the problem.” Numerous images associated with modern anti-trafficking campaigns feature a white girl held captive by a black man: he is a dark hand over her mouth or a looming, shadowy figure behind her.
Fancy-dress “pimp costumes” offer a cartoonishly racist vision of 1970s Black masculinity, while American law-enforcement unashamedly use terms such as “gorilla pimp” and link trafficking to rap music. There is a horror-movie entertainment quality to this at times: tourists can go on “sex-trafficking bus tours” to shudder over locations where they’re told sexual violence has recently occurred (“perhaps you are wondering where these crimes take place”) or buy an “awareness-raising” sandwich featuring a naked woman with her body marked up as if for a butcher. Conventionally sexy nude women are depicted wrapped in tape or packed under plastic, with labels indicating “meat.”
Conversely, the victim is often presented with her “girlishness” emphasized. Young women are styled to look pre-pubescent, in pigtails or hair ribbons, holding teddy bears. This imagery suggests another key preoccupation shared by modern and nineteenth-century anti-trafficking campaigners: innocence. A glance at the names chosen for police operations and NGOs highlights this: Lost Innocence, Saving Innocence, Freedom4Innocence, the Protected Innocence Challenge, Innocents at Risk, Restore Innocence, Rescue Innocence, Innocence for Sale.Tourists can go on “sex-trafficking bus tours” to shudder over locations where they’re told sexual violence has recently occurred.
For feminists, this preoccupation with feminine “innocence” should be a red flag, not least because it speaks to a prurient interest in young women. Conversely, LGBTQ people, black people, and deliberate prostitutes are often left out of the category of innocence, and as a result harm against people in these groups becomes less legible as harm. For example, a young Black man may face arrest rather than support; indeed, resources for runaway and homeless youth (whose realities are rather more complex than chains and ropes) were not included in the U.S. Congress’s 2015 reauthorization of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Anti-trafficking statutes often exclude deliberate prostitutes from the category of people able to seek redress, as to be a “legitimate” trafficking victim requires innocence, and a deliberate prostitute, however harmed, cannot fulfill that requirement.
There is a huge emphasis on kidnapping and, correspondingly, heroic rescues. In the wildly popular action film Taken (2008), the daughter of the hero (played by Liam Neeson) is snatched by Albanian sex traffickers while on holiday in Paris. Taken typifies many real anti-trafficking campaigns, presenting trafficking as a context-free evil, a kidnap at random that could happen to anyone, anywhere. As if to emphasize the links between Hollywood and policy, the “hero” is literally written into U.S. law—the HERO Act (which stands for the Human Exploitation Rescue Operations Act) takes funding from ICE to train U.S. military veterans to fight trafficking. (In Taken, Neeson has daughter-rescuing skills due to his time as a CIA agent.) Visitors to the website of the Freedom Challenge, an anti-trafficking NGO, are told:You crawl into bed and wrap yourself in your favorite blanket . . . You’re alone, sleeping soundly and dreaming sweetly. Suddenly, a rustling in the next room jolts you awake. You . . . tiptoe across the cold floor and crack open the door. A bag is thrown over your head. You’re carried away.
A spokeswoman for another organization told reporters that being “stolen off the street” at random by human traffickers constituted “a very big possibility” and warned people to stay in groups to avoid being kidnapped. An anxious mother’s claim that she thought her children were going to be abducted by traffickers in IKEA was shared more than 100,000 times on social media. (All this resonates with nineteenth-century white-slavery fears; in 1899, a missionary with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union reported “there is a slave trade in this country, and it is not black folks at this time, but little white girls—thirteen, fourteen, sixteen, and seventeen years of age—and they are snatched out of our arms, and from our Sabbath schools and from our Communion tables.”) Slick, shareable videos depict young girls grabbed by strangers on the street, vanishing into vans. The plot of Taken repeatedly highlights the traffickers’ nationality. After the film’s success, Neeson had to issue a statement reassuring U.S. parents that their children could go on school trips to Paris without being snatched by Albanian trafficking gangs. “The foreigner,” writes historian Maria Luddy, has always been “an international figure symbolic of the white slaver.”
The Violent Reality Of Life On The Streets For British Sex Workers
MOLLY SMITH, JUNO MAC
1 NOVEMBER 2018, 02:30
The following is an extract from Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights by Juno Mac and Molly Smith
In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2006, sex workers in the small British town of Ipswich feared for their lives. The bodies of two sex working women had been found in the previous week, and the killer was still at large. Out in the quiet streets, a local news film crew approached a young woman named Paula Clennell, one of the few who remained waiting for clients in the usual spot. When asked why she was risking her life out on the streets when a murderer was on the loose, she explained, "I have to work. I need the money."
Paula, a mother of three in her twenties, had been selling sex for some time. After her children were taken away from her, she became depressed and began using heroin. By the winter of 2006, her dependency on drugs had reached a stage where she needed an income of around five hundred pounds a day to support herself. For Paula, as for so many people in similar situations, selling sex was the only viable way to obtain this kind of money. A friend encouraged her to try indoor escorting in the hope it would be safer – as well as legal under British law – but in her situation, that level of organisation and financial overhead was unrealistic. Street work, though criminalised, meant she could sell sex whenever she wanted and return home with instant cash. She had no partner and no manager to split her money with.
“A few days after her appearance on the news, Paula vanished. By Christmas, her body had been found, along with those of four other women.
A few days after her appearance on the news, Paula vanished. By Christmas, her body had been found, along with those of four other women. Steve Wright, a local man, was later found guilty of all five murders.
Nine years later, Daria Pionko’s smiling face jumped out of news reports. Daria was just twenty-one and had moved from Poland to Britain ten months before. Daria’s mother, Lydia, described her as a kind-hearted and joyful girl who was always eager to help others. A few days before Christmas 2015, a young man named Lewis Pierre kicked Daria to death in Holbeck, Leeds, in order to steal eighty pounds from her. Daria’s body was discovered by her housemate and friend Karolina, who was also a street-based sex worker.
Daria had been working in the Holbeck 'managed area'. This is a place where street-based sex workers and clients can meet without fear of arrest, an arrangement the only one of its kind in Britain. (In most of Britain, sex workers who wait for clients in public places may be charged with 'soliciting' or 'loitering with intent to commit prostitution'. Their clients may also be charged with 'kerb crawling'.)
Daria had left the managed area with Pierre, as was compulsory: although sex workers can meet clients without fear of arrest in the Holbeck zone, sex there is not permitted – they are forced to leave the managed area and find a dark alley or patch of woodland where they can conduct business in secrecy. In doing so, sex workers risk arrest. They also, of course, are at risk of attack in these hidden spaces. When Lewis Pierre reappeared in the lens of the same CCTV camera that caught him walking away from the managed area with Daria, he had blood on his steel-capped shoes.
In responding to such horrific stories, it is easy to make them purely about male brutality and the disposability of prostitutes. These themes have resonance for us, too, as they surely do for any sex worker who has stepped into a car or a hotel room with a stranger. The emphasis on male violence as the conceptual framework through which to understand these murders allows non-prostitute women – who may themselves be survivors of male violence – to empathetically and discursively 'enter into' the experience of the prostitute.
While this empathy is welcome, there is a danger that this sands away the specifics of Paula and Daria’s lives and the lives and experiences of prostitutes as a whole, which then become draped around the figure of the 'everywoman'. As Beth Richie argues, the 'everywoman' victim/survivor concept was created in the 1970s as a strategic rhetorical move on the part of the nascent feminist movement to demand attention for the epidemic of male violence. But this has transmuted over time into something closer to a focus on the 'default woman' – and the 'default woman' is certainly not a drug user or a sex worker. Nor is she a survivor of state violence. Daria and Paula’s lives were shaped by specific realities, including the ever-present threat of criminalisation. These young women were acting rationally in a system designed to harm them at every turn.
Cops, Borders, and Carceral Feminists
"As two friends writing this book together, we strive to make the demands of our movement visible" - an excerpt from the Introduction to Revolting Prostitutes: The Flight for Sex Workers' Rights.
Sex workers demonstrate outside a parliamentary debate in London to protest discussion of a UK version of FOSTA.
Photo courtesy of Juno Mac
Sex workers are everywhere. We are your neighbours. We brush past you on the street. Our kids go to the same schools as yours. We’re behind you at the self-service checkout, with baby food and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. People who sell sex are in your staff cafeteria, your political party, your after-school club committee, your doctor’s waiting room, your place of worship. Sex workers are incarcerated inside immigration detention centres, and sex workers are protesting outside them.
Although we are everywhere, most people know little about the reality of our lives. Sex workers are subject to a lot of curiosity and discussion in popular culture, journalism, and policy. When we are visible as workers – on the street, in signposted brothels, in digital spaces – our presence provokes disquiet. We are increasingly visible as workers in political spaces, and here too our presence provokes disquiet. Many people want to stop us from selling sex, or fix the world so we don’t need to, or just ensure they don’t have to look at us. But we are notoriously hard to get rid of, at least through criminal law.
Prostitution is heavy with meaning and brings up deeply felt emotions. This is especially the case for people who have not sold sex, and who think of it in symbolic terms. The idea of prostitution serves as a lightning rod for questions about work, masculinity, class, bodies; about archetypal villainy and punishment; about who ‘deserves’ what; about what it means to live in a community; and about what it means to push some people outside that community’s boundaries. Attitudes towards prostitution have always been strongly tied to questions of race, borders, migration, and national identity in ways which are sometimes overt but often hidden. Sex work is the vault in which society stores some of its keenest fears and anxieties.
Perhaps the most difficult questions raised by prostitution involve what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society. Feminist writer Kate Millett notes feminist rhetoric suggesting ‘that all women are prostitutes, that marriage is prostitution’. Sex workers have long noted with ambivalence the interplay between prostitution as a site of metaphor and as an actual workplace. In 1977, the sex worker led collective PROS – Programme for Reform of the Law on Soliciting – wrote (in the iconic UK feminist magazine Spare Rib) that it wanted the women’s liberation movement ‘to think about the whole thing [prostitution] and discuss it, but not just use it’, explaining that the women’s movement has ‘used the word prostitutein a really nasty way – about housewives, to sum up their idea of the exploited situation of women’. They noted that this interest in the metaphorical uses of prostitute was not accompanied by much practical support for sex workers’ efforts to tackle criminalisation.
In some ways, little has changed. Contemporary feminists’ disapproval of prostitution remains unmoored from pragmatism. More political energy goes to obstructing sex work than to what is really needed, such as helping sex workers avoid prosecution, or ensuring viable alternative livelihoods that are more than respectable drudgery. As trans sex worker community leader Ceyenne Doroshow has said: ‘If you don’t want sex workers doing the work, sweetie, employ them! Employ them, have a solution!’
Our concern is for the safety and the survival of people who sell sex. Like Doroshow and PROS before us, we are ultimately focused on the practical and material rather than the symbolic or metaphorical. Approaching sex work from this perspective provokes certain questions. What conditions best enable someone who wants to quit sex work to do so? What conditions lead people to sell sex, or make sex work their only opportunity for survival? What gives a sex worker more power in negotiating with an employer, and what reduces their power? All over the world, sex workers use strategies to stay safe: working with a friend in the next room, or in a small group on the street; visibly noting down a client’s car number plate or asking for his ID, to show him that he is not anonymous. Can a sex worker call a colleague in as back-up if a client refuses to use a condom? What are the consequences of calling the police – or of being visible to them as a gaggle on the street? What does it mean for a sex worker when their client or manager is afraid of the police? Who is at risk of deportation and homelessness, and why? These are the kinds of questions – questions about people’s material conditions – that concern us, as authors and as sex workers.
Cops, Borders, and Carceral Feminists
There is a huge emphasis on policing – including border policing – as the ‘solution’ to prostitution. This is the case even among those on the left. However, it is remarkable how little you will find about the police and borders in such discussions. These omissions have led to the illusion that one can discuss the laws that govern sex work without any discussion about how such laws are implemented and by whom. But laws are not just ‘messaging’; they are what the police are permitted to do in the world.
The institutions of policing and borders may seem natural or inevitable, but they are recent inventions. Their modern forms date back only to the nineteenth century, and a look at their history illuminates their present.
In the southern United States, the first centralised and specialised policing organisations were slave patrols, whose major function was to capture and punish runaway slaves. Historians of the region argue that they ‘should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.’
In the early-nineteenth-century northern United States and in the United Kingdom, professionalised police forces were set up in response to a restive urban working class organising against bad working and living conditions. As historian David Whitehouse explains, the state needed a way to control burgeoning crowds, protests, and strikes without ‘sending in the army’, which risked creating working class martyrs and further radicalising the populace. Thus the police were designed to inflict generally non-lethal violence to protect the interests of capitalism and the state. The situation is not so different today, with police citing ‘authorisation from the president of McDonald’s’ to justify arresting restaurant workers protesting for better wages.
Today’s immigration controls are also largely a product of the nineteenth century. They rely on ideas of racial inferiority propagated by white Europeans to justify slavery and colonialism. Jewish refugees arriving in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s were met by a surge in anti-Semitism; anti-Semitic tracts claimed at the time that ‘the white slave traffic [is carried out] everywhere ... by Jews’. This racist panic led to the enactment of the Aliens Act of 1905, which contained the first recognisably modern anti-immigration measures in Britain. In the US, the first federal immigration restrictions included the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Scott Act of 1888. These targeted Chinese migrants, particularly sex workers, and devoted substantial resources to attempting to discern wives from prostitutes.
Along with racism, anxieties about commercial sex are embedded in the histories of immigration controls. These are legislative spaces where race and gender co-produceracist categories of exclusion: men of colour as traffickers; women of colour as helpless, seduc- tive, infectious; both as threats to the body politic of the nation. These histories help us see that police and border violence are not anomalous or the work of ‘bad apples’; they are intrinsic to these institutions.
The feminist movement should thus be sceptical of approaches to gender justice that rely on or further empower the police or immigration controls. Black feminists such as Angela Davis have long criticised feminist reliance on the police, and note that the police appear as the most benevolent protectors in the minds of those who encounter them the least. For sex workers and other marginalised and criminalised groups, the police are not a symbol of protection but a real manifestation of punishment and control.
Feminism that welcomes police power is called carceral feminism. The sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein, one of the first to use this phrase, uses it to describe a feminist approach that prioritises a ‘law-and- order agenda’; a shift ‘from the welfare state to the carceral state as the enforcement apparatus for feminist goals’. Carceral feminism focuses on policing and criminalisation as the key ways to deliver justice to women.
Carceral feminism has gained popularity even though the police – and the wider criminal justice system – are key perpetrators of violence against women. In the United States, police officers are disproportionately likely to be violent or abusive to their partners or children. At work, they commit vast numbers of assaults, rapes, or harassment. Sexual assault is the second-most commonly reported form of police violence in the United States (after excessive use of force), and on-duty police commit sexual assaults at more than double the rate of the general US population. Those are just the assaults that make it into the statistics: many will never dare to make a report to an abuser’s colleague. Meanwhile, the very nature of police work involves perpetrating violence: in arrests or when they collaborate in incarceration, surveillance, or deportation. In 2017, there was outrage in the United Kingdom when it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had arrested a woman on immigration charges after she came to them as a victim of rape. However, it is routine for police to threaten to arrest or deport migrant sex workers, even when the worker in question has come to them as a victim of violence.
Carceral feminism looms large in sex-trade debates. Feminist commentators pronounce that ‘we must strengthen police apparatus’; that criminalisation is ‘the only way’ to end the sex trade; and that some criminalisation can be relatively ‘benign’. Anti-prostitution feminist Catherine MacKinnon even writes with ambivalent approval of ‘brief jail time’ for prostitutes on the basis that jail can be ‘a respite from the pimps and the street’. She quotes like-minded feminists who argue that ‘jail is the closest thing many women in prostitution have to a battered women’s shelter’ and that, ‘considering the absence of any other refuge or shelter, jail provides a temporary safe haven’.
Sex workers do not share this rosy view of arrest and incarceration. One sex worker in Norway told researchers, ‘You only call the police if you think you’re going to die ... If you call the police, you risk losing everything’. Sex workers in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Siberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria all view the police as more of a threat to their safety than any other group, according to research by the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN). In 2017 in New York, a woman called Yang Song was caught up in an under-cover sting at the massage parlour at which she worked. She had been arrested for prostitution two months earlier and had recently been sexually assaulted by a man claiming to be a police officer. (It remains unclear as to whether he was.) When the police returned, looking to arrest her again for prostitution, she fell, jumped, or was pushed from a fourth-floor window. Yang Song died.
On Speaking and Being Heard
Who are prostitutes? Ideas seem to lurch between contradictory stereotypes, perhaps unsurprisingly for a group more often spoken about than to. Much as immigrants are seen as lazy scroungers while somehow also stealing the jobs of ‘decent people’, sex workers are simultaneously victim and accomplice, sexually voracious yet helpless maidens.
When our society attempts to reconcile these wildly contradictory expectations, sex workers are asked to produce a spokesperson who ‘represents the community’. This is impossible – just as there can be no one ‘representative’ token woman who can stand in every time ‘women’s issues’ are on the table. One sex worker may be nothing like another in their identity, circumstance, health and habits. From the single mum with a weekday job in a Scottish massage parlour, to the young Cambodian bar hostess keen to travel to Europe, to the group of black trans sex workers forming political collectives in Cape Town, to the undocumented Nigerian migrant hustling on the streets of Stockholm, across the global north and south, across an age spectrum that spans many decades, sex workers are unimaginably diverse in race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and disability. To achieve anything like real representation, this book would need thousands of authors.
Many sex worker activists find their testimonies are dismissed in feminist spaces on the grounds that, by virtue of being activists, they are not representative; that they speak from an exceptional, privileged and anomalous perspective. Questions over whether a sex worker is ‘representative’ become recursive: in their claimed eagerness to hear from ‘the voiceless’, anti-prostitution campaigners position anyone they can hear from as by definition someone who no longer needs to be listened to. This is, of course, not a logic that anti-prostitution campaigners apply to their own voices.
The authors of this book could certainly not be described as representative of all people selling sex. Both of us are cisgender and white, born and raised in the global north, working in a country where the sex work we do is less criminalised, with middle-class educations and the access to power and capital that brings. It is not by accident that opportunities to speak on television, publish articles, and be appointed to salaried activist positions come to us or people like us. Just as in any radical movement, a select few activists often receive unfair credit for doing the same work that more marginalised sex workers, who cannot risk being public in their activism, are doing alongside them.
The existence of this book – which is written in English and which focuses on the UK, where we live and work – itself illustrates a way in which some modes of discussion are legitimised by society, while others go unrecognised. The service provision and community building created by marginalised, grass-roots communities is sometimes relatively unknown. These ephemeral forms of resistance can be incredibly joyful or life-saving, and the memories of them invaluable to a movement. On the other hand, books, blogs and policy documents are forms of advocacy that make easy passage into history. A book gives us a substantial amount of space to critically explore the sometimes painful aspects of sex work politics – space and nuance not afforded to people taking two-minute turns on a megaphone at a rally. This book is forged from our perspective, and our perspective is shaped by our privileges. However, we strive to include a range of sex worker voices in our writing – from triumphant, to reflexive, to critical, to mournful. All these forms of political speech are valid.
Sex workers sometimes pay a high price for political speech. In 2004, Argentinian trade union activist Sandra Cabrera was shot dead in her home in retribution for her work challenging police corruption and police violence directed at sex workers. Her murder remains officially unsolved. Kabita Roy, an activist with a sex worker trade union in India, was murdered in the union’s office in Kolkata in 2016. In January 2018, three prominent sex worker activists were murdered in Brazil. In 2011, criminal gangs murdered the president of a migrant sex worker trade union in Peru. Sex worker Angela Villón Bustamante, a colleague of the murdered trade union- ist, said, ‘It’s not in the Mafia’s economic interests that sex workers organise.’
Nor is the high cost of political speech evenly distributed among sex workers. Precarious immigration status, fear of eviction and police violence, and potential loss of child custody mean that migrant and indigenous workers, the insecurely housed, and parents (particularly mothers) all face higher stakes when organising or speaking up than sex workers who have secure long-term tenancies, hold a passport or citizenship, or have no children. Cisgender sex workers are safer from these risks than transgender sex workers; white sex workers are safer than sex workers of colour.
Nonetheless, even as sex workers with relative power, demonstrating that we can speak for ourselves is often a gruelling task. The ‘prostitution debate’ is in many ways shaped far more by invisible actors – such as the media staffers who write article headlines and choose the photo that will accompany an article, or local government workers who process planning applications – than by anyone who actually sells sex. Even the most privileged sex workers take a considerable risk by becoming publicly known, so online anonymity is a vital tool of diverse speech. Yet this anonymity is often used to discredit us as nefarious ‘sex industry lobbyists.’ Websites where sex workers have anonymously connected with the public, with each other and with clients are rapidly being dismantled. As this book went to press, US president Donald Trump signed into law a bill that seeks to stop sex workers from communicating online, with disastrous implications not only for privacy and political advocacy, but for sex workers’ safety and survival, too.
We write this book with thoughtfulness about where we stand, but also with a sense of satisfaction that you will hold in your hand a book about prostitution written by prostitutes. This is, unfortunately, all too rare. Sex workers – not journalists, politicians, or the police – are the experts on sex work. We bring our experiences of criminalisation, rape, assault, intimate partner abuse, abortion, mental illness, drug use, and epistemic violence with us in our organising and our writing. We bring the knowledge we have developed through our deep immersion in sex worker organising spaces – spaces of mutual aid, spaces that are working towards collective liberation. As two friends writing this book together, we strive to make the demands of our movement visible.
The man responsible for the killing spree in Thika, Kenya, was apprehended in 2010. He confessed and claimed that he would have continued killing until he’d reached a hundred prostitutes: ‘I managed 17 and there were 83 to go.’ Aisha, a sex worker in Thika, who with her friends protested in the streets during the frightening time before he was caught, says, ‘We wanted people to know that we call ourselves sex workers because it is the wheat our families depend on.’ Even in the face of such overwhelming vulnerability, they openly identified themselves as sex workers in public for the first time, with bright red T-shirts and loud chanting. As one sex worker at the protest remarked, ‘The community should know we exist. And there’s no going back.’
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