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Photo: Clare O'Shannessy
This is a version of the talk given by Denise Thompson at 'That's Radical Feminism' the Spinifex 25th anniversary event held in Melbourne, 9 Sept 2016.
I've been thinking about how to theorise masculinity for many years, not because I’m interested in men as such, but because I want to understand the kind of the human beings that do the kinds of things that men do, and what it is that motivates them. But I’m only interested in masculinity as a personality characteristic to the extent that it is characteristic of men who embrace the meanings and values of male domination, because there’s something more than individuals involved. There’s some kind of imperative driving the individuals. They don’t come out of nowhere, they don’t get together and collude in their murderous mayhem. There must be something else separate and apart from individuals, something that motivates them to commit the same forms of violence even though they are not personally acquainted with each other. That ‘something else’ is the culture of male supremacy.
So my question is two-fold: what kinds of men are made by and make male supremacy, and how does that affect the social world we all live in? I’m interested in masculinity primarily as a cultural imperative, but also as a personality characteristic of those individual men who embrace the culture. As culture, it’s both individual and social. It’s how men are made under conditions of male supremacy, but it also shapes and structures institutions and affects the lives of all of us. We can’t avoid it by avoiding interpersonal interactions with men (or, in the case of men, avoiding its worst manifestations). As meaning and value, that is, as culture, masculinity permeates the social world throughout, structuring institutions, creating the world-taken-for-granted, and presenting itself as a harmless ‘difference’ while disguising its true nature as the prerogative of men made powerful (including the power of physical violence) by a system whose reason for existence is to do exactly that.
Eventually I realised that the type of masculinity I was looking for is characterised by an overweening sense of entitlement at others’ expense and such a crazed dissociation from reality that they are able to ignore the damage they do. That is the kind of men bred by male supremacy, but it is also how social reality is structured—through entitlement for some privileged men, disentitlement for hundreds of millions of people (and ultimately, everyone), and the insanity of believing that you can base social arrangements on the belief that only men count as ‘human’. There is male entitlement whenever men amass wealth endlessly at the expense of most of the world’s population, whenever men demand and get sexual access to the bodies of women and children, whenever they wage war, bomb hospitals and massacre civilians, whenever they pick up guns and shoot random bystanders, whenever they murder ‘their’ wives and children, whenever they use women’s bodies to supply them with children (as in so-called ‘surrogacy’), whenever they demand to be acknowledged as ‘women’, whenever they use their power to harass, deprive or punish the innocent.
Neo-liberalism is the political aspect of male entitlement, with its hatred of government initiatives for the common good, and its vicious treatment of the people who fail to thrive under the system that bloats their own self-importance, whether those people are the unemployed, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, or women trying to escape from violent men. All of these are also examples of dissociation, of a crazed detachment from a common humanity and even from reality itself.
At the same time, it must be said that male supremacy is not the whole of society, that human decency is possible even in the midst of the dehumanisation of male supremacy. It must be possible, or the human race would have ceased to exist long ago, so lethal is the system of male power.
I’ve finished writing a book-length manuscript on the subject of masculinity. It’s divided into two parts, the first of which sets the scene, while the second investigates capitalism as the modern form of male power. In Part I, I draw out a number of strands of what I believe is involved in the masculinity I am referring to. I discuss: the ‘masculinities’ literature and its limitations for this project; notions of culture and symbolic violence; right-wing discourse as the ideological justification for male supremacy; the alternative to male domination, which I call ‘genuine humanity’; and what is involved in masculine entitlement and dissociation.
Part II discusses capitalism because wealth is the modern form of male power now that such forms as royalty, aristocracy, chieftainship, etc. have vanished or become irrelevant. It discusses the fact that wealth is owned by men (and by women attached to men), and then goes on to discuss also a number of capitalism’s standard operating procedures, namely: ‘primitive accumulation’ or ‘accumulation by dispossession’; ‘inequality’ (which I argue is more accurately called domination); tax havens; an interesting economic framework called Modern Money Theory and its implications for a genuinely human economy; poverty and recent claims that ‘extreme poverty’ has been reduced; and the finance industry (insofar as I can understand it). I also briefly discuss the question of whether capitalism can be redeemed (no, not unless its nature as male supremacy is acknowledged, and then it might not look like capitalism).
I’ve also been investigating a number of other institutions for the extent to which they display the characteristics of masculinity I am talking about, namely, arrogant male entitlement at others’ expense and dissociation from common humanity. Those other institutions are: surrogacy; transsexualism; fascism; and US ‘welfare reform’. But once I had written up capitalism, there wasn’t enough room left in the book for anything else. The sections on surrogacy, transsexualism and fascism are largely finished, and I’m currently writing up a final version of the US ‘welfare reform’ material.
Denise Thompson is the author of Reading Between the Lines: A Lesbian Feminist Critique of Feminist Accounts of Sexuality
A critical analysis of feminist writings on sexuality from a radical feminist and lesbian feminist standpoint. Critical of libertarianism, Denise Thompson provides a detailed analysis of the mechanisms of domination and the ways in which feminist theory is marginalised. A must-read for any serious feminist thinker.
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The problem is male sexual entitlement and male violence. The Nordic Model is the only model that recognises the actual problem.— Sabrinna
Hi, my name is Sabrinna. I’m originally from Melbourne but moved to New Zealand when I was 14, so most my talk will centre around NZ. I worked for too long, in too many ways; street, massage parlour, bars, hotels, escort agencies and brothels and in too many places; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, parts of the West Coast of the South Island, Brisbane and Sydney.
I also volunteered for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) on and off over a 25 year span pre and post the Prostitution Reform Bill, passed into law becoming the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. During my time at NZPC, I helped with the consultation process to write the PRA.
Under prohibition, ‘massage parlours’ rented rooms inclusive of a massage that the women were not paid for. Women negotiated their own money. Solicitation was the illegal part of that transaction and word games used to get around solicitation laws. These solicitation laws only applied to prostituted persons, not the Johns.
The streets rarely had pimps in NZ. Women negotiated their own money and used different word games to get around solicitation laws.
Escort agencies sold all-inclusives that only stated suitable attire for a date, company and the choice of a fantasy, e.g. ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Wife’s Sister’, ‘Daughter’ etc. No sexual services were overtly included. Women got paid a small fee and negotiated extras.
Police violence was rampant, using the threat of a criminal record. Women offered sex and money for a free pass.
There were clear boundaries on safe sex practices that were ‘policed’ by other workers. Kissing was an absolute no-no. No condom was considered absolutely gross and dental dams got used. Workers who broke with these practices were shunned from within the trade.
Did Decriminalisation Work?
Decriminalisation changed all this.
Massage Parlours became brothels and set the prices through ‘all-inclusives’. They left the girls to deal with the fallout of men expecting bareback, anal, passionate etc. ‘All-inclusive’ is not really all inclusive but of course, johns expect it to be. Where once men paid per/service, now they can have sex as many times as they can within the time frame booked.
I’ll note here that 20 years ago I was getting paid more than current prostituted people in NZ. Inflation has ballooned during this time, so a dollar then and a dollar now are not nearly similar. That is the result of giving power to the pimps. They’re usually men and they look after men’s interests.
The aforementioned expectations of ‘all-inclusives’ have become routine. Through doubles and bi-doubles I saw the difference first hand; unsafe sex for a price. The more one is prepared to do, the more jobs, and the more money; though still less in terms of buying power than when safe sex practices were an absolute.
Police brutality did cease, though helpfulness is very much at the discretion of individual police officers. As far as I am aware there has been no change in reporting violence since decriminalisation.
One place I worked for mysteriously had a bunch of Thai girls move in above the brothel, none of whom spoke English. None of whom ever exited the brothel for any reason, and all of whom had to ask for food, tampons, cigarettes and any other expenses. These were then purchased for them. I’m not blind enough to think they were on holiday. It looked like trafficking to me. [Jade, a NZ contributor to Prostitution Narratives, relates a similar account. Both worked for the same brothel owners – Ed.].
How Pimps Were Kept Safe
Originally the goal of decriminalisation was to firmly place the power into the hands of women. We wanted decriminalisation of all wanted parties, criminalisation of all unwanted parties. This proved too difficult because it isn’t clear what separates a brothel owner from a pimp, other than location. I’m now convinced that a brothel owner is a pimp.
Also, what are security staff doing, if not, ‘living off the earnings’. The avoidance of these words is what kept the pimps safe and decriminalised. The biggest difficulty is partners, whether married or not. A partner may be deemed to be living off the earnings by simply living with a woman working in prostitution. Yet, ‘the boyfriend grooming tactic’ is well known and in high use. How to differentiate a pimp grooming a woman and an actual partner is one that needs very careful and intense analysis in the writing of any Nordic Model legal structure.
When the PRA was passed, it was agreed that the law would not, under any circumstances be revisited for a period of ten years. At the end of the ten year period, it would be assessed to see if it did or did not work, with regular assessments and statistics being gathered during that decade. The pressure to ensure it worked was huge because to return to full criminalisation was the only alternative offered. In New Zealand there really wasn’t any great opposition to decriminalisation beyond those who wished to keep it under prohibition.
This meant that every problem encountered had to be dealt with by helping agencies using the new legal structure. It also meant that any huge unresolvable problems needed to be minimised and/or buried. So, the unsafe sex negotiations I had seen and been expected to undertake myself and thus fight off, were not recorded. We all knew it was happening but no-one spoke about it. For the right of it or wrong of it, this was a forced situation on those in the industry and on all helping agencies.
The Harm Minimisation model has been and remains the basis of NZPC policy. The first thing that must be noted is that the name itself automatically admits inherent harm in the industry. So, this is one area that all sides of the debate agree upon; there is unavoidable inherent harm within the industry that can at best, be minimised but not eliminated.
Under decriminalisation the power went to the pimps and johns despite that never being the goal. I respect the people I worked with at NZPC because I know they, like me, wanted everyone in the sex trade to have legal protections, power of conditions and negotiation, and a way to be as safe as possible. It’s been very hard to admit we failed but I feel morally obligated to do so. I still want the original goal and I believe the Nordic Model offers the best chance of making that happen.”
The Nordic Model is the only model that criminalises the John. I believe this is the pinnacle reason for opposition. Who does it criminalise? Men, average men, celebrity men, young men, old men, male politicians, husbands, sons, fathers, uncles, neighbours, men of good standing, men already criminals etc. Using women for sexual gratification under any circumstance is so normalised in society that many people have trouble seeing this as anything other than an attack on men and male sexuality.
What is rendered invisible is women. Prostituted persons, most of whom are women, are rarely, if ever, referred to as women. Usually called sex workers, prostitutes, whores, street walkers, escorts, ladies of the night, hookers and many other titles; all designed to ‘other’ the women in these industries. They’re not like you, your friends, your family, the people you know. But actually we are. In this way, women become invisible and replaced by ‘object’.
Harm Rendered Invisible
We know that abuse increases risk but we do not fully know why. We know that amount of sex makes no difference. The difference lies specifically in abuse. This is quite a recent area of psychology but it’s a significant one in looking at prostitution. Again, it’s not the amount of sex that needs to be looked at but the abuse within the industry. This is real harm. It is also invisible harm.
The long term problems rarely appear in the harm minimisation model because long-term harm often appears, or is noticed and diagnosed after a woman has left the industry. So, she no longer appears in the statistics. This is part of the industry’s abuse; to take years and years of her life, in return for money that has more hands dipping in to take a cut than any other job ever does, and to follow it up by dumping her on her ass, alone and impoverished with no support and more problems than she entered with. (Some of the physical and mental harms to women are documented by Melissa Farley here).
Women enter the sex trade for money and the trade makes promises of loads of cash that it never delivers. Ironically, the sex trade perpetuates the very poverty the woman is trying to escape.
For those of us who have exited, we face hidden discriminations. Huge gaps on the CV, outdated and unused qualifications with high student debts, vast experience with no way of demonstrating it on job applications, fear of being outed to family, friends and potential employers.
I have been too afraid to tell a counsellor for fear that the rapport we’d built would be destroyed in a single sentence. Our intimate relationships are compromised. Do we tell or remain silent? Does he or she have a right to know? If I do tell, will it become common knowledge? Will it be placed on a revenge porn site? Will they use it every time we disagree? Whore! This is stigma.
Stigma has not left under decriminalisation or under legalisation. It exists no less strongly now than it did in the bad old days of prohibition. It’s my personal belief that stigma cannot be legislated away. It exists because no one wants their baby girl to do that. No one wants their mum doing that. No one wants their partner doing that. No amount of legislation will change this instinctual response to abuse. We want to protect ‘me and mine’.
The services we need to exit
I’m fighting for the rights of people in prostitution to have more power while in it and more options when leaving it. I’m also fighting to protect the next generation from being lured into the sex trade by glamourised and false images.
Harm minimisation or harm reduction focuses only on the industry itself. We need to start focusing on the individuals in the sex trade. Irrespective of legislation I’d like to see non-religious, unbiased, non-judgemental exit services across Australia and New Zealand. A place where a woman can go and say,
‘This is where I’m at.’
‘This is where I want to be.’
‘These are the blocks in the way.’
The service will then provide options to help remove the obstacles. The woman makes her decisions. No decision is made for her, and no decision she makes is up for debate or judged; even the decision to return to prostitution or remain in prostitution. That is my definition of agency and empowerment.
Male sexual entitlement is the problem
I hate online debating with the people who defend all sex as positive irrespective of context. They tell me that the real harm is stigma.
I remember when a street walker was run over by an unhappy John, backed over, run over a second time, backed over a second time, and run over a final time. I remember the ambulance turned up, pronounced her dead and left her body on the road. I remember the press taking photos. A couple came into NZPC. They found out their daughter died by reading about a dead prostitute without a name in their local paper.
Stigma is the problem? Stigma does pose problems but it is not the real violence. When the ‘sex-pozzers’ say they’re being triggered by violent language, and stigma is the worst of the worst, I feel like screaming. That is not violence; not even close.
John smashes his wife’s head against the home wall and then storms out of the house. He jumps on a train and tells an 11 year old girl she looks sexy in her school uniform. He buys sex and bashes a woman’s head against the brothel wall. Society tells us he hurt his wife due to his poor childhood. Society tells us he was only complimenting that girl. Society tells us he harmed a prostitute because of stigma. Bullshit.
Male sexual entitlement taught him he owned his wife. Male sexual entitlement taught him public space is male space and females are his to comment upon. Male sexual entitlement taught him that sex, bought, given or taken is his right as a man. The problem is male sexual entitlement and male violence. The Nordic Model is the only model that recognises the actual problem.
First published on http://melindatankardreist.com/
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Invisible Women of Prehistory: Three million years of peace, six thousand years of war by Judy Foster with Marlene Derlet.
INVISIBLE WOMEN OF PREHISTORY: THREE MILLIONS YEARS OF PEACE, SIX THOUSAND YEARS OF WAR is a work of solid research and inspiring ideas and writing. The subtitle for the book captivates the reader with its stark truth. The massive span of matriarchal living has contributed many more years of peace to the earth than the relatively small but brutal years of patriarchal oppression and war. Having stated this, the authors then go to great lengths to convince us of their argument.
This is a wonderful work of research which is like reading a detective novel, or even more appropriate, as if listening to our matriarchal elders telling us their oral stories throughout time. As if our ancestors could come alive and speak to us of their existences. The authors unravel layers and layers of former research and theories and posit many illuminating theories of other scholars.
Paying homage to the original theories and work of Maria Gimbutas, the text takes us on a fascinating journey of discovery and re-discovery. It does not shrink from the task of showing that there has been much bias in past research and in suggesting new theories and supporting these with evidence.
This includes what they call “intangible evidence” in their chapter on the role of Language, Oral Transmission and Myth [pp27-41]. I found this one of the most interesting chapters of the entire text. For most people raised in indigenous cultures, there is little debate over the importance of this approach. But all too many scholars in the past have either ignored or misconstrued the vital importance of oral storytelling and the transmission of history by these means. Some had other agendas and were threatened by this approach. The current book addresses this issue and convinces even the most wary reader of the importance of taking this area of cultural history seriously.
This is later summed up in the section regarding Plato's philosophy [p147] where it is clearly stated that the art of writing was taken over by the patriarchy “as their secret or sacred knowledge”, thus leaving women, foreigners, indigenous people and others of lower caste or outcast cultures as “outsiders”.
When you consider the history of print up until the mid twentieth century, despite some outstanding work by women being printed, this hold on the power of writing and later the printing press was so powerful that it barred all but a small minority of women from getting into print. It also served to keep oral and indigenous stories and women's stories and histories out of the mainstream. This is just one very powerful example of the massive weight given to that which is favoured, written, in print and shows the old adage that he or she who owns the press, runs the press.
I mention this because the book is just one from the vast scope of quality books that Spinifex Press has produced over many decades that encourages readers to question what books they are being fed and why, what research is on offer and why. In fact, they urge us to question everything and not assume that what is in print or in favour is necessarily the truth.
Reading this book provides a kaupapa or reason for the kind of work Spinifex Press publishes. It shows us, over centuries, how a world can swivel on its axis from one way of working to another, so much so that many do not stop to question its underlying assumptions. Beyond the wonderful and revealing detail of this book, is the request asking each of us, as readers, to delve deeper into our assumptions, based upon the revelation of evidence provided, and think about human lives from prehistory until now, uncovering the assumptions that so many world changing decisions have been based upon. This is the heart of this book, its core. And it is wildly successful in getting the reader on side.
Judy Foster studied at Monash University and taught art. Her artistic vision enlivens the research of this book. Marlene Derlet taught at the Monash Centre for Indigenous Studies and is a linguist with a background in anthropology and sociology. These authors come from diverse backgrounds and this diversity is generously reflected in the wide scope of the text.
Despite their academic backgrounds, the authors also have the gift of making complex research and ideas accessible to the reader. You become immersed in this book as you might in any good novel or work of research about which you are passionate. Their ability to weave words from multiple perspectives and then back this up with evidence is impressive.
The Timeline of Human Prehistory at the beginning of the book is very useful for readers not familiar with the overview and sums up the main developments well. Compressing such a vast amount of research into this summary is a feat in itself. But it leads the reader gently into the book and makes us eager to discover more. Throughout the book, the timelines are a fantastic and useful guide to refer back to while reading and afterwards when reflecting on the ideas and research.
Sometimes I would have liked even more detail. For instance, the illustration of the “Seed/vulva symbols/Old Europe” , p28, is clearly a depiction of the earliest symbols for the cowrie shell. The cowrie shell was both an African [and later Pacific] system of coins and also the word for the vulva. How the vulva came to be valued as an erotic symbol and also as coins could be an interesting exploration. Does this show that the vulva was a system of sexual/slavery currency or indeed as valuable as coins? Does this make us reassess the true symbolism of the vulva? And from whose perspective? The illustration leads to so many possibilities. It is also the representation of the turtle shell and head in Hawai'ian ki'i pohaku or rock drawings but alas this is not explored in the book in this regard.
Yet these are very minor issues. What the book does provide more than compensates for any small questionings I may have. In fact, it is testament to the power of this book that it does get us thinking further about the language, symbolism and stories that it reveals and presents to us on so many levels.
The scope of this book outshines so many others in the field. It ranges across a wide variety of cultures and stories and has a richness and depth that few books of research in this genre have where such skill is employed to bring this vast knowledge to the reader in an original and enquiring way, wanting us all to know more.
It is not possible or fair to attempt to summarise such a rich text in a such a short review. But I predict that this tome will become a classic in its field and be read for many centuries to come. It may be added to by feminist scholars of the future and may be honoured as offering the kind of ground-breaking ideas that indeed the work of Maria Gimbutas' research did in her time.
The last sections on the New Worlds [including Australia and Oceania] add a dimension so often missing from European texts. This is refreshing and exciting, and it is to be hoped that this will be extended in a new edition or perhaps a sequel?
This is not just a book for scholars in the field but a book for all of us to enjoy and debate. I know I will delve back into it time and time again as it offers so many ideas - enough to keep us going for decades to come. I am grateful not only to the hard work of these authors but to Spinifex Press for publishing and supporting such research into print in the twenty first century. The phrase that stays with us long after the book has been finished is: three million years of peace, six thousand years of war. It's certainly worth pondering as the first Black President of the USA, Barack Obama, [who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize], teeters on the brink of invading Syria as I am writing this review. What kind of Peace is this when the majority of the world wants to find an alternative solution to the problem? Maybe our women ancestors could have advised him wisely? Maybe they still will? This book shows us we can always have hope, based on the wisdom of our elders. That we should never give up hope, no matter what.
Dr Cathie Dunsford
Dr Cathie Dunsford is the author a the Cowrie series of novels and Director of Dunsford Publishing Consultants. She lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Orkney Islands.
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An Introduction to Town of Love by Anne Ostby
First of all, thank you for inviting me here today. I am grateful and awed to be in the company of such a spectacular line-up of women to talk about an issue that pains and outrages all of us:human trafficking.
I do not have the academic expertise in the field that my fellow speakers have. I’m an author, and can only use the one tool I have at my disposal: my writing. In my novel Town of Love I’m telling the story of some of the most underpriviliged and vulnerable women in the world, hoping that their tales will touch the readers as they touched me, and even more importantly: that they will initiate action. Because everyone who refuses to accept that human beings are bought and sold, is an activist in the battle against trafficking.
From the first little spark of an idea and until the book met its readers, it was a long journey, spanning several continents. It started in Iran, moved on to India, to Spain where the bulk of the first draft was written, to my native Norway, and to Fiji, where I lived when the book was first published in Norway in 2012. It was a journey of patience, of pain, and exasperation, but also one of hope, of strength and of love.
I was asked by a journalist some time back what I had learned from this journey, and had to think for a minute before I could answer. Because I learned so much. And the more I learned, the more I discovered that I didn’t know. The deeper I dug into the flesh trade and the mechanisms behind it, the more I realized how complex its cruelty is. Prostitution is a gender issue, but it is also a social issue - in India a caste issue - and it’s a poverty issue. I learned a lot about all those things. But what I learned most of all, and what I ended up responding to the journalist, was that what I learned, was the true meaning of human dignity. That human dignity has nothing to do with where you come from or what your surroundings are, but with how you hold yourself, and what you deem to be right and just.
So how did the journey start? It started as a chance meeting in a Tehran garden, six years ago. I lived in Iran at the time, and my husband had an Indian colleague. This man was married, but his wife was never around, and I had heard something about her running an NGO back home in India. But she visited Tehran now and then, and during one of those visits I met Ruchira Gupta, who indirectly was the initiatior of the book. She has founded and runs the anti-trafficking NGO Apne Aap (meaning ”Self-help” in Hindi), which has helped thousands of women get out of a life of violence and rape, and for this work she has received all sorts of international prizes, she is an amazing woman. The more I listened to her, the more I wanted to know, and when all of a sudden she said, ”Why don’t you come visit me in India and see what we do?”, I thought ”Why not?”
And so the journey commenced. One trip to Bihar, which is in northern India, on the border to Nepal, led to several more. Because it became very evident to me that once I had met, and listened to the stories of Meena, Fatimah, Anwari, and the other Nat women whose tales are the base of this novel, I couldn’t just get up, turn my back to them and take my leave. So I came back, again and again, spent hours and hours, days and weeks talking with the women, establishing trust and friendship, and I knew I wanted to tell their story.
I have asked myself many times, Why the stories touch me so profoundly? Haven’t we all read countless stories about trafficking, gruelling tales of women being forced into selling their bodies?
But I know exactly why. I am the mother of three daughters. And in the Nat caste, this is what broke my heart: that the trade is inter-generational and that the Nat daughters are born into this. From when they are small, they are primed to take ”passengers” which is what they call the customers: they are raised to take over what their mothers, grandmothers, and older sisters do. They are reared to be the breadwinners of their families, it is being instilled in them from childhood that ”this is your responsibility: to feed your families.” Among the Nat, this is their livelihood, ”this is what we do”. Let me briefly explain why: The Nat caste, which has a very low status in Indian society used to be travelling people. They were known to perform dancing and acrobatics, to do small odd jobs of all kinds, and for prostituting their women. For the last hundred years or so, they have for various reasons become more stationary, and with their low status in a caste-conscious Indian society, mostly end up in very poor circumstances. And the one element that they have kept from their previous ways of earning a living, is prostituting their women. In the village that I have come to know, this was the number one source of income: the male head of the family would prostitute several of the women under his roof: his daughters, daughters-in-law, his sisters, his wife. It all happens in the home, very openly and visibly, and is what has earned the slum village its name and my book's title: ”Prem Nagar” or Town of Love.
So isn’t this their ”culture”? Isn’t this a tradition that we should leave well enough alone?
I think we hide much ugliness behind the word ”culture”. Culture is created, something that has been made into a tradition. But just because something has existed for a long time, doesn’t necesarily mean it’s good. Think about what we for so long used to conceal behind the euphemism ”domestic matters”. Today, we call it by its right name: abuse. Sure, it has existed for a long time, but that doesn’t make it right.
This is not a part of the Nat ”culture” that we should ”respect” and leave alone. Because every single time I asked one of the Nat mothers one very simple question, the answer was always the same. Whenever I asked one of them ”What dreams do you have for your daughter?” the answer was always and invariably: ”I want a different life for her.” Not ”I want her to pass on the Nat tradition”. "No - ”I want a different life for her.”
And this, the inter-generational aspect, was what hit me so hard. I couldn’t comprehend it: how it must be, how it must feel, to give birth to a baby daughter, and know, holding that tiny body in your arms, that this is going to be her future?
So I knew I wanted to write this story.
I am not Indian. But I have daughters. You, too, have daughters. I come from a country where trafficking exists, where rape exists. It exists in Australia, too, it exists everywhere. Violence against women, including sexual violence, is highlighted and exposed in the media more than ever, and it should be. 2 million women are being trafficked every year, this is a global issue. That’s why I think that the story of Tamanna, Rupa and the others, although set in India, in a particular caste in a particular village, needs to be told.
I chose to write a novel and not a documentary. This I did because I wished to be able to focus on the specific aspects of the story that I wanted to highlight. That’s why I’m writing in my introductory Author’s Note that ”some of these houses I have actually visited, others I have not. Some of the stories lie extremely close to the truth, others do not… But everything that is important in this book, is true. That human beings are bought and sold; that young girls are kidnapped and hidden away; that children are assaulted, abused, and raped …. That those who reap the benefits of the human flesh trade, with its violence and brutality, mostly walk free… But this story also finds a glimmer of hope for the women who walk the streets of the Town of Love …. A hope brought by those who care… Those who enter the rooms of Prem Nagar, push back the curtains, share the pain … Like Tamanna and Fauzia in the story, there are those who reclaim the governance of their own lives and their own bodies. The hope of this book is that there will be more of them.”
The title of this event is Contagious Justice, and I believe this is how we make justice contagious: by talking about it, standing up for it, helping every woman achieve it. And by never accepting anything less than human dignity for all.
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The Politics of Patriarchy is a timely addition to our Spinifex Press blog as we prepare to launch Invisible Women of Prehistory, a revolutionary book that challenges our preconceptions of the past.
The Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s led to all sorts of intellectual pursuits, one of which was to ask whether patriarchy had been around for ever. Was it universal and inevitable?
We fairly quickly understood that it hadn't been and lots of women became engaged in reading archeology, world mythology, comparative religion, linguistics and history. I was one of them and in 1979 I decided to enrol in a PhD in Philosophy which I described as a 'study of belief systems in the ancient world'. At the same time I began studying Ancient Greek. The difficulty I faced was that instead of reading relevant material I was sent off to read Saussure (on semiotics – a foundational thinker for postmodernists which deals with the 'science' of symbols) and others. I first heard the word postmodern during this time and that was where I was being pushed. I did not know what destruction postmodernism would wreak on radical feminism. I read some of this material, felt frustrated, angry and more and didn't quite know why. I ditched my PhD and kept going with Greek where eventually I wrote a short thesis on the Homeric Hymns to Demeter and Aphrodite (and in these you can see how the transition to patriarchy was effected). I was duly punished and pushed out of Classics too.
What happened in the early 1980s, along with the push to postmodernism, was another push in archaeology. Based in Cambridge (England) this school became known as the processural school of archaeology. It is set up to counter the ideas of archaeologists who were really getting places in terms of looking at how women in ancient societies lived. Among their key targets were Marija Gimbutas and James Mellaart – and the crowd of radical feminists who were reading this work and drawing our own conclusions (dangerous stuff). The processural archaeologists claim to use 'scientific method'. But what this scientific method does is strip away the context in which archaeological finds were made (which is what Gimbutas and Mellaart and others were doing). 'Processural' sounds almost feminist doesn't it? But it isn't. They have been known to sue scholars who try to publish work that goes against their ideas.
So here are two areas that feminists were doing great work in. Learning to understand symbols; and finding out about women in ancient societies. Each of these areas needs the other. But under patriarchal scholarship they are stripped of context, stripped of meaning and turned into decontextualised 'science' (fake science in fact).
So instead of writing a PhD I went home and wrote my novel, The Falling Woman. Sometimes you just have to get out of academia and find other ways to do things. The scholars like Gimbutas and Mellaart were attacked relentlessly (they are not the only ones but amongst the most attacked).
The other thing that happened is that anything to do with women was turned into a 'cult' (patriarchy is very good at distorting and renaming). When women are in cults they become either 'fertility' goddesses or prostitutes (the crusty old idea of mother or whore). I've recently started learning Latin and am rereading about the Vestal Virgins. These were powerful women and a kind of memory (but watered down) of earlier times. They were Virgins in the Marilyn Frye sense of Wilful Virgin – not the virginal Victorian type. In other societies these Virgins were called temple prostitutes; they were made slaves to the new patriarchal ideology.
So now we have another layer again beginning in the early 80s of no longer talking about prostitutes (other than radical feminists doing so) but 'sex work'. It is no accident that these forces came to bear at around the same time because radical feminist ideas were really taking off. Some were a bit popularised, some were not for the fainthearted, but such success has to be countered.
What we were left with after postmodernism, processural archaeology and sex work advocates had ploughed through was just a few strands. In the one corner, the goddess movement, too much depoliticised but an important repository for the knowledge; in another people like Marija Gimbutas were being accused of being Nazi sympathisers because she writes at times about the swastika that appears on some ancient artefacts (what isn't said is that the swastika is an ancient Indian auspicious symbol meaning luck (in Sanskrit it also means a poet and a cake!) which was appropriated by Hitler, just as Mussolini appropriated the double axe as his symbol. A dehistoricised view of the world can ignore the fact that the latest versions of these symbols (ie the Nazi and Fascist renditions) are not any reflection of ancient symbolic meanings.
Women all around the world have been made to pay under patriarchy, through thousands of years – BUT that does not mean that patriarchy is universal – it has not been around for ever – nor is it inevitable. We can change – and the world can change.
I can't help by finishing with one of best quotes I know from the wonderful Monique Wittig in her novel The Guérillères:
"There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember … You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or failing that, invent.''
I take this seriously and try to find the words, to create ways to understand our own words and meanings; and to do whatever I can to remember: in the Dalyesque sense of putting back together the dismembered bodies of women and the dismembered knowledge, languages, memories and stories of women.
First published:Liberation Collective
Susan Hawthorne is a publisher, a poet and a political activist, blogging at http://susanscowblog.blogspot.com and http://susanspoliticalblog.blogspot.com/
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