German psychologists and the scientific case against prostitution

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An 18-year-old Bosnian Muslim war survivor recovering after abortion of a rape-induced pregnancy, September 1992. Photo: Nina Berman, Sipa Press.

Even as German politicians are coming under heavy pressure from the local pimp lobby to do away with all laws around prostitution, another group of voices is rising up to join the opposition to that very wealthy and powerful force. They are trauma therapists who have worked extensively with women and girls in the trade, and what they have seen in the course of their careers is enough to convince them that prostitution is not, and never will be, a normal job for the vast majority of those who do it:

“Prostitution is in no way a job like any other. It is degrading, torturous, exploitive. On the side of the prostituted, there is a lot of horror and disgust at play, which they have to repress in order to get through it at all.” So says Michaela Huber, psychologist and head of the German Society for Trauma and Dissociation.

“In this system of prostitution, women are systematically put down, used, and degraded into objects.” So says Lutz Besser, head of the Centre for Psychotraumatology and Trauma Therapy of Niedersachsen.

“Prostitution has its roots in the violence that is done to children. And society must not block out or whitewash this violence!” So demands Susanne Leutner, vice-president of the trauma-therapists’ association, EMDRIA.

Leading German trauma therapists speak out sharply for societal awareness and support the “Stop Sex-buying” initiative. The organization, a coalition of citizens and centres of expertise, demands that johns be punished, in line with the Swedish model: “It is our goal, not to criminalize the prostituted, but to turn the focus on the johns, whose demand creates the market. They are actually responsible for the fact that increasing numbers of young women from the poorest countries in the world are brought to Germany to work in prostitution here.” Because “The reality of women in prostitution is being glorified or trivialized and ignored — and the sexual exploitation of women in this manner is being normalized and cemented.”

This offensive position in the treatment of traumatized persons by specialized therapists is, to put it mildly, a sensation. Among the therapists who have joined the initiative is Prof. Günter Seidler, head of psychotraumatology at the University of Heidelberg and a pioneer of German trauma research. “There are already more than enough psychologically traumatized people. The mental wounds of prostitution are avoidable,” says Seidler, one of the first 90 signatories of the EMMA appeal to do away with prostitution.

“Prostitution is violence, not a profession!” charges Prof. Wolfgang U. Eckart, director of the Institute for History and Ethics in Medicine at Heidelberg, in the journal Trauma and Violence. He argues: “Little is free in prostitution on the whole, and nothing in mediated prostitution. Because the striking asymmetry of power and the potential for violence in the relationship between the mediator and the practitioner generates in this oldest form of the enslavement of women constitutionally dependent relationships, which almost automatically deliver all the façades and backgrounds for the practice of traumatizing acts of violence of every sort.”

Dr. Ingeborg Kraus is the initiator of the therapists’ protest. The trauma therapist from Karlsruhe has dealt with victims of war rape in Bosnia, and after her return to the German trauma clinics, she realized: “Even here, every other female patient has experienced sexual violence.” At some point, Kraus got fed up with the “constant task of patching them back together”. She vowed: “I want to work preventively as well!” For her, too, the fight against prostitution is part of that. “In my long years of psychotherapeutic experience, I have accompanied prostituted women and learned their backgrounds. It thus became clear that prostitution was, in all cases, the continuation of violent experiences in their biographies.”

Michaela Huber can only confirm that, from her own therapeutic experiences and those of “many, many colleagues.” “Who even gets the idea to sell their own body? The prerequisite for that is to be alienated from one’s own body.” She continues: “You have to picture it: One has to let oneself be penetrated, again and again. One has to have practiced it, or one can’t do it. One leaves behind just a shell that can still go through certain motions, certain gestures.”

This beaming-oneself-away — dissociation, in specialists’ jargon — is forcibly learned, early on, by victims of violence. Not coincidentally, studies show that the majority of women (and men) in prostitution have suffered sexual abuse or other traumatic violence, eg. neglect, as children.

Traumatologist Lutz Besser demands a rethink of the acceptance of prostitution. He fears that “we are in danger of sliding into an Ice Age of ethics. Morality is one part,” says Besser. “But ethics also poses the question: What happens to another person if I do something?” This question, however, is one the johns don’t ask. “The men who go to prostitutes don’t realize that most of the women in this trade are doing so under pressure and duress. A society that legitimates that, demands the stance that prostitution is the most normal thing in the world,” says the therapist. “And it is a scandal that we as a society don’t have a clearer position on this!”

In Berlin, politicians are currently seeking advice. Not only as to how prostitution should be legally regulated; they will also decide how our society stands in regard to it: Whether prostitution should continue to be “a job like any other” — or whether prostitution goes against human dignity and destroys human beings. The signatory therapists hope that the politicians don’t just consign even more traumatized people to them, but finally take the side of prevention.

Translation mine.

I have often seen prostitution referred to not only as the “oldest profession”, but also likened to several actual professions: nursing, for one; various medical and psychological therapies, for another. Often the excuse is trotted out that “sex workers” serve a clientele which is disabled, and thus unable to form normal sexual and romantic relationships — an excuse that, to my mind, demeans the disabled as well as those tasked with disposing of their sexual needs. I know a fair number of disabled men who have happy relationships, and so are not reliant on prostitution — far more of them than of those of the other sort! Then there are the quite-able-bodied men who go to prostitutes because the women in their lives are disabled and they just can’t seem to get it up for them — a strange “disability”, that. And on top of that, the vast majority of johns are not disabled in the least, whether physically, mentally or even socially. They’re just lazy when it comes to seeing women as people, or treating them as something other than conveniences that might cost a couple hundred dollars at most for the kind of sexual servicing that a “regular” woman or girl, being the “sexually repressed bitch” that she is, won’t provide.

Considering that my own sister, a registered massage therapist whose job emphatically does not include rubbing anyone’s genitalia, has worked in clinics that had panic buttons installed in case a client came in expecting a different kind of massage, I find all talk of prostitution-as-profession to be something rather worse than a dirty joke. The creeps who wander into massage therapy clinics expecting bawdy-house prostitution are a real and constant menace to public safety. So are those who expect sexual servicing from nurses, or from women doctors. Such things are not on the list of training requirements in any actual health-related profession, no matter how much those who talk of prostitution-as-profession would like to blur that distinction.

My sister went through four years of specialized training at a pricey massage-therapy school. She even had to dissect preserved human cadavers in anatomy class. Nurses, too, require college or university degrees these days in order to advance professionally and be hired by hospitals. Some take Ph.Ds in nursing science, putting them on a level with actual medical doctors, as far as education and training goes. As for medical doctors, it’s not unusual to see one with a long string of degrees after their name. B.A., B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc., M.D., Ph.D., etc. At a bare minimum, it takes six years to graduate as an M.D. in Canada: two years’ university at the bachelor level (preferably in the sciences), followed by four years’ med school. (Something similar, I imagine, pertains to dentists and eye specialists.) And none of that time is devoted to learning how to sexually service a “client”.

This is what is meant and generally understood by a “profession”: A long period of training in a specialty that requires extensive and in-depth knowledge. And one is graduated with a certificate that states that this person is qualified to work as a physician, surgeon, nurse, dentist, optometrist, etc. Or as an assistant to any of the above. Or, like my sister, a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT).

What professional training and certification does it take to work in prostitution?

As far as I know, there is no real certification process for prostituted persons at all. Maybe, if one works in a country where some health regulations are in place, you are required to get regular gynecological exams and be declared STD-free, but that’s about it. And even that is unusual. It seems to be the case mainly in Holland, where, as we now know, the liberal laws legalizing prostitution have come into question by local authorities seeing a surge in organized crime. If the current anti-trafficking laws are a joke to the mafia networks supplying girls to work in the “windows” (and they are), what must health regulations be? And how many euros a month does it cost to get fake HIV status certification for all the girls in one’s stable? If johns insist, as they so often do in Germany, upon “AO” sex — “alles ohne”, meaning “everything without [condoms]“, then how long can any girl in the trade reasonably expect to pass her HIV tests and obtain a clean bill of health? After all, being prostituted alone does not magically transmit the virus; it has to come from someone else. And that “someone else” is usually the buyer. (Or, if the prostitute is also an addict, from sharing needles with someone who is infected, as many street junkies do. And, in fact, a lot of prostitutes are junkies themselves; it’s one of their key coping strategies, as drug use facilitates mental dissociation.)

So much for certification. Now what about professional training?

Well, there’s where we start getting into some seriously murky territory. And that’s precisely the bailiwick of the trauma therapists mentioned in the EMMA article I linked and translated above. All of them have found that the only real prerequisite to working in the sex trade is previous experience, usually in childhood, of severe malign neglect and/or sexual abuse. And dire poverty in one’s immediate present. That’s it! Well, that, plus a round of rape if the girl is not already broken down enough to take whatever abuse is dished out to her. Gang rape is the only “professional training” that practitioners of the “oldest profession” receive in the trafficking networks. It takes, at most, just a couple of intensely traumatic days. There are no professional colleges, no formal training programs, no exams, no boards to certify that one is proficient in “sex work”.

Does that sound like a profession to you? For that matter, does it sound like the training you’d get for any other job? After all, the “oldest profession” is supposed to be a “job like any other”…

Even the most menial joe jobs out there entail longer training periods than that of a trafficked prostitute. At a fast-food joint, on average, it’s two weeks. And the training is far more humane. If scrubbing toilets by hand were paid at the same rates as prostitution, those in prostitution would jump at the chance to become toilet-scrubbers. At least a toilet won’t grab you by the neck and rape you, sodomize you, try to kill you, or just beat the shit out of you. A toilet won’t demand that you play the all-obliging “girlfriend” or fake an orgasm in order to satisfy it. And you don’t have to dissociate mentally in order to face the next toilet, either. You don’t need crack, meth or heroin to numb you in anticipation of yet another damn toilet.

I’m not surprised that there is so little pride in being of the “oldest profession”, outside of the usual highly vocal designated spokespersons for the “sex workers’ unions” (i.e., the pimp lobby) who still insist on pushing the “Happy Hooker” fairytale as somehow representative of the trade as a whole. Just as I’m not surprised that nine out of ten people in prostitution — predominantly women and girls, cisgendered or trans — have expressed the wish to get out again, as soon as they can. Who would not want to get out of a “profession” where one’s “job” entails so much dissociation, often through drugs, in order to escape the reality that one is being repeatedly sexually abused? And where the PTSD rates are comparable to those of women who have been raped in a war zone like Bosnia?

In fact, a lot of the rape victims of the Bosnian genocide were forced into prostitution. The only real difference between a “rape camp” and a brothel was that in the latter, money was changing hands. And, most shamefully, a large part of the “clientele” were the same UN troops charged with peacekeeping in the region. That just laid insult on top of injury for the Bosnian women and girls. Because if you couldn’t trust a UN peacekeeper to keep you safe from your tormentors — and indeed, if the peacekeepers were complicit in the abuses, as they were later shown to be, in Bosnia and Kosovo — whom could you trust at all?

The trauma therapists of Germany have worked with two groups of traumatized women: survivors of war rape in the Balkans, and survivors of prostitution at home. They have seen similar patterns at work in the lives of both. They can no longer dissociate from the disturbing reality that sexual abuse is not just an ugly episode from these women’s pasts, it is also an ongoing fact of their present. Flashbacks can strike at the most unexpected moments, leaving the victim incapacitated and vulnerable to even more abuse than she has already endured. They require drugs, often hard and dangerous street drugs, to numb out and dissociate again. The cycle becomes more vicious with every turn. And when all the coping strategies evolved during one’s time in the “life” stop working, that’s when they land in the psychiatric clinic, if they are lucky, to unpack it all for someone who will listen, care, and not judge them moralistically for what they have done in order to survive.

And when someone whose job it is to listen and care nonjudgmentally comes out in favor of abolition, you can be sure that this person’s conclusion is the product of long reflection upon what they have seen in their own profession. One can’t call them “repressed Victorian moralists”, as these therapists are the beneficiaries — and in some cases, pioneers — of the most modern psychotherapeutic and psychosexual training in the world. These are no buttoned-up church ladies and ignorant backwoods preachers of abstinence and procreation-only; these are urbane specialists with the highest educations, and the best training, that the highly reputable German university medical system has to offer. If they speak out against prostitution, and do so precisely on the basis of what they have learned from those in the thick of it — you can take their word to the bank. They have made the scientific case against a “profession” that has no real scientific basis whatsoever.

Now, I wonder if the politicians are also listening — caringly, and without judgment, as the therapists have learned to do.

Why isn’t legalized prostitution safer?

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Ah yes. Pity the poor john who got the short end of that stick, eh? He came hoping to pay for the illusion that she was really into the “mutual pleasure” of his escapist fantasies, only to be left cockadroop by the hard realities of her life (complete with “biker boyfriend”!) Instead of “an hour or two” of (poorly) paid schtupping, he left frustrated, and she came away empty-handed. I guess it could have gone a lot worse, though. She could have been raped and/or killed, as well as robbed of whatever paltry few bucks she happened to have lying around. She is at the mercy of guys like him and the “biker boyfriend” — who, for all we know, could have been her pimp. Which is why I don’t feel so bad for this particular entitled — oh sorry, “hard-working” — specimen of manhood. Nor do I feel inclined to praise him for being “merciful” and just walking out without paying. He could have done to her what johns have done to prostitutes since time immemorial. And he could have gotten away with it, too.

And if anyone thinks that legalization of the “oldest profession” (oldest crappy joe job, more like it) would have made a positive difference to that poor woman, maybe you should read all about what’s happened in Germany since exactly that:

Again and again, defenders of legalized prostitution assert that prostitution serves a kind of “channeling” function for society; that all the presumably uncontrollable urges of men can be acted out there, and so women can be protected from rape. Aside from the fact that this attitude makes men into urge-driven idiots who, due to the gladly-invented concept of “blocked urges” then go on to commit crimes — who wants to live with such men, really? — this argument also most profoundly robs prostitutes themselves of dignity, making them into “dumpsters” for that which men cannot act out at home because, we all know, that in the eyes of prostitution-defenders, all wives are per se prudish and frigid and thus drive their husbands into the arms of prostitution. But how do prostitutes defend themselves from this “acting out” by men, which has always come with a potential threat of force? The sex-worker lobby claims that it’s part of the professionalism of prostitutes to recognize dangerous johns and prevent them from doing violence. Should this fail, the prostitute has acted unprofessionally — the man, with all his “blocked urges”, naturally is not at fault.

Since 1988, there have been 51 murders and attempted murders of prostitutes. These are only the incidents that abolitionists have so far been able to research. The list is by no means complete and will be expanded in future. In 1988, a dermatologist from Frankfurt committed one murder and three attempted murders on prostitutes. He was sentenced. In 1993, 16-year-old Mandy of Hamburg was brutally murdered; her killer was only arrested years later. The papers wrote of a “Murder in the Milieu” instead of the murder of a minor. In 1999, 20-year-old Sandy of Chemnitz was brutally mistreated and killed over debts. The list goes on and on, and shows that no type of prostitution is safe, whether on the street, or in a “lovemobile”, or in rental housing, or a bordello. Absolute protection from violent johns cannot exist.

The Wiki “Sex Industry Kills” has collected all known instances of murders, attempted murders, and crimes against prostitutes. It is a gallery of horrors. Murder and rape are among the “occupational hazards” of prostitution.

Prostitution is legal in Germany since 2002. Again and again it gets argued that only legalized prostitution makes it safer for those who practice it. We can see that the number of violent acts against prostitutes has actually increased — which is no wonder, because the number of prostituted persons has also increased. Woman as merchandise — since 2002, she is available everywhere, visible everywhere. Whoever ascribes “blocked urges” to men, must also now acknowledge that they can’t resist this “offer”, and also use force. The cynicism of the “blocked urges” and “channeling” arguments is profoundly inhumane — and also stems from the 19th century. It has nothing to do with “freedom” and “self-determination”; it turns prostitutes into a usable vessel, and men into idiots. The latest attempted murder, of a prostitute in Köln, was just a few weeks ago.

Since the fall of last year, as well, those who fight against prostitution are being blamed for violence against prostitutes — because they point out the risks of prostitution, some people get “ideas”, according to one forum. Again, here there is no responsibility for the doers of the deed; instead, it’s everyone else’s fault. It is in the interests of all those who defend prostitution to make johns out to be friendly customers. The reality shows that many of them are potential violent offenders.

How closely violence and prostitution are intertwined, we can see in reports on crimes against prostitutes. Media reports on the matter teach fear. The Stuttgarter Merkur newspaper wrote, of the murder of 31-year-old Alina Gruso, in 2009: “The motive is completely unknown. Could there be a relationship problem behind it? Because the murder doesn’t follow the usual way prostitutes become victims: No fight about unsatisfactory sexual services, nor over the payment. Even robbery is ruled out. And Alina had no enemies. What then could have driven the killer?” So robbery-murder is a commonly accepted form of violence against prostitutes, as well as rape, which many don’t even regard as a crime.

Countless other crimes took place in the same time frame against prostitutes throughout Germany. Rapes, arson, armed robberies. These crimes didn’t even merit a mention of the victims’ names in the media, for the most part. It’s just “a prostitute”, whereas the entire focus is on the offender. These are almost exclusively johns. Their motive is not just sexual violence, but also extortion and robbery. In January of 2008, three men attacked a woman in Wiesbaden, raped her, robbed her and threatened to come back again. When the woman, who worked in a rented flat, went to police, she was criticized by her colleagues; she had made “too big a deal out of it”. For these men, women who work as prostitutes are just objects that they can mistreat and rob as they please, even up to sadistic torture. In Fürth, a man subjected a prostitute to electric shocks, beat her with cables, stabbed her and eventually cut off one of her finger joints. The man managed to escape unnoticed, but was apprehended shortly thereafter, because there was a security camera in the bordello. In 2010, a john in Mainz-Marienborn raped a prostitute four times and recorded it on video — he wanted to film a successful home porno, and for that he needed “real panic” in the eyes of his victim.

Johns always get violent towards women because they aren’t happy with the “service” they get for their money. One unbelievable case is that of a 51-year-old Stuttgarter, who held a prostitute prisoner in his home and abused her because he was not satisfied with her service. He ordered his mother to call the police because he felt he was in the right. In 2012, a paramedic, a family man, raped a prostitute for hours until she lost consciousness, and threatened her with “real problems” if she went to police.

Even those who defend prostitution know how dangerous it is. Their “safety tips” speak volumes about what prostitution means for those who practice it:

– Women shouldn’t wear long earrings, because they could get ripped out. Also no scarves or necklaces, because these could get used to strangle them.

– No tight skirts or dresses, so they can run away more easily.

– They should carry whistles to call for help.

– Keep defensive weapons close at hand.

– There are also concrete tips: If a woman is being held by the back of the neck, she should kick him in the balls rather than try to pry his hands off.

These and other tips can be found here.

Prostitution kills, that much is clear. The above violent incidents are not “coincidences” or “exceptions”, they are the consequences of a kind of thinking and acting that turns women into merchandise that can be bought and used. Prostitution dehumanizes, and dehumanization is the first step to gruesomeness and violence. Men who attack prostitutes see themselves as customers who have a “right” to this stranger’s body and power over it, and in the event of an emergency, they can use force. A prostitute is a preferred victim for all those who want to grab a couple of euros — because who believes a prostitute? And to square the deal for the offenders, they rape the woman too — taking “for free” what would otherwise cost. Others use prostitutes for their perverse little games, duplicating the oh-so-beloved violent pornos with “real panic in the eyes”, or sadistically abuse them.

Prostitution doesn’t channel any drives, it doesn’t protect anyone from rape. It kills and opens opportunities for offenders to take out their perversions, their misogyny and their violent fantasies where they have the least to fear. Further legalization of prostitution would only lead to women and their lacking “professionalization strategies” being made even more responsible for any violence against them. Because if prostitution is to be a “job like any other”, then the dangers can’t be acknowledged. And above all, the focus cannot be turned on the johns, who must continue to be legal clients and not potential lawbreakers. Prostitution without violence doesn’t exist. Without the degradation of women into objects, sex-buying isn’t possible. This degradation contains dehumanization, and leads to violence, whether out of greed or “blocked urges”, in just one small step. The answer is to ban sex-buying. The day before yesterday, preferably.

Translation mine. Linkage as in original

So you can see that legalization hasn’t made prostitution safer in Germany. Prostitutes are still being attacked, robbed, raped and killed there. If anything, it’s become more common, because the number of prostitutes has shot up so dramatically since legalization.

And crimes against them have been given a gloss of bizarre legitimacy. The murder of a 16-year-old can be written off as a “murder in the milieu” because she was a prostitute; the fact that she was also a minor gets conveniently swept under the rug. If she were NOT prostituted, the story would have been reported so differently; the killer would have been made out to be a heinous, pederastic pervert who must be caught soon, before he does it again. But since she was turning tricks, who the hell cares that he’s a menace to public safety? Even if she WAS under-age, she was still one of Those Women. Nobody gives an under-age prostitute the consideration that would otherwise apply to girls of her tender years. Being prostituted is considered as conferring “agency”, and hence maturity. And if you don’t exercise your “agency” properly, you end up in a world of hurt. Or dead. And the killer might not ever be caught, because you were only a prostitute. Too bad for you!

But hey, that’s the way the “free market” of sex capitalism works, right? Personal Responsibility with a vengeance. Demand drives the market, not supply. Which is why all this “sex-positive” talk of “agency” just makes me laugh sardonically. In case you haven’t twigged to this yet, it’s obvious that prostitution has nothing to do with female sexuality at all. It’s not about what SHE wants, it’s all about what HE wants. If demand drives the market, then those who exercise demand exert control. And since supply doesn’t drive it, those who provide sex don’t actually control the terms of the transaction. No matter how hard the privileged few who run the “sex worker” lobby try to make out that they do. The old adage of paying the piper and calling the tune holds truest of all in prostitution. And if the “tune” isn’t sweet enough, then…well…

See, this is why I can’t buy into the libertarian-capitalist exception that so many of my peers here on the left seem all too happy to expound. It boggles my mind that anyone could be a socialist (and/or anarchist) and not see the contradiction here. How can you be in favor of workers seizing the means of production when you also think it should be perfectly legal for a man to buy a woman and get her to do “sex work” for whatever price he deems fitting — oh sorry, “whatever the market will bear”? How can you be all “no lords, no gods, no masters” on the one hand, and perfectly okay with a man lording it over a woman in such a crassly capitalistic way on the other? How can one talk of breaking the grip of the “Invisible Hand” while turning a blind eye to the death-grip it exerts on the necks of women? Does one need to identify as female in order to see this contradiction clearly?

And conversely: Does one need a penis in order to think there is no contradiction here? Boner, Boner, über alles?

Yeah, I guess that must be it. My ladybits and ladybrain are getting in the way of the complex slew of rationalizations needed to arrive at such preposterous conclusions. Again. Why else would I insist on taking my anarcho-socialism to its logical ends even in the murky area marked S-E-X? Since I don’t have the kind of little head that drains blood (and thinking capacity) away from the big one so efficiently, I just can’t wrap my big head around the way a guy’s little one just seems to take the whole thing over and turn him from a rational, intelligent human being into a sex-crazed rabid baboon.

Antifeminists constantly accuse radical women like me of “misandry”. And yet they fail to see that when they posit men as being led by their dicks, they’re committing a much more real and profound form of man-hating than anything, actual or imagined, that they could ever accuse us feminists of.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I prefer to think of men as coming, like women, from Earth. None of that “Venus and Mars” shit for me. And I prefer to credit them with rationality and intelligence, like us, instead of just a crazy chemical stew of ill-defined and dangerous “urges”.

Above all, I insist that we be allowed to approach sex on an equal footing. Turning it into a pay-for-play transaction destroys the equilibrium, to say nothing of female desire. Money not only can’t buy love, it can’t even buy a half-hearted ladyboner.

But then again, who needs ladyboners when you’re only paying to get your own rocks off? And if you get off on the inequality of it all, why shouldn’t you be allowed to pay for it? After all, inequality is only to be expected when one sex/class is naturally superior, and the other naturally inferior. So goes the sex-capitalist line of reasoning.

And if that line of reasoning seems a bit too crass for you, hey, there’s always prude-shaming. It’s the go-to strategy of the modern “leftist” man who wants to have his capitalism and eat it, too. Or the “empowered” woman who hasn’t fully digested the concept of self-determination. Yeah sure, go ahead and call me “Victorian” because I take an abolitionist stance. Bluster your big head off about my so-called 19th-century morality if it makes you feel better. But here’s the kicker: If you believe that buying sex is the answer to rape and female poverty both, you’re the real Victorian. Because back in the 19th century, there was another mindset that ran parallel to that of enforced prudery for wives and virgins; namely, that of the Necessity of Prostitution. To keep the wives and virgins “safe” and “virtuous”, natch. How else were men supposed to “channel” all those “dangerous urges”? By taking them out on a certain class of women made conveniently available for the purpose.

And that class of women was denigrated and degraded not only in terms of the social discourse of the day, but in the eyes of their own clientele. They were thus easy targets for all kinds of male violence. Remember Jack the Ripper? His killing spree began and ended right at the zenith of Victorian England. During the height of a time of extreme prudery, in other words. And his victims were all street prostitutes from the down-at-heel London district of Whitechapel. “Jack”, whoever he was, was the quintessential Victorian man. He saw prostitutes as a class that was conveniently available for him to use…and abuse. Even to the death. He was smug in his taunting of the authorities, daring him to try to catch him. He was never brought to trial, at least not as the Ripper. For all anybody knew, he remained at large. And no doubt there was a certain smugness in the way the yellow press of the day reported on that, too: with overt sensationalism on the one hand, and a tacit “thank God it’s only them and not nice ladies” on the other. True, prostitution wasn’t legal…but it wasn’t abolished, either. The laws and mores of the day saw fit to ghettoize and exploit it instead of eradicating it. How do we know? Because they only criminalized the women, and not the men who bought, sold and used them. Remember, demand drives the market…and the Victorian authorities weren’t interested in dealing with the demand side. They often WERE the demand side. Why would they act against their own interests? That would have been not just taking prudery too far, but also doing capitalism wrong.

Early anarchists and socialists both opposed prostitution, recognizing it as part and parcel of the hypocrisy of the Victorian-capitalist bourgeois mindset, and their reasoning was not prudish. Read Emma Goldman if you don’t believe me. Or Alexandra Kollontai. And if you don’t have time for that, just remember: It’s not the sex that makes prostitution dirty. It’s the CAPITALISM, stupid!

Prostituted women in Germany are no longer criminalized, as they were in the “good old days” of Kaiser Wilhelm. But are they empowered? No! They still can’t count on the police to protect them. Because the johns have always been legal and legitimate, even when prostitution was not. The legal status of the women may have changed (ever so slightly!), but for the johns it’s the same as it ever was. Those guys could always “discreetly” take out their unsavory “urges” on a certain class of women. The fact that the women are now “legal” doesn’t change a thing, except to make sex capitalism more readily profitable for those running the show. Capitalism wins out over feminism. If the police are not allowed to bust bordello owners and shut the business down, they are also not allowed to arrest johns who don’t play by the official rules…at least not so long as those men are still on the premises. Because when a bordello charges a cheap flat rate for “unlimited sex”, why would they want the cops in there, banging down the doors? That’s bad for business. Makes it look like a House of Ill Repute, nicht wahr? And worse, it scares the johns into realizing that maybe “unlimited sex” has its limits, after all. What a boner-wilter!

Laws are inherently limiting, and that’s just what the sex-capitalists who run the prostitution and human-trafficking networks don’t want. Why else would they throw so much money behind their extensive lobbying efforts to remove all legal limits from prostitution in Germany — including the perfectly reasonable compromises like minimum ages, the right of police to inspect brothels, etc.?

They’re certainly not doing it to protect the women, or else we’d have seen not a single one murdered since prostitution was legalized there in 2002.

Best makeup tutorial EVER.

Ladies! Ever wonder how YOU can cover up everything just to save face? Take a lesson from the NFL and watch this:

Not sure how it works on black eyes, broken noses, or split lips. But it’s worth a try, right?

Masked men protest human trafficking in Germany

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The signs read “For Sale”. But these women are not for sale. And no, this is not a joke, either. One German city is taking creative action against the mega-bordello industry:

The looks of passersby change from amusement to shock as they realize that the young women with the sad eyes in the shopping carts are not a PR gag. They stand for a serious topic: the sale of women in forced prostitution. The actions of Krefeld citizens against human trafficking and forced prostitution began on Saturday in the inner city, and in a short time, gathered 1,650 signatures.

Franziska Feldhoff is one of the signatories. “I’ve known for a long time that human trafficking is shrouded in silence. No one in Germany thinks about it. It’s good that there’s an organization on the streets,” she says. She doesn’t know if her signature will change much. “But there has to be a start. Maybe I can help get something rolling.”

Passerby Denise Hochheim says that there’s a lot not being talked about, including the sale of people. “It’s a purely human topic, the way women and children are treated. The least I can do is sign.”

Walter Voss also signed. “Forced prostitution is not okay. That goes against all human dignity.” He adds: “So that the world’s oldest profession can exist for men who don’t have a woman, in order to avoid overreach.”

Erwin Kaltenbacher and Ute Horn, of the initiative say that their consciousness was awakened by the actions on the Neuen Ritterstrasse. “We were horrified when we saw what was going on there.” They are happy with the strong agreement among the populace. “On Wednesday, we’ll hand the list of signatures to the members of the federal government and the Bundestag. We challenge them to correct the prostitution law — the most liberal in all Europe — as soon as possible, so that forced prostitution is no longer possible in our land.” Among the demands: Authorization requirements for all brothels, no prostitution under age 21, and no solicitation in public.

Meanwhile, half a dozen masked men in black passed through the streets with their shopping carts. Mark Yahya pushes his wife, Karo. “For sale” reads the sign on the front of the cart. “At first people laugh when they see us. One of them asked what I cost. But then their looks change. Lots of them don’t know what to do about it.”

Before Saturday, the initiative had already gathered around 350 signatures. On Wednesday, they’ll deliver over 2000 voices against human trafficking and forced prostitution to Berlin.

Translation mine.

Krefeld is a city of over 200,000 people. Gathering the signatures of 1% of those might not sound like much, but that amounts to a little over one day’s work, and that’s not bad, considering.

Likewise, the demands sound modest, but remember what these people are up against: An extremely powerful pimp-lobby that wants to do away with all regulations, including authorization of brothels and age limits for prostitution. As for public solicitation, it’s so blatant right now that the biggest bordellos actually publish their website addresses in neon on the marquee. Any kid with an internet connection could “visit” and see what’s on offer. Same goes for the johns and their “ratings” fora. It is a public disgrace, and no amount of whitewash can hide it any longer.

And, as the protesters themselves have said, maybe this will get something rolling. As it is, there is a groundswell building in Germany to end human trafficking, because it’s becoming a national embarrassment. Raising awareness of what’s wrong with the picture is just the start.

The “Invisible Men”: Germany’s woman-haters hide in plain sight

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“John #9″ rates a woman he bought for 30 euros: “170 cm tall, long dark hair, early 20s, 5 pounds overweight (which actually doesn’t look so bad), and what a wonder, obviously a Carpathian girl. Wasn’t bad today though, I wanted fucking not conversation. And her German is surprisingly good. Big plus: She washes beforehand, so that’s fine for tongue-action lovers. Blows well, no teeth, no rubber, holds her own well in fucking, but no fingering. You can fiddle with her pussy or her rosette, but don’t put your fingers in! And don’t cum in her mouth, but what can you do? For spoiled clubgoers a zero, but for the street, not so bad.”

As you can see from the above, a fairly typical entry on a German sex-buyers’ forum, the “Invisible Men” are everywhere. Even in Germany, where sex-buying is fully legal, you can find these skulking cowards, taking advantage of the anonymity of the internets to dish on women they don’t really know and don’t care to know in anything other than the strictly biblical sense. Mira Sigel, writing for the anti-fascist feminist site “Die Störenfriedas” (a wonderfully punny name incorporating the female name Frieda with the German word for “peace-disturbers”), has the goods on them:

In the current debate on prostitution, everything revolves around women in prostitution. They are the ones who are fighting the battle over the legalization of prostitution. Johns only speak up, if at all, in the anonymity of the Internet. But the business of prostitution wouldn’t exist if there were no demand from the men’s side. So the debate should actually revolve far more around the men who go out to buy women. If we go by the number of 400,000 prostitutes in Germany (and this number is from the year 2002, so there is no doubt that it has risen in the meantime), then between 1.5 and 2 million men go to prostitutes every day, and so presumably every other man has been to a brothel at least once. Our brothers, husbands, friends and colleagues.

Studies show that the legalization of prostitution and the rise in its social acceptance lead to a rise in visits to prostitutes. In plain language: Where prostitution is legal and affordable, it will also be readily used.

What is the least clear about it is this: The men who go to prostitutes are not Richard Gere from Pretty Woman. Many of them regard the women they use with undisguised disdain. The basis for that, as Julie Bindel already established in the Guardian in 2010, is plain misogyny. A john she asked why he went to prostitues revealed to her that he did not want the prostitute to enjoy it in any way. Then he would feel that he had been cheated out of his money. Also, it didn’t much matter to the men whether the women were forced prostitutes or not. The important thing was that the “service” was right. Julie Bindel’s interviews were part of a study of some 700 johns. The men were also asked what would have to happen for them to no longer go to prostitutes. The answer was was simple: Were sex-buying illegal, and they had to deal with its consequences in their private lives, many of them would shy away from it.

Men go to prostitutes because they can use them. For them, these women are just objects that they can take out their drives on at whim. The fora in which they exchange views are called “Hurentest” (Whore Test) and “AO-Forum”. The men there candidly give their misogyny free rein. Some have photos of the women they have visited as their profile pictures. Semen-smeared faces and red, swollen genitalia are shown off like trophies. The men themselves, naturally, remain invisible. They talk about where they get what for their money. One of the most important subjects: Whether you can also go “AO” — that is, without a condom, and in how many holes. Women who are in pain or pull faces get bad ratings. Before one goes to a woman, the community gets asked if there is any info about her and her “service”. Racism and misogyny are shamelessly aired, and they show how often both these forms of discrimination come up together. There is talk of the “Turkish whore”, or the horny “Thai pussy”, or the “coal bucket” that got “speared”.

Studies show that there is no “typical” john. Men who go to prostitutes come in all ages and social strata. Most are looking for good-looking women who offer pretty much everything and don’t cost much — greed is also good in prostitution. In Germany, it’s socially unacceptable to buy non-organic meat and vegetables, clothes made in Asia, or eggs from battery farms. But in prostitution, it doesn’t matter a bit how poor and exploited the women are, or that they have sex for a Big Mac. The johns see it practically — not much money for “useful services”. For many, it’s important that the women show interest, kiss them, talk with them, and charm them. Obviously they don’t get that for free in real life, so they have to buy the feeling of being desired.

Melissa Farley has made an interesting study comparing sex-buyers and non-sex-buyers. It showed that men who look for prostitutes generally are more inclined to sexual assault, and have less empathy for prostitutes. So, those men who have the most to do with prostitute, are least likely to see the women in it as human beings. Or, to put it another way: Sex-buying brutalizes and intensifies misogyny — quite contrary to the claim that prostitution would save us from rape. Johns choose women according to age and ethnicity (“today I’m gonna treat myself to something Asian”) and travel specifically to other countries to make use of prostitution there. The women should say as little as possible about what’s being done to them; if they are too “engaged”, so it’s said in the fora, they’re just faking everything. Pleasure in sex is not allowed for the women. But if they are in a bad mood or even sad, the johns also rip them apart. 41 percent of johns questioned said that they had had sex at least once with a forced prostitute, and in both groups — johns and non-johns — 68 percent said that most women in prostitution were forced into it. Obviously that, as previously stated, doesn’t put sex-buyers off when it comes to abusing these women.

More and more often, the women also get taken along for private porn videos. For a little extra money, they then find themselves on websites like Tubegalore. The women thus become porn performers, and their videos will haunt the Net forever. There is no exit, and can be none for them under these circumstances.

The johns talk about when and whether a woman is ready for anal sex. Others say just shove it in without asking. Or take the condom off before you cum. It is the johns, whose demand determines the low German prices, whose demand for condomless sex raises the health risks for women. It is the johns whose demand for paid sex ensures that human trafficking is a more profitable business in Germany than drugs or guns. The men shamelessly ask where they can find under-age girls. They get answers right away — openly readable for anyone who visits the fora. The fact that what they have in mind is a crime under several existing laws doesn’t matter. Only the assurance that they won’t catch a disease. For that, there’s a johns’ health forum. What’s up with the women is not important. On the contrary: Their bodies are the subject of degrading exchanges, comments over too-small breasts and flabby butts. On the search for a “wild junkie-fuck”, women get picked up in front of shooting galleries. Their request for someone to buy them a bit of food gets laughed off.

Johns are men who find it acceptable to have sex with others who are not interested, and even in pain or grossed-out. They buy these people for themselves. So the argument that prostitutes only sell a service and not themselves falls flat. The john side clearly sees it differently: For 20, 40 or 100 euros, the woman in question belongs to them. Former Danish prostitute Tanja Rahm made that clear in her open letter to sex buyers:

“When you regularly tried to cross my boundaries by kissing me or sticking your finger in me or took the condom off — even when you knew perfectly well that that wasn’t allowed — you were testing my ability to defend myself. And you took advantage of it when I wasn’t being clear enough or too negligent. You took advantage of that in a sick way the next time you tried to test your own power, and how far you could go in crossing my boundaries. When I finally said no and made clear to you that you shouldn’t come back, when you didn’t accept my boundaries, then you restored your honor by putting me down in my role as a prostitute. You talked down to me, were coarse and threatening.”

The johns’ statements show that prostitution is a patriarchal institution, one of oppression for women, whose sole aim is to make bodies readily available to men. Since we live in capitalism, it is also set up according to capitalistic laws: Money and services and, quite according to the “Amazon principle”, ratings after the fact. The betrayed john is the one who didn’t get enough for his money. The prostitutes themselves, their life stories, their personalities, don’t come up in there at all. No one realizes that they are not merchandise to be delivered to a man, but persons with lives, feelings and perceptions. They travel all over Germany, get passed from house to house so that the men always have a fresh supply of women. They get mistreated, their boundaries continually crossed — and when that goes well, it even gets celebrated in the fora — that is, anal sex without consent or continuation despite whimpering and refusal. The man who goes further is a hero in this community. A rapist, a woman-abuser, quite legally. Because the law allows it. The same man then goes out and meets us, the unprostituted women, with all his judgments, with his victory-feeling in his head. Do we then wonder why rape is practically unpunished and sexual violence is on the march despite all our resistance? How can we believe that we live in a society of equal rights as long as men can legally buy this for 20 euros, in every city, every town, even every village — at the expenses of the women they use there?

Johns don’t care about the merchandise, the woman-product, that they buy. They aren’t paying into a health fund, they aren’t paying taxes, they don’t even care about condoms. They don’t even openly defend prostitution, but the bordello-owners send the women they make money from out in public to do it for them. Johns are customers — that’s what they want to teach us. But the reality is: Johns are woman-haters, woman-abusers. The only way to deter them is to make sex-buying illegal. For johns, women aren’t people, but the means to their satisfaction, and this attitude has become socially acceptable through the legalization of prostitution. Do we want to live in a society in which women are consequently dehumanized?

Translation mine. Linkage as in the original.

You can see here that prostitution in Germany really does deserve to be called sex capitalism. It is capitalistic in the grossest sense, and right down to the last detail. Even the bargain-basement rates for female flesh that literally does everything are no coincidence. Neither is the demand for child prostitution, which logically follows on the heels of its adult counterpart. Why pay 50-100 euros for a grown woman when you can get an under-age girl for half that or even less — and with her, the illicit thrill of being able to cross yet another human boundary? And why bother looking for women who will do it willingly and for free, when you can get girls who won’t — but you can buy the privilege of doing to them what no consenting adult would allow?

The idea that prostitution somehow protects women against rape is nonsense. If anything, it furthers the rape-culture mindset. Men who buy sex tend to think that “every woman has her price”, or that a “whore” is fair game for anything, and are infuriated when that turns out not to be the case. No small percentage of those will still illegally take what they can’t legally buy. The idea that a woman should be willing, and thus demanding of pleasure, is anathema to them. So, they reason, if they’re buying, they may as well get their money’s worth, and really abuse the shit out of her. Under those circumstances, unnegotiated sex acts are the rule, not the exception. Every boundary gets pushed and violated, right up to and including unprotected anal sex. The worst and most painful and dangerous acts are, not coincidentally, also the ones in greatest demand. And the johns on the Internet score them as “victories”. After all, you can’t get that from your average unprostituted woman…unless, of course, you rape her. But really, the only difference between the one and the other is that for the one, money changes hands. A very paltry amount of money. These guys may be willing to pay for the privilege of raping, but they’re cheap as shit and don’t want to pay a penny more than they think a woman is worth. And they don’t think any woman is worth much. No price is ever too low for these guys!

And just think: One out of every two German men has done at least some of this quite unhindered, at least once in his life, since 2002. That’s when sex-buying became legal and the mega-bordello boom began. And no wonder: This sort of thing is not limited to the mean streets of the big cities. You don’t have to travel far from home, if you are a German, to buy sex. Even small towns and villages are home to brothels. There is nothing in the law to forbid it, and local complaints often fall on deaf ears. The town is required to let them do business there if there is demand. And there IS demand. There is always demand. If it’s not from the locals, it’s from the tourists. Sex tourists are “good” for the local economy, especially in small towns! Only if the brothels are found in violation of the health code might they be shut down. (Might is the operative word here. Getting in to run a health inspection is often the hard part, since brothel owners, as I’ve said before, want the police out of the hookering game altogether, and are lobbying hard for just that, right now.)

One out of every two German men is a john. And by that token, very likely, an abuser. Would you marry that, knowing beforehand what you were getting? Would you want to live in a society where rape culture is so easily propagated…and so easily waved aside with a 100-euro bill? Would you want to risk your health and your life sleeping with a guy who regularly pushes for condomless sex with strangers who deal with others just like him, dozens of times a day? Given that there is no “john look”, that there is no one type of men who buys sex, how can you even tell the good guys from the bad? You can’t…and that’s what’s truly scary about all this.

And this, too, is what’s at stake here in Canada, right now. We don’t have mega-bordellos…YET. And I’d wager that few women, if any, would work in one voluntarily. Especially if they knew what’s going on in Germany. And if they were being expected to do more and more for less and less, as the women in the German bordellos must. The demand for paid sex greatly outstrips the supply of willing providers, and always has. And as the overall economy declines, as it is doing, demand for lower prices grows, and the voluntary supply shrinks even further. So human trafficking must pick up the slack, and there is a lot of it.

What does that mean in human terms? You can do the math.

Imagine half of all Canadian men turning out to be just like half of all their German brethren. Go on, I dare you. Take your ulcer pills and think it over. Imagine the Russian mafias, the Yakuza, the Triads, the Hell’s Angels, and Bog knows who all else taking over the local politics of YOUR town, and constantly trying to lure local girls in with totally legit advertising for “waitresses”, “bartenders”, “dancers”, and so on. Can you picture it? Because that’s what goes on in Germany…

And if you find yourself saying “Nein danke”, you can consider yourself in the same boat with half the human race, anywhere, at any time. Because the women of Germany, prostituted or not, want that the least of all.

And their voices are those being heard the least of all, too.

Dear men: Nobody owes you “pretty”.

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Nope, nobody. Not even these totally imaginary ladies.

Yes, kiddies, it’s that time again. Time for another anti-boner note to the menz from your ol’ Auntie Bina.

So, this US senator decided to share with us the stupid shit that others (all male, older, and white) have said to her over the years. Most of them with no idea how sexist, condescending and just plain stupid it all is. A representative sampling:

“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” – an older male colleague

“You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.” – a Southern member of Congress, while holding her arm

“When I first met you in 2006 you were beautiful, a breath of fresh air. To win [the special election], you need to be beautiful again.” – a labor leader

“Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.” – one of her favorite members, while squeezing her waist

What do these different dudes’ remarks all have in common? I’ll give you a broad hint: It’s the ENTITLEMENT, honey.

These men are all in effect telling Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that she needs to be pretty for them. Or for the special election. Some are telling her not to gain weight, others not to lose it. But all of them apparently think they have a right to tell her how she should look. Or NOT look. All of them are telling her, in effect, that she owes them “pretty”. And that she would be nobody and nothing without boner-appeal. (Sign this petition if you agree that this is fucked up and bullshit.)

Would they do that to other men? I’m guessing that no, they would not. They’d hold their tongues and keep any judgments on a male colleague’s looks to themselves, right? And they’d keep their hands off each other’s bodies, too, because no homo, bro!

But since Sen. Gillibrand is a woman, they feel they have a perfect right to do all that to her. A perfect right to paw her body and tell her what to do with it, as if she had no right to dignity, autonomy and respect that was not somehow tied intimately and constantly to her good looks. And by implication, that she could have no career if she did not look the way older white men wanted her to look. Because heaven knows that young people, women, and non-whites don’t vote, right? And that nobody votes for you if you don’t look like a strong contender for Miss America.

This sort of thing is disgusting and all too typical. And it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, either. It happens in a culture of rape and entitlement.

Right now, in a heartening development, there’s a lot of pushback going on against street harassment. (There’s even an app for that.) And there is, in a disheartening turn, pushback going on against the pushback. Recently, the New York Post (which has never passed up an opportunity to throw anyone’s dignity under the bus for dollars) published some contrarian clickbait in praise of street harassment, by some female sexist idiot claiming that it “empowers” women and makes them feel sexy.

It does nothing of the sort.

Anyone who’s ever been catcalled (I have, enough times to lose count), horn-honked at (ditto), followed around by a strange man (double-ditto) and touched by some dude very much against her will (diddly-ditto) can attest to how much it does NOT make a woman’s day to have to deal with this; it actually ruins it. Because the idea that one’s body is being regarded, and treated, as property by any man with the nerve to claim it, is profoundly unsettling. Don’t I belong to myself? Don’t I have a right to be left alone when every part of my body language is screaming as much?

Well, yeah. One would think so, wouldn’t one?

Funnily, I never hear men complaining of getting similar harassment from women. And really, when’s the last time you saw a construction worker, even a really super hunky one, getting hollered at by passersby in miniskirts and high heels? (Anyone? Bueller?) I’ve never seen it, never done it, and I don’t know anyone else who has, either. It never happens. Know why that is?

I’ll give you another broad hint: Women are not entitled to do that shit.

I’ve never assumed that any man, not even one near and dear to me, has ever showered, shaved, combed his hair or put on clean clothes expressly for my benefit. And if he told me he did, I would think it odd that he saw fit to emphasize the point. I did not grow up believing that they do any of that just for us. I didn’t grow up believing they HAD to. They don’t owe us anything, except (that obvious pipe dream) equality. And basic respect and consideration. And those are independent of how well-dressed and groomed a guy is. I’ve gotten them from big burly biker types, homeless guys, and dudes just as middle-class as I am. Any man can do it. It’s not rocket science, fellas.

Conversely, I’ve been harassed by all kinds of dudes. Black dudes. White dudes. Boys much younger than me. Classmates at school. Guys a few years older than me at university. Men much older than me. Blue-collar, working-class types. And yes, even men in suits. Older, well-groomed, educated white guys. Guys that, by their appearance, one would think they’d know better. Shockingly, they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that they grew up feeling perfectly entitled to do all that, and more. All straight males, regardless of age, race, religion, or class, have been taught to think they are entitled to OWN a woman, if not a very young girl. It’s never formally stated; it’s just “understood” that this is “the way things are”. It underpins every catcall that ever got yelled. It pervades society at all strata.

Once, I tried to impress upon a classmate at j-school that this was a serious issue. He was from Cyprus. He was Greek. Maybe this is some kind of cultural difference, I thought; maybe that’s why he doesn’t get it. So I explained it long, loud and clear. And he still didn’t get it. He spoke perfect, unaccented English, every bit as good as mine, even though it was a second language for both of us. It couldn’t be a language barrier, that much I knew. Maybe he just needed a more graphic example. So then I whacked him on the ass, hard enough to hurt, to show how demeaning that sort of thing is. He merely grinned over his shoulder at me. God damn him, he liked it. He probably figured I was hitting on him, who had a fiancée waiting back home. What I was trying to teach him totally backfired. He never did catch the lesson, and for all I know, he still hasn’t. Well, DUH. In the back of my mind, I knew that the playing field wasn’t really level. The entitlement wasn’t there for me. But it was for him.

And he was so entitled that he could even feel perfectly free to ignore the fact that he WAS entitled. That’s the really insane part.

Every dude, from the lowly hardhat to the bigwig in the Savile Row suit, is tacitly expected to show dominance on the sexual front. And multiple sexual fronts, at that. Long after his own hormones have begun to decline, he’s still explicitly allowed to do all sorts of things no respectable woman could even dream of getting away with. Why do I get all skeptical whenever anyone talks about “sex-positive” bullshit? Yet another broad hint: It’s the ENTITLEMENT, baby. A middle-aged or elderly woman paying for sex with handsome young men would be laughed at and pitied and held in contempt, no matter how high her social rank. A much older man doing that to pretty young women, no matter how low his social rank? Perfectly fucking normal, because he’s perfectly fucking entitled.

Same goes for older men in politics, church and state alike, policing who gets to have birth control and abortions, and who doesn’t. One would think that since it’s not their bodies, it’s not their issue. But they do think it’s their issue, because our bodies, so they think, are theirs to own and control.

Women’s bodies are treated as public property, to be displayed like objects, and pawed at random, and accorded no respect. To be born female is to put up with a lot of shit from entitled menfolks.

And it starts early.

I first became aware of it around the time I hit puberty, just before my tenth birthday. As soon as my breasts started budding — BAM! — instant sexual harassment. Just add hormones. And it had me hunching, slouching, crossing my arms, and wearing baggy, weather-inappropriate clothing for years in an effort to fend it all off. It didn’t work. It’s absolutely amazing how boobs, even ones barely bigger than a little kid’s mosquito bites, will attract unwanted attention. If a girl’s nipples poke up against her top, they will get gawked at, grabbed at, and twiddled like radio knobs. Failing that, there’s always that other, more juvenile statement of entitlement and ownership: the snapping of the bra strap. (Which, boys take note, does nothing to make a girl want you. Oh, she’ll notice you, all right, but not in a good way. Just think how you’d feel if she gave you an atomic wedgie or pantsed you in front of the entire class, and you’ll know how she feels about you doing that to her.)

And then we have the pedophiles, who also feel perfectly entitled to molest girls too young for even their first “training” bra. And who bitterly resent the fact that it’s illegal, and that there is any age of consent at all. But at the same time, they are grotesquely turned on by the fillip of doing something so illicit. Some of them are even willing to travel for the privilege of paying for what no one could even pretend was an encounter between consenting equals. I’ve never been approached by one them that I could remember, but then, maybe I was just plain lucky never to have encountered any. And when you’re too young to know what sex is, how can you even tell?

Now, of course, with the ubiquity of the Internet, one can’t get away from them. Or from guys who disingenuously argue that with the onset of puberty, a girl becomes fair game for any grotty thing a man might have in mind. (It’s worth noting that the Taliban thought Malala Yousufzai was fair game for shooting in the head because she was already pubescent.) There are all kinds of guys who, very “rationally” and “logically”, argue that if she’s old enough to bleed, she’s old enough to breed, and that the age of consent should be dropped in favor of “whenever she’s physically mature”. It doesn’t matter if she’s mentally mature or not; her job, it seems, is to be available to all comers, and to submit “willingly” to their advances. What she wants doesn’t matter. Physically developed girl = Total Slut Totally Asking For It. (It’s also worth noting that the average age for first-time prostitutes in North America is not 18 to 21, or even 16-18, it’s 11-14. Not only are girls that age considered “fair game”, they are highly profitable game. And yes, the johns know how old they are, and don’t give a damn that they can’t legally consent. They demand them that age, after all.)

The “old enough to breed” fallacy is never more glaring than in cases of precocious puberty, where girls as young as five (and some even younger!) have exhibited signs, such as breast development and menstruation, that one normally wouldn’t expect to see before age 11 or 12. Five years old is old enough for kindergarten; it is NOT old enough for sex. Never mind if she can already fill a bra. Not even if she’s getting her periods regularly. But it has been known to happen. I’ve lost count of how many such sickening instances I’ve come across. And there is nothing more jarring than seeing a five-year-old girl with adult-size breasts and a huge pregnant belly, who has no way of explaining how it happened. She hasn’t yet learned the words for all her body parts, and has no clear concept of sex, regardless of how “mature” she may outwardly appear to be. To take advantage of her, just because she looks like a miniature adult, is to ignore her right to a full, safe, unmolested childhood. (And again: How many women do you know of who have taken advantage of a precocious little boy’s accelerated puberty? Even Mary Kay Letourneau picked a kid who was of normal pubertal age and development — and if you’ve ever read her story, and know the arch-conservative circumstances of her upbringing, you’ll know just how messed up she is!)

And then again, sometimes you get wingnuts who just infantilize ALL women. Because they have to feel superior to them somehow.

No, there’s no way of getting around the sexist notion that all women, just by virtue of being female, owe something to all men. And that thing is access to their bodies. And accessibility, it seems, is signalled by conforming to the notion that we owe them “pretty”. And that we owe them “ladylike”. And that we owe them a degree of deference and respect which is merely optional when it goes the other way. And that if we don’t smile, and comply, and above all, remain silent, we’re the baddies in the whole fairytale.

We get insulted implicitly whenever we’re told “But you’d be so pretty if you only smiled!” (So, we’re ugly if we don’t? Wow, what a compliment!) We get insulted explicitly if we refuse to smile. We get flamed, insulted and harassed if we refuse to put up with shit on the Internet. Some of us get chased out of our homes by trolls for it. Some of us even get assaulted for it. We go from pretty princess to ugly hag and wicked stepmother combined. And all for just not complying.

Well, fuck that noise. I don’t owe “pretty” to complete strangers, or “ladylike” to anyone who pesters me. No woman does.

I always make a point of learning the “bad” words early in any foreign language I undertake, so that I can pull them out as needed when travelling or talking on the Internets. I can now cuss like a well-travelled sailor in at least half a dozen languages. It even stands me in good stead in my semi-professional capacity as a literary translator; it’s actually gotten me jobs, because it demonstrates full competence in the language in question. And I don’t take kindly to anyone who considers me “fair game” for sexual harassment or assault because I cuss, either.

I do not smile on command; I only smile if I feel like it. Anyone who tries to make me smile against my will, gets an exaggerated version of my resting bitchface.

If you honk your horn or throw a “nice tits” at me, expect to see a one-fingered salute, held high so everyone else can see it too.

If you harass me on the Internet and I can expose your data to hackers and police alike, I damn well will. And even if I can’t do that, I can still mock and ridicule you, and use my right to free speech against you. I hate trolls because they make the world so goddamn fucking ugly.

I don’t owe compliance to any man. I don’t owe you the time of day. And I certainly don’t owe you “pretty”.

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A few random thoughts on mental illness and suicide

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King. Parry (Williams), who is homeless and mentally ill, retells the story of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail.

In light of all the ignorant and shitty things being said in the wake of Robin Williams’s incredibly sad passing, I want to say a few things of my own to offset all the ignorance and bullshit. This may be rough and disjointed, but here goes:

Suicide is not an act of cowardice. One of the weird paradoxes of clinical depression is that it tends to cause thoughts of suicide, but also tends to inhibit the depressed person from acting out those thoughts by leaving that person exhausted and devoid of will. Just being alive under those circumstances is an incredible act of courage, so wanting out isn’t “cowardly”, but rather quite understandable. At the same time, it can also be grisly and horrifying just to contemplate…yes, even under those circumstances.

When I was depressed, I was constantly exhausted, yet constantly filled with anxiety, with a sensation of burning in my veins. I had panic attacks, which made me want to flee whatever place I was in, but sapped my physical strength so that I could hardly move. This painful paradox led to a lot of suicidal ideation for me. When my boyfriend took me to Niagara Falls, I couldn’t cross a high bridge without thinking of how much easier it would all be if I only found the courage to step over the railing and let myself fall through the cool air into the waters of the drainage canal, 70 metres below. Yes, I measured the drop…by tossing a stone and timing the splash, then calculating the distance based on acceleration due to gravity. And whenever I passed a railroad track and saw a freight train coming, I felt an almost magnetic pull toward it, and a horrific urge to lay my burning neck down on the nice, cool rail. It was like the world’s most perverse physics class.

These thoughts of suicide brought me no relief; on the contrary, they contributed to the horror and exhaustion of an already gruesome battle. I did not want to die. I only wanted the pain to end. The fact that my illness was suggesting its own “cure” in such a dire manner was a terrifying experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, not even my worst enemy.

I wasn’t being weak when I had suicidal thoughts. It took great strength to resist them, but it would have taken even greater strength to act them out!

The reason why some people on antidepressants commit suicide? Disinhibition. Prozac is legendary for giving depressed people back the energy the disease has sapped from them. It is also notorious for giving them the energy to take their own lives, where the depression had taken that away. This is why some people who are apparently recovering well on antidepressants “unexpectedly” take their own lives. Before prescribing any drug, a psychiatrist must ask them: Have you ever thought of suicide, or tried to commit it? If the answer is yes, any disinhibiting antidepressant is contraindicated.

I had suicidal ideations. I was so paralyzed by my illness that I couldn’t ask for help even though I needed it desperately. I should have seen a psychiatrist, should have gone on medication. Interestingly, one of the books I kept reading and rereading obsessively at the time was Colette Dowling’s You Mean I Don’t Have to Feel This Way?, which was about how antidepressants help treat the chemical imbalances of the brain that cause depression. But I never found the inner wherewithal to call my doctor or ask for a psychiatric referral. I never went on medication. I ended up toughing the illness out, and eventually the grey fog lifted. But when I later learned how many meds are tied to suicide in patients who appeared to be getting better, I wondered if I hadn’t somehow dodged a bullet. After all, Prozac was very much in fashion back then…

No, going on medication isn’t a sign of weakness either. Nor does it have anything to do with a conspiracy to “dope” us all into submission. The right medication(s) can save sanity and lives. The problem lies not with antidepressants, but rather with careless prescribing. And since a lot of doctors here in Ontario are overstressed and overextended themselves, with patient demand outstripping the physician supply, it’s all too easy for prescribing mistakes to happen. Especially if Big Pharma companies aggressively promote the latest drugs to doctors in an effort to boost sales.

And, give me a fucking break, Lionel Fucking Tiger, psychiatric meds are also NOT about “feminizing” boys. Antidepressants are not made of estrogen! A kid who can’t sit still in class, listening and learning, is not a boy being a boy, but a troubled youngster in need of help. If a girl acted that way, everybody would see that there was something wrong with her; sex changes NOTHING. Nobody can succeed in life by simply being left to run amuck. Anyone who thinks medication can’t make a positive difference to troubled kids has never been one, seen one, or had to deal with one. So please, spare me the pop-psych bullshit about the “need” to “bring back masculinity” by avoiding “emasculating” drugs like antidepressants or Ritalin. Masculinity never even left the building, and to equate it with madness is an insult to men, just as equating femininity with tameness is an insult to women.

No, genius and madness do not go hand in hand, either. Being exceptionally bright doesn’t make you crazy. Neither does being crazy mean that you are automatically gifted with rare and incredible insights. Yes, sometimes the two coincide in the same person. But to claim that this correlation somehow equals causation is like saying that having brown hair causes you to also have blue eyes, or vice versa. Plenty of people have the one, but not the other. And the fact that some people have both simply means that mental illness can happen to anyone, even the best of us.

When I was depressed, my normally high intelligence felt remote, like it had abandoned me. My usual creativity was dead and gone. I had trouble carrying out a lot of mental tasks that would ordinarily have been easy for me. I felt guilty and stupid all the time. Later, when the fog lifted, I got those faculties back. But when I was in the fog, even just walking to work or school took all the strength I had. By day’s end, I barely had the energy to lift a fork. It was like my brain had died and gone to hell. I was definitely no genius when I was sick.

Normality is not boring; it is a blessing. My only fear is that it will desert me without warning again, as it has repeatedly done in the past. I have been healthy for twenty years now. It is work, but it isn’t half as effortful as simply trying to survive while in the grip of a major depression.

And finally: No, mentally ill people are NOT in need of a good pep talk. You can’t jolly them out of it. Believe me, my former boyfriend tried. All it did was make me feel worse. And the trip to Niagara Falls, which was meant to cheer me up? It only fueled my depression and anxiety. That city is the worst place in the world to take a depressed person who also gets panic attacks. Especially if, like me, you are already afraid of heights even when you’re perfectly well. And the fact that I found no cheer in the tawdry, tacky tourist attractions made me feel like a total wet blanket on my boyfriend and his buddies, who were determined to have a good time even if I couldn’t.

Don’t try to talk a mentally ill person out of being ill. You can’t do that. All you can do, at the end of the day, is listen. Offering to do just that is often enough. And yet, too many people can’t even do that. It’s because they can’t fathom how badly a depressed friend needs someone else who is willing to hear it. If you’ve never been depressed, how on Earth would you know? So don’t presume to know anything. Don’t try to tell your sick friend anything. Ask.

You have no idea how much your friend is dying to tell.

Quotable: Naomi Wolf on Gaza

Come see me eat nipples!

Y’okay. Now that we’ve got the silliness out of our systems (and the deliberately bad English translations of Bollywood dance numbers), let’s talk a bit about nipples.

Perhaps you’ve seen the Tata Top, and heard of #FreeTheNipple? Yeah, boobs are in the news again. And it’s all because female mammaries are (a) sexualized, and (b) CENSORED.

Oh yeah, and also because (b) is a direct outgrowth of (a). And vice versa.

And because the Puritans are dead, but small-p puritanism still lives in the US, and Canada too, by extension. Even though it’s legal for women to go topless up here, and has been for decades, most of us won’t do it unless we’re strictly among people we love and trust.

And some of us — me, for instance — won’t even do it in our own backyards.

Granted, I have sound health reasons for not taking advantage of our liberal clothing laws. I’m a natural redhead, and that means fair skin that burns easily. I don’t tan for shit, and I don’t want skin cancer, either. So when it gets hot, I tend to run for cover. And let my big, baggy ol’ t-shirts be my shady tents, especially if it’s too hot for bras.

But even if sunburn weren’t an issue, I’d still be reluctant to go out in a bikini top. Never mind one that’s cleverly colored (and printed) to look like bare breasts.

Now, why do you suppose that is?

Well, for starters, I’m very well endowed. Not bragging, but not ashamed of what I’ve got either. I love my bazookas, even though they complicate my life no end.

And yes, they do complicate it. I’ve been sexually harassed even while fully clothed. By strangers. By acquaintances. By people I thought I could trust. And this has been going on for as long as I’ve had boobs at all. Even tiny, barely-budding ones, at the age of 10. Know what that means? It means that for the past 36 years, I’ve been covering up in a vain and useless attempt to ward off unwanted attention, comments, grabs, and general grossness.

It’s like me having boobs gives random guys some kind of licence to get all yucky with ‘em. And that’s why I can’t have a simple, uncomplicated, happy affection for my gazongas.

And it’s not just me. In fact, it’s not even just women who’ve had to face this sort of creepy censorious/sexualized treatment of their bodies. As Scout Willis found out, men once had to fight for the right to go shirtless in public on hot days. And I recall reading that in Spain, during the Franco dictatorship, newspapers had to hire photo-retouchers just to paint undershirts on prizefighters in the sports section, lest Spanish ladies have their modesty offended by the sight of — gasp! — male nipples.

Well, my modesty isn’t offended by the sight of a man’s bare chest. I’ll gladly look at attractive ones, and even think to myself that cool dude so-and-so sure looks hot with his shirt off. I like guys; love them, even. So why should my modesty be affected by the sight of one running around half naked?

In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, what some call “modesty” is nothing more than our right not to be sexually molested. It exists no matter what we wear, how we act, or where we go. But by putting the onus on women to “keep modest” so as not to be molested, it puts the burden on the wrong person. If I could be harassed (as in fact I was) while wearing a puffy coat, baggy jeans, and Doc Martens — and not a speck of makeup — then clearly what I’m wearing or not wearing is not the issue. (For the record, I’ve also been left strangely unmolested while wearing miniskirts.) The blame should be on the harasser, not the harassed. And since I didn’t harass myself, but guys harassed me — gee, you don’t suppose maybe guys could do with a bit of educating, do you?

Nah, of course not. Men are all perfect. Rape culture doesn’t apply to them. Their bodies aren’t sexualized like ours are. It’s we women who have to cover up, worry about how we look, and second-guess ourselves constantly. We have to do it all for them, so they never have to do it for themselves.

And that, pardon the expression, really chafes my tits.

So, here’s my radical thought for the day: Guys, remember that your forefathers had to fight for the right to walk around half-naked where others could see them. And remember, too, that even though your right to seminudity is fully legal and unremarkable, hordes of women aren’t running after you, catcalling you and pawing your body, no matter how effin’ gorgeous it is. There’s a reason for that: We got Nice Girl training. We are taught from an early age not to be rude, forward and unmannerly. But more than that, we know how gross we’d feel if someone did that to us. And we don’t view you as our property. We don’t think you’re there for us to just wipe ourselves on. We think you have a right to be left in peace — to not be touched unless you make it clear that you want us touching you.

And if you reciprocate, and stop making such an idiotic fuss about our boobs, you might in fact be making this world a much better — and cooler — place.

No, of COURSE misogyny is not a problem anymore. Silly ladies!

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Awwww. Isn’t that a cute widdle hammy-wamster? It sure is. A pity that what it stands for isn’t nearly so adorable.

Yes, folks, I’m talking about misogyny today. The M-word. The one that half the population fears, and the other half doesn’t seem to know exists.

The half of the population that fears it isn’t all women. Some lucky ladies are so privileged that they can’t even see misogyny, much less how it affects them, how narrowly it circumscribes every aspect of their lives. The half that fears it is a mixed bag of genders, but what we have that the other half doesn’t is the wits to recognize the monster behind that cute widdle fuzzy golden face. And to dread it, knowing that we are up for one helluva fight.

What must it be like to live on the other side? The privileged side, the one that doesn’t even see the problem? The side that is mostly, but not all, male? The side that has internalized misogyny so the boys will like them better?

Well, here are some clues.

How about the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, who don’t seem to see a problem if a religious doctor privileges private “conscience” over a woman’s basic human right to complete medical care? Ontario is a big province, and not all of us live in cities where, if one doctor refuses to treat us, we can simply flip through the vast phone book until we find another who will. In rural and northern areas, women often have to travel many miles just to see a doctor at all. What happens if that doctor is one of those who say “Nope, I don’t do abortions or birth control, because God won’t love me if I do”? Where else do you go, when you have to get on a small airplane and fly hundreds of miles south just to see THAT useless halfwit?

Why, you just go home, to your kitchen, like a good little lady. Stay barefoot and pregnant and out of sight. That’s where you go.

But wait, that’s how it is for the half of us with the wits to know and fear misogyny. We’re still trying to figure out how that other half lives. The kind that says we belong in concentration camps and that only a few of us should be kept alive, in semi-starvation, for breeding purposes. Can’t forget about them, can we? After all, they dominate our world, whether we realize it or not.

Oh yeah…about that concentration-camps thing. Did you know Elliot Rodger’s grandfather was among the first to photograph the victims of Bergen-Belsen? I only found that out today, while looking for links to insert in the above paragraph. But wow, that’s one helluva clue. I can see through this that to live on the other side is to be possessed of a very twisted and minimal sense of human decency…and no sense of irony whatsofuckingEVER.

And for those who think there’s no connection between a young suicidal megalomaniac, Nazi death camps, and doctors who refuse to treat women as fully adult, autonomous human beings, capable of making their own medical decisions and with a right to expect doctors to abide by them, let me remind you here and now that the Nazis didn’t believe in abortion either. And that they rewarded women for bearing lots of children, Quiverfull-style.

My own paternal grandmother got a Mother’s Cross for having four children — and the irony of that hit home when my grandpa dared to complain about how Germany had gone to shit since the Nazis were in power. He got called up on the carpet by the Gestapo, and the first words out of the officer’s mouth were “Sie haben vier Kinder…” (“You have four children…”)

It was a straight-up death threat. The Gestapo man was saying, in not so many words, that if my grandpa wanted his four acceptably-German children to live, he’d better shut the fuck up about the Nazis. If he’d made good on that threat, my dad would not be here today, and neither would I.

And, mind you, these were the same Nazis who set up “life camps” for unwed mothers to spawn the next generation of “pure”, “Aryan” denizens of the “Thousand-Year Reich”.

I’m sorry, I’m not doing a very good job at all of getting how these misogynists think, am I? It’s all hurting my poor widdle lady-brain. And so early in the morning, too.

Guess I’d better toddle off to my kitchen and start cooking lunch, now.