Melinda Tankard Reist on the Harms of Pornography

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Melinda Tankard Reist, co-editor of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. Melinda is also the co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation.

How did you become interested in researching pornography?

There were a few things that came together around the same time. Women started telling me their stories of being hurt and harmed by a partner’s compulsive porn use. In my talks in schools, teen girls shared with me the pressure they felt to provide a porn-style performance, to act, essentially, as a sexual service station for men and boys. They were expected to provide naked images of themselves, to provide sexual services. As well, the sex industry was dominating and colonising every public space and was rarely brought to account. I began to talk to my publishers about what I was hearing. Spinifex had published an earlier book in 2004 titled Not for Sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant. It was a powerful book. But so much had happened since then, especially with the internet being used to globalize and spread pornography. We felt that a new book on pornography was needed. It also seemed to be a natural progression from my previous book Getting Real: challenging the sexualization of girls, published by Spinifex in 2009. [Read more...]

The Flip Side: Women as Commodities

This is the second of a two-part series about the short film The Flip Side: Dating.

In the first post we discussed how The Flip Side: Dating portrays women as hysterical, illogical, and irrational. In the film, the “gender roles” (or “gender rules,” depending on how you view it) are switched: men act like women and women like men, in a variety of scenes that depict stereotypical gender behavior. This post focuses on one scenario that we found both interesting and disturbing.

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Is Sex Work a Viable Job Path?

A friend of mine and I recently got into a debate about the messages we send to children about their career aspirations. My friend said that her main goal in life is to teach her kids to stay off the street corner and stay off the pole. I told her that I didn’t have a problem with sex work, and that if my hypothetical daughter wanted to make money giving hand jobs when she grew up, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. My friend was a little appalled at my point of view – and I’m guessing I won’t be getting any babysitting requests from her.

Let me start out by saying that there is a big difference between people who are sex slaves and people who consensually enter the sex trade. My argument is not that I would force anyone into prostitution. My argument is that sex work is a legitimate profession for the folks who choose it.

I am also not saying that kids should be sex workers. I’m talking about adults in the sex industry. I am decidedly against child pornography and little girls giving non-consensual blow jobs to grown ass adults who should learn how to keep their peepers to themselves. [Read more...]

Hookers for Jesus: More Than Just a Catchy Title

Vintage Logo of Annie Lobert's Hookers for Jesus ministryEarlier this week, a woman named Annie Lobért appeared on the Today show to discuss her organization, Hookers for Jesus. Lobért began working as a prostitute when she was 19 years old, and spent 16 years as both a prostitute and high-class escort. Lobért founded Hookers for Jesus in 2006, with the goal of helping women leave the sex work industry; the organization is based in Las Vegas, where it operates a safe house for women and teens who need a place to live while they are transitioning out of the industry.

Prostitution is a serious problem, both in the United States and worldwide.  Too often, sex workers are abused and mistreated by pimps, clients, or both, and there is often little recourse for those seeking help. Lobért claims that she was raped and abused repeatedly while working as a prostitute and escort, and says that many of her friends in the industry have had similar experiences.

Lobért is the first to admit that it’s very difficult for women to leave the sex-work industry – she candidly says that she “relapsed” several times – which makes the group’s success stories all the more compelling. To combat this problem, the range of services offered at the transitional house is fairly comprehensive; residents are offered professional counseling, nutrition and fitness instruction, and life-skills training, among other services.

With a name like Hookers for Jesus, of course, the question of faith is put front and center. [Read more...]

Prostitution Outlawed in Rhode Island

prostituteProstitution used to be legal in the state of Rhode Island. But earlier this month the state’s General Assembly closed a loophole in a 1980 law that unintentionally legalized brothels. According to NPR:

Back in 1980, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law meant to speed the prosecution of streetwalkers. But in the process, legislators unwittingly decriminalized prostitution that took place indoors. This loophole didn’t attract much notice for years.

Then, in 2003, a court case made it clear that prostitutes were free from prosecution if their sex trade occurred behind closed doors. The result has been a growing number of so-called Asian spas that critics say are thinly veiled brothels.

On Nov. 3, Gov. Donald Carcieri closed the loophole by signing a bill that immediately banned indoor prostitution. “Prostitution, outdoors or indoors, is a bad thing,” he announced. “I think it’s been a black eye, frankly, in our state, that we’ve allowed this to go, for whatever the reason is, for far too long.”

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A Feminist Look at the Thailand Brothels

Each year approximately 80,000 women are forced into Thailand brothels due to a combination of debt bondage and a broader mentality of misogyny and sexism. Since the Vietnam War, particularly, Thailand has gained international popularity among travelers from all countries as a sex tourism destination. Young girls ranging from as low as six years of age are sold into the sex trade industry because of family debt or even to satisfy the greed of a family seeking a higher status in the class system. When this habitual treatment is combined with the unyielding profit making of the new economy, the result for women is horrific. Thailand is nothing short of a stage for patriarchy and racism, where men from around the world come to perform their role of male supremacy over Thai women.

Factbook on global sexual exploitation

Capitalist-patriarchy constructs the brothel as an economically justifiable place of exploitation. A complex relationship exists today between a young prostitute, forced into slavery because of debt bondage, and the slaveholder who justifies his action by reducing a brothel to “customary” profit in a modern economy. This makes clear a very dependent relationship between capitalism and patriarchy in our culture, where the former is constantly a vehicle for pushing the latter forward, and vise versa. Despite the false assertions that brothel owners throughout the world continue to portray, it is clear that there is a systematic enslavement existing in places like Thailand, where women are reduced to sexual objects for the pleasure of the traveling business guest. Women in Thailand are things, markers in a male game of status and prestige. It is thus no surprise that some women are treated as livestock – kidnapped, abused, held like animals, bought and sold, and dumped when their usefulness is gone.
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