by PostModernity's Red-Headed Step-Child

"Um, yeh, like, I'd like to exchange this paradigm? It's tew scratch-ehy."


New Blog Location

Moved to Wordpress. Catch up with me there. 

Travel well, my readers.


Gloria Steinem on Human Trafficking at Washington University

So, props by woman Margaret for her hard, hard work getting this event together.She and the St. Louis Sex Trafficking Initiative, and various other good people at Washington University's Brown School of Social Work put this event, and a series of event together. They are doing good work. As for my friend, Go You! Nothing like being in your first year of your masters in social work, focused on addressing demand for sex slaves, and hooking up the right people to do the right thing, pretty much from the get go!

It's an event for a third-wave woman to see Gloria Steinem. One pays attention, one knows Something Is Happening. She's been fighting the good fight our whole lives. And the best part of that was: what happened was totally human and real.

We know she's a badass feminist and social justice activist. We know she knows her feminist history. We know she's not even kidding. But, watching her talk yesterday taught me that all that badassery comes from a very solid, very sure center of herself. She's calm, level, focused in her urgency. A quality, as this blog has often shown, I seldom possess.

She was also grieving. Chief Wilma Mankiller, of the Cherokee Nation, died last week of a very aggressive cancer. They were great friends, and Steinem spent the week before Mankiller's death at her home, helping with the general care and preparation for her passing. As she put it, "There was no reality outside of that house." Naturally, this experience, this intense and intimate time in a most sacred moment for the Cherokee people, influenced her talk with us on human trafficking--especially trafficking for sex. Partly, she wove this experience into this issue to honor her sister-friend, and partly she wove them because traditional Native American attitudes about women are a living reminder that our attitudes about gender and sex are not the only one's we might inhabit. (A long way around to the point of the laugh line, "What we are learning in the contemporary moment is that patriarchy doesn't work anywhere.") As Steinem reminded the audience, regarding her friend's death, "We don't control life; we can only use what happens." So, she used what happened to teach us on Monday.

Interesting connection: Steinem pointed out that our early colonists were perplexed to discover that rape, in or out of the context of war, was unknown among the native peoples they encountered. It's a clue to how "normal" a part of the masculine mystique that kind of power has long been in Europe, and just how cultural and contingent that normalcy is. Indeed, as the work of Elaine Pagels and Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor -- and hosts of less famous feminist archeologists and theologians and historians have shown -- what we know as patriarchy and its gender ideology in is very new in human culture, only about 5% of our collective history according to work Steinem cited. We have, if we would like to consider them, old models on which to imagine and build new futures.

In and against a context of sex trafficking, Steinem therefore exhorted us to "eroticize equality and de-eroticize dominance." It's not the first time I've heard this call. bell hooks asked for the same thing in Austin a few years ago at Book People, an event in which my woman Carrie was involved. hooks asked that we insert into popular culture more and more stories and images of loving relations -- that don't follow the traditional romantic formula, since that is often a formal substitute (in cultural productions) for presenting the complexities and beauties of love. It's the key point I like so much in Luce Irigaray's work: what that means and how to make that real in our world.

About sex trafficking specifically, Steinem spent a good deal of time on the American misconception that this horror only happens "abroad" in places like Thailand or India or Europe. What we don't know about this misconception is significant. An estimated 25% of the sex tourists who frequent slave brothels are American. As films like Very Young Girls demonstrate, American pimps seduce and then essentially kidnap American girls -- from every tax bracket, all regions of country -- and force them into prostitution. There is a growth industry in the US in the trafficking of girls, boys, women. Steinem described The Minnesota Pipeline  that works by running adds in small town papers in the northern Plains (where there are lots of young, blond women), promising them jobs in New York City -- jobs that are traps full of drugs, isolation, and rape. This is organized crime, there are syndicates. It's city girls, country girls, suburban and exurban girls. A great long form bit of journalism is Girls Next Door at NYT Magazine. Historically, this is not news in America. Steinem described sex camps that were established in up-state New York in the 1800s where women were kept in barracks, behind 30 ft stockades, guarded by dogs. A point often made by First Wave feminists, but overlooked in our popular understanding of their grievances.

Steinem focused on what can be done. What can be done? One, remember that these behaviors are addictions, really, and that while many women experience rape in our country, that's not What Men Do. The average US rapist has assaulted 14 women. They are men at one end of the spectrum of the masculinity. Their numbers are small, but the social and personal damage they do is enormous.

More, seek out and encourage, or establish, men's groups that work against gender bias and trafficking and abuse. Abusive men don't care what women think or say, but they do respect other men. One such organization is Man UP, which (among other things) is working to prevent trafficking in South Africa in order to capitalize on the upcoming tourist influx for the World Cup. (This point came up when an audience member asked about the rumors that 50,000 women and children were trafficked into Germany for the last World Cup. Turns out that's true, Steinem telling us that whole apartment buildings were rented for this purpose, high rise brothels.)

Seek out, support, establish trafficking awareness and support organizations in all communities. Between sex and labor trafficking, there is no area of the country, no county, no city that is not affected. One often cited example is GEMS in New York, an organization that helps young people transition out of sexual exploitation.

Give up the idea that these kids and women are "there by choice." That libertarian view is balderdash. The average age of entry into forced sex work is 13 in the US. No one says, "When I grow up, I want to be a hooker, ... maybe a stripper...." The life expectancy for these exploited people is somewhere around 40 years. That's not an ambition. That's an accident orchestrated by criminals and economic insecurity.

Lobby and agitate for laws and their enforcement. The US has not ratified the international CEDAW treaty, AKA the Treaty for the Rights of Women. It should. This problem is international, and we have responsibilities. Lobby for education programs for police. The pimps and customers need prosecution. The women need counseling and support services. Lobby for such services. The average domestic violence shelter has neither the space, the resources, nor the experience needed to help these women and children.

One of her stories affirmed our instincts. If something smells wrong, it's wrong. Report your suspicions. Who works in the kitchen of the restaurant you're eating in; why does that nanny seem so afraid of the husband, the wife; why does that factory have fences that keep people in rather than out? Learn and share the numbers for relevant hot lines in your area. A quick bit of googling will bring them right up.

Remember that trafficking is not just about the sex economy. It's cooks, bus boys, it's construction, it's janitorial services, it's roofers, it's lawn care and landscaping labor, it's nannies and au pairs, it's garment workers, it's wait staff, it's strippers, it's girls in porn films; it's the guy who cleans the meat grinder in the factory that makes cattle into hamburger meat. It could be the guy stocking the shelves in your grocery store. It's you name it. Slavery is experiencing a glorious renaissance.

Steinem asked we remember that Stockholm Syndrome is not just for prisoners of war.  The men and women who buy, sell, own and "season" their victims work hard to inculcate that deadly combination of love, fear, and total dependency. Be gentle, these people are convinced they need their kidnapper, pimp, and abuser.

And be careful. This is high-dollar, international, organized crime the profits and reach of which rival the black markets in drugs and weapons. There is lots of money at stake, and you know how people get around Lots of Money at Stake. Call the authorities, local, state, and federal. The list of laws one must break in order to accomplish trafficking and sexual exploitation involves all jurisdictions.

It was a wholly inspiring afternoon. This travesty of humanity is not natural. We are more than this. As Steinem put it, "We have our individuality, our community, our humanity to claim."


A Poem, likely the beginning of something

Poetry came to visit again, too bad she seems to be in a bad mood. But, she's got the feel of something new astir in here. We shall see where this goes.


folded in this trunk, somewhere, is the me

this moment is not about sex

the debt of that girl’s death also folded in the trunk

this moment is not about to happen

somewhere, in the me, the dance that girl performed is written

this moment is happening

and is not about sex

nothing lyrical or pretty is folded in here

the debt of lyrical to that girl


So, Wanna Pay Your Taxes Now?

Back in the 1980's, there was a recession. States needed to cut budgets. They cut money from psychiatric care facillities. The persistent homeless rates went up as people who weren't really dangerous, but who could in no way function on their own, wound up on the streets. I had a chat with a man in San Francisco who carried on very involved conversations with the rat living on his shoulder. Yes, the rat talked back. The rat's name was Charles. The man never told me his name. So, it's the 20tweens, another deep recession, and states are cutting budgets again. Now we're parolling criminals. (In between, we privatized much of the prision system, and that complicates things, I know...) Now we have a national focus on a really sweet girl who was abducted, defiled, killed, and buried in a shallow grave by a known and repeat sex offender because there's no money to keep very bad people in jail (and because we think rape is a less serious offense than murder). This was one of the "hard decisions" we are forced by circumstance to make.

So, I ask you. Do you want to pay your taxes now?


"What's your definition of Post-Feminist?" asked a friend of mine.

Post-feminist: (n. adj, Am E) A rhetorical flourish of the backlash offered as a compliment or sign of historical chic, but functionally a rightist conservative term meant to short circuit actual feminist cultural work. Know uses: She's nice to men so she's a post-feminist. He speaks to women respectfully, so he is a post-feminist. In the post-feminist era we have addressed the complaints raised by feminists concerning parity, education, safety from intimate violence, and the commodification of women as tools of the entertainment and advertising industries. In the post-feminist era, women are not abused, not sold into sexual slavery, not paid less, not suspected of emotional unpredictability, professional ineptitude, or intellectual handicap. Everything's ducky now, so hush. Oh, and post-feminist pornography is all images of hot lust in reciprocal and mutually satisfying sexual partnerships.