3.29.2006

Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt

I've resisted blogging about this issue for a few days now, partly because I've been too busy to give it the attention it deserves, but mostly because I've just been too heartbroken, too soul-sad and devastated to even attempt to put my thoughts into words. Anyone who has ever studied radical feminist literature or theory understands the concept of intersectionality, the belief that classical modes of oppression (e.g., gender, race, class) do not act independently of one another, but rather intersect and interrelate and bring force to bear on individuals in such a way that oppression becomes more than just the sum of its parts. I understand the concept, I've studied it, but it seems that in my life I've been too sheltered to have truly recognized it as something other than theory.

On March 14th, two African American women were hired to dance at a party hosted by members of the Duke University Men's Lacrosse team; what followed was a nightmare of misogyny and racism. According to the local newspaper:

The woman who says she was raped last week by three members of the Duke
University lacrosse team thought she would be dancing for five men at a
bachelor party, she said Friday.

But when she arrived that night, she found herself surrounded by more than 40. Just moments after she and another exotic dancer started to perform, she said, men in the house started barking racial slurs. The two women, both black, stopped dancing.

"We started to cry," she said. "We were so scared."

[...]

This was the first time she had been hired to dance provocatively for a group, she said. There was no security to protect her, and as the men became aggressive, the two women started to leave. After some of the men apologized for the behavior, the women went back inside, according to police. That's when the woman was pulled into a bathroom and raped and sodomized, police said.

Her attackers were overheard by a neighbor as having said, "Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt."

Alas, a blog has a round-up of commentary from blogs and news sources, and song4assata has created a new site, Justice 4 Two Sisters, specifically to track the case. Sheezlebub,who recently chronicled the O.C. rape case, has expressed her anger far more eloquently than I ever could.

For me, this case is not only emblematic of the deep-seated and rampant sexism and racism that permeates American culture, but it underscores a fundamental truth: "that patriarchy is a violently tyrannical but nearly invisible social order based on an oppressive paradigm of dominance and submission fetishizing class and status. Patriarchy's benefits are accrued according to a rigid hierarchy at the top of which are rich honky males and at the bottom of which are poor women of color. " [The Twisty Manifesta] In Patriarchy, women are the sex class, and whether individual men treat us as such is of little consequence when society as a whole has pre-determined our status as mere objects of pleasure.

There are feminists who will argue that sex-work can be liberating;* that prostitution and pornography and "exotic dancing" can be delightful and lucrative careers for women. And certainly it seems that women who thought she was merely dancing for a small bachelor party at the Duke Lacrosse house bought that line of thinking (at least the lucrative part). According to the News & Observer article cited above:

The accuser had worked for an escort company for two months, doing one-on-one dates about three times a week.

"It wasn't the greatest job," she said, her voice trailing off. But with two children, and full class load at N.C. Central University, it paid well and fit her schedule.

"It wasn't the greatest job." But it was a job that would ensure that she could continue to work toward her degree while still putting food on the table for her babies. This wasn't a choice borne of the desire to titillate, to be sexy and carefree; this woman chose her profession because her other options--drop out of school, wait tables, etc.--would not give her anywhere near the pay and time flexibility as sex work. Only a fool would look at this woman's (all women's) options and call this liberation.

I make no differentiation between stripping, pornography and prostitution--to me, they are all the same thing. All rely on the objectification of women, the commodification of our bodies and the negation of our souls. All rest on the premise that providing sexual pleasure for men is our raison d'etre, and that the most valuable asset women have resides between our legs. And so long as women are forced to choose between starvation and stripping, sex work cannot be considered some form of liberation--it can only be viewed as rape. As those brutes at Duke have shown, once you've turned a woman's body and sexuality into something that can be bought, it's not a stretch to turn it into something that can be stolen.

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* I refuse to link to adherents of this argument on principle.

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annamaria at 1:26 PM

4 spoke

4 Comments

at Friday, March 31, 2006 9:48:00 AM Blogger ACUMEN said...

"once you've turned a woman's body and sexuality into something that can be bought, it's not a stretch to turn it into something that can be stolen."
This is exactly the quote that I continue to spread throughout my lifetime - to educate those around me. Somehow, I find that people don't think very critially about the state of the world and what it all means.
Thankyou for your post. i couldn't agree more. Completely.

 
at Friday, March 31, 2006 9:59:00 AM Blogger annamaria said...

And thank you for your comment.

I think it's easier for people to pretend that my anti-porn stance is really anti-sex, that I'm some kind of prudish radfem that wants to ruin everyone's good time. That's certainly not the case. It's just that I understand that even if the individual woman in (het) porn has chosen her career because she loves it (and maybe even turned down a lucrative career in quantum physics so she could do sex work), her positive experience can be a nightmare for other women. It sets a standard of objectification that poisons society with the belief that women are not the natural owners of our own bodies. And that is the definition of a rape culture.

 
at Friday, March 31, 2006 10:25:00 AM Blogger ACUMEN said...

I agree! I agree!...I'm excited to hear your response because exactly like you mention - people take these views as 'prudish' and odd, like your abnormal or something. It's frustrating because as I mentioned before, when you critically think about it the dynamics are pretty obvious - and thats scary - that many people either don't want to think about it or don't have a critical mind. Sexual objectification has become normal. What infuriates me most is women who objectify themselves, those that see nothing wrong with it. As you say, this is perpetuates those dangerous beliefs about women - that we are here for mens sexual pleasure.
I argue to no end that the only way we will ever have any attempt to turn this around is when women cease to objectify themselves - through media, sex industry and even every day life in the way 'we' portray ourselves in manner and dress. Obviouly what is most scary about this is that we are in an era of a highly sexualized culture - one that I once again agree with you - is a rape culture.
Tell me, Annamaria - it seems that we have a similar fury for such things - how do you personally deal with such things? Maybe I am being being presumptuous - but I do find this increasingly difficult personally - because in the media we are bombarded by sexual images. I find myself being very disturbed and upset by such things...how do we really make a difference?

 
at Friday, March 31, 2006 10:40:00 AM Blogger annamaria said...

How do I deal with it? I honestly don't know--there are days when I am overcome with sadness and despondency (that's pretty much how I felt when I originally read the Duke story), and other days when I am full of righteous anger and heaven help the man that crosses my path! The only thing that has ever worked for me, really, is just talking about it--both with like-minded women, and with men who, however well-intentioned, have no basis for the kinds of shit that women deal with everyday. Kind of like I did here.

I had a conversation with my friend Clint (Hi Clint!) while I was visiting him in LA, and we talked about the fear that women have in situations that seem prosaic to men. I told Clint how I won't step into an elevator if there is only one man, or perhaps two who appear to be friends. I just don't put myself in that position, because the idea of being in an enclosed space with a (male) stranger triggers an innate "Danger!" response. Clint was genuinely upset that I felt this way, and mostly because he realized that he could have been that guy in the elevator that I considered a threat. And I'm sure that Clint (and hopefully any men who stumble upon this comment) will never look at an elevator the same way again. And I hope that once men realize that the power to stop violence against women rests in their hands (literally), and when they listen to women (really listen to us) about the effect that consumer-sexuality has on us, maybe things will change.

In the meantime, I just keep talking and writing. Oh, and ripping up copies of Maxim when I get the chance!

 

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