the rack and the screw

In defense of the second wave

Posted in blogwars, feminism, sexual violence by bellareve on April 5, 2009

Second wave (1970s) feminism is probably the most vilified, misunderstood, bad-mouthed, trashed and bashed social movement in American history. It is dismissed as ineffective, obsolete, and irrelevant, and at the same time blamed for doing irreparable damage to men, women, and society.

Now, it is absolutely reasonable and productive to be critical of certain aspects of the second wave, including the leaders, the strategies, and the ideologies. Among other things, I find tremendous fault with the focus on middle-class professional women, with the hostility towards sex workers and butch/femme lesbian relationships, and particularly with some of Betty Friedan’s assertions. (Like when she said Phyllis Schlafly should be “burned at the stake,” or her insistence that being a housewife is equivalent to being a child)

However. I am still fucking grateful for the accomplishments of second wave feminists. My life, and the lives of other women, would be qualitatively worse without them. And the perceived “failures” of the second wave are as much the result of anti-feminist stereotypes, mischaracterizations and distortions as they are the result of poor organizing within the movement. 

Here are, IMO, the most significant contributions of the second wave, obviously not an exhaustive list:

1. Awareness of domestic violence and rape, specifically support for survivors (hotlines, shelters, counseling, trauma centers) and prevention campaigns and legislation. These things have literally saved women’s lives. Personally I might have committed suicide after my rape and abuse if it weren’t for such programs and the social recognition of violence against women.

2. Speaking of saving lives: reproductive rights, primarily access to abortion and contraception, but also the knowledge and demystification of female anatomy and sexuality.

3. Recognition of/laws against sexual harassment – both physical and verbal -in the workplace. I’m pretty happy I don’t work in an office like the one in “Mad Men,” thanks. 

(Not to say that the above problems are solved. They aren’t, but we sure got a good start and things are mighty different now compared to forty years ago)

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PTSD

Posted in mental health/madness, sexual violence by bellareve on February 23, 2009

A few months after being raped at 18, I was hospitalized for PTSD. 

It took a few months because the symptoms came slowly at first. Intense anxiety, fear, vulnerability. Being always alert and on edge. Then sadness. Then howling rage. It all culminated in some episodes of suicidal thoughts, at which point I checked myself in.

For the next five years, therapy, medication, and the support of various friends, family, and partners kept me alive. And not only alive, they kept my symptoms, for the most part, under control. To the point where I was highly functional, safe with myself, and occasionally even happy. (Part of this had to do with discarding incompetent counselors/doctors who weren’t helping me, and experimental meds that made things worse…no easy task as many know)

But now the damn thing is back.

I realized this is probably what provoked me to start this blog, subconsciously. Because I’m having such a hard time and writing calms me down. In any case, my current therapist, the one who I like the most, suggested this. Apparently PTSD can in a way be “dormant” in one’s nervous system/mind,  similar to a virus, “activating” years later due to some type of trigger.

It came flooding back, not gradual this time, but tough and black and all consuming like tar. The same longing to self-destruct, the same difficulty getting air into my lungs, the same terrors at nighttime. The trigger, I’m certain, was the recent end of a serious relationship. The symptoms came almost immediately, eerily familiar, and just as unbearable.

I’m trying to survive but it goes against the instinct to disappear.

BDSM & “mental health”

Posted in blogwars, feminism, mental health/madness, sexual pleasure, sexual violence, something queer by bellareve on February 19, 2009

I’m not going to talk much about BDSM, except for this: The idea that women who like it are sick and need “mental help”/therapy.

Guess what? The mental health establishment is not always kind or helpful to women (or queers). Not even in 2009!!!! The institution you recommend is not exactly grounded in feminism. Although psychology and psychiatry can and have benefited some suffering people tremendously, they have also historically been coercive, violent, misogynist, and homophobic. So I wouldn’t dream of telling a stranger on the internet that she “needed” therapy. Disrespectful, for one thing. 

Now if you wanna talk about how fucked up and sick SOCIETY is, have at it, because that is another story.

Victimhood

Posted in blogwars, feminism, sex work, sexual violence by bellareve on February 15, 2009

I love this: 

http://thecurvature.com/2008/12/13/why-is-victim-a-dirty-word/

from Cara. My thoughts, listed numerically since for some reason that way makes my brain feel nicer:

1. Any person who has experienced trauma (meant broadly here, I include sexual violence, emotional abuse, involuntary institutionalization, injury/illness, etc) is entitled to define the experience and its effects as they see fit. 

2. Personally, I am both a survivor and a victim. A survivor because I am not dead. A victim because I am still hurting, every day, six years later, due to someone else’s actions. Someone else’s fault.

3. I reject the much repeated idea that women in general, but (second wave) feminists in particular, as well as other minority groups, “victimize ourselves,” “dwell on victimhood,” “perpetuate a myth of victimization,” etc. Individually, it is difficult not to do dwell if one has PTSD. Politically, it is unfair to demand that an oppressed group STFU about it. Which is how I interpret the charge of stopbeingavictim; it slyly suggests that we’re only imagining mistreatment, or that we’re being big whiny oversensitive crybabies about it. When this pertains to something like rape it is particularly sinister and dismissive.

perspectives on female sex work

Posted in blogwars, feminism, sex work, sexual violence by bellareve on February 7, 2009

After a brief stint in sex work, and reading tons of both academic theory/studies & the writing of actual sex workers, I have something to say to the rad fems and the pro-porn/sex positive crowd:

You’re both wrong.

Ok, not exactly. To me, you both have good points and not so good points. I have had a super hard time navigating blogs on this topic because the debate is highly polarized and generally the commenters on particular blogs are just repeating each other and themselves in increasingly more fervent tones. So, intimidated and frustrated, I never comment.

I’d love to finally explain how I feel on the issues I find most problematic. First, to address the views of (some) radical feminists/anti-porn folks:

1. “Sex workers are: lazy, naive, stupid, trashy, bimbos, manipulative, lacking in self respect/dignity/self esteem, greedy,” etc. (I have read things like “a truly smart, resourceful woman would get a legitimate job like the rest of us have to.”) Now, to be fair, these stereotypes are HUGELY popular in mainstream discourse and media, where they no doubt originated. However, if you are a feminist it is ABSOLUTELY your job to defend sex workers and fight AGAINST these characterizations rather than perpetuate and endorse them. (Just as a feminist would defend a career woman or a rape survivor or a single mother, etc.) Otherwise you might as well be an MRA.

2. “Sex work must be gross and disgusting eew all those old guys touching you.” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Some of the guys I danced for were awful and traumatizing and others….turned me on. Yep. Some were cute, and I liked dancing for them. I cried a few times, I had fun a few times. Just like with other jobs. It really depends. This is kind of another way of implying that sex workers are tainted & diseased. 

3. “Sex work makes all women look bad.” I think that sex workers are marginalized and stigmatized  in a unique way, and to an extent that doesn’t have much at all to do with “other” or “all” women. Remember, there are Virgins and Whores, women on Pedestals and those in Gutters. I would argue that sex workers are generally treated  faaaaar worse than women who don’t do sex work, and rank faaaaar lower on the social hierarchy. Also, sometimes what another woman does to survive or to support her kids has, um, nothing to do with you. 

… and now addressing the other side, the perspectives of (some) pro-porn/sex positive folks:

1. “Sex work is not a monolith.” I agree! However, any decent observer of human behavior knows that there are PATTERNS and TRENDS which can often tell us a whole lot about a society/institution/culture, etc. Ignoring such patterns seems sloppy and unsophisticated. The DOESN’T mean we should speak in universals or refuse to acknowledge individual differences. But it is entirely reasonable to note general trends in populations. 

2. “There are a few asshole rapist men  out there, who should be prosecuted. But most are decent and harmless. Feminists constantly vilify innocent men and the male gender.” It seems that many debaters on this side of the fence don’t fully accept the idea of a rape culture and instead see rapists and sex abusers as rare outliers. One in six women are victims of sexual assault. One in four girls is sexually abused before she turns 18. Are the same like, 30 dudes (or 300 or 3000 or 30000…) assaulting 16% of the entire world’s women and 25% of its female children/teens? Probably not. Sexual violence is an epidemic, and a great deal of men are guilty. (This is personally a big deal in my life…me, my mother, and my partner are all survivors). 

Also. Add to actual rapists all the men who: dismiss, ignore, make light of, condone, encourage, defend, and/or help facilitate rape. Guilty too, they are. Then? The male gender is Not Looking Too Rosy. Sorry. (Of course, some women do the above things too, also seriously problematic)  

3. “Payment and a signed contract is proof that a sex worker consented.” Essentially, many people believe that unless a woman was underage, trafficked, or had a gun to her head, the sex work was done out of free will. There is little attention to financial/economic coercion. If a woman has no other means of feeding her children, paying for medical care, having shelter, or otherwise surviving, then it is NOT a true choice. To be clear, I think it IS possible for women to have agency and make decisions, but some women act under a highly constrained set of circumstances. Their “choices” are anywhere from severely limited to non-existent. And this absolutely occurs in other industries (agriculture, domestic work, etc) where it is no less fucked up.

more specifically

Posted in mental health/madness, sex work, sexual violence by bellareve on February 6, 2009

Since this blog is anonymous and will remain so, I feel somewhat free to disclose the delicate. Here’s my story in brief:

I spent a few months as a stripper when I was 18 and again at 21. The first club was outrageously filthy and the second one was more fancy & “upscale.” My feelings & experiences in both situations were highly complicated. 

Possibly unrelated: at 18 I was a survivor of repeated date rape. I was NOT abused as a child in any way. My childhood = stable.

Also perhaps unrelated: I date and screw both genders but I only fall in love with women. Madly in love.

And finally: Post rape due to PTSD, I entered the mental health system and have taken use of it ever since. I find it deeply coercive, misogynistic and homophobic, but in the words of Hedwig, “it’s what I have to work with.” 

oh, and I also have a Women’s Studies degree.

As can be expected, there are several issues here. And this blog is to untangle assumptions.  I feel super silly & presumptuous posting rules for something I suspect few will participate in, but I’m a sensitive girl, so:

1. If you think my history of sex work disqualifies me from being a feminist, Bye.

2. If you hold pejorative notions of gays, women, or the mentally struggling, go elsewhere.

3. No attempting to diagnose me. Been there, done that.