To me, one of the interesting things about Andrea Dworkin was that she tried to ally herself with conservative women in opposition to prostitution and pornography. Instead of the more typically liberal move of just dismissing backwardly religious people, she understood that conservative women are making a rational, morally abhorrent decision about how to cope with male violence. The “I can have my own private brute and he’ll be nice to me” fallacy. They correctly understand that the “sex-positive” agenda is a recipe for more violence against women.
The other day I discovered this amazing letter from 2015. It’s from a German former prostitute named Huschke Mau, furious at a pro-sex work lobbyist named Stephanie Klee. Prostitution is legal in Germany.
I would like to ask you which sphere of prostitution you are living in if you haven’t noticed that the “varieties” of “sexualities”, i.e. the punters’ “wishes” are becoming more and more violent and are more and more seeking to humiliate. Why don’t you read the punters’ websites, dear Stephanie? It is clearly written there that men (punters) experience it as an expression of their own power when they can spit into women’s faces in brothels and “squirt” their sperm into them; if they can test how much the woman can take when it comes to anal intercourse; when they ejaculate on her face and insist on her swallowing their sperm, after they, the punters, have pushed their dick up to her tonsils.
Why don’t you take a look at the language in those punters’ forums? Look at how they’re enjoying it, how they’re getting off on the knowledge that the woman does not like this, but only does it for the money, that she has to do it because she needs the darn dough or because there’s some dork sitting in the next room. How they consciously test out and violate limits and even if they may not fully indulge in their own sadist side, they at least are fully aware of it. In prostitution, it’s not about sex, but about power. Power and nothing else. Don’t pretend women could enjoy themselves in their sexuality there, the only one living it up is the punter whose desires you satisfy – at your own costs.
And no, Stephanie, the punter does not forget this feeling of power that he’s paid for. He doesn’t forget that women are disposable, that he can take them for himself, that they are there to satisfy his desires, that they delete their sexuality and soul during the act and aren’t allowed to have needs/boundaries/wishes. Oh, no. He takes this feeling that equates sex with power for him and carries it away from the brothel and it affects his behavior towards women who aren’t in prostitution. Prostitution is violence. A man-satisfying machine.
Don’t pretend you’ve never experienced the punters’ violence, and don’t tell me the fairy tale of the kind and gentle client who only wants some cuddles and always respects your limits. Germany has legalized prostitution and what has it led to? To even more prostitution and, most of all: to a more and more extreme demand. By this, I don’t only mean that there’s more and more punters, because men learn that it’s okay to buy women. (Yes, I already hear the pseudo argument according to which the punter isn’t buying the women, but a “service,” what nonsense! Can you separate your pussy, your ass, your breasts, your mouth and what you do with them from yourself? It’s always the whole person being touched.)
You do NOT speak for me, nor for any prostitute that I know!
More and more irrefutable points:
And there’s something else: punters want forced prostitutes. Because they can be sure that they (have to) accept practices that every “decent”, old-established German prostitute would reject. That is what punters want. How do you manage to disregard the fact that by now there are several big brothels in every city and that almost all of the women working there barely speak any German or very little, their “protectors” bringing them there in the morning and picking them up in the evening, women who offer practices that hurt and put their health at risk? Do they enjoy that, or what? All masochists? And you write that for these women (from Romania, from Bulgaria) prostitution is a great alternative? You think that prostitution is a great alternative to poverty?
You talk about prostitution as if it were something worth striving for, something that’s supposed to be great for women and girls. Why do you not mention the reasons driving women into prostitution? And I’m even leaving forced prostitution out of the equation here. By the way, what does coercion mean for you? Having to opt for prostitution out of a place of poverty and lacking options? That is not coercion for you, but a great opportunity? Even the women who enter “out of their free will” are subjected to coercion in this business.
And then there’s the PTSD:
I would even venture to say that the reason why our society doesn’t consistently shut down the mass abuse of young girls is that it profits from it. Abuse is like breaking in a horse at an early age. Which comes in useful, as through the abuse, women/girls learn to dissociate, to delete themselves during the act. To not being there (and this is exactly what the punter pays for – for the women’s will not being there in that moment, because he has paid it away).
The link between sexual abuse and prostitution has long been proven and documented: at least 60 percent of all female prostitutes have been sexually abused in their childhood (with other statistics stating 90 percent).The only thing these women are living out, Stephanie, is the re-enactment of their traumas which they hope to be able to process, but of course cannot. And with all of that in mind, you don’t want any support out of prostitution, but into it, right?
Don’t pretend you’ve never experience the punters’ violence!
There are women living in prostitution who are traumatized and prostitution traumatizes them further. Or how, dear Stephanie, do you explain that there are tons of prostitutes (including myself) suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (studies show at least 60 percent with fully developed PTSD)?
You talk about prostitution putting prostitutes in high spirits, that they are happy from making the client happy and having money in their pockets. But what does “making the client happy” even mean? This, too, only means that I have successfully turned violent against myself (by removing myself, my disgust, my revulsion and will) so that the client could turn violent against me by using me for his desires. And so this is what makes prostitutes happy, right? Does it make you happy to dissociate and to not be there?
You are saying that the prostitute’s traumatization only starts when she steps out of the brothel’s door and that this traumatization is based on society discriminating against her. Relating to this, I would like to tell you something, you who think that there should be support programs for entering instead of exiting.
Just recently, David Brooks of all people made a more excellent contribution to the #MeToo conversation than many female pseudo-feminists. I had the blessing/curse of a Jehovah’s Witness childhood, and JWs of all people are serious about externally living up to high standards of Christian morality. When I think about it, I don’t know how liberals with nonreligious parents would really be exposed to that aspect of Western culture. Certainly the JWs are right that American Christianity is essentially non-Christian.
Keeping in mind that David Brooks is conservative, he’s capable of emotional sensitivity entirely incompatible with his ideology:
The power of this kind of loving touch is long lasting. The famous Grant Study investigated a set of men who had gone to Harvard in the 1940s. The men who grew up in loving homes earned 50 percent more over the course of their careers than those from loveless ones. They suffered from far less chronic illness and much lower rates of dementia in old age. A loving home was the best predictor of life outcomes.
If the power of loving touch is astounding, the power of invasive touch is horrific. Christie Kim of N.Y.U. surveyed the research literature on victims of child sexual abuse. The victims experience higher levels of anxiety throughout their lifetimes. They report higher levels of depression across the decades and higher levels of self-blame. They are more than twice as likely to experience sexual victimization again.
Over the course of each year, people have many kinds of interactions and experience many kinds of mistreatment. But there is something unique about positive or negative touch. Emotional touch alters the heart and soul in ways that are mostly unconscious. It can take a lifetime of analysis to get even a glimpse of understanding.
For this reason, cultures all around the world have treated emotional touching as something apart. The Greeks labeled the drive to touch with the word “eros,” and they meant something vaster and deeper than just sexual pleasure. “Animals have sex and human beings have eros, and no accurate science is possible without making this distinction,” Allan Bloom observed.
The Abrahamic religions also treat sex as something sacred and beautiful when enveloped in loving and covenantal protections, and as something disordered and potentially peace-destroying when not.
He just keeps knocking it out of the park:
Over the past 100 years or so, advanced thinkers across the West have worked to take the shame out of sex, surely a good thing. But they’ve also disenchanted it. As Elizabeth Bruenig wrote in The Washington Post this week, “One of the principal outcomes of the sexual revolution was to establish that sex is just like any other social interaction — nothing taboo or sacred about it.” Sex is seen as a shallow physical and social thing, not a heart and soul altering thing.
One unintended effect of this disenchantment is that it becomes easy to underestimate the risks inherent in any encounter. The woman who talked in an online article about her date with Aziz Ansari is being criticized because what happened to her was not like what happened to the victims of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. There was no workplace power dynamic and no clear violation of consent. The assumption seems to be that as long as there’s consent between adults, everything else is kosher.
Surely that’s setting the bar amazingly low. Everything we know about touch suggests that even with full consent, the emotional quality of an encounter can have profound positive or negative effects. If Ansari did treat her coldly or neglectfully, it’s reasonable to think that the shame she felt right after was the surface effect of a deeper wound. Neglectful, dehumanizing sex is not harassment, but it’s some other form of serious harm.
He even dismantles the ever-popular agency bullshit! He understands agency better than neoliberal feminists! Incredible!
Disenchanting emotional touch also causes people to underestimate the way past experiences shape current behavior. Two writers I greatly admire criticized the woman in the Ansari episode for not exercising more agency. If she was uncomfortable, she could have put on her clothes and hopped in a taxi.
But that’s not how agency works. It’s not a card you pull out of your pocket and lay on the table. Agency is learned, not bred. And one of the things that undermines agency most powerfully is past sexual harm.
The abuse of intimacy erodes all the building blocks of agency: self-worth, resiliency and self-efficacy (the belief that you can control a situation). It is precisely someone who lives within a culture of supposedly zipless encounters who is most likely to be unable to take action when she feels uncomfortable. It’s the partner’s responsibility to be sensitive to this possibility.
Every human being has had better and worse experiences. Everybody makes mistakes. And I hate the way Babe, which published the story about the Ansari date, violated everybody’s privacy here. But it seems that the beginning of good sense is to take the power of touch seriously, as something that has profound good and bad effects.
It seems that the smarter we get about technology, the dumber we get about relationships. We live in a society in which loneliness, depression and suicide are on the rise. We seem to be treating each other worse. The guiding moral principle here is not complicated: Try to treat other people as if they possessed precious hearts and infinite souls. Everything else will follow.
Back in the pre-Cat Person times of 2015, Alana Massey wrote Against Chill, which has the same themes.
Early adopters of the sexual liberation and drug culture in the 1960s had a prototype for Chill in their sexual mores and free spirits. Each decade since has seen an increasing interest in eschewing anything that might limit the free expression and experience of one’s interior life and carnal desires. But this kind of Chill still had an emotional dimension. Hippies coined the term “free love” rather than “free sex.” The pioneers who brought “open relationship” into the mainstream vernacular the early aughts to describe non-traditional partnerships still acknowledged that feelings were involved at some level. An open relationship is, after all, still a relationship.
Chill has now slithered into our romantic lives and forced those among us who would like to exchange feelings and accountability to compete in the Blasé Olympics with whomever we are dating. Oh, I’m sorry, I mean whomever we are “hanging out with.” Whomever we are “talking to.” Chill asks us to remove the language of courtship and desire lest we appear invested somehow in other human beings. To even acknowledge that there might be an emotional dimension to talking or dating or hanging out or coming over or fucking or whatever the kids are calling it all these days feels forbidden. It is a game of chicken where the first person to confess their frustration or confusion loses.
But Chill is not the opposite of uptight. It is the opposite of demanding accountability. Chill is a sinister refashioning of “Calm down!” from an enraging and highly gendered command into an admirable attitude. Chill suggests that young love is best expressed as competitive ambivalence. Chill demands that you see a Read receipt followed by a “Hey, was asleep” text three hours later and not proceed to throw your phone into the nearest volcano. Chill asks you to be like, “LOL, what volcano?” Chill presides over the funeral of reasonable expectations. Chill takes and never gives. Chill is pathologically unfeeling but not even interesting enough to kill anyone. Chill is a garbage virtue that will destroy the species. Fuck Chill.
How right she was! Note that, in the Ansari debacle, a big part of the problem was that Grace fantasized about being a celebrity’s girlfriend and Ansari fantasized about fucking her in front of a mirror to prove he can.
I routinely happen upon men who are perplexed when I eventually declare that I want to know where we stand. Indecision is not a noble virtue. If a man is in “Not really feeling this becoming more than what it is,” territory, I should be made aware in no uncertain terms. If a man is in “I am waiting for someone else to be my girlfriend but I’ll keep you around till I find her” territory, I ought to know that too. My feelings, and the feelings of many people I know, are more hurt by the prolonged waiting for a concrete answer while we sit quietly with our feigned Chill. It is as if I’ve broken some unwritten law when I ask what they are looking for and am dissatisfied with the answer “I don’t really like to put labels on things.” But putting labels on things are how people find the exit during a fire and make sure they’re adding vanilla extract to the cake instead of arsenic.
[defense of nonmonogamy omitted]
So, ladies and gentleman and people who do not believe in the binary, we have reached peak Chill. Or at least I hope we have. Because Chill is the opposite of something else too: warmth. And kindness, and earnestness, and vulnerability. And we need just enough of those things to occasionally do something so remarkably unchill as fall in love.