by Furry Girl

06.18.12

"We know the prime users of alternative medicine worldwide - it's those middle-aged, middle-class, educated women with a high disposable income.  The younger end of this group is also likely to take their children to naturopaths and cranial osteopaths, to avoid having them immunised and to medicate them with shop-bought homeopathic and herbal remedies.  Alternative medicine offers these women a way to take control, to be remarkable in their day-to-day lives and to make them feel as if their needs as individuals are being attended to.  It touches them, both physically and emotionally, at a point in mid-life when many women in our society say they are beginning to feel invisible...  Marketing executives have been quick to appreciate the strong appeal of CAM for women.

[...]

Alternative medicine knows precisely how to make every user feel special.  CAM [Complementary and Alternative Medicine] says you are unique so your treatment needs to be carefully calibrated to reflect your individuality...  What matters is you, not your illness symptoms or even whether you actually have any identifiable illness or symptoms.

[...]

It is an abiding paradox that alternative medicine is used most keenly by the generation of women who, in the form of the women's liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s, asserted that it was 'our bodies, our lives, our right to decide' and rejected paternalistic medicine in the delivery room and beyond.  Yet these same women now want to be told what to do by a shaman."

-- Rose Shapiro, in her book, Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All.

My favorite part of this book was the commentary on the gender politics of pseudoscience, and the embarrassing fact that women will gleefully line up to empty their wallets for any woo-woo nonsense that holds their hands and tells them that they're beautiful and unique snowflakes.

Quack "medicine" should be decried for the same reasons as scented vaginal douches (which also profit from purposefully exploiting women's insecurities).  Instead, the very people who would balk at shame-centric, unhealthy "feminine hygiene" products are the same people in the "natural alternatives" section of the pharmacy picking up another expensive a tube of sugar pills that promises to truly appreciate their specialness.





by Furry Girl

06.15.12

After spending part of May looking exactly like the Forever Alone Guy and trying to diagnose a mystery ailment, it turns out that I had the mumps.  (No, I didn't take a photo of my weird face while I was sick, I felt too gross and ugly to immortalize it.)  After all the hours spent researching every country I've visited in the last few years in search of a tropical disease that might match my symptoms, I got the most pedestrian of diagnoses.  (It should be noted that Brooke Magnanti made the correct guess before anyone at my local clinic.)  It wasn't fun at all: the swollen lumpy face, the weird looks from strangers, all the of blood draws to test me for rare diseases, and about $1100 in medical bills.  I did receive the MMR vaccine as a child in 1985, but it did not take hold, as was also the case for Brooke, who contracted the mumps three years ago herself.

I consider my personal experience with the mumps as a success story for vaccination.

As my regular readers/Twitter followers know, I am a supporter of vaccination programs, and it's one of the few areas where I advocate heavy-handed state intervention into people's lives to force them to do something against their will.  I oppose any "religious" and "personal belief" exemptions to mandatory vaccination programs, and I consider it child abuse to deny your offspring medical care just because you don't believe in science.  While I'll laugh and smirk at adults going to naturopaths and chiropractors, I don't really care if adults want to throw away their money on that crap when it doesn't affect anyone else.  However, vaccination is a totally different story, because it doesn't just affect your family, it puts everyone at risk.

The anti-vaccination movement is not, as some might think, a product of the lunatic fringe of Christianity.  The people who oppose vaccination and profit from spreading lies and hysteria about the supposed "dangers" aren't just religious conservatives like Michele Bachmann trying to keep the HPV vaccine from saving lives, but often liberal/left wingers who champion a bunch of nonsense about the supposed evils of "Western medicine," aka, medicine that is actually proven to be effective at treating illness.  In the United States, especially in "progressive" areas like Seattle, we are experiencing increasing outbreaks of preventable illnesses because of anti-science dumbasses who are so selfish that they are willing to risk killing their own and other people's children on their vague unsupported guess that maybe everything humans know about biology, chemistry, physiology, epidemiology, and medicine might be wrong.  It's a very risky gamble with astronomical odds of being correct, and these people are playing this game at the expense of vulnerable members of society: babies and children who cannot or have not been vaccinated, and adults with compromised immune systems.

Why does vaccination go beyond a simple personal choice to do something potentially dangerous, like not wearing a bike helmet, or drinking alcohol, or visiting countries experiencing political unrest?  I strongly support people doing whatever risky things they like with their own bodies, but the personal liberty argument does not hold up when it comes to vaccination.  Successful vaccination programs require what's called "herd immunity," whereby diseases are controlled and essentially wiped out because most people in a society have protection.  Even if one kid in a school of 500 gets measles, it's not going to become a major outbreak if the other 499 children have had their vaccinations and the illness can't spread like wildfire through the community.  Some anti-vaccination people try to twist the issue of herd immunity, claiming that since most kids are vaccinated, then it doesn't matter if their kids are potential vectors of disease.  (That's like making an argument that it's perfectly okay to drive drunk just because most the majority of people drive sober, and so those other people will hopefully be alert enough to get out of the way as your car careens into oncoming traffic.)  The "free spaces" in herd immunity must be reserved not for anti-science conspiracy theorists, but for children and adults who truly cannot be vaccinated, such as young babies and people with immune system disorders whose bodies couldn't handle vaccinations.  Herd immunity is a biological/social safety net that is easily broken when too many people think they're entitled to use it.

Anti-vaccination crazies cling to all sorts of arguments to support their beliefs.  Some claim that vaccines cause autism (they don't).  Some claim that their God doesn't believe in medical intervention.  Some claim that all of "Western medicine" is some kind of patriarchal oppression, and that we must go back to the glorious old days of having sacred medicine women.  A recent anti-vaccination nut I met was opposed to it on the grounds that suffering - including getting polio or AIDS - is all a part of our magical life journey, and that it's wrong to deny humans those character-building opportunities.  Whatever banner they are waving, these people are not only fucking crazy, but also dangerous.  I don't want to see already-disadvantaged and vulnerable kids like an infant born with HIV have to suffer the added complications of measles or polio because some stupid hippie who thinks we shouldn't interfere with Mother Nature.

Back to me and my mumps.  I was vaccinated, but I still got the disease.  This is the sort of extremely rare case that anti-vaccination crazies would hold up as anecdotal proof that vaccines are evil and don't even work anyway.  On the contrary: getting the mumps has made me even more pro-vaccination.  That I was unknowingly susceptible to the mumps and did not get the illness until the age of 28 is a success, not a failure, of vaccination programs.  I owe a debt of thanks to the parents of the kids in my elementary school who got their children vaccinated.  I owe thanks also to middle schools and colleges for requiring MMR vaccinations as a condition of entry (even though some people still manipulate their way out with "philosophical" exemptions).  I am thankful that the "herd" I grew up in did vaccinate, which is why, unlike my parents and grandparents, I never knew a single kid with polio when I was growing up.

Because of the spectacular success of vaccination programs in the developed world, my generation is quick to forget how terrible the diseases are that we now vaccinate against, but they should try talking to some older people in their community.  They should ask their grandparents how scary it was to wonder if their children might be crippled by polio or die from diphtheria.  A couple of generations ago, you didn't have loony parents like Jenny McCarthy marching in protest of the government and science for trying to eradicate diseases, nor will you find an anti-vaccination movement in developing countries where these illness still claim countless innocent lives.  In short: you don't see opposition from people who know, on either an emotional or scientific level, what these diseases actually mean.

In closing, I always liked this nice visual demonstration from Penn & Teller's Bullshit, which shows that, even if everything the anti-vaccination crazies believe were true, they'd still lose the argument.  Read more in-depth information about vaccination and "alt med" nonsense over on Science-Based Medicine.  If you're more into books than blogs, check out Rose Shapiro's Suckers or Simon Singh's Trick or Treatment.





by Furry Girl

11.11.11

Last night, I was doing some reading about the most popular political panic of the mid-80s, and stopped to tweet, "Sex work activists should read about the political manufacturing of the crack 'epidemic.' 25 years ago, it was crack; now it's trafficking."  I'm no expert on drug issues, but I feel like I should explain my comment in more detail, so here is a (non-exhaustive) list of parallels between the crack epidemic and the sex trafficking epidemic.  I think it would benefit sex workers' rights supporters to look at how another moral panic was whipped up and profited from by those with special agendas.

Medicalized diagnoses, criminalized cures

First, I have to start out with an important note on how language is used as a tool to frame an issue in one's favor.  Proponents of both the crack craze and the idea of sex trafficking as a vast and ubiquitous problem (and inseparable from consensual sex work) use language of health problems like epidemic, plague, disease, and addiction, but their proposed solutions to both are arrest, shaming, further marginalization, and punishment.  Imagine if police responded to the health problem of people having the flu this winter by conducting taxpayer-funded raids, kicking in the doors of homes where people were suspected of staying home sick - arresting them, subjecting them to fines and imprisonment, and even keeping a public registry of the dangerous monsters who have been convicted of carrying the flu, preventing people who ever had the flu to be able to lead a non-flu-tainted life.  But we don't do that to flu sufferers for that "epidemic."

Causes and effects

Continuing on with of the topic of medical euphemism is the issue of confusing symptoms with causes of social ills.  The crack "epidemic" was framed by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum as not a symptom of poverty, inequality, and larger social disparities, but as the cause of social problems in the first place.  Urban ghettos weren't getting worse because of the lack of social services, educational opportunities, affordable healthcare, and quality jobs, they were simply suffering from crack cocaine.  Sex trafficking is also seen not as a response to social forces such as some countries having more wealth than others, the desire to go abroad to earn better money, few employment options for undocumented migrant workers, or the difficulties in legally entering a Western country if you're poor.  No, sex trafficking is the social ill to be eliminated, and all that complex stuff about class, race, immigration, and gender gets neatly swept under the rug in favor of an explanation that lets people scapegoat manufactured omnipresent boogeymen while failing to address real social problems.

At last, an issue everyone can support!

As mentioned above, the crack panic wasn't just a right-wing pet project, but a topic around which both liberals and conservatives could battle to see which party could take the loudest and harshest stance.  No more worrying about pesky minor problems like the economy and joblessness, let's give everyone a chance to come together and agree: the real issue plaguing the country is crack/sex trafficking.  There are few topics around which both Democrats and Republicans will battle over who supports/condemns it more, and when such is the case, you have to consider the idea that such an issue is being used as a shiny distraction.  (See also: hysteria around terrorism being successfully deployed by all politicians to keep people from thinking about eroding civil liberties and a tanking economy.)

Both panics exploded in popularity during major economic downtowns

The crack epidemic could be said to have peaked in the late 1980s, the same time as the US was experiencing a recession.  Our current recession and financial meltdown dovetails perfectly with the rise of interest in and coverage of sex trafficking.

The solution to both problems is not harm reduction, but arrest and locking people up

Billions of dollars were spent on stateside law enforcement as a means to curb the "epidemic" of crack addiction, but where did that get us, as a country, aside from having the world's highest rate of incarceration?  Likewise, does anyone really feel safer in when their tax money is used on costly police stings that arrest and jail prostitutes in hopes of being able to fin even one "trafficking victim"?  Lots of money is wasted on "cures" that do nothing to help real victims, do everything to drive both victims and criminals further underground, and ultimately only achieve good PR and further funding for police, politicians, and other people with a stake in selling the moral panic.  The solution is never to provide services to people at risk of exploitation, but to use arrests and imprisonment to try and cover up things that cause discomfort among members of the middle and upper classes.

Who needs evidence when you have hysteria?

Question the anti-crack rhetoric, and a public figure would be attacked as "soft on crime," and detractors could obtusely ask how one could be in support of the crack plague taking over the country.  Similarly, if you question any part of the agenda of those selling and profiting from the sex trafficking scare, you are painted as being in favor of raping children and the sexual enslavement of millions.  The topic is framed and such over-the-top hysterical ways, it leaves no room for reasonable discussion of the facts.  Anyone who questions anything is a monster.

Emotional-tinged "statistics" trump real data

Parents were told that young people around the country were falling victim to crack addiction, and that "an entire generation" was hooked on the substance.  However, even according to government surveys, cocaine use/experimentation of any kind had peaked among young people in 1982, and in 1986, while the media was touting the coming crackpocalypse, daily cocaine use of any variety among high school seniors was a mere 0.4%.  (How many of them were crack users in particular is unknown.)  Less than 4 out of every 1000 seniors is obviously not "an entire generation" addicted to crack, but boring facts like that have no place in a moral panic.  (Just like boring facts rarely get any play in discussions about sex trafficking, where people prefer to fantasize about how millions of children are being captured and raped at every turn.)

The "epidemic" is portrayed as a personal threat to all Americans and their children

Those with something to gain have managed to hype both crack and sex trafficking as attacks upon the fabric of our culture over which everyone must worry, painting pictures of crack dealers hiding behind every corner, ready to get Johnny Quarterback hooked on drugs, or kidnap little Betsy Countryclub from her ballet lessons and sell her into a child sexual slavery ring.  Everyone is a target, and the evil people are poised at this very moment to ensnare your children.  There's no time to think, only to worry hysterically.

It's not about race and class, except when it is

With both the crack and sex trafficking panic, there is this pervasive undercurrent of fear of the other, fear of nonwhite and poor people, fear of them infiltrating us and ruining everything "we" built.  The crack epidemic was about fear of poor, urban Blacks and Latinos, mostly young men who might be in scary gangs.  The sex trafficking epidemic, when not about stealing your children for sexual slavery, has the more subtle racial component of a fear of migrant workers sneaking into "our" country and doing morally distasteful things with our husbands, our dads, our brothers, corrupting us, tearing at our family values, and making us impure by association.

Extreme cases are way more exciting than our routine problems

Alcohol, car crashes, and tobacco kill tons of people, but that's not very exciting, and such "mundane" deaths hardly every make the news.  But comparatively-rare crack-related deaths and injuries became a top political issue for both parties.  Likewise, spousal abuse, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are accepted as facts of life, only making the news when there's some bizarre, celebrity, or "funny" angle to the story.  Yet, when occasional cases of barbaric forced sex trafficking or the pimping of an underage girl are uncovered, it's held up by proponents as a major problem that is happening to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the country.  The focus is always on exploiting extreme cases for political gain and financial contributions, and insisting that extreme cases are the norm.

The issues play well on TV and make for dramatic publicity stunts

In 1989, George Bush Senior held a famous press conference to hype the crack problem where he showed bag of the substance and declared that it had been seized in a drug deal in the park across the street from the White House.  A photo of Bush holding the bag was printed in newspapers around the country, proving that crack was everywhere now, even in "good" neighborhoods, and thus, warranted the panic of all Americans.  However, the backstory to that photo-op is much more interesting.  Since no drugs, let alone crack, were available for purchase in Lafayette Park, the government needed to manufacture a situation that would make for good televison.  An 18-year-old African American high schooler was cajoled to come to the park to sell the crack, a young man who famously asked the undercover DEA entrapping him, "Where the fuck is the White House?"  I can't recall the last time a week went by that I didn't read about an anti-trafficking publicity push, carefully coordinated and framed for maximize sensationalism.

Now, the "war on drugs" is largely recognized as a failure

I can only hope the war on sex workers, framed as the "war on trafficking," will meet the same fate.  I'd love to hear how anti-drug war activists were able to shift public perceptions from the early 90s onward, because we should really emulate whatever they've been doing.  (Or how to play up everything the government and moral crusaders are doing incorrectly.)

 

If you have more interest in this topic, the most awesome and in-depth thing I read was The Construction of America's Crack Crisis by Craig Reinarman and Harry Levine.  Hat tip to their research for providing a bunch of the information in this blog post.





by Furry Girl

09.09.11

This week in Arizona, two "sacred temples", aka, Pagan-themed sex businesses, were raided on charges of "illegal control of an enterprise, prostitution, maintaining a house of prostitution and receiving the earnings of a prostitute."  The busts at the Phoenix Goddess Temple and the Sedona Goddess Temple have liberal sex bloggers rushing to cry foul and act shocked, asking, "What about freedom of religion?!"  It's apparently an outrage that sex workers who are Pagan (or claim to be Pagan to earn money) weren't given a special exemption from the laws that apply to other sex workers.

First off, for those of you not familiar with the funny double-speak about "tantric healing," "goddess worship," and "sacred touch," you might wonder what goes on inside a typical "sacred temple."  Sometimes, sensual massage parlors and brothels are gussied up with a bunch of new age mumbjo jumbo, and the businesses stress that they are "churches" that are not selling sex, but providing sacred healing sessions for "donations."  You're not supposed to notice that these "sacred healing sessions" look exactly like regular prostitution, and if you suggest such a thing, you will be accused of oppressing people for their "religious beliefs."  Whether the owners and workers in such sex businesses choose to go this route because they think it will offer them legal protection, or because they honestly believe they have magical powers, seems to vary on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier this year, an Arizona paper ran an exposé, "Phoenix Goddess Temple's 'Sacred Sexuality' Is More Like New Age Prostitution," for which the "temple" workers were happy to demonstrate a "healing session" where a nearly-naked woman massaged a naked man and then fingered his ass while giving him a handjob.  Really, go read that article and tell me that the "temple," which took in $20,000 in "donations" each month, doesn't sound anything like a for-profit sex business.  (Tracy Elise, the "Mystic Mother Priestess" who founded the Phoenix Goddess, had her last business/"temple" shut down by law enforcement in Seattle for allegedly being a brothel.)  The article is full of gems, like one worker's claims that being touched by him will cause you to re-grow lost body parts, or this, a description of language:

There's a euphemism for everything in temple-speak. There are no johns, but "seekers." No sex, only "sacred union." There are no handjobs, only "tantric touch." No payment is accepted, but hefty "donations" are expected. There are no hookers, just "goddesses." They don't work with penises, but "wands of light."

Let me emphasize: I support all consenting adults' rights to buy and sell sex, but there is no difference between selling sex while burning incense and selling sex while not burning incense.  I am sick of seeing sex-positive people act as though Pagan-themed sex work is morally/ethically superior to non-Pagan-themed sex work, and that if you claim a certain religious belief, that you deserve special treatment under the law.

I absolutely support freedom of religion and our First Amendment rights.  However, arguing that the law should apply differently to people of certain religions is actually the opposite of "freedom of religion".  It's state-sponsored favoritism, which is what the First Amendment was set up to prevent, not to create.  I don't want to live in a world where each faith has a different set of law books, and people can pick and choose which religion they say they're currently a part of based on which laws they want to follow.  Again, I don't think consensual adult sex work should be illegal for anyone, but I don't support carving out special legal rights only for sex workers who are Pagan, or those who pretend to be Pagan to make money as a part of their work persona.

I have sympathy for the "temple" people arrested in Arizona, and I hope they beat their charges, but my sympathy is not because I think they have supernatural healing powers or deserve special treatment, but because they're sex workers like me.  It's too bad that so many of the people who will now rally around the Phoenix Goddess "temple" are not doing so out of concern for sex workers' rights for all, but because they want special rights for Pagans only.





by Furry Girl

02.28.11

"Behind the most powerful manufactroversies, lies a predictable formula: first, a new problem is generated by redefining terminology.  For example, an autism 'epidemic' suddenly exists when a wide range of childhood mental health diagnoses are all reclassified as part of an autism spectrum.  The reclassification creates the appearance of a surge in autism cases, and that sets the stage for cause-seeking.

Second, 'instant experts' immediately proclaim that they have special insight into the cause.  They enjoy the authority and attention that their unique 'expertise' brings them and begin to position themselves as a 'little guy' crusader against injustice.  They also are likely to spin conspiracy theories about government cover-ups or pharmaceutical malfeasance to make their case more appealing to the media.  In many cases the experts have a financial incentive in promoting their point of view (they sell treatments or promote their books, for example).

Third, because mainstream media craves David and Goliath stories and always wants to be the first to break news, they often report the information without thorough fact-checking.  This results in the phenomenon of 'Tabloid Medicine.'

Fourth, once the news has been reported by a mainstream media outlet, the general population assumes it’s credible, and a groundswell of fear drives online conversation on blogs, websites, and social media platforms.

And finally, celebrities take up the cause while personal injury lawyers feast on frightened consumers who now believe that they are victims of harm perpetrated on them by the 'medical industrial complex.'  Meanwhile flustered government health officials have no scientific evidence of harm, but cannot prove a lack of association without further research (and that takes time).  So they offer what seems like tepid reassurances, which are perceived by some to be tantamount to an admission of guilt.

And that’s how a lie becomes an urban legend.  Perception is nine tenths of reality."

-- Dr. Valerie Jones, in Review: How the Internet is being used to hijack medical science for fear and profit on scientificamerican.com

Hmm, doesn't this sound an awful lot like porn/trafficking/prostitution/sexuality/kink/strip club hysteria?





by Furry Girl

"Manufactroversy (măn’yə-făk’-trə-vûr’sē)

1. A manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute.

[...]

As a scholar of rhetoric, I have studied some modern cases of manufactured controversy to discover how to best confute these contemporary sophists, and I have come up with some preliminary hypotheses about what makes their arguments so persuasive to a public audience.  First, they skillfully invoke values that are shared by the scientific community and the American public alike, like free speech, skeptical inquiry, and the revolutionary force of new ideas against a repressive orthodoxy.  It is difficult to argue against someone who invokes these values without seeming unscientific or un-American."

-- Leah Ceccarelli, in Manufactroversy: The Art of Creating Controversy Where None Existed on scienceprogress.org

Sex workers rights advocates have a lot to learn from anti-science lobbying movements and how they work to successfully confuse and misinform the public through "teaching the controversy."  See one of my earlier blog posts on the subject here.





by Furry Girl

02.25.11

"It shouldn't be a surprise that more groups than just global warming and evolution deniers use this strategy of designing bad studies and legislating from them.  They might be the best known, however, because their motivations are so easily understood.  They're downright transparent.  A few scattered cranks (there are always stray cranks) aside, the political forces behind evolution denial are religious.  Those behind global warming denial represent economic interests that are threatened by our need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.  These groups are easy to spot because we understand their motivations for winnowing information down to only what they want to believe.

There are topics, however, where the deniers are less obvious, even when they engage in similar tactics.  Their motivations are subtle or complex, or they form unlikely coalitions, bound together only by their views on a single subject.  The strict marginalization of sex-oriented businesses is one of those topics.  It unites pro-business conservatives who are appalled by sex and pro-sex liberals who consider profit equal to exploitation, plus a lot of people whose reasons are as varied as their sexual interests.

Whatever their motivation, those who argue that the presence of adult businesses has a detrimental effect on crime rates and property values are still engaging in the same kind of denialism.  They're relying on just a small portion of the available information to make their case."

-- Stephanie Zvan, in Sex, Science, and Social Policy on almostdiamonds.blogspot.com





by Furry Girl

01.14.11

First, some background and terminology for those of you not familiar with this debate.  Laypersons often confuse and conflate legalization and decriminalization, but they're two different approaches.

To legalize sex work would mean regulating sex work and sex workers.  For example, prostitution has been legalized in some parts of Nevada: but only at licensed brothels where women are required to get weekly health screenings and pay all sorts of fees to become a registered prostitute.  A sex worker is treated as a controlled vice without a lot of options.  Think of legalization as similar to how bottles of liquor are handled in states where you have to go to special government-run stores (with bad hours) to purchase them.

To decriminalize sex work would mean to remove any laws that make sex work illegal or regulated.  It does not treat sex work as a special class of work that requires extra taxes, permits, fees, or regulations.  A sex worker is like any other worker in the eyes of the law.  Think of decriminalization as akin to being able to freely buy and sell oranges without needing a special orange permit or to reside in an citrus-zoned area.  You can buy oranges from a top-end grocery story, or from a guy on the side of the road.

I am in favor of decriminalization, of course.

A key argument for legalization is that it's safer for everyone because the sex industry needs regulation, and the arguer will compare it to how we regulate healthcare industries.  After all, prostitution means dealing with bodily fluids and germs and things, so don't we need the government to mandate by law that workers are getting STI tests and/or using condoms?  Doctors and nurses are licensed and regulated!

My answer is to let a free market decide.

Under decriminalization, if sex worker wants to work in a "proper" brothel where they are required by the brothel owners to use condoms and get STI checks every week, they can.  And if a customer wants that level of regulation to feel safe, they can patronize those businesses.  Other sex workers can work independently, or for agencies that don't require weekly STI checks, or in a small group working together out of a single space (ho-op?).  Customers can then make their choice as to whether to use their services or not.  Sex workers (and clients) don't need the government to decide what's best for everyone, protecting consenting adults from determining the level of risk they find acceptable for their own lives.

But, back to the medical analogy.  It's a good point, right?  We don't just let random people pose as doctors and operate on patients, or encourage any person show up to a hospital and work as a nurse, so why let sex workers and their clients negotiate their own boundaries?  I agree with the medical analogy the legalization camp uses, but they are completely uninformed in how they use it.

The healthcare industry already is a free market where anyone with any level of training (or lack thereof) is allowed to set up shop and offer to heal customers.  Homeopathy, hypnosis, aromatherapy, ayurveda, eating bizarre ground up animal parts, all that.  You can choose to have a baby in a hospital, or give birth in a kiddie pool in your living room with unlicensed self-proclaimed midwives and/or doulas.  You can choose to go to a medical doctor or a shaman when you have an ailment.  You can pray to Jesus, or you can get take insulin for diabetes.  You can even be like Bob Marley and willingly die of untreated curable things if you so please.  I might laugh hysterically at new age healing beliefs, but that doesn't mean I think adults shouldn't be allowed to make that choice.

Now that this is settled, can we stop using the medical analogy, please?

(This is not to say that I think that independent decrimininalized sex work is some sort of homeopathy-esque scam or of a lesser quality than legalized/regulated sex work.  The analogy is only valid so far as the free market aspect is concerned.)





by Furry Girl

06.21.10

A little background: I grew up as the freakish nonreligious kid in a conservative part of the country.  I'm not one of those people who was raised in a big liberal city or whose parents taught them college-level concepts before the other kids could even read.  I grew up around people who told me that dinosaur bones were put in the ground by Satan to trick us.  I've always been drawn to nature and science, and have spent almost 14 years paying attention to the evolution wars - ever since the subject came up in biology class in seventh grade.  Sexuality activists can learn from the contemporary creationist movement's most successful strategy, and how to not play into it.  I've touched on this topic before, but wanted to write about it in more depth after watching not just anti-sex worker activists, but also supposedly "pro-porn" feminists, using this tactic over the course of this month's re-hashing of the porn wars.

To get a two-hour crash course in the modern creationist movement, I recommend watching Expelled, courtesy of The Pirate Bay, whose motto should be For When You Don't Want Your Money Supporting Something™.  The movie is a "documentary" narrated by conservative actor Ben Stein, aimed at "exposing" the horrifying "bias" within American schools to not teach Christian myths often enough in science classes.  (Unlike other countries with indoor plumbing and electricity, Americans already do have so much creationism in their schools and public life that most of them don't believe in evolution.)  The film clumsily pushes the idea that atheist radicals like biologist Richard Dawkins are taking over science and shutting down any "debate" about creationism.  Stein gives the topic the full loony treatment - which, of course, includes a stroll around Dachau to sensitively remind viewers that a belief in evolution and science invariably leads to Nazi death camps.  Stein never plainly states in the movie that he's a creationist who doesn't believe in evolution.  He argues that anyone who definitively supports evolution is trying to "silence debate about these important issues", playing like he's just a doe-eyed and confused Joe Everyman who thinks we the people have a right to hear "all opinions" on an unresolved matter.

Creationists might be intellectually-stunted to the point of hilarity when it comes to their interpretations of the world around them, but they are a very clever and well-funded bunch when it comes to getting their ideas wedged into American society.  Their most important and successful tactic is a propaganda campaign that they call amongst themselves "teaching the controversy": to not deny evolution outright, but to drum up "debate" and make the public think that the jury's still out about whether or not the world is 6000 years old.  In reality, no credible institution or researcher lends any believability to the idea that there's a "controversy" in the scientific community over whether or not Christian mythology negates everything we know about biology, geology, and physics - but that's just a minor unmentioned pesky detail, like there being no credible studies to suggest any harm in viewing porn or decriminalizing prostitution.

Creationist nutters aren't the only special interest group that is hell-bent on "teaching the controversy".  You see this sort of thing all the time with other areas where a person knows their own religious/moral beliefs have no factual basis, and that there's likely lots of solid evidence against their position, so their only hope is to cloud the issue to make their own position look more tenable.  Such as:

"Oh, I'm not against abortion!  But I do think young women should know that a lot of people have been asking questions about whether women who get abortions are more likely to end up with cancer later in life."

"Oh, I don't hate the gays!  But I think the public should know that there's all sorts of conflicting information about how unhealthy it is for children to be raised by homosexuals."

It's a sort of malicious argument from ignorance - someone posits, "I can't possibly make sense of this terribly confusing issue," - when, of course, they perfectly well do have a side - "so, we all really need to think more about what a grey area we're looking at and not make up our minds so hastily."

In the world of internet debates, this shoddy debate tactic is called concern trolling.  The concern troll is never for or against anything, they've just got "concerns" they need to keep raising.  No matter how many times you keep countering these people, they can keep popping up with some other "concern" that adds further confusion to the issue and makes it harder to discuss using facts.

"I think it's a classic hallmark of psuedoscience - which is that you just keep shifting the goalpost until you get to a hypothesis that's, frankly, untestable".

- Dr. Paul Offit, in Point of Inquiry's "The Costs of Vaccine Denialism" podcast

Lately, I've seen more sex-positive types adding to this problem by reminding everyone that "we" ought to be more respectful of anti-sex worker activist's arguments, and that the sex worker and pornographer community is failing to address these "concerns", such as:

"What about the women who feel insecure about themselves when they see sexy skinny women in porn?" The feminist answer to this is to sell a woman a book telling her that yes, she really ought to feel oppressed and ugly when she sees women's bodies in advertising and entertainment, and to whine a lot about such images being displayed.  My solution is to tell people to own up to their insecurities, and develop positive self-esteem that's not based on comparing themselves to idealized images in the media.  We all choose how we react to the world around us, and a large-chested size two model in a porno isn't forcing any woman to hate her own body.

"What about that study that shows sexually aggressive men look at a lot of pornography?" What about it?  Non-scientific and anti-porn minds take the study to mean looking at porn causes men to behave aggressively, even though such a conclusion is a classic logical fallacy.  I'd respond by telling people to read about the difference between causation and correlation, and to know that there are many more studies from all over the world that show a correlation between increased access to porn and a decrease in sex crimes.  If we're playing the correlation game, there's much more research to suggest that porn makes the world safer and less dangerous.  (Three I have bookmarked are Anthony D'Amato's 2006 study "Porn Up, Rape Down" about porn and rape in the United States, Dr. Milton Diamond's 1999 experience with studying porn and sex crimes in the US and Asia, and economist Todd Kendall's work, including "Pornography, Rape, and the Internet.")

"What about porn companies that don't treat their performers well?" None of us have any real statistics about what percentage of performers feel abused or unhappy with their jobs, and I'm not going to waste my time debating my guesses with other people who are also making guesses.  (My guess, though, is that the porn industry has a higher level of job satisfaction than most other occupations.)  Are some workers in the porn industry mistreated or miserable?  Of course, sadly, but that doesn't make the jiz biz especially evil.  There are exploited workers in every sector in every country in the world.  Further, it is pornographers and performers who are the most likely to know about adult companies that have had complaints from talent.  If you want the real scoop on a given porn company and how well they treat their workers, you don't email a women's studies academic on the other side of the country to ask for a referral.  You ask people in the porn industry.  Sex workers are pretty damn protective of each other and will gladly share if they've ever heard of a company engaging in bad business practices.

It annoys me to live in an age of public discourse where people are coddled and told that every idea is valid and just as likely to be correct as any other idea.  Ideas are not lottery tickets - each with an equal and random chance of winning.  When it's almost unheard of to unapologetically state that a given idea or person is flat-out wrong, the intellectually-lazy public believes that the truth always lies in the middle.  Not everything is a compromise.  Not everything is a debate.  Not everyone's opinion is a beautiful and unique snowflake - sometimes, it's just yellow piss-filled slush.

The sex-positive scene, and the world at large, needs to stop giving concern trolls and those who "teach the controversy" an equal platform with equal consideration.  Their goal is to dump impenetrable grey area paint all over everything so that the well-reasoned text beneath becomes unreadable.  It only encourages them to acknowledge and give legitimacy to their every little whimper and fuss.

As a younger person, I wasted a lot of time and energy line-by-line debating anti-sex worker loonies in front of small internet audiences, and I won't make that mistake again.  I'd rather just make good ethical porn, and occasionally blog about sex work politics to a wider audience.  One of the most powerful political slogans I've ever seen was a Bobby Sands quote on a mural in Belfast that read, "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children."  Well, my revenge in the porn wars will be the laughter of the performers I hire to make awesome smut with me - and there have been a lot of genuine smiles and laughs on my shoots.





by Furry Girl

02.26.10

bingo-small

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I recently got some feedback on my blog that read like an auto-generated essay against porn and sex work, hitting all the key arguments that I've heard a thousand times, just rearranged in a different order.

It got me thinking, hasn't anyone made a bingo card about this yet?  Apparently not, so I made one, with my top 25 most irritating frequently addressed accusations.  (Click here to get a larger version so that you can print it out and play along at home.)

[Edit: Miss Renegade Evolution made a sex work bingo card about a year ago, which I missed.  Go see her version here.]





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