After the Vancouver Women’s Library was attacked by “queer” anti-feminists, even more anti-feminists started jumping on the bandwagon and writing social media commentary condemning the library. I read several comments by people calling for feminist books to be banned who did not seem likely to have ever actually read the books in question. I believe the reason why these people are calling for feminist books to be banned without ever having read them is because they are virtue-signaling.
There is a distinct culture that has formed out of the toxic soup of neoliberal “queer” culture and anti-feminism that has taken over what is supposed to be the political left. (I do not believe these people are actually on the left, but they are considered to be the left, unfortunately.) For the purposes of this blog post, I will call them radiqueers, short for radical queers. One of the things radiqueers delight in doing is hating feminists. They claim to be feminists themselves, but their views align perfectly with patriarchy, and they fail to recognize this because they refuse to listen to actual feminists or apply any critical thinking to their political positions. Because shutting down feminists is one of the goals of radiqueer culture, anytime they tweet or comment about wanting feminists shut down it serves as a way for them to show their group membership and virtue-signal to their fellow group members. It is not an intellectual disagreement with the information that feminists present, it is a performance to demonstrate their group membership. It’s a bit like making sure to sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria instead of the geeks.
Here I will show you what I mean by discussing one of the books that the radiqueers want removed from the Vancouver Women’s Library, Female Sexual Slavery by Kathleen Barry, a book which I have actually taken the time to read, unlike the radiqueers.
Kathleen Barry did extensive research into the sex trade in order to write this book. She interviewed survivors of prostitution and checked the facts of their stories as well as she could by also interviewing lawyers, reporters, police, district attorneys, and anti-slavery organizations. (p. 7) She traveled and visited brothels, and she researched historical abolitionist movements. From her research she was able to form a definition of female sexual slavery, name the methods used by pimps and recruiters, and name the reasons why the problem of female sexual slavery has not been sufficiently exposed or fought against.
Here is her definition of female sexual slavery:
“Female sexual slavery is present in all situations where women or girls cannot change the immediate conditions of their existence; where regardless of how they got into those conditions they cannot get out; and where they are subject to sexual violence and exploitation. (p 40)”
She explains further:
“Female sexual slavery is not an illusive condition; the word “slavery” is not merely rhetorical. This is not some condition in which a woman’s or child’s need for love allows her to fall into psychological patterns that make it possible for her to accept abuse with love or to feel joy in pain. Slavery is an objective social condition of sexual exploitation and violence. The experiences of sexual slavery documented in this book reveal that it is not a practice that is limited to international traffic but it is pervasive throughout patriarchal societies.”
Barry found that when she spoke to police and described situations where women were being sexually exploited and were unable to leave, the police still didn’t see the problem. They believed so firmly in prostitution as acceptable and inevitable that it didn’t occur to them that it was a human rights violation. They seemed to think there was a class of women whose role was to be prostitutes and that it wasn’t a problem. This problem persists today; people still think that the sexual exploitation of women and girls isn’t a problem, and radiqueers are perpetuating this belief by rebranding sexual exploitation as women’s choice and agency. They are working to hide the reality of male violence, just as misogynists have always done.
The definition of sexual slavery Barry wrote can allow people to see the objective conditions of slavery even if the victim has become convinced that she chose her situation or if the people controlling her are insisting that she chose her situation. Some women and girls brought into the sex trade were initially willing because they thought they were going to be in control of the situation, make money, and have a glamorous life. Instead, they found themselves controlled by a pimp, unable to choose their clients or to choose what sex acts they perform, and, due to both the violence of their pimps and the stigma against women in the sex trade, they find themselves unable to escape and begin another life. If a woman is being subject to sexual exploitation and she cannot change the conditions of her existence, she is objectively enslaved. This situation occurs in human trafficking, street-based prostitution, and forced marriages, all around the world. Historically, many wives have been in situations of sexual slavery, because divorce was illegal, marital rape was allowed, and wives were completely dependent upon their husbands and unable to say ‘no’ to sex.
She describes the role of pimps and procurers and the methods they use to bring women and girls into the sex trade and then keep them there. To summarize:
- Befriending or love: Procurers find teenage girls who are naïve and seeking love and attention from men and they act as a boyfriend toward these girls. They particularly use this method on girls who are runaways or who are bored and looking for excitement. They make the girl feel like she is in a romantic relationship even though it is really just a business strategy for him.
- Actions of gangs, syndicates, and organized crime: these organizations will often procure girls and women into prostitution as a part of their gang activities.
- Recruiting women under false pretenses by offering them a job such as dancing or modelling, or by offering them marriage, and turning them to prostitution when they arrive.
- Purchasing women and girls from other male “owners”
- Outright kidnapping
“Together, pimping and procuring are perhaps the most ruthless displays of male power and sexual dominance. As practices they go far beyond the merchandising of women’s bodies for the market that demands them. Pimping and procuring are the crystallization of misogyny; they rank among the most complete expressions of male hatred for femaleness. Procuring is a strategy, a tactic for acquiring women and turning them into prostitution; pimping keeps them there.” Barry, p.73.
She described the abolitionist work of Josephine Butler, who campaigned against human trafficking in the late nineteenth century. She also described the backlash against Butler’s work:
“Mob violence began to accompany her speeches. During one campaign against a liberal who would not support repeal of the Acts, mobs of men and young boys scuffling and throwing rocks forced her to hide in a hotel attic. The next day she was forced by the management to leave the hotel. Wearing a disguise, she sought refuge at another hotel, but the mob located her there also. Despite the threats, she insisted on addressing the women’s rally as she had planned. A number of bodyguards, brought up from London by her supporters, enabled her to address the meeting, but afterwards she had to run through streets and alleys to escape the mob. She eventually made it safely to the home of a supporter where she was taken in and looked after.” (p17–18)
This book is excellent from start to finish due to its clarity in exposing male violence against women and its thoroughness in exposing how male violence operates. Wikipedia says that this book “prompted international awareness of human sex trafficking.” Radiqueers want this valuable and groundbreaking book on female oppression banned from a women’s library, on the grounds that it makes a group of people they call “sex workers” unsafe.
The term “sex workers” is misleading in a couple of ways. Firstly, “sex workers” can include anyone in the sex trade, including both exploited persons and their exploiters. Therefore the term hides the power relations between pimp and prostitute by branding both of them with the same name. The term “sex workers” is also designed to hide the coercion involved in the sex trade. Although most women in the sex trade are there due to a lack of better options and want to get out, the term “sex worker” seeks to rebrand exploited women as empowered women who are there because that is their true desire. When radiqueers claim that “sex workers” are harmed by books written about human trafficking, they are being misleading. It is certainly not harmful to exploited persons to describe the terms of their exploitation. It is, however, harmful to the men who are doing the exploiting.
I’m tempted to say that radiqueers are calling for this book to be banned because they don’t want people to know the definition of sexual slavery for the purposes of naming it when it happens, or that they don’t want people to know the methods that procurers use to bring women into the sex trade, or that they don’t want people to know the history of the abolitionist movement. But I can’t even give them that much credit. They haven’t even read the book. They don’t know or care what it says. They aren’t interested in countering the points being made in the book, by, for example, offering different procurement methods that they have found in their own research, or in offering a different definition of sexual slavery, or in adding to the historical documentation of the abolitionist movement. No, they aren’t interested in countering the points made in the book or even in explaining what points they disagree with. They only want it banned on the grounds that it names prostitution as violence against women, and they prefer to think that prostitution is a woman’s choice. Anything that challenges the idea that women “choose” their own exploitation is labelled “unsafe.” They would have a difficult time explaining how naming male violence against women is “unsafe” for women. In truth, it’s only “unsafe” for male abusers, because it threatens their ability to continue their abuse.
Ironically, the radiqueers who imagine themselves to be “feminists” are doing exactly what the mobs of men did to Josephine Butler. They are doing the 21st century equivalent to throwing rocks at her for daring to name male violence against women. Throwing rocks and threatening her in order to attempt to silence her. If radiqueers were actually concerned about women, they would have absolutely no problem with books that expose the problem of human trafficking, and they wouldn’t be threatening women for providing this information.
What would actually make women safer is knowing the information provided in Kathleen Barry’s book. Women and girls should know the strategies used by procurers for the sex trade so that we can identify them when we see them. We should all be aware that when a man starts flattering a young woman and saying he has a modelling job or a dancing job for her, that is a red flag. Law enforcement professionals need to understand the conditions of female sexual slavery in order to identify women who need their help. Far from being “unsafe” for women, the information in this banned book is crucial for keeping women safe.
The radiqueers who want to ban a list of feminist books from a women’s library are doing the work of anti-feminism, whether they’re aware of it or not, and they are engaged in the practice of woman-hating, whether they are aware of it or not. They are being intellectually dishonest because they are attempting to suppress information that is clearly helpful to women on the grounds that they imagine it to be “unsafe” for women. Although I cannot prove that no radiqueers have read any of these banned books, I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make, based on their politics and their behavior, and I find it reprehensible and cowardly for people to regard a book as unsafe without having read it. If any radiqueers have read any of these books, feel free to tell me I’m wrong about that, and let’s discuss the book! But I’m not going to hold my breath.
I hope that I will get time throughout the year to quote from more of the banned books on their list, in order to discuss what information radiqueers want banned and why. There is a general theme though: any time feminists describe male violence against women in the form of sexual exploitation or gender identity nonsense, radiqueers get all up in arms. That’s because their politics are generally about promoting the sex trade and promoting people’s choice to choose genders, both of which are harmful to women as a class. They are men’s rights activists cloaked in rainbow disguise.
Despite this group of anti-feminists throwing rocks at us, we will persevere, just like we always have.