Not the worst wave ever

Penny White has a shout-out to those pesky second-wave feminists everyone hates so much.

Second wave feminists fought to make marital rape a crime and won. They fought for tougher domestic violence laws and for state funding for shelters where women could go to escape violent partners. They fought for the passing of rape shield laws, which protect rape victims from the cruelest form of slut-shaming: being cross-examined on the witness stand about their sexual histories. They fought to define and enforce sexual harassment laws, which gave women the tools to fight harassment at work and in school. Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program; Title X, a federal grant program dedicated to providing low income women with family planning services; and Roe v Wade all came to pass under their watch.

The activists of feminism’s second wave transformed our culture into a bigger, safer, and freer space for women than I had ever dreamed possible.

As one of millions of survivors who were saved by this movement, I am stunned and heartbroken when young women who have reaped so many benefits from the second wave dismiss key components of their elders’ hard work as “carceral” and/or “sex-negative.”

They don’t understand about the benefits because they don’t grasp what it was like without them. They take the benefits for granted, while taking the perceived shortcomings as conclusive signs of systemic badness.

These individuals stand in opposition to “carceral feminists” such as U.S. Representative Gwen Moore, who bravely stood before her colleagues in Congress and told her devastating story of living through child molestation, rape, and battering. She revealed these horrors, publicly, in order to support the passage of the “carceral” Violence Against Women Act. The bill was opposed not only by anti-carceral feminists, but by conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, the US Council of Bishops, and Concerned Women For America — all of whom claimed that VAWA was a feminist attack on family values.

Despite apparent political commonalities, those opposed to so-called “carceral feminism,” because of their pro-sex work stance, actually have more in common with libertarians than they do with traditional conservative Republicans. Libertarians, like “sex-positive” feminists, view prostitution as the voluntary sale of goods, with women being the “goods” in question. Since you cannot sell or rent anything you do not own, when a woman rents out her bodily orifices, she is “claiming ownership” of her body.

Is that a real argument? I’m not familiar with it. If it is…I’m gobsmacked.

A few months ago I watched an anti-carceral/pro-sex work feminist on MSNBC defend the inherent harmlessness of prostitution. This woman has a doctorate in Hollywood romcoms (I’m not kidding) but seems to have mistook Pretty Woman for a documentary. She opposed the Nordic model, which decriminalizes prostituted women but criminalizes their exploitation by pimps and johns. Feminists like her oppose the Nordic model even though it has led to a 50 per cent decrease of sex trafficking in Sweden. And in Norway, where the Nordic Model was also adopted, rape and physical violence against prostituted women has been cut by half, and emergency room visits by the prostituted has been cut by 70 per cent.  (This is based on research done by ProSentret, a Norwegian pro-legalization group). And as always happens with the Nordic model, sex trafficking in Norway has rapidly declined. By contrast, the decriminalization of pimps and johns, has led to an explosion of sex trafficking in countries like Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands, with no corresponding reduction of violence against prostituted women. Tragically, pro-sex industry/anti-carceral feminists refuse to allow concern for trafficking victims to get in the way of their enthusiasm for “sex work.” Depressing statistics and the shared experiences of trafficking victims are spoiling the fun for those who benefit from the industry.

Just as the fossil fuel industry attacks those who speak out on climate change, the multi-billion dollar sex industry attacks those who speak out against sex trafficking. Author and activist, Rachel Moran, recently made public her horrific experiences as a prostitution survivor, only to be “defamed, slandered, threatened, physically confronted and screamed at” by the pro-legalization lobby. As Moran stated, “I’ve had my home address, bank details and personal email circulated amongst some of the most seemingly unhinged people, who have tweeted me portions of my home address in a clear we-know-where-to-find-you style threat.” The silencing tactics used by pro-sex industry activists are strikingly similar to those used by MRAs (who also support decriminalizing pimps and johns).

And some other kinds of “activists” I can think of.

It’s all pretty unhealthy, if you ask me.

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