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Thinking Sex: Language from the Field Forum

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language from the field
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-12 10:30:33
Link to this Comment: 7225

For the next two weeks, we'll be hearing "Language from the Field":

What strikes you about the language used to talk about sex in these contexts? About Gina's observation yesterday, for instance, that the difference between two of the four prepositions available to a child--"in" and "on"--"could mean five years"? In the context of the prosecution of rape and sexual assault, the use and valuation of the meaning of words, it turns out, is VERY it will prove to be in organizing for the rights of sex workers. What use can you make of such differences?

Name: Catherine
Date: 2003-11-13 20:23:36
Link to this Comment: 7253

The power of language is quite a relative matter. When we attempt to use language to describe sex and sexuality in our Thinking Sex class, we find that it is impossible to encompass everything we want to convey in speech and music, etc. Yet when a sex "offender" is put on trial, somehow the language of sex and sexuality can be formed/twisted in such ways that someone can be convicted of a felony. Maybe it is just that there does not need to be a full, comprehensive explanation in words to convict someone of a sex crime.
As for today's discussion, would I want to teach young children about sex workers and introduce the profession to children as a possible career? In the case of the Planned Parenthood program, I would not, simply because the children involved seem to have already formed opinions, and know much about sex as it is. While attempting to get them to take responsibility and practice safer sex, it is not ideal to encourage having more sex. But with children in general, as long as there is parental consent, I believe that introducing the topic, at least in a non-direct way, may not be a bad idea. To encourage children to think on their own and form their own opinions is to give them privacy and responsibility. At the same time, if this topic is to be added onto a curriculum in school, I believe much else has to be changed, including the age-old fairy tales children grow up on. It is frightening to think how far we have come in a not-so-ideal way in terms of teaching children about openness and choices.

prerna's project
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-11-13 21:44:23
Link to this Comment: 7254

I had mixed feelings throughout Prerna's presentation in class today. While I thought it was a really interesting project and I could definitely see how life-changing her experience was to her, there was something about her presentation that troubled me. I guess I first noticed it when she was talking about the different kinds of documentation that the women had--the map of their village, etc. Prerna seemed so amazed by these things and read them as signs that the women were mapping and legitimizing their own existence. My reaction was that this was probably much more striking to Prerna than to any of the women there. Of course they exist; why should that be such a shock? I suppose that I'm not fully aware of the marginalization of these women in their own society and the significance all the documentation might have there, but I saw it originally as though an ignorant outsider were coming in and being surprised to see this very different culture does some of the same things the outsider does in his/her own culture. (Was that sentence at all clear?) I am not trying to call Prerna ignorant...she's much more informed than I am and she had done a lot of research before she went. But I guess I'm just bristling at the implication that such an ordinary thing to do is so amazing--as though she went in with much lower expectations. Does that make sense?

Then, later, she talked about how the women were finally becoming human to her after all the theoretical reading she'd done. Again, I felt uncomfortable with her saying that she finally saw the women as human after meeting them--as if they weren't before. I can understand it, and I agree that you can't get a sense of how things really are just from reading, but I guess it just made me uncomfortable--perhaps because I would probably have had the exact same, somehow patronizing emotion. I admire Prerna's honesty in admitting these sorts of feelings.

One other thing I wondered was what the women were getting out of Prerna's visit. They gave her a life-changing experience; what did she give in return? I realize that she has struggled with the same questions. Again, I don't want to appear overly critical...just wanted to bring up a few issues that for whatever reason rubbed me the wrong way. What did everyone else think?

Field Work Thoughts
Name: KB
Date: 2003-11-15 16:18:39
Link to this Comment: 7264

Following Tuesday's class, I felt a bit upset. As I left the English House, another student in our class said to me "Why did she (Gina, from the DA's office) feel the need to pass those pictures around?" It was nice to hear that someone else was wondering the same thing as I. What was even more striking to me was the way in which Gina could talk about rape without much emotion involved. To her, it was all part of the job, I mean, she so readily cracked jokes about certain aspects of her job in order to make it less emotionally heavy. I guess what I'm trying to say is I left her presentation thinking less about what she does per se, and more about how she handles the emotions surrounding what she does.

Also, in terms of Thursday's presentation on sex workers, to answer Anne's question about whether or not we would choose to teach our children about sex workers in school sex ed classes, I'd have to say that I don't think I'd have a problem with it, as long as there were a few conditions. I know I'd want my child to be aware that the industry exists, and that the sex workers are trying to make money just like everyone else. In general, I hope that I raise my child(ren) to have compassion and positive feelings toward everyone. I can't help but think of the parallels between sex workers and wage laborers. I would not want my child to think of the person thatt bags our groceries or that parks our car as just that. I'd want them to think of these people as people. I mean, shouldn't it be the same across the board, regardless if they're a sex worker or not? The condition however would be that I would hope that my child would not aspire to become a sex worker or a wage laborer. I don't think it's an easy life, and I would in no way want their job descriptions to be glorified in any way.

Another thought that I had about the sex workers is that we did not touch on pornography workers as sex workers. Is there a difference between having sex in private for money and having sex in public for money? Do we view the two differently? I can't help but think of one of the richest young women in the world, Paris Hilton, who is all over the news right now because video tapes of her having sex are being put on the internet. Anyone have thoughts on this?

I really want to say "no comment"
Name: Ro
Date: 2003-11-15 16:36:04
Link to this Comment: 7265

Hi all
Comments...comments...sometimes my head feels as though it's swimming with (in) too much information and all of it subject to "what I think." Mostly, I think that what I think won't matter/can't matter, because each of these topics is so complex and profoundly impacting to the individuals involved and to others on the periphery. We're just not spending sufficient time on any one of them to move the ball forward--for our purposes or theirs.

Regarding the presentation Gina made about rape and sexual assault, I believe that all criminal law is a matter of precise (and not necessarily accurate) definitions of the crimes, by degree. As Anjoli noted a while back, the more precisely we define something, the more we create new "outsidedness," if I can make up a word. For me, the only case in which rape/SA is not a 100% pure violent act/no sex involved is the one that Gina grabbed for as we got talking around the issue, that is, the instance of a 13 year old consenting to have sex considered as rape/SA no matter what. But I submit that that is a totally arbitrary line drawn by one society...and I have misgivings about it, about when consent can be deemed consent by virtue of some arbitrary amount of time on the planet. All the rest is violence, Anne. I just don't get it as sex...especially when the boundaries for our thinking about sex are "desire" and "difference." Neither plays to rape or assault, IMO.

Regarding the readings, presentation, and discussion about the sex workers, one overarching memory hangs on. I am sure I heard Perna talk about the labels of "sex worker" versus "prostitute." She said that sex workers are more acceptable because their work is short term and typically augments some other means of earning income. She went on to describe some sex work as legitimate in the eyes of society because they sent money home to support the community. Prostitutes, I guess, are selfish? They persue careers in sex work and thereby, are considered low life? Wow. See, in my mind, there is no distinction between the right-ness or wrong-ness of something based upon how long you do it, or what you do with the resulting gains.

In general, I think that women's power in the patriarchy (anywhere) exists in her sexuality and the affect that has 'over' men. Therefore, if she does not play by the patriarchy's rules with it, she is dangerous and therefore, needs to be marginalized/ neutralized. In this business of sex work, it strikes me as really nasty that "acceptable" women of society(ies) are conspirators in this marginalization of other women.

The topic is so complex. Nor do we really know what sex workers women think about the work they do...or how it affects their ability to then have loving relationships. That's all I'm willing to say, because I think that it's almost disrespectful to devote so little time to such an important topic and then try to have opinions. I will add that the project regarding sex and business does not/cannot include this perspective...we may think about it as we look at the roles women are dealt (wife, daughter, mistress--pick one) in the workplace patriarchy. But it's a whole 'nother world.

Sex as labor?
Name: Megan
Date: 2003-11-16 18:05:54
Link to this Comment: 7270

I really enjoyed the differences that each vistor brought to class. We got to see sex in three very different extremes. We went from sex as something natural and pleasurable to sex as violent and hurtful to sex as work and without pleasure.

I thought a lot about the question of teaching about sex work in sex ed curriculum. The image that kept coming into my mind was that of a "Career Day" at school. Can you imagine the uproar if an exotic dancer or prostitute was standing there between a doctor and lawyer?

I've been studying the topic of sex labor in my "Women in the Southern Hemisphere" class and I think it's essential to note that there is a huge difference in sex work in the United States and sex work in a developing country. In a developing country, there is no other alternative work that generates the same level of income. Most women engage in informal sector work (maids, small shop owners) that barely provide any money. Even women who find factory jobs (usually Western companies that come in under Free Trade Zone privilages so they don't have to pay any taxes)make hardly any money. Sex work is the only opportunity in which women can make enough money to support their families. This is not the case in the United States. While one could argue that making $300 a night as a lap dancer doesn't compare to making minimum wage flipping burgers, there are at least opportunities for decent paying jobs.

Do we really want our little girls dreaming about becoming prostitutes when they grow up? While I fully support giving agency to sex workers, I still don't see it as a career choice people should be striving for.

disjointed thoughts
Name: Garron
Date: 2003-11-16 22:57:40
Link to this Comment: 7280

In class Anne asked whether we should even talk about rape in a class about sex because there is a question as to whether rape is sex. I think it should be talked in a class about sex because it is related to sex and/or it is a form of sex. While rape is forced sex I don't think it is necessarily about sex. It is about violence and power. Still, I think rape should be discussed in a class about sex. Similarly, prostitution might involve getting paid inexhange for having sex with another person, I don't think its about sex. I think it is about economic and social factors. Still, I think it also should be discussed in a class about sex. What I'm trying to say in my own convoluted way is that I think there are all different kinds of sex acts, and I consider them part of the spectrum of sex even though I do not consider many of them to be about sex. Am I being at all clear?

On a totally different topic, Sarah asked what the women in the sex industry in India got from Prerna's visit. I just wanted to bring up one thing that Prerna mentioned she thought the women got from her visit, which is status. Prerna said that in the town she visited people outside of the sex industry looked at the women in the sex industry in wonder and amazement that they were "important" enough to get visits from foreigners. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with this observation, I'm just offering Prerna's possible answer to Sarah's question.

As for Gina's visit two things really struck me. First, the amount of time people spend in jail for rape and sexaul assualt seems short to me considering time for good behavior and such. What do you guys think? Second, the way Gina asked children to talk about the smells, feelings, and tastes of their sexual assualts while testifying interets me. Generally we don't have to explain or prove that most of our sex acts actually took place. If we had to,I think it might be difficult. Like we've discussed in class, sex can defy explaination in words; at times useful language just doesn't exist to explain it. Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be for a child to explain a traumatic sex act forced upon him when he doesn't even express the full vocabulary we possess? Asking about the senses related in the attack seems like a clever approach to a difficult problem.

Do you think Gina got permission to share the photos from the woman in them?
How did you guys feel about her sharing other people's stories? Did you think it was ethical? Why/why not?

sex work
Name: Ali
Date: 2003-11-16 23:53:29
Link to this Comment: 7282

"Do we really want our little girls dreaming about becoming prostitutes when they grow up? While I fully support giving agency to sex workers, I still don't see it as a career choice people should be striving for."

I'm glad that Megan brought up this concern. I was very surprised that our classroom discussion seemed to implicitly agree that sex work is a valid, upright, legitimate, etc. profession. I am certainly an advocate for the decriminalization of sex work and have more respect for sex workers than I have for many other professions, but I expected that other people would have moral, religious, social (etc.) objections to sex work. If we are to agree that sex workers deserve agency to control their (sex) lives, then it would be helpful to unpack our feelings about sex work in general. What is implied in saying that our "little girls" may grow up to be prostitutes? I see a contrast of little, meek, pure, virginal or asexual girls against big, bad, scary sexual vamps. Should little girls be dreaming of becoming Disney princesses who ride white ponies, ballerinas in pink tutus, veternarians with white coats (like Barbie)?

On another related note, Katie brought up an excellent point about pornography and the distinction between public and private sex. Why is pornography legal and sex work not legal? Both are sex for money, in the most basic sense. Part of me wonders if it has something to do with organization and profit - sex work functions in much smaller groups (i.e. pimps and sex workers, etc.) which minimizes the ability to make mass profits like pornographic videos, magazine, etc. can do.

Name: Ro
Date: 2003-11-17 16:36:58
Link to this Comment: 7293

Hi guys,
In reading the latest postings on the topic of sex as work, it struck me that none of us has asked the question, "Where does the money come from that buys sex from these workers, especially in developing countries?"

Does it come from income that would otherwise go to feed, house, educate, medicate the members of the male clients' families? Is it truly discretionary or are others suffering as a result of this ready-made industry that excuses itself by saying that it's the only way that enough money can be earned?

Just thinking...
see you tomorrow.

Name: heather
Date: 2003-11-17 22:41:38
Link to this Comment: 7301

We have been hearing/reading so much this last week that it's hard to know where to begin. I feel similiar to Ro in that I don't have enough information to have an opinion. It was very weird to hear Prerna's presentation because just that week I watched a documentary that was largely comprised of interviews with prostitutes/sex workers in Africa, which conveyed a completely different feeling. They were definitely portrayed/portrayed themselves as victims. People were forced into the business because they lost their family and/or had no other means of supporting themselves. The girls who came into the city looking for jobs were actively sought out (right as they were walking off the bus!)by pimps, and many were initiated into it by rape after which they lost self-respect. All of the women interviewed said that they did not enjoy thier work, and that they "do not like men." This is an extreme feeling that I would not wish on any woman. (I don't think it is easy to dissassociate emotion and sex- a natural, biological connection, especially for women?:) And, once you have disassociated the two-can you easily switch the connection back on, assuming that this kind of sex is more fullfilling?) So, in response to the posts by Megan and Ali, I think that the gut feeling that we wouldn't want our daughters in this business has less to do with wanting "little, meek, pure, virginal or asexual girls" than it does wanting girls to grow up happy and able to enjoy sex.

At the same time I do realize that the community I saw portrayed is only one and that it is one persons portrayal. However, during Prerna's presentation I kept waiting to hear the women's opinions and feelings about their work in their own words. Maybe I didn't catch it, but while I heard her talk about the fact that she had very personal interactions with these women, I never got a sense of any.

So, while I very much agree that sex workers should be respected as well as their choice to enter into the business, I believe for many women it is not a choice and that shouldn't be forgotten. There is a danger in assuming that women have all made the choice. I think the focus needs to be put not on delegitimizing these women but on questioning the societal circumstances where so many women are unable to find ways to survive without selling thier bodies.

Going back to the issue of teaching about sex workers in school, the issue of whether or not a child will pursue being a sex worker is not the only thing to consider. Some children are already aware of the business and it is a part of their world, sometimes very close to home. Because of this, I think, and not of glorifying the business, it is important to have a formal, respectful, discussion of sex work in schools.

"Is there a difference between having sex in private for money and having sex in public for money? Do we view the two differently?"
I thought this was a very interesting question and worth thinking over. One thing that I think could be distinguishing in people's minds is the fact that one is legal and therefore seen as respectable by society. Maybe also by being legal the business is less hidden, and able to be more regulated? Although I like Ali's observation of a distinction of the ability of mass profits in pornography. I also see different power relations going on.

Name: Grannis
Date: 2003-11-18 08:57:46
Link to this Comment: 7306

Wow, SO much is on my mind that I'm feeling overwhelmed as to how I'm going to condense it into one posting! I really enjoyed hearing from our three guest speakers. It was striking to me to see how important "using the right language" in their jobs/ studies was for each of them. In Lisa's case, she was concerned about finding the right words to shape an effective curriculum that was non-intrusive for both the sex-educator and the student. As for Gina, I found her mention of the extreme (5 yrs?) differences that can result from a child using the word "in" versus "on" to describe sexual abuse. Amazing how a simple preposition can have such a huge impact. It is truly fascinating for me to think about the fact that young children have a limited language capacity, and that if it's hard for us to express our thoughts re: sexual practices with our much larger vocabularies, it must be exceedingly difficult for them. And finally, Prerna kept highlighting the distinction between using derogatory terms for sex workers ("prostitute"/ that Indian word she mentioned) versus more civilized, respecting titles (like "sex worker" for instance).

Another thing that came to mind (especially while listening to Prerna's presentation and reading the packet about sex workers she was so kind to share with us) was the hazy border between sex for work and sex for enjoyment. If a sex worker winds up enjoying the sex (s)he is having for money with a client, does that change things? Is sex "work" only if there's money involved? Or on the other hand, if a man/woman wants to have sex but his/her partner doesn't, and they have sex anyway (and the partner doesn't enjoy it), is that still sex for enjoyment? Or is that sex as work in some sense? I don't know.... the border between sex for work and sex for pleasure is starting to become rather blurred in my mind.

As for the photos: I must admit that I too was a bit surprised that Gina so eagerly passed them around...not because they were disturbing, but because I felt they were infringing on the rights to confidentiality of the woman in the photo. She didn't even black out the eyes/face or anything. I was also sitting fairly close to where she had her files set up, and noticed that the names were blatantly visible-- yet another questionable issue of confidentiality. However, I REALLY enjoyed her talk...yes Katie, it was interesting to see how she seems to have emotionally adjusted herself so that she can cope with what she sees each day. It kind of reminds me of how EMTs learn to "harden" themselves a bit so that the tragic situations they are confronted with each day don't tear them apart. Personally, I was extremely impressed with what Gina had to say.

Thanks to all the speakers for paying a visit!

Name: tia
Date: 2003-11-19 12:38:06
Link to this Comment: 7324

i want to respond to a few comments i heard in class and read on the forum. i really enjoyed the gina' s presentation and she explained alot of things i have always been curious about in the legal system. So is rape sex? personally i do not think it is. but we could argue abiut this topic all day. i think one question to ask is why is there this sex/violence combination with rape. rape cant be purely sexual because it is forced, however if i person wanted to be violent he could beat the person up...why rape her? what is it about sex that makes it abused in this way?
as for the women who are prostitutes in third world countries..i saw the same documentary that heather saw, and i feel in order to think about why the womenare doing this we have to analyze social factors. things for women there are not like they are for us in America. first of all, with genital cutting/forced female circumsion, bride prices, how women are treated as objects, how male children are giving first priority with schooling...a girl grows up as a second class citizen. many of hem come to the citiess looking for a better life, and are then exploited by pimps, promising these girls jobs. once you live on the street, dont have any food, cannot get a jpob because no one wants to hire a homeless person, you have no choice but to enter the informal economic sector. hey do have anything to sell and use themselves as capital. and while prostitutes may be harrassed here, in other countries there is absolutely no help for them by the government.
also, these women are worried about living day to day. with political unrest and other factors, alot of them have the mentality that they should worry about TODAY, eating TODAY, sleeping TONIGHT, and not neccesarily im a position to plan for the future. and i think this is where lack of condomuse comes in, especially if the man is willing to pay more for no condom.
sadly enough, prositution is serving a function. if there are other ways to make the same amount of money im sure many women would do it. but they are backed into a wall.

Name: Anjali
Date: 2003-11-19 15:37:59
Link to this Comment: 7338

This is long...sorry!

I wanted to comment firstly on privacy in regards to Gina's presentation, simply because I work with her and know somewhat, the answer. Everything that the DA uses is submitted to the public record, so technically, nothing is private. When the woman gave those pictures to Gina, she a) shared them with everyone in the hallway...but more importantly b) did so knowing that they would then be on public record. Any person who is in need of the records for some appropriate reason can see all the information the DA uses. This is also why the case she was working on, she did not divulge names or actual information, especially about the victims, are kept confidential if the victim is still under the age of 18 both before and after the trial.

Okay, with that said, I'm not going to discuss Gina's presentation, because I deal with it everyday. I'm just going to say also that the emotional thing that someone mentioned...her not being emotional about the situation and cracking jokes is partially her personality and partially because this is something she deals with on a day to day basis...and it is heavy, heavy stuff. If you can't distance yourself sometimes then life would be more difficult. In the courtroom her emotion is right there and she is visibly saddened when someone uses something a victim says or does to make the victim seem like part of the crime. She is visibly emotional about the way rape occurs and the feelings and life-long pain that comes with these horrible acts. I think she simply distances herself when outside of work because she has LOADS of other things to do (I'm not kidding, this woman is amazing...she does it ALL).

Anyway, on to Prerna's presentation, which I personally thought was really great. I believe that what Sarah said makes to seeing the women as people already, so why should they become more "human." But I think the point was more that seeing women in this role as "normal" or "legitimate" is really difficult for some...MANY...people today. In general, women at our school have a more liberal and open perspective when it comes to viewing the world and perhaps many of us are likely to have already legitimized these women because we see past their jobs to the fact that they are women just like us.

What Prerna seems to be investigating is the legitimization of these women in the greater society of their country and of the world. Let's face it, a large number of people today not only see the role of a sex worker as illegitimate, but many times see the women as "bad" or "wrong" or "immoral." On the other hand, if everyone had a friend who was a sex worker, I think they'd be less likely to degrade the person, even if they are morally set against the act. When we see people as individuals, we are more likely to separate their many roles in life from each other, which makes it possible to accept them even if we don't accept all the things they do, say or feel. Even if Prerna went into this internship already feeling like sex work is something that should be decriminalized or not looked down upon, she is faced with the very real truth that many people do look down upon women who perform sexual acts for money and do want it to be considered a criminal act, for whatever moral or personal reasons they have.

This also goes back to her reply to me when I asked if she thought sex work should be legal and is acceptable and she did not have a reply. This is a very tough question and one that delves very deeply into our sense of not only right and wrong, but what we see as "acceptable." Would I want my children growing up to be sex workers? No. That is the answer plain and simple. The reason is because it is a dangerous way of life, you submit yourself not only to STI's, but also violence, but also social instability, meaning the job is instable in that you're not always guaranteed work. Do I think it should be decriminalized, yes, but then that raises questions about the trafficking of women and women forced into the this more likely to happen because the job is suddenly legally acceptable?

I think I don't know the answer to many of these questions, but I do like that the presentation really made me think and I congratulate Prerna for taking on such an interesting, but probably difficult role for her internship. Living on the other side of the line (both literally and figuratively) in a developing country is really difficult (I did it briefly while in India one summer) and I think its such a great thing that she is interested in learning more about and doing something about.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2003-11-20 18:49:28
Link to this Comment: 7351

Ro's diagram today was really interesting. What I keep finding is that language (particularly words) is lacking something, in that we can't seem to fully express ourselves using it. But today it seemed also that there was nothing to express, when we were trying to find an antonym or an opposite concept of rape. It revealed not the shortcomings of language, but just that maybe there is no antithesis.
Shifting to another topic we were on today, although I believe in justice, the idea of victims wanting to go to court and to prosecute their attackers seems un-ideal to me. Not that I think they should take matters into their own hands and get revenge personally, but the courts, being constructed by consenting adults, do not actually correctly justify anything. Courts are supposed to be non-biased and objective, but because the rules are made by people, the judge is human, and the jurors are not even specifically instructed individuals, everything is tinged with human error and emotion, etc. So why do people seek the courts for justice? To be acknowledged that they have been wronged, that they are telling the truth? Or do they want to get revenge in a way that they will not themselves be prosecuted for it afterwards?
Never having been in the situation myself, I know that I have no right to make these assumptions or to play moral crusader. But these are some ideas I had during/after class. I look forward to the next readings.

going to court
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-11-20 21:23:52
Link to this Comment: 7355

In response to Catherine's question about why people go to court, the idea that springs immediately to my mind is to keep the perpetrator from doing whatever crime (s)he did to other people. I agree, though, that there are also much more personal motivations for victims in terms of revenge, public acknowledgement of suffering, etc. that could be explored.

Name: KB
Date: 2003-11-20 22:00:24
Link to this Comment: 7356

So I really felt uncomfortable with today's discussion about rape. While I understand that it was totally theoretical in nature, I really left feeling like if any of us had been raped or if any of us had a close friend/family member that was raped, we'd look at this topic from a different perspective.

I spoke to Anne about my frustrations with not having an actual rape account in our reading on this subject. I suggested including a chapter from Alice Seabold's book "Lucky." This book is a memoir of the events before, during, and after her brutal rape. She talks about her emotions behind having to testify in court (and in turn having to face her rapist again), she talks about losing her virginity to her rapist, and also her fears of being intimate with men afterwards.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that don't we owe it to this subject to actually read about how it feels to experience rape, instead of just theorize about how we think it feels? There's so much involved in rape beyond the actual act of being raped. So my question is, why is our class focusing on that act?

These are just my thoughts...feel free to disagree :).

Re: Katie's Posting
Name: Megan
Date: 2003-11-21 00:14:54
Link to this Comment: 7357

I was actually going to suggest the same book. When I told my suitemate that we were talking about rape, she gave me a copy of the book and I read it in two days. It was a wonderful first hand account of the experiences of a rape victim of both the rape itself and the prosecution of the perpatrator. The author also grew up on the Main Line so it hits close to home (though her rape took place in NY).

I found it extremely problematic to debate if rape was sexual or not without having first hand knowledge. In the book, the author specifically states that rape IS sexual. I would tend to believe her rather than my own assumptions.

I worked this summer at a sexual assault and domestic violence hotline. There was one caller in particular that really had an affect on me. It was a man who was raped by another man and he was extremely troubled with questions about his own sexuality and if this incident made him a gay.

So, maybe rape isn't about sex, but rather sexuality in general. ???

Setting Boundaries on the Self
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-21 12:31:02
Link to this Comment: 7362

I'm grateful for Katie's suggesion of Lucky and will add it to the reading list for the next version of this course; certainly all these discussions need to keep in them the experiential dimension, need to stay grounded in accounts of what it feels like, from the inside, to have these experiences....

That said, I found our conversation on Thursday hugely useful/productive precisely BECAUSE it was theoretical, and want to archive here the framework Ro. laid out for us. The categories she suggested were

Theft/ArsonPossession (thing)Gift
MurderSelf (Life)Salvation
RapeSelf (?)Sex (Giving oneself?)

Thinking about our "self"s as "possessions" that we can give, or sell, or have taken from us (by force) was for me a very useful re-framing of our topics of the past week--sexual abuse and sex work--in terms of the marketplace, as was Ro.'s observation that what "creates sales" is two things: defining a compelling need AND a fear (of what will happen if one does not buy the item). Laura's observation that the sex workers in "Lusty Ladies Unite!" did not view themselves as objects (when it came to matters of breast size or race) was also a useful index to the limits of this sort of framing. Megan's accounts of how sex work in the Dominican Republic is embedded in an economy in which there are no other choices was similarly useful.

When we turned our attention to the "evidence-less," often "unprosecutable" crime of rape, I still found the language of the marketplace helpful: What is being stolen? Who decides if it is an act against you? What presumptions about childhood innocence/asexuality underlie rape laws? What does it say about our system of justice, when we insist on having an experience of violation validated (is that what we are seeking: validation?) by a conviction?

Most interesting to me in all of this were our attempts to define what a self IS: our queries about security and boundaries, the presumptions about wholeness and integrity of that which may not be violated (can not but BE violated?) in encounters w/ others. Might we most usefully think about a good sexual experience as one in which one gives one's "self? (as the frame above suggests?) or loses one's "self"? or finds one's "self"? or touches one's "self"? or--w/ permission--gives/loses/touches an other "self"? Might agency be defined by the ability to set one's own boundaries, which may not be crossed, or only crossed on one's own terms? And theft/murder/rape as crossing the boundaries of another, without such permission?

I'm not at all done thinking, but thanks to you all for helping me get this far...

lesbian sex not adultery and remote-control sex
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-21 12:39:18
Link to this Comment: 7363

As promised: archiving here the two articles I mentioned in class yesterday:

"Married women's lesbian sex isn't adultery, N.H. court rules," Philadelphia Inquirer (11/8/03): the recent ruling was based on an 1878 case which referred to "adultery as intercourse from which spurious issue may arise."

The second article, "Sex-Ed Night School," New York Times Magazine (11/16/03) suggests that "watching TV is a highly effective means of teaching teenagers about sensitive sexual issues like...condom leakage....a single episode of 'Friends' centering on Rachel's unplanned pregnancy due to the untimely failure of Ross's condom stuck in the heads of most teenagers who viewed it, and especially those who viewed it with an adult and discussed it together afterward. Six months later...teenagers still is imperfect and sometimes rubbers rupture.

Remote-control sex. ed. What's not to like?"

how to walk the walk?
Name: Laura
Date: 2003-11-24 02:37:34
Link to this Comment: 7381

You know, theory is great. but can it be put into practice? I have been wondering about this a lot. so have many others before me. I'm not entirely sure how I feel. teaching about sex work in a sex ed curriculum? trying to pinpoint what rape really is/means???

I was an au pair during my senior year of high school and I've been reflecting back upon my actions and comparing them to my own ideals and the questions we toss out in class. Being a nanny changed me a lot. children give so much but they take even more. my girls really looked up to m, emulating me and testing or trying to please me. I walked into their lives coming from a rough urban background and completely unaware of their lifestyle. I knew enough to shove my knee-high boots, my big hoop earrings and leather tank tops in the back of my closet. I watched my profanity and my actions. before long, I was wearing long skirts, telling the girls and their friends to watch their language (i.e. use "strongly dislike" as opposed to "I hate that girl") and playing the part of mom.

it is hard enough for most people to figure out how to explain where babies come from to their kids. how on earth would you explain something like sex work? think of our cute but evasive animal skits... the same goes for faced with the challenge of explaining what rape is to a child. or homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. I can't even begin to compare my childhood to the upbringing of the girls. can you really teach someone something that is not at all a part of their reality? is that the only difference between our very different upbringings and education? sex work is not yet a reality for my girls. it could not be relative to them at this point. how then could I even broach the topic with them. when I visit the girls, I do not tell them that I work with and for injection drug users and sex workers. I tell them that I help people try to stay healthy. I tailor everything that I tell the girls, about myself, my life and work, about what they see on tv or what they hear, and tell them using vocabulary that they possess and the reality that they live in.

so why do I feel like I'm invalidating everything I think and say? I can't even talk the talk much less begin to figure out how to walk the walk. we all safeguard what we say depending on who we are saying it to, when and where. I don't know how not to...

Name: Ro.
Date: 2003-11-24 08:32:36
Link to this Comment: 7383

Laura's last posting about how one would ever teach children about sex work got me to thinking about work in general and how people at work feel depending upon whether the believe they are receiving respect. In fact, we saw that the Lusty Lady workers wanted to be respected in several ways, not just with fair labor rights.

One of the most important things workers want (from several studies done in corporations) is professional respect from their managers, peers (and I would add from their clients). That said, we've got a real problem trying to honestly offer respect--either as a client or as another woman or as a member of a society with attitudes about selling sex--attitudes that are so complicated by real fears and ingrained power-plays. I think that it would be impossible to teach/talk about sex work to children in a constructive way unless the teacher/talker were first able to become objective and open about that work--not just about the concept.

I'm thinking also about the wife/mother in this equation. As I mentioned in class, I find it difficult to think about sex work--whether it's exotic dancing, lap dancing, prostitution, whatever-- without also considering that there may be wives involved, unwittingly or otherwise. Wouldn't we have to work with educating the wife/mother person to be more accepting of this type of work before talking to her children about it? And what argument would we use to achieve that?

on rape
Name: Jessie
Date: 2003-11-25 00:20:49
Link to this Comment: 7389

Title: Who took the "sexual" out of rape?: Why rape is a violent sexual crime and must be considered as such.
Alt Title: I'm Pissed Off: Why we should think before we speak in class about who we're talking about.

The notion that rape is somehow not sexual has unsettled and disgusted me. It's time to question this assumption: an opinion so broad and contestable needs to be substantiated. I want to believe that proponents of this idea in our class do not actually mean the anti-victim, woman-hating stance that I construe from it. I think that rape is a primarily sexual act, and purporting it to be 'purely violence' instead is at best ignorant and at worst presumptuous and
androcentric. If you focus on just the violence/force/resistance factors of rape, you construct a sexist classification system and de-legitimize the majority of rape cases.

The concept of rape as violence emphasizes the rapist and overlooks the component of consent. In one sense this is good, as it takes blame away from the victim. However, the victim's role is instead read in terms of how much she resisted, thus denying her sexual agency (assuming the common female victim / male rapist scenario). Also, this view ignores instances of non-physical, pyschological compulsion. Many victims of rape do not fight back because they fear their attackers will become hostile. Similarly, an infant or incapacitated person cannot be expected to fight back. If you use only a standard of violence, you cannot consider a case where resistance was not possible to be rape. Also, if you're only considering force, consent would simply mean "lack of resistance," which is the same misunderstanding which has historically kept rapists from being convicted.

By focusing only on violence, you overlook the majority of rape cases which do not require enormous force. In "Real Rape," Susan Estrich designates two types of rape: aggravated (the "jump from the bushes" sort of armed, stranger rapist) and simple (the attacker is an acquaintance, and/or the rape occurs in a voluntary encounter; there is less force required). The former cases are extremely rare, and the latter primarily ignored. They are ignored because of this standard of violence for classifying rape. Though proponents of the view may justify themselves by claiming neutrality and using the same criteria for "sexual assault" as for "physical assault," rape in reality does not generally require as much force as assault. Assault is typically two men beating the crap out of each other, or at any rate, an attacker with an intent to physically injure another person. This is not the same motivation as for rape -- a rapist does not want to punch a woman in the face, he wants to penetrate her, or something otherwise sexual. The dynamics also are different due to gender. Women are conditioned to not fight back; men can easily overcome a smaller women without physical injury to either. And, simply because most men are bigger than most women, the same amount of force is not necessary for rape as it is for an assault. (Of course these are generalizations, but they still reflect an average trend.) Using force as a standard for classifying rape reinforces the problem of only considering aggravated rape as legitmate, thus rendering most
rape cases invisible.

By equating rape with assault, perhaps under the guise of being neutral, one makes rape invisible and unprosecutable. It is this kind of thinking that reinforces sexual gender roles that keep women quiet and has allowed rape to happen unreportedly and unpunished. Rape is not assault - typically there is less force employed, there is no physical evidence of nonconsent, and there are no witnesses. It thus should have different criteria which would acknowledge the sexual aspects of the crime -- and the sole criterion therefore cannot and should not be violence.

taking on the guise of experience
Name: Laura
Date: 2003-11-26 04:46:21
Link to this Comment: 7397

I've been thinking about the suggestion that a novel, such as "Lucky", ought to be included in our course. The thought really bothers me. Although I can see the validation in the argument that there ought to be an experiential piece of literature when we explore the theoretical/abstract concept of rape... the suggestion does not sit well with me. I feel like it is impossible to capture grief in words. We've been exploring the ability or possibility of talking and reading about sex and sexuality through words, and that too has proved extremely difficult. I just don't see the same exploration of rape as being possible. Is it really plausible that we would be able to remain objective, be enabled to step outside of ourselves, in order to explore something like rape? Especially when most might not ever even be able to talk or write about rape from the inside. And reading and discussing someone else's writing from being inside rape just seems like it begs to be butchered by those who cannot even begin to understand or 'get it'. Rape is like homelessness in my mind. Both are experiential. How can someone presume to be able to take on someone else's experience in order to understand? The thought just really bothers me. You cannot know what rape is, or what homelessness is, unless you've been there. We all have experienced our own sexualities. It is from those standpoints that we take on the authorization of engaging in a discussion about sex and sexuality. We cannot do the same, I feel, for something like rape. The suggestion that we might, through a novel like "Lucky", feels like a violation to me.

education and rape
Name: Garron
Date: 2003-11-30 19:12:23
Link to this Comment: 7408

I can't say whether I think the book "Lucky" would be an appropriate text for this course seeing as I have never read it. But even if I had read it there is still the issue that "doesn't sit well" with Laura. That is, the questionable propriety or plausibility of trying to explore rape in words, especially since we have not all experienced rape. I think I can see how Laura feels uncomfortable trying to intellecualize or dissect such a powerful subject when many of us don't know the extreme emotions and issues involved. Still, I feel wary of stepping away from an experiemental text or a some other text about rape even if, as Laura says, "reading and discussing someone else's writing from being inside rape just seems like it begs to be butchered by those who cannot even begin to understand or 'get it'."

Why am I hestitant to step away from a conversation even if I may be an outsider who "cannot eveneven begin to understand or 'get it'? Well, I know nothing of anthropology, but I think that the issue I face is the same issue that anthropolgists face all the time. Like an anthropolgist, I may never be part of the other culture or experience, I may never be able experience the experience of another, but there is a part of me that thinks it would be beneficial to know more about that other experience or culture even if I can never attain the understanding of an insider.

I'm having a hard time expressing what I'm thinking and feeling right now. Let me use a different example. I am not African American. No matter what I do, I will never be African American and I will never fully understand the experiences African Americans have because I will never be an insider in African American culture. Still, eveb it I can never reach full understanding I think its important for me to try to understand some of the issues African Americans face in American culture because I am part of that American culture.

Even if I can never fully understand, I would like to try to begin to understand so I am better prepared to lead my life in a way that will respect who are what I am not, or interact with people who have experienced what I have not expereinced. I know I will never fully understand, but I want to have some means to gain some insight so I can be more help than harm when it comes to my thoughts, words, and actions, whether the issue at hand race, rape, or a number of other things.

Still, I think I have to be careful that my interest in learning is for the right reasons. If I just wanted to read an expriencial piece on rape for the purposes of voyuerism I don't think that would be right. I also have to know that learning about an experience, or reading about an experience isn't the same as knowing about an experience. I will never have a full understanding and therefore I don't have the knowledge or right to assume that I do. Maybe this awareness would help me not to butcher someone else's writing or experience.

How do you guys think outsiders can learn or read about the insiders of any culture/subject without being disrespectful, hurtful, vouyeristic or totally oblivious?

Should some issues simply be left alone by outsiders?

I hope I haven't been offensive to anyone, too repetitive, or completely inarticulate.

on prostitution: male presence in industry and abs
Name: Jessie
Date: 2003-12-01 14:31:57
Link to this Comment: 7414

It is striking to me that resources about prostitution focus nearly exclusively on women involved as prostitutes and not at all on men. Speaking patriarchally, men comprise all areas of the sex industy in which women are the products. Men are the johns, the pimps, even the police and beaurocracy. Any study of prostitution which neglects men's instrumental role in the creation/perpetuation of prostitution is incomplete. So why are male fields of prostitution neglected? Perhaps there is already an assumed presence. Most resources seem to think of prostitutes as "other" as a distinct category separate from "us." Men are necessarily the "self" from which the overly emphasized Other/prostitute is derived from.

So, by focusing on only the role of prostitutes, discourse on prostitution creates a stigma around the women involved. It is women, not men, who are criticized (or praised, depending on what you're reading) for the breaking of moral boundaries. Women in sex industry are the ones categorized, stereotyped, and degraded. This plays out legally, as well, as women are far more prosecuted for prostitution than men are for pimping. Women also suffer greater penalities, such as being deemed unfit mothers and losing custody of children. When men are absent from discourse, that leaves women to become stigmatized and receive all culpability.

Name: Laurel
Date: 2003-12-02 21:31:21
Link to this Comment: 7435

I still am having a hard time understanding where people were coming from with the idea that rape could in some way be pleasurable. There is a big difference between biologically responding to sex and enjoying it. This line of thinking is so, so dangerous and presents such a backslide in the way society thinks of rape survivors. It inevitably leads to the same old "she wanted it" whispers. I'm assuming I didn't really understand--some preconceived notion is blocking it, perhaps--but I don't think I'm being old-fashioned or unprogressive in thinking that if someone feels they have been raped, then they sure as hell didn't enjoy it. I agree with those who feel that statements like these are a something of an academic luxury (I would also say careless, but I hate to toss that accusation out there--it was brave as well I suppose).

I also am troubled by the problems we're having deciding whether rape is about sex or power and control. Jesse, I was one of those who came into this class with the mantra of "rape is about power and control" ground into my brain after a summer working at rape crisis center. The point of separating sex and rape is to avoid making the survivor face accusations of wanting it. If the rapist wanted power instead of sex, then nothing a woman is wearing and no amount of flirting will motivate the rapist to rape. But I still think we cannot avoid the fact that rape is a sexual act--it's about unwanted sex. I can tell you that rape survivors feel violated in ways that victims of other violent assaults do not. If the rapist links sex to control that's quite a can of worms, but I don't think we can merely relegate it to one or the other. And there's also the point Anne brought up that rape counseling training still ignores (I actually asked someone at my center 2 summers ago this question, and didn't really get an answer)--the idea that making women blame free also means they have no control over their lives. There is something to be said for being blameworthy in that women are able to feel they can do something to prevent rape from happening again? I'm talking about agency though, NOT blame. It's a blurry blurry line.

I had another concern but I forgot. Perhaps it will come back tonight...

Name: KB
Date: 2003-12-03 22:57:21
Link to this Comment: 7456

So I know that this is way after the fact (i.e. we had this discussion a while ago in class) but I feel like I want to comment on a question Garron asked:

How do you guys think outsiders can learn or read about the insiders of any culture/subject without being disrespectful, hurtful, vouyeristic or totally oblivious?

Should some issues simply be left alone by outsiders?

OK, so here are my answers:

I think if outsiders didn't educate themselves about certain issues in life, Americans would be even more ignorant than many of us like to think they are.

I recommended including "Lucky" in the course packet for next year because I thought to myself during our class discussions on rape "if we were theorizing and contemplating eating disorders (I have suffered from one in the past), I would want my peers to at least have a sense of what it's like to have suffered from an eating disorder before beginning to discuss it." Granted, I know that my experience differs from that of other women who have had eating disorders, but at least it would be a glimpse into the emotions involved. I know I am very protective with what I've been through, and I do not like to hear other people make assumptions about eating disorders. So, I've decided that because of that fact, I will do my best to educate anyone who wants to learn more about eating disorders, because it would be doing them a disservice if I didn't.

Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions, but I personally wonder how we would even begin to educate ourselves if we didn't read primary sources about events that have taken place in a person's life? I think it would be really disrespectful to a person to not want to hear first hand about their experiences before beginning to discuss the experience, especially one as sensitive as rape.

Guess that's about it...

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