Wednesday, 26 May 2010

On Equality

I was talking with a friend the other day about man hating, and it made me think... I am not a man hater. I did go through a phase of hating men, when I was 'working' as a prostitute, and looking back, it's easy to see why. My ex partner abused me, the men he introduced me to abused me and the johns paid to abuse me. It was far safer for me to say, men are shits, they hurt you, and to disconnect. I think it made it less personal, less hurtful to me as a human being, to say all men are like this.

Now, though, in recovery, and over time, I have come to believe something different. As the anger fades, and I can see things a little clearer, see the hurt a little clearer, I can see my old view for what it was: a defence mechanism which was helpful in a situation of extreme trauma. I have sought therapy in recovery (I spent 12 months seeing a male therapist, which helped me immensely with my difficulties trusting men), and met and became friends with some good men along the way. I have come to see the truth that just as there are good women and bad women, so there are good men and bad men. I just happened to have spent more time with the latter!

The porn industry perpetuates a lie, it sells us a lie that men and women are fundamentally completely different. Women are there to be used, to be fucked and photographed and filmed as sexual animals, who want that, who love that, and who get off on that (look at that smile!). Men, on the other hand, are there to dominate, to penetrate, to violate, with impunity. All this under the guise of 'free speech', of 'harmless fun', of 'boys just being boys'. It is excused, no, more than that, it is expected that men behave a certain way, treat women a certain way, in order to be men. The subtext is clear: if you do not buy into using pornography, into treating women as sexual objects, to be seen as a collection of body parts and 'holes' that exist for your pleasure, you are less than. Similarly, a woman who questions whether an industry that sells women's bodies, that makes vast sums of money not for the women it uses but for the men who sell them, is 'empowering and liberating' for women, are labelled as prudes.

The sex industry has achieved something quite remarkable: it has hijacked the language of feminism and choice to defend its destructive and oppressive practices. And society has bought into this. I don't believe it's easy for anyone, man or woman, to stand against what has become seen as 'normal' and mainstream. Society has naturalised something which is completely unnatural, which oppresses both men and women. There's nothing new about the oppression of women, but the way that the sex industry seeks to undermine its opponents by posing as some sort of protector of free speech, justice and liberty has added a clever twist and made it more difficult for people to speak out against it.

The lies that we are told and sold by the sex industry are damaging to both men and women. But we do not have to buy into those lies. I believe that men and women are equal, and that a healthy relationship between men and women needs to be founded on respect for their common dignity and humanity. We all bleed if we're cut. We all hurt if we're beaten. To tell men that they are 'less manly' for not treating women as sex objects is to do them a disservice. To tell women that they are 'prudes' for wishing to be treated as ore than sex objects is to do them a disservice.

It is not surprising that such a hugely profitable industry should defend itself at all costs against attack. What is perhaps more surprising is the way our society has bought into this so easily. In my experience, a good deal of the inaction around the inequalities the sex industry fuels is based purely on ignorance. People who lack personal experience of the sex industry look at the arguments as they are laid out (by the sex industry), and are drawn in by what superficially appears to be the side of 'choice' and 'empowerment' for women, ie the sex industry's argument. As a survivor of pornography, of prostitution and domestic violence, there is nothing more painful to me then to watch other women fight to defend the 'rights' of other women to be treated as I was. The arguments defenders of the sex industry use are abstract, impersonal, at a safe distance, and sanitised beyond meaning. I defy anyone, male or female, who saw what I saw, who experienced what I experienced - being raped, being beaten, being threatened, being sold - to continue to defend the practices of the industry. The use of women by the sex industry is nothing if not personal! Being naked and penetrated and wanked over and used again and again is as personal as it gets.

So though I remain cautious in my interactions with men (as I do with women: trust takes time to rebuild after being so thoroughly shattered), I do not buy into the lie of the sex industry that men are at the mercy of their hormones, controlled by their penises. I think men deserve to be given more credit than that. Men and women who oppose what the sex industry is doing to our society, and how it treats the people it uses, need to join forces and fight together. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good person to sit and do nothing. It's time we spoke out, side by side, male and female.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Drowning with Rage and Boiling with Sorrow

I seem to be feeling pretty angry recently. For me, anger and sadness go hand in hand, and sometimes what manifests itself as extreme rage turns out to be hurt or loss. I think it goes back to the places I found myself in life. Often, it was unsafe to cry, or to express any emotion. Angered by any hint of upset on my part, my ex would tell me to 'shut the fuck up or I'll give you something to cry about'. Or then sometimes he'd demand that I cry - he'd get off on it. Either way, it all became entangled in the games of power and control I found myself in, and I guess it's not surprising that it takes some moving on from.

Patience isn't my strong point and so much of the time I find myself berating myself for not being 'sorted', for still struggling with my past. My logical voice tells me I should give myself a break, show myself a little compassion, that I've been through enough and don't need to add to the pain, to the shame. But still, it's a work in progress. I find it so bloody hard to be good to myself! So much easier, always, to do the old thing, self destruct. Cut myself. Binge and purge. Starve myself. Take risks... In recovery, I'm really working hard to change old patterns, and its' exhausting. Accepting my body as me and mine means accepting that what happened happened to me, not to something 'other' or apart. It means acknowledging that everytime my body was beaten and sold, I was beaten and sold. That's a hard pill to swallow.

If it sounds blatantly obvious that me and my body are one and the same, it's worth saying that it's not obvious to me. Years of splitting, of dissociating, consciously or otherwise, of acting as the observer, an outsider, watching this body, these thoughts, detached and separate, leave me fragmented. Watching him shout at me, I'd find myself strangely calm, almost mesmerised. I can see his lips moving, but I can't really hear him, see words forming, but they don't mean anything. In my mind, I dissect each word and spell out each letter with precision. There's spittle forming on his lip. I see that this man will hit this woman, but it doesn't really matter, because that's not really me. I observe at a distance.

I'm told (and I've read - I do a lot of reading on this stuff now, to better understand myself, to recover) that such splitting is a product of extreme trauma - a defence mechanism. Unable to remove myself from the abuse physically, I sought to distance myself mentally, doing the only thing I could. The mind's a remarkable tool. Buddhists often speak of simply observing thoughts and feelings coming and going, they speak of impermanence and non-attachment, and that makes a good deal of sense to me.

But here, 3 years clean and sober, I'm in that tricky process of putting those pieces together again, of turning that brokenness into something whole. It's slow progress and painful. I've sought therapy, and I work the programme on a daily basis. I'm doing a lot of work around blame and shame at the moment, so it's not surprising my emotions are all over. When you've been told by the men that abuse you that you deserve what's happening to you, worse, that you make them do that to you, and you're isolated and afraid and full of fear and self loathing for the drink and the drugs, you believe it. And I'm finding that even though rationally I can see that what happened wasn't my fault, that the blame and the shame belong to the perpetrators, my emotions are taking a while to catch up. If this was anyone else, I would have no problem with that. But, it's that old story, while I can be compassionate and objective with others, I find it extremely painful and difficult to apply that same care and thinking to myself.

I'm so angry! At my ex for the extreme physical, verbal and sexual abuse he put me through. At the men who used me, who forced me, who knew that I didn't want to have sex, who slapped me about and laughed at me and fucked me anyway. At the men who made money, who took pictures and filmed what was done. At my ex for beating me and making me perform for these men like an animal, just to get a fix. At the doctors and nurses in A&E for judging me and treating me like shit on those occasions I was able to seek medical help. And I'm angry at myself for still feeling responsible for things that were way out of my control.

I'm angry at myself for being angry at myself (which makes absolutely zero sense, I know).

But underneath the anger, and I've seen a few glimpses this past couple of weeks, is just a deep, deep sadness for what happened to me, at what happens to women in this country every day. I've been told I was lucky to survive it, and I was. I believed absolutely he would kill me if he so wished - he'd told me as much. When you live through that, you lose so many things, and I feel like I'm grieving for some of that stuff now. You lose faith in people, in their humanity. But most of all, you lose yourself. When you're constantly having to mold yourself in a desperate attempt to avoid a beating, you don't know who you are anymore. When you act like an animal in order to survive, you hate yourself. When your body's not your own and men touch you and fuck you and hurt you and use you and you are powerless to stop them, you lose your dignity. Everything is taken from you: you don't belong to yourself.

My body, my mind, did what they could to protect me at the time. But here and now, what once protected me can isolate and damage me. I guess I need to be a little more gentle with myself. After all, there are no quick fixes in recovery. I am doing what I can, and getting help. When I'm measuring my progress by that of other people, I need to remember that given what went on, I'm doing ok. I am ok. I didn't used to believe that, but you know, most days, I do now. Angry or sad, tired or down, I am ok.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Public Face of Angel

Just to say...

I shall be speaking at this year's annual Compass conference. This will be only the second time I've spoken in public about my experiences, and I've had butterflies ever since I agreed to speak there! I tend to get a lot of conflicting emotions whenever I
speak out about this stuff, be it through my blog, through testimonies online or in public, face to face. I believe 100% it's so important that the message gets out there about what the sex industry really means for women, behind its feminist language. But I also find it incredibly painful to look at my past, and sometimes I have to back off for a while and take care of myself.

However, I'm putting in place some good safety measures for myself (being around friends afterwards, etc) and am speaking alongside a couple of women there who I'm lucky to be able to count as friends. I really have met the most amazing, strong and warm hearted people as I have got active in speaking out about prostitution and domestic violence. So I'm excited to be seeing them again, and also to have been given another opportunity to try to get the truth out there. Here's hoping some people turn up!

This year’s Compass conference is confirmed to take place on Saturday 12 June 2010 at the Institute of Education, London, with this particular seminar being held at 11am. Details are to be found at
There are lots of interesting sounding seminars, so we've got serious competition!

If you or anyone you know may be interested in attending, do it! It would be great to meet some like minded people, and the feedback I've had on this blog has been much appreciated - it would be good to meet some of you.

Apologies to those of you who are not based round London - I get frustrated myself sometimes as a Northerner that I can't get more involved. UK Feminista is one of the organisations I'm part of which is aiming to do something about that, so perhaps soon we'll have something similar further up country.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Desensitised and Anaesthetised

A group of us were round at a friend's house the other day, chilling out together, and we began to watch a film which someone had heard was good... 10 minutes later we were stopping it again, overwhelmed by the violence. Don't get me wrong, my friends and I aren't fragile or exceptionally sensitive. But when a man was depicted being graphically tortured, we were in agreement: it wasn't 'entertainment', it was sick.

I got to thinking afterwards how desensitised our culture has become. That this sells as entertainment is a little disturbing. But how much more disturbing that pornography is so widely accepted as 'harmless' and 'fun' and 'entertainment'! The blood in this film, the violence in this film, the cuts and bruises in this film were special effects: they weren't real. The actor would most likely object were it otherwise!

Yet in pornography, real women are penetrated and used and fucked and cum on or in, for real. No faking: the vaginas and anuses and mouths in the close ups are all part of the 'models', the women being sold. When that woman looks like she's in pain, that's because it hurts, it hurts her, for real, no acting required. That she is given lines sometimes in films to repeat, that it feels good, doesn't diminish that fact, though it increases her pain.

When I was raped and being hurt and it was being filmed or photographed for the entertainment of others, to make money for others, it was the final insult, to be made to 'smile' or say I enjoyed it. I didn't want to say those things, didn't want to be there, didn't want to smile, or at least, try to smile, not knowing whether I was or if I was grimacing. I remember thinking, I can't remember how to smile.

Sitting here at my computer, knowing that those images are still out there, I see that the best I can hope for is for that pain, that real pain and suffering, to be acknowledged. But I also sit here in the knowledge that pornography is becoming ever more accepted, ever more available, and ever more extreme, because as people become accustomed to it, it no longer seems shocking, and something new, something more 'hardcore', more 'shocking' is needed to gain the same 'effect'. All this combined with the fact that pornography is bizarrely seen as fantasy, inspite of the fact that the women it uses are real, and shrouded in a language of 'rights' and feminist terms, is deeply disturbing.

It hurts.

The women directly involved are damaged. But women who are not so involved are damaged by it too. What we view has a direct effect on how we act in our lives. So if in pornographic magazines and films women are treated as sex objects, and treated violently, and shown to enjoy it, and pornography is now viewed widely as acceptable, something men need to be men, something harmless, we are normalising treatment of women that should not be normalised. We are making the unacceptable acceptable. If we allow some women to be treated as fuck dolls, nothing more than a bunch of orifices to be used and abused for men's pleasure, we allow every woman to be treated as such.

Women need to know this. Women need to see that while they may not be in those pictures or those films, this touches their lives too. No one is immune. The prevalence of violence against women makes that clear. If I allow other women to be sold as sex objects, penetrated, wanked over and cast aside, that leads me to 2 possible conclusions, logically. Either I say that there is a sub-class of women who are in some way different than me, and therefore it's ok for them to be treated that way, but not ok for me to be. In this way I can remove myself from the picture, and say: not my problem. Or I have to say that the woman in the pictures is just like me, and that if it's ok that that can be done to her, it's ok for it to be done to me. I stand alongside of her and say: no, I wouldn't want this for myself, so it shouldn't be happening to her.

I am one of those women in those pictures, one of those women in those films. I am no different than you, reader. I laugh and cry, have hopes and dreams, have family and friends. I'm a middle class young woman who found that domestic violence, that addiction, that rapes and pimping can happen to anyone. That being used in pornography can happen to anyone. I'm not special or different, or unusual in any way other than to have come through it, to have survived it, and to be in recovery and finding a voice to speak about that now. I'm speaking for all those women who aren't able to, for all those women without a voice, for those women who won't make it out.

We don't have to let future generations of women suffer this way.