Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Right-Wing Feminists Attack

The fight in Rhode Island over keeping indoor prostitution legal has descended into some decidedly muddier territory recently. First, a couple months ago, arch-prostitution foe Donna Hughes weighed in with an editorial in the Providence Journal basically calling the pro-sex work people who testified against the legislation a bunch of stinky tattooed freaks. Next, the ever-charming Judith Reisman weighed in a couple of weeks ago calling academics supporting prostitution decriminalization "The Academic Pedophiles and Perverts Party". (This was followed by another lovely missive a few days later.)

Not to be outdone, Hughes recently added a blog post to the Citizens Against Trafficking website, in which she launches into a McCarthyist tirade against the "sex radical" cabal (notably Ronald Weitzer and Elizabeth Wood) opposed to criminalizing legislation, even going so far as to use out-of-context statements to paint Elizabeth Wood as a "sex offender". The title says it all – "International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island". Subtitled "Part 1", which I guess means one tirade won't be enough.

Renegade Evolution reposts Hughes rant and adds her own commentary here. Snowdrop Explodes gives Hughes a good fisking and says pretty much everything I'd have to say about it. Michael Goodyear gives a more formal response, taking down Hughes with a simple dose of facts and a clear appeal to ethics. Elizabeth Wood councils staying on the high road and focusing on opposing criminalizing legislation rather than mudslinging with Hughes. I second that and those of who are motivated to action by this incident would be well advised to take Woods advice and focus on joining the fight against the Rhode Island legislation rather than getting sidetracked into a pissing contest with Hughes.

At the risk of mudslinging myself, I think some background on Hughes and Reisman is called for, for those who may not be familiar with them –

Donna Hughes is a University of Rhode Island women's studies prof and "anti-trafficking" activist who pretty much erases the line between the radfem section of the anti-porn and prostitution movement and the far-right, religiously-based one. She has the dubious distinction of probably being the only person who has been published in both Rain and Thunder and National Review. Unlike other radfems, who hold to some pretense of being more or less leftists or progressives, she quite openly professes her alignment with conservatism and the Republican Party. (Albeit, the recent PUMA/New Agenda movement has raised the visibility of openly right-wing feminists.) She's was a big fan of GW Bush, and goes so far as to state, "by supporting the abolitionist work against the global sex trade, he has done more for women and girls than any one other president I can think of." Along with fellow right-wing radfem Phyllis Chesler, Hughes wrote a Washington Post editorial calling on feminists to realign with conservatives, including the Christian Right, against the sex industry and Islamism. (Which I guess amount to some kind of twin patriarchal hydra in their estimation.)

Judith Reisman is a right-wing sex researcher who's relationship with mainstream scientific sex research is analogous to the relationship of "creation science" to evolutionary biology. She has a special obsession with Alfred Kinsey, who she accuses of being, of course, a pervert and a pedophile, and father to a vast sexologist/pervert/queer/pedophile conspiracy to destroy America's moral fiber. Alternet published a good expose on her 5 years back. (This being in the days before Alternet started publishing articles that were actively praised by Reisman.) Reisman is one of the main proponents of the fringe idea that pornography stimulates the brain to produce "erototoxins" that lead to addiction and general degeneracy. Although Reisman has spent the last 25 years working the far-right side of the political street, in her early years she did outreach to feminist anti-porn groups (under her pre-married name, Judith Bat-Ada), and was well-received in spite of using many of the same "family values" and domesticity arguments she uses today. She occasionally is still positively cited by that crowd.

The interesting thing is, Hughes and Reisman go out of their way to paint their opponents as sexual extremists and beyond the pale of normal behavior, stooping to out-of-context statements to cast aspersions on their sexual practices. The saying about glass houses and throwing stones comes to mind, however, because a lot of the attitudes about sex coming from their side of the "sex wars" battle lines looks pretty extreme from where I'm standing. I've already noted where Judith Reisman is coming from. Another big name in the "prostitution abolitionist" movement is Sheila Jeffreys, who holds what can only be describes as some very anti-male and anti-sex views. I just recently came across a BBC program on Jeffreys ideological roots, which for the most part are motivations that largely drive her to this day. I've been meaning to post a pointer to it as its a very interesting and informative program, and since the topic of "extremism" has come up, the timing is perfect. (The video is divided into 6 parts – part 1 is here, the rest can be found here.)


  1. manicstreetpreacherAugust 21, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    Can I ask, what is it you're agitating for in terms of your activism here? There isn't exactly a shortage of pornography online, or anywhere else, of every variety one could imagine (and lots that many might care not to).
    Furthermore, dressing your desire to access and legitimise the existence of pornography as a free speech issue seems somewhat dishonest. One would perhaps have more respect if you stated that you want the right to toss off at whatever you want whenever you want at whomever's (women's) expense. Framing arguments in terms your wish to wank doesn't look quite so good on aclu leaflets though does it.
    Finally, bravo for the, erm, detective work in exposing Sheila Jeffrey's as .. a hugely important figure in raising awareness about commercial sexual exploitation and the connections between different forms of violence against women. I hadn't seen that documetary before and, while it seemed geared in some ways to mock the women featured, was instead a marvellous insight into the workings of a part of the women's liberation movement and feminist history.
    Mr Blue and Kennerson, do you also spend time studying 'the game' - when you're not stalking melissa farley & olivia newton john?

  2. MSP is just another vile troll. Do not rise to this bait. It's not worth the trouble.

  3. I see very little in your attack rhetoric that dignifies a response. But thanks for helping confirm that sexual hatred and shaming are a problem with the anti-porn movement more generally, and not just a problem restricted to Donna Hughes.

    As for "what we're agitating for", there's a whole section of post under the topic of "Why?". If you scroll down that list a ways, you'll find my essay on "why I'm pro-porn", as well as essays by other bloggers on why they're pro-porn or at least anti-anti-porn.