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lundi 1er janvier 2007

What is liberation ? Feminism past, present and future

par Gail K. Golden, psychotherapist and poet

Écrits d'Élaine Audet

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Burkini Is a Feminist Issue Too
The notion that it’s ok for disabled men to pay for sex is rooted in misogyny and ableism
Egyptian doctor living in Zurich produces educational videos about health and sexuality for the Arab world
Amnesty International and Prostitution : Not in Our Name !
Open letter to rabble.ca - Support Meghan Murphy suffered a misogynist campaign by the sex industry lobby
"Insectual - The Secret of the Black Butterfly", by Barbara Sala
Canada’s New Sex Trade Law
Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism
“Harm reduction” is not enough to appropriately analyze prostitution
True Progressives Encourage Women’s Equality, Not Their Prostitution
Sexual mutilations outside Africa : new report and new denial except the Iraqi case
FGM slowing down ? The UN asserts it, the Indonesian case contradicts it
Prostitution, STRASS and the senator - When opacity becomes relevant
Is equating prostitution and rape ‘intolerable violence’ ? Really ?
Obama, Madonna and us
After Ontario Courts rule on Bedford : a rant
Comparing Sex Buyers and Non-Sex Buyers July 2011 (Boston)
Sex resistance in heterosexual arrangements
Abolitionists of the prostitution system : who we are, what we want !
Women Living Under Muslim Laws Statement on Libya
Prostitution is a Threat to Humanity
Prostitution - Call for Australia’s prostitution laws to be tightened
Violence - An Open Letter from Black Women to SlutWalk Organizers
Nothing that is sexual can be considered criminal : hidden sexual violence in the DSK case
The Truth about Global Sex Slavery – A Book by Lydia Cacho
Why reproductive rights and prostitution are not the same thing : A response to one decriminalization argument
Prostitution - The abolitionist project within the conference Women’s Worlds 2011
Montreal - The Turcotte jury got it wrong
Reasons I Will Not Go On the Slutwalk
International Sex Industries and their Accomplices Hamper the Autonomy of All Women
Ten Critical Reasons for getting rid of Harper’s Conservatives
Real solidarity with prostituted women is in the fight for abolition of prostitution
Decriminalize prostituted persons and criminalize those who exploit them (‘johns’ and pimps)
Polygamy in Canada Should Remain Illegal
My fears of the push for indoors prostitution
We cannot be satisfied with the simple harm-reduction model
The Native Women’s Association of Canada is Worried About Himel’s Judgement on Prostitution
Ontario Court Decision Abandons Aboriginal Women and Women of Colour to Pimps
Response to the VPD review in the cases of the Pickton Murders
Speech - The effects of globalization of political Islam on Women’s Rights, the question with polygamy, the Niqab and Honour Killing
Quebec Forges Enlightened Trail on Burkas
Breast Cancer a Disease, No a Marketing Opportunity
The International Campaign To Closedown Iranian Embassies
Violation of rights in Iran, a window from my experience to a broader picture
"Sex worker" ? Never met one !
The Prostitutors
The One Million Signatures Campaign has been awarded the prestigious Global Women’s Rights Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation
Prostitution - Feminist Perspectives, a book
Prostitution : Violating the Human Rights of Poor Women
More than 1 000 american historians call for equity in the stimulus package in open letter to Obama
Order of Canada Awarded to Dr. Morgentaler - Acts of intimidation should not rule Canada
Femaid report on Afghanistan, May 2008
Time for Quebecers to be more open : Bouchard-Taylor report
Canadian Bar Association supports strengthening equality in the Quebec Charter
Zero Tolerance for Johns : How the Government of Sweden Would Respond to Spitzer
Politicians are responsible for toxic, misogynist environment facing girls
Spitzer - The Myth of the Victimless Crime
Goodbye To All That (#2)
The freedom to never prostitute oneself
NO legalized brothels for the Olympics 2010 - Aboriginal women’s Action Network statement on prostitution
CLES says NO to the violence of prostitution
Does Porn Make the Man ?
A Trip Into the Absurd
Mothers File International Complaint Against United States
Prostitutes are victims, not criminals
Anthology of Québec Women’s Plays in English Translation, Volume I (1966-1986)
The Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES) intervene during the upcoming provincial election
Prostitution - Three Women and a Debate
Men Favour the Apolitical Discourse on Prostitution
The Whole Truth Must be Told : Sylviane’s testimony on her experience of prostitution
Democracy and Religious Obligations : an Impasse ?
Books by Andrea Dworkin
Globalization, Militarism and Sex Trafficking
Muslim Groups Denounce the Cultural Relativism of a Certain Left
Canadian Muslim leader alleges her veil views sparked vandalism
Prostitution : CATW’S Post-World Cup Statement
NOW to denounce so-called parental alienation
Prostitution : for an Abolitionist Bill
The dimensions of trafficking for purposes of prostitution
"Charm is a Guise ; Batterers Belong in Jail, Expert Says"
Interview with Catherine MacKinnon : Are Women Human ?
Danish cartoons - Doing away with the Enlightenment ?
It’s happening next door : from incestuous girls to alienating mothers
Green Light for Pimps and Johns
Buying Sex is not a Sport
Prostitution is Violence Against Women
The Ideal Site for the Crime
Tell me, what does "gender" really mean ?
Gunilla Ekberg : « The best thing we can do for our sisters is to support them to get out of prostitution »
Interview with Catharine A. MacKinnon : « They haven’t crushed me yet. »
Decriminalizing prostitution, a magnet for pimps and johns
Declaration on Religious Arbitration in Family Law
Prostitution : Towards a Canadian policy of abolition
Prostitution inseparable of violence against women
The need for a public debate on prostitution and its social consequences
Prostitution of First Nations Women in Canada
270 000 $ granted to Stella for a four days event on sex work
IN MEMORIAM : Andrea Dworkin or The passion for justice
Decriminalizing prostitution will not improve the security of prostituted women
Dworkin - Taking Back the Night
Backlash and Whiplash : A Critique of Statistics Canada’s 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization
Helping the prostituted women or promoting prostitution ?
The Need for a Public Debate on Prostitution and its Social Consequences
The legalization of prostitution and its impact on trafficking in women and children
Prostitution Links, Women’s Justice Center
"If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits"
Sweden Treating Prostitution as Violence Against Women
Forced marriage as crime
Why Women Must Get out of Men’s Laps
International Campaing Against Shari’a Court in Canada
Decriminalize prostituted women, not prostitution
Canada Contributes to the Sexual Trafficking of Women for Purposes of Prostitution
Fathers’ Rights Groups in Australia and their Engagement with Issues in Family Law
Women Rage Against ’Rape’ in Northeast India
Sexual domination in uniform : an american value
Tribunals Will Marginalize Canadian Muslin Women and Increase Privatization of Family Law
The sexual sadism of our culture, in peace and in war
Queer theory and violence against women
The Legalisation of Prostitution : A failed social experiment
Globalization and the Sex Trade : Trafficking and the Commodification of Women and Children
Will Paternal Paranoia Triumph ?
Ode to Survivors
Court confirms any woman’s human right to organize with peers
Program produces motherless kids
Legitimating Prostitution as Sex Work : UN Labour Organization (ILO) Calls for Recognition of the Sex Industry (Part One)
Legitimating Prostitution as Sex Work : UN International Labour Organization Calls for Recognition of the Sex Industry (Part Two)
Elisabeth Badinter distorts feminism the better to fight it
Prostitution : Rights of Women or Right to Women ?
The "Stolen Feminism" Hoax : Anti-Feminist Attack Based on Error-Filled Anecdotes
Hormone Replacement Therapy, the "Magic Bullet" Ricochets
For the sake of the children : the law, domestic violence and children contact in England
Friendships between women good for health
Children of divorce need our protection
Divorce Bill’s flaws inadvertently aid abusers
Problem isn’t little boys, it’s little minds
A report from Status of Women Canada about the discursive denial of gender inequalities
Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution
Poem for Peace
Peace Rally Speech of a 12 year old American Girl
Good clone, bad clone ?
Canadian Women’s Health Network
So hard to say goodbye

Important conversations are currently taking place about a confusing phenomenon regarding a specific group of contemporary women. These conversations relate to some young women today who embrace pornography, prostitution and the sexual objectification of women. Rejecting the feminist struggles of an earlier generation, these young women seek to advance this so called ’post feminist’ agenda. This paper seeks to enter the conversation in an effort to understand and respond to this supposed manifestation of a new kind of women’s liberation. We begin by addressing the question of whether we are actually in a post feminist age.

How Far Have We Come ?

Throughout the 1960s and early 70s, many important events occurred
that impacted the lives of American women. The birth control pill was
approved by the FDA in 1960. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination on the basis of race,
sex and religion. Then in 1973 there was Roe v. Wade. It was a time of
wonder and endless possibility. A different kind of society seemed
possible. Many previously oppressed groups became very hopeful about the
future. Large numbers of women certainly looked forward to a new day.
Fast forward to 2006 and many real gains have been enjoyed by women.
But the extraordinary excitement and hopefulness of those earlier years have
somewhat dissipated in the face of backlash, loss of ground and barriers
to the progress that we anticipated.

On June 25, 2006, a coalition of women’s and human rights organizations
submitted a wide-ranging report on the status of women’s rights in the
United States to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The report
documents the failure of the U.S. to promote equality for women as
required by a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1992.

This failure ranges from the criminal justice system, immigration laws,
inadequate anti-violence laws, and inadequate minimum wage laws.
Documented as well are the disadvantages that millions of working women
experience because of poorly enforced anti-discrimination employment laws, the lack of unemployment insurance and health care coverage, In late May, NOW Foundation concluded the U.S. workplace is one of the least supportive employment environments for women of any developed nation. The NOW Foundation also emphasized that political leaders are currently
reducing funds and dismantling programs adopted over the past 40 years
that have promoted equality for women (N.O.W.).

Moreover, men’s violence against women remains a very pervasive social
reality. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been
beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Nearly
25% of American women report being raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time in
their life. In 2001, intimate partner violence made up 20% of
violent crime against women. According to Amnesty International, every day four women die in the U.S. as a result of domestic violence. And more than 700 women are raped or sexually assaulted every day (Family Violence Prevention Fund).

The objectification of women remains a fact of life, growing ever more
cynical and sophisticated along with technology. Cyber porn, violent,
misogynist video games and music videos now supplement the already
existing belittling images of women in movies, magazines and on TV.
Thus, while individual women have an increasing range of choices, women as a group are clearly not yet where we need or want to be. We still have an
enormous amount of work to do before American women, as a group, live in a just, equitable, and safe society.

Raunch Culture

Against this current and troubling background, we have the perplexing
phenomenon of a supposedly post-feminist culture which is being embraced
by seemingly significant numbers of young women. These women appear to
reject the struggles of a previous generation to confront the damaging
impact of pornography, the sex industry and the sexual objectification of
women’s bodies. Early feminists indicated that these influences contributed
heavily to a culture which dehumanized women, put them in danger, and
failed to take their humanity and capabilities seriously. But today, it
seems, many young women assume that the so called feminist agenda has been realized and that the final frontier rests in a specific kind of sexual
liberty which supports them in exploring exactly those areas previously
deemed antithetical to women’s equality.

In her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs : Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy (Free Press, NY 2005) explores this phenomenon. She writes suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time ? Levy interviews men and women involved with the media’s representations of this cultural shift. She interviews strippers, porn stars, porn star wannabees, the crew from Girls Gone Wild, Olympic female athletes who pose nude for Playboy, the female producer of G-string Divas and many others.

This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me :
it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We
earned the right to look at Playboy ; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer
needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time
for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying
themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs : women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

In her conversations with female viewers and readers, Levy attempts to
understand what is gained. She hears a lot about empowerment, fun, and
being cool. She also hears a lot about wanting to be one of the guys. Why throw
Your boyfriend’s Playboy in a freedom trash can when you could be partying at the Mansion ? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving or getting- a lap dance yourself ? Why try to beat them when you can join them ?

So What Are We Looking At ?

In a country where nearly 25% of American women report being raped and/or physically assaulted, what is the nature of the power that some are
claiming as they choose to become strippers and sex workers ? In a country
where more than 700 women are raped or sexually assaulted every day, what
is the power claimed by women who dress like porn stars, and co-eds who
have group sex for videographers ? And how do these women account for the
enormous violence which permeates so much of this pornography.

Certainly some women express a sense of liberation when making newfound
sexual choices after centuries of repression. After being constrained by
restrictive and moralizing dress codes, we can now choose to wear
anything, little or nothing. We can make decisions about the uses of our
own sexuality. We can initiate sexual activities. We can enlarge our
breasts, tuck our tummies, bleach our hair, reshape our faces, creating
the sexual body we desire, or that we think someone else may desire. This
is seen as progress in that sex has previously been seen as a sphere in
which men are trained to see themselves as naturally dominant and women
naturally passive. (Robert W. Jenson, A Cruel Edge). So the power to assert some
kind of sexual dominance over the experience is an important one.

A Psychological Perspective

In psychological terms, however, this post feminist tendency to objectify
one’s own body has aspects of the phenomenon known as identification with
the aggressor. This is a defence that people use when we feel overwhelmed
by an inescapable threat. "Hoping to survive, we sense and ’become’
precisely what the aggressor expects of us-in our behavior, perceptions,
emotions and thoughts." (J. Frankel) Thus, the ’power’ claimed by some new or post feminists seems to be the power to choose sides in the struggle. But this is not the power to define what the actual struggle is. It is an adaptive power, seeking to achieve some measure of control in a still male dominated culture.

I submit that the actual struggle that remains before us is still the
struggle to end our white male dominated society and move towards a
society based on equity and justice. This would be a society in which men
and women of all races enjoy full political and economic power. This would
be a society in which women of all races enjoy sexual freedom,
reproductive freedom, and freedom from the constant fear of physical and
sexual assault.

The Masters Tools

Audre Lorde said : The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Masters
house. Asserting sexual freedom by becoming a porn star, a sex worker or a
Playboy pinup is precisely the attempt to use the masters tools to
dismantle a male dominant society. These efforts, I believe, maintain the
status quo : a society in which women are still not fully valued, a society
in which women from all over the globe are kidnapped, trafficked and
brought to the US in sexual slavery in order to satisfy male desire, a
society in which large numbers of women are still not safe in their own

This is also a society in which the laws are still made by white males and
where most corporations are still run by white males. This does not negate
the growing numbers of women who are lawyers, doctors, business owners,
politicians, professors, clergy people and company executives. The US
Congress however, tells the larger story. Women are nowhere close to
having 50% representation. There is only one woman currently on the
Supreme Court. We do not yet have power in proportion to our numbers.
Prosperous men are still waging war on poor women and children. Men are
still deciding if, when and how women can get access to reproductive
health care, how long women can get hospital care after a mastectomy, who
can qualify for day care subsidies, what is sexual harassment, what is
rape, how long is maternity leave, what should be the minimum wage.


Women who are choosing Raunch Culture are making a limited set of choices in a limited arena. And of course it always feels good and empowering to have any kind of choice. But some choices are heavily circumscribed by a situation’s limitations. Women who choose to become part of the Raunch Culture seem to be clear that our culture is defined by male lust which degrades women and treats them with contempt. This cultural conditioning supports men treating women as objects, part objects, receptacles and fetishist vehicles of pleasure. The choice then is to oppose this male conditioning and its results, or to join with men by identifying with
their desires, and becoming the enthusiastic cheerleaders for those
desires. The choice is not about women choosing love, respect, tenderness,
dignity, and a full sense of being valued for all of who they are. This if
you can’t beat them join them posture suggests itself as a defeatist
response. The freedom rooted in an individual’s ability to choose is
important, but we must also ask : What is meaningful freedom within a
culture that is marked by pervasive racism and sexism ? What is freedom in
a culture defined by an unchecked capitalist economy which turns the most
private and personal experiences into commodities that can turn a profit.
(« Pornography is a left issue », Gail Dines and Robert Jensen). Moroever, these kinds of choices do not signify real access to power.
Power relates to the ability to impose ones will on others, and the
control of vital resources.

The Problem of Privilege

Nonetheless, as previously observed, some young women today report that
they are gratified and fulfilled by their decision to make so called
careers in the sex industry. They report that they make good money, feel
very much in control of their lives and the men they are servicing, and
enjoy the sense of power that their careers afford them. So we do
understand that a discreet group of women find these choices libratory.
We do not need to interfere with their lives.

But it is very important to observe that the opportunity to freely choose
a career as a stripper, a prostitute, a dominatrix or a porn star is an
opportunity that evolves out of some degree of privilege. Women who are
trafficked or misled, are poor, hungry, homeless, wholly disenfranchised,
illiterate, or unable to earn a living wage are not similarly privileged.
And they constitute the overwhelmingly great majority of women who are
unwillingly and unhappily involved in sex work. * These are women who are
suffering and exploited on a daily basis. It is for this majority of women
that we must advocate, and develop policies. These are the women who must
have our political attention. We can not use the experiences of a discreet
group of privileged women to make organizational or governmental policies.
This would obscure the greater reality of women around the globe. We must
take principled positions that confront the sexual exploitation of women
and girls wherever this occurs.

Betraying oppressed women

Perhaps though, the most disturbing thing about the raunch culture is that
it trivializes the suffering and exploitation of women around the world.
By furthering an attitude of hey this stuff is fun they are betraying the
women who are forced to provide lap dances, who are prostituted against
their will, who are forced into pornographic films, who are propelled into
so called sex work by starvation, illness, or the ravages of war. By
promoting a posture of what’s the big deal, this is cool they are casting
doubt on the cries of exploited women. After all, if certain sexually
liberated women are enjoying themselves so much, what is the need to
prevent the sexual abuse of women.

The furthering of raunch culture by a small few is done on the backs of
millions of oppressed women. That is why we can never allow this
privileged group to co-opt any conversation about women’s liberation. They
have every right to make their own decisions and choices, but their
rhetoric demeans the realities that govern most women’s lives.

The Remaining Feminist Struggle

We can respect the rights of our sisters who choose to enter the sexual
arena as one of the guys. To do otherwise can be gruelling, isolating and
discouraging in some very specific ways. At the same time, we should not
confuse this so called choice with the historic feminist struggle. That
feminist struggle is about ending the exploitation of women politically,
economically, culturally and socially. It is about creating a world in
which women do not have to choose to identify with misogyny in order to
find acceptance. It is about creating context in which women can identify
with their own sexuality, with their real bodies, with their real needs.

That is the final frontier.

We need to maintain the struggle to come onto a truly level playing field,
not one defined by men’s entitlement to abuse power and control. We need to keep fighting for a society in which violence done to women’s bodies is not eroticized and commercialized. Until we have achieved these goals, we can not claim to have achieved the feminist agenda. And the freedom to package ourselves as the objects of male desire feels like a very hollow victory.

* Millions of women around the world are victimized by traffickers, pimps,
and johns each year. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the
trafficking industry. Some are abducted ; some are deceived by offers of
legitimate work in another country ; some are sold by their own
poverty-stricken parents or are themselves driven by poverty into the lure
of traffickers who prey on their desperation. Regardless of how they are
propelled into the multi-billion dollar industry of sexual exploitation
whether through force, deception, coercion or simply through desperate
poverty these women and girls suffer unimaginable human rights violations
as commodities of the trade in human beings by third-party profiteers
(Equality Now).

Gail Golden, August 2006
© All rights reserved to Gail K. Golden - Site.

Many thanks to Phyllis B. Frank, Sheila Hamanaka and Lynn Sheinkin for the valuable input and feedback they provided while I was writing this paper.

French version.

On Sisyphe, January 8th, 2007.

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Gail K. Golden, psychotherapist and poet

Social worker, Gail Golden received an MSW from NYU in 1967 and worked for some years with various agencies that served children. Her research interests broadened over time to include many other aspects of family and community life (domestic violence, racism, social justice and human services). She has also received an Ed.D in 1987 for her work in theories of creativity.

For more than thirty years, she has been the Clinical Director of Volunteer Counseling Service in Rockland County, NY, a psychotherapist with a clinical practice serving adolescents and adults, and a community activist. Her years of clinical work with people suffering from all forms of oppression motivated her to participate in many groups and coalitions that work for social change.

Gail Golden is also a published poet. Her poetry and articles can be read on her website, which has been designed by her friend and fellow poet Han-hua Chang.

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