Reblog: Dangerously Provocative

Feminist Philosophers

Jessica Wolfendale (co-editor of Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone)  is currently completing an article on sexual modesty. Her most recent article, “Provocative Dress and Sexual Responsibility,” is forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. and now she’s just published a piece on being “dangerously provocative” here.

The provocatively dressed woman is dangerous. She is disruptive; a distraction and a temptation. She can lead good men to thoughts of infidelity; she can distract men and boys from the important tasks of work and education. The dangers posed by the provocatively dressed woman mean that she must be monitored and controlled. Girls must be forbidden from wearing provocative clothing to school, so that they don’t distract boys.[2] As a principal of a Canadian High School wrote in a letter to parents: “Girls wearing short skirts should think about how they sit and what is revealed when…

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Rape, and love.

I’ve been reading a lot about rape, as I try to finish my thesis, which deals with sexual violence as well as institutional violence. I’ve listened to and read a lot of survivors’ accounts of these types of violence. It’s too much at times, because this is how I spend my academic life, my intellectual life, but it’s also on the news all the time. It’s in songs, in movies, on TV, in teen fiction, in casual jokes and everyday conversation, in political discussions.

There was a time not so long ago (2008, 2009) where I would’ve been astounded and pleased to see nation-wide media discussions about sexual violence. So much changed in the time I was gone. It still blows my mind that we are including things like bystander intervention training in college freshman orientations, or that the FBI updated its definition of consent to condemn sexual acts against an unconscious or drugged person as rape. This seems like massive progressive. Seems like we’re headed in the right direction. Then why the fuck am I filled with anxiety, why am I drawn tight like a bowstring whenever sexual violence arises as a topic of conversation, a court case, a news story, a song lyric, a painted subject. Is it just because I’ve experienced it? Is it just PTSD, blah-dee-blah? Something tells me otherwise.

At certain times in the history of feminist theory and activism, some feminists have voiced the opinion that rape is a crime of violence, only, not a crime of sex. Susan Brownmiller has been cited as supporting a view of rape as a being about violence, not sex (see Cahill 2001, 16-28). While I was a SAC advocate and crisis counselor at the Listening Ear, I shared this view of rape. “It’s not about sex,” so the line goes, “it’s about power and domination.” Of course, this is coming from people who either cannot fathom an association between power, domination, violence, and sexual arousal, or who cannot admit to themselves that for many people, such a connection exists.

There are many people who associate violence, sex, and power. Sometimes this is enjoyable, and sometimes it is born of traumatic experience—undoubtedly sometimes it’s both. Many kinksters who associate pain and pleasure, and who derive enjoyment and arousal from playing with power dynamics. However, kinky sex is not rape, due to the fact that communication, consent, and mutual enjoyment are the central tenets of BDSM and fetish practitioners. Rape happens when genuine consent is absent, whether when a person says no, when a person is silent, or when a person feels that they cannot say no (e.g. because they are being coerced, threatened with the end of a relationship, etc.).

Something that strikes me is that among all these discussions of the relationship between violence, rape, and sex, something that never seems to come is the subject of love. Now, we know that the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by people known to their victims. In fact, they are often the closest people to us. They are our friends, our parents, our pastors, our teachers, our siblings, our neighbors, our lovers, our partners. They are people for whom we often feel a great deal of trust…and love. This doesn’t strike me as coincidental. It is the people whom we love the most that can often get away with doing the worst kinds of things to us, because we cannot admit to ourselves, let alone anyone else (e.g. a court of law), that they would do something to us that contradicts our understanding of their love for us. This seems to cross boundaries of all kinds of love. The love felt between parents and children, teachers and students, spouses, siblings, and so on—these are all very different kinds of love. But it seems to me that all of these kinds of love (perhaps all kinds of love) are founded upon trust.

This is what makes rape so devastating. It is a violation of bodily autonomy, it is a violation of the mind, and it is a violation of trust and love. Even where trust is broke, even again and again, love remains… Maybe it gets chipped away, maybe it wears like beaches shaped by waves, maybe it erodes into nothing, over time. But when it comes to the people we love most, we will suffer the worst kinds of betrayals, even more than once. We tell ourselves whatever is necessary to endure this kind of abuse: we put the people we love before ourselves, that is what true love is; we keep faith in them even when they fuck up, because love conquers all, and through love they will change and improve; love doesn’t always come easy, sometimes it requires work, maybe it even requires sacrifice; we can’t betray love, even when the people we love betray us.

I feel compelled to say something that I have suspected before, that makes my stomach turn and that I know the thought of which makes many people feel ill. Rape and love are connected. I won’t claim to understand their relationship. Either rape and love are connected (hence why it is most often the people we love who perpetrate our rapes), or we do not yet understand rape, or love. Quite possibly I think it is both. I suspect that until we better understand both rape and love, sexual violence will always be a normative aspect of our culture. Even as we say, “Rape has nothing to do with sex, rape has nothing to do with love,” we lie to ourselves that our rapists—our parents, our pastors, our best friends, our partners—love us. Maybe it is not a lie… Maybe they do love us. Maybe we do love them. Then we’ve got it wrong… Rape and love have something to do with each other. It seems fucked up, it seems unimaginable. But we also say that rape, itself, seems unimaginable. We say bizarre things about rape: “I’d rather die than be raped”; “I’d kill anyone who raped you/me.” We say sensical things about rape: “I can’t believe that person committed rape”; “I don’t understand how that person could have rape their best friend/spouse/child/classmate.” All of these utterances seem to me to indicate a serious lack of understanding about rape, but also love.

Something that we fail to talk about and to really seek to understand are the motivations of rapists. We pass them off as deviants, as psychos, as one-offs, as aberrations, as monsters under the bed, as strangers in the shadows. When it’s the people we love who fit this description, it’s like they become unknown, unknowable to us. It stops making sense. Our relationship stops making sense. Love stops making sense. Our bodies stop making sense. Our will stops making sense. It’s unfathomable, it goes against everything our culture has taught us about love, it goes against everything we feel and understand about love, about relationships, about ourselves, about the people we love. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s incoherent, it’s like living in a horrific faerieland where nothing makes sense, nothing ever coheres.

It makes no sense to me whatsoever that a person whom I love and trusted very much raped me repeatedly. They made me feel like I was wrong for refusing them. They made me feel that I was saying “I don’t love you” whenever I said no. They made me feel that I was hurting them by saying no. They made me feel that they had a right to my body—more than that, they had a right to my bodymind and they had a right to believe I enjoyed it. Eventually I ran away from them because I felt like I was going to die—on some level I believed that it was me, or the relationship. One of us was going to end. I had come to believe that it was my destiny to kill myself, and that I wasn’t deserving of love, and I believed everyone who made me feel that my partner was ‘putting up with me’ and that I was abusing them. Probably most of those people had no idea what my partner did to me for more than two years. Sure, a lot of them knew that that person had jerked me around and gone out on me, had manipulated me and lied to me and so on and so forth. All part of the game that is college relationships, I suppose. But they didn’t know that my partner would touch me against my wishes, even in public places, like work. My partner wasn’t afraid of consequences, I think; I suspect that they felt they were in the right. They made me afraid to be alone at work with them. They made me afraid to walk up the stairs first. Eventually I couldn’t let anyone walk up a flight upstairs behind me, because I’d start having a panic attack. Of course, I wouldn’t figure out for a long time that that’s what they were.

Despite all this, I loved my partner so much, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. They were so smart and considerate and creative and funny and good-looking, they were going places, they had a good head on their shoulders, they were kind, everyone said so. Many people said I was lucky to be with them. I believed this. But in order to keep my partner happy, I had to do what they asked. If that was holding hands, or kissing, or letting them touch me, or having sex, then that’s what had to happen. It took almost four years for me to figure out that all of that was wrong, was not my fault, and the sex we had wasn’t ‘sex’, it was rape.

The part that is now very difficult for me to get my head around is that that person thinks they didn’t do anything wrong. No, scratch that, I can get my head around that. We live in a culture that tells some groups of people they’re better than other groups, that they are entitled to things from groups which are beneath them. Shrug. I can understand that. I read books and shit. What I can’t understand is how that person can live with themself, because they work in a place that is directly involved in people’s sexual health. What makes them think that they have even a modicum of understanding about sexual health? They made me feel that there was something wrong with me, with my body, when I didn’t enjoy having sex with them. Having sex you don’t enjoy over and over again—this is the opposite of healthy.

Writing helps… I’m feeling a bit better for having written this. Writing is a Lens of Clarity in faerieland. Maybe now I can get back to my thesis…

Bisexuality: An Introduction

I’ve noticed that there is still a lot of confusion about the existence of bisexual folks.

Before getting too far in, I just wanna reiterate that I’m of the opinion (as I’ve expressed ad nauseam on this blog) that there is little evidence to support the validity of a male/female (and thus hetero/homo) dichotomy, scientific or social, and so the idea of ‘bisexuality’ as ‘liking both’ is also off the mark. But if you—or I, rather—go around telling people “I’m pan!” they probably don’t know what you mean, or do and are annoyed by the distinction. Fair enough. For the purpose of this post, I’m just gonna say “bi” and you can assume I mean a complicated version of “bi” that might be synonymous with “pansexual”. All right, here we go…

Defining Bisexuality

The etymology of ‘bi’ and ‘pan’ would seem to differentiate these two sexualities in that ‘bi’ refers to “two” or “double”, while ‘pan’ refers to “all”, “every” or “whole”. But as is often the case, we can miss the much more complex meanings of words if we take their origins at face value. It is overly simplistic to define ‘bisexual’ as “being attracted to or having desire for both genders” and ‘pansexual’ as “being attracted to or having desire for all genders”. Although bisexuality and pansexuality can and perhaps should be described as separate sexualities, let’s use bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner’s tendency in Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (2013) to use them together (not synonymously). Using bi/pan together suggests their (sub)cultural and political connectedness[1]. While different in many ways, both have subversive political, activist, and community-building potential. So, when I use the term ‘bisexuality’, this is not to say that it assimilates pansexuality in a way which erases its importance or uniqueness, but rather that ‘bisexuality’ is a kind of umbrella term for non-binary and “bi-spectrum” identities and sexualities (Eisner 2013, 28-29). What are non-binary sexualities? They are outside the realm of heterosexual/homosexual, which assume that there are only two sexes (male/female) and so there can only be three possible combinations for thinking about sexuality (male/male, male/female, female/female). We’ll talk more about those and bi-spectrum sexualities later. One other idea to mention upfront is ‘monosexuality’, which is the idea that an individual only likes/is sexually attracted to one other gender—for most people, the “opposite” or “same” gender. When contrasted with monosexuality, bisexuality can then mean that a person is attracted to more than one gender (their own, not their own).

Ways to Think about Bisexuality

Eisner gives us some useful ways to think about and define bisexuality. She argues that bisexuality shouldn’t simply be thought of in terms of sexual attraction. It could also be thought of in terms of romantic attraction (about love and not just about sex), companionship, and friendship. She also says that sexualities, including bisexuality, can be thought about temporally. Sure, you didn’t think you were gay when you were ten, but now you are. But then in your mid-twenties you met that girl and definitely felt something. So which is it, gay or straight? Hmmm… Eisner says that we can think about bisexual identities as extending over time and manifesting seemingly as other sexualities (ex: gay, straight, asexual).

But these ideas are quite recent. What does a history of bisexuality look like?

Some Really Interesting Dull History

For early psychiatrists and neurologists of the 19th century, bisexuality was thought to be an immature, predecessor-form[2] that would develop into either ‘healthy’ sexuality (heterosexuality), or ‘unhealthy’, ‘mal-developed’ sexuality (homosexuality) (Eisner 2013, 15-16) (Angelides 2001, 61). All humans begin their sexual existence in this variable, ‘primordial’ state, according to this view of sexuality, but inevitably develop ‘full’ sexualities, even if it is an unhealthy form (ie homosexuality). If bisexuality persisted into adulthood, or the ‘present’[3], this would threaten the stability of the notion of sexuality as binary (hetero/homo, healthy/sick). Because sexuality and gender were intrinsically tied together in this framework, binary gender would also be under threat. Gender and sexuality studies scholar Steven Angelides argues that “‘full bisexuality’ had to be erased from the present tense in order to avert the crisis of meaning for binary categories of man, woman, heterosexual, and homosexual” (Angelides 2001, 191). In other words, ‘primordial’ bisexuality could not be viewed as carrying over into adulthood lest it threaten the legitimate and developed hegemonic hetero/homo binary, which in turn might threaten the male/female binary to which sexuality is innately linked[4].

TLDR: Bisexuality was practically erased as a human sexuality back in the day, and that probably has some influence on how we feel about bisexuality today (ex: bisexuals are sick, bisexuals don’t exist, etc).

Nowadays

Recent research on bisexuality by sexuality and gender theorists and scholars has produced different, and differently stigmatizing, results. Anthropologist April Scarlette Callis describes three prominent themes in research on bisexuality: invisibility, illegitimacy, and (often negative) stereotyping (Callis 2014, 67).  In the first theme, mainstream assumptions of monosexuality lead to non-binary erasure. In the second, the very existence of bisexuality is questioned; bisexuality is “a ‘transitional’ phase between straight and gay”; or bisexuals are cowardly lesbians or gay men who cling to the label ‘bisexual’ because they are afraid of “losing their ‘heterosexual privilege’”. Finally, bisexuals are stereotyped[5] variously as hypersexual, deviant, nonmonogamous, vectors of STIs[6], promiscuous, flaky, and treacherous[7].

Lesbian and Gay Participation in Bisexual Exclusion (Thanks a lot, guys.)

Rejection, erasure, and stigmatization of bisexuals by gays and lesbians further highlights the problematizing effect of non-binary sexualities upon the hetero/homo binary as well as the monosexual spectrum. In his article, “The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure”, legal scholar and researcher Kenji Yoshino outlines three “strategies of erasure” employed by both heterosexual and homosexual contingents: class erasure, individual erasure, and delegitimation (Yoshino 2000, 397-399). These strategies manifest as the elision of bisexual as a category or class, which includes ‘lumping in’ bisexuals with lesbians and gays[8]; subsuming bisexual individuals within the categories lesbian or gay; dismissing bisexuals as “protohomosexuals”; and denigrating and stigmatizing bisexuals as “‘fence-sitters, traitors, cop-outs, closet cases’” and any of the other stereotypes mentioned in the above paragraph.

Why Bisexuals Make Everybody Nervous

Bisexuality has what feminists like to call “subversive potential”. The existence of bisexuality, along with other non-binary sexualities[9], suggests that binary sex, gender, and sexuality might not be fixed or even real. While this may feel threatening to the heteronormative[*] paradigm, and even to self-identifying homosexual individuals who have struggled for acceptance within this paradigm, the existence of non-binary sexualities open up possibilities for all sexualities—including those whose existences have not yet been recognized.

April Scarlette Callis talks about one of my favourite writers in her research: Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. Anzaldúa wrote this amazing book of theory and poetry called Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, and everybody should read it because it’s awesome. Anyway, I digress… Callis uses Anzaldúa’s ideas about ‘borderlands’ to talk about non-binary gender identities and sexualities. Callis says that these sexualities exist within, or even create, a “sexual borderlands” (Callis 2014). Just as queer theorists have discussed the idea of ‘queer’ without defining it or by defining around it[10], Callis describes “borderland sexualities” like bisexuality as “almost impossible to read” (Callis 2014, 74). In short, she talks about borderland sexualities as lying between heterosexuality and homosexuality. I don’t really agree with this, because it reinforces the idea of bisexuality as potential transitional, and it keeps it stuck inside the hetero/homo binary, even if it’s a binary spectrum. Well, no thanks, I’ll pass. But she says other stuff that is potential useful.

For Callis, borderland sexualities are embodied; they can be located in physical places and times. Her ethnographic research with queer and nonmonosexual communities describe borderland spaces and moments in which non-binary and nonmonosexual individuals are interpellated variously as straight, gay, masculine, feminine, trans*, and so on, depending on place and time. The notion that borderland sexualities are embodied has been problematic for bisexual individuals with intimate partners who make them ‘look gay’, or ‘look straight’; bisexuality, unlike heterosexuality or homosexuality, is forever invisible because we can only think about sex and sexuality in terms of male/female, hetero/homo.

However, Callis also describes borderland sexualities as ‘cracking’ and complicating this hegemony. While there may be distinctive ‘borderland sexualities’, in reality all sexualities are affected by the presence of the borderlands:

Though the sexual borderlands can be viewed as containing only non-binary sexualities such as bisexual and queer, in reality they touch on every sexual identity. Individuals of all sexualities react to the sexual borderlands, by crossing them, inhabiting them, fortifying against them, or denying them. In these actions the sexual borderland becomes an integral way of defining the sexual binary, just as the sexual binary provides the boundaries of the borderland. (77)

Now if that’s true, it becomes easier to see why bisexuals make people nervous. They feel less secure in their own sexuality (hetero or homo) thanks to the presence of bisexuals. Whims, feelings, longings, passing thoughts, fantasies, even dreams about sexual stuff involving people we’re not supposed to be attracted to (whether we’re gay or straight) suddenly take on potential meaning, or we feel threatened enough that we work to suppress those ideas and emotions.

What Bisexuality Threatens

Nonmonosexual, non-binary, and nonmonogamous identities continue to be marginalized and stigmatized even within LGBTQ communities, and yet at the same time it is not unreasonable to suggest that the existence of sexual borderlands is threatening to hegemonic genders and sexualities—that is, man/woman, hetero/homo. What is it, exactly, that bisexuality and other borderland sexualities is threatening? Elisabeth Däumer’s “Queer Ethics” indirectly responds to this question as it attempts to “[devise] alternative, non-oppressive ways of responding to alterity” (Däumer 1992). In her article, Däumer recounts a conversation she held with a lesbian-identified friend about the possibilities of lesbian-identified, male-assigned individuals having relationships with lesbian women, potentially in which neither individual self-identifies as ‘woman’ or ‘man’. Would this not be considered ‘lesbian’ “in the utopian feminist sense of the term” (ibid, 95)? Däumer’s friend responded that individuals claiming such identities would “efface her own identity as a lesbian, and, by stretching the term beyond any intelligible, useful boundaries perpetuate lesbian invisibility in new and dangerous ways” (ibid, 95-96).

It seems that the threat of bisexuality lies in its subversion of identity categories—a problem which, interestingly enough, might be resolved if homosexual “allies” of bisexuals would simply make room for a ‘bisexual identity’. And some self-identified bisexuals would no doubt seize the opportunity for in-group acceptance and recognition. However, to do so would be a denial of the potentiality of borderland sexualities.

I agree with Callis’ idea that sexual borderlands, and bisexuality, will not necessarily destroy the hetero/homo paradigm. The outward pressure which the borderlands are exerting serves to make room for new identities while not necessarily collapsing the binaries within and between which they exist. Even so, it seems inevitable that binaries under pressure (like hetero/homo) eventually fracture, rarely in straight lines, and always in unpredictable ways. Perhaps the fissures which borderland sexualities like bisexuality create will split open into new and unforeseen queer sexualities and identities.

For the sake of simplicity, when I’m asked I just tell people I’m bisexual. If it seems likely they know what it means, I prefer to say that I’m pansexual. But these are both inaccurate. There is hardly a human being who feels sexual attracted to all or most of any gender; hardly any self-identified man is attracted to all women, and hardly any self-identified woman is attracted to all men, and this is also true for gay folks. And I’m willing to bet that there is nary a bisexual who is attracted to everybody. Give me a break. But at least for me, gender/sex is not an accurate predictor of who I like, find attractive, am aroused by, want to be in a relationship with, want to be physically or spiritually or emotionally close to, etc etc. It gets even more complicated and interesting when you think about how the individuals that we’re attracted to think of themselves—has society identified them as male, but they perceive themselves as female? Or as both? Or as having no gender at all? Rather than thinking about bisexuality as confusing, it seems better to think of it as…interesting.

My sources, which are stuff you might find useful if you are interested in this kind of thing:

  • Angelides, Steven. 2001. A History of Bisexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bedecarré, Corrinne. 1997. “Swear by the Moon.” Hypatia 12 (3): 189-197.
  • Callis, April Scarlette. 2014. “Bisexual, pansexual, queer: Non-binary identities and the sexual borderlands.” Sexualities 17 (1): 66-67.
  • Däumer, Elisabeth. 1992. “Queer Ethics: Or, The Challenge of Bisexuality to Lesbian Ethics.” Hypatia 91-105.
  • Eisner, Shiri. 2013. Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. Berkley, CA: Seal Press.
  • Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.
  • Sullivan, Nikki. 2003. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. New York: New York University Press.
  • Yoshino, Kenji. 2000. “The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure.” Stanford Law Review 353-461.

Footnotes and Endnotes

[1] It is also important to point out that, of the research which has been done, bisexuality is by far the most extensively researched of the non-binary sexualities (Callis 2014, 66-67).

[2] Alienist and neurologist James Kiernan called this the “ancestral type”, claiming that “the lowest animals” are bisexual and/or hermaphroditic (Angelides 2001, 23). The physician Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) similarly attributed bisexuality to “the lower animals” (Angelides 2001, 44).

[3] Steven Angelides discusses the ‘present’ in terms of the human species (evolutionary ‘present’) as well as the human individual (individual lifetime ‘present’) (Angelides 2001, 48).

[4] To clarify, I am not connecting ‘hetero’ to ‘male’ or ‘homo’ to ‘female’, but rather I wish to make clear that the ‘scientific’ consensus among early psychologists (psychologists who ‘invented’ bisexuality) was that healthy sexuality was predetermined by sex—healthy men have an inborn desire for women, and vice versa.

[5] For more on stigmatization and delegitimation of bisexuality, see Yoshino 2000, 395-429.

[6] See also: Yoshino 2000.

[7] See also: Bedecarré 1997.

[8] This may be one of the dangers of acronyms like ‘LGBT’, which on the one hand has become emblematic of queer community, yet on the other simultaneously hierarchizes identities (queer monosexualities/bisexualities/trans* identities) and merges them in a way which centers certain identities (gay, lesbian) while obscuring the others.

[9] Examples of non-binary sexualities include people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, heteroflexible, trisexual, panromantic, polysexual, omnisexual, anthrosexual, and so on (Eisner 2013, 29).

[10] In A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory (2003), Nikki Sullivan quotes definitions provided by Chris Berry and Annamarie Jagose: “‘Queer is an ongoing and necessarily unfixed site of engagement and contestation’” (43). She also quotes David Halperin’s “definition”: “‘[Queer] describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance’” (43).

[*] Heteronormative means that we assume everybody is or should be heterosexual and that society should be based around this idea. In America, that means our culture is centered around one relationship idea: a man and a woman who are (ideally) married, who have kids, and who are the core of the nuclear household. And we should all be striving to achieve this ideal relationship. Obviously, relationships take on many more forms than just this (ex: people who don’t get married but live together or have children together, queer relationships, non-monogamous relationships, even childless couplings fall short of this ideal), but they don’t tend to fly in our culture—because we’re heteronormative.

Safety Tips for Sophia Katz

Reblogged from the Belle Jar.

The Belle Jar

Trigger warning for rape

When my grandmother was eighteen and freshly out of high school, she got a job doing clerical work at Pier 21 in Halifax. Pier 21 was the landing spot and first point of contact for those immigrating to Canada across the Atlantic ocean, and my grandmother helped process paperwork. She loved her job. She especially loved learning people’s stories, poring over their forms and finding out where they came from, what their children’s names were, and what possessions they’d chosen to bring with them all the way to this strange new country. You can tell a lot about a person and their priorities, apparently, based on what stuff they believe is worth hauling across the cold, grey Atlantic.

My grandmother was only able to work at Pier 21 for a few months, though, because it was just too exhausting for her father. Why? Well, because her shift ended…

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Reblog: Walking the Tightrope

This is a great post on the double standards imposed on Women of Colour’s sexuality from Racialicious by Chaya Babu. Enjoy.

The Greatest Games

I am a hopeless Romantic, and as such I love the Olympics. I could care less who gets the gold, which countries cart off the most medals and all that jazz. As I watched the Opening Ceremony, I was reminded that the true value (and true Romanticism) of the Olympics/Paralympics lies elsewhere: thousands of athletes from all over the world and from all walks of life coming together for, well, games. Being a good sport is more important than winning or trampling others for glory, in spite of the competitive nature of the Games. And countries who are “in real life” at war with each other might send athletes who compete peaceably with each other: so terribly romantic!

From the cover of Vogue Magazine.

These Games in London are especially exciting for a number of reasons. This will be the first time that women have the chance to compete in boxing, and they are predicted to steal the limelight. Women have been boxing for a seriously long time now, but only recently have people started taking it seriously. And they should, ’cause boxers like Marlen Esparza are seriously good! (She’s on the American team, by the way.) She was recently featured on the cover of Vogue— simultaneously powerful and sexualized, because of course we can’t fathom a female athlete of any sport wearing anything but a dress, yeah? >_< Cool photography, but seriously…the Queen’s shoes must always match her dress? Scoff if you must, but the sexualization of women has a powerful impact on female athletes– it might make or break their career, even for the best of the best. Take female weightlifters, who find it nearly impossible to find sponsors because they “can’t” be feature in a sexy red dress like Esparza here– despite phenomenal talent.

From Vogue Magazine

The London 2012 Games are also the first to design the Olympics and Paralympics simultaneously and in a fully integrated way, rather than independently as they typically have been in the past. Both games have also been created with PWD (Persons With Disabilities) in mind from the beginning, and the Committees of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games have decided to extend that cooperation through at least the 2020 Games, holding both Games in the same city. Their torch relay begins the 24 of August, and the Opening Ceremonies for the Paralympic Games will be held on the 29th; the Games will feature 21 sports, including shooting, powerlifting, wheelchair tennis, and sitting volleyball.

Both games have…bizarre, Cyclops-esque mascots. Whatever, they’re cute.

Credit to blogger Nincompoopery; Sorn in red.

Shout-out to my boys and girls in Kampuchea, whose team had a female flag-bearer for the Opening Ceremony for the first time ever, Taekwondo champ Sorn Davin! Six athletes will compete from Cambodia.

Here are some other cool “firsts” facts about the London 2012 Olympics/Paralympics.

It’s been speculated that LGBTQ athletes were responsible for the crash of a major dating application, Grindr, even though only a couple dozen of them are out. Hmm… Also, here is a list of all the lgbtq out athletes ever to have competed in the Games. If you are straight and/or cisgender and you think lgbtq issues don’t have much implication for “normal” peeps or the broader population, think again: the Olympics has been another stage where the sociocultural battles of sex/gender are taking place– going so far as to define who is “truly female” or “truly male”. Some have called this gender policing, and it has serious implications for straight/cisgender athletes who self-identify as one sex but “fail” Olympic sex test standards. Perhaps the issue has been louder and more noticeable in recent times, but it has a long history underlying the Games. Tell me again that sex is as clear as black and white. “Ability” is not quite so black and white anymore, either: the creator of Oscar Pistorius’ Cheetah blades has said himself that, if not Pistorius, then some other “disabled” athlete in the future may in fact be able to run faster on blades than any pair of human legs could ever run. Perhaps now it is fair for Pistorius to compete in both Olympics, but there may well come a day when Paralympic athletes competing on blades will actually be in a league of their own.

Lastly, a small complaint: if badminton and table tennis get to be Olympic sports, when is Ultimate going to be featured?! “In the distant future,” if at all, is some folks’ guess– in part due to a tendency of the Games in recent years to move away from team sports.

Good luck to all athletes throughout the Games; you represent more than you know.

Hester Prynne

In American Lit during 10th grade we read the timeless, dreaded classic The Scarlett Letter. Perhaps the bane of the anti-lit student’s existence, I quite enjoyed this novel, you know, for its level of meaning and motif of struggling with sexuality, among other things.

My teacher, “Cruel” Juel, was a big fan of symbolism. From her I learned how Hester Prynne’s hair is symbolic of feminine sexuality: long and lush, Hester wears her hair down despite the disapproval of her Puritan neighbors. Maybe I took it the wrong way, but I read Cruel Juel’s interpretation as the longer a woman’s hair, the more sexual she is. Later I thought maybe she meant, the longer her hair, the more expressive of her sexuality she is. Perhaps it should be the longer the hair the more sexualized a woman is. I don’t know. But I’ve head plenty of people make the connection between hair and sexuality. And it was really awkward for me, in that class, having the shortest hair of any girl in the 10th grade (and the whole school, really). Does that mean I’m not a sexual being? I wondered.

A good recent example from pop culture is Katy Perry’s “Part of Me”. In the video she breaks up with her neglectful, apparently deceitful boyfriend, cuts her hair, and joins the Marines. The hair cutting is presented as a crucial element of her cutting ties with the past/a bad relationship/etc.

Someone I used to know once made a “mistake” with her friend– maybe it was a mistake because it didn’t turn out like she thought it would. I didn’t know about it as I hadn’t seen her during a long summer break. When I did see her again, I was stunned to see that she had cut all her hair off! She used to have hair to the middle of her back, at least, and she now had a pixie cut. It looked fantastic on her, too– not just physically, but psychic-ly as well, like something better had been released by losing part of her physical being.

Rather than losing part of her sexuality, she had inadvertently discovered a deeper part of her sexuality. And through her, so did I. She probably didn’t understand the affect it had on me.

Interestingly, it turns out that Cruel Juel was right in my case, that there is a connection between sexuality and hair. I think my hair is symbolic of my sexuality in a way– not because of its length, but because of my autonomy over it, my choice to take on full decision-making for it as I was “coming of age”, and because I don’t let other affect my self-perception of my own image– and thus my sexuality.

Patriarchy: How Everyone Suffers

I’m fond of using the word Patriarchy (especially capitalized). Lots of people are. It’s a catchy, encompassing term. The problem is, Normal People tend to associate it (and thus its most ardent users, feminists) with crackpot conspiracy theory.

Can we take a minute and dissect this concept?

A few definitions of Patriarchy I have stumbled across recently are:

from Wikipedia: “Patriarchy is a social system in which the males, especially fathers, have central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and property. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage. The female equivalent is matriarchy.”

from blogger ballgame: “Patriarchy is a system of rigid rules and expectations around gender that unjustly overvalues certain qualities and undervalues others. Typically, dominant males are overvalued, and the average woman’s macropolitical agency is significantly constrained. (Patriarchal societies also frequently devalue the average man’s emotional value and possibly his micropolitical agency, though I don’t know whether this is necessarily a hallmark of patriarchy like devaluing the average woman’s political agency is).”

from Kamla Bhasin: “[The concept of Patriarchy] is a tool to help us understand our realities.” She continues, “The word patriarchy literally means the rule of the father or the the ‘patriarch’, and originally it was used to describe a specific type of ‘male-dominated family’– the large household of the patriarch which included women, junior men, children, slaves and domestic servants all under the rule of this dominant male. Now it is used more generally to refer to male domination, to the power relationships by which men dominate women, and to characterise a system whereby women are kept subordinate in a number of ways. In South Asia, for example, it is called pitrasatta in Hindi, pidarshahi in Urdu and pitratonto in Bangla.” She also adds that Patriarchy assumes different forms in different times, places, and cultures.

(Also, interesting essay here.) 

Parts and conceptual sums of these definitions, among others, have shaped my [working] concept of Patriarchy. I guess I don’t have a simple definition, but this is generally what I mean when I say it…:

Patriarchy is both a system and a way of thinking which holds certain values that benefit some peoples and individuals and necessarily discriminates against others. Although these values and their manifestations vary by culture, location, and time, a general pattern can be identified: value for competition; value for strength, power/authority, and domination; value for role conformity; value for hierarchical structure; value for masculinity. Patriarchy also devalues femininity, weakness, subordination, and deviation. The forms these values take are necessarily shaped and expressed by culture, by which ‘masculinity’, ‘femininity’, gender roles/norms/expectations are defined, and the specific values of a culture in terms of race, age, sexual orientation, etc. Hierarchy within Patriarchy is multifaceted; multiple hierarchies may exist which are interconnected or interdependent and function around concepts not only of gender but also race, age, sexual orientation, and so on.

Thus can it be that “progressive” America (in which women can vote, run for office, work outside the home, have sex with other women, and so on) is a Patriarchal society and “backwards” Afghanistan is a Patriarchal society, as well.

The BBC just had an article on Men’s Rights activists. The reason why I am so irritated by this movement is not because I want to subjugate men, don’t believe in their rights, etc. Obviously not (see my definition of feminism). What is so utterly bothersome is that these proponents are either a) complete ignorant of their victim-agent status within Patriarchy (and sometimes Patriarchy, itself), or b) want to have their cake and eat it too. That is, they want all the benefits and privileges of their Western White Wealthy Phallocentric Patriarchy without any of the consequences. Well, I’m sorry people, but if you subscribe to hierarchy (and even if you don’t), you had better know there are drawbacks for those who are not at the top.

Some of those consequences/drawbacks are nicely illustrated by the article. I will go through some of them. Please note the irony of blaming feminism for these “ills upon men” (nevermind their Patriarchal origin).

As described in the article, David Benatar’s new book addresses the various ills of men which include: being conscripted into the army, being victims of violence, losing custody of their children, and taking their own lives.

1. Conscription into the army. Last time I checked, there was a lot of hesitation (confusion?), even disgust, about women joining the army in “the West”. Yes, they can do so in a lot of countries. Yes, publicly they are praised as patriotic for their service. But American women are still not allowed into combat. Hatred of women by the military apparatus, itself, manifests as [tolerated] violence against their own. And the Ideal Soldier will never, ever be recreated as feminine or female in the eyes of the Patriarchy. Fighting for one’s country is a classic Patriarchal value in America and much of Europe, not to mention elsewhere. Blood-letting is considered masculine and unfeminine, and unfeminine women are often portrayed as “butch” and repulsive. But ultimately, allowing for the conscription of women into the army would not reduce Patriarchy, at all: the very purpose of the war machine as a tool of domination is both a manifestation of and means of perpetuating Patriarchy, regardless of whether the fighting puppets have penises or not. (Personally, I don’t think anyone should be conscripted into the army. But I’m radical like that.)

2. Victims of Violence. It’s true that men are more likely to experience and die of violent crime than women (excepting rape).  It’s also true that men are more likely to commit violent crime than women. This probably has little to do with the inherent nature of men or women as more or less violence-prone, and more to do with our socialization within a Patriarchal society. Patriarchy often dictates that men are naturally (and should be) assertive, aggressive, even forceful if that is necessary to get what one wants. Women, on the other hand, should not be aggressive, or are “naturally” more nurturing, passive, and empathetic. Men who display these attributes are labeled emasculated, effeminate, even gay (oh god, not that!) the world over, from the States to Cambodia. Women who are assertive, aggressive, or forceful are abnormal, unnatural– “bitches”, reallly. All this masculine-identified aggression is partly responsible for violence in all forms. This is not to say that women aren’t violent– of course they are, but statistically they are far less likely to be physically violent– perhaps because the Patriarchy has many recourses to put them back in their subordinated place. The other aspect of this is risk-taking; both as perpetrators and victims, men are encouraged to do more risk-taking than women. The leading cause of death for young men is accidents, and more men die of accidents than women, generally. Women are encouraged to adopt “safer” lifestyles than men. They are child-bearers and raisers, after all.

3. Losing custody of the kids. Alas, the Woman as Nurturer motif has finally come back to bite men in the ass. Patriarchy, of course, doesn’t only discriminate against women in its sometimes ironic functioning. Discrimination has long worked in apparent favor of women in this regard: women are Mothers and innate Nurturers; men are (or should be) distant, emotionally-detached Providers. You can’t rightly expect a Provider to properly raise babies, now, can you? But also, the realm of babies and children is a necessarily feminine one, for babies and children are weak, just as women are. This is why women and children need the Protector/Provider male, and why single motherhood equates to child abuse.

4. Suicide. Higher rates of suicide among men can be partly explained by the methods men employ as differentiated from women. Suicidal men statistically resort to more violent means than women, which results in higher rates of success. Although women attempt suicide more often (and have higher rates of self-harm), men actually succeed in killing themselves more often. It has been suggested that men are not only encouraged to seek out more violent means to commit suicide, but also are able to attain those means more easily (such as acquiring and using a gun). Mental illness is a major (if not the major) factor leading to suicide, and men are less likely than women to seek help over mental health issues. This tendency is also founded in normative masculinity: “real men” don’t show weakness, don’t cry, and don’t talk about their feelings. [Interesting side note: the suicide rate is actually higher for women than men in China. Between that and female infanticide, the future sure looks grim for Chinese women.]

Other points mentioned:

5. 90% of prison inmates are male. This ties in with much of the above. Value of male aggression and even violent competition are at the root of this issue, but it should also be pointed out that the majority of prison inmates are people of colour. The systems within the System are not simply based on gender, but privilege or disadvantage is based on a myriad of other factors, as well– including ethnicity and social class. Many styles of Patriarchy love White Wealthy Westerners, hence one reason why you don’t see a whole lot of them in prison. And class is of course derived from our status within the system of capitalism. Let me tell you, Patriarchy loves Capitalism. (Hehe.) They are old friends, although Patriarchy is a lot older. Capitalism has a lot going on that Patriarchy adores: cutthroat competition, domination, winners and losers, and so on. But as a way of life, Capitalism sets up a situation which almost ensures that some groups of people are going to be underrepresented in the upper classes and overrepresented as the bottomfeeders or criminals; Patriarchy helps shape how those groups are defined (as by colour, religion, etc.). As a fortune cookie once told me, “Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it.” It should have added, “And Patriarchy unfairly molds certain groups of people into the criminal role.” If you’re about to say, “Crime is an individual’s choice,” say no more Dickensian nonsense; crime as an individual choice complete removes both the crime and the individual from the context of culture and thus makes it into a moral dilemma-scenario in a philosophy book. In other words, completely detached from reality.

6. Men are invisible victims. An American web designer in Ohio is setting up a domestic violence shelter for men. I think this is an absolutely pro idea. A lot of people, though, are probably going to laugh their heads off at this. Why? Because MEN HIT WOMEN NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND, DUH LOL. Well, that is certainly what Patriarchy wants us to believe. And, more often than not, that is the reality; most perpetrators of violence are men, most survivors and victims women and children. But not all. And an increasing number of women are becoming perpetrators (which, by the way, women have long perpetrated violence against children, no surprise there) as the physical and psychological moorings of Patriarchy continue to shift. Women are Patriarchs, too, after all. Anyhow, this shelter: it directly points to how Patriarchy does not simply function on gender, but is multidimensional. Hence why white middle class American men should think again about their fervent support of Patriarchy, for when they becomes its victims, who is left to turn to? Suddenly the marginalizers have become the marginalized. Men are supposed to be the aggressors, not the victims. Am I being redundant? Is a pattern emerging here?

7. Men’s body image. Pressure and negativity surrounding male body image has grown steadily from an almost-neutral standpoint in the industrial era of “the West”, to a nigh-obsession today. Women have experienced this since…well, who knows when, and that’s not to say male beauty standards have not also been prioritized for a long time. But for modern men, I can see why these changes should come as a shock; they’re not the fair sex, after all– women should be the ones worrying about their appearance, dammit! A man can and should be able to fuck anyone he wants regardless of how he looks, and to be loved by anyone without them caring about his appearance. My, how the times have changed. Vanity and beauty are suddenly no longer so, well, feminine. Does this mean we are now going to admit to the subjectivity of beauty and toss out antiquated “ideals” and norms that control people’s lifestyles and cognitions? Somehow I doubt it…

There are a lot of other points mentioned in the article that should be addressed within a conceptual framework that accounts for Patriarchy. Maybe I’ll get to them later, but I don’t want to bore you… The point is, Patriarchy is shit. It’s not just bad for women. It’s bad for men. It’s bad for black people. It’s bad for Cambodians. It’s bad for Canadians. It’s bad for the elderly. It’s bad for kids. It’s really really bad for young, black, poor single moms, and it’s the least bad for White Wealthy Western males. This is not just about sex. This is not just about colour or class. And no, Men’s Rights Activists, you cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

Pornography in the Kingdom

Between my WordPress site stats and Google’s webmaster tools, I get a pretty good idea of where most of the traffic to my blog comes from. Interestingly– sadly?– many people stumble onto my blog while they are searching for porn.

Recent search terms have included: “naked asian babes”, “video sex khmer 2012”, “cambodian whore”, “world of warcraft porn”, “girls licking boobs”, “khmer sexy”, and “sexy khmer”. And the poor sots ended up at my blog. Haha. (Those last two, by the way, were probably the same Khmer guy who forgot and then remembered that adjectives precede nouns in English.)

The sexual fetishization of women and thus porn seem universal. Cambodia is no exception, even though pornography is supposedly illegal here (or so they say, I have yet to find the laws on that). To the contrary, porn is so cheap and readily available here that between 40-60% of minors (under 18, average age 14) have seen hardcore pornography in video and/or picture form. This is true both of village children and urban children. It is also possible that the real number of children watching porn is much higher, since studies have indicated that a child is reluctant to admit that they, themselves, have watched porn, but will readily admit that they know many of their peers watch porn.

Supposedly it is fairly easy to access VCD porn even in villages, being sold by some local “entrepreneur” or distributed through village networks– all of which is done in partial or total secrecy because of the (at least perceived) illegal nature of pornography. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone in my neighborhood distributing/selling porn in any form, nor did I ever notice it in the villages (in Kampong Cham and Kampot), but I was not seeking it out. I asked some guys my age whether they’d ever gone “outside” to get pornography; one of them told me that he and his friends used to travel to the nearby provincial town to view pornography at coffee shops when they were about 16; they also said this particular coffee shop had closed down long ago.

About ten years ago, this would have been one of the only ways to access pornography: at local coffee or TV shops (which serve snacks and drinks) that have viewings of pornography “in secret” (you can’t tell me the police didn’t know this was happening– they were probably there, themselves…), wherein each viewer pays a small fee (about 25 cents/hour in some cases) to sit and watch porn with other viewers. Sort of like going to a small movie house…only it’s porn.

There is no need in today’s Cambodia to go to a large town or to seek out shops with porn viewings in order to access porn. Thanks to a serious lack of copyright laws, improved AV equipment, and the Internet, both homemade Cambodian porn and international porn can be easily acquired and are often free.

One source of new, free pornography which quite honestly shocked me is the wats (pagodas)– Buddhist religious complexes which are ubiquitous throughout the Kingdom. Because wats are a free place for boys and young (unmarried) men to stay when they are not at home (especially those coming to the city from the provinces), it perhaps is not so surprising that wats act as a hub for free pornography distribution. I was still surprised, naively I admit, to hear that monks watch and distribute porn, too.

The form of porn, itself, has also changed. Computers, smart phones, and other Internet-accessing or digital storage devices have made VCDs and books virtually obsolete. Downloading, distributing, and exchanging porn via ipods, cell phones, and computers has made accessing the most recent porn simple and free.

So what effect does this have on children? Is easy access to hardcore pornography (which frequently includes rape and sex with animals) partially responsible for Cambodia’s gang rape epidemic (balk) and rape of minors? How is pornography connected to regional issues of prostitution and human trafficking? And how does readily-accessible porn affect the overall status of women and girls in Cambodia?

The studies I reference above try to answer these questions, but the last question receives the least amount of attention. It’s a question that feminists worldwide have been struggling with for decades, and the debate rages on. Some have taken an oppositional stance (which resulted in their being labeled “sex-negative”), some have proposed that opposing porn is opposing free speech, and others have tried to say that porn can be designed in a feminist fashion (sometimes called the “pro-sex” feminists)– and therefore would be for consumption by any gender, rather than being centered on male pleasure.

I have gone back and forth on this issue, myself. But I find it deeply affecting that studies have correlated pornography to sexual violence and gang behaviors. It is a tired and tiring argument to say “not everyone who watches porn is going to rape someone”; instead I am seeking a deeper understanding of an individual’s personal motivations for watching porn, what determines the particular kinds of porn they seek out, how it affects their overall views of sex, how it modifies their experience of sexual pleasure (if at all), and how it affects or interferes with their intimate relationships. After speaking with a variety of people of different ages and backgrounds about their experience of pornography, it is obvious to me that pornography does not have a single, generic impact on humans. It is complicated and subjective… I guess I would like to know, is the overall impact and outcome more negative or positive?

Finally, it can’t be ignored that pornography is a totem of male privilege. Many men I have talked to about pornography, whether they watch it regularly, seldom, or not at all, all seem to feel that it is their right to access pornography if they so wish. I’ve rarely heard women talk about it in the same self-entitled fashion. Very “liberal” (whatever that means) men have told me, “Well I don’t really watch it, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” “Freedom of speech! Enough said.” “As long as it’s not rape porn, what’s the problem? It’s not real, anyway.” “A lot of porn is funny, you know.” “I don’t see how it degrades women. You know women get off on watching porn, too?” And so on. Whereas women, by comparison, seem averse to, even repulsed by porn, or they are confused, or they want to respect “freedom of speech” but seem wary of the deeper implications “freedom of porn” has…

Denial of the way porn shapes the human sexual consciousness is very simplistic, and overlooks the ways in which porn affects real intimate relationships. Those effects may be long-lasting or even permanent… They cannot be shut out or forgotten just by closing a magazine or web browser. I am scared to think that a reason why many young, liberal men are so dismissive of theories which question the creation and use of hardcore pornography is because they feel they are entitled to whatever gets them off. Even if it is superficial, even if it is degrading, even if it is harmful.

To quote Weezer, “say it ain’t so,” somebody.

Professional Girlfriends: a letter

Dr. Hoefinger:

The results of your seven years of research as summed in your article “A Woman’s Work” left me rather disappointed. I recently read said article in Southeast Asia Globe Magazine, and what disturbed me was how thoroughly saturated it is in Patriarchy.

I am not necessarily pro or anti-prostitution or systems related to it (transactional sex and so on), but I do question any cultural system which homogenizes an individual’s identity based on “lump categories” like ethnicity, gender, age, etc., which is exactly what prostitution, bar work, and karaoke-singing in Cambodia do. It also functions within and perpetuates Patriarchy. I am compelled to question a situation (be it career, school, family-related, etc.) wherein a group of people is conspicuously absent or present. I find bar work in Phnom Penh troubling precisely because it is all young, economically disadvantaged Southeast Asian girls and women.

Your article highlights several young women who chose to go to the city for bar work. Opening with a discussion with one professional girlfriend about the benefits of her work, I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense that her identity and values were shaped around high-profile consumption, that she is fixated on consumerism and the associated prestige. As you introduce and quote a few more women, a world of hyperconsumption emerges: individual women are themselves being consumed, even as they struggle for means to further their own consumption. (On a brief tangent, does any person “subscribe” to capitalism, as you say, or aren’t we all just born into it?) On the one hand, a very shallow picture is painted of greedy women preoccupied with make-up, clothing, gold jewelry. On the other, we’re told they are “virtuous” as they provide for their families back home and take care of themselves. Either way they are fulfilling the opposite but equally stereotypical expectations of the Patriarchy.

This representation of ‘virtue’ further irritates my feminist sensibilities, particularly as how it connects to the family. Within the traditional (some would say ‘ideal’) Patriarchal Khmer family, women are constantly relegated to lower positions than their male counterparts. The expectation exists that females will provide for the family in ways which compliment male contributions, but which often become exploitative. The ‘freedom’ and ‘adventure’ bar workers experience perhaps offsets this exploitation to a degree, but still at the risk of harmful stigmatization. The burden of family honor placed on young (particularly marriageable) women is as much an item of Patriarchy as is the consumption of female sexuality. This is the shortcoming I see in affirmatory studies and articles on sex workers, bar workers, and karaoke workers again and again: simply approving of the ‘chosen careers’ of such women does little to ground their ‘choices’ in reality.

One might ask how real a ‘choice’ it is to opt for the ‘freedom’ of bar work over work in the provinces. Thus is it necessarily a gendered choice; we see few boys pimping or sexually commodifying themselves in order to attain material security, prestige, or just to get by (indeed they exist, but the point is we don’t see them). Yet women who commodify their own sexuality to fulfill male sexual pleasure, stigmatized as they are, are highly visible and are in high demand. Here is the aspect of bar work that I felt your article failed to address: how is sexual commodification (here in the form of bar work, professional girlfriendry, and transactional sex) a gendered phenomenon, and how does it affect the overall sociocultural status of Cambodian women? Indeed, of all women?

Part of me thinks your article was merely written to appeal to the masses– with sex appeal, quite obviously. Even the title of your article degrades the potential seriousness of the subject, while simultaneously upholding the Patriarchal standard: “A Woman’s Work”, really? It seems to be a most disappointing subscription to Patriarchal norms.

I appreciate your intimate use of participant observation. But the problem with this research method is that it can become too personal; I wonder if it didn’t for you? Being too close to a situation or subject can blind us to a broader, deeper context. Perhaps in your effort to portray such women as self-reliant, capable, and career-oriented, you allowed yourself to overlook the more desperate aspects both of their individual situations and the situation of women in Cambodia in general.

This you did not do in your article, “In This Place, We Are Kin” (which really only reaffirms my thoughts about mass appeal); in “A Woman’s Work”, you make no mention of the potential long term outcomes of transactional sex and bar work. You give a very detailed account of one such worker in “In This Place”, however, and I think it would have edified SEAGlobe readers to have read about her. Whereas bar work once allotted her personal freedom and stability, it ultimately does not provide realistic long-term support, and after encountering economic hardship she feels obligated to marry someone she does not love in order to survive. Her chosen career path may seem like a far cry from the textile workers and farmers in the provinces, but the end result is very much the same: unable to support themselves and their families (through no fault of their own), they are forced into relationships which are, verily, exchanges of sex for security– transactional sex, as someone would say.

I do intend to read your book when it comes out next year. You must still be writing it; if it is more of “A Woman’s Work”, expect more pejorative letters. If you decide to give a less single-minded account of the experience Cambodian bar workers, I might even buy it.

Best,

Lee Solomon

p.s. One could really go on, too, about the abysmal absence of aspects of sexual violence, but we can save that for another time.