Note: this article is also available in Swedish.
There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.—Madeleine K. Albright
From the very beginning, feminism has been a movement as divided in its sensibilities as women are divided in ours. While many early feminist leaders were concerned with issues that affected all women of every class and situation (such as reproductive freedom and social, legal, economic, and educational equality) and by their efforts reshaped Western society for the better, the majority of rank-and-file feminists (especially in the US and UK) were unimaginative, middle-class White women who were primarily concerned with their own peeves rather than the very real needs of women who were lower-class, non-White, or unconventional. But whenever I dare to make statements like this, I am often countered with a disingenuous “Feminists are just people who want women to have equal rights with men.” If only that were true! Certainly some feminists were and are like that, and Goddess bless them for it, but then as now most simply used the movement as most people use any political or social movement, namely as an excuse to control others. While the best and brightest early feminists were working to win rights for individual women and thereby strengthen liberty for all people, the majority were working to do the exact opposite by imposing their own prudish, repressed, Christian, Victorian, and feminine sexual morality on the 85% or more of society who were none of those things.
These conflicting attitudes about freedom of choice vs. conventional Victorian sexual morality can be seen in the person of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who recognized that English law of the time (especially the draconian Contagious Disease Acts) stripped prostitutes of their rights as Englishwomen and so campaigned tirelessly for the repeal of those laws for 16 years. At the same time, Butler (like most Victorians) believed that women were essentially asexual and so could not accept that any woman might freely choose to exploit the male sexual appetite in order to earn a living; the very idea was anathema to her rigid Christian thinking. She therefore concluded that it was actually whores who were the exploited ones, childlike victims of male lust who had been forced into lives of “degradation” by male oppression. Like so many people both then and now, Butler was so convinced that her opinions were “right” that she imagined anyone who believed differently must be suffering from some form of impaired judgment.
Butler was very charismatic and attracted many middle-class feminists to her cause, but after the repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts in 1886, prostitutes were no longer the cause célèbre; when they refused to repent their whoredom and embrace “honest work” and conventional morality, the feminists abandoned their sympathy like yesterday’s newspaper and declared war on our entire profession, vowing to abolish it entirely. Butler founded the Social Purity Alliance, an organization dedicated to imposing middle-class Victorian standards of chastity (i.e., repugnance for sex) onto men, and it was but the first of a host of similar organizations that sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Though the movement boasted a number of high-profile men (such as William Booth of Salvation Army fame and the American health-farm proprietor John Kellogg, who touted corn flakes as a “cure” for masturbation in adolescent boys), the overwhelming majority of its members were female. And though many of these came from conservative Christian backgrounds, many others were former Butlerites; middle-class “feminists” had shown their true colors and abandoned the drive to win rights for the disenfranchised in favor of one that aimed to restrict the rights of everyone. One goal of the social purity movement was the imposition of universal temperance (eventually resulting in Prohibition in the US), but the more important one for our purposes was the war on whores. While male rulers had always been largely content to “control” or ghettoize prostitutes, the purity crusaders vowed to wipe us from the face of the Earth, and their newfound political clout (which increased dramatically after women were given the vote in almost every Western nation in the first two decades of the 20th century) resulted in an unprecedented wave of harsh, repressive laws directed against the women who so offended the retarded sexual sensibilities of their privileged bourgeois sisters.
The purity crusaders used many propaganda weapons against prostitutes, but chief among these were disease scares and the “White slavery” hysteria. As several times before in history, whores were vilified as dirty plague-carriers, and this campaign of misinformation was so well-organized that the notion is still deeply imbedded in the public consciousness a century later despite ample evidence to the contrary. But the “White slavery” propaganda was even more effective; the unholy alliance of middle-class feminists and puritanical religious zealots managed to convince the public, the media, and governments that there was a huge international trade in underage girls, abducted and forced into sexual slavery in foreign countries. The fact that there was absolutely no evidence for such a vast conspiracy made no difference whatsoever; the public devoured lurid stories of child prostitution, and throughout the Western world (especially in English-speaking countries) voluntary adult prostitution was banned under the excuse of combating involuntary prostitution of children. The brothels were closed, girls were forced into the streets, and the pimp as we know him today first appeared; in the name of “freeing” women from male “exploitation,” these so-called “feminists” had actually surrendered many women into a new form of male domination.
The war on whores reached its peak in the 1920s but ran out of steam when the Great Depression gave middle-class feminists something more important to worry about; that was followed closely by the Second World War. But once Hitler was safely buried and the dust began to settle, the stifling conformity of the 1950s inspired a new generation of feminists. As in the first wave of feminism 100 years before, the best and brightest feminists concerned themselves with the big issues and the rights of individual women, while the majority of rank-and-file feminists were once again unimaginative, middle-class White women who were primarily concerned with their own peeves rather than the very real needs of women who were lower-class, non-White, or unconventional. One of the big issues this time around was sex; as I discussed in my column of July 20 2010, scientific inquiry had at last exploded the myths about female sexuality that drove so much of the first feminists’ agenda, and for the first time in modern history “respectable” women were free to think and talk about a subject previously restricted to their whore sisters; the so-called “sexual revolution” had arrived.
Unfortunately, the evaporation of the social purity movement had not resulted in an equivalent evaporation of the morality laws it had foisted on the populace, especially in the United States; far too many Americans are subject to a peculiar delusion I call “lawheadedness.” A “lawhead” is one who believes that man-made laws are actually based in objective reality like physical laws; he is unable to comprehend that the majority of laws are completely arbitrary, and therefore views a violation of a “vice law” with the same horror that normal people reserve for rains of toads or spontaneous human combustion. Though lawheads are a minority of the population, they are disproportionately represented in positions of power, with the result that once a law is on the books it cannot usually be removed by any means short of armed insurrection. Despite the fact that in the 1960s many Americans became far more accepting of prostitution and other sex businesses, this was insufficient to cause prostitution law to even be questioned, much less repealed.
In the sexually “liberated” climate of the 1960s, many feminists found this situation abhorrent. They rightfully recognized that laws against prostitution are discriminatory in the extreme because they criminalize the only profession that is overwhelmingly practiced by and controlled by women; these early second-wave feminists understood that repression of prostitution is the repression of a woman’s right to decide what to do with her own body, just as surely as banning abortion or birth control was. And since feminists were working to abolish the latter laws, it only made sense that they should work to abolish anti-prostitution laws as well. But by the early 1970s, the first-wave pattern was starting to repeat itself; the White, middle-class feminists who made up the majority of the movement monopolized debate and elbowed the hookers out, forcing us to start our own separate rights organizations such as COYOTE and the English Collective of Prostitutes. As yet there was no open hostility between whores and mainstream feminists, but sexually repressed caricatures like Kate Millet were working to change that; here’s a quote from Millett which defines her view:
Prostitution, when unmotivated by economic need, might well be defined as a species of psychological addiction, built on self-hatred through repetitions of the act of sale by which a whore is defined.
Recognize the Victorian rhetoric? It’s the old “whores are subhuman” dressed up in modern pop-psychology drag. Millett and others like her started to pull feminism in a neo-Marxist direction, transforming what had been a positive movement about making women equal partners with men into a vicious political organization whose catechism was the old Marxist poison of class warfare, except with “patriarchy” substituted for “bourgeoisie” and “women” substituted for “proletariat.”
By the end of the 1970s, feminism was in turmoil, torn between the true feminists and the sick, bitter neo-Marxists and their “gender war” rhetoric. But once AIDS appeared on the scene, the war was over, and the misandrists had won; the modern puritanism engendered by the AIDS scare shifted the balance of power to the anti-sex position, and sex workers of every kind (including everyone from porn stars to lingerie models) were demonized as gender-war “Uncle Toms,” as typified in this quote from anti-whore activist Julie Burchill:
Prostitution is the supreme triumph of capitalism. Worst of all, prostitution reinforces all the old dumb clichés about women’s sexuality; that they are not built to enjoy sex and are little more than walking masturbation aids, things to be DONE TO, things so sensually null and void that they have to be paid to indulge in fornication, that women can be had, bought, as often as not sold from one man to another. When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women, for the moral tarring and feathering they give indigenous women who have had the bad luck to live in what they make their humping ground.
There is the neo-feminist position in all its histrionic, collectivistic, misogynistic, anti-sexual, completely-detached-from-reality putrescence; whores are evil, Burchill is saying, because by our comfort with sex we make prudish women like her look bad. Like the “learned” men of the 19th century, she portrays us as stunted creatures incapable of free moral choice, “things to be done to,” in her words; note, however, that it is Burchill who so characterizes us, not her imaginary “patriarchy.”
So in almost exactly a century, we’ve come full circle. As in 1910, we’re still being blamed for spreading disease despite ample evidence to the contrary. As in 1910, authorities justify laws banning voluntary adult prostitution with the excuse that such bans somehow magically help them combat child prostitution and white slavery (only now they call it “human trafficking”). As in 1910, we are characterized as subhuman monsters somehow different from other women. And as in 1910, our worst enemies are not men but a certain type of twisted control-freak woman who is perfectly happy to kick her sisters in the teeth in order to advance her own selfish, prudish, repressive agenda.