August 10, 2012 3 Comments
You can find a summary of day one events here.
Jumping right in…
Day two began with a panel discussion with survivor Jeri Sundvall-Williams, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR), and the Asian Women’s Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP). Jeri Sundvall-Williams’ discussion of her traumatic experience in prostitution made clear that prostitution is modern slavery, and must be stopped. The AWCEP women spoke to the fact that prostitution is violence against women, and that it both entrenches racism, and amplifies sexism for all women. Additionally, they stated that the move to legalize prostitution is racism against Asian women, as well as other women of color. Such powerful statements! Next, VRR stated that these three oppressions: race, class, and gender (that is, sex-based oppression) must be fought at the same time, in order to fight for all women. I loved their point that prostitution must be kept on the continuum of violence against women, which is why they welcome prostituted/trafficked women into their shelter. They also reminded us not to use prostituted women as a shield to make our own arguments, and that those who have not been prostituted have an obligation to speak out for abolition once we see that it is in the best interests of women.
Next, Kathleen Barry led a fabulous keynote speech on her new book Masculinity of War: Unmaking War, Remaking Men. I was personally very touched by this discussion, because Barry emphasized empathy as a solution to our war-infected society. She describes empathy as the ability to put ourselves in the position of another person, and she mentioned that empathizing can be a political action. With all the discussions of male violence that had occurred through the course of the weekend so far, as well as through RF discussions over the past year, I found myself quite emotional in thinking about the serious lack of empathy that men have had toward women. Masculinity dictates that men never consider the position of women– let alone what it would be like to be in that position. This is such a hard truth to realize, and I was struck hard by it. Empathy is necessary, and men need to get some already. Certainly, empathy is not enough— but it is a start, and it is something we must teach our children, and our friends, and our family. We cannot make men empathize. However, we can require it of them. I also enjoyed what Dr. Barry said about the language of protection. At the core of masculinity, she said, is the idea of protectors— those who must watch after the family, and be strong. Those protectors are seen as superior, and in patriarchy women are required to recognize them as superior. Masculinity, as Lierre Keith mentioned later in the day, leads to emotional disengagement, and remorselessness— which are the opposite of empathy. Kathleen Barry spelled this out so very clearly— and I began to actually envision what an empathetic world would look like.
After a break, Kathleen Barry led a strategy/consciousness raising session where we envisioned what a world without war would look like. While some women had ideas, others could not see that possible future, given the horrific realities of now. Barry did an excellent job of leading the discussion, as well as helping us see what steps should be taken to help this world become reality. I want to say that the incredible dynamic we created during this session cannot be reproduced in writing— unfortunately, one just had to be there. Please do take my word for it though— this was awesome. I have discovered that it is possible to schedule sessions like this with Barry, and more information on that can be found on her webpage kathleenbarry.net, as well as through this flyer here . [PDF]
What a morning this was! I was struck with how brilliant and dynamic the speakers were, as well as the participants. Something truly powerful happens when women get together— something that the internet activism I had been a part of up until this point was not equivalent to. The activism we can do on the internet, as I’ve said before, is important. But I think these conferences are vital as well. I look forward to the next one.
Cherry Smiley spoke after lunch. She is a First Nations woman from Canada. Her stories were particularly difficult, as they made clear the racism, misogyny, and violence that native women suffer on a daily basis. As she said, aboriginal women are over-represented in street prostitution, so the idea of “legalization” (that is, legalizing the purchase of women) poses particular harm to them. She spoke on the “Harm Reduction” model, which does nothing to stop men from purchasing women, by saying, “We need to meet women where they are, but we cannot leave them there.” Additionally, the “Harm Reduction” model assumes that women can only go so far with their lives once they have been damaged by prostitution. These low expectations abandon women, rather than providing options for exit and another life. I was very moved by her awesome statements. Additionally, she laid out the two myths of prostitution: 1. That it is a choice, and 2. That it is inevitable. Finally, she emphasized that abolitionist and other movements must address white privilege, and that native and survivor voices take leadership roles in these movements. I learned so much from her presentation, and was very glad to have had the opportunity to hear her speak.
After this, we heard from Lierre Keith. I’ve transcribed a portion of her talk here, and you can find the entire video here. Keith was such a clear thinker—I really appreciated hearing her presentation, and I encourage you to watch it for yourself if you haven’t already.
Following this, Sam Berg discussed tactics for anti sex-industry activism. It was a fun, hilarious discussion! Again, with this one, you just had to be there.
For the last event of the day, we watched a few short radical feminist films by Catherine Crouch. Several of the films were funny, and we were told that one of the films, called Gendercator, had generated controversy and had been pulled from the Frameline Film Festival because it was considered transphobic. I encourage you to watch the film and see for yourself, or check the description here.
After such a long and satisfying day, I needed some time to myself to journal and reflect. I went out, had a burger, and contemplated what an amazing few days it had been. The panels and the talks were all awesome, but one of the things that had developed over the course of a few days was true sense of community. As several women mentioned on our last day, there was not a lot of backbiting as we often see in activism circles. Rather, we put our differences aside (for the most part!) and recognized that while we may not agree on everything, our unity is exceptionally important in the fight against male supremacy and domination. As Sam Berg said, “What we have is not money, and it is not public opinion. What we have is each other.”
Stay tuned for day three!