Posts from June 2001

Detroit residents posse up to harass women in prostitution

I was poking around trying to find more information on the web about a group in Detroit that provides free sandwiches, condoms, counseling, etc. to women in prostitution, in an effort to help them survive and undermine pimp’s control over them. Unfortunately, what I could find was an article from the Detroit News gushing about a neighborhood group called the Video Posse which works together with the Wayne County sheriff’s office to harass women in prostitution, or women who just look suspicious, by videotaping them with camcorders, recording their descriptions and license plate numbers in a logbook, etc.

A volunteer for the group quite literally states (and the Wayne County sheriff agrees) that the objective is fear: Now, I actually see a change: it’s almost like the prostitutes are afraid to walk the streets and the johns are afraid to park. They also repeatedly blame the women in prostitution (who are parading up and down residential streets and referred to as hookers) for doing what they need to do to survive. Look, something like 90% of women in prostitution report that they want to get out but can’t. If you really want to fight the dehumanizing institution of prostitution, then escalating harassment of prostituted women will not help any. Instead, provide economic options for the women so they can get out. Then go after the pimps who use torture and drug addiction and threats to keep the women under their control, and lock them away like it’s going out of style.

Update 2005-12-11: I don’t know how I missed this, but a couple of years ago I actually got an e-mail (which was then buried under other e-mails without my reading it) with a pointer to the outfit that I was looking for originally when I ran across the sorry article about the Video Posse — the Street Outreach Project of Alternatives for Girls. They do very good work for women who are spat on, attacked, ignored, and left to die by the men who hold power — as pimps, as johns, as opportunistic cops, and as sanctimonious politicians. The Street Outreach Project uses a van as a mobile base, and sends teams through the streets of southwest Detroit and the Cass Corridor offering food, clothing, and shelter, along with HIV prevention materials, crisis intervention, rides for medical services, and referrals. They also organize support groups, activities, and case management services. You can help them in their work by contributing money, helping them with items from their wishlist, or by volunteering.

Misogyny of Internet Culture Betrays the Promise of Democratic Spaces Online

Sometimes things come together. Yesterday I read an excellent article on the blatant misogyny of much of the rhetoric about computers and the attitudes of men in cyberspace [Brillo], which equates computers and the Internet as feminine objects to be sexually used and controlled by men, and in which men use the technology as a high-tech way of harrassing anyone who identifies as female (particularly in chat rooms and by e-mail). And today I just read an article in the New York Times on a growing number of recent cases in which high school boys are using web sites to slag young women with sexual gossip, cruel personal details, and more. At one site set up by private school students in Manhattan, students voted on which of their classmates was the most promiscuous–and out of 150 names voted on, young women outnumbered boys 3 to 1. At another, a huge list of young women’s names, phone numbers, and comments on their looks, rumored sexual preferences, embarassing personal information, eating habits, and even their parents’ marital problems. The latter was so bad that the students were arrested on charges of aggravated harrassment. (Gruff sidebar: if the information posted on this website constitutes aggravated harassment–and I agree that it does–then why in God’s name is the Nuremberg Files counted as protected speech when it not only posts all kinds of personal information but also carries an overt threat of violence?)

I talk a lot about how great the Internet is for building new, democratic spaces, and I still believe that’s true. But, we’ve got to be aware that it also enables a lot of bullshit. I’ve talked to a lot of friends of mine who use nicks on IRC that identify as female, and they have gotten all kinds of unsolicited, harassing private messages over IRC, sexually harassing e-mails from strangers visiting to their web pages, etc., simply because they are female. As an experiment, I tried joining a large general chat channel (Dalnet #chatzone) with a female-identifying nick (AndreaGrl) and logged the private messages that I got. After 15 minutes, with no more prompting than having said hi on the public channel, I had received unsolicited messages from 38 different people, 18 of which were spammers sending porn site and sex channel ads that to everyone on the channel, but a full 20 of which were individual boys who all assumed that just because I was identifying as female, I wanted to give all kinds of personal details and help them jack off online.

One earnest young fellow decided to give the perfect summary of the Internet catcaller’s mentality:

^Mr-Sexybullet^^! hi wanna cyber

AndreaGrl: right, i’m a female so i have nothing better to do with my time than have cybersex with every random, anonymous jackoff who msgs me.

^Mr-Sexybullet^^! thats true

Here comes a little witticism, you ninny…

William Safire is so much better when he is in his crotchety conservative persona commenting on language than when he is in his crotchety conservative persona commenting on politics. For example, see this great invective against the use of the verbalized arch pause (er, um, ahem) to signify Here comes a little witticism, you ninny [NY Times]. People who have talked to me or read my online squibs enough should know that I myself indulge in the occasional er, um, or well. Personally, I try to restrict it to the (apparently British) usage of the pause as a way to understate or state that an answer is obvious or embarrassing. Nevertheless, I’ll be on the lookout for overuse of the Look, I made a pun! usage from here on out.

Queer Animals and Queer Reactions from Zoologists

An article on same-sex sexual contact in animals and the outraged reception of this research from many mainstream biologists helps perfectly to illustrate why sociobiology is, as science, useless: biologists’ interpretations of animal sexual behavior remain one of the healthiest repositories of every patriarchal and heterosexist prejudice you could think of.

Some true classics:

  • Mainstream zoologists are shocked and alarmed by such queer activities as male lions head-rubbing and rolling with each other, or male whales caressing each other with fins, none of this involving actual genital contact. This tells us more about male zoologists’ hang-ups about physical intimacy between men than it tells us about whether there are queer animals or not.

  • Mainstream sociobiologists seem to simply refuse to admit that animals might engage in sexual contact because it is pleasurable; one colleague of a primatologist who dared to suggest this as an explanation of lesbian sexual contact between Japanese macques remarked Well, if that was the case we’d all be in the aisle now having sex.

  • Zoologists such as Tim Clutton-Brock of the University of Cambridge argue that

    “true” homosexuality–if strictly defined as male anal penetration by males who show no interest in females–is virtually unknown among wild mammals. They argue that animals who mount same-sex partners and the like are behaving aggressively or merely practising for heterosexual encounters. Or they may be advertising their availability, or trying to make a heterosexual partner jealous.

    I shouldn’t even have to say anything to ridicule this, but a few notes are in order: (i) Who the hell defines true homosexuality as male anal penetration by males who show no interest in females? Have lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, or even exclusively gay men who don’t particularly like anal sex, simply ceased to exist? (ii) What does the definition of mounting as an aggressive act tell you about the view of heterosexual sex being espoused? (iii) Aren’t these the exact statements that unrepentant homophobes make about LGBTM humans (e.g., they’re just experimenting, it’s just a phase, they’re trying to make their heterosexual partner jealous, etc.). It is explained that the favored theory of primatologists trying to cope with the fact of widespread lesbianism in Japanese macques was that it was a response to a shortage of male attention – because, as we all know, those dykes just need to find the right man.

All this helps highlight one of the main problems with the gene-programmed outlook of sociobiology: it simply refuses to acknowledge that there might be accidental consequences of evolution which have no basis in selected adaptations, but merely ride in on gene-complexes that are selected for other features. For example, there is clearly no genetic basis for the human practice of writing Petrarchan sonnets, but it is a consequence of our brains being adapted to cognitive and emotive processing for the purposes of survival. Since sociobiologists feel compelled, however, to find an evolutionary function for every behavior, they invariably subsitute in their own cultural prejudices about the proper purpose of behaviors. Thus, the purpose (or evolutionary function) of sex is assumed to be procreation, a page straight out of Catholic dogma.

Well, there are lots of different functions I could think of other than babies for generalized sexuality (such as reinforcing social relationships), which don’t require special explanations such as mistaken identity or dominance or jealousy for queer sexualities. And it may just be that sexual practice is an accidental feature of evolutionary adaptations rather than a functional adaptation in the first place. But since sociobiology rules such explanations out a priori, it inevitably has to substitute in all kinds of incedibly overt Right-wing cultural conservative ideology and pass it off as Eternal Laws of Nature. It is for this reason that late 20th/early 21st century Sociobiology has become the modern equivalent of late 19th/early 20th century racist anthropology as the naturalization of reactionary ideology.