In my role as self-appointed Ambassador of Feminism, I am going to insert myself into a blog pie fight and try to use it as a "teaching moment" (term used slightly tongue-in-cheek).
In a recent post, Laurelin in the Rain quotes from an article by Katherine Viner in the Guardian as follows:
[P]rostitution is booming and official Britain has now acknowledged that the buying of sex is not just a fact of life but an expression of men's power over women, which would not exist in a free and equal society.
In the comments to that post, Richard opines that prostitution is not an expression of men's power over women. Prostitution he says is about "men who wanted sex that wasn't otherwise available." Laurelin then responds as follows (with emphasis added):
That these men think that sex should automatically be available to them, that they think female bodies should be available for them to buy is a sign of men's power over women. Men have power over women while women's bodies are seen as something they have a right to, while women's bodies are available to be bought and stolen. Sex is not a right.
Richard then posts the following on his blog regarding Laurelin's comment:
I was floored by this. I unfortunately have little doubt Laurelin is sincere, and I wonder how awful it must be to live a life with those sorts of beliefs. Imagine going through life as a woman, as anybody, believing that men view women as commodities to be bought, sold, traded, or "stolen". Imagine being a woman honestly believing men are of the opinion that they have a right to her body. Imagine the stress of trying to function day-to-day with such a degenerate worldview. Is this modern-day feminism? I hope not. How perverse. How sad.
And thus we see right before our very eyes the origin of the stereotype of the "man-hating," bitter, depressed feminist. Somehow when Laurelin criticized "these" men who participate in prostitution, Richard heard "all men." She referred to the power these men have over prostitutes, many of whom are not willing participants in prostitution, and the institution and societal norms that support that power. The article quoted also asserts that the glorification and acceptance of prostitution could affect societal mores. Richard apparently concluded that Laurelin goes through life believing that every man SHE encounters views her as a commodity to be "bought and stolen." This is a huge leap from what Laurelin actually said. She was talking about a situation in which women literally ARE bought and stolen as sex commodities.
Look, I'm the happy feminist. I go tripping through life quite delightedly, reveling in my good fortune to be a beneficiary of the feminist movement and enjoying positive and healthy relationships with my male family members, male co-workers, and male friends. But that's not to say that being a happy feminist means closing my eyes to the very real exploitation of women based on their femaleness that still exists in many parts of the world. Yes, looking at the reality of sex slavery throughout the world, or the ways in which women in many countries still are in fact viewed as chattel to be bought and stolen, and examining whether such views are still implicit or gaining credence in our culture is a necessary exercise if we are to (a) help women who are subject to this kind of thing and (b) work to ensure equal and fair treatment of women everywhere.
I personally haven't thought enough about issues related to prostitution (at least not recently) to give my own opinion on the issue of whether prostitution should be legalized or regulated and to what degree. But Laurelin's critique of prostitution is undoubtedly a valid one. My main point and what I find telling is that somehow this critique -- of an institution in which women literally are bought and stolen -- was heard as a criticism of all men in the world and interpreted as a paranoid and sad delusion. Because of course tripping along delightedly enjoying one's good fortune and closing one's eyes to very real evils in the world is preferable so as to avoid becoming "bitter" or "angry."