Thursday, 26 March 2009

Network meeting - March 22nd

The place was looking great. Much more open with views over the sea and some furniture in the garden. But still with the climbing rope and the cool pole. Nevertheless a high prim bar of chocolate had to be offered to get a facilitator.

The big news was that Scylla has made a brilliant dispenser for the Survival Guide. It has a break glass and a little hammer cool.

We all think Scylla is totally wonderful for doing all this work ... henceforth she will be called Super Scylla.

We talked about some extra things we might wish to add.
Do we want to add a flight feather? What about the string of garlic that protects against vampire bites. We talked about whether it really matters if you are bitten.

We all need to help with proof reading and deciding if anything needs adding, for example something about the Gorean and BDSM ‘communities’ and a note about our group.

Ellie reported back on a conference she had attended on eco-feminism. She had been a little disappointed with some of the contributions. There had seemed to be a feeling that an eco-feminist was a feminist who recycled. Some of the contributions had failed to see the links between issues such as the war in Iraq, a feminist analysis and the environmental consequences.
She had given a presentation on SL. Particularly on the way that SL can both reduce our carbon footprint while at the same time enable us to be able to be ‘grounded’ in our own homes and communities. For example one minute we can be communicating with women from around the world while the next we can be in our gardens or visiting a neighbour.

It seems difficult to convince some women of the benefits of SL. There is of course something of a learning curve and there may be some technophobia involved. The negative publicity about some of the more salacious activities in SL may have put some women off dipping their toes in.

Another interesting point made was the impact of the rampant consumerism in SL. Does this satisfy the need to ‘shop till we drop’ or does it have the opposite effect and stokes up consumerism in rl?

(By the way one member prefers to call ‘real life’ PL i.e. physical life ... interesting distinction recognising that what happens in SL is real too)

There does seem however to be a greater recent interest in educational applications in SL with many universities and colleges wanting a presence here. There are rumours of careers being made in the facilitation of on-line meetings and educational events and there are more and more virtual conferences being organised.

One other interesting snippet from the meeting: what happens when the various elements of SL collide? For example a very young woman turns up for class wearing leathers and carrying a whip? It didn’t break the ‘no naughty bits showing’ rule. We reflected on how nudity was somehow not OK but carrying a weapon and the trimmings of BDSM was and how being in SL does make us think again about many of the moral positions we had previously adopted.

One highlight of the conference was meeting Cynthia Enlow the author of Bananas, Beaches, and Bases ( )who it was reported was most impressive.

What else did we discuss? Oh yes. More about the Gorean lifestyle, its roots and its rationale.

: My friend, the middle aged lady gorean -- she says it has been wonderful, she has "found" her sexuality

: ... well, it is always in the last place you look

: looks under her seat for her sexuality ...I know I left it somewhere

: I keep mine in my underwear drawer

Also a discussion about whether we should do some work on guidelines or ground rules for our meetings and whether or when we should encourage members of other feminist groups to join us.

Another snippet there a role for a vibes watcher, someone who lets people know if emotions are getting out of hand?

Anyway enough snippets ...back to work on finalising the Survival Guide.

: yes, it's best to do one thing well and then move to the next... multitasking is fine for less important things, but when you get more than three women multitasking on a dozen different things it can all get strange if everyone brings the potato salad to the picnic

: or people constantly saying what about the menz (from a previous conversation)

: I like potato salad . . .

: what are men?

: The ones who bring NOTHING to the picnic

: except the beer

: and way too much of that

Did we decide on a topic for next week?

We will definitely finalise the guide and talk about how best to get it in as many places as possible and we may discuss more about Gorean and BDSM from a feminist perspective. Whatever we talk about, it will be feminist, fascinating, friendly and fun ...don’t miss it!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Pornography is a left issue

Given the debates on 'adult content' in SL, i thought it timely to post this article..

By Gail Dines & Robert Jensen

View original article here @ ZNet

Anti-pornography feminists get used to insults from the left. Over and over we are told that we're anti-sex, prudish, simplistic, politically naíve, diversionary, and narrow-minded. The cruder critics do not hesitate to suggest that the cure for these ailments lies in, how shall we say, a robust sexual experience.

In addition to the slurs, we constantly face a question: Why do we "waste" our time on the pornography issue? Since we are anti-capitalist and anti-empire leftists as well as feminists, shouldn't we focus on the many political, economic, and ecological crises (war, poverty, global warming, etc.)? Why would we spend part of our intellectual and organizing energies over the past two decades pursuing the feminist critique of pornography and the sexual exploitation industry?

The answer is simple: We are anti-pornography precisely because we are leftists as well as feminists.

As leftists, we reject the sexism and racism that saturates contemporary mass-marketed pornography. As leftists, we reject the capitalist commodification of one of the most basic aspects of our humanity. As leftists, we reject corporate domination of media and culture. Anti-pornography feminists are not asking the left to accept a new way of looking at the world but instead are arguing for consistency in analysis and application of principles.

It has always seemed strange to us that so many on the left consistently refuse to engage in a sustained and thoughtful critique of pornography. All this is particularly unfortunate at a time when the left is flailing to find traction with the public; a critique of pornography, grounded in a radical feminist and left analysis that counters right-wing moralizing, could be part of an effective organizing strategy.

Left media analysis

Leftists examine mass media as one site where the dominant class attempts to create and impose definitions and explanations of the world. We know news is not neutral, that entertainment programs are more than just fun and games. These are places where ideology is reinforced, where the point of view of the powerful is articulated. That process is always a struggle; attempts to define the world by dominant classes can be, and are, resisted. The term "hegemony" is typically used to describe that always-contested process, the way in which the dominant class attempts to secure control over the construction of meaning.

The feminist critique of pornography is consistent with -- and, for many of us, grows out of -- a widely accepted analysis on the left of ideology, hegemony, and media, leading to the observation that pornography is to patriarchy what commercial television is to capitalism. Yet when pornography is the topic, many on the left seem to forget Gramsci's theory of hegemony and accept the pornographer's self-serving argument that pornography is mere fantasy.

Apparently the commonplace left insight that mediated images can be tools for legitimizing inequality holds true for an analysis of CBS or CNN, but evaporates when the image is of a woman having a penis thrust into her throat with such force that she gags. In that case, for unexplained reasons, we aren't supposed to take pornographic representations seriously or view them as carefully constructed products within a wider system of gender, race, and class inequality. The valuable work conducted by media critics on the politics of production apparently holds no weight for pornography.

Pornography is fantasy, of a sort. Just as television cop shows that assert the inherent nobility of police and prosecutors as protectors of the people are fantasy. Just as the Horatio Alger stories about hard work's rewards in capitalism are fantasy. Just as films that cast Arabs only as terrorists are fantasy.

All those media products are critiqued by leftists precisely because the fantasy world they create is a distortion of the actual world in which we live. Police and prosecutors do sometimes seek justice, but they also enforce the rule of the powerful. Individuals in capitalism do sometimes prosper as a result of their hard work, but the system does not provide everyone who works hard with a decent living. Some tiny number of Arabs are terrorists, but that obscures both the terrorism of the powerful in white America and the humanity of the vast majority of Arabs.

Such fantasies also reflect how those in power want subordinated people to feel. Images of happy blacks on the plantations made whites feels more secure and self-righteous in their oppression of slaves. Images of contented workers allay capitalists' fears of revolution. And men deal with their complex feelings about contemporary masculinity's toxic mix of sex and aggression by seeking images of women who enjoy pain and humiliation.

Why do so many on the left seem to assume that pornographers operate in a different universe than other capitalists? Why would pornography be the only form of representation produced and distributed by corporations that wouldn't be a vehicle to legitimize inequality? Why would the pornographers be the only media capitalists who are rebels seeking to subvert hegemonic systems?

Why do the pornographers get a free ride from so much of the left?

After years of facing the left's hostility in public and print, we believe the answer is obvious: Sexual desire can constrain people's capacity for critical reason -- especially in men in patriarchy, where sex is not only about pleasure but about power.

Leftists -- especially left men -- need to get over the obsession with getting off.

Let's analyze pornography not as sex, but as media. Where would that lead?

Corporate media

Critiques of the power of commercial corporate media are ubiquitous on the left. Leftists with vastly different political projects can come together to decry conglomerates' control over news and entertainment programming. Because of the structure of the system, it's a given that these corporations create programming that meets the needs of advertisers and elites, not ordinary people.

Yet when discussing pornography, this analysis flies out the window. Listening to many on the left defend pornography, one would think the material is being made by struggling artists tirelessly working in lonely garrets to help us understand the mysteries of sexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth; the pornography industry is just that -- an industry, dominated by the pornography production companies that create the material, with mainstream corporations profiting from its distribution.

It's easy to listen in on pornographers' conversations -- they have a trade magazine, Adult Video News. The discussions there don't tend to focus on the transgressive potential of pornography or the polysemic nature of sexually explicit texts. It's about -- what a surprise! -- profits. The magazine's stories don't reflect a critical consciousness about much of anything, especially gender, race, and sex.

Andrew Edmond -- president and CEO of Flying Crocodile, a $20 million pornography internet company -- put it bluntly: "A lot of people get distracted from the business model by [the sex]. It is just as sophisticated and multilayered as any other market place. We operate just like any Fortune 500 company."

The production companies -- from big players such as Larry Flynt Productions to small fly-by-night operators -- act predictably as corporations in capitalism, seeking to maximize market-share and profit. They do not consider the needs of people or the effects of their products, any more than other capitalists. Romanticizing the pornographers makes as much sense as romanticizing the executives at Viacom or Disney.

Increasingly, mainstream media corporations profit as well. Hugh Hefner and Flynt had to fight to gain respectability within the halls of capitalism, but today many of the pornography profiteers are big corporations. Through ownership of cable distribution companies and Internet services, the large companies that distribute pornography also distribute mainstream media. One example is News Corp. owned by Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp. is a major owner of DirecTV, which sells more pornographic films than Flynt. In 2000, the New York Times reported that nearly $200 million a year is spent by the 8.7 million subscribers to DirecTV. Among News Corp.'s other media holdings are the Fox broadcasting and cable TV networks, Twentieth Century Fox, the New York Post, and TV Guide. Welcome to synergy: Murdoch also owns HarperCollins, which published pornography star Jenna Jameson's best-selling book How To Make Love Like A Porn Star.

When Paul Thomas accepted his best-director award at the pornography industry's 2005 awards ceremony, he commented on the corporatization of the industry by joking: "I used to get paid in cash by Italians. Now I get paid with a check by a Jew." Ignoring the crude ethnic references (Thomas works primarily for Vivid, whose head is Jewish), his point was that what was once largely a mob-financed business is now just another corporate enterprise.

How do leftists feel about corporate enterprises? Do we want profit-hungry corporative executives constructing our culture?


It's long been understood on the left that one of the most insidious aspects of capitalism is the commodification of everything. There is nothing that can't be sold in the capitalist game of endless accumulation.

In pornography, the stakes are even higher; what is being commodified is crucial to our sense of self. Whatever a person's sexuality or views on sexuality, virtually everyone agrees it is an important aspect of our identity. In pornography, and in the sex industry more generally, sexuality is one more product to be packaged and sold.

When these concerns are raised, pro-pornography leftists often rush to explain that the women in pornography have chosen that work. Although any discussion of choice must take into consideration the conditions under which one chooses, we don't dispute that women do choose, and as feminists we respect that choice and try to understand it.

But, to the best of our knowledge, no one on the left defends capitalist media -- or any other capitalist enterprise -- by pointing out workers consented to do their jobs. The people who produce media content, or any other product, consent to work in such enterprises, under varying constraints and opportunities. So what? The critique is not of the workers, but of the owners and structure.

Look at the industry's biggest star, Jenna Jameson, who appears to control her business life. However in her book she reports that she was raped as a teenager and describes the ways in which men in her life pimped her. Her desperation for money also comes through when she tried to get a job as a stripper but looked too young -- she went into a bathroom and pulled off her braces with pliers. She also describes drug abuse and laments the many friends in the industry she lost to drugs. And this is the woman said to have the most power in the pornography industry.

As we understand left analysis, the focus isn't on individual decisions about how to survive in a system that commodifies everything and takes from us meaningful opportunities to control our lives. It's about fighting a system.


As the most blatant and ugly forms of racism have disappeared from mainstream media, leftists have continued to point out that subtler forms of racism endure, and that their constant reproduction through media is a problem. Race matters, and media depictions of race matter.

Pornography is the one media genre in which overt racism is still acceptable. Not subtle, coded racism, but old-fashioned U.S. racism -- stereotypical representations of the black male stud, the animalistic black woman, the hot Latina, the demure Asian geisha. Pornography vendors have a special category, "interracial," which allows consumers to pursue the various combinations of racialized characters and racist scenarios.

The racism of the industry is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. In an interview with the producer of the DVD "Black Bros and Asian Ho's," one of us asked if he ever was criticized for the racism of such films. He said, "No, they are very popular." We repeated the question: Popular, yes, but do people ever criticize the racism? He looked incredulous; the question apparently had never entered his mind.

Yet take a tour of a pornography shop, and it's clear that racial justice isn't central to the industry. Typical is the claim of "Black Attack Gang Bang" films: "My mission is to find the cutest white honeys to get Gang Banged by some hard pipe hitting niggas straight outta compton!" It would be interesting to see a pro-pornography leftist argue to a non-white audience that such films are unrelated to the politics of race and white supremacy.

Up-market producers such as Vivid use mainly white women; the official face of pornography is overwhelmingly white. However, alongside this genre there exists more aggressive material in which women of color appear more frequently. As one black woman in the industry told us, "This is a racist business," from how she is treated by producers to pay differentials to the day-to-day conversations she overhears on the set.


Contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography -- the bulk of the market for sexually explicit material -- is one site where a particular meaning of sex and gender is created and circulated. Pornography's central ideological message is not hard to discern: Women exist for the sexual pleasure of men, in whatever form men want that pleasure, no matter what the consequences for women. It's not just that women exist for sex, but that they exist for the sex that men want.

Despite naí¯ve (or disingenuous) claims about pornography as a vehicle for women's sexual liberation, the bulk of mass-marketed pornography is incredibly sexist. From the ugly language used to describe women, to the positions of subordination, to the actual sexual practices themselves -- pornography is relentlessly misogynistic. As the industry "matures" the most popular genre of films, called "gonzo," continues to push the limits of degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Directors acknowledge they aren't sure where to take it from the current level.

This misogyny is not an idiosyncratic feature of a few fringe films. Based on three studies of the content of mainstream video/DVD pornography over the past decade, we conclude that woman-hating is central to contemporary pornography. Take away every video in which a woman is called a bitch, a cunt, a slut, or a whore, and the shelves would be nearly bare. Take away every DVD in which a woman becomes the target of a man's contempt, and there wouldn't be much left. Mass-marketed pornography doesn't celebrate women and their sexuality, but instead expresses contempt for women and celebrates the charge of expressing that contempt sexually.

Leftists typically reject crude biological explanations for inequality. But the story of gender in pornography is the story of biological determinism. A major theme in pornography is that women are different from men and enjoy pain, humiliation, degradation; they don't deserve the same humanity as men because they are a different kind of creature. In pornography, it's not just that women want to get fucked in degrading fashion, but that they need it. Pornography ultimately tells stories about where women belong -- underneath men.

Most leftists critique patriarchy and resist the system of male dominance. Gender is one of those arenas of struggle against domination, and hence an arena of ideological struggle. Put an understanding of media together with feminist arguments for sexual equality, and you get the anti-pornography argument.

The need for a consistent analysis of power

Leftists who otherwise pride themselves on analyzing systems and structures of power, can turn into extreme libertarian individualists on the subject of pornography. The sophisticated, critical thinking that underlies the best of left politics can give way to simplistic, politically naí¯ve, and diversionary analysis that leaves far too many leftists playing cheerleader for an exploitive industry. In those analyses, we aren't supposed to examine the culture's ideology and how it shapes people's perceptions of their choices, and we must ignore the conditions under which people live; it's all about an individual's choice.

A critique of pornography doesn't imply that freedom rooted in an individual's ability to choose isn't important, but argues instead that these issues can't be reduced to that single moment of choice of an individual. Instead, we have to ask: What is meaningful freedom within a capitalist system that is racist and sexist?

Leftists have always challenged the contention of the powerful that freedom comes in accepting one's place in a hierarchy. Feminists have highlighted that one of the systems of power that constrains us is gender.

We contend that leftists who take feminism seriously must come to see that pornography, along with other forms of sexualized exploitation -- primarily of women, girls and boys, by men -- in capitalism is inconsistent with a world in which ordinary people can take control of their own destinies.

That is the promise of the left, of feminism, of critical race theory, of radical humanism -- of every liberatory movement in modern history.

Gail Dines is a professor of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston. She can be reached at Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at They are co-authors with Ann Russo of Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality. Both also are members of the interim organizing committee of the National Feminist Antipornography Movement.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

On consciousness raising

Excerpt from 'The Politics of Women's Liberation' by Jo Freeman

"Women came together in small groups to share personal experiences, problems, and feelings. From this public sharing comes the realization that what was thought to be individual is in fact common: that what was thought to be a personal problem has social cause and a political solution. The rap group attacks the effects of psychological oppression and helps women to put it into a feminist context. Women learn to see how social structures and attitudes have molded them from birth and limited their opportunities. They ascertain the extent to which women have been denigrated in this society and how they have developed prejudices against themselves and other women. They learn to develop self-esteem and to appreciate the value of group solidarity"

On political solidarity between women

Excerpts from 'Feminist Theory: from margin to center' by bell hooks

"..Women's legacy of women-hating which includes fierce, brutal, verbal tearing apart of one another has to be eliminated if women are to make critiques and engage in disagreements and arguments that are constructive and caring, with the intention of enriching rather than diminishing. Woman-to-woman negative, aggressive behaviour is not unlearned when all critical judgement is suspended. It is unlearned when women accept that we are different, that we will necessarily disagree, but that we can disagree and argue with one another without acting as if we are fighting for our lives...
Women need to come together in situations where there will be ideological disagreement and work to change that interaction so communication occurs. This means that when women come together, rather than pretend union, we would acknowledge that we are divided and must develop strategies to overcome fears, prejudices, resentments, competitiveness, etc...
Women need to have the experience of working through hostility to arrive at understanding and solidarity if only to free ourselves from the sexist socialization that tells us to avoid confrontation because we will be victimized or destroyed..
When women actively struggle in a truly supportive way to understand our differences, to change misguided, distorted perspectives, we lay the foundation for the experience of political solidarity. Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite, to build sisterhood.. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment. In feminist movement, there is a need for diversity, disagreement and difference if we are to grow.." (pages 62-65)


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Some articles on commercial sexual exploitation

Reading the cranky feminist post got me thinking about the debates around commercial sexual exploitation vs sex work between feminists. Here are a few articles which have served to partly inform my perpective on the issues. Hope they are of interest to others too.

"The technological innovations and unregulated use of the Internet have created a global medium for men’s sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children. The sex industry has aggressively adopted every new information technology to increase men’s sexual access to women and children. A mutually beneficial relationship exists between the Internet and sex industries. New technologies enable pimps to market women and children in prostitution or related activities, such as online strip shows, sex shows, and commercial voyeurism. The global communications forums have increased the visibility and exposure of women and children being exploited and abused, while conversely, increasing the privacy and communication of the men who exploit and abuse them. These forums normalize men’s exploitative and abuse behaviors. Violence and humiliation are eroticized. The combined experience of using new information technologies, finding a supportive community on the Internet, and having a sexual experience is positively reinforcing and empowering to perpetrators..." Read more here:

"Women experience some form of violence every day of their lives, from sexual assault and casual sexual harassment on the street, to violence at the hands of a partner or colleague, coercion and outdated gender stereotypes at work.Historically, policymakers believe that solutions to this culture of inequality and gender violence can be found by treating these issues separately, and moneyhas been put into initiatives to try and tackle domestic violence, educate children about healthy relationships and improve rape conviction rates. However, this inability to perceive incidents of violence against women as being linked points on a continuous spectrum of violence is damaging women’s lives. Wherever lapdance and strip clubs appear, women’s quality of life deteriorates as a result, with increased reports of rape (Eden, 2003) and increased fear of travelling as a result. (TfL, 2004).." read more here:

"Trafficking and the sex industry are linked in significant ways, especially in the fact that women are trafficked for sexual exploitation into existing sex industries. Trafficking occurs within as well as across national borders, as recognised by the UN CTOC Trafficking Protocol. Women’s inequality with men underpins trafficking, with vulnerability to recruitment and entrapment
linked to the gendered impacts of conflict, economic transition and poverty, coupled with their life experiences (child sexual abuse, domestic violence, poor status).. read more here:

'Men create the demand; women are the supply' read more here:

"..More strip clubs and fewer regulations, along with an apparent total lack of enforcement of the existing ones, means more women potentially being exploited. And, yes, I don’t want to walk past strip clubs or be harassed by their customers, but I’m not the one having to decide whether or not I should give that blow job in order to secure the week’s rent. It’s these women who should be the focus of any campaign to regulate lap dancing, not the privileged nimbys among us..." Debate on the f word blog, read more here:

"..Definition of the sex industry: activities which legally or illegally market and/or sell sexual
services/products in organised form and which make profits from sexual exploitation of people - children, women and men... This exploitation includes organised prostitution,for example escort services, call girls,operation of brothels, street prostitution, internet prostitution, massage
parlours, strip clubs, telephone sex, marriage bureaus, sex tourism, pornography, and sex fairs." extract from European Parliament draft on the consequences of the sex industry in europe. Read more here:

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Cranky Feminist is Cranky

I'm often cranky. "No way!" you say. Yes, yes it's true. I've also been on a bit of a feminism "kick" lately. I recently joined an online feminist group and they've been sending links to all sorts of interesting articles. So it's been fresh in my mind. I didn't always used to be so feminist. I remember when I actually started calling myself a feminist. It was back in college when I took Psychology of Women where the TA asked everyone in class if they were a feminist. Most people, myself included, shied away from saying they were. A lot of people, myself included, labeled themselves a "humanist" rather than just saying, "Yes, I'm a feminist and that clearly doesn't mean to infringe upon men's rights, either." After a bit of discussion and some self-contemplation I realized that duh, I was a feminist.

At that point I talked the talk but didn't really walk the walk. Upon declaring myself officially feminist I clearly needed some education on the matter. I started paying more attention to women's and feminist issues rather than just shrugging them off and saying to myself, "Things could be a lot worse like they were in the past." Long story short, in five years I've become a more conscious feminist. This includes opening my flapper. Longer story shorter, I've started contemplating quietly socially acceptable things that are hot button issues such as porn and strip clubs. Oddly enough, I went to a strip club last weekend for a friend's birthday and got a boob face wash. I made sure to tip the girls and be polite but I also was debating with myself in the back of my mind. Was I objectifying these women just as the men were? Am I still respectful while participating despite my beliefs? Is it alright because I'm also a woman? Is it alright because I'm doing it for fun and adventure and not arousal?

What about porn? I used to have a folder on my computer named Girls Don't Watch Porn. It had some porn files in it. A few selections I didn't find particularly degrading or overly cheesy. And I've heard of feminist porn. A Woman's Touch (a sexuality resource center in Milwaukee and Madison, WI) apparently has a decent selection of porn for the sexually liberated woman. I did a little reading about why many feminists are anti-porn. The Anti-Porn Resource Center at One Angry Girl gave me some food for thought. The porn myths and FAQs really got my brain churning. My initial thoughts about "choice" have been shaken up to say the least. I knew "choice" was always pretty lose in regards to porn and I realize "choice" maybe really mean "lack of better options". I still want to research feminist porn. I read another article on how porn made by feminists is really just a "softening of the blow" so to speak. In other words, if men are going to objectify women, women might as well get some enjoyment out of it as well". My mental jury is still out.

Now that the status of my feminism and feminist musings clarified and out of the way, onto my current feminist musings regarding my own life. Awhile back I sent an email to people I consider good, close friends explaining my lack of desire to be anywhere near my abusive ex. I only got a reply from one of them. Pretty discouraging considering I put my very difficult feelings out there when I previously actively avoided even hinting at them. My logic and emotions battled as to why they chose to ignore it. I felt they didn't give a shit. I thought they didn't know what to say. And most likely they didn't. It's a difficult topic anyway let alone so close to home. Never mind the fact that they are friends with my abusive ex. I clearly stated in my email that I did not intend to break apart their friendship with my abusive ex but that I would be voluntarily excluding myself from further events. No action was needed on their parts. But acknowledgment might have been nice. A little validation that, "No Indi, you're not being a dick, just merely taking care of yourself as a former victim, we understand."

This article gave me some insight onto the possible inner workings of my friends' thoughts. While it is about perceptions/reactions to a friend being a rapist rather than an abuser, the same principles apply. This response to that article clarified it even more. The part that really struck a chord with me was this:
"This idea is dangerous because when people hear that one of their male friends has been accused of raping one of their female friends, then in order to believe their female friend something has to give. Either people abandon their idea that rapists are all 'bad people' or they abandon the idea that their friend is a good person. But often neither of these things happen, and instead this person (who had been rigorously berating the evils of rape) doesn't believe the woman who was raped."
Hammer, meet head of nail. They became thisclose instantly. I believe my friends are in a conundrum of thoughts that is more complicated than just not knowing what to say. While this doesn't increase my confidence in my friendships, it gives me insight and understanding on their part. And knowing is half the battle they say. Knowledge, even if it makes me mad, is always helpful because it gives me less to fear. And there's enough tangible stuff out there to fear. I don't need intangible stuff to fear as well.

Finally, my last feminist musing for the day is in regards to name changes upon marriage. Clearly, this is a topic of interest to me because I will be married in less than three months. As a teenager I used to think about how my first name would pair up with the last names of boys I liked or dated. As I got older and my sense of self became more stubborn I ditched that. In fact, I've playfully suggested to my fiance that he become Mr. Dowler. Of course he didn't like that idea. This article at The Hand Mirror made some good points:
"I suppose what irks me about the maiden name debate is that the women alone experience the pressure to show that they are part of a ‘real couple’ by changing her name to his as him changing his name to hers is so clearly offbeat as to be well ridiculous."

"In the end it doesn’t actually matter which wedding traditions a couple keeps or for that matter decides to ditch because at heart all weddings by their very nature are traditional."

"...I would not change my name because I consider keeping my name more important than the reasons I should change it. However any male considering marrying me is most welcome to change his to mine if us having the same name is a really big a deal to him post-ceremony."
Ugh, it's true. I've been roughing up my impending wedding with non-traditionalism since my fiance offered me a ring and it still smacks of tradition. Of course this has been a challenge considering he's a pretty damn traditional sort of guy and I generally scoff at tradition and let the door hit it on the way out. Even the appeal of my tomboyish ideas don't always fly. He's still not too thrilled with my idea to have a remote control car as our ring bearer. You'd think a dude would be all over that idea. He eventually relented. I also got my way with having Lego figures on the cake, wearing sneakers under my dress, and we're still toying with the idea of having an arcade console or modified game console with ROMs at the reception. He balked when I suggested letting me dye my hair blue again. If it didn't pose professional problems as well it would have been no contest.

I'm going to have to show him this article about men taking their wives' last names. You know, just food for thought. ;)

Meeting 6 - Protest In SL

The topic this week was ‘SL protest: is it effective?’
We first shared experiences we had of being involved in SL protests and what we felt had been achieved.
These experiences ranged from demonstrations over the bombing of Gaza to a protest against a contents thief.
Plot Tracer has written an article for the RL journal Red Pepper which includes details of protests carried out by SLLU and comments on their effectiveness.

Some of the observations and questions :-
:it seems to be important to have a clear objective
:getting attention in RL seems to be a key
: I wonder . . . is it more important to be disruptive?
: or more effective to be imaginative?
:maybe disruptive enough just to get attention but not enough to be considered harassment?
: just the feeling of being able to do something with likeminded people may be enough
:not feeling like a lone voice in the wilderness can help prepare you for further action sometimes too
:a tool to get info out
: also about recruitment

There was a view that the other thing sl can be great for is getting info out to a large blogging community which can then get picked up more widely and that new media gives us lots of opportunities for awareness raising. We discussed the special opportunities offered by sl e.g. being able to create whole ‘theme parks’ or virtual museums
(We were diverted into an interesting discussion about the offer made to the woman who had recently given birth to 8 babies being made an offer to work in the porn industry.
Which led to musings about whether women in sl working as ‘escorts’ should form a Union.)
When we discussed the possibility of protesting about the rape sims in SL the whole debate around this issue was aired again. There were genuine differences in views about how effective such a protest would be. There are also differing views about the freedom in sl to enact any sexual fantasy. (See notes of previous meetings for more on this debate)
While not all were keen on the idea of an actual protest at a rape sim there was agreement on the need to air the issue and to try to provide information on the emotional risks involved.
Scylla has done a lot of work and a great job drafting information for female newbies in the form of a Survival Kit. We discussed the best format for presenting this. Everyone is encouraged to add to and comment by going to:-

Oh and thanks to Ellie we now have a peaceful garden, should we add a hot tub?
We didn’t have time to agree a topic for next week but it is International Women’s Day. Maybe this could be our topic for the meeting on the 8th March at 12 noon SLT.

Monday, 2 March 2009

The interesting links digest...

List of linkies so far! Remember we have some great links to articles and blogs and stuffs of interest at the library section of the network space, here: /107/

DRCongo action and more
student attitudes about rape
roman polanski
- rapist git
the legendary twisty faster on language and consent

Some interesting discussions in blogland:
'upskirting' (men taking photos of up women's skirts and sharing photos online) - discussed in the Guardian newspaper

Woman who recently had 8 kids - offer from pornography company Vivid

Prejudice & bigotry in gaming

missing and murdered first nationwomen remembered

women of zimbabwe activists arrested

student views on rape

The price of sex, trafficking documentary and photograpy slideshow. Documentary to be released later this year.
Documentary trailer here:
Photography slideshow here:

columbian women against violence

Sisters In Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists

cath elliot from the guardian newspaper

great blog, lot's of debate

Stalking in SL info:,98427,98427#msg-98427

Protest in SL:

'Take Back The Tech' is an international campaigning org around women reclaiming technology . Can we incorporate this model in SL?

Examples of sl activism:

Assaults on women in India & the pink chaddi campaign

Looking at Africa: engaging women's lives

10th down under feminists carnival

Lot's more articles of interest at the library. Don't forget to check the web mon screens there for further sites, including support services, blogs, essays and campaigns around the world. Let us know if you have anything you'd like to add

Meeting 5 - Language

One of us is teaching feminist science fiction, currently ‘Native Tongue’ by Suzette Haden Elgin. This novel is about a group of women who are oppressed but are linguists who then decide to create a new language that will open people's consciousness to a new reality. We began the discussion by asking if this were possible. Does language merely reflect cultural assumptions or can it change them?

An example given was the assertion in a quote by Reagan that the Russians didn’t have a word for freedom, as though that implied that they didn’t understand the concept. There was a view that language didn’t control our thought processes but could be used politically to exclude.

We talked about how we had felt about the introduction of the address Ms and how women had previously been defined, even in their title, by their marital status. This had felt like a victory at the time. But was this merely changing language to reflect a change in cultural attitudes?

We then talked about recent changes in language. For example the use of the word ‘guys’ to address a mixed or even wholly female group. Was this actually a gender neutral term? One view was that the word "man" is gendered now, but there is nothing to prevent it from becoming gender neutral in the future.

The point was made that the relationship between language and culture/social formations is indeed complex, but that the feminist dictum "talk it into being' is still valid.

Should the use of gender biased language be challenged?

The best quote : I guess the thing to do is to have the ovaries to call it to people's attention.

Was a term like this designed merely to startle or is it a way to draw attention to the use of language and to challenge attitudes? Did we only challenge language when it was used in a derogatory way? Were we afraid of being too preachy or being seen not to have a sense of humour?

‘ I'm wondering if there are times when we protest the use of sexist language and cause ourselves damage, I mean, when we can appear to be nitpicking’
‘Do you know the feminist movement has no sense of humour -- no, but hum a few bars, and I'll sing along’
‘Oh well ...who cares...we know we are very witty :)’

We acknowledged how language is evolving by discussing the word ‘bitch’ and its current usage. How does an expression that is so deeply misogynist take root so easily in our supposedly "liberal" society? Is this a rebellion against liberalism or a reaction against feminism? It was thought that for some young women it is a kind of claiming they are not a feminist "but" young women and they have ways of making this claim by using language in that way.

It was acknowledged that language is not monolithic: it has cultural contexts and that it can be arbitrary and that language morphs continually but that it never morphs out of context of differing power relations. Language is not "stuck." It's a political tool.


Then the inevitable conversation:-
: I knew someone who used the term "schmuck" all the time until I told him it meant "prick". He was very embarrassed
: I didn't know that!
: makes a note . . .
: This group is sooo useful
: Yiddish for penis
: gosh. I guess I will stop calling people schmuck! especially my girlfriends!
: not only a penis... an uncircumcised one
: Oh!
: lol, that makes a difference?
: I have learned a lot today!
: schmuck is the German word for jewellery
: family jewels
: For adornment only . . .
: well it also means a contemptible person
: so therefore is a penis a contemptible person?
: (not putting this bit in the blog notes ...don’t want people to think we sit around talking about penises)
: We actually use references to male genitalia a lot - much less for female.
: oh no ...the biggest insult surely is the c word.
: In Bengali the word for frog and vagina are so closely related it is hard to talk about frogs
: I will remember to avoid talking about frogs in Bengal

******************************************************If you would like to continue or contribute to the discussion please do that on the SLLU blog, or on

Next Sunday the discussion topic will be ‘Protest in Second Life: is it effective?’

We may want to plan something for International Women’s Day.

Meeting 4 - Feminism

No topic was decided upon at previous meeting. A few suggestions were considered and we decided to opt for discussing feminism itself :)

To help start things off we watched the video linked to below, entitled 'What is feminism anyways':

We spoke initially about perceptions of feminism and how the word -and it's true meaning - has been appropriated by, for example, right wing groups and is often perceived as a perjorative term.

Everyone in the group then had an opportunity to give insight into their journey/entry into feminism, which included:
discovering a name for something they had always known;
exploring alternatives to what was happening in our own lives;
experiences of inequality and discrimination - often in the workplace;
witnessing what women around us had been through;
dissatisfaction at life and options;
positive family influences;
through educational opportunities;
working in feminist organisations;
anger at injustice

Our words..
"..It was a gradual thing for me. I just realized nothing I was doing was for me and I was unhappy. And just seeing how much every woman I know has been through.."
'..I had to deal with "I can't hire you because you may get married and leave "...'
'..Those kind of things wake you up. I was told that they weren't sure about hiring me, they wanted to know if I had a responsible babysitter..

We spoke for a time about anger and how difficult that can be for women to express and how to try and use it positively. Some of us spoke of our wish not to be angry but to aim to work for consensus and cooperative working.
Some comments from the discussion:
"Anger as a motivator is good. As a modus operandi, it's probably counterproductive"
"i do not think it should be repressed more than anything if it is NOT a temper tantrum but logically and passionately presented"

The positive aspects of feminism in our lives were apparant:
"..powerful feminist role models"
"..I have been a NOW Chapter president for a number of years"
"..Not having to be a doormat.."

Some of us talked about the work we had been involved in as part of the women's movement, in Women's Shelters doing research, organiser for NOW groups, Women's Studies, Rape Crisis Centres.. Others talked of their desire to get more involved in feminist activism.

There was some consideration of how we might use the potential of SL to undertake activism, and utilise the possiblilites allowed by bringing women from all over the world together. It was noted that SL can be used to reinforce positive behaviours and practices, and that there are other social justice groups with whom we can work together. Following on from previous discussions about practical tasks (info kiosks etc) we can do here, we had a group member volunteer to start putting together a vendor with useful information/guides/support etc..

We ended by testing out some anti griefing toys (sending an unfortunate av into the skies!)

Meeting 3 - stalking in SL

This was the third meeting of the SLLU Feminist Network and again it was really well attended. The topic for discussion was stalking in SL.

Experiences were shared. These ranged from unwanted attention, persistent ‘spying’ from neighbouring parcels, appearing in homes without invitation, fear of alts being created to continue ‘spying’ undetected, attempts to restrict contact with others to threats of distributing rl photos and information.

One issue was the pressure women were sometimes under to give out more information about rl than they were comfortable with including email addresses, skype names and using voice.

There just wasn’t enough time to recount everyone’s experiences.

It was clear however that these experiences were both common place and at times emotionally distressing. Some women have left SL as a result or have ditched their avi and started all over again.

The ‘mechanics’ of SL were discussed. The ability to ‘hide’, be ‘invisible’, track people’s on line status, muting, home security systems, radar systems etc. In some cases bans from sims had worked and in others abuse reports had been used but with little success.

It seemed that the most important factor in dealing with these events was having someone to talk to and being believed. In some cases it was only the intervention of a third party which helped put an end to the stalking activities.

The ‘official’ advice from Linden is to collect evidence, use the Abuse Report System and then avoid and ignore the stalker.


The following suggestions were made:-

-a support group for people being stalked
- something that seems more "official" and so has sought the intercession of the Feminist Network. We have a report on your actions. You are being asked to cease and desist
- a forum to come and share experiences (and a blog) with personal narratives is also important so as to make it visible and raise awareness
-help in producing abuse reports
-also on the technical side to increse privacy and security of citizens inworld
-join other groups working for increasing 'invisibility'
-writing a post on stalking might be a small but important thing to do
-what if we put together a sort of kit? if we had a kit what should be in it?
-information on how do things like file an abuse report, where to get radar, things like that
-an advice notecard
-a kiosk at some place like orientation island
-tell them that people hang out at the slave silk store....tell them what slave silks are and let them know it's ok to say no and what to do if the person persists with info in a notecard that just said...IT'S OK TO SAY NO ...they may not run into a problem till they've been here a bit. But they might remember that notecard they got


So ... we need help with this

Send us anything you think will be useful in a support kit
Send us your stories if you are happy to share them (no names of course)
Send us details of any other support you know about

Come to next Sunday’s meeting, same time (12 noon) same place.

( That reminds me ... can any premium members who could donate tier please contact Plot Tracer... we need this to keep our space here ... thanks)

More info here:-,98427,98427#msg-98427


The meetings are fun too ... not all doom and gloom ....

: hiya :) how's you?
:Got a bad cough :C
: oooh snap
: me too
: coughs germs everywhere
: I have an antivirus programme that takes care of those
: sl seems short of hankies
:There must be sneezing anims?
: It's what we really need to make SL complete. Gestures for illnesses
: skins with spots
: ewww
: I have seen gestures for barfing
: lovely
: someone gave me an apple once
: And you made the fatal mistake of trying it?
: it wasnt pretty
: I bet not. You weren't living with 7 little men at the time, were you?
: I think I may have heard this story . . .
: if only ...i have only found 6 so far :)
: The seventh is under the bed. They always are
: be good if they did some cleaning while they were there
: Well, that's the good thing about them. They collect dustbunnies
: You just need to shake them out the window
: i knew there was a use for men
: always a good way to start a Feminist meeting ...jokes about men :)

And a final PS

A friendly guy was working nearby and kindly moved further away so we could talk in private. He popped back to say goodbye.

Him: hey girls
Us: we're still in a meeting :)
Him: I'm going home...
Him: seeya another time
Him: pretty preety you are...
Him:think .... if you were not feminists
Us: lol
Him: lol
Him: good night
Us: was that a compliment?
Us: I need an eyerolling animation . . .
Him: kisses for all
Us: mind you ...we do all look pretty good he does have a point :)
Us: so we are too pretty to be feminists
Us: I'll work on that. I have an ugly skin somewhere
Us: And big boots
Us: And hairy armpits . . .
Us: You know, the "feminist uniform"
Us: im wearing mine
Us: the boots ...not the arm pits
Us: one has to work to get certain men understand that we're feminists for their sake … that there's something in it for them … like happier women

Continuing the discussion - representations of violence against women

This was part two of the discussion on ‘Virtual rape ...fact or fantasy’ and again lots of people came to contribute.

We were given the link to the Women’s Resource Hub where the discussion is also featured

This also includes links to Linden’s official policy on this issue (and the interesting subsequent debate). To quote ‘ other depictions of sexual violence including rape, real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of extreme or graphic violence, and other broadly offensive content are never allowed or tolerated within Second Life.’

One well argued viewpoint was that some of the role play within SL should be viewed within a similar framework to pornography, which contributes to a culture of harm or potential harm and that this was not a moral position but raised concerns about the normalisation and validation of certain attitudes and the impact this can have.

While there seemed to be broad agreement with this view there was also a discussion about women being empowered to develop erotic fantasy and about how far even these fantasies have been determined by unequal power relationships and social conditioning.

The following views were added:-
‘I remember a time when women were not able to freely express their sexual fantasy and to explore erotic stimulation’
‘Yes, it is one of the things I like about SL’
‘I don’t want to see all erotic play defined as pornography’
‘ I think it's important not to impose on a woman’s desire for sexual expression in the name of morality...there is of course a balance to be struck so as to avoid exploitation’
‘I think it's important to have more openness about sexuality and sexual desire: but I also think it's important to reflect on how desires are sometimes shaped’
‘I have never been sure about how far women's sexual fantasy has been governed by a kind of sexual conditioning ...e.g. how far our fantasies are still about pleasing men ... and how far SL might actually be a way of exploring this question further’


We realised that we didn’t really have a working definition on any distinction between pornography and erotic material.
The following were offered:-
‘pornography has more to do with power over a target person whereas eroticism is more mutuality of pleasure’
‘the vast majority of pornography is about a power dynamic’
‘Erotic material is the use of words or images to enhance sexual pleasure while pornography is using similar images but they are primarily for sale and usually exploiting those involved in their production’

The main concerns expressed about the rape role play sims were:-
-That there were no warnings given
-That this activity desensitises those involved
-That there are links between such enactments and rl sexual violence
-It was felt that the mere rating of a sim as ‘mature’ was an inadequate description.

We discussed other possible ways of warning about the content of sims supporting sexual violence and how such a suggestion might be received since it admits that such sims exist and we talked about the impact these activities might have on rl victims of sexual abuse and about how far rape role play reinforced and legitimised
negative attitudes.

The following ideas were generated:-
-A campaign for an in-world rape crisis and counselling service and/or information about existing services
-Sims supporting such activities being required to publicise support perhaps in the form of a kiosk or an automatically dispensed note card
-Linden being required to acknowledge the problem and contribute to support systems
-A conference on these issues (a grant for such a conference has been applied for)
-The need to collect information about resources and landmarks for sources of support


There was further discussion about our responses to sexual slaves appearing in clubs shops etc, the whole Gor thing, going undercover as an ‘investigative reporter’ and bringing these activities into the light of day, the nature of sl marriage, reclaiming the night activity and a discussion about other oppressive behaviour which might take place within a relationship and which may result in intolerable behaviour including stalking activity.

An interesting theme developed on the level of emotional immersion in sl and how differing levels of immersion might colour behaviour and lead to emotionally disturbing encounters.

As well as following up on action and after various suggestions were made about next week’s topic the following was agreed for next Sunday.

'When sl love turns into obsession ... a feminist perspective'

First Discussion Session - virtual rape and violence against women in SL

This was the first discussion meeting held by the network and the topic was ‘Virtual Rape ... fact or fantasy’ Eleven people came along for the discussion.

The debate was lively, friendly and interesting and it’s impossible to try and summarise all that was said.

Some of the points made were:-

Searches had revealed that women had experienced ‘virtual’ rape in SL. This ranged from being ‘bumped’ by a male avi with an erect penis, being tricked into clicking on pose balls, descriptions of rape in text to accepting objects which contain hidden rape animations.

There were reports of pressure being applied in role playing sims and other forms of deception.

Some women may laugh these things off and some retaliate or just quit, however others, particularly if they have had similar experiences in RL have suffered emotional distress.

Was there a definition of 'virtual rape'? Did this definition revolve around the question of consent?

There was also a discussion on rape as part of consensual role play (it was noted that rape pose balls were for sale). While feminists have been working on an understanding of the relationship between sexual fantasy and the exercise of sexual power within relationships, there has been research which raises concerns that such role play can impact upon attitudes to rape in RL.

We wondered if it were also possible that role play may give a new insight into the impact of this kind of sexual behaviour and accepted that role play can be both damaging and therapeutic.

We discussed whether it was feasible to expect SL to issue warnings, introduce protection of offer support to particularly newbies who were the most vulnerable.
Self defence workshops are available in SL.

Suggestions made included improved warnings about the nature of some sims, demystifying virtual rape, self-defence strategies and sources of counselling or support for those affected.

It was agreed to work with the Women's Resourse Hub to draft a letter requiring Linden Lab to include warnings in newbie induction processes. (we need to check what is already included)

We ran out of time so it was agreed to continue this discussion next Sunday at the same time.

Ellie was thanked for moderating the discussion.

Introducing the SL Left Unity Feminist Network

Coming soon!