I want to say something to that little voice in your head. You know that voice, it probably started talking to you about three sentences into my presentation, which has really only just begun. A voice that’s something like, ‘My god, that woman sounds angry’, ‘Why is she so angry?’ Why am I angry? Because everywhere you look, on every corner of the globe, from the highest offices of power to the most intimate spheres of peoples’ private lives, from the corporate boardrooms to the wretched sweatshop floors, from the slickly promoted multi-billion dollar porn industry to the bloodied, ravaged bodies littering the world’s many war zones, women’s bodies are being broken, women’s dreams are being snuffed out, women’s rights are being revoked, and women’s futures are being foreclosed. Look at the Congo.
In the Congo alone, in the midst of a civil war, which has been driven by the legacies of colonialism but also by the ongoing rivalry for their natural resources, tens of thousands of women have been so brutally raped that they can no longer hold their bowels or their bladders. These women literally leak, and they stink. And if they survive, and if they escape those who often capture them and hold them as sex slaves in these wars, or [as] ‘wives’, they’re often cast out by their husbands and their fathers, and treated as if they are the ones who are dirty and should be ashamed. But why would this make me angry?
Or look at Moldova and Thailand and throughout the rest of the world where every year, millions of women and young girls are kidnapped or sold by starving families into sex slavery. They are locked into backrooms, into basements, into massage parlors, including here in this city, and they are forced to endure sex and incredible sexual violence by hundreds and thousands of men. Those who stay alive do so only by shutting down their minds and hardening their hearts. Again, if they somehow escape, it is they who will be called dirty, who will be called whores, who will be called worthless, and worse. But why would this make me angry?
Or look throughout what many refer to as the Muslim world. Look at the way the lives and the cultures and the stability of millions of people are being violently uprooted through imperialist so-called ‘development’, as well as through outright imperialist wars of aggression. Look at how this is not only causing great suffering, it is also fueling the rise of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism, with its particular hatred of and vengeance against women. Look at the honor killings, where young women and girls and old women as well are stoned to death, for things as innocent as falling in love with a man of the wrong religion, or getting a phone number from a boy they have a crush on. Look at how women are locked in their homes, denied the right to travel or work without a man’s permission, and forced under the imprisonment of the veil, with all the hatred and shame of women’s bodies and women’s lives that that concentrates. But again, why should this make anyone angry?
Or look at the sweatshops, from China to Honduras to Silicone Valley, where it has been the near slave labor and often the outright slave labor of women and girls that has disproportionately fueled the growth of cheap manufacturing. Touch the clothes that you’re wearing or the phone in your pocket, and let’s not pretend that the suffering and the suffocation of women’s lives is not woven into the very fabric and foundation of the world that we live in. But then again, why would this make anybody angry?
Or look here in the U.S, where the Catholic bishops and other religious fascists have recently turned women’s basic right to birth control into a national controversy. Someone recently said to me, ‘They want us to go back to the days of us [women] not having sex at all, and keeping our legs closed’ … that doesn’t even capture the half of it. These people know what happens when women are forced to bear children against their will. They know that women’s dreams get foreclosed. They know that they have to drop out of school. They know that women end up trapped in abusive marriages they can’t get out of, or they end up desperately turning to the streets and selling their bodies to support those children they’re forced to bear. They know that women die in back alleys from botched, illegal abortions. They know that women suffer social stigma, shame, and a world of hurt and torment on top of all this, because they know that these religious authorities themselves, through the Archean scripture they preach and the mythological god - whose authority they use to back up this scripture - blame these women, once again, for any suffering and hurt that they endure. They tell them that they are the ones who have sinned, that they are the ones who are dirty, that they are the ones who are wrong. But why would this make anyone angry?
Or how about the new billboard that went up just on the corner here, … , that reads really enormously: ‘Escort Quality. Hooker Pricing’ as a way of claiming that their vodka is High End but Cheap. Or the millions of other ways that women are objectified and degraded, marketed and devalued, put on sale and used to sell everything from vodka to cars to fucked-up beauty standards, to ideology. Think about the way this trains men to view women, and think about the way that it trains women, including very young girls, to view themselves.
Think of what it means that in this society a major part of coming to age as a young girl or a young woman is to learn to hate yourself, to cut yourself, to starve yourself trying to achieve these totally intolerable and dehumanizing beauty standards to which women’s value is reduced. But why would this make you angry?
Or what about the porn industry? And I’ll tell you straight up here that this part of our call, … to end pornography and patriarchy, the call to end pornography has gotten people the most worked up. For weeks now, especially but not only on the college campuses, and here I’m talking both about the students, but also about the women’s studies professors, the gender studies professors, not all of them, but quite a few of them, have gotten totally up in our faces saying, ‘You can’t take away my porn!’, ‘I like my porn!’, ‘What’s wrong with porn?’, ‘How could you attack porn?’, they’ve proclaimed this to us at the tops of their lungs. Some of them have torn up our flyers. Some of them have tried to stop us from distributing them, insisting that we are just too upsetting.
So last week we extended a broad invite to every one of the people that we could reach out to. … We put out about five hundred flyers and we invited them to come visit a porn store together with us. A few young women showed up, and we went into one of the shops that millions of people walk by everyday in Times Square. We’ve never been in this particular store before, we picked it at random. So I’ll describe the very first thing that the group of us encountered when we walked in. The first wall was a wall full of torture porn. These are not my words, this is what their words were.
Remember the pictures of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where the U.S soldiers tortured Iraqi detainees? They stripped them naked, they stacked them in pyramids, they forced them under threat of violence to perform sex acts on each other. They did all forms of brutal, degrading and humiliating sexualized torture to real human beings in the battle zones and war zones. This is what they [pornographers] were selling. It had women chained to the ceilings for days, beaten and raped, that was one feature. They had women chained in stress positions. They had women being raped with enormous mechanized dildos and weapons as they were tied, and bound, and gagged. They had women wearing collars and muzzles or having objects stuffed into their mouths so they couldn’t scream, and they showed women with fear, not just ‘fear’, terror in their eyes. Women with bruises on their faces and their bodies, women choking on the piss and the shit of many men at the same time. This is the first wall that we encountered. I am going to spare you the rest of the whole aisle-after-aisle that we went through and viewed. But in the midst of this, something happened.
We came as a group and we were going to hang together but we lost track of some of our friends. So we wanted to not leave without them, and we searched the aisles, we looked around for them, and finally we gave up and we walked outside. And it turns out, they were there on the street outside, choking on their tears. And I don’t mean misty eyed, I mean heaving sighs, sobs, heaving sobs and mucus running, I mean bodies and souls shaken. And here I want to be very clear as well: these are not ‘weak’ women, these are not women being ‘overly emotional’. This is the trauma of entering a war zone. This is the reaction of people who have not lost their humanity, who have not hardened themselves to human suffering confronting a tsunami of sheer hatred for and violence against women, and seeing first hand that there’s a market for it; and being jostled by men eager to get through those aisles and purchase up those videos, and confronting a whole industry. A multi-billion dollar industry that markets, that produces and that trafficks in this hatred. This was these women just beginning to come fully to grips with what most people sense but then suppress everyday. Which is that, this hatred for women saturates and shapes the landscape all of us walk through every minute of everyday.
So I put it back, to everyone who has raised that question, ‘Why are you so angry?’ and I put it back to that stupid little voice that gets in everybody’s head every time they hear somebody speak firmly about this. Why aren’t you fucking angry?! What part of this do you find tolerable?