Why men suck– a response

A while back I read a piece called “Why men suck (and the women who have to)” in The F Word, Contemporary UK Feminism. The article was written by a woman who had come to Cambodia to teach English and has slowly realized that sex tourists and foreigners supporting the sex industry were not just gross old men, but “in reality, almost all of my male work colleagues were part of ‘the scene’. These men could have been any one of my male friends from England: they were young, intelligent, and, how can I say it? Well, normal. Scary as it sounds, it is a statement that has stuck with me because of the truth I see in it. I have very few male friends here. Let me rephrase. I have two: one of them is 9 and thinks girls have cooties, the other is the only decent guy I have met here (and yes, I am making a blatant judgment about how I feel about western, self proclaimed liberal men, who use the sex trade here). That said, maybe I am being unfair. There must be other men who come here and do not partake; I just don’t know where they are.

On a related note, I find it disturbing how many of the people who work in counter-trafficking and women’s empowerment programs (local and international), visit brothels and take home taxi girls. How do they not see a discrepancy between their work and their own behavior? How do you stop a system, break it down, when you also fund it?

Back to the main thread. There is one other piece/ analogy from the article that has stuck with me:

I soon learnt that the virgin/whore dichotomy is quite literal in Cambodia, with girls staying ‘pure’ until they are married and boys paying for sex from a relatively young age (16 is a rough guess). The fact that men pay for sex is totally accepted and, surprise surprise, it’s not the men who suffer for their actions but the prostitutes, or taxi girls, as they are known. As one friend put it, “sex is like going to the toilet, it’s not pleasant but it’s necessary”: The taxi girls (who come from very poor families and whose pay often contributes to the communal family income) have the unenviable status of a social toilet.

It’s the last part of this—the necessity of sex that strikes me. It’s something that I have heard repeated by male, liberal, western men as an excuse. As if it somehow justifies using another person. And the girls, they ones who take on all the blame, who are humiliated, tortured, tormented, hurt, subjected to disease—in so many ways are the proverbial toilet seat. It makes me sick to think about. It makes me sad.

What are your thoughts?

Some facts about prostitution in Cambodia (citations here):

  • Researchers found 87% of young men were having sex with their girlfriends or prostitutes; 10% were having sex with other males
  • There are 10,000 to 20,000 women and children in prostitution in Phnom Penh, a city of 1 million. Massage parlors and karaoke bars are frequently fronts for prostitution rings.
  • 35% of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18.
  • Many young prostituted boys live on the streets and at night wait for the male buyers who will pay $2 to $5 for sex.
  • Children as young as four have been sold into the sex industry in Cambodia.
  • Minors, some as young as seven, constitute more than 25% of the prostitutes in Cambodia’s sex industry,
  • The local industry for sexually exploited children is exploding for two reasons: Many Khmer — and other Asian men — believe sex with a virgin will renew their vigor and youth, and the fear of contracting HIV is fuelling a demand for younger and younger virgins.
  • A study of more than 6,000 prostituted girls found that one-third of prostitutes in Phnom Penh and Battanbang were between the age of 12 and 17.
  • 40-50% the prostitutes in Cambodian are HIV positive.
  • 60% of the young prostitutes interviewed in Cambodia were infected with everything from sores and warts to gonorrhea.

 

23 comments

  1. What happens between two consenting adults really is nobody’s business, obviously. At the same time, it’s incredibly difficult to shake the fact that nearly all adult sex workers were forced into prostitution as minors. An overwhelming majority are rape survivors. Emotionally damaged early, many are compelled down a path of drug abuse and violent relationships, with sex work as their only viable means of survival.

    And trying to formulate a coherent response makes me realize how complex the issues are, and how deeply conflicted I still am on many of them.

  2. Hi DAS,

    Thank you for your comments. I think a lot of these issues are really difficult. After meeting prostitutes in many countries and reading the accounts of many others, I think I personally have come to the conclusion that in the majority of cases “consent” is not a factor. I think that being compelled as a child and the trauma of rape can lead people to feel trapped– as you pointed out. I also think economically there may be little other option for women, or at least little option that they see. Also, culturally, I think that once a woman has been forced into prostitution, they cannot get out because they have lost their virginity and feel spoiled. They can not, (by the why society views them and they way they have learned to view themselves) ever be on the other side of the dichotomy, the good girl again– that life in essence is lost to them. Finally, consent is not often a choice as they can not choose their johns. Most are controlled by a pimp, brothel owner, trafficker etc. These people (mostly men) can be very very violent if the woman tries to refuse a john. Also, they ultimately control the money and the woman’s livelihood.

  3. Hi! You left a comment for me some week(s) back and I am just now getting around to checking you out and answering! I am so sorry for the delay I will be honest and say I forgot. You wanted to know if I went to the link that I was linked to, and yes I did. I just brushed it off because I have no clue how I ended up there.

    As for the prostitution thing. I am sad as well. It saddens me that there is so much lost on the act of sex itself. Disrespect for a woman and her own body. Low self-esteem for her and her soul. I have little knowledge of how things work in other parts of the world but we were given a gift and it works the same all over the world. Then to be raised without the encouragement to enjoy and embrace it like a rare gem is very sad. I think that sex is so overrated in our times, and probably through history, it shouldn’t be abused. I could go on and on but I just wanted to say, it does sadden me as well.

    I am going to add you to my list of reading. I am very interested in all you have to say!

  4. Hi Heather,

    Thanks for the comment. I am glad you like the blog– you found it just a few days before I have a BIG move to the new blog, new job, new country– although the topics and material will be very similar.

    I am sure I ended up at the link because of my posting about porn. It is amazing how many people find my site and come here because they are searching for prostitutes, children, cheap, cambodia and such. Needless to say, I take comfort in the fact that they will only be disappointed.

    Thanks for stopping by and feel free to comment. I love comments. And I try to answer questions that people have (assuming they are legitimate questions).

  5. “So there you have it, it’s a hard truth to digest, but so many men (from what I could fathom, the majority of men), even socialized in a western culture, are so willing and eager to become part of a culture that exploits women and sex as a commodity. They quickly come to value beauty, subservience and effectively ownership over equal companionship, or equal one-night stands.”

    So she admits that guys are misogynist jerks. She admits how easily western-raised, western-trained men revert into sexist behavior when given societal permission. SHE ADMITS IT.

    “In an effort not to be entirely pessimistic on the nature of [men]…”

    Denial. Justification. Excuses.

    She gives no reason for her renewed faith in men, other than the painfully obvious: the misogyny is easier for her to ignore once back home. More denial.

    So ok, I’m just a random crazy stranger dropping by and perhaps you’re not inclined to answer my questions. I hope you would consider it, though, as it’s driving me completely batty. No one likes these questions.

    What is it going to take for the average feminist to admit that men are, in general, hopelessly sexist? *Are* they hopeless?

    What would happen if you admitted it?

    What is the feminist excuse going to be in 200 years when men are still pulling this sexist twaddle?

    These are just some of the questions I’m going to be discussing on my new blog, but frankly not many repeat visitors are expected because I don’t think feminists are ready for the answers. Not that I have answers, either; that’s why I asked you! This is all quite distressing to me.

    Apologies if I made you uncomfortable. I’ll come back here to see any reply, if any. Thank you!

  6. Having lived in both western nations and places like Cambodia, I have to agree, it is easier to ignore back home. However, that is not the whole picture. In Cambodia, men are socialized to be pigs and women are socialized to accept it. At home, there is at least a growing condemnation of misogyny. No, it is not as big as it should be. And yes, misogynistic pigs still exist and thrive in western nations; however, the culture is different. There are spaces for women who don’t fit in; there are safe spaces for lesbians; there are safe spaces to speak your mind and talk back in the west. Also, there are men in the west who are feminist. There are men in the west who abide by culture norms. And while yes I would prefer that they lived the feminism that I speak about, I also do believe in behavior modification based on cultural scrutiny.

    Also, I love this article because of the way it looks at culture, the respect it takes for figuring out space and place, and finally for the analogies that spoke so true to me as I was living over there.

  7. Winslie–

    Thanks for your comments. I would love to hear more about what you think about it as an ex-seafarer and a man.

    As for the article you sent— I think I have a hard time with that. Its so much more complex than what is printed there. Also, I would argue that when she says “The vast majority of women who charge for sex do it to feed drug habits.” that really many more women get a drug habit either from being force feed drugs by their pimps or traffickers or they start a habit after they start working on the street in order to dull the side effects of PTSD and other mental anguish and pain created by the prostitution.

    Also, I would argue that for many women who “choose” prostitution, that they do feel that there is no other way out. That viable economic opportunities do not abound. Sure, they might be able to get a minimum wage job if they dont have any priors and fit into the racialized, class, ideas of what hireable looks like. Also, that minimum wage probably will not cover their expenses. Especially if they have to pay for a babysitter for the hours they are working.

    I think I will try and write a post on prostitution. Perhaps it will be a series. I have a lot to say.

  8. Clare,
    I should admit that I ventured into your world mainly because of the human trafficking and music video but could hardly walk by a title like “why men suck”.

    As for Ms Porter, I think she was venting her spleen at the PC (politically correct) crowd regarding the term Sex-Worker as being ridiculous and I quite agree with you that “feeding the habit” theory did not sit comfortably with me either as did other generalized statements.

    However I respect what the lady has to say.

    Your article about prostitution in Combodia is fascinating and as I have never been there I cannot comment.

    Prostitution on the other hand is the oldest profession in the universe and like you, I too would like to explore the reasons for that trade and write an article.

    The simple truth is that prostitution produces an easy income, an economy and a commercial structure to places that would otherwise be derelict (no justification intended).

    I would suggest that men are the cause, but I have no evidence!

    On a biological level and as a man, our body is designed to produce and disseminate our genetic code through sperm whether we like it or not. We disperse it either by voluntary masturbation or involuntarily, otherwise referred as a wet dream.

    Though women may not like this concept of men having to empty their testes, it just is a part of what we are. Controlling these urges is a different topic and far lengthier than this one.

    I like the objectivity you give to your writing and my response is in the same spirit.

    I was tempted to walk away as I realize no matter how I say it, someone somewhere will be offended.
    winslie

  9. Winslie–

    Thank you for this conversation. One of the best I have had on this blog for a while. Also, thank you for your bluntness.

    That said, as I don’t have a penis personally I can only conjecture, but there are several ways that one can “empty their testes”– and prostitution is a choice… as in going to a prostitute is a choice.

    Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, you have inspired me to write a 5 part series on prostitution. First part is up here: https://claresays.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/prostitution-part-i-a-quick-intro/

    Also, yes, I get the politically correct part and all… but, in this case, its a label that some populations want to hold onto because it does not carry the negative stigma and judgment inherent in the word whore– which, let’s admit it, is a judgment on the women not on the social systems that have created her.

  10. This is a wonderful conversation! I think an important fact has just been raised.

    Why are we focusing mostly on the women, men, and youth that are involved or exploited in prostitution?

    There are three groups involved. The pimp, the john, and the “sex worker” (a term I am very uncomfortable with).

    Having personally done many studies on both adult prostitution and the exploitation of children in the commercial sex industry, as well as conversation with experiential women, here is my view:

    The discussion on prostitution in general needs to stop focusing on women/men/children and on the people who exploit them aka the johns and pimps.

    Winslie, I totally appreciate your statements because I think they make an important point. Most beliefs about johns are not based on actual research into the demand side of prostitution, but on general rationalizations. The fact of the matter is, when research, interviews, etc. are done on johns, very disturbing trends start to emerge.

    Normal johns, not just the violent ones, often cite a need for dominance, the thrill of the “hunt” (direct quote), and a profound disregard for the wants of the prostitute. Such statement like, “Well, I’m paying her, who cares if she wants to” by non-violent johns point to the fact that violence does not have to physical. Johns also regularly admit to researchers that they do not actively try and determine if a prostitute is a child or if they are there by their own free will. There is also documented proof that johns who frequent prostitutes start to favor younger and younger victims*.

    This is saying nothing about the fact that pimps are regarded by different criminal justice entities of being in the same category as professional tortures due to their use of systematic and professionalized psychological and physical torture methods. Pimps are thought to be behind about 95% of prostituion** in the United States.

    For a very good overview of demand in the United States I would encourage you to read the work of Dr. Hughes:
    http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/pubtrfrep.htm

    * ALL children being exploited in the commercial sex industry are sexual assault victims. Consent is baseless if the person is a minor. This is both legally and morally with agreement by pro-criminalization and pro-legalization activists.

    **Prostituion encompasses not only street walking but also escort services, brothels, stripping, exotic dancing, phone sex, and pornography.

  11. Clare
    I do believe that there is a role for the prostitue in society just as much as the choice of the individual who frequents such a service.

    I am however aginst the whole exploitation and abuse that is part of that system.

    I would also suggest that a generalization of “men” as a category is simplistic because there are a myriad of reasons why men frequent a prostitute.

    If you were to draw up categories from the reasons list you would be closer to the truth.

    Hope thet helps.

    K.
    Has very good comments and points the finger in the right direction.

    winslie

  12. “And the girls, the ones who take on all the blame, who are humiliated, tortured, tormented, hurt, subjected to disease—in so many ways are the proverbial toilet seat.”

    It is interesting you use this analogy. One of the most gripping books I have ever read was “The Life” by Jeanne Cordelier (Viking Press, 1976, translated from the French “Le Derobade.”)
    It is her biography about her life as a Parisian prostitute. Although no longer in print (she has recently “threatened” to reprint it) one can still find copies through Amazon Books, etc.

    Although it was many years ago that I read the book, I cannot forget one scene in which her john starting urinating on her and she knelt down and stretched out her arms and touched her fingertips together to form the image of a toilet seat, saying “I am your pissoir” (“pissoir” is French for public toilet).

    It was the most degrading thing I think I’ve ever read. She got into prostitution as a very young girl because a pimp drove up to her house in a fancy car and took her out and spent a bunch of money on her. She was lured into “the life,” by the promise of riches, much like kids today are lured into gangs after seeing the drug lords drive fancy cars and flash around a roll of money.

    In the book, she is beaten, robbed and totally humiliated and degraded, both by her johns and her pimp.

    Your post (the whole series) is very well written and I enjoyed reading it, although I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the proper word, given the seriousness of the subject matter.

  13. Prostitution is an issue that reflects the reality of capitalist society, often revealing very dark attitudes about the value of people especially the most vulnerable. All relationships are about power and control, in the case of prostitution the poor women have no power and control, socially and economically. Very often the women come from poor families, their life opportunities are very poor, and prostitution is merely a means to survive. Prostitution has been around for centuries across all countries and will never go away, the only hope is to legalise it and run it by the state. The women would be offered education opportunities, financial support and counselling to help them escape. It is not a case that men exploit women, only that some men exploit women, as a socialist I do not believe in feminism or patriarchy but rather see that under capitalism working men and women are oppressed. You will find the most oppressed are the week and vulnerable prostitutes etc.

  14. Recently saw an article/video, put out by an Arab news group (Al Jazeera I think), and how they found out that it ISN’T the foreign “devils” coming over and exploiting the underage girls, it’s the locals! Yep, 70+% of the clients are the Cambo men themselves.

    Same in China. All the Chinese want to blame the west on their ills: AIDS, rampant drugs, prostitution, yet when you go to the nightclubs, their full of married Chinese men, avoiding home life, and ask the Nigerians who they sell the most drugs to, it’s their good Chinese clients, same goes for the hookers.

    Would really like to see all these Asian countries stop blaming the foreign devils, and start looking in the mirror to see the real culprits of crime.

  15. Mike–

    I agree that many of the men/ even the majority of the men are locals… however, that really is not what I was addressing in this post. I was looking at how western men rationalize this using of women in other cultures while thinking of themselves as feminists or something along those lines back home.

    Also, despite the fact that in Cambodia most of the men in the clubs buying sex were Cambodias, for the prostitutes and brothels the real money was bringing in foreigners. They paid more; had more money to spend; and could be easily taken.

    Finally, the programs I support and work on don’t just focus on sex trafficking for sex tourism; but look at that, along with local markets and focus on the victims and their needs as opposed to the abuser.

  16. I’ll be honest, I find it hard to believe that we’re talking about the same country. I’ve lived here now for around 18 months, and been visiting here every 3 months for some 3 years before that, and find it extremely difficult to apply your quotes and statistics to anything I have seen.

    I will clarify though, I never use brothels and I don’t frequent the ‘hostess bars’ that exist in Phnom Penh. Not saying that I haven’t had ‘paid for sex’ however, it’s just never expected and certainly never ‘insisted’ upon.

    During my time here in Sihanoukville, i’ve met and spoken with many of the Taxi Girls. I guess you could even say that i have ‘friends’ here. I’ve heard their stories, many of which I actually believe as true.

    I’m generalising, it seems apt considering the content of this thread, but the common background for most of the girls i have spoken with is ……. married a khmer guy in late teens, had a baby, guy runs off with a younger girl when she’s in her early 20’s.

    Next is the fact that they’ve seen friends who have met ‘barangs’ and been treated very well, often married or at the least packed off back to village with a regular income. They nervous, but they give it a go and head down to Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville.

    What do the girls do? They play pool, they flirt, they avoid the ‘gropers’ and seek out anyone that could have ‘boyfriend’ potential. All earn a decent living and most send part of their income back home to the family.

    Overwhelmingly though, the girls are having fun, they rule the roost, they make the decisions, they eat well and ‘party’ till the early hours. Sometimes choosing to go with a guy or maybe deciding to stay with the girls and dance the night away.

    I’ve seen some good girls come passing through, i’ve seen them shyly sipping a water in a quite part of the bar and i’ve seen the same girl come back proudly showing off her ‘barang’ husband sometime later.

    That’s not the ‘exception’ either, in my time here i’d say around 15 girls that i know personally have married, or are at the least now living in a stable relationship with a western man. I’ve actually been invited to 3 of the weddings.

    So, whilst i’m not for one second implying that ‘trafficking’ doesn’t exist in Cambodia, i am shocked and surprised when i read articles that place all the ‘despicible’ aspects into the same pot as the ‘clean’ form of prostitution that I see.

    I don’t even like to use the word prostitute as I genuinely don’t see things that way, however, I am from the west and have to call things for what they are, in the literal sense.

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