Last night's panel discussion of sex work and civil liberties at Harvard Law School, hosted by the HLS ACLU, the American Constitution Society and the Women's Law Association (?) was a learning experience. I learned that some formats, which sound helpful in theory, are very limiting in practice. I learned that one should never make assumptions about an audience. And I learned that when you've had the last word and the panel is officially over, letting it be reopened is a very bad idea.
The panel was extremely well moderated. Professor Glen Cohen promised at the beginning to keep a tight rein on the discussion and he did. That made me feel confident and safe going into the discussion that it would not become a shouting match nor be derailed by questions that are not really questions. Unfortunately that limited the opportunities for panelists to respond to each other. It meant that if we were to play by the rules (where did I learn to be such a good girl?) we could not easily challenge each other's evidence, or revisit questions once the discussion had moved on. For example, if an audience member had a question specifically for Melissa Farley, and Farley answered using anecdotal or unreliable evidence, as soon the question was answered a new question was invited. There were only a few questions that were posed to the whole panel and it was hard to get back to earlier questions without deviating from the format. So, lesson number one: advocate for format change or break the rules if necessary to get important information out.
I just got back from a New York State United Teachers conference and tomorrow I'm heading up to Cambridge to participate in a panel discussion about sex work and civil liberties. If you're in that area I'd love to see you there!
Sex Work and Civil Liberties: A Panel Discussion
Monday, 11/16, 5:30pm
Harvard Law School ACLU
Pound 107 (map of the law school campus: http://www.law.harvard.edu/about/map.html)
Featuring Vednita Carter, Dr. Melissa Farley, Dr. Samantha Majic, & Dr. Elizabeth Wood.
Moderated by Professor I. Glenn Cohen
Free and open to the public
Co-sponsored by American Constitution Society, Women's Law Association, & Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Please Join Us December 17, 2009 for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Event in Tucson, Arizona!
November 11, 2009
Dear Friends & Supporters of Sex Worker’s Rights:
In 2009, sex workers from around the globe met gruesome deaths and endured unspeakable violence. Some died at the hands of a solitary perpetrator; others were victims of serialprostitute killers. While some of these horrific stories received international media attention ( Boston, Grand Rapids, Albuquerque, Tijuana , Hong Kong , Moscow , Great Britain ,Cape Town , New Zealand ), other cases received little more than a perfunctory investigation. Many cases remain unresolved, sometimes forever.
In fact, most violent crimes against sex workers remain unreported. Stigma and criminalization facilitate this violence; when sex work is criminalized, prostitutes can't turn to the police for protection without risking prosecution themselves. Sex workers remain one of the largest marginalized populations in existence without the benefit of the basic civil rights that everyone else takes for granted.
Each year, December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Last year’s event in Washington, D.C. was a big success and this year, sex workers and their allies from across the U.S. will gather together in Tucson, Arizona to remember and honor sex workers who have been victimized by virtue of their chosen profession - including rape, assault and murder.
Have a look at Tracy Quan's neat piece about "The Sexiest Saint" on the Daily Beast. SITPS readers will enjoy her fresh perspective on sex and religion. She points out that contemporary people can better identify with a saint with carnal appetites than, well, saintlier figures. Quan writes, "Today's multitasking, sexually experienced woman can relate more easily to Mary Magdalene than to Mother Mary or, for that matter, Mother Teresa." Amen!
In recent years, the number of women going under the knife for cosmetic genital surgery has skyrocketed. More and more women are regularly participating in painful bikini waxing procedures to return to the bare pubis of their youth, and increasing numbers of adolescents are seeking genital piercings to decorate their labia. The popularization of all of these procedures begs the question, what is the Western female genital aesthetic and how is it established? Furthermore, we must ask: What are the implications of women pursuing a genital ideal?
American representations of the female genitalia are extremely varied. Certainly, there are aspects of a popular culture that celebrate the vagina. From paintings by Georgia O’Keefe to the popular activist play The Vagina Monologues, works of art and literature have represented the female anatomy in a positive light. However, these positive expressions of female genitals and the accompanying symbolic power of vaginal iconography exist as counter-efforts and are far less prominent than the negative representations that prevail.
Meet Jill Di Donato. I met Jill back in June when Sex In The Public Square, Center for Sex and Culture, and some amazing sex bloggers and writers got together at Happy Endings for a reading where we raised money for CSC. Jill heard me say that I was wanting to expand Sex In The Public Square and came to me with an idea for a new column, Show and Tell, which would be a place for people to write about the sexuality-and-society issues that are most personally important to them. Since no good deed goes unpunished Jill has been assigned as the curator/editor for our new venture! She's given me a sneak peak at some of the pieces she's collected so far and I'm very excited. Our goal is to put up a new Show and Tell piece about every two weeks, or twice a month. To submit an opinion-based editorial (500-1000 words) on issues relating to sex, relationships, beauty, identity, or any related topic, please email her at email@example.com.
Here's a bit more about Jill:
Jill Di Donato is a Brooklyn native with a BA in English and Sociology from Barnard College and an MFA in Writing from Columbia. As a 21st Century feminist, she's contributed essays, fiction, and art to various publications, from obscure literary journals to mainstream media outlets. She's the author of the forthcoming novel Beautiful Garbage about a 1980s New York artist who finds herself immersed in a world of high-class prostitution. In addition, she's editing an anthology of feminists writing about sex, gender, and beauty. Currently, she's an adjunct lecturer in English for the City University of New York, teaches at Barnard College and The Fashion Institute of Technology as well as privately in New York City. An advocate of communities that spark healthy and provocative discussions about intimate issues with insight, complexity, and humor, she's thrilled to join the staff of Sex in the Public Square as the new Show and Tell column editor.
Photo of Jill Di Donato by Celeste Giuliano and used by permission. (c) 2009 Celeste Giuliano. All rights reserved
Some time ago Tess asked each of us who posed for the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar (raising funds for Sex Work Awareness) to write a little bit about how our ideas about sexual freedom are expressed in our photo shoots.
Mea culpa. I am finally managing that post just days before the calendar's launch party. Will you be in NYC this Friday? Join us from 6:30-9:30 at Fontanas and get your calendar signed by models, photographers or anyone else who tickles your fancy! (I also hear there's going to be some pretty fantastic swag.)
I posed on Frying Pan, a rusting old lightship-turned-bar docked at Pier 66 on the Hudson River side of Manhattan. Frying Pan (and PIer 66 in general) is a place that says a lot to me about sexaulity despite its not being an "adult" location in any way.
For one thing, it floats. It is tethered to a barge which itself is affixed to land, but it is not, itself, on land. It is in that liminal space that is a salt water river that flows in two directions. There are few better metaphors for my sexuality.
The lightship itself is beautiful and inviting and yet clearly a place where one enters at one's own risk. Dark companionways and large pieces of rusty machinery are as accessible as the brightly painted outer decks. It is a place for exploration and for wonder.
The photo we chose for the calendar is one that combines a kind of playful sexiness with a femininity I rarely show. It captures the rusty beauty of the ship and one of its more inviting niches. The calendar shot hints at a scene that might happen two minutes after the shutter snaps. It is in all of those hints and seeming contradictions that I hope you will see a bit of what it means to me to have freedom of sexual expression. The three shots below are taken in different parts of the ship and I offer them here just to whet your appetite.
Mon October 28 at 11:26pm I am disgusted, outraged and appalled - and yes, you've seen me this way before.
Can you remember your homecoming dance? If you can, I want you to imagine yourself there. What is it like in your body? What is it like in your life? Maybe, like me, you never went to a homecoming dance, but you can remember what it's like to be 15, 16, 17. You might remember your younger self delighted or tortured or torn between the two. And you probably never had to imagine your classmates watching as you were brutalized while they did nothing.
A hearing begins in Washington, DC this coming Monday (and continues the following week) on a piece of legislation proposed by Councilman Catania. Bill 18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, that will finally grant same-sex partners the right to marry in the District of Columbia.
Unfortunately, the way the bill is currently written it will also end the Domestic Partner registry in DC. This registry is so well-written it has been the model for others across the country. In ending the ability to register as domestic partners, the bill will give one group of individuals their long-denied rights to marry while taking away the rights of another group of individuals - those who choose, for whatever reason, to NOT marry.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is one of several hundred witnesses - apparently the largest turn out in the history of the council - who will be testifying at this hearing. We aren't the only organization and/or individuals concerned about the domestic partner registry and we are all hopeful that we can achieve same sex marriage without stripping another group of individuals of their equal rights.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation (WFF) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. We define sexual freedom as the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality. Part of this definition includes the right of adults to engage in the relationship of their choice with other consenting adults – with the same equal rights afforded to other relationships.
There are nearly 100 million unmarried adults in America: about 15% live with intimate partners and about one-third live alone; that leaves the majority of unmarried people living with other people in a web of important relationships. In 2007, nearly 6.5 million households in the U.S. – including nearly 20,000 in D.C. – comprised only unmarried adults related by blood.
According to the testimony of one of our allies, the Alternatives to Marriage Project,
"These lives are intertwined; many take responsibility for each other as family yet few are eligible for the legal protections or obligations of marriage. By being open to people not eligible to marry for reasons other than gender, the District’s domestic partnership registry created an important national model of how to encourage and recognize personal responsibility."
If any NYC-area readers are attending this event I would love to publish reports from it. I can't attend, myself, and want to hear all about the exhibits. What follows is completely copied from the New View Campaign website for the event:
The New View Campaign organized an arts and crafts exhibit and political event titled “Vulvagraphics” on October 24-25, 2009 to celebrate the role of art in activism and to kick off a campus-based movement to celebrate genital diversity.