An Alliance Between Human and Non-Human

An Alliance Between Human and Non-Human

Editor’s note: Writing from the mountains of Kerala, rewilder and restorationist Suprabha Seshan explores the pandemic and the war of patriarchy vs. the planet. “It is my sworn mission to salvage the ones burned, maimed, poisoned or reconstituted from the living earth by the fires of industrial civilisation,” she writes. This essay was first published in Turkish in Jineoloji magazine, a publication of the women’s movement of Kurdistan.


The Covid-19 pandemic, lethal as it is, is instrumental to capital’s assault on the living world. Looming through the terrors unleashed by free-flying strands of DNA are gargantuan infrastructural projects, including medical, green and digital. These are intent on destroying the web of life. Out of this extermination project, will spew more illnesses, disorders, infections, infestations, and devastations.

I urge us to address the relation between the militarised-capitalist-supremacist mindset and the living body of the earth. The latter includes you and me, our beloved human families, friends, communities and peoples, and also our non-human kith and kin. In this essay, I refer to the former as The Patriarch.

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An active extermination event is at large, distinct from previous mass deaths of species through passive geologic processes. The current event involves slavery, ecocide and genocide. To understand Covid-19 while this is going on, would be like trying to understand a friend or family member’s 0.05% chance of dying from a natural ailment, when there is a psychopath with a shotgun in the room.

Domination, disorder, disease, debilitation, torture, slavery, unhappiness, fear, addictions, death and decay are essential for The Patriarch. Assembled from the reconstituted bodies of the living world, with extermination intrinsic to his existence, he will not stop until he consumes all. Ecocide and genocide are his mission.

The fundamental driving force of capital, I believe, is the imperative to conquer all life (including human bodies, hearts and minds). Unless this is negated, we cannot nurture the more subtle aspects of the enduring relationships between humankind and other-than-humankind.

While The Patriarch reduces many persons to touchscreen modalities, he confines and debilitates others. He even suffocates entire populations in the gas chambers of modern civilisation – the polluted cities – and burns others in wastelands resulting from the furnaces of his industries.

This kind of extermination has been going on for a while, perhaps since about 1492 when Europeans gifted smallpox wrapped in blankets to native Americans. Some people think it began way before, during the birth of civilisations – of militarised-hierarchical-extractive entities distinct from the myriad small cultures growing slowly over millennia in sustaining land bases. I find the nature of capital, particularly technocratic-militarised capital, egregious to a new extreme. The Patriarch is insatiable. I also believe he is insane. He has begun to devour his own body.

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I am a conservationist living in a community in the rainforests of the Western Ghat mountains in southern India. I protect endangered species, restore rainforest habitat, and educate youth. We are many women in this place. Together with the men who also live and work here, we have an intimate knowledge of the plants and animals who create this biome, who are all sovereign beings in their own right.

These non-humans – or other-than-humans – also give us our foods and medicines, our ecologies and cultures, our material and immaterial bases. In return we try to protect them, nurture them, and see them through these terrible apocalyptic times. Together we work on a collective ecology, acknowledging our inseparableness from each other in the web of life. We are deeply intertwined through our physical beings: our cells, juices and tissues, our senses, limbs and nerves, and every organ and follicle. Through our bodies we create cultures, biomes and ecospheres. All these are being exterminated by the toxic forces of technologised-capitalistic patriarchy.

It is indeed my deep and fervent wish to examine the work of an unsee-able, unknow-able micro-being on humans. But I believe this will never be wholly known, and certainly not in a reductive way.  Reciprocal mutualistic relationships rooted in interbeing grow in intimacy while remaining free and wild. They are like a dance between creatures – between men, women and others; adults and children; humans and nonhumans; between plants, animals, fungi, clouds, winds, rain, rocks, mountains, algae, forests, grasslands and oceans. This mutualism includes viruses, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, too.

However, I believe the pandemic needs to be examined in the infernal light of omnicide (planetary to cellular). We cannot afford to ignore the background to the viral outbreak. We cannot forget the various “cides” that are going on – ecocide, gynocide, bactericide, fungicide, vermicide, infanticide, weedicide, genocide, climate-cide – and even cosmocide, the destruction of a cosmic body, the planet.

We are not at the beginning of a catastrophe, as the climate-mongers will have us believe. Rather, we are already towards the end of an altogether incomprehensible horror. The orchestration of capital through this pandemic threatens further the direct perception of The Patriarch’s endgame. He wreaks further havoc on his hapless slaves through various fear tactics. He exerts his enormous machines on all his subjugates such as indigenous peoples, marginalised classes, races and castes, women and children. He deploys them on the last forests, waters, winds and habitats. All the above, human and non-human, are swept under the rubric of “resources to be managed”. He also invents new enemies from the very body of the earth which sustains him, like the SARS Corona Virus.

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As an ecologist serving the rainforests of the Western Ghats, it has been my lifelong enquiry to look at how a biome can recover from assault – from colonial-neocolonial-capitalistic-civilisational assault. I know, and the biome knows, that it can heal from most travesties and injuries, and that it will do its utmost to replenish itself and the planet. But the opposing faction, which for the moment we are calling The Patriarch, is gathering momentum. For the arsenal he has accrued – an arsenal built and assembled from the living body of the planet – is in fact, simultaneously disassembling, as he is now also turning on himself. He is running out of other resources.

In this utter disconnect, a monstrous creature devouring himself, he further debilitates humans and non-humans and the living community of earthly existence. He is not open to reason, though he sounds like he is. Nor is he open to life, though he needs it and appropriates it, particularly its very metabolic and life-engendering powers. Saying he is allied to the natural world, he severs himself from it in manifold ways. It doesn’t take much to see that The Patriarch’s language alienates him from his own body, and the body of the earth and the people. His actions separate him more and more from humans and non-humans, without whom he would perish in an instant.

There is no doubt, for me, that The Patriarch’s machinery must stop. My sincere observation is that only non-humans will stop him. Humans are at a gun point more insidious than what non-humans face. Non-humans are not hooked as humans are to The Patriarch.  None of the other species – the ones within us and the ones without, those who inhabit our human bodies (the micro-biomes and macro-biomes without whom we could not even have a so-called human existence), and those whose bodies within which we dwell – none are dependent on him. They don’t need him for anything.

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As of this writing, 0.05% of the human population has died from Covid, according to the WHO. The BBC news earlier this week said another half-million people in Europe will die by next year, unless vaccinated. If the data are to be believed, and if the projections are to be trusted, perhaps 5 million people will die altogether from Covid-19. We must do everything to prevent such a terrible thing. Of course. But, critical to recovery of humankind from its various acute and chronic ailments is a return of habitat, of clean air, and clean water, and nature-based relationships for humans to dwell amongst. The cleansing of lungs and livers and other organs, the opening of the senses, and the revival of rivers and wetlands, oceans and aquifers, and the vast ancient forests and human-non-human relations requires The Patriarch to be stopped. Humans are more dependent on all these than we are on The Patriarch.  Whom to choose? The Patriarch, or life?

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I’ve heard it said that the virus has no moral brief, but the starker reality is that it carries with it a potent ecological brief, a message saying that unless the world is fecund again, pandemics will speed up the obliteration of the human species, itself a marvelous creation of nature, already weakened by war, by generations of slavery to capital, by poison and dead-numbing effects of digital weaponry, radiation, forced migration, wage slavery, mental anguish and terrible violence on women, children, people of colour and indigenous peoples – all required by The Patriarch as cogs in his capitalist-industrial-technocratic machine.

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The virus, invented in a laboratory or not, is a biological entity that enters human bodies, causes symptoms as it goes about its own mission, propagating itself, tangling with host genomes, creating new conditions, challenging us in its own way, and like any infection, or deemed infection, it pushes our immune systems. Other viruses create other conditions, many of which are beneficial. Overall, the benefits outweigh the diseases.

The virome consists of vast assemblages of viruses in each and every body, habitat and biome. It surrounds us, fills and subsumes our every thought, breath and action. Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on earth. They make us who we are. Like with every aspect of the living cosmos, much of what happens is beneficial, and viral life seems to beget more life, creating our genetic identities. Evolutionary studies show that all life begets more life, despite the occasional disruption or cataclysmic event.

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If invented, then the virus is not different from other invented beings, like dog breeds, plant breeds and even the eugenist caste creations, where, through exercise of a supremacist caste or class’s control, another caste or class or creature’s love, life and passions are harnessed, culled, consumed, engineered, enslaved, extorted, and artifacted to serve the supremacist project (factory farms, factory labour, pet industry, plant industry, monoculture agriculture, industrial fishery, dams-on-rivers, humans-in-slums, human trafficking, domestic labour, untouchable peoples and many more forms of subjugation).

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Domesticated dogs go feral sometimes. They attack people sometimes. The dogs get impounded, spayed or killed, and there is a furor for a while. Domesticated plants go feral sometimes, usually after generations of breeding and enslavement, or after a natural disaster, like a volcanic explosion, or the desertification caused by modern civilisation. They, too, seem to invade territories controlled by humans for other purposes, including other plants deemed more useful. The new problem plants get weedicided, eradicated, and turned into biomass for some other project. This phenomenon gets new names, such as “the science and practice of invasion biology.”

Humans too, go feral, sometimes. They try to take back the control and agency they were systematically denied. They become targets of world leaders and other supremacists.

Now the virus is going feral. Viral. The solutions to this are confinements, containments, fear-mongering and authoritarian technics such as lockdowns and mandates regarding vaccines.

In all these instances, the aggressors, the hosts, the pathogens and the victims are actually contingent to the projects of The Patriarch.  Besides, we all know that this virus and its quick evolving progeny can beat any vaccine. We all know The Patriarch needs the virus, the vaccines and human beings.

The Patriarch needs life for all his projects. It is his own dependency on human and non-human others, that he hates more than anything else. Would that we were all machines! He would not be so burdened, guilty, tormented. Machines can be turned on and off, in an instant.

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During the lockdowns, the stopping of vehicles affected every human and non-human. A great number of humans were corralled in. There was no traffic. Other humans and non-humans surged onto streets. The exuberance of the latter offset the tragedy of the former (people desperate to get home). Many studies show that when air, water and land traffic stopped, biodiversity increased in most areas. This was true in our home in the Western Ghats too. Freshwater life had a reprieve from the pesticides washing into the streams and rivers. Insects bred unhindered by insecticides (momentarily unavailable because of the collapse of supply chains). Everywhere, people started gardening in balconies and yards, while others returned to hunting and foraging. Although this hurt some non-humans, overall, it was a return to another kind of life, and a far more direct existence. In the forest, friends reported seeing animals come closer, and they also reported some increase in illegal hunting. Men forced to take to the gun instead of the shopping bag. Men have always hunted for food. Now this ancient way of living is illegal only because The Patriarch legitimises another kind of degradation; the devouring of the land by his forces to feed his industrial systems and machines, including the slaves that work them and now wholly depend on them.

Actual human impact on this forest, man to tree, man to river, women to plants, people to the commons, is minimal compared to the post-Hiroshima assault on the whole biome. We cannot equate hand to hand combat to the unleashing of a nuclear or chemical arsenal, like Round up or Endosulfan or Agent Orange. Or the arsenal of earth-moving machinery.

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I’ve heard that whales could once again hear each other sing underwater during the lockdowns, because of the reduction in ocean traffic. Friends say Olive Ridley turtles increased in certain coastal areas for a brief period, because of a near complete halt in trawling and netting. Air pollution dropped because of the grounding of aircraft, and great murmurations of birds could fly freely without hindrance from war planes and cargo planes and passenger planes. I know from my personal experience that I could walk through the streets of Bangalore without my eyes smarting from pollution, and I saw more birds and butterflies in the city than ever before. The resilience of life is obvious. It’s possible to see what it is capable of all the time.

I know the resilience of  my own body, of human beings, non-human beings and of the great earth herself.

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The increase in human numbers by over 4% in this same period overshadows the effect of one life form on another, but is not mentioned. However, human will is even more broken and hijacked by the Patriarch’s projects, by capitalism. Furthermore, the increase in other kinds of machines, industrial infrastructure and invasive medicine (all wreaking ecocide or genocide somewhere in the world) pales, in turn, the effect of the increase in human numbers, and even more the effect of one little, invisible life form on some of humankind.

I also heard that young people turned suicidal, and that mental illness rose during this great human confinement, another term for the lockdowns. Already estranged from the rest of the cosmos, modern humans are even more lonely. Indigenous people know the antidotes to loneliness and breakdown are communities of humans and non-humans. The Patriarch and his henchmen divide millions more from their loved ones while they live and also while they die. I cannot think of anything more terrifying than this.

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As a rainforest activist, it is my daily work to find alliance amongst humans and non-humans to stop further assault. This is no simple task, as most humans see the so-called benefits of capitalism as great, and that life has never been so good. The assault on their bodies through the toxification of the environment, which has led to severely compromised immune systems – a necessary precondition for new diseases to run rife – is unperceivable, because of clever filters in place, addictions, and the numbing effects of petroleum-based lifestyles. Most people are hooked to modern capitalistic systems as providers of life, healers of disease and rescuers from death. A capitalist technocrat is like God. He is a life-giver and a death-controller. He can also assuage, deprive, save, confine and kill in the name of God, or science, for whatever he considers to be the greater common good. To which we are all subject. To which we cannot say no. This great hijacking of the human will is the horrific achievement of the pandemic.

So I seek alliance amongst those not yet wholly hijacked.

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As a rewilder and restorationist, it is my sworn mission to salvage the ones burned, maimed, poisoned or reconstituted from the living earth by the fires of industrial civilisation. My friends, comrades and I run refuges for non-humans, and also humans. We see the need for safe houses, halfway homes, and intensive care units for our plant and animal kith and kin, and also for women, children, marginalised and indigenous peoples, and anyone wishing to break free from The Patriarch’s projects. We need every possibility to regroup and re-enter relationships where humans and non-humans can support each other, so that we may resist the last onslaughts.  I find rewilding to be a worthy vocation.

As a member of the web of life, of the still substantial community of life, I try to unravel the effects of one member of this community, the virus, on another member of this same community, the human being.  Unfortunately, without addressing the mission of The Patriarch, of omnicidal capital, we cannot examine our true relations with our non-human kith and kin.

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Humans are slaves to The Patriarch.  So is the great planet with its winds and lands and waters with trees and elephants and butterflies. So are the forests of my region. The Patriarch needs us alive and needs us dead for his project. It’s a real question how liberation will come.  With a domination imperative unique in the entire life of the cosmos, he needs dead wood and living wood and feral wood (ecosystem services of forests). He needs dead water and living water and feral water (for irrigation, tidal and hydropower). He needs dead wind and living wind and feral wind (for air-conditioning, ventilators and turbines). He needs dead plants and animals and living plants and animals and feral plants and animals (for food and medicines and now for climate-saving biodiversity). Now he even needs dead fungi and living fungi and feral fungi (for more biodiversity). He needs dead viruses and living viruses and feral viruses (for evolution and now for vaccines and the great global reset). He needs dead humans, and living humans and feral humans (for research, trade, war and terrorism and slavery).

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I see Covid-19 as a project of The Patriarch, of supremacist powers in the ruling class destroying people and saving people. Our lives are clenched in their hands. They have become the arbiters of human-non-human community, of the very web of existence. They give life, and they take away the foundation of life, through creating new hooks and needs. At the same time they destroy genuine relationships and our capacity to remember what the land was once like. However, because life is as powerful as it is, and because the forests are as resilient and fecund as they are, the world leaders and technocrats aim to harness life’s myriad powers for their projects. Where before they sought land, spices,  plants, animals and slaves from the global South, and wood, water and minerals, now they hunt ecosystems and planetary forces (tides, sunshine, clouds, biomes (evolution itself) and slaves everywhere. It is the exuberance and wholeness of life that they seek to devour to fuel their existence.

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I am witness to the land coming alive every moment of every day, so I know the full powers of life are still working. Life’s fecundity is unstoppable, it surges under every type of condition. Like the pigs in factory farms who have babies under impossible conditions, or men and women growing families during war, or forests having baby forests even when the whole climate is shifting, life creates life all the time and everywhere. The ever-entwining forests and winds and waters, with their immense creative forces, both tantalise and threaten The Patriarch, because life achieves with joy and felicity what he cannot ever do. He cannot create life yet, he can only try to force it to create itself. Whether under gun point or nuclear blasts, or dioxins in the cell of every creature, life is the regenerative force he wishes to tap into. Genetic and geologic engineering are only steps along the way.

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I, too, am a creature of nature. Endowed with a particular passion, a wonderment of what this alive, half-alive, wild, half-wild, feral, domesticated, enslaved, tortured way of existence is. Aware that I am a part of all this through my body, my mind, my senses and other faculties, I experience inter-being in everything I do, everything I am, in every aspect of my body-being. I cannot even call it mine, as I feel the work of the forest through the lungs, and the skin and the gut and the mind of this body, itself a biome of sorts. This is the awakening from the nightmare that happened after some years of living here. I came alive to the undeniable truth that we are all inextricably intertwined. That ecology is the non-negotiable, ever-vital matrix in which I am completely held. That I also take part in it, through every action, and non-action, even in my sleep and dreams. As I awoke to The Patriarch’s shadow project, I awoke to the natural world’s life engendering service. Ecology makes more of itself and lives and thrives upon itself. Capitalism, the latest and most devastating avatar of patriarchy, and of ego, makes more of itself and lives and feeds upon its now disassembling self.

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The Patriarch forms himself not in the image of some god; he tries to gain advantage to himself through the exuberance of life. His ego needs our eco.

However, he is a toxic mimic, imitating the form of creation but not its content. He is bent on destruction; total annihilation.

Unlike life. She lives and thrives through community and love and joy and play and inter-being and fecundity and beauty.

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In solidarity with Kurdish women in their extraordinary mission, and through these thoughts, joining the clarion call for Life to overrun the patriarch wholly: to dismantle every cog and wheel of his stupendous machine. Let’s unhinge him. Let’s ally with eco, not his insufferable ego!


Suprabha Seshan is a rainforest conservationist. She lives and works at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, a forest garden and community-based conservation centre in the Western Ghat mountains of Kerala. Her essays can be found in The Indian Quarterly, The Indian Express, Scroll.in, Hard News, and Economic and Political Weekly. She is currently working on her book, Rainforest Etiquette in a World Gone Mad, forthcoming from Context, Westland Publishers. She is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist, an Ashoka Fellow, and winner of the 2006 Whitley Fund for Nature award.

Banning Abortion is Banning Sustainability

Banning Abortion is Banning Sustainability

In the United States, the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old legal precedent that ruled state-level abortion bans are (in many situations) unconstitutional and violate the rights of pregnant women.

Since 1973, legal challenges to Roe v. Wade have weakened the case significantly, most recently allowing for a spate of state-level abortion bans in-all-but-name (notably in Texas, but other states are following suit). Overturning Roe v. Wade is likely to lead to a flood of these state-level abortion bans in roughly half of the United States.

Deep Green Resistance is both ethically and strategically opposed to abortion bans. As a feminist organization, we believe a woman or girl has the right to choose an abortion if that is what she wants. Broadly, these bans disproportionately affect poor women, since wealthier women may be able to travel to a jurisdiction in which abortion is legal, while poor women will not. This entrenches cycles of poverty, since giving birth to and raising a child is extremely expensive and time consuming.

Women’s Loss is Earth’s Loss: Abortion Bans Make Sustainability Impossible

Abortion bans significantly harm the planet, since overpopulation (alongside consumption and technology) is a major driver of the destruction of the natural world.

  • The United States population was 31.4 million in 1860. Today, it is more than 331 million.
  • As one professor stated, “Since 1960, while human population has doubled, the global economy has quadrupled, and resource consumption quintupled.”
  • That was in 1999. Now, twenty-three years later, there are 1.8 billion more people on the planet, equivalent to more than the entire populations of China and the United States combined.
  • More than 80 million people are added to the global population annually, the equivalent of ten New York Cities or twenty Los Angeles’s.
  • The biomass of mammals on planet Earth is now more than 96% humans and livestock, and only 4% wild animals.

This massive population is only sustained by consuming the planet. Agriculture is rapidly destroying the planet’s remaining soils, and crop yields only remain high due to massive infusions of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers. Dead zones are spreading in the ocean due to pollution from industrial farming running down major rivers. Rainforests are being felled to clear more land for agriculture. Global fish populations are collapsing due to overfishing, pollution, and global warming. Non-renewable aquifers are being overpumped and going dry.

The father of the “Green Revolution” himself, Norman Borlaug, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, warned that “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.”

Can Overpopulation Be Solved without Violating Human Rights?

Coercive attempts to control population such as China’s one-child policy or forced sterilization policies in different regions of the world have been widely and rightfully condemned as human rights violations. Less widely known are population success stories that do not involve coercion. In Iran, for example, an exploding population in the 1990’s led the government to institute what is often celebrated as the world’s most successful humane birth-rate reduction program (which has since been rolled back in part to encourage economic growth.

Alan Weissman, writing in his 2013 book “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth” in which he travels the world analyzing the issue of overpopulation, describes a conversation with Iranian Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dr. Hourieh Shamshiri Milani:

“There was no covert coercion [in Iran’s family planning program], she’d explain. The sole requirement was that all couples attend premarital classes, held in mosques or in health centers where couples went for prenuptial blood tests. The classes taught contraception and sex education, and stressed the advantages of having fewer children to feed, clothe, and school. The only governmental disincentive was elimination of the individual subsidy for food, electricity, telephone, and appliances for any child after the first three. By 2000, Iran’s total fertility rate reached replacement level, 2.1 children per woman, a year faster than China’s compulsory one-child policy. In 2012, it was 1.7.”

Reducing Birth Rates

To state the obvious, when birth rates are reduced below replacement level (2.1 children per couple), population will gradually and naturally fall over time. Eileen Crist, an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech and author of a book on population issues, describes that process:

Environmental writers and activists who highlight the calamities connected with overpopulation are motivated by deep concern for the well-being of all life; they also emphasize that a smaller global population can be achieved by policies and actions that promote fundamental human rights. To achieve a sustainable human population, they urge the global community to pursue full gender equity; ensure education for girls (and all children) through secondary schooling and beyond; make high-quality family planning universally available; include comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula; and aggressively oppose the abusive cultural practice of child marriage. With these human rights ambitiously pursued and universally attained, population growth can end sooner (than via ‘the invisible hand’ of globalization) and a smaller global population gradually attained.

And what is the role of abortion in this? Given that roughly 44% of all pregnancies are unintended, and about half of those unintended pregnancies are terminated through abortions, researchers have concluded that no country can effectively reduce its population growth “without the widespread use of abortion.”

We believe that birth control including vasectomies, family planning services, abortion by mail providers, and abortion should be available to all people as part of efforts to defend the planet. Non-abortion family planning measures actually reduce the number of abortions performed, and thus should be supported by everyone regardless of their political beliefs on abortion (for example, today’s abortion rate in the United States is roughly half what it was in the 1980’s, which is believed to reflect easier access to contraceptives such as abortion pills by mail).

For the rights of women, and for environmental reasons, we are opposed to abortion bans.

Why and How to Stop Using Porn

Why and How to Stop Using Porn

Quitting porn is about reclaiming your authentic sexuality, aligning your actions with your values, and decolonizing your mind. For organizers, activists, and revolutionaries, choosing to stop using porn will make you feel better, leave you with more energy and time, and is a stand in solidarity with women and girls—which is also a stand with the living planet.

This article will introduce the harms of pornography, share a radical feminist perspective on porn, a radical indigenous perspective on porn, a short interview with Noam Chomsky, and provide some tools to help you stop using porn.

Sexting and Pornography are eroding whole generations from birth. — Native Youth Movement

Critical Media Analysis of Porn

Critical media analysis tells us how the advertising and mass media industries use psychological tricks to encourage us to buy and spend more time watching screens. It works. The global entertainment and media industry is worth more than $2 trillion.

However, few of us apply the same critical thinking to pornography. Like mass media, porn is big business. The size of the industry was estimated at roughly $15 billion in 2018 in the U.S. alone. That’s more revenue than Hollywood, Netflix, the NBA, Viacom, or the NFL.

Porn influences individuals and our entire society. However, this influence is rarely interrogated. Porn production and use largely happens in the shadows. It’s mostly a private habit that people indulge in darkened bedrooms and offices. And unlike other large industries, it’s usually not discussed. We educate young children about advertising and mass media to encourage caution around images that are, by design, manipulative. But young people are rarely educated about pornography.

They need to be. More than a third of kids have seen porn by age 12. Seventy-five percent of 18-year-old women say “pornography has led to pressure on girls and young women to act a certain way.” And 70% say “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes” about sex and that “pornography can have a damaging impact on young people’s views of sex or relationships.” Porn has become the de-facto sex education program worldwide.

“Super-Normal” Stimulus

Human sexuality is a powerful force, and is something that can be beautiful, enjoyable, and important. Pornography, in contrast, is a “super-normal” stimulus.

Our ancestors did not evolve in a world where the internet provided instant access to explicit images and videos. At a biological level, modern internet porn is completely unlike the authentic human sexuality we evolved with, which involves face-to-face communication, desire, relationships, conversations, sex, and so on.

Porn, in contrast, provides a never-ending stream of digital images that has almost nothing in common with real sexuality. This super-normal stimulus is why many men, and a smaller number of women, are addicted to pornography.

Porn is to sex as heroin is to a runner’s high. Rather than nourishing the self and others, as authentic sexuality can, porn leaves users alienated, shameful, disconnected from partners and others around them, and wasting precious time—the only thing we have in life—looking at an image on a two dimensional screen. And like opiates, compulsive porn use is very common.

Why to Stop Using Porn

There are many reasons to stop using porn.

1. Porn harms women.

There are real women (and men) working in the pornography industry. They tend to have very high rates of drug abuse, STDs, mental health issues, physical and sexual abuse, and premature death. More broadly, porn fuels demand for prostitution and for sex trafficking. Tragically, there are many examples of porn depicting trafficked women who are being raped on-camera. Porn is not a fantasy. It is something happening to real people.

2. Porn harms society.

Critical media analysis tells us the images we are exposed to effect us. This is why advertising works. Porn lives inside the minds of the people who watch it, and then filters out into society. Porn also gravitates towards “shock content” as people become accustomed to hyper-normal stimulus. This is why porn so often contains blatant racism, real and faux underage and “teen” content, acts that are not actually pleasurable, BDSM, incest tropes, and outright violence. One analysis of the most popular porn films found that 88% of scenes contained violence against women. The objectification of women, negative body image, and abusive practices normalized by porn have ramifications throughout society and particularly on women and girls.

3. Porn harms users.

There is nothing categorically wrong with masturbation, but porn is not masturbation. It’s masturbation moderated by a patriarchal, capitalist industry. People who use porn don’t actually get anything out of it. They don’t get good sexual education. They don’t strengthen their relationships by building trust and intimacy. They don’t make money or become more enlightened. They don’t even get real, lasting pleasure (users consistently report feelings of shame, depression, and anxiety regarding their habit/addiction). In this sense, porn is similar to a destructive drug addiction. It harms users, yet they crave it and have trouble stopping.

A Radical Feminist Perspective on Porn

Feminists have been speaking out against pornography and the objectification of women for a long time. The great anti-porn organizer Andrea Dworkin wrote that:

“Pornography incarnates male supremacy. It is the DNA of male dominance. Every rule of sexual abuse, every nuance of sexual sadism, every highway and byway of sexual sadism, is encoded in it. It’s what men want us to be, think we are, make us into; how men use us; not because biologically they are men but because this is how their social power is organized. From the perspective of the political activist, pornography is the blueprint of male supremacy.”

A quick visit to any popular porn site confirms this. Whatever facet of patriarchy you are concerned about (sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest and family violence, rape, workplace abuse, exploitation of young women and girls by older men, forced childbearing, sexualized racism and racialized sexism, revenge porn, upskirting, voyeurism, and every other possible form of non-consent, deception, coercion, etc.) you will find pornography catering to and sexually reinforcing those ideologies.

Radical feminists have long argued that the sadistic brilliance of pornography is that is sexualizes domination, objectification, and violence; that it encodes patriarchy within something that feels pleasurable, and thus makes it often invisible. Andrea Dworkin, once again, wrote that “Pornography is the institution of male dominance that sexualizes hierarchy, objectification, submission, and violence.”

The feminist writer Susan Griffin described both the production and consumption of porn as a ritualistic rite to patriarchy with political ramifications rarely understood by those participating in it:

“For above all, pornography is ritual. It is an enacted drama that is laden with meaning, which imparts a vision of the world. The altar for the ritual is a woman’s body. And the ritual which is carried out on this altar is the desecration of flesh. Here, what is sacred within the body is degraded.”

A Radical Indigenous Perspective on Porn

Griffin’s analysis of pornography as a ritual that is conducted on women and girls and broadcast into the minds of hundreds of millions of people worldwide has some similarities to a radical indigenous perspective on pornography.

From the Native Youth Movement Warrior Society [edited for length]:

When two humans exchange their energy it is a sacred union. In our pre-invasion world sex was seen very different than today, very sacred; the most sacred of our ceremonies, the one that is universal. By exploiting sexuality, we exploit our essence as life forms. By colonizing and changing our sexuality they colonize our first and oldest ceremony, so sacred every man and woman had their own and it was only viewed, attended and participated in by them.

It is now controlled by the perverted minds of the colonizer. If they control what arouses people and when, through imagery, they can make a person think about sex and control the oldest part of us. The hind brain is older and stronger than any other portion of the brain. We share it with all other backboned animals.

When hind brain is in charge, accessing neural networks that are responsible for compassion, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence is harder. The place where our deepest love comes from can be quickly overridden by the hind brain. Today most people in the industrial world function in this continued state of narcissism. In other words, they have sexualized our world as a way to control the oldest thought process of survival.

Sexting and pornography are eroding whole generations from birth. While sex is thought of as a curse word in public and our communities, dysfunctional sexuality is a behind-closed-doors addiction. In 2012, the Internet Watch Foundation found that an “estimated 88% of self-made explicit images are stolen from their original upload location and made available on other websites, in particular porn sites collecting sexual imagery of children and young people.” When the person who originally sexted the photo finds out everyone has access to it they can go into depression and there have been many cases of suicide.

Indigenous views of sexuality must be revived as a Sacred teaching for our young ones. The future of Indigenous people is at stake. Body parts are not objects, just as the humans they are part of are not objects, they are sacred life forms that must be treated good and engaged respectfully. Physical appearance is shallow. A person’s mind must be in good health to be healthy.

Noam Chomsky on Pornography

When asked about his stance on pornography, in response to perceived endorsement of Hustler, who had tricked Chomsky into giving an interview for the magazine, Chomsky responded:

Pornography is humiliation and degradation of women. It’s a disgraceful activity. I don’t want to be associated with it. Just take a look at the pictures. I mean, women are degraded as vulgar sex objects. That’s not what human beings are. I don’t even see anything to discuss.

Interviewer: But didn’t performers choose to do the job and get paid?

The fact that people agree to it and are paid, is about as convincing as the fact that we should be in favor of sweatshops in China, where women are locked into a factory and work fifteen hours a day, and then the factory burns down and they all die. Yeah, they were paid and they consented, but it doesn’t make me in favor of it, so that argument we can’t even talk about.

As for the fact that it’s some people’s erotica, well you know that’s their problem, doesn’t mean I have to contribute to it. If they get enjoyment out of humiliation of women, they have a problem, but it’s nothing I want to contribute to.

Interviewer: How should we improve the production conditions of pornography?

By eliminating degradation of women, that would improve it. Just like child abuse, you don’t want to make it better child abuse, you want to stop child abuse.

Suppose there’s a starving child in the slums, and you say “well, I’ll give you food if you’ll let me abuse you.” Suppose—well, there happen to be laws against child abuse, fortunately—but suppose someone were to give you an argument. Well, you know, after all a child’s starving otherwise, so you’re taking away their chance to get some food if you ban abuse. I mean, is that an argument?

The answer to that is stop the conditions in which the child is starving, and the same is true here. Eliminate the conditions in which women can’t get decent jobs, not permit abusive and destructive behavior.

How to Stop Using Porn

There are many ways to stop using porn, but the difficult part is the psychology of quitting. Unlike a drug like heroin or alcohol, porn is barely addictive at the physical level. People quitting heroin or alcohol often need medical support and gradual weaning. Porn is not like that. The addiction is primarily psychological.

Most compulsive porn users are convinced that they need porn, that they like it, or that they’ll feel miserable without it—even though using porn makes them feel shameful and physically depleted. This is the psychology of addiction.

So how can this be overcome? There are a few common methods used by millions of people around the world to stop using porn. These include EasyPeasy, Fortify, Your Brain on Porn, and others.

1. Stop Using Porn with the Easy Peasy Method

Easy Peasy” is a method adapted from Allen Carr’s 1985 book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. The method focuses on first transforming your attitude towards porn by seeing it as a drug that has no benefits and embracing a desire to quit. This method is interesting because it emphasizes happiness and contentment to be free of porn, and discourages people from feeling like they are depriving themselves of something by quitting. It involves reading a short book (also available as an audiobook) and is free.

2. Stop Using Porn with the Fortify App

Fortify is a smartphone and web app that is available for free to help people stop using porn. It was created by the people behind “Fight The New Drug,” an anti-porn organization. The app helps prompt you to take certain actions, get support from others, track your progress, and do mindfulness exercises. A free version is available, as is a paid plan with more tools that costs $10 USD per month.

3. Stop Using Porn with Your Brain on Porn

YBOP doesn’t prescribe a single program for quitting porn. Rather, it has a collection of tips and tricks collected over many years and from many people.

Please note: these methods are not explicitly feminist creations; they are self-help methods that are largely apolitical. Many anti-porn communities and forums still contain misogyny. However, don’t let this discourage you from using the resources that are available.

Additional Information

Robert Jensen: Why Feminism Matters for Men

Robert Jensen: Why Feminism Matters for Men

Editor’s note: Feminism is often seen as a “woman issue” and thus as something secondary or unimportant compared to issues of class or ecology. But in this piece, Robert Jensen reminds us that “White supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism have never existed without patriarchy.” Some historians even see patriarchy as the “original oppression” — the template which has led to the world we now find ourselves in.

From the psychology of domination to overpopulation, patriarchy is a powerful, subtle force in our world. If you are concerned about human rights or ecology, as we are, women’s oppression is essential to understand and undermine. Why are we a radical feminist organization? Because this is essential to justice and sustainability.


By Robert Jensen

Begin with the body.

In an analysis of pornography and prostitution in a patriarchal society, it’s crucial not to lose sight of basic biology. A coherent feminist analysis of the ideology and practice of patriarchy starts with human bodies.

We are all Homo sapiens. Genus Homo, species sapiens. We are primates. We are mammals. We are part of the animal kingdom.

We are organic entities, carbon-based creatures of flesh and blood. Whatever one thinks about the concepts of soul and mind—and I assume that in any diverse group there will be widely varying ideas—we are animals, which means we are bodies. The kind of animal that we are reproduces sexually, the interaction of bodies that are either male or female (with a very small percentage of people born intersex, who have anomalies that may complicate reproductive status).

Every one of us—and every human who has ever lived—is the product of the union of an egg produced by a female human and a sperm produced by a male human. Although it also can be accomplished with technology, in the vast majority of cases the fertilization of an egg by a sperm happens through the act of sexual intercourse, which in addition to its role in reproduction is potentially pleasurable.

I emphasize these elementary facts not to reduce the rich complexity of human interaction to a story about nothing but bodies, but if we are to understand sex/gender politics, we can’t ignore our bodies. That may seem self-evident, but some postmodern-inflected theories that float through some academic spaces, intellectual salons, and political movements these days seem to have detached from that reality.

If we take evolutionary biology seriously, we should recognize the centrality of reproduction to all living things and the importance of sexuality to a species that reproduces sexually, such as Homo sapiens. Reproduction and sexuality involve our bodies.

Female and male are stable biological categories. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here. But femininity and masculinity are not stable social categories. Ideas about what male and female mean—what meaning we attach to those differences in our bodies—vary from culture to culture and change over time.

That brings us to patriarchy, radical feminism, a radical feminist critique of the sexual-exploitation industries in patriarchy, and why all of this is important, not only for women but for men. I’m here as a man to make a pitch to men: Radical feminism is especially important for us.

Patriarchy

Patriarchy—an idea about sex differences that institutionalizes male dominance throughout a society—has a history. Though many assume that humans have always lived with male dominance, such systems became widespread only a few thousand years ago, coming after the invention of agriculture and a dramatic shift in humans’ relationship with the larger living world. Historian Gerda Lerner argues that patriarchy began when “men discovered how to turn ‘difference’ into dominance” and “laid the ideological foundation for all systems of hierarchy, inequality, and exploitation” (Lerner, 1997, p. 133). Patriarchy takes different forms depending on time and place, but it reserves for men most of the power in the institutions of society and limits women’s access to such power. However, Lerner reminds us, “It does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence and resources” (Lerner, 1986, p. 239). The world is complicated, but we identify patterns to help us understand that complexity.

Patriarchy is not the only hierarchical system that enhances the power of some and limits the life chances of others—it exists alongside white supremacy, legally enforced or informal; various unjust and inhumane economic systems, including capitalism; and imperialism and colonialism, including the past 500 years of exploitation primarily by Europe and its offshoots such as the United States.

Because of those systems, all women do not have the same experience in patriarchy, but the pattern of women’s relative disadvantage vis-à-vis men is clear. As historian Judith Bennett writes, “Almost every girl born today will face more constraints and restrictions than will be encountered by a boy who is born today into the same social circumstances as that girl.” (Bennett, 2006, p. 10).

Over thousands of years, patriarchal societies have developed justifications, both theological and secular, to maintain this inequality and make it seem to be common sense, “just the way the world is.” Patriarchy has proved tenacious, at times conceding to challenges but blocking women from reaching full equality to men. Women’s status can change over time, and there are differences in status accorded to women depending on other variables. But Bennett argues that these ups and downs have not transformed women as a group in relationship to men—societies operate within a “patriarchal equilibrium,” in which only privileged men can lay claim to that full humanity, defined as the ability to develop fully their human potential (Bennett, 2009). Men with less privilege must settle for less, and some will even be accorded less status than some women (especially men who lack race and/or class privilege). But in this kind of dynamically stable system of power, women are never safe and can always be made “less than,” especially by men willing to wield threats, coercion, and violence.

Although all the systems based on domination cause immense suffering and are difficult to dislodge, patriarchy has been part of human experience longer and is deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life. We should remember: White supremacy has never existed without patriarchy. Capitalism has never existed without patriarchy. Imperialism has never existed without patriarchy. From patriarchy’s claim that male domination and female subordination are natural and inevitable have emerged other illegitimate hierarchies that also rest on attempts to naturalize, and hence render invisible, other domination/subordination dynamics.

Radical Feminism

Feminism, at its most basic, challenges patriarchy. However as with any human endeavor, including movements for social justice, there are different intellectual and political strands. What in the United States is typically called “second wave” feminism, that emerged out of the social ferment of the 1960s and ‘70s, produced competing frameworks: radical, Marxist, socialist, liberal, psychoanalytical, existential, postmodern, eco-feminist. When non-white women challenged the white character of early second-wave feminism, movements struggled to correct the distortions; some women of color choose to identify as womanist rather than feminist. Radical lesbian feminists challenged the overwhelmingly heterosexual character of liberal feminism, and different feminisms went in varying directions as other challenges arose concerning every-thing from global politics to disability.

Since my first serious engagement with feminism in the late 1980s, I have found radical feminist analyses to be a source of inspiration. Radical feminism highlights men’s violence and coercion—rape, child sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment—and the routine nature of this abuse for women, children, and vulnerable men in patriarchy. In patriarchal societies, men claim a right to own or control women’s reproductive power and women’s sexuality, with that threat of violence and coercion always in the background. In the harshest forms of patriarchy, men own wives and their children, and men can claim women’s bodies for sex constrained only by agreements with other men. In contemporary liberal societies, men’s dominance takes more subtle forms.

Radical feminism forces us to think about male and female bodies, about how men use, abuse, and exploit women in the realms of reproduction and sexuality. But in the contemporary United States, the radical approach has been eclipsed by the more common liberal (in mainstream politics) and postmodern (in academic and activist circles) strands of feminism. A liberal approach focuses on gaining equality for women within existing political, legal, and economic institutions. While notoriously difficult to define, postmodernism challenges the stability and coherence not only of existing institutions but of the very concepts that we use within them and tends to focus on language and performance as key to identity and experience. Liberalism and postmodernism come out of very different sets of assumptions but are similar in their practical commitment to individualism in politics, tending to evaluate a proposal based on whether it maximizes choices for individual women rather than whether it resists patriarchy’s hierarchy and challenges the power of men as a class. On issues such as pornography and prostitution, both liberal and postmodern feminism avoid or downplay a critique of the patriarchal system and reduce the issue to support for women’s choices, sometimes even claiming that women can be empowered through the sexual-exploitation industries.

Radical feminism’s ultimate goal is the end of patriarchy’s gender system, not merely expanding women’s choices within patriarchy. But radical feminism also recognizes the larger problem of hierarchy and the domination/subordination dynamics in other arenas of human life. While not sufficient by itself, the end of patriarchy is a necessary condition for liberation more generally.

Today there’s a broad consensus that any form of feminism must be “intersectional,” Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) term to describe about how black women could be marginalized by movements for both racial and gender justice when their concerns did not conform to either group’s ideology or strategy. While the term is fairly new, the idea goes back further. For example, the statement of the Combahee River Collective, a group of black lesbian feminists in the late 1970s, named not only sexism and racism but also capitalism and imperialism as forces constraining their lives:

[W]e are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives (Combahee River Collective, 2000, p. 264).

Intersectional approaches like these help us better understand the complex results of what radical feminists argue is a central feature of patriarchy: Men’s efforts to control women’s reproductive power and sexuality. As philosopher Marilyn Frye puts it:

For females to be subordinated and subjugated to males on a global scale, and for males to organize themselves and each other as they do, billions of female individuals, virtually all who see life on this planet, must be reduced to a more-or-less willing toleration of subordination and servitude to men. The primary sites of this reduction are the sites of heterosexual relation and encounter—courtship and marriage-arrangement, romance, sexual liaisons, fucking, marriage, prostitution, the normative family, incest and child sexual assault. It is on this terrain of heterosexual connection that girls and women are habituated to abuse, insult, degradation, that girls are reduced to women—to wives, to whores, to mistresses, to sex slaves, to clerical workers and textile workers, to the mothers of men’s children (Frye, 1992, p. 130).

This analysis doesn’t suggest that every man treats every woman as a sex slave, of course. Each individual man in patriarchy is not at every moment actively engaged in the oppression of women, but men routinely act in ways that perpetuate patriarchy and harm women. It’s also true that patriarchy’s obsession with hierarchy, including a harsh system of ranking men, means that most men lose out in the game to acquire significant wealth and power. Complex systems produce complex results, and still there are identifiable patterns. Patriarchy is a system that delivers material benefits to men—unequally depending on men’s other attributes (such as race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status) and on men’s willingness to embrace, or at least adapt to, patriarchal values. But patriarchy constrains all women. The physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering endured by women varies widely, again depending on other attributes and sometimes just on the luck of the draw, but no woman escapes some level of that suffering. And at the core of that system is men’s assertion of a right to control women’s reproductive power and sexuality.

The Radical Feminist Critique of the Sexual-Exploitation Industries

I use the term “sexual-exploitation industries” to include prostitution, pornography, stripping, massage parlors, escort services—all the ways that men routinely buy and sell objectified female bodies for sexual pleasure. Boys and vulnerable men are also exploited in these industries, but the majority of these businesses are about men buying women and girls.

Not all feminists or progressive people critique this exploitation, and in some feminist circles—especially those rooted in liberalism or postmodernism—so-called “sex work” is celebrated as empowering for women. Let’s start with simple questions for those who claim to want to end sexism and foster sex/gender justice:

  1. Is it possible to imagine any society achieving a meaningful level of any kind of justice if people from one sex/gender class could be routinely bought and sold for sexual services by people from another sex/gender class?
  2. Is justice possible when the most intimate spaces of the bodies of people in one group can be purchased by people in another group?
  3. If our goal is to maintain stable, decent human societies defined by mutuality rather than dominance, do the sexual-exploitation industries foster or impede our efforts?
  4. If we were creating a just society from the ground up, is it likely that anyone would say, “Let’s make sure that men have ready access to the bodies of women in commercial transactions”?

These questions are both moral and political. Radical feminists reject dominance, and the violence and coercion that comes with a domination/subordination dynamic, out of moral commitments to human dignity, solidarity, and equality. But nothing I’ve said is moralistic, in the sense of imposing a narrow, subjective conception of sexuality on others. Rejecting the sexual-exploitation industries isn’t about constraining people’s sexual expression, but rather is part of the struggle to create the conditions for meaningful sexual freedom.

So why is this radical feminist critique, which has proved so accurate in its assessment of the consequences of mainstreaming the commercial sex industry, so often denounced not only by men who embrace patriarchy but also by liberal and left men, and in recent years even by feminists in the liberal and postmodern camps?

Take the issue I know best, pornography. Starting in the 1970s, women such as Andrea Dworkin (2002) argued that the appeal of pornography was not just explicit sex but sex presented in the context of that domination/subordination dynamic. Since Dworkin’s articulation of that critique (1979), the abuse and exploitation of women in the industry has been more thoroughly documented. The content of pornography has become more overtly cruel and degrading to women and more overtly racist. Pornography’s role in promoting corrosive sexual practices, especially among young people, is more evident. As the power of the radical feminist critique has become clearer, why is the critique more marginalized today than when it was first articulated?

Part of the answer is that the radical feminist critique of pornography goes to the heart of the claim of men in patriarchy to own or control women’s sexuality. Feminism won some gains for women in public, such as more expansive access to education and a place in politics. But like any system of social control, patriarchy does not quietly accept change, pushing back against women’s struggle for sexual autonomy. Sociologist Kathleen Barry describes this process:

[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual sub-ordination that follows women into the public world (Barry, 1995, p. 53).

Why Should Men Care?

Barry is not suggesting that men got together to plot such a strategy. Rather, it’s in the nature of patriarchy to respond to challenges to male power with new strategies. That’s how systems of illegitimate authority, including white supremacy and capitalism, have always operated.

Men can no longer claim outright ownership of women, as they once did. Men cannot always assert control over women using old tactics. But they can mark women as always available for men’s sexual pleasure. They can reduce women’s sexuality—and therefore can reduce women—to a commodity that can be bought and sold. They can try to regain an experience of power lost in the public realm in a more private arena.

This analysis challenges the liberal/postmodern individualist story that says women’s rights are enhanced when a society allows them to choose sex work. Almost every word in that sentence should be in scare-quotes, to mark the libertarian illusions on which the argument depends. I’m not suggesting that no woman in the sexual-exploitation industries ever makes a real choice but am merely pointing out the complexity of those choices, which typically are made under conditions of considerable constraint and reduced opportunities. And whatever the motivation of any one woman, the validation and normalization of the sexual-exploitation industries continues to reduce women and girls to objectified female bodies available to men for sexual pleasure.

If we men really believe in the values most of us claim to hold—dignity, solidarity, and equality—that is reason enough to embrace radical feminism. That’s the argument from justice. Radical feminists have shown how the sexual-exploitation industries harm women, children, and vulnerable men used in the industry. But if men need additional motivation, do it not only for women and girls. Do it for yourself. Recognize an argument from self-interest.

Radical feminism is essential for any man who wants to move beyond “being a man” in patriarchy and seeks to live the values of dignity, solidarity, and equality as fully as possible (Jensen, 2019). Radical feminism’s critique of masculinity in patriarchy is often assumed to be a challenge to men’s self-esteem but just the opposite is true—it’s essential for men’s self-esteem.

Consider a claim that men sometimes make when asked if they have ever used a woman being prostituted. “I’ve never had to pay for it,” a man will say, implying that he is skilled enough in procuring sex from women that money is unnecessary. In other situations, a man might brag about having sex with a woman being prostituted, especially if that woman is seen as a high-class “call girl” or is somehow “exotic,” or if the exploitation of women takes place in a male-bonding activity such as a bachelor party.

All these responses are patriarchal, and all reveal men’s fear of vulnerability and hence of intimacy. That’s why pornography is so popular. It offers men quick-and-easy sexual pleasure with no risk, no need to be a real person in the presence of another real person who might see through the sad chest-puffing pretense of masculinity in patriarchy.

One of the most common questions I get after public presentations from women is “why do men like pornography?” We can put aside the inane explanations designed to avoid the feminist challenge, such as “Men are just more sexual than women” or “Men are more stimulated visually than women.” I think the real answer is more disturbing: In patriarchy, men are often so intensely socialized to run from the vulnerability that comes with intimacy that they find comfort in the illusory control over women that pornography offers. Pornography may give men a sense of power over women temporarily, but it does not provide what men—what all people—need, which is human connection. The pornographers play on men’s fears—not a fear of women so much as a fear of facing the fragility of our lives in patriarchy.

When we assert masculinity in patriarchy—when we desperately try to “be a man”—we are valuing dominance over mutuality, choosing empty pleasure over intimacy, seeking control to avoid vulnerability. When we assert masculinity in patriarchy, we make the world more dangerous for women and children, and in the process deny ourselves the chance to be fully human.


Robert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College.

Jensen is the co-author, with Wes Jackson, of An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity, which will be published in September 2022 by the University of Notre Dame Press. He is also the host of “Podcast from the Prairie” with Jackson.

Jensen is the author of The Restless and Relentless Mind of Wes Jackson: Searching for Sustainability (University Press of Kansas, 2021); The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (2017); Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (2015); Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (2001).

Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Follow him on Twitter: @jensenrobertw

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This article draws on The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (Jensen, 2017). Special thanks to Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press. An edited version of this article was recorded for presentation at the online Canadian Sexual Exploitation Summit hosted by Defend Dignity, May 6-7, 2021. Dignity thanks the following people for their time and expertise to review this article: Lisa Thompson, Vice President of Research and Education, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, USA; and Andrea Heinz, exited woman and activist, Canada.

RECOMMENDED CITATION

Jensen, Robert. (2021). Getting radical: Feminism, patriarchy, and the sexual-exploitation industries. Dignity: A Journal of Sexual Exploitation and Violence. Vol. 6, Issue 2, Article 6. https://doi.org/10.23860/dignity.2021.06.02.06
Available at http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dignity/vol6/iss2/6

REFERENCES

Barry, Kathleen. (1995). The prostitution of sexuality. New York University Press.

Bennett, Judith M. (2009, March 29). “History matters: The grand finale.” The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar. http://girlscholar.blogspot.com/2009/03/history-matters-grand-finale-guest-post.html

Bennett, Judith M. (2006). History matters: Patriarchy and the challenge of feminism. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Combahee River Collective. (2000). The Combahee River Collective statement. In Barbara Smith (Ed.), Home girls: A black feminist anthology (pp. 264-274). Rutgers University Press.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (1989). “Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1, 139-167.

Dworkin, Andrea. (2002). Heartbreak: The political memoir of a feminist militant. Basic Books.

Dworkin, Andrea. (1979). Pornography: Men possessing women. Perigee.

Frye, Marilyn. (1992). Willful virgin: Essays in feminism 1976-1992. Crossing Press.

Jensen, Robert. (2019, fall). Radical feminism: A gift to men. Voice Male. https://voicemalemagazine.org/radical-feminism-a-gift-to-men/

Jensen, Robert. (2017). The end of patriarchy: Radical feminism for men. Spinifex.

Lerner, Gerda (1997). Why history matters: Life and thought. Oxford University Press.

Lerner, Gerda (1986). The creation of patriarchy. Oxford University Press.

This essay was originally published in Dignity: A Journal of Sexual Exploitation and Violence in March, 2021.
Wild Nature, Wild Woman

Wild Nature, Wild Woman

This talk was given in the Feminist Thinking Will Save the Planet session at #FiLiA2021. The article originally appeared on the FiLiA website.


By Susan Breen

Any of you who know me will be aware that I’m a recovering mainstream environmentalist and left wing political candidate, for any of you who are active in either sphere I’m sure you have shared many of the same frustrations and demoralisations as I have done. I became an activist in my teens but despite being involved in the movement since then I had been pretty much politically homeless for my entire life.

 Then fortunately one day I happened upon this:

“Men as a class are waging a war against women, rape, battering, incest, prostitution, pornography, poverty, and gynocide are both the main weapons in this war and the conditions that create the sex class women. Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling. It is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more “choices” within the sex caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power. As radicals, we intend to dismantle gender and the entire system of patriarchy which it embodies. The freedom of women as a class cannot be separated from the resistance to the dominant culture as a whole”

This is an excerpt from the Deep Green Resistance statement of principles, and reading this affirmed to me that it was the lack of this understanding that limited my alignment with the mainstream environmental and political groups in which I was immersed.

This recognition of the interrelation of the struggles of women and the living world is one of the aspects of our analysis that people often seem to find the hardest to understand, so I’m going to speak a little about that, share some thoughts regarding obstacles facing female activists, and the importance of sisterhood in the work that we do.

Firstly, as radicals, we seek out the root of the problems facing us. These “problems” consist of material institutions of oppression and ideologies which sustain the narrative of the powerful.

The corrupt and brutal power arrangement of patriarchy needs an ideology and we call it gender. The parallels between the ideology of racism, necessary for white supremacy, may seem obvious, yet there appears to be endless resistance to applying a class analysis to the struggle of women. Even in the most “progressive” circles, there is a silent understanding that when push comes to shove women can always be used as collateral damage. Women are viewed in the same way as the living world, simply a natural resource to be used by the ruling male class as he sees fit.

On the left we see this in the cheerleading for the full decriminalisation of the sex trade, the cheerleading of gender recognition legislation stripping our sex based protections, the minimization of the continuum of male violence which every woman and girl is forced to navigate, and the perpetual dismissal of the value of our domestic labour which enables the family and society to function at all.

Ecofeminism challenges this commodification of women’s bodies, labour and knowledge, while also challenging the patriarchal reconceptualisation of nature as a machine, as a resource, and as an “other”.

So why do we need to challenge this? Let’s talk for a moment about where the capitalist patriarchy has brought us.

Current atmospheric C02 – 411.40ppm – for anyone who isn’t aware of the figures, anything above 350ppm is considered unsafe.

According to the 6th climate assessment by the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we have already warmed the planet by 1.2(Global temps Jan – Oct 2020) degrees above pre industrial levels. In 2019 the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was higher than at any period in the last two million years, concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide – both more potent than C02, were higher than at any period in the last 800,000 years.

On our current trajectory we are expected to achieve a 1.5 degree temperature rise within 20 years from now.  The IPCC authors worst case scenario emissions double by 2050 we would achieve a 2.4 degree rise by between 2041 and 2060. Then almost double by 2100

For anyone who’s unsure what that means, its game over.

For every half degree of warming the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increases. More wildfires, more flooding, more drought, more food scarcity, and increasingly violent resource wars

More than 90% of the heat trapped by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the seas. Anthropogenic global warming has heated the oceans by the equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion per second for the past 150 years.

This means more acidification of our oceans, further devastation of marine life, and severe disruption of currents critical to seasonal weather patterns.

The emergence of new strains of zoonotic disease, and the expansion of vector borne diseases due to habitat destruction and warming climate.

Intensified neo-colonialism of global north companies which continue pillaging communities in the global south.

Last October we formed a coalition called Shale Must Fall which targets the fracking industry, connecting communities at extraction points and communities at the point of consumption. We attempt to bridge these communities and incorporate the testimonies of front line activists into global actions, targeting the headquarters/operations of these climate criminals.

Our members in Chihuahua gave us a stark insight into the reality of water shortage. Last September National Guard troops clashed with hundreds of farmers protesting the government decision to ship scarce water supplies from their drought stricken region to Texas. Due to the 1944 Water Treaty, the water was “owed” to the US.

One woman was shot dead during the standoff and others injured. It is strongly suspected that the Mexican water was bound for the fracking industry in Texas, while the people of Chihuahua were denied water to drink, wash and farm.

Similar horrors are playing out in the Okavango Delta, where a Canadian company – ReconAfrica plan to frack one of the great delta’s of the world and the wealth of life that she sustains. Our activists in the region are fighting this company, some are mothers, carrying young children on their hips while facing threats of violence and death.

As resources dwindle, this is the future we face. The merciless destruction of non human and human communities as industry, protected by government, continues to devour what’s left in a desperate attempt to maintain their malignant infinite growth model on our finite and fragile home. 

And what does all this mean for women?

Climate collapse compounds and magnifies existing inequalities, dangers and the risk and occurrence of male violence, so let’s talk a little about what women are facing currently:

UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Roles as primary care givers and food providers making us more vulnerable.

As we all know women are more likely to experience poverty and to have less socioeconomic power than men making it more difficult to recover from disasters which affect infrastructure, jobs and housing.

An example of this is after Hurricane Katrina more than half the poor families in New Orleans were single mothers dependent on community networks for resources and survival. The disaster eroded those support networks placing women and children at far greater risk.

An Oxfam report into the 2004 tsunami found that surviving men outnumbered women by almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It appears that women lost precious evacuation time trying to save children and other relatives.

Another study spanning 20 years noted that catastrophic events lowered women’s life expectancy more than men; more women were being killed, or being killed younger. The difference reduced in countries where they had greater socioeconomic power.

As for male violence

  • According to UNIFEM in South Africa a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • A woman is reported beaten every 18 seconds in the US.
  • A 2007 study found that 22 women in India were killed each day due to dowry related murders.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered on average every day.
  • In India a woman is reported raped every 20 minutes.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil a woman is assaulted every 5 seconds.
  • UNITE estimates that up to 70% of women experience violence in their lifetime.
  • World Bank data indicates that amongst women ages 15 – 44 acts of male violence cause more death and disability than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined.

The pathology of masculinity is ravaging women and life on this planet, and its structures will not have a spontaneous change of heart. The capitalist patriarchy will continue to destroy until it is stopped by force, and we as women are the only ones who can lead this.

Patriarchy

Rosemary Radford Ruether said; “Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to the ecological crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationships continues to be one of domination.”

In this age of science and development we are funneled into a productivist mode of interaction, rather than a relational mode of interaction, with nature, women and children suffering most within this sterile framework. Capitalism, individualism and masculinity have created a perfect storm, destroying the balance of organic communication and connection.

Central to masculinity is the male violation imperative.

Lierre Kieth writes;

“Masculinity requires what psychologists call a negative reference group, which is the group of people “that an individual … uses as a standard representing, opinions, attitudes or behavioral patterns to avoid”. Boys in patriarchal cultures create negative reference groups as a matter of course. Boys first despised other is, of course, girls. No insult is worse than some version of “girl”, usually a part of the female anatomy warped into hate speech. But once the psychological process is in place, the category ”female” can easily be filled with any group that a hierarchical society needs dominated or eradicated.

A personality with an endless drive to prove itself against another, any other, combined with the entitlement that power brings, creates a violation imperative. Men become ‘real men’ by breaking boundaries, whether it’s the sexual boundaries of women, the cultural boundaries of other peoples, the political boundaries of other nations, the genetic boundaries of species, the biological boundaries of living communities, or the physical boundaries of the atom itself

The real brilliance of patriarchy is that it doesn’t just naturalize oppression. It sexualizes acts of oppression. It eroticizes domination and subordination, and then it takes that eroticized domination and subordination, and institutionalizes that into masculinity and femininity. So it naturalizes, it eroticizes, and then it institutionalizes.

The brilliance of feminism is that we figured that out.”

We are living within overlapping systems of oppression. He would like us to think that it’s inevitable, that it’s human nature, but its not.

According to indigenous wisdom the world is made up of live, sentient beings to be in relationship with, individual obligations to fulfill to allow the entire web of life to function.

To the mind of the dominant culture the world is made up dead resources, objects to sell and orifices to fuck. Neoliberalism and identity politics have ensured a myopic culture of individualism. The aim is to disconnect us from the land, from each other, and even from our own bodies, which this culture teaches us to despise and contort from early childhood.

This lie of disconnection is embedded into our religions, laws and economics. These systems have all been designed to maintain an unnatural social order for his benefit, and here he has brought us to the  brink of extinction, bloodied, brutalised but still resisting, because as women we know it doesn’t have to be this way, in our bones we can remember another world, and every one of us still carries it with us.

The Matriarchy

Renowned matriarchal historian Heide Göttner-Abendroth writes;

“Therefore, from the political point of view, I call matriarchies egalitarian societies of consensus. These political patterns do not allow the accumulation of political power. In exactly this sense, they are free of domination: They have no class of rulers and no class of suppressed people, and they need no ’enforcement bodies’ such as warriors, police, or controlling and punishing institutions that are necessary to establish domination of a majority of people”

We know this was a reality for thousands of years, and if there is to be any hope for women or for the Earth it must become reality again.

Taking power back – Organising as women

To organise effectively as women we need, above all else, true sisterhood and solidarity. How do we take the learnings from matriarchal organising and apply them to our own organisations and campaigns?

As in any other area of life, there can be enormous pressure to replicate the dominant culture within our group dynamics. Like mothers we need ferocious gentleness, protectiveness and loyalty. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain focus, but it’s vital that we refuse to loose sight of our common cause and that we employ a great deal of forgiveness and understanding for the women we work alongside.

Moving through politics and activism as a working class single parent I’ve witnessed a stark lack of recognition of class privilege. The reality of working class women and mothers is unique, as is their perspective.  To be inclusive of those voices, and other women facing constraints, the hierarchies of time, money and education need to be taken into account and adapted for. if we want to be in solidarity with women who are often the most vulnerable in our communities we need to organise with them in mind. We need to practice what we preach so all women are empowered to become part of the movement.

Obstacles

Controlled opposition– as activists we need to constantly assess the efficacy of our actions, the possible repercussions and the impact on our targets. We need to be aware of how the media and the state will use our movements to suit their own ends. We need to be well educated and aware of how government forces infiltrate, co-opt, and neutralize activist networks.

False solutions – The false belief that technology can save us, that more extractivism, more industry, more destruction of habitat will somehow make our way of life sustainable. The environmental movements role should be to protect the living world, not to protect our way of life or to reinforce the culture of empire.

The false belief that we can somehow negotiate with those in power – Electoral politics and NGO’s have proven themselves untrustworthy time and time again, resistance must come from the grassroots. There is a dangerous belief that within the dominant culture there is a willingness to change but power never ceded power voluntarily. We are at war, at war for the survival of the living world and at war for our right to exist as women.

Disconnection – From ’Demon Lover – On the Sexuality of Terrorism’ by Robin Morgans:

If I had to name one quality as the genius of patriarchy it would be compartmentalisation, the capacity for institutionalising disconnection. Intellect severed from emotion. Thought separated from action … the personal isolated from the political, Sex divorced from love. The material ruptured from the spiritual

If I had to name one quality as the genius of feminist thought, culture, and action. It would be connectivity.

This connection allows us to be fully aware of our sisters.

Awareness of our socialisation, unpacking our need to always be kind and accommodate. Being fully aware of each other enables us to genuinely support other women when they are setting boundaries for themselves and for others.

Awareness of our persistence – in the face of poverty, oppression, responsibility, isolation … persistence in the face of drudgery… behind every event, every action, every protest, there are a million emails, phone calls, conversations … women in the background swimming in a sea of administrative boredom and stress. Recognition and gratitude couldn’t be more important.

Despair – Despair can be debilitating –  images that feel like a punch to your stomach – clear cuts, oceans of plastic, emaciated polar bears, orangutans clinging to burned and broken branches, their babies clinging to their dead mothers, scorched kangaroos hanging on barbed wire fences.

I think of the stealth of the silence all around me. Less birds, less bees, less insects.

I think of all the girls living under patriarchy, we all have some that haunt us, replay in our minds over and over.

I think of Ana Kriegel, a lonely 14 year old girl. Lured from her home by the schoolboy she had a crush on. He took her and his friend to an abandoned building where he sexually assaulted her then beat her to death as the other looked on, ignoring her screams for help. They were 13 years old, reenacting his favourite porn scene.

I think of the little 5 year old girl in India who’s name I don’t even know, she was taken from her sleeping mothers arms in a train station and murdered by two men.

Despair can be overwhelming, and that’s exactly what he wants – for us to be overwhelmed and contracted in fear, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to resist.  But we do have an antidote to the despair, all we need is to look to the courageous examples of other women. Women who against all the odds are fighting back, resisting, creating beauty – I think of the women of Rojava, the women marching against the Taliban in the streets of Kabul, The Gulabi gang.

All the women who I know struggling on the frontlines of Earth defense.

I think of weeds creeping through concrete.

60% of our bodies are on loan from the seas and rivers, our menstrual cycles are intimately connected to the moons and the tides. We are so intertwined with each other that our bleeding can synchronize in time with our sisters. All of life moves through us, and all of life is fighting back and willing us to resist.

Rachel Carson wrote; “Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and Spring after Winter.”

And dawn will come, and Spring after, because we really can do this, but only if we are unified in our struggles. We have all experienced the feeling of genuine female solidarity, working together for a common purpose. The power and potential is undeniable. We know this in our bones and so do the patriarchs, that’s why they have spent the last 6,000 years trying to stamp it out.

To be female under patriarchy is to be brutalised, to be nature under capitalism is to be devoured, he demands our submission while making a hellscape of our paradise and commodities of our sisters.

There are only two forces on this planet with the beauty and ferocity to stop him.

Wild nature and wild woman.

About Sue Breen

Raised by environmentalist parents, Sue took part in her first direct action aged seventeen. Since then activism has been a central passion in her life. Influenced by a her radical feminist mother, she was a lead campaigner for the ‘Together for Yes’ abortion rights campaign and is currently a member of The Irish Women’s Lobby. Sue spent a number of years working as an international coordinator for Extinction Rebellion and also ran as a left-wing political candidate. Finally finding her true political home, she is now an organiser with radical feminist environmental organisation Deep Green Resistance. She is also a founding member of the Shale Must Fall coalition which focuses on targeting the fracking industry, unifying impacted communities, and highlighting the neocolonialism carried out by Western corporations. Sue is a single mother to three girls, a complimentary therapist, and is beginning an apprenticeship in herbal medicine.

Banner image by Lindsey LaMont at Unsplash.

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Editor’s note: This article has been published in The International Journal of Human Rights. Unfortunaltly we don’t have the rights to publish the whole article which is behind a paywall, but we are publishing the extract and some quotes.

Featured image: The surface mine storage place, mining minerals and brown coal in different colours. View from above. Photo by Curioso Photography on Unsplash

ABSTRACT
This article describes the connections between resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, and climate change. Although resource extraction and prostitution have been viewed as separate phenomena, this article suggests that they are related harms that result in multiple violations of women’s human rights. The businesses of resource extraction and prostitution adversely impact women’s lives, especially those who are poor, ethnically or racially marginalised, and young. The article clarifies associations between prostitution and climate change on the one hand, and poverty, choicelessness, and the appearance of consent on the other. We discuss human rights conventions that are relevant to mitigation of the harms caused by extreme poverty, homelessness, resource extraction, climate change, and prostitution. These include anti-slavery conventions and women’s sex-based rights conventions.

Farley writes: “In this article we offer some conceptual and empirical connections between prostitution, resource extraction, poverty, and climate change.1 These associations are clarified by Seiya Morita’s visual diagram, in Figure 1.2 In the short term, resource extraction leads to a sudden increase in the sex trade, as shown by the arrow on the left side of the diagram. In the long term, resource extraction causes climate change as indicated by the right arrow. Climate change then leads to crises in peoples’ ability to survive extreme events such as drought, floods, or agricultural collapse. These climate change catastrophes result in poverty which then mediates and channels women into the sex trade. The arrow on the bottom of Figure 1 illustrates this process.

The initial phase of resource extraction launches and expands prostitution
“At first, colonists and their descendants subordinate indigenous people who live on lands rich in natural resources. Historically, extraction industries have exploited young, poor men who are paid well to perform jobs that no one else wants because the jobs are unplea- sant and dangerous. This initial phase of resource extraction temporarily results in a boom economy with cash-rich but lonely working-class men. In order to pacify the workers and enrich the pimps, women and girls who are under pimp control are delivered to workers in these boom/sacrifice zones such as the Bakken oil fields in USA and Canada, gold mines in South Africa, coltan mining regions in Colombia, and logging regions in Brazil.3 This movement of trafficked women increases prostitution both in the boom town and in neigh- bouring communities. Following is an example of this process.

“The Bakken oil fields of Montana/North Dakota/Saskatchewan/Manitoba are located in lands where the Dakota Access Pipeline causes physical, psychological, and cultural damage to the community, and ecocidal harm to the land and the water.4 In 2008, large numbers of pipeline workers moved into the Bakken region’s barracks-style housing which were named man camps. Sexual assaults, domestic violence, and sex trafficking tripled in communities adjacent to the oilfield sacrifice zones,5 with especially high rates of sexual violence toward Native women.6 Adverse consequences of living near extractive projects include increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and still- births; general deterioration in health; ecological degradation and climate change; threats to food security; and political corruption – all of which severely impact women.7 When resource extraction is terminated, for example when coltan mining was halted in Congo because of environmental protests, the newly expanding sex trade remains in operation, an enduring legacy of colonisation. Belgium’s domination of Congo gradually shifted from state to corporate colonisation.8 The Belgian colonists’ commodification of the nation diminished the people’s social and political power, leaving them poorer, with fewer resources, and often desperate for a means of survival even before the later phase of climate change occurred. This sequence happens wherever resources are commodified. Initially, a boom economy based on resource extraction creates short-term job opportunities and wealth previously unknown. Prostitution is established both to pacify the workers and to generate money for pimps and traffickers. When the boom economy goes bust, men’s continued demand for paid sexual access, combined with women’s need for survival – drive the institution of prostitution, which remains even after the extraction industry has ended.”

Melissa Farley (2021): Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2021.1997999

The whole article is accessible here: https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2021.1997999

Melissa Farley
Melissa Farley is a research and clinical psychologist who has authored many articles and 2 books on the topic of prostitution, pimping/trafficking, and pornography. She is the executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, a nonprofit research institute that conducts original research on the sex trade and provides a library of information for survivors, advocates, policymakers, and the public. Access to the free library is at www.prostitutionresearch.com.