CHRIS HEDGES: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome
to Days of Revolt. We are in Vancouver speaking with two activists
today about the failure on the part–primarily among groups on the left, to confront male
violence against women. And with me in Vancouver are Alice Lee, who
is one of the cofounders of Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, and Lee Lakeman, a longtime
member of the Vancouver collective Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter. Thank you very much. I’m going to begin by reading a quote from
the great radical writer Andrea Dworkin, in which she says: “Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the
commodity is the whore; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female
piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question,
organized crime syndicates, sell cunt; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black cunt
or yellow cunt or red cunt or Hispanic cunt or Jewish cunt has her legs splayed for any
man’s pleasure; poverty is not wicked or cruel when it is the poverty of dispossessed women
who have only themselves to sell; violence by the powerful against the powerless is not
wicked or cruel when it is called sex; slavery is not wicked or cruel when it is sexual slavery;
torture is not wicked or cruel when the tormented are women, whores, cunts. The new pornography
is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to
die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.” She wrote that a couple of decades ago, Lee.
And I suspect you would argue that things are worse. LEE LAKEMAN: I would argue things are worse,
much more confused, much more clouded. The industry itself is much larger, and the excuses
for it are much more complex. HEDGES: What have you seen happen within the
left, and in particular within self-identified feminist groups? L. LAKEMAN: Well, I don’t think it’s particularly
within feminist groups, but I do think there’s a split where although we seem to have succeeded
in winning some compassion for the imagined prostitute, the real prostituted women can’t
get the support of the left, particularly in the form of legal interventions. We can’t
get men to stop buying–so far. And we can’t get the men of the left to denounce the buying
of women. HEDGES: How much of this is an infusion of
a neoliberal ideology into the left itself? L. LAKEMAN: Boy, if I could nail it down,
I’d say 90 percent. It’s an argument that women’s liberty is a matter of choice. It’s
an argument that each individual woman should choose her form of living in the belly of
the beast. And it’s a refusal to deal with the collective women and to understand that
to allow the prostitution of women is to allow the degradation of all women and the impossibility
of actually imagining women as whole. HEDGES: And we’ve seen among self-identified
feminists activities that I think would appall Dworkin, you know, slut walks, the idea that
pornography itself is a form of liberation. L. LAKEMAN: Yeah, but they’re two different
things. The slut walk, I think, was the young trying to be saucy and then–you know, by
turning the words on patriarchy. But it’s the people with more power who abuse that
impulse of the young and twist it around to make support for pornography and support for
identifying and for encouraging women to perform prostitution, whether or not they’re getting
paid. And on the other hand, people who were pornographers
started announcing themselves as feminists because it clouded the discussion. So you
have people like Carol Leigh, who was a fundamental player, who–she invented the term sex work
as far as we know. And when I met her, she was already pimping, and continues to be a
pimp, and makes no bones about that. But those were never feminists. They thought they could
take the term and use it–and with that credential themselves–as doing something other than
participating in sexual slavery. But for me there’s another part, which is
that you have to be a pretty thin leftist to not recognize the imperialism and the colonialism
in prostitution. You have to be working at being stupid to not get that connection, it
seems to me. HEDGES: Well, let me read this great quote
from Edward Said–and maybe I’ll get Alice to respond to this–when he defined sexual
exploitation as a fundamental feature of Orientalism, which he said was a “Western style for dominating,
restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” Orientalism, Said wrote, views “itself
and its subject matter with sexist blinders. (…) [The local] women are usually the creatures
of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid,
and above all they are willing.” Moreover, he went on, “[w]hen women’s sexuality is surrendered,
the nation is more or less conquered.” The sexual conquest of indigenous women, Said
pointed out, correlates with the conquest of the land itself. ALICE LEE: Well, I think this quote is right
on about imperialism and colonialism in that it takes over a country’s culture and redefined
the worth of women in that culture. And I think with neoliberalism it’s worse for women
of color, indigenous women, because now a sort of–they use an excuse of subjugating
women and the exploitation of women of color and indigenous women almost as if it was a
viable option for women–that’s the only thing that we’re good for. So it really puts us
to being not human, in a way that it dismisses us and all the contributions that women make
in those countries. HEDGES: How does it affect women who are not
being prostituted who are of color? A. LEE: Well, we just can’t escape the relentless
stereotypes of women. Even though I grew up here in the West, I can’t escape those in
my daily life. In my personal life, in my home life, the people that I work with, every
interaction is colored by those stereotypes. HEDGES: Give me some examples. A. LEE: I think it’s harder for us to–in
a workplace, I think there’s expectations placed on us that is very pervasive and subtle.
You’re expected to perform in a way that isn’t expected of other women. And when we’re having
personal relationships with men, those are all the stereotypes that we carry. HEDGES: Which are what? A. LEE: Which are the Asian women or [indigenous
(?)] women are available sexually. I mean, we’re on both sides: we’re either prudes or
we’re totally sexually available and exotic and we want sex all the time. So there’s no–it’s
really difficult to access any kind of–define and express ourselves as whole, full human
beings. HEDGES: Now, one of the facts–and I may have
heard it from you–is that within pornography, a disproportionate amount of scenes of torture,
actual sort of replication of torture, is carried out against Asian women. A. LEE: It’s all women of color. In pornography
and prostitution, there is a racial hierarchy, just like racism. So, for instance, Asian
women are mostly depicted with torture, black women often as–with a lot of violence. And
so each race have a way of being depicted, the women. And that’s what men choose. That’s
how you choose. And pornography is the same. Prostitution is the same thing. It’s like
a pizza menu where a man can choose the race and the stereotypes that go along with the
race. In fact, prostitution and pornography uses racism to sell women. HEDGES: Let’s talk a little bit about the
left. I’ll begin with you, Alice, and then ask Lee. What has been, as an activist for
a few decades now–I think you were 17 years with Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter
before starting–was it ten years ago?–Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. So what has
been your frustrations with group self-identified groups on the left on this issue? A. LEE: Well, I think for women of color the
difficulty in participating in movements, particularly on the left, is oftentimes we’re
sort of the token activists or the token–you know, we are pushed into a–instead of having
a full analysis of the impacts in the oppression of women, we’re often put in the position
where we are the token person of color and we have to represent every single issue. And
it’s an impossible situation, because you’re either–you know, either we’re lucky because
we’re the person of color and we get special attention, or we just can’t do right, ’cause
our analysis and our intellectual thinking isn’t valued if you’re a woman of color. So
we get it both ways. It’s very difficult to participate. And in the movement of the left,
I think for women-of-color activists we get denied our analysis of being–of women, or
oppression of women, as well as being a person of color. So there’s an extra burden. HEDGES: And, Lee, what has been your frustrations
with–? L. LAKEMAN: I have a long list. HEDGES: Good. There you go. L. LAKEMAN: I think international labor organizations
kidded themselves that they were going to organize prostitutes into unions, which is
so much nonsense I can hardly– HEDGES: Can you just say why? L. LAKEMAN: –countenance it, because most
women who are prostituting (a) don’t want to identify as prostitutes, because who would
want to? And it’s not because of the feminists denouncing prostitution. It’s because nobody
wants to identify as a prostitute. HEDGES: Let me just throw in there that if
you look in Germany and Australia, which has legalized, there’s still massive illegal prostitution
for precisely that reason. L. LAKEMAN: Exactly. Also, soft liberal-headed
leftists will argue that we are being confining or restrictive or somehow prudish by arguing
that there is a question here of the dignity of men going around buying women. So we get
denounced for that because that’s not an economist argument. So the economic reductionism on
the left leaves us with no way to talk about this is disgusting behavior. Could you stop?
So there’s that problem. But we also have some manipulative maneuverings
going on. We certainly do in our city, in Vancouver. I got told last night after this
speaking engagement about some new interferences, where people are trying to bring unions onside
on the question of not charging men who are buying women or running brothels because–.
Sorry. The issue is that they’re trying to bring it in through unions under the heading
of sexual rights and reproductive rights. HEDGES: You mean the brothel owners? L. LAKEMAN: Well, obviously the brothel owners
are [gaining (?)] from that. Whether they’re manipulating it or not I don’t know, but there
is definitely going to be a campaign. There were women last night coming saying, come
and help us within the movement because it’s getting to be a bigger deal within the union
movement. But what I notice is you don’t hear leftist
organizations standing onside with feminists saying this is unacceptable behavior, stop
it, that no man of the left should be seen buying women or children and nobody should
be promoting this nonsense. The only place it gets complicated is: what
should we do with law? And I think to give people a point, there’s a question, a debate
to be had about whether or not criminalizing the behavior of men is the thing to do in
this period where states are so malevolent on every other level. But we can’t afford,
feminists, women can’t afford to do without the alliance of the state. If we don’t have
the alliance of the men of the left, we’re stuck with it. Otherwise, every woman is on
her own with a person who is endowed with more power–physically, socially, legally,
politically, economically, he’s got more. And so somebody’s got to tip the balance.
And feminists are choosing to stand with the dispossessed women. And we expect the men
of the left to do the same. HEDGES: Do you–if you look back a few decades,
do you think that groups on the left were more receptive to standing up against male
violence against women or not? L. LAKEMAN: There’s a set of three great documentaries
that were done on, quote, the sin cities. They’re Canadian documentaries. You can find
them on the internet. The one that talks about what was happening
in Germany prewar is the one that I find the most troubling (although all three are) on
the question of prostitution. In Germany what happened was that prostitution and such behavior
was used to split the people from the countryside and the people from the city, and both began
to exaggerate each other. And it is a left-right split. And I see the same thing going on.
So, as long as leftists are careless with their thinking and are willing to promote
this kind of sacrifice of women, we’re going to be stuck with the accusations of the left
of being unprincipled, undignified, unworthy of the support of ordinary people. HEDGES: You had mentioned just, I think, an
important point when we had spoken earlier, that as we see the increase of migrations,
failed states, disintegrating societies, often the primary victims are girls and women, making
this particular call to eradicate male violence even more of an imperative. L. LAKEMAN: Absolutely vital. I mean, Hannah
Arendt was observing it, trying to figure out what to do with it. Beauvoir was trying
to figure out what to do with that. And they didn’t even know how normal violence against
women is yet. But they could see that in the migrations during and after the Second World
War, and even in the imposition of fascism during the war, sexual degradation of women
is essential. It’s an essential part of it, I think, partly because it does corrupt the
men, but also I care first about the women, and I’m sticking with that. We see now migrations of indigenous people
from the rural to the urban ghetto and back. We see the migrations of people trying to
escape the degradations of land everywhere in the world. And every time you observe those
migrations, you also observe the increased trafficking in women, the increased prostitution
of women, the economic predatory behavior of men in those situations. It’s important
not to separate that from the everyday that’s going on in the city, that when a man cruises
the downtown ghetto in our urban centers, he’s doing exactly the same thing as the trafficker
or the predatory man cruising the camps, exactly the same thing, and he’s reinforcing all the
ideas and all the behaviors and all the danger. And women are dying from it. A. LEE: And I just want to go back to your
point, Lee, about the left being unethical. I think making the economic argument, they’re
making part of their argument that reinforces imperialism and colonialism, when worldwide
we know as poor women, women of color who are being trafficked and prostituted, now
we have countries where generations of women are being prostituted. So–. HEDGES: I think you were in–was it Cambodia? A. LEE: Yes, in Cambodia. HEDGES: Where were you in–just–. A. LEE: For instance, in Cambodia we were
in a neighborhood where we were talking to a group that was working with women in prostitution,
and they said women age [out] at 21, and 90 percent of women that grow up in that neighborhood
ends up in prostitution. And that’s what we are seeing. We’re seeing women that are growing
up into prostitution, generations of women in prostitution. And that is a never-ending
supply of women that are being trafficked and prostituted for the use of Western men. HEDGES: Can I ask you little bit about colonialism?
Because the subjugation, the violence, the prostituting of women is, I think, as Said
correctly points out, absolutely fundamental to colonialism itself. L. LAKEMAN: Yes. Yes. A. LEE: Yes. HEDGES: And just address that as an Asian
woman, and then I’ll ask Lee. A. LEE: Yeah. I think women play many roles
in society: we’re caretakers, we’re a part of the production of food, we take care of
all the children–many different aspects. And when women are relegated to prostitution,
we are unable to participate democratically in a civil society. And I think it’s not an
accident in war that women are often raped and pillaged, and it’s that the nation–men
knows that that’s the way to sort of control the nation in terms of–’cause we are half
the population, with a very valuable contribution to society. HEDGES: And this essentially is a way to silence.
I mean, if the specter of male violence is something that especially poor women of color
have to cope with, which they do, it is a way of shutting the doors on their participation,
isn’t it? A. LEE: That’s right. L. LAKEMAN: I think it’s important that we
be understood to be saying that this happens to all women and that it’s intensified with
women of color and poor women. And numerically, the majority of the women of the world are
poor and brown. So you’re overlapping systems of oppression when you engage race and class
in this situation. But there’s no question that we’re talking
about the domination by men of women worldwide. And the prostitution is an instrument in that.
It’s clearly an instrument in that. HEDGES: But isn’t it true that in countries
like Germany, or even Canada, women–it is primarily numerically poor women of color
who are trafficked into these countries to satiate the demands or desires of Western
wealthy–. L. LAKEMAN: I think it’s increasingly true.
I’m going to go back, though, to the colonial point that–I mean, in Canadian history, the
first Western men who came here gathered women around them around–you know, first they came
with the armies, and then they set up the forts. And we know now by talking to each
other around the world–for instance, the Japanese women make it clear to us that first
there was the military camps and the takeover of Okinawa; then Okinawa becomes the tourist
center after they [boot (?)] the military out. It’s the same relationship of men to
women, only one time they come with a gun, and the next time they come destroying your
economy and coming with money. HEDGES: Extraction industries. L. LAKEMAN: And the extraction industries.
Exactly. Women in Guatemala are making it clear: part of how they take over, part of
how the imperial powers take over, is by bringing in the man camps and destroying the culture
of the women by being the only men with money and with cash. It’s clear everywhere. But we have a long history of it here. And
it’s–the indigenous women are not a tad confused about all that. That’s why there’s so much
less debate in the indigenous community about whether or not men should be arrested for
buying sex and for running brothels and running–. Also, they realize that all the hierarchies
of sexism and capitalism get reinforced in the course of the exchange. So indigenous
women get beat up, they get killed more often in the consequence of the prostitution than
anybody else does, ’cause they have less access to police, less access to anybody else supporting
them. And that’s why for us this is where the rubber
hits the road. Like, if you’re not willing to arrest men for endangering the prostituted
indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside, how the hell do you call yourself a leftist
or a revolutionary? How do you call yourself a decent human being? And if the people around
you don’t rat on that and don’t call you out and don’t make a difference on that, who are
you to say you’re leading us to the future of a better life? HEDGES: Perfect. … HEDGES: Alice, do you want to close? … HEDGES: Or let me just ask a question of Alice.
If you could succinctly deliver a message to groups on the left that have not taken
a stance on male violence, what would it be? A. LEE: Well, partly why this issue is so
important to me is that I think that as First World countries, leftists fighting the environment,
fighting racism, fighting whatever issue, they’re choosing to leave us behind. And I
find that totally unacceptable. I see them as deliberately, actually, reinforcing the
tenets of imperialism and colonialism and actually making arguments and theories that
sustain colonialism and imperialism. So I want them to shape up and fight for us too,
because we’re not going to [take that (?)]. HEDGES: Great. Thank you, Alice. L. LAKEMAN: Thank you. HEDGES: Thank you, Lee. And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.