I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum!

I really do. I know they aren’t really the most Feminist-friendly of books but I love them. Stephanie has a shit job and no real qualifications and she stinks at her job. She’s constantly being rescued by either Ranger or Morelli but I still love her.

More importantly, I want to be Grandma Mazur. Okay, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law who isn’t exactly fond of her and she has an unfortunate tendency to disrupt funerals but she carries a gun, wants to be a rock star, runs about with all manner of leprechauns, thieves and doesn’t bat an eyelid at her granddaughter’s life. Grandma Mazur and Stephanie are both living their lives outside of the heteronarmative rules of their community and are happy doing so!

I don’t want to be a bounty hunter and I’m a huge fan of gun control laws but living your life in spite of the objections of the Patriarchy and being happy doing so is an amazing gift that not enough women enjoy. More importantly, I’d keep Ranger. Morelli is lovely and all but you know he’d expect his partner to do all the domestic chores. Ranger might not be around much but he pays maintenance and is good in bed. I’m all for matriarchal child rearing and sex on the side.

That and the strength of the relationships between the women: Stephanie with her sister, mother and grandmother and Stephanie with her friends Lula and Connie. What makes these books special is the emphasis on women’s friendships: on their unconditional love and support for another. That is Feminism.

Judy Blume’s Wifey

I love Judy BlumeAre you there God? It’s me Margaret remains one of my favourite books. I still have my falling-to-pieces dog-earned copy I got when I was 12. I’ve slowly been buying my daughters copies of her books as they’ve gotten older: FreckleJuiceHere’s to You Rachel Robinson, Forever and Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing featuring the bloody brilliant Fudge.

 

Like many women of my age, Forever was my first foray into the adult world of sex. It was the first book I’d read where two non-married people have sex without getting pregnant or an STD. I bought it for my daughter because it is the story of two responsible teenagers choosing to have sex without being struck by a thunderbolt. When I started writing this blogpost, I googled Blume for a link to her website, as I do with all the books I’ve written about. This is what Blume has to say about the reason she wrote Forever:

This book was first published in 1975. My daughter Randy asked for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die. She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex the girl was always punished—an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion (illegal in the U.S. until the 1970′s), sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. At least one life ruined. Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual. Neither took responsibility for their actions. I wanted to present another kind of story—one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide together to have sex, and act responsibly.

The seventies were a time when sexual responsibility meant preventing unwanted pregnancy. Today, sexual responsiblity also means preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In this book Katherine visits a clinic and is given a prescription for The Pill. Today,she would be told it is essential to use a condom along with any other method of birth control. If you’re going to become sexually active, then you have to take responsibility for your own actions. So get the facts first.

 

This is precisely why Blume remains one of the best writers of teenage fiction. It’s because she’s honest with her readers about the complexities of sexuality and doesn’t privilege abusive relationships as “romantic” like the current shite of Twilight.

Which is why I wish I’d read Wifey as a teenager. It is the soul-destroying tale of a woman who ends up married to a dull-witted man who doesn’t know her or has even bothered trying to know her. Sandy is living the 50′s dream of 2 kids, a car and a house in the 1970s. Her husband Norman is a social-climbing pillock who doesn’t bother trying to satisfy her sexually; the description of their wedding night is beyond depressing. Sandy embarks on a couple of piss-poor affairs and ends up still stuck with Norman whose only attempt at knowing his wife is the suggestion that he might try oral sex but only if Sandy shaves her vagina because pubic hair is gross. 30 years on, and this relationship remains the norm.
I’ll be passing this book onto my teenager immediately. Hypocrisy has no place in relationships and we need to give our daughters the courage to aim higher than “socially acceptable”. Sex is too precious to waste on losers; as are our lives.

 

Lt Eve Dallas: A Feminist Heroine

J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series are some of the most popular mystery novels and regularly make the New York Times Bestsellers List. Their popularity is partly because Robb [a pseudonym for Nora Roberts] is a brilliant writer and partly of the because of the romance. What differentiates them from “normal” romance/ detective series like Janet Evanovich’sStephanie Plum series is the way Robb treats the issue of Violence against Women.

Robb doesn’t treat Violence against women and children as voyeuristic plot device. Instead, she writes about VAW as systemic and endemic; it is constant, continuous with consequences rippling through families and communities. Women and children are victims of homicide, rape and torture because of the institutional misogyny which treats women as subhuman. They are victims because they have “no” value in a society which values masculinity above all else. The main character is Lieutenant Eve Dallas: a woman who became a police officer as a way to heal after systematic physical, emotional and sexual abuse by her father which culminated in her killing him at the age of 8. It’s not uncommon to have female leads in detective novels who are “unusual” but one who is a victim as well as a survivor and a strong, intelligent, compassionate woman fighting for justice for other women is different. She is heroine not because she is violent but because she is real; a real woman struggling to rebuild her life and learning to love and care for other women in a way that the patriarchy loathes.

The only other fictional books that I have come across which have treated VAW as systemic and endemic are the Shakespeare books by Charlaine Harris. The main character in those is Lily Bard and she is the victim of a serious gang-rape. Her healing involves strengthening her body through martial arts but she also heals by helping other women. Harris’ most famous creation are the True Blood books and they are very definitely feminist. They are also a searing critique of the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disabilism rife in society and the hypocrisy of those who use “manners” and “tradition” to cover up their destructive and violent behaviour.

Obviously, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, amongst many others, also write about VAW as it actually exists within the patriarchy. The difference with Robb and Harris’s books are that they are mass market fiction and they reach an audience that feminist literature simply never attracts. Robb and Harris are also incredibly sympathetic and supportive of the women in their books. They both write very triggering stories but they are necessary stories. We need more women writers discussing VAW as systematic, systemic and continuous. We need more women writers not using serial killers as plot devices because they are “abnormal”. We need more women writers using strong, intelligent female characters. Male violence against women is not abnormal. It is daily. It is everywhere and it is committed by normal men. I have no idea if Robb intended this to be the effect of her books but they have brought the issue of VAW into the public sphere in a non-confrontational manner that has, hopefully, made more women cognisant of its destructive consequences.

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of theWomen Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Jewly Hight’s Right By Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs

Right by her Roots

The problem with this book is that it is just one book. It should be nine separate books: the eight singer-songwriters that Hight adores so much:

And, Jewly Hight herself; because Hight might claim to be writing the stories of these eight women singers-songwriters and their examination of “their geographical, cultural, familial, and religious roots in their music” but Hight’s actually written herself into the text. I want to know more about the 8 female artists and Hight.  A longer book would have allowed the inclusion of more of the lyrics by these talented women but also more of Hight herself.Right by Her Roots is a love affair with these talented women singer-songwriters and it’s love-affair that just isn’t long enough.It’s all fascinating but at 200 pages, there simply isn’t enough space to really examine these issues and fully explore the back catalogues of the music of these women. I want to know more about all 8 women but equally I want to know about Hight. I want to know about how Hight traces her roots and I want more of Hight’s personal responses to these women.

I definitely recommend this book but with fingers crossed that Hight writes more in-depth books about these women (and herself).

 

The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism

radical feminism is radical because it challenges all relationships of power, including extreme forms such as male violence and the sex industry … Instead of tinkering ar

ound the edges of the question of gender, radical feminism addresses the structural problem which underlies it.

We do not use the term patriarchy to refer to the rule of the father but rather the systemic oppression and subordination of women rooted in the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity” which, as Gerda Lerner states predates the formation of a class society and the concept of private property but it is nonetheless now inseparable from capitalism. Control of women’s potential capacity for reproduction and sex(uality) has been commidified and politicised with the creation of the state

When radical feminists use the term sex, we are referring to the biological realities of female, male and intersex bodies. We use gender to refer to the social constructions and stereotypes placed on bodies which are culturally and historically contextualised. Gender is a harmful social construct that operates as a system of oppression through the unequal power relationship between men and women: and within the categories of male/female when referencing race, sexuality, class, faith etc. Gender is harmful because it takes the simple biological reality of women’s potential reproductive capabilities to deny women access to public spaces and, therefore, power. Gender creates categories of masculinity and femininity and claims them as real despite the fact that they vary widely in definition across cultures and history. It also eroticises the power differential between men and women rendering women as a “sex class”.

The patriarchy predates capitalism but they are now intertwined so that we cannot dismantle the patriarchy without fundamentally deconstructing capitalism, or, more simply, eradicating it completely. As such, radical feminism and capitalism are inherently incompatible. After all, when the stock phrase “equality under the law” is used, radical feminists ask: equal to whom? What group of men do women want to be equal to when wealth and power are located within a very small group of mostly white men.  This power is maintained through the threat of and the actuality of violence whether this is violence within the home or sanctioned by the state. When

What we don’t do is adequately contextualise male violence within the broader framework of control of women’s reproductive and sexual capacity. The media occasionally covers the mass rape of women in the Congo yet consistently fails to mention that the war in the Congo is caused by capitalism and consumerism.[4] We artificially separate the economic reasons for war from the human cost of those wars.

Human trafficking, for sexual, domestic and labour slavery, is one of the largest industries in the world and is intimately tied in with trafficking of illegal substances and arms.  We allow children to work in sweatshops earning less than a subsistence wage so we can change our wardrobe every 3 months and have a new mobile phone every 12 months. We simply fail to discuss the reality that capitalism requires poverty, racism, misogyny and classism to exist. This is antithetical to radical feminism.

The Equal Pay Act has existed since 1970 and women still earn 15% less than men.  Women of colour continue to be paid less than white women for similar work. Women still do the majority of unpaid work including childcare, housework, caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities, and the organising of family life. This work is not counted when we assess women’s economic output despite the fact that the unpaid labour of women is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. This is male economic violence against women: both within the family and by the state. It maintains women’s oppression through poverty.

We all know the statistics on domestic and sexual violence: we know that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence from a male partner during their life. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partner, yet we don’t talk about the consequences of male economic violence against women and children which starts with women’s unpaid labour.

Women’s Aid states that the financial cost of domestic violence in the UK, in which women are the majority of victims, is 23 billion dollars. According to the charity Gingerbread, only 38% of single parents receive child maintenance. Despite the fact that children in single parent households are twice as likely to live in poverty, the government has seen fit to dismantle the Child Support Agency, which was hardly fit for purpose to start with, and replace it with an agency that will charge people to use it.

The dismantling of the welfare state in the UK has disproportionately affected women pushing more women and their children into poverty. According to the Fawcett society:

(w)omen are more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, likely to have less financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

Women are more dependent on state benefits than men. In their roles as carers, women are more likely to be impacted by cuts to the NHS, education and social services, particularly if they or their children are disabled.

If we look globally, more than 780 million people live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. In the US, 1 in 3 women live in poverty. The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.

These are the consequences of capitalism that is predicated on racism, poverty and misogyny. We cannot liberate women from male domination as long as our economic and political power requires many women to live in poverty without access to education, clean water, health care, and nutrition. This is why radical feminism and capitalism are incompatible.

 

Below are links to research into poverty and women’s rights.

 

Prostitution, Sexual Slavery and the Sex Industry:

Radical feminism opposes the legalisation of prostitution and seeks to end what is commonly referred to as the “sex industry”. The global sex industry uses women’s poverty and institutionalises and normalises violence against women, racism, and the colonisation of women’s bodies. Aboriginal women in Canada and the US are disproportionately represented in prostitution, poverty and prison. Women involved in the sex industry, from prostitution to lap dancing clubs, have higher rates of PTSD than other groups of women as well as higher rates of substance misuse and histories of sexual violence.

Prostitution, trafficking for sexual slavery and the legal forms of the global sex industry is worth billions of dollars and the vast majority of this money rests in the hands of men. Men control the trade in the bodies of women and childre, profit from the trade and abuse women’s bodies for their personal gratification. As long as women are forced to live in poverty, women will be forced to work in the sex industry.

Beauty Industry :

The beauty industry is a billion dollar industry that prescribes women’s behaviour and appearance. Women are deemed unfuckable unless they meet very narrow guidelines of beauty: tall, thin, and white. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth shows how the industry keeps women materially and psychologically poor.

The cost of being “beautiful” (and therefore worthy of humanity) includes the billion dollar cosmetic industry, plastic surgery for implants and liposuction as well as designer vaginas. The fashion industry, with it’s obsession with clothes which do not fit adult women and shoes which maim, is also worth billions:  money which women are forced to pay to deemed worthy of employment and life.

 

International economics controlled by multinational corporations and poverty:

 

Water Facts from the UN

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
  • With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies).

 

Domestic Violence Statistics (taken from Women’s Aid):

  • 1 in 8/ 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • 45% of women experience one form of interpersonal violence during their life.
  • There are 13 million separate acts of physical violence or threats of physical  violence each year against women by current or former partners
  • 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence
  • women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.

 

What is the cost of domestic violence?  (Women’s Aid)

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004). The estimated total cost is based on the following:

  • The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
  • The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.
  • The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.
  • The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
  • Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
  • The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

 

Information on Child maintenance from Gingerbread:

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)
  • Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

 

Signs of Violent and Controlling Behaviour from Women’s Aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
  • Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you; checking up on you; opening your mail; repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex; any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

 


[1] Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (Sage Pub. 2001)

[2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press: 1986)

[3] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press: 1986) p.8

[4] Million Women Rise coalition at UK Feminista Summer School. 2011

Family Annihilators: The Murder of Luke Batty and the Reality of Domestic Violence

This was first published at Ending Victimisation and Blame: Everyday Victim Blaming.

Luke Batty was brutally murdered with a cricket bat by his father Greg Anderson in a cricket ground in the presence of his mother.

Greg Anderson was then shot by a police officer in what was apparently a “suicide by cop”.

For 3 days, the media has been reporting Anderson’s poor mental health and writing sympathetic articles about how we must empathise with Anderson for feeling upset at being denied contact with his son. Excuses were made as were demands for empathy with Anderson.

Yet, the evidence of Anderson’s history of domestic violence has been clear from the start. There is also no evidence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness. This line appears to have come from a quote from Luke’s mother Rosie Batty and has been picked up as fact by the media. As far as I have been able to ascertain Anderson had no formal diagnosis of mental illness which has been released to the media although he was homeless for many years; people who are homeless are statistically much more likely to have mental illnesses and ones which remain undiagnosed and untreated than the general population.

We know now that Anderson had been questioned by the police in January for assault and let go despite 5 outstanding arrest warrants. We know that Anderson had multiple interactions with various agencies because of his history of violent behaviour. We know he was only allowed contact with his son in public places because of his violent behaviour. We know that Rosie Batty had an AVO against him because of his violent behaviour. We also know that the murder was premeditated since Anderson took a knife to the cricket pitch.

Despite this, the media have been writing about how much Anderson “loved his son” and that it wasn’t known why Anderson “snapped”.

Anderson took a knife to his son’s cricket practise. He had a history of domestic violence. These are not the actions of a man who loved his son. They are the actions of a violent, controlling man.

As it stands, we do not know the exact nature of Anderson’s health but we do know that men who murder their children very rarely have mental illnesses and that people with mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves than to harm anyone else. This is one of the biggest myths about mental health: that those who have clinical diagnoses are violent.

Men who kill their children, themselves and/or (ex-)partners are referred to as family annihilators. These men have one thing in common: a history of domestic violence.They are controlling men who choose to harm their children and former partners to punish them. If Anderson did suffer from mental health problems, then he is an anomaly rather than representative of men who murder their families.

We need to contextualise the brutal murder of Luke within a pattern of male violence. It is not an isolated event nor is it one which could not have been predicted. Domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum. In the UK, two women a week are murdered by violent partners. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience domestic and/ or sexual violence. Children and women experience violence in the home on a daily basis.

Domestic violence costs the world economy billions every year yet we continue to pretend that family annihilators are “isolated events” and “tragic incidents”. The truth is the opposite: domestic violence is an everyday occurrence for many women and children.

We need to start addressing the issue of domestic violence properly. We need to stop pretending that domestic violence is an isolated, non-gendered crime. Men are the vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence. These men do not have mental illnesses. They make the choice to be abusive.

I am waiting for the results from an official inquest into the murder of Luke because I do not trust the media to report accurately about the mental health of Anderson. The media is complicit in perpetuating male violence through inaccurate reporting and victim blaming. If it turns out that Anderson did suffer from mental illness that went untreated, then the agencies involved with him will need to be held accountable for their failures. If Anderson was not mentally ill and was a family annihilator, then the media needs to be held accountable for perpetuating damaging myths about mental illness and myths about male violence.

We need to the media to stop writing articles which make excuses for violent men. We need them to follow the guidelines set out by the National Union of Journalists on how to report domestic and sexual violence appropriately. We need the media to take responsibility for perpetuating the myths on domestic and sexual violence.

We need to prevent more children being murdered at the hands of their fathers and we can not do this without being clear what caused their death.

– See more at: http://everydayvictimblaming.com/submissions/3715/#sthash.SVpJDnjP.dpuf

 

Update and Clarification: The first news report I read referred to Luke with the last name Anderson. I’ve since been informed that Luke had his mother’s name Batty. I’ve changed the names within the piece to reflect this.

Anderson had brought a knife with him to the cricket ground and threatened an officer with it which is what lead to his death by shooting. Reports now suggest that he also used the knife to harm Luke. Arriving with a knife suggests premeditation.

Rape as Genocide: Understanding sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the context of the Holocaust

This is a conference paper I wrote in 2006. I am sharing it today as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. Since I wrote this paper, more research into rape and the sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated against women and children has been undertaken. Women Under Siege is an excellent source of information as is the book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. My own research in feminist theory has changed my understanding of sexual violence and genocide.

 

In the light of the stories of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape that are a part of the larger narratives of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it is almost becoming a truism to suggest that sexual violence is an intrinsic feature of genocide. In the realms of Holocaust history and studies, however, it is still a subject that has not attracted a great deal of attention. Certainly, scholars who are working on the ambit of female experience, such as Myrna Goldenberg and Joan Ringelheim, have always acknowledged the existence of these stories in Holocaust testimonies, but they have focused on the specific sexual vulnerability of women due to pregnancy, motherhood, and amenorrhea and so mention only small numbers of testimonies of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted or raped, or even having witnessed these. Furthermore, they have also tended not to look at male testimonies concerning the sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape of female prisoners and even fewer have looked at stories of male sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape.[1]

My own (feminist) readings of the testimonies of witnesses Lucille Eichengreen, Sarah Magyar Isaacson, Thaddeus Stabholz, Weislaw Kieler and Fania Fénelon[2], however, led me to believe that there were more stories of sexual violence than have been acknowledged. Furthermore, if one accepts that sexual violence is not only a common part of genocide but can also be a genocidal act, then it is one that needs to be explored within the context of the Holocaust and the murder of Soviet POWs, the Sinti and the Roma, the mentally ill and differently-abled, and the exploitation of ‘Slavic’ slave-labour during the course of Nazi Germany. This includes not only the sexual violence perpetrated by the German SS, the Wehrmacht, and other Aryan administrators, but also that of the Soviet mass rapes of women at the end of the war and during liberation, as well as the sexual violence by all other militaries, Allied or Axis, and that perpetrated by ‘victims’ of Nazism against other victims of Nazism.

In fact, stories of sexual violence are more common than early feminist Holocaust scholarship has previously acknowledged, which is not to say that it was widespread, although this is likely, but simply that there are more stories than first recognized. There has also been an expansion in the number of stories of sexual violence in testimonies, partly due to new feminist research into rape, pornography, prostitution, and sexual trafficking,[3] which casts some testimonies in a new light, partly also due to the fact that the number of Holocaust testimonies published has increased exponentially since the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These new testimonies include more stories of sexual violence and interpret more events as having a sexual component rather than simply an act of violence of humiliation.

But while the increase in the numbers of stories of sexual violence is partly simply because witnesses now understand and write about specific events in this manner it is also because current feminist reading of testimonies includes a greater knowledge and awareness of sexual violence and reading my/contemporary definitions of sexual assault against the definitions given by witnesses is also essential to my thesis. Furthermore, it is the tension between my reading and what is written/not written that makes this a fascinating area of exploration. It also acknowledges, as Anna Hardman has previously noted, “the difficult interpretative questions as to the relationship between actuality and representation.”[4]

I believe, therefore, that the most significant reason for the expansion in the number of stories are the evolving definitions of the terms rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, humiliation, and choice by scholars, witnesses, and readers of these stories. There are numerous stories now interpreted as sexual violence. These include but are not limited to forced sterilizations of Mischlinge Jews, the Roma and the Sinti and the ‘asocials’, (that is the undesirable elements of society); forced abortions due to race; refused abortions due to race; forced pregnancies; viewing the abuse of others; forced stripping and performance; forced ‘prostitution’; brothels in the concentration camps; and the fear of rape. As a feminist, I feel that these stories needed to be placed in the centre of Holocaust studies along with the stories of abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, deportation, murder and mass murder, ghettos and gas chambers.

What I consider to be the one of the more common forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust is what Myrna Goldenberg has termed ‘sex for survival.’[5] That is to say, stories of women, men, and children being exploited sexually in exchange for food, clothing, accommodation, work permits in the ghettos, or ‘good’ jobs in the slave-labour and concentration camps. Stories of ‘sex for survival’ exist in diaries written during the war and post-war biographies and oral testimonies.[6]

One such story may be found in one of the most well-known Holocaust testimonies: Fania Fénelon’s published testimony Playing for Time, also published as The Musicians of Auschwitz. Fénelon’s text is one of the most [in]famous memoirs of women written about Auschwitz-Birkenau and, more specifically, about the women’s orchestra in that camp. Fénelon was arrested as a member of the French resistance but was also half-Jewish. She spent nine months in the transit camp of Drancy, where she was tortured, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. She remained in Birkenau until November 1944 when the Jewish members of the orchestra were deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they were eventually liberated in April 1945. Upon arrival in Birkenau, a member of the orchestra recognized Fénelon as a cabaret singer and her ability to sing Madame Butterfly placed her in the privileged orchestra protecting Fénelon from the severe abuse and torture of the ‘normal jobs’ in the main camp.

Before discussing in depth the stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s testimony one must acknowledge the controversy surrounding it and the subsequent Arthur Miller play and film adaptations based on the text, particularly in relation to the issue of lesbianism and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her testimony Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen.[7] The debate is worth mentioning because of its discussion of identity, the use of survivor interpretations of the behaviours of others, the labels they attribute to other inmates, and the differences in the types of witness testimony, (literary texts, memoirs, poems). Succinctly, the debate concerns Fénelon’s description of the other members of the female orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the boundary between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, particularly of the characters ‘Marta’ and ‘Clara’. Fénelon devotes a section of the text to the relationships between the other prisoners in the privileged orchestra which includes a reference to a lesbian relationship. One of the women involved in the lesbian relationship was a cello player. Lasker-Wallfisch has been very clear that she was the only cello player in the orchestra and that she was not involved in any lesbian relationship and that Fénelon was well aware of this.[8]

There are a number of stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s text but the ones I want to discuss centre around Fénelon’s relationship with the character ‘Clara’ who she meets on the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am engaged in a ‘literal’ reading of the text here in order to demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in [re]-reading and [re]-writing representations of memory and identity. The problematic status of this particular text is does not lessen its value as a document, rather it is another instance of the problematic use of memory and representation to write a ‘history’ of  the Holocaust. The character of Clara is described as “a girl about twenty with a ravishing head set upon an enormous, deformed body”[9]; a body deformed in the transit camp by starvation, a well-brought up girl who was engaged to a boy she loved. Clara is apparently still a virgin; we do not know about Fénelon. The two young women become friends during the journey and pledge to help one another in the camps.

Fénelon and Clara’s first encounter with the concept of ‘sex for survival’ happened quite quickly after arrival in Auschwitz:

A soldier was walking next to Clara. He had a totally unremarkable face, something between animal and mineral. Suddenly he addressed her in French, in a voice as devoid of expression as he was himself: “I’ll get you coffee if you’ll let me make love to you.[10]

The two girls ignore him and the subject is not brought up again. But the soldier’s statement, so early after arrival, after several days trapped in a cattle car, is a lesson about Birkenau. As Fénelon comments:

Coffee? Either a woman wasn’t worth much around here, or else coffee was priceless. She said nothing and he let it drop.[11]

We do not know if either girl has some prior experience with this in Drancy; both were there for an extended period. It is quite likely that they did but this is assumption rather than factual knowledge. The other, more experienced, girls in the orchestra are quick to point out how cheap a woman’s body, and, by extension, a man’s and a child’s, were in the camps. Jenny, another girl is the orchestra tells them: “All you need to do is find yourself a man; here sausage replaces flowers.”[12]

We can interpret this as a story of prostitution but, while, there is a tremendous amount of feminist research into the coercive aspects of ‘prostitution’ in ‘normal’ society, exchanging sex for food in the midst of a centre for genocide changes and questions the terms we use to define the activity. Not all women who were given the option to engage in sexual activities in exchange for food ‘chose’ to do so, but, some did. Obviously, the term ‘choice’ is also questionable. The terms prostitution, sexual vulnerability, and sexual slavery are debated in feminist scholarship, but once we are within a situation where the intent to commit genocide is evident, trading sex for food, moves outside of common definitions of prostitution. Yet, the term ‘sex for survival’ also seems insufficient to describe the situations that many people found themselves during the Holocaust; indeed, the terms we use to describe these stories seem almost irrelevant in their inability to demonstrate depth of meaning.

Clara, quite quickly, makes the ‘decision’ that food is so important that sex can be traded for it. Furthermore, according to Fénelon, she hoards the food for herself and she is not particular in who the partner is. Several of the other girls have ‘lovers’ whom they sleep with for food, some even sleep with the SS but Fénelon does not describe these other women in the same manner that she describes Clara or her ‘choice’. In fact, Fénelon is extremely dismissive of it, claiming Clara was more interested in food than remaining ‘female.’ Thus it is unclear whether Fénelon is disgusted with Clara because of the sexual act, claiming Clara had lost her ‘womanly dignity’, or that she is disgusted with Clara because Clara is actually transgressing sex or gender boundaries, by refusing to engage in communal survival and share the extra food received. As Fénelon says:

Clara had changed quickly, very quickly. A month after our arrival in the music block, one evening at six o’clock, she’d said to me … I won’t share with anyone anymore.” The next day, at dinnertime, I opened her box by mistake and saw a pot of jam. Clara rushed at me. “Leave that; I told you to keep your hands off it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. All our boxes look alike. I certainly wouldn’t touch that nobly earned jam of yours!”

There were tears of rage in her eyes, perhaps a last glimmer of a former morality, a remnant of dignity. The donor was probably a kapo from the men’s camp. Only the kapos, the blockowas, all Poles, Slovaks, or Germans, could come to our block.

Had she been a virgin? It was possible, it wouldn’t have been a decisive factor. Besides, the risk of pregnancy for internees was virtually nonexistent.

I felt sorry for Clara when I saw her twitching her large behind, … She had been an innocent young girl who loved her boyfriend and who still nourished childlike dreams. Living in a sheltered milieu she was innocent of life, like the adorable and naïve Big Irene, who remained so, while Clara changed so quickly and so totally. She had become frighteningly selfish; she would do anything to get food. In the middle of all these painfully thin girls, her obesity was a wonder, a most effective lure for men, who paid court to her in butter and sugar.[13]

But what is ‘womanly dignity’ inside a concentration camp? Can we not interpret part of Clara’s behaviour as an attempt for semblance of human contact or even love?  It is easier to interpret it in this fashion when Clara is engaged in relations with other male prisoners in privileged positions, but it is more difficult to do so when the boyfriend is a particularly brutal (German) kapo who, apparently, voluntarily worked as an executioner for the S.S. guards in the camp, apparently for pleasure rather than requirement. Fénelon posits Clara’s relationships against her own relationships with Leon, her ‘lover’ from Drancy who volunteered for the transport to Auschwitz in order to be with Fénelon.[14] Clara’s ‘boyfriends’ gave her food in exchange for sex, Leon gave Fénelon poetry and letters for, apparently, nothing. Love exists but Clara does not know what it is and is confused.

What is particularly interesting is Fénelon’s construction of Clara’s changing identity, and the way in which she contrasts her transformation from a good virginal girl to a prostitute with her understanding of the behaviour of ‘real’ prostitutes in France. While Fénelon defends the behaviour of French prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts with German soldiers to gather information for the French Resistance in terms of heroism, Clara’s attempt to survive through sex is viewed with disgust, a contrast that is highlighted in Fénelon’s description of Clara’s outrage at her participation in cabarets where German officers were the major clientele:

“I couldn’t have heard you sing,” said Clara rather primly. “We’d stopped going out at night. We didn’t mix with the Germans, and no one went to nightclubs except Germans and collaborators.”

I fell silent, slightly ashamed; it had been very good business. How would Clara have judged the proprietress of Melody’s, who looked like a madam – indeed, perhaps she was – but who protected us? How she would have despised those tarts that hung from the necks of German officers and gave us papers, photographs, and information.[15]

But, why is Clara’s transformation into a ‘prostitute’ to save her own life so negative? Partly, it is because Clara does behave increasingly violently towards the others. Certainly, when Clara is given the job as a kapo, (an inmate barracks supervisor), Fénelon claims she behaves with ruthless and vicious violence, beating the block inmates sadistically for various rule infractions. But this did not happen until after the girls were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; Clara’s ‘prostitution’ occurred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[16]

This story of ‘sex for survival’ is not uncommon. What is different is the way in which it is contrasted with ‘good’ stories of using sex for resistance. But how is resistance different from survival? Obviously Clara’s brutal behaviour as a kapo in Bergen-Belsen is part of the story and can partly explain Fénelon’s construction of Clara, but we do need to separate Clara’s behaviour in Bergen-Belsen from that in Birkenau to understand how Clara’s ‘choice’ was choiceless and thus to recognise her experience as one of sexual assault. More generally I think this story reveals the complexity of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the Holocaust in that at a certain point Fénelon forgets Clara’s identity as ‘victim’ and recasts her as a ‘perpetrator’ and in so doing, makes the sexual exploitation of Clara a footnote to the dehumanising effects of their situation. In order to rehumanise her (and many other victims of the Holocaust) we must therefore acknowledge and recognise the way in which sexual vulnerability is accentuated by and essential to genocide.

 

 



[1] This is not a criticism of their research but an acknowledgment of the research required. See Myrna Goldenberg, “Different Horrors, Same Hell: Women Remembering the Holocaust”, in Roger Gottlieb (ed.), Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp.150-166; Joan Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research”, in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1984-1985), pp. 741-761. Other examples of this sort of scholarship include Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998). Renate Bridenthal et al., (eds.) When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984); Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000); Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Sara R. Horowitz, “Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1994), pp.258-282.

[2] Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, translated from the French by Judith Landry, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997, 1976); Judith Magyar Isaacson, Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois  Press, 1991); Wieslaw Kielar, Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz, translated from the German by Susanne Flatauer, (London: Penguin Books, 1982 [1972]); Thaddeus Stabholz, Seven Hells, translated from the Polish by Jacques Grunblatt & Hilda R. Grunblatt, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990)

[3] Much of this research has grown in relation to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. See: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bison Books, 1984); Anne Llewellyn Barstow, War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women (Ohio: The Cleveland Press, 2000).

[4] Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000), p. [check notes]

[5] Myrna Goldenberg, “Rape and the Holocaust”, paper presented at Legacies of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust Conference, (Krakow, Poland: May 2005)

[6] Mary Berg, Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, (New York: LB Fischer, 1945); Trudi Birger with Jeffrey M. Green, A Daughter’s Gift of Love: A Holocaust Memoir, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1992); Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Hedi Fried, The Road to Auschwitz: Fragments of a Life, edited and translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, (New Hampshire: Ayer Co., 1992, 1948).

[7] Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, (London: Giles de la Mare Pub., 1996)

[8] For an excellent discussion of this debate see Anna Hardman, Women and the Holocaust, (U.K.: Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers, 1999 – 2000), pp. 20-27.

[9] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.12

[10] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[11] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[12] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.66: Jenny to Clara

[13] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.105-106

[14] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[15] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[16] This post facto reconstruction of Clara may of course speak volumes about the nature of memory and memoir.

My Speech for Women’s Aid Conference on Cyber-Stalking and Harassment as part of End Online Misogyny

My Speech for Women’s Aid Conference on Cyber-Stalking and Harassment as part of End Online Misogyny on September 3 2013

Alison has discussed the beginnings of our campaign as well as the spectrum of online misogyny. Before I speak to some of the specific examples of online abuse brought to the attention of EOM, I want to talk about some wider examples of the consequences of online harassment and stalking in terms of women’s access to online support.

There are several obvious consequences of online harassment and stalking all of which are designed to silence and isolate women, particularly since online communities have become a lifeline for many women. For women with caring responsibilities, life limiting conditions and disabilities, social media can be their main access for contact and support. Women in abusive relationships or who have experienced sexual violence are increasingly looking for safe spaces online to discuss their experiences as specialist services for women are being demolished by “austerity measures”.The increase in cyber stalking and online bullying is eradicating what should have been safe-spaces and succeeds only in further isolating women.Parenting Websites There are a number of parenting sites based in the UK that are dominated by women. These function as both support sites and places just to “hang out”. Whilst the positive impact of these sites for women cannot be underestimated, they can also be used as ways of controlling women’s behaviour.

Despite anonymity, abusive men have managed to track down their partners and stalk them online. There have been a small number of cases wherein abusive men have threatened to use women’s as “evidence” of a woman’s “unfitness” to parent in court. The threat has been sufficient to result in a number of women having to have their entire posting histories removed because of stalking by violent ex-partners. While this may sound inconsequential to those with offline support, for women who depend on parenting websites the removal of an entire posting history is detrimental to their emotional welfare.

More commonly, sites like Mumsnet which have an active feminist community, are also targets for abusive men targeting any vulnerable women. Abusive men have taken to posting on the relationships board. Very frequently, posts on the relationships board are by women in abusive relationships asking for support or simply for someone to name what is happening to them, especially around the issue of rape in marriage.Abusive men post on these threads in order to minimise male violence but equally to gaslight women into believing that they are over-reacting to the abuse. Unfortunately, some women do collude with the abusive men although in many cases these are women who are not yet ready to confront the abuse in their own relationships.

The relationships board on Mumsnet is perhaps one of the safest feminist spaces online. The abusive men get very short shift from long-term posters but the fact of the matter is that these men, either singly, or from “invasions” of men from Fathers4Justice, Reddit, and a number of “car enthusiast” sites are deliberately targeted mostly women spaces in order to harass and stalk women. Sometimes it is to target women they know but frequently it is just to harass random women on the internet. These men do not make outright threats of violence but their behaviour is clearly designed to harass women.

Gaming 

[Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game and First Person shooter with multi-player functionality]

The misogyny within the online gaming community is well documented with women frequently being targeted with abusive language, sexually explicit language and, increasingly, threats of sexual violence. Many multi-player online games have chat functions which can, and are, used by abusive men to send threats of sexual violence and abusive language. Along with female avatars, which consistently present women as sexually objectified, online games allow male players a space to sexually harass women. Stalking has become an increasingly common phenomenon. I have heard numerous stories of teenage girls pretending to male when playing these games in order to stave off sexual harassment from adult men.

Facebook 

Facebook’s toleration of online misogyny and abuse is equally well documented. The secret and closed group function on Facebook could have been a very safe space for women to interact, however, Facebook has made it perfectly clear that the safety of women is not their concern. They allow pages threatening rape to be posted. “Revenge porn” pages are abundant and Facebook has refused to remove videos of women being raped.

The recent campaign against Facebook’s problem with misogyny led them to acknowledge that it has a problem but without actually doing anything about it. Instead of being a safe space, Facebook has made it clear that they are only interested in protecting men’s rights to sexually humiliate, stalk, harass and threaten women.

Examples of Abusive tweets sent to EOM 

As Alison mentioned, our campaign was in a direct response to the attack on Caroline Criado-Perez, however abuse of women on twitter is not new. The woman raped by Ched Evans was the victim of a coordinated attack by Evans supporters which included releasing her name online. EDL members have a well documented history of sending racist and misogynistic threats to women. There are literally hundreds of thousands of examples of twitter accounts opened with the express purpose of abusing women and which twitter has consistently refused to close.

These are just a selection of abusive tweets that have been brought to the attention of EOM in the past few weeks. I have redacted names for this paper.

  • Oh, I’ll rape you so hard, you’ll forget your name.
  • All, I can think of is [redacted] fat pussy rubbing against my ass cheeks. Dem cheeszy skidmarks
  • Ironic you show a fist, as you’re quite partial to a bit of fisting you ugly fat trollop. Still can’t feel it in your big vag.
  • #DearTerfs I hope you all die in a fire. You don’t deserve to be called “women”

I won’t mention anymore as Caroline has already presented a selection of the horrific abuse directed at her.

The fact that twitter allows this abuse to continue unabated and flat out refuses to permanently ban violent men from sending threats makes Twitter another unsafe online space.

We are #shoutingback because we will not allow violent men to control online spaces.
We are #shoutingback because no woman deserves abuse.
We are #shoutingback to show just how common online harassment of women actually is.We are #shoutingback because women are human too.

 

What about the women: The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

Cross-posted from My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

This is a response to a post at Everyday Whorephobia called “When the State Traffics Women“. I posted a brief response on the blog itself [which is currently in moderation]* but I wanted to write a longer response. Women’s history is something I am very passionate about and this particular topic is something I am quite familiar with. Whilst I am glad more women are writing about this topic, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions within this piece.

Sexual violence and rape were common during the Holocaust. The fact that these experiences are not common knowledge is because of sexist constructions of a specific Holocaust narrative which privileged testimonies of male survivors like Elie Wiesel over women, Gay men, people with disabilities, and children, to name a few. Partly, this was because of the historical context in which Holocaust narratives became well-known as very little academic research was done until the 1960s. Testimonies published in the immediate post-war era, of which there are many, had very small publishing runs as many people were simply not interested in analysing the full spectrum of violence perpetrated during World War Two. Holocaust history was written during, and is historically situated by, the Cold War. The political desires of the US and the USSR impact how Holocaust history was written and who it was being written for. Racism was a motivating factor of the crimes against humanity during the war as much as it was a motivating factor for how the history of the war was written.

As with all history, the Holocaust was complicated. Mass genocide does not simply occur because a few men in one nation order it. The Holocaust required the participation, active and passive, of much of Europe. That is a fact which very few are willing to acknowledge but it is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.

“When the State traffics women” does raise awareness of just how prolific sexual violence was during the Holocaust. This point cannot be emphasised enough; sexual violence was ignored by mainstream historians until well into the 1990s. Feminist historians were writing about in the early 1970s but this researched was dismissed, as women’s history frequently is. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous collections of essays on the experience of women published as well as numerous conferences which dealt specifically with the gendered experiences of women. There also been an explosion in the sheer number of women’s testimonies being (re)published. In 2010, an anthology specifically about sexual violence against Jewish women was published. As I write this, there are a multitude of PhDs, essays and books being written about sexual violence during the Holocaust. Women’s experiences are being written back into the history of the Holocaust and the extant of sexual violence against all peoples is finally being questioned.

My personal belief is that there cannot be enough research and writing on the Holocaust. The Soviet archives, which were only recently opened, have demonstrated just how much we did not know. 10 years ago, a group of scholarsdecided to establish the official number of slave labour and concentration camps. It was double what was previously believed and includes at least 500 brothels. So many records still need to be archived. What we thought we knew has turned out to be only a brief snapshot of what actually happened.

This piece had the potential to increase public awareness of the existence of brothels and the treatment of prostituted women. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the essay. First, it occasionally  conflates the experience of prostituted women within Nazi Germany with the experience of all women within the concentration, death and slave labour camps. This conflation is not helpful when researching sexual violence. The treatment of individuals within the camp system depended on their nationality, race, age, sex, sexuality, criminal activity, disability and skill. During the 1930s, the Nazis deliberately targeted prostituted women under the category of ‘asocial’** for incarceration, however we do not know how many women incarcerated as ‘asocials’ were prostituted women as the category included convicted criminals, women with disabilities, and those who are still othered in the UK now. The category of ‘asocial’ included anyone accused of moral degeneracy. It is also included women who were Lesbians. Lesbianism, unlike homosexuality, was not illegal under the Nazi regime. Lesbian women were still incarcerated but they were charged as ‘asocials’ rather than for the crime of homosexuality. This category was specifically about women living within Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war and at the beginning.

Secondly, the number of prostituted women who were incarcerated in concentration, slave-labour and death camps which had brothels is open to debate because of this issue of identification. We know, for the camps where records were not destroyed, how many women were incarcerated as ‘asocials’ but that does not give us an accurate record of women incarcerated for prostitution. This is a very important point when addressing the issue of brothels and which women were required to “work” in them because women incarcerated for the crime of prostitution were by no means the only women forced to “work” in the brothels.

The establishment of the brothels, as the piece correctly points out, were in direct response to two issues: Heinrich Himmler’s “incentivisation” program for male inmates working within the armaments factories in the slave-labour camps and homosexuality within the camps. Brothels were obviously the answer to both problems. I have some personal reservations about the brothels being developed to combat homosexuality within the camp system since the men who were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality were subjected to sexual violence and medical experimentation. Being a known homosexual was much more likely to result in death than a pass to the brothel. The problem within the camps was sexual relationships between men who were not homosexuals and the rape of teenage boys by adult men. Both issues need far more research.

The women who were raped in the brothels included lesbian women as punishment for being lesbians and Jewish women; the laws of Rassenschade were generally ignored in the camps. “Working” in the brothel did involve better food rations. The women were also allowed to bathe and had access to better clothes. They also got to work inside which was an important consideration for many women. Women’s testimonies vary on how women were “chosen” to work in the brothels but most involve the women themselves “volunteering” to be raped in the brothel and women being forced to parade naked in front of SS guards and the most beautiful being chosen. Stories of women “volunteering” to work in the brothel include women who made the “choice” in order to access extra rations to smuggle to their sisters, which may or may not have included biological sisters as the benefits of sisterhood and the importance of women’s relationships are a common theme in women’s testimonies. There are also stories of women who were incarcerated for prostitution “volunteering” for the brothels in order to spare other women the degradation of being raped.

The women “working” in brothels generally represented in women’s testimonies in two ways: as debased women or as true sisters helping other women. Much more research needs to be done into the experience of women who worked in the brothels: who they were and, for those who “volunteered”, why did they make the “choice”.

The third, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with ”When the State traffics women” is that it focuses on men and their feelings, effectively erasing the humanity of the women “working” within the brothels. Men were given tokens for ‘good behaviour’. The tokens were bartered around the camp for food and other extras. Women’s bodies were bartered as objects and then the women were raped but not just by male inmates, and certainly not Jewish men. SS guards also raped the women within the brothels, as they did with women in all the slave-labour, concentration and death camps. Jewish women were allowed to be raped by men but Jewish men were not allowed in the brothels.

As the piece states, the men were given tokens to the brothels were subject to ”humiliating genital examination and a prophylactic injection before being taken to the room”. The piece fails to mention that the women within the brothels were also subject to humiliating genital examinations. SS guards certainly did watch in some camps but not in others. In some camps, SS guards were the only people allowed to rape the women in the brothels.  The women were also raped by dozens of men every day but no mention is made of the effect of this on the women’s bodies. The article also suggests that women who were infected with STIs were sent back to the main camps. It does not mention that this was frequently followed by a death sentence. It is also important to note that the campaign against STIs, as with the campaign against lice, was actually about the “safety” of the SS officers within the camps rather than concern about the male prisoners. The women, obviously, did not count. And, yes, the pregnancies which followed mass rapes were frequently aborted. Depending on the camp, this abortion could simply involve the murder of the women or the women dying from the abortion. It is certainly not quite as easy as the article implies.

This is the piece of text with which I have the most reservations:

What motivated the men who used the service? The need to relieve sexual frustration was one motivation but survivor testimonies also refer to many men wanting to talk or simply feel the physical closeness of a woman. In the pitiless world of the concentration camp they simply sought a few minutes of tenderness. They were as much victims as the women.

Whilst the men were as much victims of the women, it wasn’t for the reasons stated above. After all, the women weren’t exactly in a position to decide whether or not they wanted to talk or just feel the physical closeness of a male body. The women were being raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. The men had a choice. The women did not and to ignore this point is to ignore the experience and trauma of the women. This failure to acknowledge the very gendered nature of the Holocaust has led to women’s lives being written out of history.The issue of brothels within the camps is complicated because it does “challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the nature of Nazi oppression”, but, and this is very important, race was a key factor in the privilege to access to the brothels. Polish resistance fighters, German criminals and western POWs were allowed access to the brothels. Jewish men were banned and Soviet POWs were considered suspect. For the women, race was generally irrelevant. Once women were incarcerated in the camp systems, they were victims of sexual violence from all men*** without the added factor of being incarcerated in the brothel. For women out with the camp system, race also impacted on their experience of sexual violence. German soldiers raped whomever they wanted and the rape and murder of Jewish women in the ghettos guarded by regular German troops. The mass rapes by the Soviet army as the moved west is well-known, less so is the mass rapes committed by Allied forces. The stories of rape of women in Western Europe have not been fully explored.I do agree that the story of sexual violence needs to be historically situated within the wider context of Nazism, however the article refers to a now questionable construction of womanhood in Nazi Germany that was based on Nazi propaganda rather than the reality of the lives of Aryan women [and the conflation of *all* women with Aryan women here is telling]. This, however, is another essay for another time.

Sexual violence was an integral experience of the Holocaust for many women and I will write further about the experience of Jewish women in the camps. What I will say is that current research into sexual violence in the Holocaust has shown just how integral sexual violence is to genocide and human rights violations. The fact that rape was not mentioned once during the Nuremberg trials is disgraceful. The fact that neither “forced prostitution” nor rape were considered war crimes until 2002 is a crime in and of itself. When writing women’s histories we need to be careful that we do not use their life-stories to reinforce a narrative based on our political leanings. The experience of women during the Holocaust has already been erased from history once to met a male political narrative. This cannot happen again.

*And, before anyone assumes anything. I only posted the comment yesterday. I’m sure they have a moderation policy which is run by volunteers. Moderating is a time consuming process and not one that anyone should have to do on a Saturday night.

** I have placed a number of terms in quotation marks because they are deeply problematic and outlining why they are problematic is an essay for another day.

***Clearly, not all men in the camps were involved in the rape of women and teenage boys but the threat was there for women.

There is more research on the experience of women available here:

The Holocaust at Women Under Siege
New Holocaust findings highlight larger gap in conflict and rape research at Women Under Siege
Remember the Women Institute