The following is written by Ms. Sam Berg, anti-pornstitution activist and speaker.
On March 19th I was invited to a panel debate on pornography at William and Mary College. My contact for the organizing group was Constance Sisk, who told me funding assistance could likely be found to fly me 3,000 miles across the country so I agreed to be penciled in until enough money could be raised. A call for donations among anti-pornography feminist colleagues covered airfare, and I had just enough vacation days earned at work to take off.
On March 24th I confirmed that I would gladly join the two other two confirmed panelists, on the anti-pornography side, John D. Foubert, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the College of William and Mary, and on the pro-pornography side Amanda Brooks, a former escort and sex work advocate.
Constance told me April 2nd that they moved the panel date to the 21st and the rest of April slid by without communication until April 16th when an anti-porn friend informed me that Jill Brenneman and RenEv blogged they would be on the panel. I had received no word from Constance of this and was dumbfounded that wholesale changes were being made to the panel just five days before the event without informing me. I had agreed to do the panel with John and Amanda, and I hadn’t gotten any emails saying she couldn’t attend or that they were looking for a replacement.
If they had told me Amanda couldn’t make it I would have suggested that pornographers and strip club owners are very easy to find through legal channels so they could have been asked to appear on the panel. I would have also suggested that the number of porn-using men on campus should have been able to produce just one pornsturbator willing to defend his porn consumption. Because I was under the impression that Constance & Co. were being honest with me about their intentions, I chalked up the lack of a pornographer or porn-using man on the panel to inept organizing and the extreme amount of publicity given recently to sex work advocacy at William and Mary.
How much sex work advocacy has been given a voice there can be answered with the name Constance. I spoke with John Foubert for the first time Thursday and he told me that Constance is a big pro-sex work advocate on campus and she brought the sex worker show to campus the past three years. A woman named Audrey invited John to the panel because Constance didn’t think he would agree if she asked him. Constance was a guest on Jill's radio show a few weeks ago, and Jill did a pro-sex work chat with William and Mary college folks a few weeks ago, but in her emails Constance claimed ignorance of the lengthy pro-porn and radical blogosphere debates on this contentious subject.
Constance. Constance said she was excited to have me coming and offered to let me spend Monday night at her place, where she planned on cooking dinner for a group of people post-panel. How do you think it would feel if a pro-choice feminist were invited to a predominantly pro-life campus by a predominantly pro-life group and the pro-life organizer did everything Constance did without revealing her pro-life politics to her pro-choice panelist and house guest?
Little story: Heading home from presenting at a prostitution conference I was in the airport shuttle with a middle-aged black social worker with her name tag still pinned to her blouse. I’m a young, white, tattoo-bearing woman and at the time I think my hair was blue. We exchanged delicate pleasantries and danced around how we talked about the conference until she sat up earnestly and cut to the chase, “So, are you for or against?” When I replied, “Against,” she slouched down and sighed and we grooved on the same anti-prostitution track until we got to the airport.
I agreed to do the panel with John and Amanda three weeks ago. Though it was unethical to make major lineup changes at the last minute like that without telling me and things started feeling really fishy due to the lack of notification about the event anywhere besides pro-john blogs (it’s not listed on W&M’s events calendar or advertised around campus), I agreed to debate Jill. I could not agree to debate Ren, and I don’t suppose I have to tell most of you reading this why but I’ll touch upon it a tad anyway.
Here are Ren’s thoughts on sharing a panel discussion table with me:
“So serious I am taking it very seriously. And looking forward to it in my uniquely grim and serious way. Planning and preparing with a very serious, serious sneer on my face.
And also laughing like a super villain the whole time. Why?
Once upon a time, I had a wish, a dream, a surely wank worthy fantasy of some anti-porn sex work types having to face down, in a forum, and debate those from the other side. And I wanted to be there.”
“And, yes, oh yes, I am seriously looking forward to it. I have so lusted for such an opportunity. Very seriously. And yes, if possible, I will have the whole thing on video. Get your cerebral wanking tissues ready.”
Serious serious sneers, super villain mocking laughter, wank worthy fantasies, whole thing on video, get your tissues ready.
Those are the words of a malicious person licking their chops in anticipation of a messy, humiliation-inducing scene they will relish. Those are the words of a person trying to waste my time with personal attacks when my time is best used educating audiences about the facts of human trafficking, prostitution, and pornography. The trash talk began within hours of being surreptitiously offered the spot on the panel, and that sort of smug pugnaciousness and disrespectful engagement was instrumental in prompting John to cancel his appearance on the panel and he suggested to me that I do the same. I believe we were right to cancel. I refuse to pose for the pornographically spiteful scene being painted.
What to do when a woman who says she’s happy in prostitution says, "Take me, for example” when you know if you actually do take her as her own example by quoting her own words and deeds she will complain, "How dare you make an example of me?" Say you’ll speak with her about prostitution as a global system and of all women’s oppression as the core problem but you don't want to talk about her personally and she'll reply, "You refuse to hear my truth." If you talk about her personally like she insists then you're the baddie radfem who makes it personal. It’s a lose-lose ruse.
I’d love to debate a porn-user, and there are tens of millions of them. I’d love to debate a pornographer and there’s no lack of those either. I’d love to debate a john. They don’t want to debate anti-pornography and anti-prostitution feminists. They want women in the prostitute supply pool to subjectively defend them against the objective mounds of testimony and undeniable data that anti-pornstitution feminists can produce proving pornography and prostitution violate women and girls human rights immensely. Most of you have seen how deftly I wield the wealth of information I’ve collected in my noodle to make the case against men’s right to economically coerce sex from others. Some of you have seen me do it before with Ren.
Saturday morning I woke up to an email from a professor asking if I can come speak to a few women’s studies classes of hers in May. It turns out I can make the date. Life skedaddles on and so do I.