“Unconnected Issues”

It may seem as if the following issues are unconnected. Don’t be deluded.

The Republican-led Oklahoma state House has passed a near total ban on abortion, except in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Under the bill, anyone who performs an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. The bill, first passed by the Oklahoma Senate last year, was suddenly revived last week without explanation from Republican lawmakers, and will now head to the Governor, Republican Kevin Stitt, who has committed to signing any anti-abortion legislation that comes across his desk. The ban will go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns at the end of May, unless courts intervene.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ukraine, rape tortures and rape murders are now becoming common. Worse—if it’s imaginable to think of worse—those survivors who do manage to become refugees fleeing the country are being met at the borders not only with welcoming arms by principled neighboring citizens but, tragically, with welcoming arms by sex traffickers. These particular refugees are in high demand, being blonde, blue-eyed, and commodifiable in the legal or semi-legal brothels across Germany and The Netherlands–in fact across much of middle and eastern Europe. As Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska told the French newspaper Le Parisien in a recent interview, “There are two million more women than men in Ukraine. These days, this statistic takes on its full meaning. Our resistance, like our future victory, also has a particularly female face. Women are fighting in the army, they are signed up to territorial defense, they are the foundation of a powerful volunteer movement to supply, deliver, and feed. Others are simply doing their jobs, in hospitals, pharmacies, shops, transport, public services so that life continues.”

These women are not being primed to be legally pimped in serving johns at German brothels. Yet those brothels are already advertising that Ukrainian refugee women should come to them “to find safety.”

Also meanwhile, in New York, a new surrogacy law has come into effect, ending a ban on commercial surrogacy in the state. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo (recently forced from office due to sexual misbehavior) noted, “For far too long, LGBTQ+ New Yorkers struggling with fertility were denied the opportunity to start a family because of arbitrary and archaic laws. With this law now in effect, no longer will anyone will be blocked from the joys of raising children simply because of who they are.”

Except the women being exploited, health-endangered, and monetized.

Commercial surrogacy was previously illegal in New York state, though non-paid “altruistic” surrogacy agreements (e.g. between relatives) were deemed unenforceable and not legally binding. The first bill seeking to repeal the ban was introduced in 2012 but was opposed by feminists, who argued that paid surrogacy led to the exploitation of women. Well, we lost that one–for now.

But as Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, has written, “Commercial reproductive surrogacy and the sex trade are stitched with the same noxious thread. A quilt with women’s bodies, especially black and brown bodies, are sewn into history for the profit of others, disdaining the idea that women are human.”

Prostitution–with the high (and early) death rate suffered by women–is central to that quilt. So is violent pornography, in that it literally educates boys and men as to what is expected of them and their patriarchally constructed “manhood.” So is sexual harassment, which thrives along the spectrum of this violence. To engage any one of these issues is to dare open one’s mind to the possibility, in fact the reality, of all of them–and how they are connected. The overwhelming majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls (92 percent), most of whom are bought and sold in the multi-billion-dollar sex trade, where they suffer extreme violence, even murder, at the hands of exploiters, including sex buyers.

Fortunately, the survivors have begun to speak out.

This is not “sex work”–an openly acknowledged marketing term invented by the sex industry itself. These are not “jobs.” No seven-year-old little girl dreams of growing up to become a prostituted woman, or for that matter a pornographic image, or someone’s tool or toy or victim or reproductive machine. That such functions are still, today, in 2022, being filled by female human beings desperate to survive is no excuse for the inhumanity shown them, when society should instead be providing education and employment with dignity and substance.

It is past time — millennia past time — for us to grasp a basic fact: that the biological realities of women are one aspect of our humanity, not the sole aspect. It has taken 50 years of contemporary feminist activism, building on what our foremothers and their foremothers built, to get even this far. Yet these issues are still inextricably linked in the patriarchal mind—and acted on.

Much has been written about patriarchal control of the female body. Yet it persists. Surrogacy: you must have the pregnancies that androcentric societies want you to have. Abortion denial: you dare not have the pregnancies those societies don’t want you to have. Sexual abuse: Women’s bodies exist for male supremacist pleasure, in any form. Women may die, gratuitously, from the deregulated surrogacy law. Women may die, gratuitously, from the draconian Oklahoma law against abortion. Women will die gratuitously, from the seductive approaches of German brothels.

We are each of us responsible. Every academic course formerly titled Women’s Studies or Feminist Studies that now terms itself “women, gender, and sexuality studies” violates the separation of these issues that was and still is intellectually evident, inherent, and paramount. Every time we unthinkingly (or deliberately!) ignore the phrase “prostituted woman” and instead use the term “sex worker” as if that were a viable means of employment with dignity and freedom–as opposed to being a term coined by the multinational corporate sex industry to control its forced inhabitants–we collaborate. Just connect the dots.