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Brilliance and Booty
Ishtar's Angel: Chapter 3
[This is Chapter 3 of Ishtar’s Angel. For more chapters, click here.]
“Daemon,” Serah said, “stop sniveling about AI and death. Come here. The Queen has an important task for you.”
“Yes, my Queen,” I said to Serah.
“I’ve had a long week of overseeing the harlots in my Queendom, as they fuck and then kill man after man. Fuck, kill, fuck, kill. It’s enough to positively exhaust a Queen. I need to get my mind off of things. You know why I called you over, right?”
“Yes, my Queen.”
“And why is that, Daemon?”
“Because I am the only man you’ll let sexually dominate you, in the entire Queendom.”
“That’s right Daemon. Now what are you going to do?”
“OK, well, first, Serah,” I said, snapping out of the roleplay, “we’ll need to set up some safe words. I don’t want to cross any boundaries.”
“Who is this ‘Serah’ you’re talking about! I’m The Queen, not Serah!” Serah said, not breaking her role. “Are you confusing me with one of my servant harlots in the queendom? Do I need to have you beheaded right now?”
“No, really, Serah. Let’s start the roleplay in a moment, and set up some safe words first. I know I’m about to receive my Goodbye Infusion in about eleven hours. But still, it would suck if one of the last experiences of my life was crossing your boundaries and making you feel uncomfortable. That would certainly not be making the last experience of my life the greatest. So let’s be on the safe side. Let’s say ‘red light’ means, ‘stop, and something is wrong.’ If one of us says ‘red light,’ we stop immediately and check in and talk about whatever is wrong. I also like to use ‘pink light,’ which just means ‘pause.’ Nothing is wrong, it’s just like, ‘pink light, I need to go pee’ or whatever. And then, after red light or pink light, when we want to start the scene again, we say ‘green light’ to jump back into the roleplay. How does that sound?”
“Wow, very fancy,” Serah said. “I’m impressed. How did you learn so much about boundaries, and setting up a kink scene?”
“A friend taught me.”1
Christian and Feminist Barbarians at the Gate
“Green light?” I asked Serah, as I was ready to start the scene.
“Green light,” Serah replied.
“My Queen,” I said. “You’ve had a busy week amassing your wealth by importing the bitcoin of lonely-hearted and exasperated men, and exporting their deaths, with their orgasms in between. I know this is very exhausting for you. I’d like to suggest a way you could let go of the reigns. I know that ultimately helps you improve your reign over your citadel.”
“Yes, Daemon, what is that?”
“I’d like to suggest a roleplay. It’s a bit edgy. If it’s not to your liking, we can scratch it, but I have an idea you just might find interesting.”
“Do tell me.”
“What if we roleplayed that you were having your own Sensual Ceremony at the end of your life, and that I was your Sensual Ceremonialist?”
Serah pricked up. “Why would I, a Queen, be at the end of my life?” She asked this with a mix of indignation and trepidation.
“My Queen, as you know, the ESWERFAs [this term will be explained momentarily] are at the gate, wanting to shut down the bordello. The evangelicals want to convert us, or burn us at the stake if we don’t convert. And the SWERFs, standing at their side, would be fine with that, so long as we stopped selling sex at this fine establishment. ”
“I know, Daemon, you don’t need to remind me.”
I had always loved doing what I called “too-close-for-comfort” roleplays—that is, roleplays that navigate some aspect of the dynamic that’s already present between us in real life. “Too-close-for-comfort” was a meta-exploration of our lives. Meta-roleplay.
Also, I had always loved play within play. I called this “second-tier” roleplay. Once, when high on LSD with a lover, we’d gotten down to a fourth-tier: a roleplay within a roleplay within a roleplay within a roleplay. For the fourth-tier, we just played ourselves, full-circle, like an ouroboros. (It somehow made sense while on acid.)
By comparison, this second-tier was simple. Serah was playing the Queen, who—within that play—was invited to play a future projection of the Queen’s life.
(In a sense, however, it was a third-tier, since Serah—as a sex worker—was already in a roleplay of sorts before any of this Queen stuff started. She was playing Serah, which I presume was her stage name and stage persona.)
“Fuck, kill, fuck, kill. It’s enough to positively exhaust a Queen.”
The part of the roleplay I was proposing that was “too close for comfort” was the part about the ESWERFAs. That part was real. I had seen videos on the Web showing that the ESWERFA forces were indeed grouping around the Ishtar’s Angels citadel. I saw their encampment a mile away from the citadel gates, as I descended into the citadel via drone copterbus.
(Land travel to and from Ishtar’s Angels was dangerous—as was all travel in no man’s land between citadels. Which is why I opted to arrive via one of the electric drone copterbuses that the bordello ran from cooperating citadels around the land. Sort of like how Vegas strip clubs used to operate free private limo buses from the main hotels, before the Crash.)
During my descent into the citadel, I saw the ESWERFA encampment with my own eyes. I’d read, on the Ishtar’s Angels blog, that the bordello-citadel had the resources to afford an AI-enabled drone army that the kept ESWERFA forces and their AI drones at bay, at least for now. (There was more money in pussy than in prudery, so the sex worker collective had significant funding for self-defense.)
Still, I’d read, the ESWERFAs seemed to be gaining strength by the month. Sooner or later, their mission to breach the walls of the citadel, and burn the worker-owners at the stake, or forcibly convert them to SWERFism, might succeed.
Fortunately, they hadn’t won yet. Not before I could have the sex-work-and-suicide experience I’d been dreaming about since my economic situation became desperate.
ESWERFA stands for the Evangelical and SWERF Alliance. You know what evangelical Christians are, but you may not know what SWERFs are.
SWERF stands for “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist.” SWERFs are the wing of the feminist movement—started by Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, and other radical feminists in the 1970s—that views sex with money attached to it (including pornography, stripping, professional BDSM, and prostitution) as inherently violent and dominating towards women, since it objectifies women for male sexual consumption, within a context of unequal patriarchal economic relations that, in their view, negates women’s ability to consent to sex for money.2
Of course, this group does not use the term “SWERF” to describe themselves. They tend to call themselves “abolitionists,” meaning they want to abolish the sex industry. (The reference to the movement to abolish slavery is intentional; they view the sex industry as a form of modern-day slavery.) SWERFs view all paid sexual activity as “sex trafficking,” which was defined legally (back when there were governments and laws) as commercial sexual activity that takes place via “force, fraud, or coercion.” They deny that there is any such thing as commercial sexual activity that is not “sex trafficking,” thus diluting the term to include so many different things that it is, in their parlance, simply a synonym for “commercial sex.”
Thus, SWERFs reject the term “sex work,” and refuse to refer to women in the sex industry—who, since Carol Leigh coined the term in 19783, near-universally request to be referred to—as “sex workers.” One of the SWERFs' favorite rallying cries is “Sex Work is Neither Sex Nor Work.” If it’s neither sex nor work, what is it then? Another rallying cry has the answer: “Sex Work is Paid Rape.” They believe that the money is “proof of coercion,” and that sex workers wouldn’t be having the sex if not for that monetary coercion (ignoring that this is true of all work—the waiter wouldn’t be picking up your dirty napkins had you not “coerced” them by paying for your meal).4
Sex workers find the view that their work is “paid rape” highly insulting and even dangerous, as it minimizes sex workers’ experience of actual rape they experience (on and off the job), and—counterintuitively—contributes to the myth that sex workers “can’t get raped.” (If all the paid sex that sex workers have is supposedly “rape,” even when they say it isn’t, then sex workers’ own distinctions between what specific client behaviors do and do not constitute rape get minimized and erased, as if sex workers’ own stated boundaries don’t matter.)
Further erasing the agency of sex workers, SWERFs refer to sex workers as “prostituted women.” Sex workers find this term wildly insulting, as it objectifies them as passive victims, denying that they’re adults making rational economic decisions for themselves, choosing the best option for them among conditions of economic constraint, just as all people who aren’t independently wealthy must do. Sex workers routinely feel excluded from this wing of feminism, so they spread the term “SWERF” to name it.
One of the most puzzling and bizarre instances of “strange bedfellows” in history started in the late 1900s, when the SWERF wing of feminism allied with right-wing Christians to try to put sex workers out of work. On practically every other issue—abortion rights, gay rights, the role of women in the family and in society—they were sworn enemies. But on this one issue—paternalistically trying to “save” sex workers, with or without Jesus involved—they put their differences aside and found common cause against “sex trafficking,” their catch-all term for every form of sexual activity involving money, including porn, stripping, cam modeling, and professional BDSM, even when no force was involved.5
After the Crash of 2029, the evangelicals and the SWERFs decided to “share office space,” so to speak, cutting redundant overhead by formally joining forces, thereby creating the Evangelical-SWERF Alliance (ESWERFA). Their goal was to “save” the “prostituted women,” at gunpoint. And then to either burn their “traffickers,” the bordello owners, at the stake (the preferred method of the evangelicals) or to forcefully “re-educate” them in hard-core Dworkinite and MacKinnonite ideology (the preferred method of the SWERFs—though I got the feeling, from what I read online, that the SWERFs kind of liked it when the evangelicals had their fiery way with the bordello owners instead.)
The main internal contradiction in this plan was that, after the Crash, the bordellos had become worker-owned. (The physical “protection” once offered by male pimps—more like a protection racket—was no longer necessary, now that robots and drones could provide female sex workers protection. So the bottom-feeding pimps slithered back into the gutters they came from.) What the ESWERFAs could not grasp, because it broke all their mental models, was that the female sex workers at Ishtar’s Angels were both the workers and the owners of the bordello, fulfilling (in an unexpected way) the dreams of generations of socialist feminists.
This blending of roles—independent, self-employed sex workers in collectives—completely jammed the small minds of the ESWERFAs, whose entire political cosmology was based around a simplistic, fairy-tale distinction between “sex traffickers” and passive victims just waiting for their white knight to come save them (the “prostituted women”). The thought of women owning and controlling their own sexual capital, and using it to profit for themselves was beyond their comprehension. The ESWERFAs didn’t know what to do with this, since it didn’t fit into their savior narratives, and it scared the fuck out of them.
Serah grabbed a remote control, and flipped on a video screen. The screen showed a live drone feed of the ESWERFA encampment only a mile away from where we sat. “Neither Sex Nor Work!” they yelled. “Crash Their Gate, Stop Paid Rape!” “Liberate the Sexual Concentration Camps!” “Kill the Pimps!”
“They have no fucking idea that we already killed the pimps a long time ago,” Serah said, shaking her head. “We didn’t need those good-for-nothing scumbags anymore. Now we defend ourselves with drones and robots.”
Serah switched channels to a video feed of various drone swarms attacking each other above the ESWERFAs, like flocks of birds slamming into other flocks. “That’s our drone swarms fighting theirs. We don’t need pimps, but we do need more bitcoin, so we can buy more and better drones and repel these ESWERFA attacks once and for all. Do you have any ideas for how we can get more bitcoin, Daemon?”
“I do have some ideas, my Queen. Do you want to hear them?”
“Later,” she said. She switched the channel back to the video feed of the ESWERFA encampment. Serah picked up what looked like a dual-joystick game controller. She pressed a button, and the SWERFs lit up as if they were in clown outfits. We both burst out laughing. “Projection video mapping,” Serah said. “From the drones above. It annoys the fuck out of them. We can project any images we want onto them, and they can’t do anything about it.”
“Donkeys?” I asked.
Serah pressed a button, and said, “Donkeys.” The shouting clowns turned into shouting donkeys.
“Our Bodies Are Not For Sale!” the donkeys chanted.
Serah shook her head in rage. “First of all, you fucking donkey bitches,” she proclaimed at the screen, “I don’t ‘sell’ my body.” Serah counted her fingers. “As far as I can tell, I still have ten fingers, and ten toes, and two boobs after each client engagement.” Serah patted her beautiful boobs. “I sell sexual services. Services that men want to pay for.” She looked at me, and I nodded hungrily. I think she had popped out of her “Queen” role, and was now just ranting as Serah, but she was on a roll.
“Second of all,” she continued, “of course no one wants to buy sexual services from you, you basic bitches! You put in the hours I do at the gym! You put in the hours I do dressing up like this. You learn to seduce and charm and fuck and suck the way I’ve learned to over the last fifteen years”—Serah said on her profile on the site that she was thirty-five, and that she had been in the industry since she was twenty—“and then, maybe then, someone would pay you the kind of bucks this magic pussy that lays the golden eggs makes me.” She patted her crotch proudly.
“Until then, quit with this ‘My body is not for sale’ shit. You’re not selling, and nobody’s buying. You’ve spent decades painting us as dumb, mindless bodies, objectifying us for your narratives even more than our clients do (who usually like us for our persona and our acting skills as much as for our bodies), dismissing all the work, emotional intelligence, marketing and sales skill, costumery, athleticism, emotional labor, and sexual skill it takes to sell sexual services lucratively… and then you have the nerve to suppose that your bodies might be ‘for sale’? Bitches, you couldn’t break into this industry if you tried. If you even wanted to profit from your pussies, which you don’t, you haven’t put in the work to profit from your pussies, so how dare you belittle us women who have put in the work, all the while you try to put us out of work! I want you dead you fucking bitches!” Serah yelled at the screen, shaking her head.
She turned to me: “Why do you think the SWERFs are so strongly allied with the evangelicals on the issue of putting us sex workers out of work? I just don’t get why these queer, abortion-having feminists would ally with homophobic pro-lifers on this one issue of putting women like me out of business. You researched this for the book you were writing. What’s your best guess?”
“My Queen,” said, “I’m not only your Dom but also your private researcher.”
“Oooh, I like that,” Serah cooed. “My private researcher.”
“And, as your private researcher, I’ve looked into this a lot. In order to complete my book Harlots Are Heroes, dedicated to you.”
“Harlots Are Heroes is dedicated to me?”
“It is now, my Queen.”
“That’s so sweet of you Daemon. So what have you discovered?”
“My Queen, through my research, I’ve realized that, at the deepest level, the evangelicals and SWERFs are allied around one common worldview.”
“And what is that?”
“They both view a vast swath of human sexuality as dirty, filthy, degraded, defiled, gross, debased, debauched, polluted, impure, wicked, shameful, offensive, depraved, perverted, tainted, obscene, vile and evil.”
Serah saddled up to me, and purred: “dirty, filthy, degraded, defiled, gross, debased, debauched, polluted, impure, wicked, shameful, offensive, depraved, perverted, tainted obscene, vile, and evil? Sounds like. . . me!” She playfully fished her boobs out of her corset, and shook them at me proudly. They were milk-white, medium-sized, full, and pert. (Why were goth women always so pale? I guess they were like vampires, avoiding sunlight.) They had large brown areolas, the kind that made up almost the entire front side of thebreasts, the kind that even your entire mouth stretched open wide couldn’t fit over while sucking—though I didn’t ask to test that yet, because it’s hard to talk with a boob in your mouth, and I really wanted to talk with Serah about all this.
“I get why Christians believe all that bullshit,” Serah said, “since they’ve always viewed sex that way, But why do you think some feminists align with Christians in this shit?” This was my dream life—talking about this kind of stuff with a woman like Serah, while in a sweet, kinky role play together. Ishtar’s Angels was already fulfilling on its motto. These last moments of my life were indeed turning out to be some of the greatest moments of my life. I wish they could last! But I was down to my last bitcoin. I didn’t have the money to make these moments last—or even enough money to buy food, in a few months.
I continued on my rant: “The opening shot of feminism was ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,’ by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792, though it didn’t use that term. In order to make her plea for women’s rights persuasive to her main audience of educated men, Wollstonecraft appealed to one of the core themes of the Western philosophical tradition, mind/body dualism. This dualism sees soul and spirit as separate from and superior to body, flesh, the senses, and sensuality. The dualism sees reason, self-mastery, and temperance as separate from and superior to raw emotion, passion, and carnal lust. And it sees humans as separate from and superior to animals and nature, which it sees as ‘wild,’ ‘untamed,’ ‘uncivilized,’ and ‘brutish.’ Believers in this dualism give license for the aspects of the ‘mind’ side to dominate and control (exercise ‘dominion over,’ in the words of the Bible) the aspects of the ‘body’ side. ‘Mind over matter,’ and all that. You with me so far?”
“I’m with you, baby,” Serah said. “You sure this is how you want to spend your last hours, hon? Talking about mind/body dualism?”
“Pink light,” I said. “Remember, Serah, if you’re going to step out of character for a moment, say ‘pink light.’ It keeps the container of the role play tighter. My character, the Queen’s Dom, isn’t about to die in ten hours. I, Daemon, am about to die. But not my character.”
“Ah, right, good point. Pink light. I just want to make sure you, Daemon, are having exactly the experience you wanted in your last hours alive.”
“That’s very kind of you, Serah. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Harlots Are Heroes was left unpublished. I researched it for years. I’m so glad I’ve finally found someone I can share my findings with! This was one of my final wishes, to share these ideas with someone who cares. You care, don’t you?”
“Actually, I do care. You are a good researcher, Daemon. This stuff will be useful in our battles against the ESWERFAs once you’re gone. So thank you for sharing it. Or rather, paying to share it,” she winked.
“Worth every satoshi,” I winked back.
“By the way,” Serah said, “how did get into researching all this stuff about SWERFs? It’s kind of obscure. And why do you care so much?”
“I had a lot of female friends who were sex workers. In the artsy, kinky, sex-positive California set I ran in, I knew a lot of pro-Dommes, sexual healers, tantrikas, porn performers, strippers, cam models, OnlyFans models, sugar babies. I saw how impacted they were when the SWERFs joined forces with the evangelicals to push the FOSTA-SESTA legislation through in 2018; it put many of my friends out of work. Some of them were supporting children and had to find new places to live because they lost their rent money from one month to the next, when FOSTA-SESTA shut down the platforms they advertised on. This pissed me the fuck off. I’m loyal to my friends. So I started researching the women who were intentionally putting my female friends out of work. I couldn’t understand why these ‘feminists’ would ally with right-wing Christians to make my friends lose their rent money. So I got really really curious about them, started reading their work, their history, everything about them. The more I read them, the more enraged I became. I vowed to devote my life to defending goddesses like you against them.”
“You’re a good knight for the Goddess, Daemon,” Serah said. “Thank you for your service to the Goddess. Your Queen is very pleased with you.”
“Serah, we’re still in ‘pink light,’ not in the ‘Queen’s Dom’ role play at the moment,” I said, gently.
Serah punched me playfully on my arm. “You’re such a kink geek, Daemon,” she said. “‘Pink light’ this, ‘green light’ that, what are we fucking Christmas trees?” she laughed.
“I just want to make sure we’re safe and comfortable in the role play,” I said.
“I’m safe and comfortable.
“Good. So then, shall we ‘green light’?”
“Green light,” Serah said.
“My Queen,” I said, “to finish answering your question about why SWERFs are so offended by so much of human sexuality, and so contemptuous of sex workers, and why they align so closely with Christians on this ‘ewww, gross!’ style of sexual politics, we have to see how—for understandable reasons—Wollstonecraft and many later suffragists and feminists based their arguments on the mind/body dualism, which itself has always been central to the ideology of patriarchy. Patriarchy projects the ‘mind’ side of the dualism, which it values more highly and thinks should dominate, onto men and masculinity, and projects the ‘body’ side, which it sees as inferior and needing of control and discipline, onto women and femininity. This gender-coded ‘flesh loathing’ is the core ideology that patriarchy uses to call for and legitimize the rule of mind over body, male over female, masculine over feminine.”
“So what does that have to do with Mary Wollstonecraft?” Serah asked.
“Great question, my Queen. Wollstonecraft was appealing to men to respect and give rights to women, particularly the right to education. So, like any brilliant persuader, she framed her appeal in terms likely to be persuasive to her target audience. She was speaking to educated men with a negative view of femininity. Her argument—which was profoundly radical for her time—was that women were capable of transcending their traditionally feminine role of cultivating beauty, sensuality, and charm, and instead adopting the traditionally masculine role of cultivating the mental faculty of reason. However, in framing her argument in this way, which was understandable and necessary in her context, Wollstonecraft also unfortunately reenforced the same anti-sensual, ‘somatophobic,’ ‘flesh-loathing’ ideology that Christians have used to put down women for eons. Following Wollstonecraft’s footsteps, ever since then, feminism has been largely a critique of traditional femininity.”6
Serah shot up from her chair. “Oh my God, I think I see the link between Christianity and SWERFism!”
“Yes, my Queen, what is it?” I asked excitedly. I was as turned on to hear what she was about to say—turned on by her sharp mind—as I was by her insanely curvy body. The integration of lines and curves, mind and body, brains and boobs, brilliance and booty!
The integration of lines and curves, mind and body, brains and boobs, brilliance and booty!
“SWERFism is essentially a form of respectability politics that unwittingly kowtows to the lines of rectitude that Christian patriarchy set up millennia ago.”
“Ding ding ding!” I said. “My Queen, we have a winner!” I held up my palm for a high-five and Serah smacked it. She seemed genuinely excited. I loved seeing the lightbulbs go off in her mind. “If Wollstonecraft were alive in the late nineteenth century,” I said, “she would have stood right alongside Elisabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, valiantly fighting for most women’s rights while, unfortunately, throwing sex workers under the bus, and using them as a foil, all while patronizingly trying to ‘save’ them: ‘We’re not like those poor, fallen, vicious women! We deserve rights because we’re educated and virtuous! And those wretched women can have rights too… if they stop embarrassing us, and clean up their act and return to virtue!’”7
“I see it now!” Serah said, dancing around the room giddy. “It’s been so mysterious to me for so many years, why progressive feminist women would align with right-wing fundamentalist Christian men against me and my sex worker friends, in their ‘War on Whores.’8 The Christians have been foisting the good girl versus bad girl dualism on us, Madonna versus whore, innocent versus corrupted, clean versus dirty, pure versus polluted, virgin versus despoiled, deflowered, and defiled, for millennia.”
She continued: “Like Wollstonecraft and the suffragists before them, the SWERFs come along and say to conservative Christians, essentially, ‘We’re on your side of the tracks. We’re on the good girls’ side. We’re on the Madonna side. We’re upright and serious women, women whose pure, untainted minds and souls you can respect. We’re free of dirty, nasty desires, and the diseases that go with them. Our souls are unsullied by sluttiness. We’re here to defend our womanly dignity from male depravity and protect the honor of our pure, innocent daughters.’
“But then we whores come along, we erotic entrepreneurs, we who choose to use men’s sexual neediness and desperation to our financial advantage by hustling them with our looks that kill (you’re not dumb, Daemon, you know the deal, you know I’m a hustler, but at least I’m an honest hustler). And these SWERFs hate that we even pretend to be nice to the boors and douches and louts and scoundrels and dogs and pigs that make up most of your sex, at least long enough to get your money. SWERFs hate that we stroke your egos (and your cocks) rather than cut them down… and off. They hate that we inflate your egos, and suck the money out of them, rather than pop your egos for free.
“SWERFs see us performing the kind of caricatured, cartoonish femininity that gets randy men to make it rain, and they’re like, ‘You’re turning back the clock on all our progress! We’ve fought hard for men to respect us for our minds, to see us as more than our bodies, to see us for our brains not our boobs. Then you cheap floozies go running around, stripping all that progress off, piece by piece, stripping the blazers, stripping the blouses, stripping the pantsuits we fought so hard to wear at work, and you go shaking your tits for tips! You’re giving the rest of us women a bad name! You’re ruining the neighborhood! You’re giving men the wrong idea! By selling your virtue, you’re selling out your fellow sisters. You’re just in it for yourselves, never mind the social cost to other women! You’re traitors to womankind! Well, we’ve got a message for you treasonous tramps, you traitorous tarts! Are you listening, you seditious sluts? You better hear this loud and clear! Our bodies are not for sale! And if you’re going to sell your bodies and your honor to the highest bidder, we’re going to stop you! We’re going to put you out of work. We don’t care if you have to scrub dishes, or sew stitches… you’re not going to make money by removing your britches, you witches! We won’t burn you at the stake, like our evangelical friends over there to our right want to do. See them piling the kindling? They’re the bad cops. If you don’t want to deal with the bad cops, then deal with us. We’re the good cops. We’re your friends. We’re your fellow feminists. We’re here to save you. From yourselves. All you have to do is repent from your sluttiness, give up your wicked anti-feminist ways and your performative high-femme aesthetics, and get a respectable job, requiring respectable clothing, and a respectable degree, and respectable student debt, so you can respectably push papers for a fraction of the hourly rate you made letting despicable men stick their dirty cocks inside your dirty cunts. Deal?’”
I shook my head back and forth. “Yee-haw!” I exclaimed. “Hallelujah!” Serah jumped into my lap, leaning back and holding herself up with her hand around the back of my neck, gyrating on me like she was riding a bucking bronco.
“You like my analysis, my good little researcher?” she asked. With her free hand, she rolled her miniskirt up, grabbed my hand, and planted it on her g-string-clad ass. “You like this hot analysis, baby? You want more of this hot, tight analysis?
“Yes, my Queen, I need your hot analysis!”
“I don’t know, you sound kind of subby to me, my little Daemon. You don’t sound like the Queen’s Dom to me! You sound like the Queen’s sub! And anyway, why would those loser ESWERFAs outside our gate cause me to role-play my own Sensual Ceremony? I’m the Queen! I will never die!”
“My Queen, in our marketing brochure that we email out to prospective clients, ‘The Ishtar’s Angels Guide to Getting Right With Death’”—yes, they had actually emailed me that brochure when I first inquired with them about doing a Sensual Ceremony—“we extol the virtues of life-affirming death awareness.9 I practice this same role-play of my own death regularly. Memento mori.
“Every week,” I continued, “we must live with the threat that the ESWERFAs may gain more adherents and resources through their cult proselytizing, and could breach the citadel walls. Then, either the evangelicals will burn us at the stake, or—perhaps even worse—the SWERFs will forcibly re-educate us into hard-core Dworkinite/MacKinnonite ideology. What if our proud defenses against the ESWERFAs are eventually overcome? Prudence suggests we contemplate the possibility, if only to humble ourselves so that we may continue our tireless stand against them.
“My Queen,” I continued, “you have always said that you would choose to take your own life, with your own Sensual Ceremony, rather than allow the evangelicals the pleasure of burning you at the stake, or the SWERFS to drown your soul with their vile, puritanical ideology. So, with all that said, are you open to this roleplay?”
“OK, Daemon, I hear you,” Serah said. “I do see the value of getting right with death before it happens. I’ll try it.”
I smiled. She continued: “But if you Dom the Queen, yet you don’t respect the Queen’s boundaries, dear Daemon, then the Queen will press that big red button over there, and the Queen’s henchman will throw you out to no man’s land, where the ESWERFAs will have their way with you.”
That wasn’t a joke.
Serah picked up her walkie-talkie. “Just for fun,” she said to me, “why don’t we listen to what they’re chanting out there into their loudspeakers they point at us.” She started laughing, and pressed the button on the walkie-talkie. “Stephanie,” she said, “could you cut our noise-canceling tech for a moment, so we can hear directly what the ESWERFAs are yelling at us out there?”
I think Serah wanted me to understand, without a shred a doubt in my body, what precisely would happen to me if I treated her poorly, before she subbed to me within this Queen’s Dom role play.
And what I heard through the ESWERFAs loudspeakers was terrifying…
Joyful Pessimism: A Memoir of Sex, Mental Illness, and Philosophy, which includes this interspersed dystopian erotic novella “Ishtar’s Angel,” is a reader-supported book. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
See the stories “Energy Sex” and “Lessons From a Spankstress” in Joyful Pessimism 2: Essays, Comedy, and More Sex Stories.
SWERF thinkers like Andrea Dworkin, Carol J. Adams, Robin Morgan, and Riane Eisler are quoted extensively in Chapter 1 of Joyful Pessimism, “The Horny Ecofeminist.” (Note that, while SWERF ideology has its roots in radical feminism—hence the “R”—a lot of feminists who now adopt SWERF thinking are not necessarily “radical feminists” in classic Dworkinite/MacKinnonite sense of the 1970s-80s. Nonetheless, the term is now used in a general-purpose way for feminists who want to shut down the sex industry entirely, and put sex workers out of work.)
If you want a refresher in the idiocy of SWERF ideology, here are a few additional choice quotes. In a demagogic 1993 speech entitled “Prostitution and Male Supremacy,” for example, Andrea Dworkin says:
[M]any of us are saying that prostitution is intrinsically abusive. Let me be clear. I am talking to you about prostitution per se, without more violence, without extra violence, without a woman being hit, without a woman being pushed. Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman's body.
If you ask sex workers (something SWERFs rarely do), they will tell you that, just like the rest of us, they view the scenario of being abused by a fist in the face, or a fist clutching a knife or a gun, as incomparably worse than the scenario of being “abused” by a fist clutching an envelope stuffed with cash, to be deposited in one’s purse and then one’s bank account. Does this even need to be stated? Apparently, it does, because according to Dworkin, the violence inflicted by an assailant’s fist, gun or knife is merely “extra violence” heaped on top of the “intrinsic violence,” “in and of itself,” being meted out by a client’s open wallet.
This is an utterly insane point of view, and Dworkin should be laughed out of any serious discussion for having stated it. Beyond insane, it’s harmful and dangerous to the people it’s supposed to “help,” because it erases the voices of sex workers, who say that they have specific boundaries that really matter to them regarding what constitutes actual violence and what doesn’t in paid sessions: such as the boundary between receiving a fistful of cash versus receiving a fist in the face.
Later in the speech, Dworkin says:
In prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is impossible to use a human body in the way women's bodies are used in prostitution and to have a whole human being at the end of it, or in the middle of it, or close to the beginning of it. It's impossible. And no woman gets whole again later, after.”
I know many female sex workers, including porn performers, escorts, strippers, tantrikas, sexual healers, erotic massage providers, cam models, professional Dominatrixes, and sugar babies, who report that—whatever they like or dislike about their work—they do, in fact, feel like whole human beings. Can you begin to see why sex workers feel “excluded” by these judgmental, self-appointed saviors?
Leigh, aka Scarlot Harlot, tells the story of how she coined this term in her book Unrepentant Whore (p. 69)
See my essay “Starlets vs. Harlots: Why Are Liberal Hollywood Actresses Allying With Right-Wing Christians to Throw Sex-Workers Under the Bus?” for sources on these quotes.
As a prime example, in 1986, both Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, feminist radicals and sworn enemies of the patriarchal state, presented passionately-approving testimony to the “family values”-oriented Meese Commission, convened by President Ronald Reagan and his attorney general Edwin Meese to rail against pornography. In the Committee’s 1,950-page final report, known as the “Meese Report,” Dworkin and her testimony to the Commission (transcribed in full in the report, pp. 769-772) are cited enthusiastically ten times, including by Commission member James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, one of the most influential and rabidly-anti-gay evangelical organizations in American politics.
In the Report, Dobson writes, “Pornography is degrading to women. How could any of us, having heard Andrea Dworkin’s moving testimony, turn a deaf ear to Dworkin’s protest?”
In the Report, Dobson also repeats radical feminist Robin Morgan’s popular SWERF rallying cry, “Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice” (p. 78). Morgan’s statement first appeared in her essay “Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape,” in her 1977 book Going Too Far.
Dobson, one of the nation’s top defenders of “family values,” would no doubt be dismayed to find out that, in the same essay in which the line he repeated first appears, Morgan also writes:
I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman out of her own genuine affection and desire….
It must be clear that, under this definition, most of the decently married bedrooms across America are settings for nightly rape.”
On this history of the alliance between evangelicals and SWERFs, see also “Beyond Strange Bedfellows: How the ‘War on Trafficking’ Was Made to Unite the Left and Right,” by Melissa Gira Grant.
As an example of how Wollstonecraft uses and re-enforces the mind/body dualism—with all its anti-sensualism—in her appeal for women’s rights, here’s a passage from Chapter 6 of Vindication:
Men look for beauty and the simper of good humoured docility [in women]. . . . [H]ow can [women] discover, that true beauty and grace must arise from the play of the mind? . . . .
Supposing, however, for a moment, that women were, in some future revolution of time, to become, what I sincerely wish them to be, even love would acquire more serious dignity, and be purified in its own fires. . . . [Women might] learn to despise the sensibility that had been excited and hackneyed in the ways of women, whose trade was vice; and allurement's wanton airs. They would recollect that the flame. . . which they wished to light up, had been exhausted by lust. . . .
Were women more rationally educated. . . they would be contented to love but once in their lives; and after marriage calmly let passion subside into friendship. . . . [H]aving been solely employed either to prepare themselves to excite love. . . [women] cannot live without love. . . . [A]nd then acting the part which they foolishly exacted from their lovers, they become abject wooers, and fond slaves.
For it is the right use of reason alone which makes us independent of every thing—excepting the unclouded Reason—"Whose service is perfect freedom.”
While not citing Wollstonecraft directly, in “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views,” Elisabeth Spelman points out that this type of anti-sensual, “flesh-loathing” ideology has been central to the development of feminism as we know it. On one of the founders of modern feminism, Spelman writes:
For all her magisterial insight into the way in which the image of woman as body has been foisted upon and used against us, Simone de Beauvoir can’t resist the temptation to say that woman's emancipation will come when woman, like man, is freed from this association with—according to the male wisdom of the centuries—the less important aspect of human existence. According to The Second Sex, women’s demand is “not that they be exalted in their femininity; they wish that in themselves, as in humanity in general, transcendence may prevail over immanence.” But in de Beauvoir's own terms, for “transcendence” to prevail over “immanence” is for spirit or mind to prevail over matter or body, for reason to prevail over passion and desire. This means. . . that the old images of women as mired in the world of “immanence”—the world of nature and physical existence—will go away. . . .
Men have purchased one-way tickets to Transcendence in their attempt to deny, or conquer and control, the raging Immanence they see in themselves and project onto women. De Beauvoir says that this attitude toward corporeality has informed men’s oppression of women, and yet her directions for women seem to be informed by just the same attitude.
A second example comes from Betty Friedan. She may seem too easy a target, but I think that something closely connected to what I'm going to point out about her thought can also be found in feminists considered much more radical than she is. Very early in The Feminine Mystique, Friedan remarks on the absence, in women's lives, of “the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit.” She wants women to be “culturally” as well as “biologically” creative—she wants us to think about spending our lives “mastering the secrets of the atoms, or the stars, composing symphonies, pioneering a new concept in government or society.” And she associates “mental activity” with the “professions of highest value to society.” Friedan thus seems to believe that men have done the more important things, the mental things; women have been relegated in the past to the less important human tasks involving bodily functions, and their liberation will come when they are allowed and encouraged to do the more important things in life.
Friedan's analysis relies on our old friend, the mind/body distinction, and Friedan, no less than Plato or de Beauvoir, quite happily assumes that mental activities are more valuable than bodily ones. Her solution to what she referred to as the “problem that has no name” is for women to leave (though not entirely) women's sphere and “ascend” into man’s. Certainly there is much pleasure and value in the “mental activities” she extolls. But we can see the residue of her own negative attitude about tasks associated with the body: the bodily aspects of our existence must be attended to, but the “liberated” woman, who is on the ascendant, can’t be bothered with them.
For understandable reasons, “women’s liberation” has largely been framed by first- and second-wave feminists as liberation from the domains of the body, sensuality, sexuality, seductiveness, and traditionally-feminine beauty standards—the very things Christians and other patriarchs have both expected of and devalued within women, in a love-hate manner, for eons.
Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter 7:
The shameless behaviour of the prostitutes, who infest the streets of London, raising alternate emotions of pity and disgust, may serve to illustrate this remark. They trample on virgin bashfulness with a sort of bravado, and glorying in their shame, become more audaciously lewd than men, however depraved, to whom this sexual quality has not been gratuitously granted, ever appear to be. But these poor ignorant wretches never had any modesty to lose, when they consigned themselves to infamy; for modesty is a virtue not a quality. No, they were only bashful, shame-faced innocents; and losing their innocence, their shame-facedness was rudely brushed off; a virtue would have left some vestiges in the mind, had it been sacrificed to passion, to make us respect the grand ruin.
Elisabeth Cady Stanton, from an 1868 editorial in the Revolution newspaper (published by Susan B. Anthony), decrying a bill in New York proposing to legalize and regulate prostitution:
This bill. . . is a disgrace to the decency and humanity of the nineteenth century. . . . [I]s it nothing to virtuous, healthy, high-toned women that men come to them from the by-ways of vice, to poison the family purity and peace, to stamp the scars of God's curse on the brow of infancy, and make lazar-houses of all our homes? What father in the state of New York would consent to such legislation for his young and erring daughter? We ask for all the daughters of the state the same protection and consideration that we desire for our own. Let our rulers consider that to-day they may be legislating for the frail ones of their own household, as it is from the gay and fashionable throng that vice recruits for its palsied ranks her most helpless victims. [p. 168]
In an 1895 speech entitled “Social Purity,” Susan B. Anthony exemplifies the easy crossover between the Christian-influenced “social purity,” “social hygiene,” and temperance movements, and the women’s suffrage movement. She argues that men’s “drunkenness and licentiousness” creates the “loathsome and contagious disease” of widespread prostitution, a “desolation and scourge” which “poisons the constitution.” She argues for outlawing saloons, gambling houses, “obscene theaters,” and brothels, and suggests that a major reason to give women the vote is so that “virtuous, intelligent, sober, law-abiding wives and mothers” would vote to shut down these “wretched blots on civilization.”
See “Beyond Death Anxiety: Achieving Life-Affirming Death Awareness” by Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett.