Sex Trafficking, Suffering, and Glamour Magazine

Suki — 11/2009
Why do the women that society officially honours and holds up as paragons of the feminine seem to be so masculine in their traits? Suki shows us that this refusal to honour the feminine is a complicity in the abuse of women.

THE TWO AMERICAN JOURNALISTS imprisoned in North Korea earlier this year were investigating the trafficking of North Korean women into China. Since their release, I have been hoping that the journalists might tell us what they found out. In the mainstream media, I have only found two pieces of information. The first, from an unknown source, states that almost all North Korean women in China are victims of trafficking. This is an entire group, subjugated due to gender and national origin — a rather startling fact.

The second piece of information appears in the December 2009 Glamour magazine — the last issue of the year always includes The Women of the Year. Two of those recognized by the magazine in its current list are the above mentioned journalists; and, in the short piece on them, Glamour quotes Clothilde le Coz of 'Reporters without Borders' as saying that the trafficked North Korean women in China are, among other things, "sold like livestock [and] forced into prostitution" (p. 234).

In its December list, Glamour always touches on some issue that deals with female oppression, like the above trafficking one. That's good. But as I looked at the pictures of all these Women of the Year, I had a modest but rather revolutionary thought. Glamour and all other publications who make up lists of Women of the Year should change the content of those lists. I think they should include a completely different class of woman. I'll come to that class shortly, but first let me outline what I noticed about this particular group of lauded women. Among the actresses and sports figures and entrepreneurs and politicians and businesswomen and journalists and artists who appear here — and are likely to included in similar lists elsewhere — I simply cannot find one woman who is like me. Not one who bears even a faint resemblance to me. That's the first thing I noticed.

This year's list in Glamour (and it is not atypical of the sorts one finds in many other publications) includes — among other accomplished women — a doctor who helps orphans; the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (Susan Rice); and of course the ubiquitous Maya Angelou, the Great Artistic Monument to Female Empowerment — the writer who would have us believe that caged birds sing.

Professional women, highly educated women, high-profile/high-power women — such are the sorts on these lists. Well-off women? Graduates of prestigious universities? It would seem likely, given the positions the women hold. And some must be recipients of various honors and awards, for excellence in their field, for all their achievements and accomplishments.

All of the awards aside, the main things I notice about Ambassador Rice are that she wears an expensive-looking suit and sits on an expensive-looking sofa in an expensive-looking room. She has adopted the typical masculine-looking sartorial badge that all successful women wear — all the ones who have made it, as masculine, pseudo-feminine beings in a world that requires they be men instead of women — or else they will not be 'successful.' Only manly women make it. There are no feminine women in business, politics, education, the arts, sports, on lists of women of the year — no feminine women anywhere in the public arena. All have had to become men so as to meet and compete and 'make it.' Nothing feminine is prized — nothing soft, helpless, weak. It's all about being 'empowered' and 'making it.' I value the weak, the helpless, the soft — in myself and other women — and can find it no where lauded or praised.

I also notice that all the women on the Glamour list look well fed and well-dressed, to varying degrees. Their faces are 'stable.' I cannot think of another word right now. 'Recognizable' might be another possible way to describe them. You can see such faces around you every day if you are at universities or businesses or in the political sphere in the USA or Western Europe. You would see these faces and think: this woman is not hungry. This woman has enough not just of the necessities, but a fair amount of luxury as well. They look like women who have the freedom to read and think and travel. They exist in some sort of roped-off dimension, completely separate from great suffering.

In particular, the women who teach at universities have faces roped off from reality. Stiff with learning are their cheeks and necks and cold with cerebral distance are their eyes. Between them and the real world of the soft flesh they place barriers in the form of yet another meaningless list: it's called a syllabus and it lauds other women just like them. Where these academics who call themselves feminist scholars dug up someone like Aphra Behn is beyond me--but I guess that in the absence of Shakespeare's sister or Chaucer's niece, they have to find some 'woman of letters' from the distant past who can't write to base their Gendered Neo-Golden Imaginary Age Feminine Renaissance courses on. (I could have chosen someone other than Behn as an example but I am particularly down on her since she writes about prostitutes without having the vaguest idea what it means to be prostituted. As a prostitute, I find her an offense to all of us.)

The short articles that accompany the women in Glamour and outline their achievements are the same tried old sad rhetoric about how wonderful it is to be a powerful woman doing good in the world. High praise for all the women and how great they are. I hear with sadness the same futile melodies that I read in a hundred other places — ones about the wingless, featherless, caged bird pretending that she can sing.

My suggestion is that the Women of the Year should be drawn from the most wretched, the most helpless, the most unreachable — those women who are deeply scarred and deeply unattractive and completely beyond hope. Those who have suffered so horribly that to even tell of such suffering would be deeply embarrassing. Those who have had such pain inflicted on them that even to speak of it would be unthinkable.

I am, alas, not in the category of the most wretched. This causes me great guilt: why am I so fortunate as to be exempt. I am incredibly grateful that I am — but, why me? I am well fed. I can move about. And read. And travel.

From my protected vantage point, all I can do, to wake you up, is give you two examples of the most wretched of beings (there are of course many more beyond just these two). I use these two girls in my writings all the time since they haunt me so. They are, for me, Emblems of Women. They follow me like ghosts.

The first I came across in a passage by a Western academic woman who studies prostituted beings in India. The academic woman was sitting with a couple of dozen graduate students she had brought to India to help her study prostituted beings. There were also about thirty Indian people present. A pimp drove by on a motorcycle and threw in the gutter, in front of all these people, a very ill, shivering teenage girl prostitute who had been trafficked in from Eastern Europe to service men. The woman academic could not help the girl because she was afraid of the pimp — a feeling I can fully appreciate since pimps and traffickers and others who sell flesh are terrifying.

If she is still alive, I would put this shivering very ill girl on the list. Even if she is dead, I would put her on the list — just to commemorate how alone and helpless she was when she died.

The second girl who comes to mind is again anonymous. I know about her from an article by Richard Poulin, a scholar at the University of Ottawa who studies sex trafficking. He says that adolescent girls, some as young as 14-years-old, are trafficked into Greece from the Balkans and are used 30 to 100 times a day by men. This sort of thing is of course going on all over the world, but I give this particular instance, from a respected scholar, since it contains actual numbers, 30 to 100 violations, inflicted on an adolescent girl/child, in just one day.

To my mind, the number would be inconceivable over an entire lifetime, let alone one day. From my knowledge, it is unlikely that any of these girls so used is alive anymore. Such overuse results in massive physical and mental trauma. It may render the girls unable to eat or pee or speak or sleep or walk, so terrible will be the death-in-life and the swelling and nightmares and pain. The girls are comatose, docile, broken, unresisting bodies for communal rape use. But we could still put these girls on the list — to commemorate their wasted lives.

I don't belong on any lists. If that 14-year-old ever does come out of her rape-trance, she will weep and weep and weep and weep. Then she will self-mutilate to try to cut away the self-loathing and filth. And then she will kill herself. That didn't happen to me. Nevertheless, I walk around in self-loathing and filth and with no self-esteem at all. I was overused some when I was in prostitution: but no where near like what the trafficked girls undergo. But I hurt all the time from just that small amount of overuse. I still hurt all the time. The damage from being used 100 times a day must be beyond any kind of repair or redemption.

All these lists in magazines like Glamour tell a lie. Women have no power. It is pathetic to think we do. We women are defenseless. There is no song of the empowered caged bird. A woman is a soft, helpless, raped being. That is all.

Who else would I put on my list? I'll make up the perfect candidate. The Number One Woman of the Year would be someone like this: a venereal-disease ridden, sore-covered, AIDS-infected, bone-thin adolescent crack whore — naked and dirty and getting royally fucked up the ass in some sweat-drenched cesspool of a brothel while she displays her purple distended pudenda for all the men to see. Then she'll do a sex show and insert eggplants and lit cigarettes up her tunnel. And the men will laugh and cheer, till it's time for another rousing ass-banging session inside her. A girl who is total, unreachable, unsalvageable fuck-flesh filth. A communal anal sex toilet. Now, that's what I call a Woman of the Year. She is who we all are. She is defenseless. She is powerless. As am I. As are all of you women out there.