It wasn’t long ago that, in medieval Europe, fathers married off their hapless daughters to forge geopolitical alliances. Girls were pawns in the power games of their families. It mattered not that many of them were mere children. The boys didn’t have a lot of influence about whom they married either, while women and girls had none. All of this didn’t really stop until the beginning of the twentieth century. But treating women as chattel to be traded and used actually didn’t stop; it just changed venues. It moved into brothels, and the Hollywood casting couch. You could even argue that trafficking women has only recently become a crime, one that’s quite difficult to prosecute or stop, according to the Toronto police. They actually have a special unit devoted to finding the girls and prosecuting the men who live off them. According to a CBC special, the police set up complicated sting operations and follow up with lengthy interviews with some of the young women.
One of the lucky ones who got out and lived to tell the tale of how she got recruited by promises of ‘fun’ and easy money at age 16, confessed that at the time, she had no idea what was happening to her: she didn’t even know that there was a word for it. Just a nice girl who was ignorant and easily beguiled. Who wanted attention. The rest of the story covers the various ways the police try to combat the problem by working with community outreach groups. Everybody is working very hard to make this ugly modern slave traffic go away.
But there was a curious omission: Not once does the story mention ‘education’. Not a word about teaching young women to be alert to the wiles of the traffickers, nothing about reaching out to schools who could, presumably, offer after-school workshops in what it means to get lured into the business. There is a blind spot here, a very large and ugly one that speaks of unconscious assumptions. For example, we don’t want to scare the young women, or get too graphic about what might happen to them. And we certainly don’t want to tell them about the perhaps unconscious message that their skimpy clothes send out, either. That’s old school; we are so much freer than that now, free to ape the slutfest that is held up as the way to dress by so-called celebrities. Mothers, who presumably know better, have all but abdicated to this toxic, demeaning culture. Sexuality as a commodity and the commodification of female bodies has been with us for so long that it has become ‘normal’. That’s also the reason why there’s so much porn; it too has become normalized.
The only thing that is changing is that women have, finally, found their public voice.
We are currently living through what has become known as ‘The Weinstein Effect’, and it’s great. I hope it isn’t just a moment, but a movement that will grow in strength and challenges not just the sexual predation rampant in our culture but also the out of control oppression of the many by the few, in the name of profit. Capitalism with its rigid hierarchies and brutal worship of ‘success’ enables the predators among us. It put a sexual predator in the White House. And if that doesn’t get your attention, I suggest reading Chris Hedges, one of the most radical voices for equality in the US today. If someone like that is taking the Weinstein effect seriously, you can bet that something major is shaking down. He says it better than I can:
If our collective Weinstein moment becomes a movement and results in real changes in the workplace and at home, then young women won’t need to be educated about being wary and careful in their dealings with men. They won’t need to learn the meaning of ‘female trafficking’.
It can’t happen soon enough. The change we need has begun, the old promise of feminism to liberate everyone is in our sights again. Equality is the goal, and we can get there if we’re clear about what we want: we’re tired of having some guy and sometimes, some woman, tell everyone how to live. We want freedom and equality and no more sex trafficking. Is that too much to ask? It may well be, but if we don’t try, we’re going back to the Middle Ages. And they were nobody’s idea of equality.