In late July, local Radical Feminist group RFU held a mini-conference in downtown Toronto to examine various topics related to women’s rights and the feminist movement. Several talks were presented, including one on the concept of gender and one on pornography and its impact on women. Guest speaker Bridget Perrier, an exited survivor of the sex industry, told her personal story of childhood trauma, years in prostitution in Canada and the US, and her eventual exit and founding of SexTrade 101, a sex trade survivors and abolitionist organization in Toronto.
Women came from within Toronto and from out of town to take part in the conference.
The first presentation, on the concept of gender, discussed the difference between sex and gender, critically examined the tenets of queer theory, and made a case for a more radical feminist analysis. One takeaway point is that, contrary to popular belief, queer theory relies on upholding more rigid gender systems in order for its adherents to be able to ‘transgress’ these systems—in effect, queer activism is mainly performative and does little to reject or transform the patriarchal establishment or to improve women’s lives.
The presentation on pornography gave an overview of the increased depictions of violence against women in porn and how normalized these images have become, and their impact on women (and men). Questions about pornography as it relates to public health and women’s sexuality were addressed, by the speaker and the audience, in a dynamic discussion. Pornography’s sexualization of objectively cruel acts, like choking and abusing racist power dynamics, was criticized. One particularly elucidating slide displayed quotations from men in the porn industry that showcased their hatred of women. One example:
“I’d like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we [pornographers] serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.” – Bill Margold, porn industry veteran, quoted in Robert J. Stoller and I. S. Levine, Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-rated video; 1993.
Panel discussions on the presentation topics were thoughtful and lively. There was debate over how to deal with the public health crisis that excessive unregulated pornography has created—some felt a concerted educational campaign and content warnings before all porn videos would have a large impact, while others thought this approach would be meaningless unless something more fundamental changed within men who view porn. Most women agreed that in our current patriarchal establishment, there cannot be such a thing as ‘ethical’ porn, though some women extended this further, to include all heterosexual sex as well.
Bridget Perrier’s highly anticipated talk was revealing and emotional. Her raw recounting painted a disturbing picture of men (especially men of money and power) in Canada. Abused by parental figures, men in law enforcement, men in the criminal justice system and an array of pimps, Bridget was trafficked throughout Canada and occasionally south of the border for seven years before successfully exiting the industry. Her story, like many others’, begins with a difficult childhood peppered by acts of abuse from adult caregivers. Today Bridget works with SexTrade 101, and she discussed some of their activism with regards to enforcement of Canada’s prostitution legislation (i.e., arresting and charging johns) and supporting women in prostitution who desire to exit the industry. Learn more about SexTrade 101 here.
Overall, the first RFU mini-conference was a wild success, and there are already two presenters signed up for the next iteration—date TBA. If you are a Toronto-based feminist interested in joining RFU, please get in touch.