power

plain donuts and the normalization of normalization

Originally posted on (in)visible

       Today at work—i work at a coffee shop—someone asked me for a donut. However, she (i read her as a she, and will own that) didn’t simply as for “a donut.” She asked for “a plain donut.” This is where the challenge ensued.

       Now, i knew exactly which donut she wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind, and, for the record, i ended up being right. But i have a bone to pick with the concept of “plain/normal/regular.” Fortunately, in my line of work, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to pose challenges to this way of thinking.

       So i drug the moment out. It could have been over in a flash of money and smiles; i could have sent her on her merry way quite easily. But i chose not to. i pretended not to know what she meant. “Which one?” i asked.

       “The plain one,” she repeated herself as if the issue were one of decibel level instead of clarification.

       “i don’t know what’s ‘plain’ to you, that’s very subjective,” i began playfully. “This one is covered in powdered sugar, is it ‘plain?’ What about the frosted ones, those look pretty ‘plain’ to me. Then, of course, you’d have to choose what’s more ‘plain,’ black or white?” i framed with a wry smile.

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Migrants, favours, protection, sex: examples from Embracing the Infidel

(Posted at Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

In Embracing the Infidel Behzad Yaghmaian narrates his journey to record the stories of migrants trying to find a place to settle in Europe. There are women in the book, but the majority of detailed stories are told by men and boys. Many of the plots are about physical hardships encountered whilst being smuggled across borders: Afghanistan to Iran, Iran to Turkey, Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria, France to England.  Long scenes are set in Istanbul, Sofia, Athens, Paris, Calais. Contradictory, arbitrary, frustrating, paper-oriented refugee policy is arguably the book’s main villain, though the sadism of border guards and swindles by smugglers are more dramatic.  I especially appreciate Yaghmaian’s ability to tell terrible stories without falling into a victimising, maudlin tone (the subject of Forget Victimisation).

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Sex workers and Violence against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes?

(From Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

How is it feminist, if the goal is improving society and achieving more equality amongst human beings, to focus on crime and punishment? Published in 2001, this article provoked horror in some sectors. Although I wouldn’t write it exactly the same way now, I stand by its ideas. If Gender Equality is one of feminism’s goals, how can we imagine it without reducing everything to black and white, perpetrator and victim, crime, crime, crime?

Sex workers and Violence Against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes?

Laura Mª Agustín

Development, 44.3, 107-110 (2001)

Sexual exploitation and prostitution

In the movement to construct a discourse of ‘violence against women’, and thus to raise consciousness about kinds of mistreatment which before were invisible, the stage has been reached where defining crime and achieving punishment appears to be the goal. While it is progressive to raise consciousness about violence and exploitation in an attempt to deter the commitment of crimes, I hope to show that the present emphasis on discipline is very far from a utopic vision and that we should now begin to move toward other suggestions for solutions.

The following argument uses the example of prostitution or ‘sexual exploitation’ as an instance of ‘violence against women’, but the approach can apply to any attempt to deal with not only definitions of gender and sexual violence but with proposals to deal with them. When applied to adult prostitution, the term ‘sexual exploitation’ attempts to change language to make ‘voluntary’ prostitution impossible. For those who wish to ‘abolish’ prostitution, therefore, this change in terms represents progress, for now language itself will not be complicit with the violence involved. For those who may or may not want to ‘abolish’ prostitution but who in the present put the priority on improving the everyday lot of prostitutes, this language change totalizes a variety of situations involving different levels of personal will and makes it more difficult to propose practical solutions. When applied to the prostitution of children, the term ‘sexual exploitation’ represents a project to change perceptions about childhood. For those who believe that the current western model of childhood as a time of innocence should become the ‘right’ of all children in the world, this term is very important.

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