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Traffic in Souls

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Given the day’s rather bizarre turn here, it seems like a good enough time to remind all of you with Netflix account that Traffic in Souls, the ridiculous 1913 film promoting the white slavery fears dominant in America during these years, is available for streaming. The film follows 2 Swedish sisters just off the boat at Ellis Island. One gets lured into a brothel by an offer of work, the other searches for her. I’m not sure what’s more eye-rolling about the film, the white slavery freak-out of the late Progressive Era or the fact that evidently the woman suckered into the brothel never actually has sex. Were that to have happened, the kidnappers would have beat and drugged her. But you couldn’t show that in 1913. Interestingly though, the scandalous nature of the film subject did cause white slavery to be a banned subject under the Hays Code of 1934.

It’s not really that bad of a film I guess. And it is worth watching for those of you interested in Progressive Era sexuality. However, I wouldn’t exactly take it as a documentary.

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  • Emma in Sydney

    Anyone interested in the labyrinthine history of sex trafficking in Australia could start with Rae Frances’s 2003 paper here which links it all up with current controversies about prostitution and trafficking. As she says:

    As a historian, I am constantly struck with the resonances of these past stories and past dilemmas. We don’t seem to have learnt a lot from over one hundred years experience as a destination in the transnational sex industry. We still find it more convenient to deport the victims rather than attempt any more fundamental challenge to a system which is undeniably exploitative of many of the women and girls involved.

  • Chris

    Yep, super bizarre that you linked to a post that, at a bare minimum, was so badly written that it appeared to be arguing that some people are disqualified on the basis of race and sex from attempting to pursue advocacy on behalf of exploited, suffering people, and that then you got some pushback for that.

    Let me suggest that, if in the future you want to pursue this line of argument, you link to sources that make it CRYSTAL FUCKING CLEAR what the problem with this kind of advocacy is, because it was not at all obvious to me or a lot of other intelligent people. You can’t just assume that readers (including smart, well-intentioned ones!) are going to be able to piece it together from links to oblique, academic sources that are assuming familiarity with a whole ongoing conversation. And then you look and sound like an asshole.

    I’m pretty sympathetic to the general notion that some object of advocacy is in fact nothing more than a moral panic, and have been persuaded of such things in the past. None of what you wrote or linked to came off as much better than “Think you care about sex slavery in third-world countries? Well, you’re a patriarchalist and a racist.” You can do better than that, but it’s a lot of work, and you pissed a lot of people off today by trying to short-circuit it.

    • stuck working

      I see. So feminists need to make themselves “CRYSTAL FUCKING CLEAR” at all times because otherwise they’ll piss off self-righteous dudes? How about instead, you try to read someone else’s point of view charitably instead of getting really worked up about her making a good point in a polemical fashion?

      • Name

        How about instead, you try to read someone else’s point of view charitably

        Like “feminists” did for Kristof, right? Should we extend Augustin that same level of charity?

      • Chris

        All I am saying is that the feminist case against Nick Kristof et al. is one that needs to be made patiently and carefully for a generalist audience, and that leading off (as Loomis and Agustín both did) with charges of patriarchalism and racism is extremely uncharitable and insulting toward a whole lot of well-meaning people. Not to mention—if their critique is correct—counterproductive.

        • stuck working

          But Chris, look at the posture you’re adopting. It’s always the other people who have to do the extra work to convince you while you don’t need to do the extra work to understand them. You get to be justified in being pissed off, but others aren’t allowed to be because it’s “counterproductive.”

          That’s using your privilege to create an unfair double standard. Why aren’t I allowed to be pissed off by what I see as Kristof’s obviously condescending and patriarchal attitude? Grant that we’re all interested in ending slavery and achieving equality — if my anger is counter-productive, why isn’t yours also?

        • You are far overstating the case by saying I was arguing that. I do think Augustin’s point has significant merit. However, obviously for those women saved, it is good.

          The reality is that the situation is highly complicated. Which it does not seem anyone other than myself, djw, Dr. Dick, and a few others are willing to recognize.

          • Kiwanda

            I would appreciate it if you could expand on what that significant merit in Agustin’s piece is. (Beyond some general point that not all attempts to fix a problem are helpful, and sometimes people don’t have the best motivations.)

            Most people are not discussing the banal observation that the situation is complicated, so I’m not sure how you know what they are willing, or not willing, to recognize.

  • T. Paine

    Like “feminists” did for Kristof, right?

    Oooh, high quality trolling! Random Internet commenter wants to decide who’s a feminist and who isn’t based upon whether they’re sufficiently deferential to men. A+, sir!

    • Name

      Do you agree with Augustin, or not?

      • Name

        I ask because I think it’s completely fair to read Augustin as saying that no white man is allowed to give a shit about sexual slavery without revealing themselves as a patriarchalist and a racist, and if that’s “feminism,” then yes, “feminism” is an insult. And if you wear racism and sexism as a badge of pride, then your opinion that I’m a “troll” is something I’ll wear as a badge of pride.

        • T. Paine

          Your deliberate misreading of Augustin is moronic, and your resort to “I know you are but what am I?” is pathetic.

          And with that, taking the pledge!

          • Name

            Augustin is a racist sexist. And your insults are meaningless and puerile. And I hope that pledge is to stop responding to me, because this blog’s hostile enough without having you as a creepy, deranged stalker following every comment I make in every thread.

            • witless chum

              Keep fighting that multi-thread, not at all crazy good fight against the racism and sexism directed at poor Nick Kristof.

          • Bill Murray

            makes one miss manju and his Byrd obsession

        • I think it’s completely fair to read Augustin as saying that no white man is allowed to give a shit about sexual slavery without revealing themselves as a patriarchalist and a racist

          That’s not a fair reading at all. She’s talking about men in pursuit of virtue, which may or may not overlap with men who help trafficked women.

          • Tybalt

            No, she’s talking about specific acts: “In the contemporary example, men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damsels – acts more than legitimate to criticise.”

            And I really am offended by the infantilizing effect of “damsels” to describe these women. And that’s her term entirely.

            It’s legitimate to criticize the use of “evolution-high” and “evolution-low”; she’s not doing that though!

            • No, she’s talking about specific acts

              No, she’s talking about men in pursuit of virtue. One way to get that virtue is those acts; another cause could suffice. The “damsels” fit the myth, not her ideas.

  • Matthew Stevens

    I’m late to this argument, and I’d like to say I find it easy to believe that sex slavery claims are overblown, equivalent to the white slavery hysteria of a century ago, and Kristof et. al. are doing more harm than good.

    Nevertheless, I think too many feminist arguments start from an assumption of bad intent and move on from there. Feminists will respond, “Well isn’t it reasonable to assume people are sexist?” Sure it is, just as it’s reasonable to assume people murder and steal, but you can’t prove individual guilt that way. It means that arguing with a feminist is too often like going to an AA meeting and convincing the attendees you aren’t an alcoholic (it’s close to impossible).

    I’m sure folks look at the angry response to Augustin and see it as a point in her favor, that the anger is just a sign of male privilege under assault, but I hope feminists will avoid that kind of thinking, in which agreement is a sign of correctness and disagreement is also a sign of correctness. I don’t think that’s a sign of a healthy intellectual movement.

    Just my two cents.

    • Tybalt

      This is about more than a question of individual guilt though. Kristof’s a big kid and I am sure he can look after himself – and I am sure that Augustin’s critique will roll off him (he is, after all, white, male and powerful).

      My own view is, I don’t care about motives, I care about actions. Augustin (sorry to keep going back to the well) seems to be concerned that (1) Kara and Kristof’s actions are counterproductive and will cause more harm than good and (2) the desire to do good deeds to help slaves reinforces patriarchy.

      DrDick in our earlier threads seems to agree with (1), and says that there is research/evidence to back this up. I asked him to cite, but he probably missed it. I am hoping he or someone else will do so here; I find the claim that widespread and popular journalism on the topic will harm the cause of slaves more than it helps to be interesting but dubious, and I’m quite eager to educate myself!

      As to (2), I could not agree less. This is a gatekeeping issue, and I reject the idea that white men cannot take action to help women’s suffering without reinforcing patriarchy. I’m not sure the idea really matters, since the academic critique has little to offer actors in the world (and I don’t want to tell Augustin what to work on) but it matters in the sense that I want to see academics get it right.

    • witless chum

      Nevertheless, I think too many feminist arguments start from an assumption of bad intent and move on from there. Feminists will respond, “Well isn’t it reasonable to assume people are sexist?” Sure it is, just as it’s reasonable to assume people murder and steal, but you can’t prove individual guilt that way. It means that arguing with a feminist is too often like going to an AA meeting and convincing the attendees you aren’t an alcoholic (it’s close to impossible).

      How do you think the percentage of men arguing with feminists on the Internet who turn out to just be sexists compares to the percentage of the general population who murder and steal?

      Feminists knee-jerking at the guy arguing with them might not be fair, but it’s pretty understandable to anyone who hangs on feminist blogs, which are oft visited by trolls who try to j.a.q. off for awhile before just coming out with the fact that they don’t really believe women are equal. Sometimes a guy honestly disagreeing from a nonsexist perspective is going to be mistaken for that, honestly or rhetorically.

      • Matthew Stevens

        Feminists knee-jerking at the guy arguing with them might not be fair, but it’s pretty understandable to anyone who hangs on feminist blogs, which are oft visited by trolls who try to j.a.q. off for awhile before just coming out with the fact that they don’t really believe women are equal.

        It’s understandable, but I’m not saying this for my own sake — I wasn’t part of the original debate, and I don’t feel I was under personal attack — or for Kristof’s, who as Tybalt points out can take care of himself, but for the feminists themselves. I would like feminists to have more influence, but I think they have styles of argument that make this harder than it has to be.

        Also note that I’m not talking about feminist responses to criticism — like arguments on this blog — which, like any fight, can quickly get ugly. I’m talking about folks who aren’t trying to start fights in the first place, but who are assumed from the get go to have malicious intent or (even more insidiously) to be embodying, reflecting, etc. some malevolent force like patriarchy. It’s pointlessly leveling charges that can’t be defended against. And to what end, other than pissing people off?

        So again, I’m happy to hear arguments that Kristof et. al. are doing more harm than good. I’m not saying that feminists are bad people. I do think, though, that they often make arguments that don’t help their own causes.

    • Amb

      I don’t think it’s about assuming ‘bad intent’, necessarily, just assuming that the people making the arguments are… human. Imperfect. Self-centered. It doesn’t make them ‘bad’ people, but it can blind them to nuances of a situation so that their approach to solving a problem is ineffective or counter-productive.

      It’s fair to point out people’s blind spots when you think it’s affecting their argument. That some people get defensive and take it as a personal attack doesn’t make it one and doesn’t mean you should refrain from doing it.

      • Anonymous

        It doesn’t make them ‘bad’ people, but it can blind them to nuances of a situation so that their approach to solving a problem is ineffective or counter-productive.

        I think this points out the problem. Of course people are “self-centered.” But if I went down the hall to the secretary and told her she was “self-centered” she would be pissed off. And rightly so! What right do I have to denounce her that way? Even though it’s probably true, as it would be for anybody. Again, why just not point out “that their approach to solving a problem is ineffective or counter-productive” and skip the personal attack?

        It’s fair to point out people’s blind spots when you think it’s affecting their argument.

        But the problem is assuming the blind spot, then arguing backwards from it.

        • Matthew Stevens

          Sorry, this was me.

        • mpowell

          Well, this is the whole difficulty with critical x theory. When you take a social institution and say, “let’s examine this under the assumption that this social institution exists to advance an xist agenda”, then you are pretty much going to be making a whole series of personal attacks. Instead you could just stick to trying to demonstrate why particular social institutions do exacerbate xism. There are cases where the latter approach limits the scope of what you can demonstrate. On the other hand, you may be better able to persuade the relevant people.

        • Amb

          Again, why just not point out “that their approach to solving a problem is ineffective or counter-productive” and skip the personal attack?

          When you make people aware of their blind spots, they’re more likely to check them in future arguments.

          But the problem is assuming the blind spot, then arguing backwards from it.

          Eh, it’s a matter of personal judgment. Generally in the discussions I read people point out bias when other people’s arguments show evidence of bias, they don’t go running around informing people of their faults when it’s not relevant.

          Of course bias and relevance are a matter of interpretation, which is also prone to human error and misjudgment and tedious never-ending discussion threads. But there is value to calling it out, especially when the participants have honestly never considered a particular angle before.

  • joejoejoe

    The first time I ever heard of the Hays code was in a Joe Strummer song, ‘Leopardskin Limousines’.

    What you can see is something you saw
    When you were a little girl
    Some picture passed by the Hays Commission
    About a prairie and a Kansas whirl
    It’s true I didn’t have a part in it
    I was working out at Disneyworld
    Dressing like a duck, not giving a fuck
    Baby you can dream it’s a pearl

    I wonder how many songs mention legislation or commissions?

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