CFP #AAG2017 – (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance

Call for Papers for the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting (#AAG2017)

Boston, USA, 5-10 April 2017

 

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Image taken from: http://www.nswp.org/event/3rd-annual-red-umbrella-march-sex-work-solidarity

 

(De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance (#Geosex17)

The socio-spatial, cultural and legal contours that surround sex, sexualities and sex work have long interested geographers, sociologists and criminologists.  Similarly, stigmatisation and social exclusion of marginalised sexual communities and sexual dissidents have also been at the forefront of academic thought, alongside how varying regulatory approaches contribute to perpetuating or diluting such effects on these communities.

In simple binary terms, political and policy attitudes towards commercial sex premises (e.g. sex shops, strip clubs, brothels) and sexual dissidents (e.g. sex workers, porn performers, LGBTI communities, consumers of commodified/commercialised forms of sex) veer between the (i) pragmatic and progressive and (ii) regressive and punitive.  Recent changes to sex work regulation, for example, have included: (i) the introduction of the ‘Nordic regime’ in France and Northern Ireland; (ii) the establishment of mandatory health counselling prior to and as a condition for registration for sex workers in Germany; and (iii) the introduction of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs) in the State of New York. In the US, where sex work remains criminalised (except in parts of Nevada), federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been at the forefront of a series of ‘sting operations’ on street-based sex workers and the closure of online escort agencies often on the premise of tackling human trafficking and money laundering. In 2016 the international human rights group, Amnesty International, confirmed its support for the decriminalisation of sex work, joining a host of other international organisations who support this policy stance. Interestingly, the policy agenda on sex work in the UK took an unexpected turn recently when the Home Affairs Committee on Prostitution indicated that a more pragmatic regulatory approach to sex work was required.

Pornography has also witnessed shifting socio-legal landscapes, with governments calling for and/or enacting varying forms of internet filtering and censorship of certain sexual acts (e.g face-sitting and female ejaculation).  Such moves have been argued to be highly gender biased. These are paralleled by other regulatory changes (e.g. mandatory condom use for adult performers) being introduced/advocated, but vehemently opposed within the adult performer community in the USA.  The state government in Utah recently declared that pornography was a public health hazard and consumption was at epidemic levels. Annual data from Pornhub, one of the world’s largest providers of online pornography, does indeed show that there is global mass consumption of porn. However, systematic research on the supposed deleterious effects of porn consumption remain seriously underdeveloped.

Relatedly, the ways in which sex, sexualities and sex work are performed, produced and consumed have also experienced changes in recent years, largely due to advances in mobile technology and the Internet. This raises interesting questions about the nature and dynamism within different sexscapes: (i) at a variety of scales, from the body and digital avatars to commercial sex work premises (e.g. pornography studios, brothels, camming spaces, BDSM venues, and the street); (ii) the wellbeing and safety of sex workers; and, (iii) the nature of community and mobility within and across different sectors of the sex industry.  Such shifts in technological advances have paved new ways and created new spaces for sexual dissidents engaged in consensual commercial forms of sex to communicate, mobilise and, ultimately, oppose stigmatisation and challenge policy and legislation.

This special session therefore seeks papers that focus on the broad themes of politics, policy and performance in/of sex, sexualities and sex work/the sex industry and how the concepts of labelling, stigmatisation and stereotyping are operationalised/resisted from above and below.  Papers can be theoretical, methodological and/or empirical and should speak to, but are by no means limited to, the following broad topics:

  • The social/economic/cultural geographies of adult retailing, queerness, sex work and pornography;
  • Stigma and social exclusion of/within sex work and the sex industry;
  • Liminal spaces and liminal stigmatisation of sexuality, sex work and the sex industry;
  • Community, diversity and mobility within sex work;
  • Kink/fetish spaces/communities involving bondage and discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS), sadism and masochism (SM) (BDSM);
  • Performing sex work/sex worker identities via professional and/or protest/advocacy spaces;
  • Peer-education and advocacy within sex worker communities;
  • Sex, sexuality, sex work and disabilities;
  • Customers/clients and the sex industry;
  • Policing and criminal justice approaches to regulating the sex industry; and
  • Sex trafficking/exploitation and consensual commercial sex.

We welcome abstracts/papers by scholars, sex worker-academics, research-minded sex workers/sex work activists, adult entertainment performers/activists, and government/policy researchers from all theoretical, ideological, political, methodological, and empirical standpoints.

Please send your abstract (max 250 words) including title, 5 key words, author(s), institutional affiliation and contact details (including email) to the session convenors by no later than 14th October 2016.

Details about the AAG 2017 Conference and how to register/submit an abstract are available here – http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/call_for_papers

 

Session Convenors:

Assoc. Prof. Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia, paul.maginn@uwa.edu.au. (@planographer)

Dr. Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire, ecooper2@uclan.ac.uk. (@liminographer)

Dr. Erin Sanders-Mcdonagh, University of Kent, E.Sanders-McDonagh@kent.ac.uk  (@erinsandersmcd)

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 1/5 – SESSION I**

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016)

A couple of weeks ago I returned from the Association of American Geographers conference in San Francisco.  The conference was a great opportunity to catch up with friends/colleagues (old and new!) and San Francisco was a lot of fun.  I also had a week in Las Vegas, where I did a talk at UNLV and lots of holidaying.  Taking a drive up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona was definitely a highlight.  Here is me on my first look out:

grand canyon

Now onto our #geosex16 sessions.  Paul (@planographer), Martin (@Zebracki) Clarissa (DrClarissaSmith) and I were completely overwhelmed with the response that we got from the call for papers and the sessions went really well.  We had a range of presenters, including academics (early and established careers), sex workers, sex worker academics and the quality of papers was excellent.  Here is Paul’s interview with Xbiz.com about the sessions:  http://business.avn.com/articles/novelty/Sex-Work-to-Receive-Platform-at-AAG-Annual-Conference-640645.html.

I tried to take some notes during the sessions in order to be able to report on some of the papers in this blog for those who couldn’t attend.  Some are more comprehensive than others – this was due to me having to undertake chairing duties/wrist-ache and/or I was charging the laptop.  I have incorporated elements of the paper abstracts with the notes taken by me to enable some of the gaps in note-taking to be filled.  Due to my over-enthusiastic note-taking(!), I’ll be posting the entries session-by-session.

Session I – Performance, Production & Politics

Zahra Stardust (@ZahraStardust) (University of New South Wales): “Queer feminist pornography as a social movement: Protest, resistance and radical politics”

Zahra kicked our sessions off excellently, with her paper about queer feminist pornography.  Based upon 19 qualitative interviews with porn producers, Zahra’s research explores how they maintain political integrity and ethics whilst navigating the regulatory framework.  She argued that porn acts as a protest mechanism against state censorship and government intervention while also deliberately and poetically violating laws designed to closet non-normative practices.

As Zahra outlined, in Australia, the production, exhibition and sale of pornography is criminalised, attracting fines and imprisonment; thus, porn producers are ‘sexual outlaws’. Customs and Classifications have prohibited pornography depicting female ejaculation, small breasts (which look ‘underdeveloped’), genital detail and fetishes (eg BDSM). Resistance to such laws include the recent ‘face-sitting’ protest outside Westminster (UK) in 2014.  Despite this, Australia has a queer feminist porn community whose work receives notoriety worldwide.

Zahra explained how shooting porn is a guerrilla operation.  Porn sets operate as temporary autonomous zones (such as warehouses, the bush, backyards), organised by word of mouth in transient locations. Smartphones are also turned off to avoid identification by authorities.   Porn production involves skill-sharing, resource-lending and a DIY approach with the capacity to create mobilised, empowered communities. New technology has democratised porn: of which there is a multitude of different types.  Zahra outlined how the producer, distributor, consumer boundary is now much more blurred, and who can produce porn/who can represent others is also now changing as a result.  Performers are becoming directors, and directors are becoming facilitators; enabling more control of representation and revenue, and helping the performer’s experience to be prioritised (eg the micro-geographies of working conditions). Therefore, more collaborative and facilitative models of production are forged, and performers can more readily ‘forge one’s own space instead of looking elsewhere to be represented’, which is creating more ‘participatory spaces’, as well as greater potential for entrepreneurial opportunities.

Zahra’s research shows that production fosters an ‘ethics of care’ and ongoing dialogue about community standards that resists patriarchal state regulation.  Zahra argued that leaders abdicating power is the future of queer feminist and ethical porn’, with a redistribution of wealth and a trickle effect on every other aspect of the business being possible.  Due to the “accountability to communitythat ensues from the blurring of roles (as opposed to the producer-performer boundary being clear-cut), this also improve working conditions, health and safety, and creates clearer policies and better contracts for performers.

I particularly liked Zahra’s final statement: that porn is “art, work, and business”, with binaries in class and taste being presented as “good” or “bad” porn being unhelpful.  She stated that “it is essential to tackle stigma directly” instead of such unhelpful categorisations, in order to more effectively tackle issues such as exploitation and to ensure appropriate working conditions for performers.

 

Gemma Commane (@GemCommane) (Birmingham City University): “RubberDoll: The Queer Art of Failure and the Significance of Sexual Otherness”

Gemma’s powerful paper presented a case study of RubberDoll (http://rubberdoll.net/): a hard-core fetish latex model, performance-artist and full-time kinkster.  Gemma outlined that the Rubberdoll brand originated in the 1990s, with photos of her modelling rubber clothing, and progressed to performances at clubs etc (of which there is a high demand for appearances).  The act includes multiple ways of expressing sexuality, and is more dominant than submissive – which is evident in stage shows, dvds etc.  Gemma outlined that “latex is a flexible subject”, which has the ability to embrace “pervy heavy rubber” and elegant “couture”. 

Gemma argued that RubberDoll’s latex-encased lifestyle and artistic expressivity is cleverly mixed across and within a range of hybridized forms of technologies and leisure-time environments, where she continuously presents a journey to the outer-limits of fetish and kink. The social nature of the spaces of performances, Gemma explained, enable great opportunities for personal expression and to explore self-identity.  Such spaces also cater for Rubberdolls’ sexual appetite and preferences, reproducing them via music choices, act choices and ambience – “irrespective of external ideological forces which represent her as a failure of femininity, morally corrosive and dangerous”.   The creativity in crafting such performative spaces and use of layers in performance is “artistic gendered activism”.

Using Ahmed’s definition of queering something as to ‘disrupt the other of things’, Gemma argues that via managing herself and expanding on how (her) sexual expressivity and kink can be communicated,  RubberDoll queers the cis-gendered male gaze and develops the political significance of sexual otherness.  I think my favourite statement of the paper was that alternative feminists should be valued as socially and politically significant: acts like Rubberdoll are reproducing alternative routes to success”.  Gemma outlined how repressive ideological values, which deem ‘Other’ women such as Rubberdoll as insignificant due to their lack of ability to conform to heterosexual norms (eg relating to coupling, intimacy, desire and pleasure), can and should be disrupted.  Rubberdoll’s failure to conform and radical undermining of normative scripts, Gemma stated, is not only important in seeing identity as having endless possibilities (e.g. that femininity is not owned by one type of woman only, and is not one-dimensional), but it has been key to her entrepreneurial success.  Her business empire has survived multiple barriers against female entrepreneurs such as status, networks, funding and she is now one of the top fetish artists.  As Gemma’s abstract states: “this has also been in the face of the issues and tensions that intersect and are expressed when a woman engages with pornography, sexual deviancy, and kink. This makes visible the potential of a flexibly-queer community of difference, where kinky-queer women are able to live their self-identity both personally and professionally”.

 

Lucy Neville, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCertHE (@blue_stocking) (Middlesex University): “A Forum Of One’s Own: Female Slash Writers And Online Embodiment”

Lucy’s paper drew on a piece of wide-scale mixed-methods research (n=351) that examined how women who write gay male erotica and pornography utilise online spaces as places for exploring their own gender and sexuality. Her research investigates the ways in which online space provides what is perceived by participants as a ‘safe’ environment for creatively examining issues around gender, sexuality and sexual performance – particularly challenging heteronormativity and gender conformity. Lucy drew from Feona Atwood’s extensive work, arguing that the boundaries between online erotic content and real life sexuality can be blurred via such spaces. Previous work has looked at how online slashfic communities might provide a space for exploring gender performance and sexuality in a way that constitutes Foucault’s vision of ‘creative practice’ as a form of political dissent (Hayes & Ball, 2009).

Other work has observed a tension between writers and readers who see the online community as ‘safe queer space’ to explore their own lived queer identities, and those who only ‘play at queerness’ exclusively within the online environment (Lothian, Busse, & Reid, 2007).  Lucy argued that, as the virtual plays a constitutive role in the materialization of gender, sexuality, and embodiment in both digital and physical spaces (van Doorn, 2011), the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘lived’ experiences needs to be better examined.

Lucy’s findings suggested that the online can provide a narrative safe haven; to develop the strength necessary to find a sense of belonging and meet like-minded individuals.  She also discussed that the action of writing and consuming gay male erotica, for her participants, isn’t just about sex, but about having an online space, free from heteronormative conditions, where they can talk about life and sexuality in a way that is less restricted by such boundaries.  Lucy discussed the importance of spaces in the public sphere for subcultural practices, be they physical or virtual, and for changing political views more generally.

Some of the underpinning questions to Lucy’s research included: does tension exist between authentic queer experience and queer tourism; and how do the women in these communities feel about it?

Some findings: the majority of respondents said they used material to masturbate, that it wasn’t just a political crusade (although 68% of what participants read or watched had some sort of political angle, e.g. seen a gateway to activism), but had a tremendous important role in their everyday practices/lives.  The majority were against the shaming of women’s sexual fantasies/practices.  One highlighted quote from a participant was: “it made me more open about accepting/understanding people who are not sitting in one labelled box”.  Lucy outlined that there was also cross-identification and fluid gender identification going on within the sample.  She did outline, however (although in the minority), that some participants experienced backlash for using the spaces – one having been called a homophobe, and one stating that “as a woman my experiences are considered invalid”.  Generally, though, the space is seen as inclusive and also a space to learn – to open up beliefs and to expand knowledge about sexuality, gender, and sex.    Also, it is considered a space to be happy – “gay guys are never allowed to live happily ever after in literature; one or both end up dead!”. 

 

Prof. Clarissa Smith (@drclarissasmith) (University of Sunderland): “Because life without porn would be boring.” Thinking about Young People, Pornography and Everyday Spaces”

Clarissa’s paper centred on recent moral crusades regarding the ‘pornification’ of society and changes in UK legislation, with a particular focus on how young people have been described and problematized in such discourse.  She discussed how arguments about pornification offer a view of public and private spaces as entirely permeated and shaped by pornography. In relation to young people, she argued, such talk conflates a range of issues: about protection, childhood, space and place and privacy. The range of recent UK legislation, she states, has sought to ‘protect’ young people and to keep ‘vile images’ out of the home.

Clarissa argued that such legal and protectionist discourses have marked the Internet as a major threat to the sanctity and innocence of the family home; cyberspace is figured as an alluring yet dangerous space for young people.  In the UK, 3 major reports have been written for government since 2008, with changes being made such as ‘opt-in’ adult content filters online, and age verification.  These adaptations have also been accompanied by documentaries such as Porn on the Brain (Channel 4) – which insinuated that pornography is ‘turning our children into psychopaths’.  Clarissa highlighted how ‘exposure’ gets used over and over again in legislative discourse, with porn considered ‘a poison in the home’ (Fagan), putting our children ‘in harm’s way’.   Such documentaries and legal discourses also discuss addiction, with consumers being portrayed as either victims or as having become perpetrators.  Some of the imagery used in media include “bags under ‘Charlie’s eyes, his spots, his moodiness, etc’” as being directly a result of porn use by young people.  Clarissa also outlined how the documentary “used pictures of the home in very particular ways eg young people making cakes with mum”; contrasting the differences between ‘other’ activities and what ‘should’ happen in the home.

Clarissa also outlined how concerns surrounding engagement in non-normative sexual activities e.g. anal sex, and the nostalgia for another time are encapsulated in the motivations for UK legislation change – the notion that porn used to be different (Dines) and fears around where/what it will lead to next. A key claim, she argued, is that “porn has developed outside the knowledge of ordinary parents/adult and needs urgent redress”.  The dominant model, she said, is that porn is a singular form, it slips under adult radar, is portrayed as a new phenomenon, and the remedies are clear.  The role of the Internet as a socialising space also comes into such discussions.  However, she argued that ‘the social relations through which young people engage with pornography are rarely examined’, and certainly not with a critical lens that does not singularly centre on young people as victims.  The complexities of young peoples’ use of the Internet as a means of escaping adult interference whilst also a space of parental surveillance are ignored in most policy investigations.  Her research, including a complex online questionnaire (100 under 18s) combining quantitative and qualitative questions into the meanings and pleasures of pornography, challenges these accounts.  The data complicates any notion that young people encounter sexual media by inadvertent ‘exposure’ to it and suggests that sexually explicit materials have intricate connections to young peoples’ understandings of family and the household space, and have multiple significances for their senses of themselves as sexual subjects.

Some findings: the home, which is generally seen as a place of safety, was also considered a “place of secrets” by participants.  Participants discussed understanding that ‘adult things were going on’ and wanting to know what they are.  She outlined narratives including looking to find out what the adult secret of sex was eg under beds, in cupboards. The internet is seen as a vast playground in which young people want to map their own ways through, and that young people eventually move into spaces of their own via preferences – “rather than the degenerative ‘slippery slope discussion like we get in policy reviews, ‘ending up’ in fetish material”.  Clarissa also outlined that what people mean by ‘fetish material is not necessarily antagonistic, violent material’ – nor that exploration is simply a one-way street, moving backwards and forwards; people do have histories and connections with porn over time. She finished by discussing the play-off between kinds of ways of thinking about porn as something to enhance one’s life/be playful, but also that it can also be a part of one’s identity, reflecting something about oneself.

‘De-sexing porn: An account of the non-porn porn at the Musee D’Orsay’. A guest post by Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd) about her visit to the the Splendeurs & Miseres Exposition

©-RMN-Grand-Palais-Musée-d’Orsay-Franck-Raux

Image from: http://www.hotels-paris-rive-gauche.com/blog/2015/08/27/exposition-splendeurs-et-miseres-au-musee-dorsay-du-22-septembre-2015-au-17-janvier-2016/

De-sexing porn: An account of the non-porn porn at the Musee D’Orsay

Opening at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris last Saturday the 22nd of September 2015, the Splendeurs & Miseres Exposition traces images of prostitution from 1850-1910. Having read Sciolino’s piece in the New York Times) the day before, I have some idea what to expect – paintings from artists such as Manet, Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec – and an exhibit that shows us images of prostitutes through the artist’s eye. There is another queue for the exhibit once inside, and the docent at the ticket desk tells me they are expecting higher than average numbers for this particular exhibition. Walking into first room, the mauve-painted walls and soft lighting invoke an almost hushed atmosphere. There are no written guides to the exhibit, only audio guides – and I am forbidden from taking pictures of the textual descriptions (written in both French and English) on the walls. The introduction to the exposition sets out not its purpose, but rather a rationale – making clear why the exposition includes the images we are about to see:

‘Its [prostitution] ever changing nature, which defied easy definition, was an enduring obsession among novelists, poets, playwrights, composers, painters and sculptors. Most artists in the 19th and first half of the 20th century addressed the splendor and misery of prostitution’

This idea of splendor and misery is borrowed from Balzac’s Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes (published in the 1830s), also known as Harlot of High and Low – which describes the rise and pitiful fall of the courtesan Esther Van Gobsecka, and frames prostitution as both a class issue and a moral question. The current exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay tries, to some extent, to engage with similar issues and questions, but the exhibit itself poses some moral questions of its own.

The first few rooms of the exhibit feature a variety of painted images, mostly rendered in oils, of women working as sex workers. A potted history of sex work in Paris is essentially recounted here – and the paintings feature well-dressed prostitutes promenading streets; shop girls, some who were known to sell sex to gentleman customers; and ballet dancers and actresses interacting with ‘patrons’ in the back stages of the Paris Opera. The descriptive text on the wall, and some of the specific text under key paintings, refers to class and position in relation to sexual exchanges, but there is little moralizing discourse written into the guiding text.

All of the prostitutes pictured are of course women – and the clients are gentlemen of rank and class. As the exhibit continues, there are dozens of rooms displaying the bodies of sex working women – from a range of different sex working hierarchies.

Mid-way through the exhibit, visitors over the age of 18 are invited to sweep through a red velvet curtain. What lies behind this curtain is clearly more provocative than what was being displayed in the main rooms. Entering into the dimly-lit space, spectators are invited to peer through binocular-like devices, ‘stereoscopes’, to see images of couples having sex, or engaging in sexual activity. Still photographs adorn the opposite wall, and around the corner a black and white pornographic film plays on a loop. These photographic and celluloid images signal an important shift – evidenced not only by the red curtain partitioning the obscene from the beautiful, but also by the accompanying text. The writing on the wall (literally), tells us that ‘by consuming the [photographic] image, viewers became virtual clients’. What then, of the museum spectators who have paid 12 euro each to consume the same images? Are we, the museum spectators, not also virtual clients?

While there are a great many questions that the exposition raises in relation to prostitution and sex work, I would like to focus here on how it is that we, viewers of pornography, have managed to avoid any aspersions cast on our character? How can a male spectator viewing this film in the early 1900s be seen as voyeuristic, described as a ‘virtual’ client, while we, the contemporary spectators in 2015, are freed from any moral dilemmas?

I stood for some time looking at the faces of people watching the film, and listening to the conversations. Reactions ranged from disinterest, to laughter – it was clear that we as the audience were not meant to be sexually aroused by this in any way – but rather, bemused and analytical, and we followed the rules.

The politics of looking, and the importance of visual consumption of sexual images are central to debates on pornography. The extent to which looking at bodies engaging in sexual activity renders them object/abject, and the impact that this type of viewing has on the visual consumer is key in framing pornography as morally dubious. However, as I have recently argued (Sanders-McDonagh, in press), understanding the impact and importance of pornography requires not just an analysis of content, but a contextual account. We do not watch pornography in a vacuum – we watch naked bodies in particular spaces and places, and the space and place where we are located fundamentally shapes our experiences.

For me this is the most problematic element of the show – not so much that women’s naked or splayed bodies are on display (yet again), or that the prostitute features as both hapless victim and conniving temptress (yet again), although these of course warrant further debate and discussion – but rather that the way the images are presented and described, and the assumptions that are in play about who is looking and how, are fundamentally relevant to any analysis of the exposition.

The Musee D’Orsay, as is true with most art galleries across the world, appeals to a middle-class demographic and welcomes over 2 million visitors every year. There is an expectation that these visitors here have not only the requisite economic capital, but also a great deal of cultural capital to make sense of what they are seeing, and to recognize and evaluate the artistic merit of some representations, and the debased nature of others. Indeed, a few metro stops away in Clichy or Pigalle, one could easily buy a pornographic film or magazine at one of the many sex shops in the area, but there is clear demarcation between the high and the low here, and their symbolic separation.

Tellingly, the gift shop that you enter after leaving the final room of the exhibit has a range of book and DVDs for sale. If you have 45 euro, you can buy the official book for the exposition. A hefty price (and a weighty tome), but a material reminder of your visit, and full of the images of naked women you have just consumed in the exposition. If you have less money but would still like a book, you could buy a copy of Emile Zola’s Nana, or perhaps a biography of a Parisian courtesan. You could also buy a DVD – maybe an art house movie that won a prize at Cannes and almost coincidentally features a prostitute (obviously displayed naked on the cover, but tastefully arranged), or else a glossy art/fashion publication that features a range of intelligent analyses of prostitution, as well as stylish images of red-lit women. Purchasing any of these items – which would be placed gently into the well-designed Musee D’Orsay bag – would be far different from purchasing a similar item from a shop in Pigalle. Here, you could not be so sure that this is a tasteful purchase; it would be placed in a black plastic bag, to hide the grubby item lurking inside, and, even more problematically, you would have to venture into and out of such a shop, in such an area, to purchase such an item. The naked women in display in your expensive Musee D’Orsay book are guaranteed to meet certain standards of taste – whereas the women in display on anything in such a shop in such an area come with no guarantees.

While the exhibit works hard to make clear where the acceptable boundaries of high and low are situated, and implicitly assumes that the visual consumers, the museum-goers, will be able to position the sex on display behind their red curtain (as not sexual, as artefact) vis-à-vis Other pornographic images or movies (that are intrinsically sexual, because they are not displayed in the appropriate context), there is the possibility of confusion. For that reason, the velvet curtain is introduced, because even within an exhibit that features almost exclusively depictures of prostitutes and images of naked women, there is an internal hierarchy between the higher oil-based naked women, and the lower silver-gelatin naked women. Everything has a place and an order – there is highest-high-low-lowest – and this order must be made clear.

And indeed, I would imagine that many visitors, the ones I watch as they watch the black-and-white movie on the wall, walk away bemused. Perhaps their conversations over that evening’s apero, or tomorrow night’s dinner party, will include witty analyses of the images, and perhaps their friends will decide to go because it sounds so intriguing. I would doubt that many of these dinner party conversations would include suggestions about which production company features the most realistic lesbian porn, or if anyone has accidentally stumbled onto an excellent chem-porn site while browsing through Tumblr…. and as I imagine these dinner parties conversations, I remember what Stallybrass and White have to say about the high and the low:

The ‘top’ includes the ‘low’ symbolically as a primary eroticized constituent of its own fantasy life. The result is a mobile, conflictual fusion of power, fear, and desire in the construction of subjectivity’ (Stallybrass and White in Walkowitz, 1992: 20).

Watching the pornographic movie on display in the Musee D’Orsay is no different to watching the same pornographic movie at home – the images and the representations are the same and the content of what is being consumed is identitical. However, watching this in the hallowed chamber of a well-known museum is vastly different to watching the same movie on your smartphone on your sofa. The fundamental question is not what you watch, but where. The top includes the low – it requires the low for the sustenance of fantasy, but our views on what kinds of naked images are tasteful, and which are obscene require constant attention to the context, and to place, to ensure that the images can be read appropriately, and that it is clear when nakedness and sexual representations should offend us, or enthrall us.

Feona Attwood (2005) reminds us that the cultural practices of looking and seeing are critical to a meaningful analysis of pornography. While debates rage in the UK on the harms of pornography, middle-class visitors can quietly consume images of naked woman rendered on canvas, or watch a naked man and woman fucking on-screen – shocking perhaps, or maybe funny, but not sexually stimulating, and nothing to be offended by – but only deep in the heart of the Musee D’Orsay.

By Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd)

References

Attwood, F. 2005. “What to do with porn? Qualitative research into the consumption, use and experience of pornography and other sexually explicit media.” Sexuality and Culture 9(2): 65-86.

Sanders-McDonagh, E. (in press) ‘Porn by any other name: Women’s consumption of public sex performances in Amsterdam’ In Porn Studies. DOI: 10.1080/23268743.2015.1100092.

Walkowitz, J. 1992. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. London: Virago.

 

CfP for AAG2016 San Francisco 29 March – 2 April

sex-workers-rights

Image from Rabble.ca

CfP for AAG2016 San Francisco 29 March – 2 April

Sex and the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt

(#GeoSex16)

Convenors:         

Dr. Paul J. Maginn (UWA) – @planographer

Dr. Emily Cooper (Northumbria) – @e_cooper2

Dr. Martin Zebracki (Leeds) – @zebracki

Prof. Clarissa Smith (Sunderland) – @DrClarissaSmith

Sponsored by:   Sexuality and Space Specialty Group (SxSSG)

The presence and regulation of sexualised bodies, sexuality, sex work/erotic labour, porn and BDSM/fetish in the city has taken an interesting turn in the 21st century. For some, it is argued that we have entered a period of hyper-sexuality whereby highly sexual imagery and ‘deviant’ sexual practices have given rise to a pornified culture where plastic bodies (and products) engage in ‘unspeakable acts’. This has led to calls for the filtering/banning of internet pornography and the criminalisation of the recording/distribution of certain sexual acts (e.g. face sitting, fisting and female ejaculation). Relatedly, anti-porn activists have pushed for the introduction of mandatory condom use in porn production in California. Simultaneously, adult entertainment performers/producers have resisted such proposals arguing that pre-existing testing regimes for STIs and HIV/Aids are more than sufficient and that overregulation will push the porn industry to relocate elsewhere.

In relation to sex work/prostitution various (conservative) politicians and radical feminist organisations have advocated the introduction of the ‘Swedish model’ proclaiming that it will ‘end demand and exploitation’ and ‘stop human trafficking’. Canada and Northern Ireland have recently adopted this regulatory approach. There have been high-profile raids and/or restrictions of brothels/massage parlours in places such as Soho (London) and Edinburgh (Scotland) and online escort websites such as Redbook, Backpage and Rentboy in the US, often under the glare of the media. The conflation of human trafficking and sex work as one and the same issue is challenged by International bodies such as WHO, UN AIDS, the ILO, Amnesty International, and sex workers/sex work advocacy groups who have all called for sex work to be decriminalised.

There have been calls for other forms of sexual imagery (e.g. Page 3 in The Sun newspaper and ‘lads magazines’ in newsagents) and adult entertainment (strip clubs/lap-dance bars) to be banned or closed down.  LGBT relationships have also been under the spotlight in recent years. Whilst Ireland recently moved to legalise same-sex marriage via a referendum, Northern Ireland and Australia have steadfastly refused to move forward on this issue. Interestingly, despite the various calls to ‘stop porn/raunch culture’ an increasing number of people appear to be consuming and/or engaging in different forms of sexual practices. For example, BDSM/fetish/kink practices appear to have gripped suburbia if sales of 50 Shades of Grey and sex toys are any measure of society’s sexual inquisitiveness.

Ultimately, what we appear to be seeing is a kaleidoscopic (sub)urban sexscape wherein the tectonic plates of conservatism/feminism/religion and capitalism/individualism are locked in deep socio-political competition with one another in relation to all matters pertaining to sex and sexuality. This special session, then, seeks papers that speak to the ideas of (i) Geographies of Reactionism; (ii) Geographies of Resistance; and (iii) Geographies of Revulsion/Revolt as they apply to the social/cultural/economic/historical meanings, consumption/production/distribution and regulation of sexual imagery, sexuality, adult retailing/sex shops; sex work/prostitution; adult entertainment/erotic labour, pornography and BDSM/fetish/kink practices within urban, suburban, rural and virtual spaces.

We welcome abstracts/papers by scholars and research-minded sex workers/sex work activists, adult entertainment performers/activists as well as those who oppose/campaign against the ‘sex industry’ from a range of ideological/theoretical/methodological/empirical standpoints.

If you are interested in taking part in this special session please send your title and a 250 word (maximum) abstract to the co-convenors at GeoSex16@gmail.com by no later than 23rd October 2015. Full details on abstract submissions here – http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/call_for_papers.

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2015, Chicago

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So it is a mere two weeks until the AAG annual meeting in Chicago and I am very excited for the fantastic sessions we have lined up, as well as the meet/tweet ups with several colleagues/friends.  It also just struck me that I was in New York this time last year – hopefully the USA visit is an April tradition I can keep up! 🙂

Paul (@Planographer), Martin (@Zebracki) and I have spent the last few months organising the logistics for our sessions, which are entitled: (De)Sexualisation & (De)Politicisation of Space I-7.  We have a diverse range of speakers including early career and established academics, researchers, sex workers and journalists.   Here is the line up (click the links for the abstract details):

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space I: Methodological Frontiers (Thursday 23rd April) http://http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22314&cal=true

*Robyn Longhurst, PhD – University of Waikato – Skype Sex, Love and Romance

*Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo, PhD – Montana State University – Virtual Spaces of Possibility in the Classroom: Teaching Porn, Sex Work and Sexuality in Unlikely Spaces

*Olga Castro – Aston University, Birmingham – Sex in the Media: A Discourse Analysis of Prostitution Ads in the Spanish Press

*Andrew Fogg – Hot spots! Geographic distribution of sex workers and the contribution that sex work/prostitution makes to the UK economy.

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space II: Insider/Outsider Perspectives (Friday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22329&cal=true

Christina Parreira, M.A. – University of Nevada, Las Vegas – Auto-Ethnographic Reflections on Selling Sex in the Nevada Desert 

*Lucy Neville, PhD – Middlesex University – ‘I don’t want to be presented as some sort of freak-show… but you’re ‘one of us”: Researching women’s engagement with gay male erotica from within the community

Amy E. Ritterbusch, PhD – Universidad de los Andes – “My Life in Four Blocks”: The Geopolitics of Transgender Sex Work in Colombia

Tessa Wills – CHARGE: Economies of Desire In The Performance Practice of Tessa Wills

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space III: Sex Work(er) Markets and Mobilities (Friday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22547&cal=true

*Ari Bass, JD – From Frisco to Vegas: The Economic Geography of the American Commercial Pornosphere

*Trevon D. Logan – The Ohio State University – Men on the Move: The Traveling Patterns Of Male Sex Workers In The U.S.

*Kristien Lieve Gillis – University of Antwerp – The economic organization of street prostitution in the Alhambra area in Brussels

*Nick Skilton – University of Wollongong – Mining and Sex Work: Recentring the margins of unequal labour laws.

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space IV: Queerying Sex Work, Sexuality and Public Spaces (Friday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22550&cal=true

*Chen David Misgav – Tel-Aviv University – Gay-Riatric: Spatial Politics and Activism of Elderly Gay Men in Tel-Aviv Gay Center

*Martin Zebracki – University of Leeds, United Kingdom – Virtually Mediated Encounters with ‘Pornographic’ Public Art

Victor Minichiello, PhD – La Trobe University; John Scott, PhD – Queensland University of Technology; Denton Callander, PhD – University of New South Wales – Men who sell sex (and risk) online: Using the Internet to examine the sexual practices of male escorts

Michal Pitonak – Charles University in Prague – Four years of Prague Pride: a celebration, political march or something else?

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space V: Governance and Regulation of Sex Work (Saturday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22556&cal=true

*Laura Graham – Durham University – Governing Sex Work Through Crime

*Derek Eysenbach – Sonoma State University – From Streetwalkers to Slaves: Prostitution Discourse and Regulation in Sonoma County, CA

*Emily Cooper, Ph.D – Northumbria University – Cohesion, codes and cosmic ordering: understanding community impact when researching and regulating spaces of sex work

*Lynn Comella, Ph.D. – University of Nevada – Las Vegas – Geographies of Porn: Public Policies and Industrial Practices

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space VI: Consuming/Producing/Regulating Sexualised Spaces (Saturday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=22871&cal=true

*Katie Hail-Jares – Georgetown University – Meeting the New Neighbors: Trans- Identity, Sex Work, and Gentrification in the Nation’s Capital

Curtis Winkle – University of Illinois at Chicago – The Dynamics Gay Commercial Districts and Their Regulation, Chicago 1920-2010

*Ingrid Olson, PhD Candidate – University of British Columbia – The Hermeneutics of the Dungeon

 

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space VII: The (Im)Moral Landscapes of Sex Work (Saturday 24th April) http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=23331&cal=true

*Erin Sanders-McDonagh – Middlesex University – Women’s Consumption of Live Sex: Understanding Public Sex Performance in Thailand and the Netherlands

*Paul J. Maginn, Assoc. Prof – University of Western Australia; Graham Ellison, Dr – Queen’s University of Belfast – Who needs evidence when you have blind faith on your side? The ethno-religious and gendered politics of sex work/prostitution in Northern Ireland

*Serpent Libertine, Community Organizer, Activist – SWOP-Chicago, Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) – Displaced: The Role of Moral Panics in the Destruction of Sex Worker Spaces

*Melissa Gira Grant – Journalist – w4m: The End of the American Red Light District _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul was also recently interviewed by Dan Miller at xbiz.com about the sessions, which can be found here: http://www.xbiz.com/news/192382. We will aim to try and be as inclusive as possible with the dissemination of the discussions, using Twitter and social media alongside seeking several publication outlets. Many of the speakers are on Twitter also if anybody wishes to connect with them before the conference.

If you are coming along to the AAG, we do hope that you will check out our sessions! I look forward to many discussions (and beers).  We will have a sub-conference hashtag, so alongside the #AAG2015, follow #geogsex15.