Radicals and the sexual exploitation industry become more and more intertwined by the day. I wish I was surprised when I learned just today that the 2013 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair is being held in a venue owned by the torture porn website, Kink.com.
Kink.com is infamous for its images of women “stretched out on racks, hogtied, urine squirting in their mouths, and suspended from the ceiling while attached to electrodes, including ones inserted into their vaginas,” explains feminist activist Gail Dines, who argues that the pornography website is in stark violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
If you don’t want to listen to some feminist, I’ll let Kink.com speak for itself. On the website, we learn that the project began when the founder decided to “devote his life to subjecting beautiful, willing women to strict bondage.”
Of course feminists sounded the alarm right away and demanded answers and changes from the Bookfair’s organizers. Of course they were only ignored or attacked.
To be fair, a statement addressing concerns about the venue choice was almost immediately posted on the Bookfair website. Not surprisingly, it attempted to justify the decision, with the bulk of the text being about the tight budget they were working with. With the handful of lines the statement devoted to feminist concerns, they deflected responsibility by claiming that “there is a valid political criticism of every venue that is potentially available,” because “we live in a capitalist society, and until we have created an explicitly anarchist infrastructure that can support this type of event, such contradictions and compromises are inevitable.”
It would seem that the organizers of the 2013 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair have little or no ties with Kink.com or their venue, and are indeed making somewhat of a comprise in hosting their event there, because there’s just nowhere else to go. But, yet, their statement goes on to show how aware of the issues they really are. They write: “We acknowledge that pornography and sex work have been divisive issues in the anarchist community. The choice of the Armory Community Center is not a political statement, and the Book Fair Committee is taking no political position on pornography. We accept that members of the community (and even members of this committee) have differing opinions on this issue. We will be organizing a discussion on anarchist perspectives on pornography during the book fair, and if this topic interests you, we hope that you will attend.”
This situation—a big political event hosted at a controversial location leading to public outcry—is familiar. It’s not unlike another incident of just last month, when a bunch of House Republicans booked their annual winter conference at a former slave plantation in Williamsburg (where, to add insult to injury, they planned to discuss “successful communication with minorities and women”).
But here’s the difference between the two events: When the Republicans announced the site of their gathering the Left was out in force to decry them as racist and insensitive to the historical reality of slavery. When the anarchists announced the site of their gathering the Left was out in force to decry feminist objectors as puritanical, moralist, and anti-sex.
Imagine if the House Republicans had put out a statement similar to that of the organizers of the 2013 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. They might write: “We acknowledge that white supremacy and slavery have been divisive issues in the Republican community. The choice of the former slave plantation is not a political statement, and the House Committee is taking no political position on white supremacy. We accept that members of the community (and even members of this committee) have differing opinions on this issue. We will be organizing a discussion on Republican perspectives on white supremacy during the conference, and if this topic interests you, we hope that you will attend.” That should be sufficient to ease the worries of the Left, no?
I beg the organizers of the Bookfair, and anarchists in general, to answer me this one question: is pain different when felt by a woman?
Ben Barker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.