What I’ve been reading – French ads, men against rape, condoms in Uganda, and Nigerian traffickers

Where to start. It’s been a busy week in the blogoshere. There’s been a lot to talk about.

In no particular order:

  • The iconography of French advertising (theillusionists). This is a discussion of the very obvious objectification of women on Parisian billboards and the effect that that may have on the pervasive sexism on Paris’ streets (and, presumably, behind its doors). It may, the author admits, be a simple correlation but it’s a noteworthy one nonetheless. These ads “confirm”  the sexual availability of women for our happy sexists (with one going so far as to claim that “Everything is allowed”) in a culture which is all too ready to take that on board.
  • Men speak out about the sexist coverage of rape (msmagazine). And this is a call to action where men (for a refreshing change) ask that coverage of rape moves away from its frequent demonisation of victims to focus on the men who perpetrate these rapes and the culture which not only produces them but insists on apologising for them and condoning their actions afterwards.

For too many young men, communal rituals of sexism perpetuate negative notions of manhood. Most of us are rightly horrified when we read about gang rape. But group sexual assault is best understood as being at the extreme end of a continuum of behaviors that normalize men’s sexist treatment of women. What about college guys hiring strippers for private parties and openly calling those women “bitches and hoes”? And let’s not forget–an entire genre in pornography is devoted to simulated scenes of gang rape, which in many quarters is considered socially acceptable entertainment for men, who sometimes watch it in groups.

  • The sisterhood of “the pole” (jezebel). We may not like it (and I, for one, object to jezebel’s title) but the sex trade exists though God knows I wish it didn’t. This piece looks at a side of the sex trade we don’t hear about very often and discusses the strong bonds that are often developed between sex workers in their daily lives. It might not mean much to you but it might help to remind you that these women are, indeed, human beings after all.
  • 83% of women in rural Uganda have never used a condom (newvision). The piece is entitled 83% rural women shun condom use which is a somewhat misleading title. Further reading indicates that this issue is not about “shunning” condom use but is rather more about these women not being able to insist on condom use because to do so is (1) not “normal behaviour for women”, and (2) not possible given the lesser place and power of women in Ugandan society which makes it difficult for them to enforce condom use with men. The figures on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases speak for themselves.

Nigeria’s human traffickers are using black magic to trap thousands of women like Rita into a life of sex slavery in Europe. Eastern European gangs use violence to coerce the women they transport, but the “madams” at the top of the Nigerian trafficking chain don’t need muscle – they have juju on their side. It is a form of ritualised extortion that allows Nigerian women to be both perpetrators and victims of the exploitation.

… Rita says she has no choice but to carry on working. Before she left Nigeria, she swore an oath of loyalty to her traffickers in a traditional religious ritual, a practice I was investigating for Channel 4’s Unreported World programme. She promised to pay back the cost of her transportation to Europe and offered up her soul as collateral for the debt. When she arrived in Italy, she was told she owed her traffickers €50,000 (£44,000), as well as extortionate living costs, including €300 a month in “rent” for the right to solicit from her particular patch. “I can’t escape this unless I pay,” she says. “Africans have very strong charms that can destroy someone in the twinkle of an eye.”

… The condom-strewn lay-by near Bergamo where Rita picks up clients is a far cry from the Europe she imagined five years ago when traffickers approached her in Edo. “I was happy that I was going to Europe to feed my family,” explains Rita, 27. “I didn’t know it would turn out to be like this.” She now sleeps with about 10 men a day, seven days a week, for €20 (£17.50) a time. She will work even if she feels ill, even if she has her period, even though she has been badly beaten in the past.

Keep your eyes peeled people. There’s a lot going on in the world.

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